The Hydrographic Confederation of the Ebro under Primo de Rivera, 1926-1930: Dams, canals and new regional identities

Joel Baker

The fifth of March 1926 marked an important day for Spanish civil and agricultural engineering. The government of dictator General Miguel Primo de Rivera published two Royal Decrees comprehensively reforming water management and irrigation administration. Primo had come to power following his coup of 13 September 1923, denouncing ‘immorality’ in Spain’s politics and ‘social indiscipline’ on the streets, and promising ‘rapid and radical remedies’ to the country’s multiple economic, social, political and military crises.[I] His new government, composed mostly of civilians, appointed in January 1926, was now turning its attention to developing such remedies in agricultural policy.

The first Decree described anew kind of organisation responsible for planning and implementing water management works. The Syndical Hydrographic Confederations (Confederaciones sindicales hidrográficas; CSH) would take responsibility for agricultural planning in each of Spain’s river basins.[ii] This marked a departure from the previous system, both by taking entire river basins as the administrative unit, and by making the Confederations simultaneously responsible for agricultural policy and planning beyond the construction of dams, canals and similar.

The second Decree established the first Confederation in the Ebro river basin.[iii] The country’s largest river system, the Ebro drains one seventh of Spain’s landmass, and covers – among others – the vast majority of the region of Aragon, which had a long history of campaigning for new irrigation works.[iv] Manuel Lorenzo Pardo, the first technical director of the CSH of the Ebro (CSHE), was a prominent figure in Aragonese society and – like Primo de Rivera’s Minister of Development, the Count of Guadalhorce – a great proponent of the Confederations.

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View over the Barasona reservoir in the twenty-first century (work started in October 1926, completed in 1932). Via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0).

One innovation of the CSHE was the publication, starting in July 1927, of a monthly magazine through which the Confederation aimed to promote the regime’s rural policy and contribute to the education of the ruralpopulation, a priority for the regime.[v] Notably, the magazine also articulated a new kind of regional identity, defined by geography rather than political boundaries, based on the supposedly shared economic interests of all inhabitants of the Ebro basin. This was located firmly within the bounds of primorriverista Spanish nationalism, which considered Spanish unity to be non-negotiable, but was also underpinned by the mobilisation of the ‘respectable’, conservative ‘vital forces’ (fuerzas vivas) of municipal and provincial life.[vi]

The Confederation of the Ebro held particular significance in this regard. Although centred on Aragon, it also covered significant parts of the two regions which had, since the second half of the nineteenth century, posed the greatest challenges to integrative Spanish nationalism: the Basque Country and Catalonia. Both regions had experienced a greater degree of industrialisation than the rest of the predominantly agrarian country, and regional nationalist movements had emerged in both, among the industrial bourgeoisie in Catalonia and primarily in smaller towns in the Basque Country.[vii] Just as visceral opposition to the Catalan independence movement has been a factor in the remobilisation of Spain’s extreme right since October 2017, so Primo had justified his coup with reference to rising nationalist agitation in Barcelona.[viii]

The Confederation associated parts of these regions with Aragon, and publications such as the CSHE magazine could use this to develop an ‘imagined community’ which rendered them self-evidently Spanish and neutralised the challenge they posed to centralist nationalism.[ix] The union of the crowns of Aragon and Castile in the late fifteenth century had been key to the formation of the kingdom of Spain, and regime rhetoric strongly identified Aragon with Spanish national feeling. In a speech during Primo de Rivera’s visit to the works at the La Violada canal in the Gállego valley in August 1926, the CSHE’s Royal Delegate reminded his audience that the region was the ‘cradle of Spanish citizenry’.[x] In the summer of 1928, Lorenzo Pardo made a speech in Santander, in which he argued – in a prolific display of dubious reasoning – that ‘The movement [in favour of the Confederations] was born in Aragon, because Aragon is the heart of Spain’.[xi]

The Ebro itself could also be used as a byword for Spanish-ness. The Latin name of the river – ‘Hiber’ or ‘Iberus’ – is also the root of the modern Spanish and English names for the Iberian peninsula. Trading on this, the CSHE’s publications identified it as ‘the national river par excellence’.[xii] They likened the river to a ‘father’, taken to ‘incarnate and represent Spanish nationality’.[xiii] The customs and traditions of the river basin’s inhabitants were described as ‘typically national’.[xiv]

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Crowds gather to hear Primo de Rivera and other dignitaries speak in Alcañiz, during a campaign publicising the foundation of the CSHE. Heraldo de Aragón, 23/3/1926, p. 3 [Held at Hemeroteca Municipal de Madrid]

One means by which the CSHE magazine imagined a regional community incorporating Aragon, the Basque Country, Catalonia, Navarre and parts of Castile was through its cover illustrations. Early issues featured illustrations of hydrological works on the Ebro and its tributaries. Yet the canals, dams and reservoirs are not the sole feature – the reader’s eye is drawn at least as much to the impressive scenery of the Ebro basin.[xv]

These landscapes functioned as ‘visual encapsulations’ of and naturalised the unity of the people who lived in the Ebro valley, and their engineering of the countryside through the CSHE.[xvi] They presented what John Agnew, in connection with ‘typically’ English landscapes, has called ‘the “invented” ideal of a created and ordered landscape, with deep roots in a past in which everyone also knew their places’.[xvii]

Later issues adopted anthropomorphised allegories of the different rivers managed by the CSHE, sometimes represented in the style of classical deities, but more often as men and women in traditional peasant garb, going about their business as shepherds, fruit-pickers or wood-cutters.[xviii] The magazine expanded on these with (often poetic) descriptions of the river valleys and their population, the public works planned for them, and their scenery, explaining their place within the Ebro river system and the Confederation’s plans.

In representing the different communities of the river basin in this way, the magazine created a sense of familiarity between them, emphasising what they had in common (the Ebro, the Confederation, and the national government which had given them the Confederation) and allowing readers to locate themselves and their localities within this wider community. By presenting an idealised version of the population’s everyday lives in this way, it created a sense within the region of the ‘deep, horizontal comradeship’ which Benedict Anderson has identified with nationalising discourses.[xix]

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Map of the territory covered by the CSHE, here showing a proposed network of weather stations. Publicaciones de la Confederación Sindical Hidrográfica del Ebro, XV – Plan general de ordenación y funcionamiento, 1928, insert between pp. 60 & 61 [held at Biblioteca Municipal de Zaragoza].

The use of geographic rather than political boundaries in defining the Confederation’s area of responsibility meant that this community could be presented as more natural than the division of the Ebro basin between political regions. As the magazine’s first issue put it, they would unite ‘all the representatives of the basin for a common goal and a general harmonious interest’.[xx] Elsewhere, the Confederation was portrayed as an attempt to make Spain’s ‘economic and political constitutions’ ‘coincide’ for the first time in its history – the ‘economic constitution’ being embodied by rivers and watercourses.[xxi]

Furthermore, the CSHE made much of the notion that ‘Basques, Navarrese, Aragonese, and Catalans are united around the desire’ to make the Confederation’s vision reality.[xxii] Pursuing this desire meant that the inhabitants of the Ebro basin would have to act as one community. Minister for Development Guadalhorce claimed that the Confederations would prevent ‘villages with no cooperative spirit’ from campaigning for reservoirs where they would most benefit themselves. Instead, the Confederations would ‘distribute [resources], harmonise and coordinate [economic interests]’, and ‘the water will go where it is needed, without depriving others’.[xxiii]

If all citizens’ economic interests were as mutually compatible as Guadalhorce maintained (however implausible the assertion), then this new regional division could be presented as a natural and harmonious community, free of the ‘destabilising’ socio-economic and political conflicts – strikes, Catalan nationalist mobilisation, and street violence between anarcho-syndicalists and state-sponsored blackleg unions – which Primo de Rivera claimed to have taken over government to prevent.[xxiv]

Public works under Primo de Rivera were no merely technical affair. The CSHs extended primorriveristaeconomic corporatism into the countryside, encouraging citizens to imagine themselves within pliant, apolitical communities. They created new ways in which citizens could identify with their region and, by extension, the Spanish nation whose collective will the dictatorship claimed to represent.

Joel Baker is about to start his third year as a PhD student at the University of Sheffield’s Department of History. His thesis studies public works and housing policy under the Primo de Rivera dictatorship (1923-1930) as a locus for debates about and changing conceptions of the role of the state in Spanish society during the 1920s. His research is funded by the White Rose College of the Arts and Humanities. You can follow him on Twitter at @joelrbaker.

References

[I] See Primo’s ‘Manifesto to the Country and the Army’ of 13 September 1923, Leandro Álvarez Rey (ed.), Bajo el fuero militar: La Dictadura de Primo de Rivera en sus documentos (1923-1930), (Seville, 2006), pp. 56-58.

[ii] Gaceta de Madrid65, 6/3/1926, pp. 1248-1253.

[iii] Gaceta de Madrid, 65, 6/3/1926, pp. 1253-1255.

[iv] José Ramón Marcuello, Manuel Lorenzo Pardo, (Madrid, 1990), pp. 132-139.

[v] Alejandro Quiroga, Making Spaniards: Primo de Rivera and the Nationalization of the Masses, 1923–30 (Basingstoke, 2007), pp. 122-128.

[vi] See Mary Vincent, Spain 1833-2002: People and State, (Oxford, 2007), pp. 109-115.

[vii] Vincent, People and State, pp. 94-97.

[viii] In his first week in office, Primo published a decree outlawing regional nationalist symbols and protests, restricting the use of regional and minority languages, and bringing these offences under the jurisdiction of the military courts. See Álvarez Rey (ed.), Bajo el fuero militar, pp. 65-66.

[ix] Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Spread of Nationalism, (third edition, London, 2006).

[x] Confederación Sindical Hidrográfica del Ebro, 1.3 (September 1927), p. 8.

[xi] Confederación Sindical Hidrográfica del Ebro, 2.13 (July 1928), p. 3.

[xii] Confederación Sindical Hidrográfica del Ebro, 1.5 (November 1927), p. 19.

[xiii] Confederación Sindical Hidrográfica del Ebro, 2.8 (February 1928), p. 4.

