Slavery’s Aftermath: Intellectual Legacy and Cultural Memory
Special issue. Vol. 2
The Visual Representation of Slavery — II
The section continues with Amanda Brickell Bellows’s “Post-Emancipation Representations of Serfs, Peasants, Slaves, and Freedpeople in Russian and American National Art, 1861—1905.” The abolition of Russian serfdom (1861) and American slavery (1865) triggered decades of reflection among artists who sought to make sense of these transformational events and their enduring consequences. Between 1861 and 1905, artists in both countries created hundreds of oil paintings that depicted slaves, freedpeople, serfs and peasants in a variety of scenes. While pre-eman-cipation works often presented slavery and serfdom through a classical, formal lens that marginalized bondsmen, poste-mancipation paintings portrayed slaves, freedpeople, serfs and peasants in a broad range of situations that revealed the complexity of their experiences. These works of art helped establish parameters of discourse relating to black and peasant experiences of captivity, the processes of their liberation, their post-emancipation civic roles as soldiers and students, and their experiences as rural-to-urban migrants. In addition, these compositions shaped nineteenth-century viewers’ conceptions of freedpeople and peasants as well as their attitudes about the integration process after the abolition of serfdom and slavery. Finally, representations of former bondsmen played a critical role in molding Russians’ and Americans’ senses of national identity as the two countries reconstructed their societies during an era of substantial political and social reform.
In their “Between Slave Labor and Building Socialism. Notes on How the Labor of Gulag Prisoners is Represented in Certain Russian Museum Exhibitions”, Anke Giesen, Andrei Zavadsky and Artem Kravchenko examines three Russian museum exhibitions that either wholly or partly address the Gulag and the post-Stalin Soviet repressive system: the “Russia — My History” historical park (Moscow), the Museum of the History of the Gulag (Moscow) and the Perm-36 Memorial Complex of Political Repressions (Kupchino, Permsky krai). The autho rs focus on the parts of the exhibitions that explain the charac ter and form of the prisoners’ labor. They demonstrate that in contemporary Russia, there has been a noticeable increase in representation of forced labor as ‘productive work for the good of the nation,’ which strongly recalls the early Soviet representation of prisoners’ labor as part of the Soviet building of socialism. The model of ‘socialist labor’ is contrasted to one in which prisoners’ labor is represented as ‘slave labor.’ In the first case, prisoners (just like other, free, Soviet people) are seen as subjects of conscious and meaningful labor, while in the second case they appear as objects of violent coercion on the part of a repressive system. The authors demonstrate that images of ‘socialist labor’ in Russian exhibitions about the Gulag are gradually displacing images that refer to slavery.
Marcus Wood’s “Packaging Liberty and Marketing the Gift of Freedom: 1807 and the Legacy of Clarkson’s Chest” examines Thomas Clarkson’s chest as the central exhibit in an exhibition on England’s abolition of the slave trade, as well as the history of this object in the context of its time and the meaning s that it transmits to the modern-day viewer. First of all, Wood interrogates the origin of the most famous objects and works of art created thanks to the abolitionary movement. Second, he describes the visual rhetoric of abolitionism and suggests a hypothesis about the reasons for the popularity of some of its elements in contemporary mass culture. Finally, Wood asks what art objects — and, more broadly, any other material objects — can tell us about the legacy of the slave-owning era, and which of them have the greatest narrative power.
The section closes with a survey from Oxana Moroz, “Slavery as Trauma: Distilled Viewing,” in which she examines two recent edited volumes dedicated to visual representations of slavery.
The articles in this section address the ways memory about slavery is transmitted and supported. The specificity of slavery as an anthropological category lies, to all appearances, in the fact that even many years after its abolition it is still capable of bringing about unexpected changes to the social context of the nations in which the descendents of freedmen and former slaves now live side by side. A second important topic for the articles of this section is the silencing of memory about slavery in certain cultures, primarily the silencing of recollections about serfdom in Russia.
Gert Oostindie’s “History Brought Home: Postcolonial Migrations and the Dutch Rediscovery of Slavery” addresses how Dutch society rediscovered the long history of slavery and slave-trading in the Netherlands, through an examination of the influence of post-war migration from Dutch Caribbean colonies on the perception of this problem. The article discusses the influence of postcolonial migration flows on the formation of the Dutch historical canon, while discussin g the relative success of demands by Caribbean residents that the Netherlands acknowledge the enslavement of Africans as an integral part of Dutch national history. In conclusion, Oostindie shares some thoughts on the question of slavery’s historical legacy, and about the ‘dark’ interpretations of the phenomenon of slavery and its consequences for the New World.
