From Russia’s imperial amnesia to 21st-century American slavery, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.
In a provocative March 27 column in the Financial Times entitled “Brexit and Imperial Amnesia,” Gideon Rachman chided the English for, as one reader put it, “a serious misunderstanding of [Britain’s] oppressive imperial past.” Aside from generating a lively and entertaining discussion of the issue, Rachman’s piece gave me a framework for understanding an even more remarkable article I had just read in the March 17 edition of Nezavisimaya gazeta. It was entitled “Главное—не повторять ошибки” (“The main thing is not to repeat mistakes”) and was penned by Aleksandr Khramchikhin, the Deputy Director of the Institute for Political and Military Analysis in Moscow.
The “mistakes” referenced in the title are what Khramchikhin considers to be glaring historical errors committed by Russia (including in its Soviet incarnation) to the country’s long-term detriment. Interestingly, his list of faux pas does not include such tragic episodes as the deportation of the Circassians, the suppression of Polish independence, Stalin’s excesses, or the crushing of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. No, Russia’s grievous historical mistakes arose precisely from an excess of generosity and the consequent failure to exploit opportunities. [continue reading]
18th century handkerchiefs are sometimes mentioned in contemporary hand-written letters, travel journals or account books connected to the Swedish East India Company trade. One reason for repeated mentions of such an accessory appear to be its multiple functions. Handkerchiefs were connected to sadness and emotions, snuff-taking, practical uses like wrapping up plants or catching insects, a beautiful present or invaluable during illness. It came in varied designs as one colour only, striped, checked or woven in more advanced diaper techniques or with printed patterns. The materials were either silk, cotton or linen – sometimes embellished with laces and embroidery. Silk has always been associated with costliness, but even cotton was still regarded as a luxury material in mid-18th century Sweden. It may also be noted that the limited amount of fabric needed for a small handkerchief, made it reasonable in price for a wider society. Judging by artworks of the period, this useful piece of fabric was normally tucked away in a pocket or concealed in some other way – probably due to traditions or practicality or etiquette.
It is quite rare to find preserved 18th century textiles in Sweden of this category and if so, hard to evidence any origin from the East Indies. Fine woven cottons or silks may for instance originate from the East and later on the patterning was printed by a Stockholm manufacturer and there after sold on for local or national consumption. Another possibility was that the raw material was imported and the cloth woven as well as printed by Swedish manufacturers, which for many years was preferred by the country’s mercantile economy and widely extended sumptuary laws. [continue reading]
British officials repeatedly downplayed the massacre of thousands of dissidents by Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe in the 1980s to protect the UK’s interests in southern Africa and their relationship with the former colony’s new ruler, new research has claimed.
According to thousands of documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by Dr Hazel Cameron, a lecturer in international relations at the University of St Andrews in Scotland, British officials in London and Zimbabwe were “intimately aware” of the atrocities but consistently minimised their scale. Cameron described the policy as one of “wilful blindness”. [continue reading]
Two recent events should be of interest to radicals. First, the eruption and continuation of anti-racist struggles after the election of Donald Trump demonstrates forcefully that the current wave of Black liberation struggle begun by the Black Lives Matter movement has not yet receded. Second, 2017 is the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, marking nearly a century since the moment workers and oppressed peoples came the closest yet to ending the rule of capital.
These events seem completely unrelated. What two things could be less alike than the upsurge of anti-racist struggle in America and the anniversary of a revolution carried out on the fringes of Europe in an overwhelmingly white country? [continue reading]
The ashes filled a black plastic box about the size of a toaster. It weighed three and a half pounds. I put it in a canvas tote bag and packed it in my suitcase this past July for the transpacific flight to Manila. From there I would travel by car to a rural village. When I arrived, I would hand over all that was left of the woman who had spent 56 years as a slave in my family’s household.
Her name was Eudocia Tomas Pulido. We called her Lola. She was 4 foot 11, with mocha-brown skin and almond eyes that I can still see looking into mine—my first memory. She was 18 years old when my grandfather gave her to my mother as a gift, and when my family moved to the United States, we brought her with us. No other word but slave encompassed the life she lived. Her days began before everyone else woke and ended after we went to bed. She prepared three meals a day, cleaned the house, waited on my parents, and took care of my four siblings and me. My parents never paid her, and they scolded her constantly. She wasn’t kept in leg irons, but she might as well have been. So many nights, on my way to the bathroom, I’d spot her sleeping in a corner, slumped against a mound of laundry, her fingers clutching a garment she was in the middle of folding. [continue reading]