[xiv] Ibid.

[xv] See e.g. Confederación Sindical Hidrográfica del Ebro1.2 (August 1927); 1.3 (September 1927); 1.4 (October 1927).

[xvi] John Agnew, ‘European landscape and identity’ in Brian Graham (ed.), Modern Europe: Place, culture, identity(London, 1998), p. 214.

[xvii] Ibid.

[xviii] See e.g. Confederación Sindical Hidrográfica del Ebro, 2.8 (February 1928); 2.11 (May 1928); 2.12 (June 1928); 2.14 (August 1928).

[xix] Anderson, Imagined Communities, p. 7.

[xx] Confederación Sindical Hidrográfica del Ebro, 1.1 (July 1927), p. 2.

[xxi] Confederación Sindical Hidrográfica del Ebro, 1.3 (September 1927), p.3

[xxii] Ibid., p. 8.

[xxiii] Confederación Sindical Hidrográfica del Ebro, 1.2 (August 1927), p. 6.

[xxiv] Álvarez Rey, Bajo el fuero militar, p. 57.

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Summer Round-Up!: May-July 2019

Tom Shillam

Communism and State Violence

As the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre passes, it seems apt to begin this round-up by considering state violence. Writing in The Conversation, Chongyi Feng explores the divisions in the Chinese Communist Party of 1989 over how to approach the million-strong protests, which called only for mild government reforms. A ‘hard-line’ faction came to view the protests as symbolising ‘a conspiracy of hostile forces backed by Western powers to create turmoil and divide China’ while a ‘moderate’ faction welcomed them as ‘patriotic’.

On the topic of hard-line authoritarian leaders, Alan Taylor has compiled a brilliant series of photographs of ‘Cold War Bunkers’ in Albania which the increasingly paranoid head of state Enver Hoxha began to construct from 1968. These bunkers spanned the country and were intended as shelters from a potential Soviet attack or invasion by a neighbour. Many still stand, some nestled among high mountains and others grouped on seashores.

Moving towards popular experiences of Communism, Arnos Chapple constructs a similar photo archive which conveys everyday life in Hungary from the 1940s through to the 1980s. From bears visiting delis to divers on the Danube, we get a very broad picture of how ordinary citizens (and animals) laboured, loved and lived in Hungary during these years.  Finding creative outlets in song and dance, the population was nevertheless subject to relentless state surveillance throughout.

Indeed, authorities in communist Eastern Europe did not just monitor citizens but sometimes stole their stuff. Writing in The Art Newspaper, Catherine Hickley reports on a pilot project by the German Lost Art Foundation which considered the acquisitions of several Brandenburg museums between 1945 and 1989. It transpires that ‘between 1% and 8% of their inventories’ may have been ‘unethically acquired’ – books, sculptures, paintings and furniture which had often been taken from the homes of people who fled East Germany in the late 1950s subsequently found their way into local museums.

The visual history of the Cold War has also been discussed in great detail on our own blog by Agata Fijalkowski. In the final post in her series, she considers how, towards the end of World War Two, pro-Soviet forces in the Polish eastern territories looked to remodel the legal system. Photographs of new courts which the regime constructed ‘convey an air of watchfulness’ which was intended to keep judges in line with the ideological dictates of the new regime. The authorities distrusted pre-war judiciaries and created special schools to ‘train the new judges on aspects of people’s justice’.

Art, Culture, and Space

Considering the hit new historical dramatisation Chernobyl, The University of York’s Sam Wetherell asks why the bureaucratic doublespeak of the post-war Soviet Union sounds so familiar in a British accent. Though, as he suggests, the comparison should not be pushed too far, the authoritarianism of a state or social system can often be discerned through studying its use of empty abstraction and failed formulae. Wetherell draws interesting parallels between Soviet industrialisation – with its efficiency units and 5-year plans – and what cultural theorist Mark Fisher calls the ‘market Stalinism’ of the contemporary British state, with its relentless and stultifying resort to a complex of measures and metrics with which to evaluate university, school, and hospital performance.

Indeed, such moments frequently presage episodes of popular mobilisation and grassroots creativity. Once upon a time, before news of Stalin’s purges among other atrocities spread, the Soviet Union provided hope and inspiration to oppressed groups worldwide in its apparently progressive and inclusive political credentials. Owen Walsh describes how a significant group of African American writers, activists and journalists, frustrated with ‘white creative control and racial stereotyping’ in Hollywood, took up an invitation in 1932 to travel to the Soviet Union and produce a film about US racism. Unfortunately for the group, the plan failed – largely due to the governmental cynicism and economic rationalism discussed above. The Soviets needed American materials for their infrastructure projects and feared the geopolitical consequences of such a film being released.

Progressive artist groups later in the 20th-century – both within the Soviet Union’s borders and beyond – sought an escape from governmental and societal constraints on creative expression . Arianna Cantarelli studies how philosopher Timur Novikov acted as a ‘frontman for Russia’s wild youth’ during the 1980s and 1990s, experimenting with futuristic technology and art which was anathema to Eastern bloc realism. Of course, as formal dissent began to grow in the Eastern bloc from the 1960s onwards, subcultures and resistance movements also grew in the West. One of these was the LGBTQ movement. As the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots passes, Christopher Giola probes ‘grassroots organising’  among activists in the aftermath of the riots. George Lakey recalls how opportunities disappeared and doors shut when he came out in the US in the early 1970s, but that he also stepped ‘into a new place of freedom’, agreeing with the feminist injunction that ‘the personal is political’ and ‘the political, personal’.

Indeed, it was not just state and political violence which activists confronted as the 20th-century wore on but also private and domestic violence. Cara Diver pens a piece for History Workshop about Irish feminists in the 1970s who raised awareness of marital violence and ‘shattered the illusion that the home was always a site of safety for women (and their children)’. The problem had been side-lined with whispers about ‘troubled couples’, but various groups including ‘Women’s Aid’ now formed, which amplified the voices of abused wives.

Civil Society, Race and Internationalism

Vigorous civil societies provide one of the means by which oppressed groups can mobilise – even in dire social and political conditions. Harry Merritt, writing for Peripheral Histories, investigates Latvian Jews who served in the Red Army during the Second World War as part of the 201st Latvian Rifle Division. Facing hostility from gentiles who feared their presence, and soon to encounter horrific German atrocities against Jews upon retaking their homeland in 1944,  a ‘diverse and engaged civil society’ offered hope to Latvian Jews, even as the horrors of war took their toll. Among the ideas that moved them were socialism, Zionism, and fusions of the two ideologies.

Tiffany Florvil, for Black Perspectives, studies how Black Germans among other racialised communities, used international book fairs in the 1980s and 1990s as platforms through which to discuss ‘the return of German ethno-nationalism’ and racist politics and discourses more broadly. These annual fairs of ‘Radical Black and Third World Books’ allowed intellectuals from across different continents to come together and forge a Black internationalism which in turn drew on other internationalisms represented at the events.

For those more interested in the 19th century and in individuals rather than networks, Kevin Duong puts together a fascinating piece about little-known French feminist and internationalist Flora Tristan. Tristan self-published a successful book entitled The Workers’ Union, which argued for ‘workers of both sexes to come together to form a common international union’ in 1844. In the book, Tristan drew on utopian socialist currents in challenging ‘conventional ideas about women and social organisation’. Duong suggests that such internationalisms are neglected as compared with 20th-century liberal internationalisms associated with the UN among others.

If you have written a blog which pertains to any of the above themes and would like to be included in a future round-up, please tag us @authlanguage or me @tomshillam! Comments, advice and feedback all welcome. Thanks for reading!

Tom Shillam is PhD student at the University of York who holds a Departmental Scholarship from the Department of History. His research considers how mid-20th century South Asian intellectuals synthesised anti-authoritarian ideas of their own with those of writers elsewhere to propose a different decolonising politics to the dominant developmentalist dogmas of the time. Catch him on Twitter @tomshillam.

Exploring Cold War history through ‘the visual’: The Polish Story

Agata Fijalkowski

agata blog 3 image 1

This is the final instalment in my series of blogs on the relationship between the law and the visual in Albania, East Germany, and Poland. The Polish dispensation of justice underwent a dramatic change towards the end of the Second World War. At this time, the Polish eastern territories (now under the control of pro-Soviet forces) began to re-shape the legal system according to the demands of the new ideological framework. The Polish Committee of National Liberation (PKWN) passed a series of decrees that established special criminal courts that had jurisdiction over war criminals and individuals who collaborated with the Nazis – or to use the terminology of that time, ‘fascist-nazi criminals’.[1]

To look at the Polish dispensation of justice more closely, my research analyses the photographs of Polish proceedings and of specific lawyers, such as Tadeusz Cyprian [FOTO1]. Photographs can be used alongside other data to explore the ‘lives of the judiciary’ from two perspectives: the judiciary as an institution and the life accounts of individual judges operating within it.[2] Some legal scholars correctly argue that visual images are not treated as an important source of data.[3] Yet, visual representations of those individuals who occupied positions of authority could serve to reinforce the legitimacy of Communist rule. Photography also helped to underline power relations within society. Judicial visual images are a vital component in legal propaganda, in particular during periods of recruitment to the judiciary, which would also require ideological commitment to the Party, which was at the forefront of the minds of the Polish authorities.

Tadeusz Cyprian was born in the Zablotów, or Zabolotiv, now in Ukraine, in 1898, and served as an aviation officer in the French Air Force during the First World War. In 1922, in a newly established Polish Republic, he graduated from the Faculty of Law at the Jagiellonian University. From 1925, Cyprian worked as a judge at the town court in Poznań until his appointment as prosecutor of the Supreme Court in Warsaw in 1938. His legal writings were disseminated widely, and he was on his way to forging an illustrious legal career before the outbreak of war.