Andre´ Cicalo’s “From Public Amnesia to Public Memory: Re-Discovering the Legacy of Slavery in Rio de Janeiro” examines the transition from silence around the topic of slavery to the perpetuation of the memory of slave-trading in the port zone of Rio de Janeiro. He analyzes the factors that made this transformation possible and investigates the significance of this change for the social actors involved. The first part of the article contextualizes the relationship between urban space and silence around the topic of slavery. Cicalo shows that this silence spread in part due to the ideology of Brazil’s racial democracy. The second and third parts address changes in Brazil’s racial politics, which led to increased interest in the legacy of slavery among various figures, including representatives of the Negro movement. In conclusion, Cicalo sets out a series of questions about the future of this legacy, which remain to be studied in greater depth by social scientists.
The section continues with an article by Elena Filippova and Vasily Filippov “Fettered by the Same Chain. Remembering Slavery in French National History,” which addresses the memory of slavery in former French colonies, primarily in Guadelupe, which to this day maintains to a significant degree its colonial status. Remembering slavery was an activity long relegated to the periphery of societal consciousness, but in recent years it has become the subject of a special politics of memory and the object of wrangling between the French state and its foreign departments. For descendents of slaves, the still-fresh collective trauma and the contemporary experience of inequality and discrimination combine to form a victim complex. At the same time, attempts to overcome stigma and to build a positive identity on the foundation of insubordination, resistance and the opposition of ‘victims’ and ‘torturers’ undermines the sense of national unity from within. The tasks of overcoming the past and building a shared, non-conflicted future are further complicated by persistent stereotypes, both conscious and unconscious, about the connection between social status and skin color.
Alexander Dmitriev’s “After Abolition: The ‘Great Reforms’ and the Thaw in Russian Historical Thought” addresses the evolution in the way serfdom and the Alexander II-era “Great Reforms” were remembered in the late Soviet period — from the late 1950s to the early 1990s. Dmitriev examines the development of professional historiography, the evolution of propagandistic canons, and collective images of the past. Dmitriev’s starting point is how the abolition of serfdom was received in post-Stalin society in connection with the one-hundred-year anniversary of the Reforms. The general direction was a shift in attention, away from the radical intelligentsia and toward an enlightened bureaucracy and broad questions of reform (at least in the image of “revolution from on high”). These initial images of “slavery” and “emancipation” are extremely important in post-Soviet conditions as well, in current debates over Russia’s “special path” and the descriptions of “our common past” typical of early twenty-first-century Russia.
A. I. Reitblat’s “‘Do Russians Need Freedom?’ A Survey of Publications Dedicated to the 150-year Anniversary of the Liberation of the Serfs” examines publications in the press around the 2011 celebration of the 150-year anniversary of the Great Reforms and concludes that society showed very little interest in the event and that it had very little social effect. Some political elites used the event in a purely opportunistic way, which meant it served as a platform for statements about the contemporary state of Russia and possibilities for reform; but the resulting discussion led to no consensus. This was connected with the dearth of new arguments on the part of the debaters, the rather scholastic terms of the discussion and its isolation from the real problems faced by the nation. Most Russians are not aware that the influence of serfdom on their thoughts and their fellow citizens’ awareness of social reality is still very strong. People either want to see serfdom as something in the distant past, unconnected to their present, or to mytholo-gize it into an image far from reality.
The section closes with a survey from Aleksey Vasiliev, “Captives of Memory and the Work of Liberation,” in which he examines three edited volumes dedicated to the problem of transmitting and preserving the memory of slavery and the influence of this memory on society.
Slavery and the Law
Through several concrete cases, this section examines the legal foundation of slavery and serfdom, as well as the ways that the laws that regulating slaves’ lives in the US and those of serfs in Russia were enforced in practice.
Sergei Antonov’s “The Laws of Slavery or the Slavery of Laws? Serf-ownership as a Legal System” discusses the complicated legal relationship between Russian serfdom and the judicial and legal system in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Russia. He concludes that despite the legal clarification of individual aspects of serfdom in legislation and legal proceedings, overall the situation with the social institution of serf-ownership remained ambiguous. On the one hand, the basic feature of the legal status of landowners’ serfs in the imperial period consisted in their being viewed as legally owned property. On the other hand, it remains unclear how this right to property was modified in practice and how it influenced the development of private-law norms in Russia. Furthermore, a law that would unequivocally determine the status of serfs as a form of property was actually never implemented.