After the war  Cyprian represented the newly formed Polish communist government at the 1945 Bergen-Belsen trial. Notably, Cyprian was at the Nuremberg trial as a member of the Polish delegation. He then returned to work as a prosecutor at the Supreme Court and taught at the newly created Central School of Law that was set up to educate a new Polish legal cadre in Stalinist justice. By this time, the political climate was very different from the one in which he studied and trained. Despite this, Cyprian amassed a broad range of experience as head of the criminal law department at the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, as part of the 1947-48 legal team dealing with war crimes trials, and as a professor at the Faculty of Law at the Maria Curie-Skłodowska University in Lublin.[4]

Despite these many professional duties, Cyprian pursued his passion as a photographer. His portfolio includes powerful documentation of the devastation and atrocities carried out during the Second World War in Poland [FOTOS 2 and 3], as well as sightseeing photographs from the eastern Carpathian region in present day Ukraine. From 1931 he was a member of various national photography clubs. Alongside his legal writings, Cyprian published his photography and in 1965 was awarded the title of Honorary Excellence by the International Federation of Photographic Art.

 

It is important to consider Cyprian’s passion for photography alongside his professional, legal career, which began to see a change in the dispensation of justice towards the end of the war and during the post-war period. This transformation was led by Leon Chajn,

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FOTO4. 1315-2-1, Leon Chajn speaking at a meeting of meeting of judges in Wrocław 1946)

who was the chief architect of the post-war Polish legal system. Under his leadership (in the PKWN in 1944 and from 1945-1949 as Undersecretary of State in the Ministry of Justice) a close eye was kept on the judiciary. The scale of justice is particularly prominent in FOTO5, It seems to convey an air of watchfulness. The statue towers over the audience, behind the speaker (Leon Chajn), reinforcing his message about the dispensation of justice and warning judges to keep in line with the objectives underpinning post-war Poland’s new legal framework.

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FOTO5. 1315-33-2, Wrocław

At this time all judicial personnel had to be screened carefully as new courts were created in the recaptured regions and eventually in a post-war Poland. One of the vetting processes developed was for judicial personnel to re-apply for their positions. This process required individuals to disclose their work experience, and placed particular emphasis on their activities during the German occupation. This paved the way for the sentencing to death of many individuals, including judges, for ‘collaboration with the Nazi regime’.

This policy of purging was based on false accusations: the underlying aim was to serve the Communist authorities’ goal to remove political opponents and to promote their own ‘social revolution’. Most of the legislation which was passed between 1944 and 1945 did not rely on normal legislative techniques, such as statutes and decrees. Instead, many critical matters were decided unofficially, not always by authorised officials, and often unpublished. It was clear that the enactments passed during this period were meant to accelerate the consolidation of Communist power.

Chajn bitterly complained about the attitudes of pre-war judges.[5] There was such deep mistrust of the pre-war judicial pool that a vigorous campaign of indoctrination in Marxism-Leninism-Stalinism was initiated. The purpose of the ‘war over the judiciary’ was twofold: to destroy all pre-war tendencies in the decision-making process and to enhance the prestige of the judicial profession.[6] The authorities set out to accomplish this by appointing judicial candidates who had not satisfied the basic requirements foreseen by the law up to that point and by creating special schools under the auspices of the Ministry of Justice, which would train the new judges on aspects of people’s justice.

At the same time the Polish dispensation of justice was contributing to the development of international criminal law that worked against the ‘war against the judiciary’ campaign. During the period 1946-1948 seven trials of high-ranking German war criminals was conducted before the Supreme National Tribunal (Naczelny Sad Najwyższy). Cyprian, who had survived the Stalinisation of the 1940s, became part of the legal team. This team was behind the far-reaching rulings that resulted in the application of international criminal law principles that went beyond what was occurring at the Nuremberg proceedings. For example, Cyprian was part of the prosecution team that adopted the term genocide in relation to Nazi crimes, well before the crime was formally recognised as a crime in 1948]. [7]

The prosecution also argued that cultural genocide was carried out by the Germans; in other words, coordinated efforts were made to destroy Polish culture, language, religion, civil and political institutions.[8] This was a novel (and prescient) move. Genocide was defined by Cyprian’s compatriot, Ralph Lemkin, but the term was not fully employed at Nuremberg. It was not until 1948 that it was codified into a UN Convention. Yet Lemkin’s writings on genocide were at the heart of the Polish legal team’s case already at the first trial in 1946. In fact, almost all the seven trials showed innovation by the judge, prosecution and defence, who argued that Nazis persecution of the Jews – to whom the Poles were connected by culture, tradition, mentality – also constituted crimes against the Polish people.[9]

This was in contrast to other national trials that were occurring in the region. This Polish legal narrative developed alongside the Soviet and Nuremberg trials, as well as the special criminal courts [FOTO 6 Majdanek]. The imagery of the Majdanek trials is

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FOTO6. Majdanek Trials, 1944 @IPN

especially powerful, owing to the (unidentified) prosecutor’s curled hand as he delivers his speech, with the defendant weeping next to him. The photograph speaks legally – it points to the performative nature of the trial (link to East German blog). It shows the continuity between Soviet and Polish war crimes trials, where the audience, both national and international, was integral to the dispensation of justice in providing it with a veneer of legitimacy.

The early Majdanek trials dispensed justice quickly, with defendants knowing of the charges 48 hours before the trial and with limited legal advice. The Nuremberg process changed the way that these trials were conducted, at least with respect to evidence regarding war crimes. The next change came in the form of the creation of a Tribunal set up to garner quite a bit of attention. The Tribunal answered the frustration of Polish requests to the Allied powers to participate in the Nuremberg trials in a more meaningful way, given the extent of atrocities on Polish soil.

The Polish legal team at the Tribunal worked in relative independence, in contrast to the special criminal courts, which were more closely monitored by the Polish authorities. By the time the Tribunal was created, the Polish authorities saw the significance of the trials at a broader, international level. The freedom awarded to the legal team came at a price, and its members would have known that their mandate was short lived, given the political climate.[10] Without any warning, the Tribunal was disbanded in 1948.

The example of Cyprian illustrates the importance of visual sources for understanding post-war Poland’s wider legal discourse. Cyprian was surrounded by testimonies in the form of films and diaries, and importantly visual images, at Nuremberg, and in Poland. Moreover, he would have had details about Soviet efforts to document the war crimes trials, in the form of film. For Cyprian, photography was key to laying out a record of the level of destruction in his native country in the form of a visual account – perhaps this was the core of both Cyprian as prosecutor and Cyprian as photographer. Not only did he himself appreciate the materiality of the visual image, but also the visual image and its power for effective justice and setting the visual legal account. These two latter components outlive any dominant political narrative.

The significance of the Polish war crimes trials is slowly being acknowledged and discussed. It was clear that the Polish authorities and wider society had a great interest in seeing these trials realised, especially after failing to get representation at Nuremberg.[11] But, it is a mistake to see these trials as legal propaganda. While the Polish communist authorities had an agenda, this superficial reading risks missing the innovation of the Polish legal team. This necessitates not only archival research, but also a broader methodology that will support a richer analysis that yields results in uncovering deeper hidden interests, such as who is controlling the narrative at the heart of the visual image.

It is much more than a captured moment. Here we see the moment that the image speaks legally, releasing narratives about people, the limits of the law, seeking justice for atrocities and the longevity of the visual record. Cyprian’s account challenges the legal historical discourses about this period. It shines the spotlight on a series of forgotten war crimes trials. The appreciation of visual images and their use in research are not intended to supersede sources of law, but rather to complement them. The consideration of visual images overlap with other sources of law to create a critical narrative, as seen in the case of the post-war Polish judiciary and lawyer Tadeusz Cyprian.

Dr Agata Fijalkowski is a Senior Lecturer in Lancaster University’s Law School, where she is currently working on a monograph on ‘visual law’, which considers photographs of trials from the period 1944-1957 in Albania, Germany and Poland and the way that these photographs ‘speak legally’. More broadly, she is interested in transitional criminal justice, law and the visual and war crimes. In July 2019 she will be joining Leeds Beckett University as Reader in Law. Find her on Twitter at @AgataFijalkow

References

[1] See Agata Fijalkowski, From Old Times to New Europe (Farnham: Asghate, 2010), pp. 90-101.

[2] Leslie J. Moran, ‘Judicial Pictures as Legal Life-writing Data and a Research Method’, Journal of Law and Society (2015), Vol. 42(1), pp. 74-101.

[3] I adopt the position that images are underused and underrepresented sources of law. See Moran, ‘Judicial Pictures’, pp. 74-101.

[4] Agata Fijalkowski, From Old Times to New Europe (Farnham: Ashgate, 2010).

[5] Teresa Torańska, Oni (Them) (Warszawa: Mysl, 1986).

[6] Andrzej Rzepliński, Sądownictwo w Polsce Ludowej: między dyspozycyjnoscią, a niezawisłoscią (The Judiciary in People’s Poland: Between Disposability and Independence) (Warsaw: Oficyna Wydawnicza Pokolenie, 1989).

[7] This development coincided with the UN’s acknowledgement of the crime of genocide in 1946.

[8] Gabriel N. Finder and Alexander V. Prusin, Justice Behind the Iron Curtain (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2018); Michael J. Bazyler and Frank M. Tuerkheimer, Forgotten Trials of the Holocaust (New York: New York University Press, 2014).

[9] Finder and Prusin, Justice Behind the Iron Curtain.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

Citoyennes of the patrie? Gender and the mobilisation of France during the revolutionary wars, 1792-1799

Beth Fisher

The execution of Louis XVI in 1792 left a gaping void in French patriotic representation, leaving revolutionary leaders, such as Maximilien Robespierre, with the monumental task of recreating the body politic. Compounding the matter was the fact that France was at the same time embroiled in a war against Austria, and would later war with Prussia, Russia and Britain. To continue the war effort and stabilise society, revolutionary leaders needed to orchestrate a national mobilising mission, aimed at both men and women in order to boost morale and prevent desertion.