In his “How American Law and the US Constitution Defined Slavery”, Paul Finkelman offers a detailed analysis of the creation of legal foundations for the institution of slavery, first in the British North American colonies and then in the United States. The English legal system excluded slavery, but a foundation gradually began to appear in the colonies’ local legislation (and subsequently in the US Constitution) according to which slaves were not considered people — legal subjects — but rather property. Fin-kelman examines the exact workings of this process, whereby black slaves were legally assigned the status of property belonging to whites. This practice led, on the eve of the Civil War, to the notorious Dred Scott vs. Sandford decision, when this status was legally confirmed for both slaves and the entire black population of the United States.
In her “Slavery, Liberalism, and Civil Law in Brazil”, Keila Grinberg examines the creation of the Civil Code of Brazil, which though declared to be an urgent task in 1823 (immediately following national independence), nevertheless took another ninety-four years to be established. The main problem that stood in the way of developing a new legal code and provoked years of discussion was slavery. As long as slavery existed, the legal experts working on the Civil Code could not give legal definitions to concepts that they considered fundamental — such as equality and civil rights. Though it was not the only serious problem, the preservation of slavery in Brazilian society was the main issue for those who were working hard toward promoting the appearance of a national civil code and creating a liberal society. These nineteenth-century legal experts were convinced that this could be brought about through legislation, but that it was impossible as long as Brazil remained home to citizens who had the status of things.
Slavery and Institutions
The articles in this section trace the influence that slavery had on institutions that often took shape many years after its abolition. These include educational institutions (as in the articles by Maria Maiofis, Oleg Leibovich and Andrei Kabatskov), the penitentiary system (Marc Buggeln) and other institutions. These studies show that many of these institutions are founded on the same principles of “man’s exploitation of man” that were relevant to slavery and serfdom.
In his “Slavery and the Camp Systems in the 19th and 20th Century: From Private to State Slavery and Back Again”, Marc Buggeln analyzes the Third Reich’s system of concentration camps from the point of view that forced labor in modern societies can become a form of slavery (even if it is not officially identified in these terms). The concentration camps are compared to two other tragically notorious forms of forced labor — slavery in the American South prior to the Civil War, and the Soviet Gulag. Buggeln shows that the concept of slavery and slave-ownership in the twentieth century underwent changes: while in the nineteenth century slavery was based around the idea of the value of hard work (which did not meanwhile discourage slaveowners from murdering their slaves), in the forced-labor systems of Nazi Germany and Stalinist USSR, the dominant idea was that of cheap mass labor that carried no independent value at all. At the same time, the concentration-camp slavery in the Third Reich and the Soviet Union had a number of specific features that are brought to light through comparing the two phenomena.
In her “Boarding Houses of Standby Labor: The Formation of the Boarding School System in 1954—1964”, Maria Maiofis discusses the history of large-scale Soviet boarding schools at the start of their existence. Her basic hypothesis is that the boarding schools were meant to provide answers to some of the most pressing questions of the time: what are the limits of the Soviet citizen’s personal and political freedom, what are his/her basic obligations to the state, what is the state prepared to offer in return for fulfillment of these obligations, what kind of resources exist for the country’s accelerated economic development, given the anticipated arrival of mature communism within twenty years, etc. Maiofis suggests that Nikita Khrushchev thought of the boarding schools as an unprecedented act of liberation of Soviet citizens, who had borne the burden of war and the immediate post-war troubles; at the same time, the boarding schools were meant to be an equally unprecedented act of en-serfment (or enslavement) of Soviet children. And though Khrushchev’s project was realized only in part, today’s Russian boarding schools still show a family resemblance to their predecessors.
In the context of the historical concepts of the enslavement and emancipation of social groups (S.M. Solovyov — A.D. Gradovsky), Andrei Kabatskov’ and Oleg Leibovich’s “By Zeitgeist and taste…”: The Associate Professor as Slave” exami nes the evolution of the social status of the university lecturer in Russia over the past century. They use the term ‘slave’ [nevol’nik] to describe the dependent position of the assistant professor; the word encapsulates administrative tyranny, the spread of ‘subject’ mentality in university contexts and the curtailment of opportunities for professional self-realization. The authors present the university administration as the main agent of assistant professors’ enslavement — administrators simultaneously represent bureaucratic power and their own social ambitions.