This raised the question: should there be a national figurehead? The revolutionaries were wary of reverting to old regime representations of a paternal figure, and in 1792 there was no one unifying leader as Napoleon would become a decade later.[1] The answer, therefore, was to replace paternity with fraternity, allowing revolutionaries to mobilise the nation around an idea – the fatherland – rather than a father.[2] Indeed, the iconography of the radical period of the Revolution featured virtually no emblems of fatherhood and nor did it mythologise a living leader. Leading revolutionaries like Robespierre, Danton, Lafayette and Marat passed from public office without establishing a personality cult, and tended to be depicted more often in death than in life.[3]

Just as paternity was replaced by fraternity, so religion was replaced by the human condition. Instead of worshipping the perfection of a Christian God, the revolutionaries now looked to the perfection of man. In his study of The Old Regime and the Revolution, the 19th century French historian, Alexis de Tocqueville, observed that the Revolution created a new kind of faith that made its ideas accessible, in order to rally large swathes of citizens:

If, with regard to religion, the French who made the Revolution were more unbelieving than we, at least there was left in them one admirable belief which we lack: they believed in themselves. They did not doubt perfectibility, the power of man; they readily became impassioned for his glory, they had faith in his virtue […] they did not doubt in the least that they were called to transform society and regenerate our species. These feelings and these passions had become a kind of new religion for them, which […] tore them away from individual egoism [and] encouraged them to heroism and devotion.[4]

Though at first sight, this replacement of Christianity may not seem particularly relevant to the gender dynamics of military recruitment, as Tocqueville alludes to, faith in the perfection of man helped form an imagined community whereby a ‘modern’ masculinity became inextricably linked with fraternity and a devotion to the fatherland – an idea for which citizen-soldiers were willing to die.[5]

Although self-sacrifice and military duty were central to the new religion of the revolution, the roots of the concepts are found in antiquity. The revolutionaries drew inspiration from classical republicanism, and the duties citizens owed to their patrie (homeland/fatherland) was one such ancient idea.[6]

It is no surprise then, that in much of the radical iconography, the citizen-soldier was portrayed in the guise of the classical youth. In many paintings from the revolutionary period, such as David’s The Oath of the Horatti (Figure 1), the young soldier exudes a Roman-style, militaristic masculinity.

oath of horatii
Figure 1: The Oath of the Horatii, by Jacques- Louis David.

In The Oath of the Horatii, the brothers prepare to fight their enemies, the Curatii, despite the siblings of the two families being linked by marriage. As in the French Revolution, the Horatii put love for the fatherland before familial love, ignoring the pleas of their weeping sisters.

Artists like David almost never depicted actual battle scenes or the gruesome consequences of war. Instead, by drawing upon allegorical and classical references, artists were able to paint the perfect vision of man as a virtuous, selfless soldier. By idealising sacrifice (rather than mutilation or death in battle), the army was ‘one with’ society, mobilising men in defence of the republican nation, inspired by the glory of ancient Rome.

Classical republicanism was equally influential upon depictions of women in the radical iconography used to rally the nation for war. Unlike men, women tended to be depicted in far more abstract forms, usually representing the motifs of liberty, maternity, or the fatherland, rather than appearing as an individual woman. [7]

Patriotic representations of individual women also drew inspiration from the Spartan mother – an ancient Greek concept of womanhood in which females were authoritative and tasked with raising warrior sons. This ancient image was revived by Rousseau during the Enlightenment and subsequently became the basis of republican education. In Emile, Rousseau puts forward the idea that the ideal republican woman is one who is willing to sacrifice her sons for the greater good of the fatherland:

A Spartan woman had five sons in the army and was awaiting news of the battle. A Helot arrives; trembling, she asks him for news. “Your five sons were killed.” “Base slave, did I ask you that?” “We won the victory.” The mother runs to the temple and gives thanks to the gods. This is the female citizen.[8]

Rousseau’s thoughts on women’s ability to mobilise the nation were not just lofty ideals, but found real influence in revolutionary culture. Revolutionary festivals organised by women’s clubs were often variants on this theme, admonishing their sons and husbands to bravely defend the nation, and staging balls and banquets in honour of the volunteers who signed up to the army.[9]

The chaste republican mother became central to the project of social regeneration. In stark contrast to the depictions of scheming, gossiping aristocratic women of the Ancien Régime ‘bitchocracy’, women were now allegorised as the glue that held the nation together.

leave-your-arrow.jpg
Figure 2: Leave Your Arrow and on Some Familiar Tunes Learn my Cherished Moral; be no longer the son of Venus, become the lover of the fatherland, unknown artist.

Ironically, the fatherland was always depicted as a mother, rather than a father (probably because of the negative connotations associated with a king-like figure). In Leave Your Arrow and on Some Familiar Tunes (Figure 2), a womanly figure of La Patrie instructs Cupid to sever his ties with Venus and instead serve the nation. Here, Cupid serves as a latent representation of the French boy, who must learn to reject frivolous love and channel his passion into a love for his nation.

The way in which women were represented in revolutionary iconography ­– as chaste, sacrificial, Spartan – evolved in tandem with the state of warfare. In Devotion to the Fatherland (Figure 3), Pierre-Antoine de Machy depicts the patriotic fervour of 1793, just after the introduction of the levée en masse. In it, mothers offer their infant sons to the enthroned woman, representing La Patrie. The soldier at the far right of the painting has learnt the lesson enshrined in Leave Your Arrow, and ignoring the protestations of his lover, pledges his love and sacrifice for the nation.

devotion to the fatherland
Figure 3: Devotion to the Fatherland, by Pierre-Antoine de Machy

This optimistic fervour later gave way to a more fearful undertone as the French army faced the Second Coalition and the very real threat of invasion.[10]  The Fatherland in Danger (Figure 4) encapsulates the severity of the situation and the even greater need for mobilisation.

the fatherland in danger
Figure 4: The Fatherland in Danger, by Guillaume Guillon-Lethière.

Painted in 1799, The Fatherland in Danger does not show the sorrowful women that are often founded in earlier paintings, but instead portrays women as leading the urgent mission of mobilisation. Surrounded by tricolour flags, the women this time encourage their lovers to join the battle, with one woman even appearing to carry weapons towards the seated figure of La Patrie.

Gender had a profound impact on the iconography of the revolutionary wars. Drawing inspiration from classical republicanism, revolutionaries deified masculinity in the guise of the citizen-soldier, and femininity in the form of the Spartan mother. Ideals of gender were used both to regenerate society, and to mobilise it for total war. Even in Georgian Britain, it became noticed that French soldiers were increasingly more patriotic and masculinised than its own. British masculinity had usually been defined in contrast to French ‘effeminacy’, but during the revolutionary wars the attitude of British officers toward their enemy began to change as they recognised Napoleon had harnessed a formidable military power.[11]  Increasingly, the British army reflected upon the national differences between themselves and Spanish and Portuguese soldiers, whom they had fought alongside in the Peninsula War.[12]

However effective gender may have been in mobilising France, the fact that both masculinity and femininity were used to define what it meant to be patriotic republican shows that, as the country experienced large-scale war, the citizen-army became inextricably linked to civil society. The soldier was no longer simply a man fulfilling an occupation, but a warrior who inherited the ancient duty to protect his community, ushering in the modern age of ‘total’ war.

Beth Fisher is currently an MA student in Modern History at the University of York, having completed her undergraduate degree in History last year at the University of East Anglia. She has specialised in the French Revolution and modern European diplomatic history, and is currently researching a Master’s dissertation on Labour Party foreign policy towards Nazi Germany, 1936-1939.

Images

Figure 1: Jacques-Louis David, The Oath of Horatii, oil on canvas (1784), taken from https://www.jacqueslouisdavid.org/The-Oath-Of-The-Horatii-1784.html, date accessed 20.3.2019

Figure 2: Unknown artist, Leave Your Arrow and on Some Familiar Tunes Learn my Cherished Moral; be no longer the son of Venus, become the lover of the fatherland, unknown artist (c. 1793), taken from Landes, ‘Republican citizenship’, p. 102.

Figure 3: P.A. de Machy, Devotion to the Fatherland (1793), taken from Landes, ‘Republican Citzenship’, p. 108.

Figure 4: Gillaume Guillon-Lethière, The Fatherland in Danger, oil on canvas (1799), taken from http://chnm.gmu.edu/revolution/d/19/, date accessed 21.3.2019

References

[1] Alan Forrest,‘Citizenship and Masculinity The Revolutionary Citizen-Soldier and his Legacy’, in S. Dudink (ed.), Representing Masculinity Male Citizenship in Modern Western Culture (Basingstoke, 2007), p. 112.

[2] Lynne Hunt, The Family Romance of the French Revolution (Abingdon, 1992) p. 53.

[3] Ibid, p.71.

[4] Alexis de Tocqueville, The Old Regime and the Revolution, edited by F. Furet (Chicago, 1998), p.208

[5] Joan Landes, ‘Republican citizenship and heterosocial desire: concepts of masculinity in revolutionary France’, in S. Dudink, K Hagemann and J. Tosh (eds.), Masculinities in Politics and War (Manchester, 2004), p. 98.

[6] Marisa Linton, Choosing Terror Virtue, Friendship and Authenticity in the French Revolution (Oxford, 2013), p. 34-35.

[7] I am yet to find a single refence to a ‘motherland’. Interestingly, France was always referred to as a ‘fatherland’, but it was common for contemporary artists to depict France as a maternal figure. It is not entirely clear why this was the case, but some historians, such as Joan Landes, have suggested that female depictions were used to bolster heteronormative behaviour, particularly within the army which, during this era, became an exclusively male space.

[8] Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile or On Education (New York, 1979), p. 40.

[9] Susan Desan, The Family on Trial in Revolutionary France (Berkeley, 2004), p. 78.

[10] Landes, ‘Republican Citzenship’, p. 106.

[11] Catriona Kennedy, ‘John Bull into Battle: Military Masculinity and the British Army Officer during the Napoleonic Wars’, in K. Hagemann and J. Rendall (eds.), Gender War and Politics: Transatlantic Perspectives on the Wars of Revolution and Liberation, 1775-1830 (Basingstoke, 2010), p. 128.

[12] Ibid, p. 139.

Blog Round Up!: March-April 2019

Tom Shillam

Round Up March/April 2019

Britain, Protest, Colonialism

As the beleaguered British government lurches from one constitutional fracas to another, it seems apt again to begin with Brexit. Despite the appearance of torment – in a recurring theme for this month’s round up – the political actors involved are perhaps behaving more rationally, for better or worse, than imagined. Aaron Ackerley notes the disturbing proximity of leading ‘Brexiteers’ to ostensibly independent think tanks and brings to light a deeper history of hapless British politicians forming influential pressure groups behind the scenes.

The British government has overlooked a recent petition to revoke Article 50 and remain in the EU, which garnered over 6 million votes. But are petitions as contemporary and ineffective as we might think? As the 200th anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre approaches, Richard Huzzey and Henry Miller contend that petitioning acts ‘as a tool for building a broader campaign and an enduring instrument for popular politics beyond and outside elections’. Ruth Mather explores the contributions of female reformers to early 19th-century protest, emphasising their ingenuity in negotiating with a ‘tyrannical government’ which was claiming to ‘offer paternal protection to its citizens’ while actually behaving violently towards them.

Shirin Hirsch sets this violence within a broader imperial context, reminding us of how black revolutionary Robert Wedderburn drew comparisons between atrocities abroad and the oppression of the working class at home. Similarly, on the anniversary of another colonial atrocity – the Amritsar Massacre of 13 April 1919 – Oliver Godsmark remarks on how political actors today continue to treat such violence as an aberration rather than a means through which to initiate difficult conversations about Britain’s past.

Anti-Colonialism, Decolonisation, Memory

A number of writers have considered how scholars of different backgrounds and disciplines can help begin these conversations. Eva Schalbroeck – perhaps offering a model for historians of other regions – explores how students of Belgium and the Congo can write revisionist and challenging histories which help establish ‘more culturally diverse post-colonial relationships’. Meg Foster highlighted the problems that can result from the uncritical portrayal of the histories of indigenous societies. In her review of an exhibition of Oceanic art held at the Royal Academy of Arts in London last year, Foster argues that such exhibitions often index indigenous artworks as objects of intrigue, distracting us from reckoning with their continued affective importance for the producers.

Speaking of the imperial mind and its affinity for ‘exotic objects’, Tom Harper of the University of Surrey studies how China has been variously depicted in the Western world as ‘a uniform mass with little or no individuality and prone to extreme cruelty’ and more recently as a neo-colonial power comparable to ‘the Great Powers of the Past’. Today, China is using its growing geopolitical clout to try and reshape these depictions.

Mark Fathi Massoud and Hussein Omar both offer hope in the face of authoritarian retrenchment. Omar shows how uprisings which occurred across North Africa and the Middle East 100 years ago comprised not isolated protests but an early ‘Arab Spring’ in which local actors exchanged ‘slogans, ideas, ideals and personnel’ in resisting European imperial intrigue. His emphasis on how history might have turned out differently had alternative ideas entered the ascendancy is replicated by Massoud, who demonstrates that a democratic conception of Sharia – which comprises ‘a broad set of values and ethical principles’ rather than the rigid code of law implied by Islamophobes – predominated among many politicians and intellectuals in early postcolonial Sudan.

Reason and Resistance

For those more interested in modes of political control in authoritarian states, in December Elena Goukassian penned a fascinating piece in Lapham’s Quarterly about the associations between time and power. She argues that the standardisation of time zones from the mid-19th century onwards has provided a means for authoritarians across the world to assert control over populations and manoeuvre towards important geopolitical allies.

As she suggests, as political power consolidated within the state, actors on the periphery resisted. Quan Nguyen offers some context for the recent attacks of prominent politicians on schoolchildren protesting about climate change, reminding us that the ‘understanding that emotions must be tamed for the sake of rational discourse…stands in a long tradition of Western philosophy’. Victoria Brooks goes into much greater detail about this Cartesian tradition, emphasising its gendered character, and calling for new philosophies which do not ‘value ideas over bodily sensations’.

Of course, developing new philosophies of life in an increasingly authoritarian and xenophobic global political climate demands intercontinental networking. On this note, it is worth rounding off this blog with the movements and arguments of two very different but equally determined internationalist activists in the mid-20th century. Samuel Zipp argues that Wendell Willkie – a little known Republican nominee for President in 1940 who later travelled across Africa and the Middle East observing the spread of nationalist movements – engineered an egalitarian and anti-imperialist vision of international order which is worth re-examining today. Carolien Stolte looks into an anti-imperialist actor with greater affective and symbolic reach among decolonising African and Asian peoples – African-American singer and activist Paul Robeson. Despite the US State Department preventing him travelling over a period of 8 years through the 1950s, by 1958 Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was calling for ‘a widespread celebration or Robeson’s sixtieth birthday’. This was thanks to the ingenuity of countless Global South activists and internationalists many of whom were inspired by Robeson’s music. Their refusal to be bowed by censorious states and a global atmosphere of growing political cynicism perhaps offers hope today.

Tom Shillam is PhD student at the University of York who holds a Departmental Scholarship from the Department of History. His research considers how mid-20th century South Asian intellectuals synthesised anti-authoritarian ideas of their own with those of writers elsewhere to propose a different decolonising politics to the dominant developmentalist dogmas of the time. Catch him on Twitter @tomshillam.

The Red Guillotine

Agata Fijalkowski

This is the second in a series of blogs that explores the relationship between law and the visual. It starts with the premise that the relationship between law and art has been long established. The practice of law contains deeply performative elements, best exemplified by the concept of the trial. In East Germany, political trials presented a valuable propaganda opportunity, and state-employed photographers covered such events in depth. The resulting images were then published in the main broadsheets of the day.

This post provides a snapshot of my investigation into East German justice, with the image of the East German judge Hilde Benjamin—or ‘Bloody Hilde’ as she became known—serving as the starting point. As in my Albanian case study about the writer and political dissident Musine Kokalari , this exploration also begins with a captivating photograph.

AF Figure 1
Fig 1. Hilde Benjamin, state prosecutor. From Berliner Zeitung (1945) @Bundesarchiv. Bild 183-15600-0005

Hilde Benjamin (1902-1989) played an integral role in the construction of the East German legal system. In the post-WWII period, she first worked as a prosecutor [Fig.1], then as a judge on the High Court (1949-1953), then as Minister of Justice (1953-1967). Benjamin modelled herself on the Soviet jurist and Attorney General Andrei Vyshinsky (1883-1954); it was Vyshinsky who developed Lenin’s idea that law was a political weapon, which proved vital during the Stalinist period. Benjamin is mainly known for her unwavering commitment to communism, and during the 1950s as High Court judge she rendered judgments in cases that resulted in the capital sentence, which earned her the nickname ‘Bloody Hilde’ or ‘The Red Guillotine’.

Benjamin presided over all of the decisions in political cases. By learning more about this figure we are able to uncover diverging narratives that serve to broaden our understanding of the context of dispensing justice in East Germany, where the visual played a pivotal role in the process. This material aspect of the image is intertwined with its affectivity. In other words, for some of us the eye is drawn to certain features in the image that result in an affective response.[2] We relive the captured moment at each viewing. Our understanding of the key legal actors and the dispensation of justice is made richer by the personal accounts and legal processes that were at play at that captured moment.

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Fig. 2. Berlin, High Court. 1952. Freiheitliche Juristen  trial. @Bundesarchiv Koblenz Collection. Bild 183-15600-0005

As in the Albanian case the images are captivating and the viewer is drawn to a certain aesthetic in the photograph. They are also powerful because of their courtroom setting: spacious theatre venues that provided room for a large audience. Finally, they are compelling because of the subject matter that also includes us as the audience in the spectacle. The driving force underpinning the law’s ability to speak legally in the East German case study points to the performance of education and ‘throttling’[3] [Fig.2 and Fig.4] during the trial proceedings, but also to Benjamin’s ambiguous positioning within East Germany.[4] I intend to challenge the viewer by testing the parameters of Benjamin’s accountability within the GDR’s apparatus of repression.

AF F3
Fig 3. Berlin, High Court. Hilde Benjamin and Kurt Schumann @Bundesarchiv Koblenz Collection. Bild 183-S94973

Who was Hilde Benjamin? Why do we need to dig deeper behind her photograph? Her philosophy was ‘you laugh with your friends; you hate your enemies’,[5] a perspective rooted in Benjamin’s past. This past was one of discrimination and persecution: first, because of her gender, second, as a mistaken minority, third, as a member of a culturally leaning family and finally as a communist. After surviving the war, Benjamin decided to offer her legal qualifications to the service of the East German communist state.

Benjamin’s life account is less than well known in the English language (and not widely studied in German legal discourses). She was brought up in petit bourgeois family in West Berlin. Her personal relationships, perhaps most notably that with Georg Benjamin (brother of the philosopher, Walter), who would later become a victim of the Nazi regime, informed her politically. She was discriminated against by her compatriots who thought she was either Roma or Jewish (though she was neither). These components resulted in her decision to pursue a legal career and to commit herself ideologically to the GDR.[6] Benjamin skyrocketed in her legal career and intentionally used the law as a political weapon against her enemies, remoulding Vyshinsky’s approach to her own.

AF F4
Fig. 4. Hilde Benjamin (center). Waldheim Trials (1950). @Bundesarchiv Koblenz Collection. Bild 183-S98280

At the same time Benjamin actively sought the inclusion of more women in the legal profession and tried to address the contradiction she saw in socialism – its gender divide. She thus became involved in the reform of family law, and also played a significant role in the prosecution of war crimes and crimes against humanity. As Minister of Justice, Benjamin was at the forefront of these developments. In 1967, she was eventually forced to relocate by Walter Ulbricht, East Germany’s leader and Chairman, when her ‘political fanaticism’ fell out of favour. The wider implications of this part of the project raise important questions about Benjamin’s location in legal historical discourses, such as in Germany in the post-1991 unification period.

Benjamin, the judge, was at the heart of meting out punishment against substantial numbers of people accused of anti-state activities in the post-war period. But to stop short at this point would be to provide a superficial reading of the case study, especially where Benjamin is concerned.[7] Engaging with her images and accompanying conflicting narratives of her upbringing and political views forces us to ask where Benjamin is located in current historical accounts of East German law, and to rethink the GDR’s role in shaping international discourses about the law and justice. Watch this space for a further evaluation of Benjamin in my forthcoming monograph.