In “Pan-Russian Military Beasts of Burden,” Alexander Golts surveys the history of the Russian military. Pushing back against the idea that the institution of the army had a definitive influence on Russian self-awareness, Golts traces the history of this institution over the course of Russian modernity, beginning from the efficient military machine created by Peter the Great on the example of the Prussian army, and ending with the latest attempts to reform the Russian army by elimina ting the holdovers it inherited from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Russian military culture is based on the idea that the achievement of victory in war is determined, first of all, by having a multi-million-member standing army, and second, by having endless human reserves and the possibility of constantly replacing fallen soldiers with new replacements; and third, by the ability of the state to use administrative resources to concentrate all of the country’s resources on defense. These premises have direct consequences for the state of Russian society as a whole, since the military is seen by both the elites and most of the population as the prototype of the country as such.
The section closes with “The History of Slavery as a Tourist Attraction,” a review by Ekaterina Lapina-Kratasiuk on the collection Slavery, Contested Heritage, and Thanatotourism, which addresses how the tourist industry has used the memory of slavery and various material testimonies connected with slavery.
Slavery and Modes of Social Self-Determination
The final section of the special issue addresses the ways the historical experience of slavery has contributed to the identity of the concrete individual, and in what way the part of one’s identity connected with slavery is reflected in culture: giving rise to embittered so cietal discussions (see the article from Tomasz Zarycki) and special kinds of social behavior (Ilya Kalinin), and influencing the image of the whole country that has a history of slavery (Ivan Kurilla).
Tomasz Zarycki’s “Can There Be Agree ment Between the Polish ‘Pan’ and ‘Kham’?” The Intelligentsia Debates the Legacy of Serfdom and its Symbolic Vestiges in Poland” analyzes the discussions that have been going on for several years in the Polish press and scholarl y literature regarding the legacy of serfdom: the unprocessed, suppressed ‘peasant’ identity of the majority of the country’s population and its uncompensated injustice. These debates are part of broader disagreements regarding the contemporary meaning of conflicts between the gentry and the peasantry in Polish history. In Zarycki’s view, these are debates limited to the intelligentsia and carry a strong political flavor. Apologists for the gentry, i.e. the classical traditions of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and its elites, tend to adhere to conservative ideology, while those who criticize the remnants of serfdom in contemporary social relations and within the system of societal values tend to be educated liberals.
Vadim Mikhailin’s “Sly and Lazy: The Slave as Anthropological Problem” discusses the phenomenon of slavery from the point of view of social anthropology. Here, the slave appears as a person who has lost his/her right to autonomous social self-representation and, correspondingly, to forging any kind of social relationships beyond the will of the master, i.e. the person who has seized and appropriated this right from the slave. Mikhailin also looks at the network of social connections and hierarchies that give rise to marginal and inferior social statuses (including that of the slave) and which create the perspective (of the slave-owner) necessary for even talking about ‘margin-ality’ and ‘inferiority.’ The social-anthropological approach to slavery illustrates Mikhailin’s study of the slave-status of the Russian serf and of the social and intellectual consequences of serfdom in the later nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
The section continues with an article from Ivan Kurilla, “Slavery, Serfdom and the Shared Images of Russia and the USA.” Russia and the United States preserved the institutions of forced labor and personal bondage longer than many other countries. The problems around their corrupting influence on the moral and intellectual condition of both slaves and masters were raised in the debates that preceded the abolition of both institutions in the two countries. For various reasons, including censorship and self-censorship by participants in these discussions, many aspects of the negative influence of slavery were examined through the experience of the other country: in Russia using the US as an example, and in the US — using the Russian Empire. Regardless of the substantial difference in the socio-economic and legal positions of the slave and the serf, the obvious similarity of the two institutions influenced the formation of shared images of Russia and America for a long time. Even after the abolition of slavery and serfdom, these images served as an argument in domestic political debates in both countries and long remained a subject for reflection in both societies.
Proceeding from materials relating to the “Time of Troubles”, Ilya Kalinin’ s “‘To have no screen between this part he play’d and him he play’d it for’: Slaves, Autocrats and Impostors (Dialectics of Power)” examines the phenomenon of imposture [samozvanchestvo] as one of the symbols of Russian political history from the early seventeenth to the mid-nineteenth century. The duration of the “impostor epidemic” coincides exactly with that of serfdom, and imposture itself can be described as a social reaction to a form of authority founded on total personal dependence. Much has been written about imposture accompanying serfdom. But the impostor has been examined as a figure opposed to the tsar, one dependent either on outside assistance or the support of the enslaved masses (or on both at once). However, imposture can be seen as objectifying the tension between absolute power and slavery, that is, the internal and reverse side of Russian autocracy itself, as well as a manifestation of its internal crisis generated by the clash of two versions of sovereign power: the patrimony [votchina] and the contract.