Dr Agata Fijalkowski is a Senior Lecturer in Lancaster University’s Law School, where she is currently working on a monograph on ‘visual law’, which considers photographs of trials from the period 1944-1957 in Albania, Germany and Poland and the way that these photographs ‘speak legally’. More broadly, she is interested in transitional criminal justice, law and the visual and war crimes. In July 2019 she will be joining Leeds Beckett University as Reader in Law. Find her on Twitter at @AgataFijalkow

[1] Austin Sarat, Lawrence Douglas, and Martha Merrill Umphrey, eds., Law and Performance (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2018) and Desmond Manderson, ed., Law and the Visual: Representations, Technologies, and Critique (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2018).

[2] Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, trans: Richard Howard (London: Vintage, 2000), pp. 21-25.

[3] Here ‘throttling’ refers to the violent dispensation of justice as a means of suppression and control.

[5] Andrea Feth, correspondence with author, 9 July 2017.

[6] Andrea Feth, Hilde Benjamin – Eine Biographie (Berlin: Arno Spitz, 1997)

[7] MDR, Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk produced a television series on Hilde Benjamin in 2013, see https://www.mdr.de/zeitreise/biographie-hilde-benjamin100.html

Re-visiting Musine Kokalari: a lost story of defiance in the face of political oppression

Agata Fijalkowski

 This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

My current project about imagery and the law was sparked by a photograph of Musine Kokalari, an Albanian writer and political dissident. Kokalari was imprisoned and suffered the humiliation of a public show trial under a despotic regime which murdered her brothers and kept her under surveillance and in exile most of her life. Her brave story can now be told after secret police files were released that revealed details about a shocking miscarriage of justice which deprived the world of a great writer.

Kokalari was Albania’s first female writer of note from the pre-communist period. She was born in 1917 in Adana, Turkey, where from an early age the young Musine showed a passion for literature and national folklore. The Kokalari family were at the centre of literary and political activity in the area.

They returned to their native Gjirokastra in southern Albania in 1920, and  in 1938 Kokalari left to embark on her university studies in literature at La Sapienza University, Rome. She kept a diary, My University Life, which was eventually published in 2016. In 1941, she published her first book, called As My Grandma Says,  about the daily struggles of a Gjirokastran woman living in a deeply patriarchal society and which can be seen as an early feminist text.

The writer and political dissident

It was during her studies in Rome that Kokalari joined anti-fascist and anti-communist movements. She continued her political activities upon her return to Albania in 1942 where she co-founded the Albanian Social Democratic Party. Her brother’s bookshop

agata image 1
Musine Kokalari. Linda Kokalari/Musine Kokalari Institute, Author provided

became a hub of intellectual activity. As a result the family was kept under close surveillance by the communist authorities (represented by the National Liberation Movement/National Liberation Front). Two of her brothers, Vesim and Muntaz, were executed by the state for their political activities. Kokalari herself was detained and arrested several times in 1945 after openly expressing her views against totalitarianism.

She was then involved in the Democratic Coalition, a political movement that supported the postponement of elections, and called for multi-party elections. The writer hoped that representatives from the United Kingdom and the United States would monitor the elections. But all 37 members of the coalition were arrested and deemed traitors of the Albanian nation. Neither the US nor the UK intervened.

Hair torn from her head

In 1946, following these arrests, Kokalari stood before the military court in the Albanian capital, Tirana. She was threatened, intimidated and coerced. Archival memos refer to her hair being torn out of her head by bystanders. Her trial was transmitted live via loud speakers to the crowds outside. Her stoic stance is illustrated in a photograph taken by the Albanian Telegraphic Agency. In defiance she wore a mourning veil in memory of her executed brothers. Her powerful image made the front page of the broadsheets in Albania two days running.

This trial was the second in a run of six trials organised by the authorities in that period

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Kokalari with her brother Vesim. Linda Kokalari/Musine Kokalari Institute., Author provided

that effectively eliminated “enemies of the state”. It was dubbed the “political dissidents trial” and it sent a message about the direction that the regime was taking towards free speech. It did not deter Kokalari, who used the trial to stand up for her rights. Witness accounts speak of her declaring: “I do not need to be a communist to love my country”. Despite her bravery, she would have endured severe, prolonged torture during her detention and trial. The court refused to let her speak for any length of time.

Kokalari was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment, of which she served 16. She spent a further period of exile in northern Albania, where she worked as a manual labourer. She joked that she was a “mortar specialist”, as her work involved heavy, arduous construction. On her days off she would visit the library and sit in a public place reading a book under the watchful eye of the secret police. Despite the fact that she was forbidden to write, she secretly completed a manuscript about the founding of the Social Democratic Movement. Kokalari died in 1983 – two years before the decline of the dictatorship – after being refused treatment for cancer by the Albanian government.

The fragile rule of law

The near full isolation imposed on her by the communist authorities denied Albanian society and the wider world her powerful voice and writings. Kokalari’s writing tapped into local custom and language, using local dialects in a lucid way, as she wrote about the challenges facing her generation of women. Her broader outlook about her country’s future as a democracy is far from outdated. At its core, the protection of free speech as a key to participating in, and contributing to civil society should serve to remind us how democracies are always works in progress. Her trial and the trials of her contemporaries show how fragile the rule of law can be.

In April 2015 the Albanian parliament passed a law permitting individuals to access their secret police or Sigurimi files. In 2017 the Kokalari family was presented with the file that the Sigurimi kept on her. Within it they found the powerful and defiant photograph of the writer standing alone in front a crowd of people as she was put on trial for her beliefs (fig.1). Kokalari is evidence of a political dissident voice in a country with little experience with democracy and which existed in near isolation for most of the 20th century. It continues to struggle with its authoritarian past.

It is a timely moment to reflect on the contribution that this remarkable woman made to Albania’s cultural and political life. Her life story is a poignant tale of achievement and ambition, of hope in the face of repression and also inspiration – for Albanians and non-Albanians alike.

Dr Agata Fijalkowski is a Senior Lecturer in Lancaster University’s Law School, where she is currently working on a monograph on ‘visual law’, which considers photographs of trials from the period 1944-1957 in Albania, Germany and Poland and the way that these photographs ‘speak legally’. The powerful image of the Albanian writer and political dissident Musine Kokalari discussed in this article resulted in an exhibition at the National Science and Media Museum in Bradford that also included a short, ‘arty’ film An Unsung Hero: Musine Kokalari (2017). More broadly, she is interested in transitional criminal justice, law and the visual and war crimes. In July 2019 she will be joining Leeds Beckett University as Reader in Law. Find her on Twitter at @AgataFijalkow

‘Knock Down the Gang of Four!’: Caricatures in the British Library’s collection of post-1949 Chinese posters

Dr Amy Jane Barnes

Introduction

In 1942, at the Yan’an wartime base of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), Mao Zedong (1893-1976) declared that:

‘There is in fact no such thing as art for art’s sake, art that stands above classes or art that is detached from or independent of politics. Proletarian literature and art are part of the whole proletarian revolutionary cause; they are, as Lenin said, cogs and wheels in the whole revolutionary machine’ (Mao 1965: 86).

This vision for art and its vital role in the dissemination and furthering of revolutionary zeal continued after the foundation of the PRC in 1949. Although hardly a new phenomenon in China,[1]  propaganda posters began to be mass produced with their manufacture and distribution based on the Soviet model.[2] These posters ‘struck a chord’ with illiterate and rural populations, ‘who were accustomed to “reading” messages conveyed visually through shop signs, New Year prints, pictures in the temples, flags and banners on the opera stage, and crudely printed fly sheets that began to circulate in the second half of the nineteenth century’.[3]  Cheap to produce and buy from branches of the state-run Xinhua shudian (the New China Bookshop), posters were an acceptable form of decoration in homes, schools, factories and state buildings. Immediate and didactic, attractive, bold and dynamic, propaganda posters were accessible vehicles for the dissemination of ideological campaigns and points of reference for political analysis and discourse.[4]

Towards the end of 2015, I undertook a three-month postdoctoral public engagement research position at the British Library. Funded by the British Inter-University China Centre (BICC) the goal of the project was to research and compile a catalogue of the Library’s collection of post-1949 Chinese propaganda posters (xuan chuan hua). Having mostly been collected since 2005, the collection is comprised of 89 individual items (at the last count), ranging in date from 1950 to 1982. The bulk of the collection was published in the mid-1960s, just before the start of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (wu chan jie ji wen hua da ge ming) (1966-1976).  The posters in the British Library collection can be categorised by a series of distinct themes, including revolutionary New Year prints (nian hua), so-called ‘chubby baby’ posters, and material eulogising Chairman Mao Zedong (1893-1976). But what I want to focus on in this blogpost, are a series of posters featuring serial caricatures and cartoons that satirise and attack the notorious ‘Gang of Four’.[5]

Who were the Gang of Four?

gang of four 1
A poster from the International Institute for Social History (IISH) Collection, featuring a red cross superimposed over portraits of the Gang of Four. Lu Xun Art Academy,  October 1976, ‘Resolutely overthrow the anti-Party clique of Wang, Zhang, Jiang and Yao!’ (Jianjue dadao Wang Zhang Jiang Yao fandang jituan!), BG E16/68 (IISH collection).

The Gang was headed by Mao Zedong’s fourth wife Jiang Qing (1914-1991). Jiang had assumed the role of Chinese cultural supremo in the 1960s, asserting her power and influence first over the performing arts, and later all forms of art practice. A sometime actress from Shanghai, Jiang held strident ideological views on arts and culture, and used her position to attack those in the cultural sphere who she regarded as rightists and bourgeois enemies of the state. Mao coined the name ‘Gang of Four’ for Jiang and a small group of her admirers: Zhang Chunqiao (1917-2005) – a propaganda chief in Shanghai; the literary critic Yao Wenyuan (1931-2005); and a Shanghainese organiser, Wang Hongwen (1935-1992). Together, they controlled the cultural scene and, for a time, yielded a great deal of influence over Chinese politics.  However, after Mao’s death in September 1976, Jiang and her Gang, fell rapidly from power. The blame for the worst excesses of the Cultural Revolution was placed firmly at their door.

The British Library collection

Dating from the immediate post-Mao period (c. 1976-7), the British Library holds four Gang of Four-related posters and a slightly later sheet (published October 1980) from a newspaper entitled Feng ci yu you mo [‘Satire and Humour’], a title that clearly signals the spirit in which the caricatures were intended to be taken. The cartoons were intended to be viewed against the backdrop of the soon-to-commence trial of the Gang of Four.

The posters, similar in style but each from series produced by three different publishing houses, are comprised of sequential, bitingly satirical caricatures in brush and ink (with some photo montage). They comprise the work of different artists and caricaturists, who depict Jiang and her clique as engaging in devious actions, or as subjugated and humiliated villains. This group of posters represents the propaganda poster in transition, reflecting the ideological shift from Cultural Revolution to the Reform Period’s ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’ – the key tenet of Deng Xiaoping’s premiership that saw periods of economic reform and the ‘de-Maoification’ of the cultural sphere.[6]

For much of the latter half of the twentieth century, the art reproduced for dissemination in poster form was figurative (the socialist trinity of worker, peasant and soldier was a key theme) and dynamic. Colours were bright. Red, which symbolised revolutionary spirit, predominated. Slogans were strident and unequivocal.  As Evans and Donald (1991: 1) evocatively describe, these posters give us a sense of what people saw during the Mao years. During the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), ‘[they] were ubiquitous in public and private space. They were displayed on billboards and classroom walls and in clinics, workspaces, and domestic spaces … they were inescapable’. Posters were absolutely ‘central to the political culture of the time’ ,[7] and they are ‘a major visual text central to the processes of constructing meaning and practice’ .[8] Indeed, the former journalist John Gittings writes of the posters he saw during a visit to China in 1971, as being visual ‘points of reference … emphatic and exuberant, often stating topics with greater emphasis and clarity than our own guides’.[9]

However, the subject of this blogpost – the Gang of Four posters – are quite different in tone and style. Gittings (1999: 36) notes that when they ‘featured as targets of poster attack’, the Gang and their crimes were ‘lampooned’ in cartoon form, in an echo of earlier campaigns against purged Party leaders – the best known of which is A Crowd of Clowns (Weng Rulan, 1967) – and the dazibao [‘big character posters’] that publicly denounced and criticised their targets.[10] It is into this category of political caricature that the posters in the British Library collection – and other similar examples – fall. Pozzi (2018) has coined the term fenci xuanchuanhua (‘caricature posters’) to describe this genre – a term that ‘comprises both their content and their function’. Yet perhaps, they owe more to the ‘big character posters’ (dazibao) pasted on walls and buildings, which served as a public means of expressing complaints against officials and policies, and which were often used during the Cultural Revolution to denounce individuals accused of bourgeois activities and behaviour. Indeed, it was a dazibao written by Mao Zedong and directed at his political rivals in August 1966 – ‘Bombard the Headquarters’ – that launched the wave of persecutions that characterised the early years of the Cultural Revolution.

With titles like ‘Thoroughly expose and criticise the Wang Zhang Jiang Yao anti-party clique’  (British Library, ORB.99/40 (2)),[11] and ‘Deeply expose and fiercely criticise the “Gang of Four”, the armed forces oppose the disorder of their heinous crimes” (British Library, ORB.99/40 (3)),[12] the latter no doubt targeting a readership of servicemen and women – the intent of the posters is explicit. Through text and image, the posters visually signalled this new post-Mao/post-Gang era to the Chinese people and compelled them to direct all their anger for the calamitous failures of the Cultural Revolution at Jiang and her cronies.

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An original painting of a similar style of caricature as depicted in the British Library posters. Here, Jiang Qing is shown taking a photograph of Marshal Lin Biao pretending to study Mao Thought. Behind him is a sword named ‘571 Plan’ (571 gong cheng), which refers to Lin’s supposed plan to launch a coup d’etat in 1972. The implication is that Jiang collaborated with Lin in the plot to overthrow her husband. Guangzhou Xiangqun Printing Agency (Guangzhou Xiangqun yin shua she), c. 1977, ‘Let me take a shot of you’ (Ni chui wo pai), DS778.7 .W446 no.65 (CUHK Digital Repository).

In one cartoon (British Library, ORB 99/40 (2)) Jiang, wearing her characteristic black-rimmed glasses and bun hairstyle, dynamically whirls around an athletic hammer (or is it a wrecking ball?), accompanied by the caption ‘Old Performer’ (lao yiren); likely a reference to her former acting career. Another on the same sheet, which depicts Jiang in insect-form devouring a corn-on-the-cob, is titled ‘Female locust’ (nu huang). The poster, ‘Overthrow the careerist Jiang Qing’ (Da dao ye xin jia Jiang Qing) (British Library, ORB.99/40 (4)), features a cartoon of the members of the gang, squashed beneath the weight of a giant fist emblazoned with the characters for ‘Knock down [the] Gang of Four’ (da dao si ren bang) – the meaning here is self-explanatory. Other cartoons in the series show the Gang living it up in luxurious surroundings at the expense of the Chinese people, quaffing from goblets and bottles of alcohol, or taking a leisurely boat ride, during which Jiang is attended to by her cronies, who fan her with palm leaves and supply her with yet more wine.  There may be further implicit meanings within these images: as I am not a proficient reader of Mandarin, I may have missed the subtleties and culturally-contingent meanings of some of these captions.

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A detail from ‘Supernatural Wind and Evil Matron’ (Yao feng he yao po), c.1976-7, DS778.7 .W446 no.69, CUHK Digital Repository.

The only poster in this set that deviates from the established form described above, is ‘Satire and Humour’ (British Library, ORB.99/40 (5));[13] a partially colour-printed newspaper supplement, which was published and distributed in the People’s Daily (Renmin ribao) some years later than the others, in October 1980. This demonstrates that anti-Gang of Four sentiment was still in full swing some four years after Mao’s death and their downfall, but that by 1980, the tone had somewhat changed. Here, the Gang are ridiculed rather than directly attacked. They’re made figures of fun, absurd characters for people to poke their fingers at and laugh; loathed, but no longer feared, perhaps? The anti-Gang caricatures here feature alongside other cartoons. There is politics here, but also lighthearted fun; possibly emblematic of the more relaxed political context and cultural changes taking place in China under Deng Xiaoping’s reforms.

In conclusion, this short exploration of anti-Gang of Four caricature posters has sought to cast light on an overlooked genre of post-1949 art from China. From a Western perspective, we often dismiss the visual culture of authoritarian regimes as moribund and stagnant. And yet, these caricature posters help to challenge this view, demonstrating that there was diversity and inventiveness in the visual culture of this tumultuous period of Chinese history, even if it was given over to ideological motivations.

Amy Jane Barnes is a freelance academic, curator and soon-to-be coach for final year PhDs and early career researchers. She has a background in Asian art history and museum studies, and received my PhD from the University of Leicester in 2010. She has worked in museums as a curator and researcher, and in academia as a lecturer, tutor, researcher and programme manager. In addition to her freelance activities,  I am also a University Teacher in the School of the Arts, Loughborough University and an affiliate of King’s College London. Find her on Twitter at @AmyJaneBarnes

Notes

[1] See Gittings 1999: 29-30.

[2] Gittings 1999: 29.

[3] Gittings 1999: 29.

[4] Gittings 1999: 28.

[5] A note on illustrations: Unfortunately, I’ve not been able to illustrate this post with images of posters from the British Library’s collection, due to its understandably strict adherence to copyright law. See my December 2015 blogpost for BICC for further details. I would like to extend my thanks to the International Institute for Social History for the permission to use representative examples from its collections. Images from the CUHK Digital Repository are used under a Creative Commons license.

[6] See Landsberger 2008: 54.

[7] Evans and Donald 1999: 2.

[8] Evans and Donald 1999: 2.

[9] Gittings 1999: 27.

[10] See Evans and Donald: 1999: 8.

[11] Che di jie fa pi ping Wang Zhang Jiang Yao fan dang ji tuan.

[12] Shen jie meng pi si ren bang fan jun luan jun de tao tian zui xing.

[13] Feng ci yu you mo.

Bibliography

Evans, Harriet and Stephanie Donald. 1999. ‘Introducing Posters of China’s Cultural Revolution’. In Evans and Donald (eds), Picturing Power in the People’s Republic of China. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Inc., pp. 1-26.

Gittings, John. 1999. ‘Excess and Enthusiasm’. In Evans and Donald (eds), Picturing Power in the People’s Republic of China. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Inc., pp. 27-46.

Landsberger, Stefan. 2008. ‘Designing Propaganda: The Business of Politics’. In Zhang, Hongxing and Parker, Lauren (eds), China Design Now. London: V&A Publishing, pp. 53-55.

Mao Tse-Tung. 1965. ‘Talks at the Yenan Forum on Literature and Art’. In Mao Tse-Tung, Selected Works of Mao Tse-Tung: Vol. III. Peking: Foreign Languages Press: 69-98.

Pozzi, Laura. 2018. ‘The Cultural Revolution in Images: Caricature Posters from Guangzhou, 1966–1977.’ Cross-Currents e-Journal June 2018 (No. 27). https://cross-currents.berkeley.edu/e-journal/issue-27/pozzi, accessed 11 September 2018.

‘Losers’, ‘usurpers’, and their linguistic and historical translation

Lani Seelinger

The Normalization regime in Czechoslovakia — as Václav Havel aptly illustrated in his widely read work, “The Power of the Powerless” — rested on a carefully constructed social contract. As long as Havel’s greengrocer was willing to put a sign amongst his goods displaying the “Workers of the world, unite!” slogan, he could reap all the materialistic benefits that the regime provided. The words on the sign, however, didn’t express the greengrocer’s deeply held belief; instead, they were a signal that he was willing to comply with what the regime asked.

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Václav Havel

But what about when people didn’t comply? The government could deploy certain punishments against the so-called “unreliable” individuals — demotions, blacklisting, the refusal of exit permits, even imprisonment — but one of its most important and effective methods of attack was through the propaganda machine. In the government-controlled media, like the Rudé Právo (Red Justice) newspaper, the regime could denounce the offenders in vicious terms, though their words weren’t intended merely to convey meaning. Again, they served an additional purpose — but this time, they acted as a warning.

In 1977, 242 people signed Charter 77, a document criticizing the regime for its failure to uphold the human rights requirements of documents like the 1960 Constitution of Czechoslovakia and the 1975 Helsinki Accords. The precipitating event for the Charter was the arrest of the members of the Plastic People of the Universe, a psychadelic rock band whose messaging didn’t align with the regime. The so-called “Chartists” then banded together to express their support for the band, because they saw the arrest as being in direct conflict with the regime’s commitments to human rights on paper. The regime reacted in numerous ways, but one of the most important of these was its attacks on the signatories in the press. On January 12, 1977, an article came out in Rudé Právo called “Zkroskotanci a samozvanci,” which translates to something like “Losers and Usurpers” or “Traitors and Renegades,” in which the government denounced the dissidents who had signed Charter 77.

The article begins with a description of the regime’s enemies: “imperialism,” “ the bourgeoisie,” and the “rule of capitalism,” which together have been “looking for new

Screen Shot 2019-02-19 at 12.47.09 PM
Via socialismrealised.eu

forms and methods to mount anti-communist attacks, to disrupt the unity of the socialist countries.” This, the article claims, is what the good citizens of Czechoslovakia have to fear — and then it introduces Charter 77 as “the newest defamatory article,” which “a group of people from the failed Czechoslovak reactionary bourgeoisie and the failed organizers of the 1968 counterrevolution passed on to certain western agencies at the order of the anti-communist and zionist headquarters.”

Already, this description relies on a number of recognizable enemy forces purported to be at work in the article’s publishing. In the language of the communist regimes, the bourgeoisie was always the enemy of socialism and the people working to build it, and here too the concept repeatedly turns up. The article also refers to the Prague Spring as “the 1968 counterrevolution” — the period of liberalization that resulted in the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in an effort to “protect socialism” — and a “failure”, meant as both a derisive statement as well as a warning to anyone who might try something similar. In the Cold War context, which the article also acknowledges, the West was the main antagonist, connected to all of the enemies mentioned above. By pointing to “western agencies” as the force that spread the charter, the article set up the charter’s authors as connected to Czechoslovakia’s enemies, rather than Czechoslovakia itself.

In essence, this article’s introduction illustrates the characteristics of an antagonist — the “bourgeois world” — and then describes how exactly Charter 77 is working on behalf of that antagonist against the equality, progress, and peace that the socialist system offers. The harsh denunciation of the Charter and its authors, though, only makes up a relatively small section of the article. After calling the Charter an “anti-state, anti-socialist, anti-people, and demagogic lampoon,” and describing its authors as members of the bourgeois, cosmopolitan class attempting to break up the socialist government, it quickly moves on to describing socialism as a system that is more than prepared to deal with such attempts.

“Everything against socialism is good for it,” the article reads, referring to a document calling for reform published in the lead up to the Prague Spring as an example of the sort of “bourgeois print” that the regime had readily handled in the past, despite the best efforts of numerous western media outlets, which it names in particular as the BBC, The Guardian, Le Monde, and others. These and other attempts to “dirty and malign” the system never succeeded, however, as the system was always prepared for such flimsy attack jobs, as the article’s writers maintain: “Socialism nevertheless didn’t even recoil from atomic extortion, much less from hack writers of reactionary pamphlets done to seed fear.”

In conclusion, the article moves into a full-on celebration of socialism’s successes, emphasizing the unity of the socialist countries and their progress beyond the “imperialistic circles.” Charter 77, it says, is just part of the “stream of lies” that the “reactionary propaganda has unleashed into the world about us.” The socialist system and the people within it constitute, the article concludes,

a good, honest path that will steadily guide us to the communist goals. Everyone who works honestly and contributes to the common good will find for himself life security. No mendacious defamatory article can negate history’s truth.

Throughout the article, the authors rely on terms important not so much for their meaning in the dictionary, but for their broader meaning in the national and Eastern bloc-wide discourse. We’ve already discussed the terms used to mark the enemy — reactionary, bourgeois, imperialist, Western — but on the positive side, “Life security” is a good example — in the Czechoslovak case, this meant exactly what Havel’s greengrocer was after — a job, a second house in the countryside, access to passable schools for his children. Readers may not have believed everything that the article claimed, but they would have understood the threat lurking between the lines — this, readers, is the treatment that you can expect if you join the dissident movement.

To audiences today, on the other hand, “Losers and Usurpers” reads rather as a parody, extolling the virtues of a system that would fall less than two decades after the writing of this article and denouncing the people who would emerge, in the eyes of most, as heroes. The terms that held such meaning coming from the Czechoslovak communist leaders have lost that meaning today, deprived of the discourse surrounding them. This phenomenon, however, of government propaganda and at times even normal propaganda relying on fixed discursive elements that mean more than what it says in the dictionary, is far from relegated to the past. “Losers and Usurpers,” then, serves not only as a glimpse into the past, but also as a reminder that it’s always important to approach media, especially when it comes from someone with an agenda, with a critical and discerning eye.

Lani Seelinger is a PhD student at the University of Helsinki and a remote member of the  Department of Education at the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes, Prague. She is also the co-creator and curator of Socialism Realised, an online learning environment aimed at forging a deeper understanding of the lives of the people in communist regimes, and a comparison of these experiences to the present. You can find Socialism Realised on Twitter at @SocialismR.

Blog Round-Up!: January-February 2019

Tom Shillam

The beginning of 2019 has seen much commentary on authoritarianism, political violence and student activism across the academic blogosphere. Here, I summarise some pieces that draw on new research by promising scholars, which will hopefully offer food for thought and debate!

A fitting place to start might be Brexit and the political wrangling, factionalism and jingoistic posturing it continues to unleash. Not only are leading Brexiteers such as Jacob Rees-Mogg becoming more strident; those who oppose Brexit in the major parties are splitting away to form an ‘Independent Group’ which straddles both.

This brings to mind Andrew Heath’s piece for History Matters, based at the University of Sheffield, on whether the American Civil War can teach us anything today. Heath proposes that the splits we are seeing in 2019 Britain resemble those wrought by the ‘slavery question’ in the 1850s United States – dominated similarly by two political parties – though he is careful not to elide today’s Europe question with slavery in scale or moral consequence.

What is clear is that domestic political discourse around Brexit is deeply imbued with authoritarian and violent undertones which speak to the importance of submerged, brutal histories. Karis Campion, observing the bitter hostility and ridicule meted out to Labour MP Diane Abbott on the BBC’s Question Time of 17 January – and the routine sexist and racist abuse directed at her on social media – employs the concept of  ‘misogynoir’ in considering how ‘both sexism and racism manifest in black women’s lives to create intersecting forms of oppression’.

The history of British colonialism explains this. Noting that lighter-skinned black women such as Meghan Markle receive comparably less abuse, Campion explores the histories of Caribbean plantation societies. Here, while black slave women were routinely raped, mixed-race women were used as an ‘intermediary between black and white’, sometimes becoming part of new managerial classes. Campion proposes that these ‘historical societal structures’ explain ‘misogynoir’, which ‘systematically devalues darker-skinned women’.

At the same time as history excludes some, it serves others. Kojo Koram focusses on the irony of Brexiteer MPs employing the language of national liberation in a country which historically understood itself to be too ‘civilised’ for ‘overt nationalism’. In the recent past, the language of national liberation was an anti-colonial one which paternalist British elites scorned; but Koram observes a parity of intent between today’s Brexiteer elite and certain postcolonial elites of the 20th-century, whose rhetoric sometimes concealed lust for newfound political and cultural power. Understanding where such political languages come from, Koram suggests, is one step to exposing dishonest latter-day adherents.

Other interesting pieces on the themes of race, resistance and authoritarianism in colonial history include Marlene Daut’s article on the Kingdom of Hayti, and Teju Cole’s article in the New York Times on the camera as an instrument of imperialism. Daut’s is a readable and informative piece on ex-slave Henry Christophe who became king of the first free black state in the Americas. Cole’s thorough and profound piece makes powerful arguments about how photography and photojournalism – which, when paired with a ‘political freedom of movement’, has often served to ‘aestheticize suffering’ – practiced more carefully can catalyse public action on key issues.

Ayona Datta, writing in The Conversation about how young women living on the outskirts of Delhi are using selfies to challenge standard orderings of public space, agrees with Cole that photography can be both a liberating and dangerous act. The locations where young women snap selfies, and their immediate surroundings, provide insights into control over women’s bodies in contested urban settings. Datta suggests the selfies express deeper yearnings and anxieties than ‘a simple rendition of a millennial trend’.

Indeed, studying the political arguments and expressions of the young matters to understanding contemporary politics on several continents. Dan Hodgkinson and Luke Melchiorre highlight the agency of radical students in 1960s and 1970s Africa in pushing alternate pan-Africanist and socialist decolonisation projects which authoritarian postcolonial states combatted.

Elsewhere, Associate Professor of History Elspeth Brown explores the history of Canada’s first gay student organisation, the ‘University of Toronto Homophile Association’, founded in 1969. The body prefigured today’s LGBT liberation movements in the region, and Brown includes audio clips from lead activist Jearld Moldenhauer which shine a light on the challenges – including unemployment – Moldenhauer faced for his agitation.

Finally, returning to the theme of the language and concepts employed to stigmatise disadvantaged groups and populations, Kate McAllister of the University of Sheffield writes about the history of mental health treatment in Britain. Charities like Mind are currently calling for ‘parity of esteem’ between mental and physical health conditions as politicians move painfully slowly – if at all – to recognise the country’s ongoing mental health crisis. McAllister investigates how in early 20th-century welfare legislation, the concept of the ‘unconscious’ was used to brand mental health problems imaginary. Again, the detailed study of history and its organising concepts and narratives offers crucial insights into today’s problems.

Tom Shillam is PhD student at the University of York who holds a Departmental Scholarship from the Department of History. His research considers how mid-20th century South Asian intellectuals synthesised anti-authoritarian ideas of their own with those of writers elsewhere to propose a different decolonising politics to the dominant developmentalist dogmas of the time. Catch him on Twitter @tomshillam.