Did Russia ever have slaves


Jan-Christoph Marschelke

To person

Dr. iur., born 1980; Temporary academic advisor and managing director of the Research Center for Cultural and Collective Studies at the University of Regensburg, Landshuter Stra├če 4, 93047 Regensburg. [email protected]

According to the Global Slavery Index (GSI) 2014, 35.8 million people now live as slaves. [1] In absolute terms, that is more than ever before. But what exactly is modern slavery? Under what circumstances do modern slaves work? What do they produce and who benefits from it? Why can slavery still exist when it is legally outlawed? I will pursue these and other questions below.

Why is the term "slavery" being given the attribute "modern"? There are two reasons. The first is: De iure slavery is outlawed worldwide. The legal abolition of slavery (abolition) represents - according to the historian Egon Flaig - the "deepest break in human history". [2] Historically, we have only been living without the legal institution of "slavery" for a very short time. That we speak of "modern" slavery takes this turning point into account. The second reason for the adjective "modern" is that slavery de facto still exists. Today's slavery had to adapt to illegality; its manifestations and the context in which it is embedded have "modernized". Modern infrastructures are often used for slavery - planes, the Internet and current forms of financial capitalism. However, well-known structures are hidden under these new clothes. As before, slaves mainly do physically demanding and socially underestimated work. The abduction of people is still an effective strategy for slavery. And slavery is still a lucrative business.

In fact, it is misleading to speak of a turning point between "old" and "modern". On the one hand, abolition lasted well into the second half of the 20th century; formally it ended in Oman in 1970. [3] It could also be set for the end of 1980 (fourth ban in Mauritania) or 2000, when Nepal banned traditional debt bondage. On the other hand, the expression "caesura" suggests that there was a cut that today eliminates what was ubiquitous until yesterday. This is not realistic for two reasons. First Abolition began as early as the end of the 18th century, that is, it dragged on for about two centuries. So it took place - viewed globally - at the same time and under correspondingly different conditions. Secondly the legal abolition did not immediately mean the de facto abolition. Socio-economic structures, some of which were shaped by slavery for centuries, could not change overnight. For many of the formally liberated, the circumstances hardly changed. If they went away - for example to the big cities (where life was hardly any better) - they were replaced by the importation of foreign workers (such as the so-called coolies), who entered into debt or contract bondage that was extremely similar to slavery.

The "old" slavery has also had consequences that are still visible today, be it the favelas in Rio de Janeiro or the deep social rifts in the USA - recently reappeared in the form of racist police violence. Elsewhere (such as in Southeast Asia), slavery-like conditions of exploitation have never ceased to exist. "Modern" slavery is neither completely new nor is it very different from the "old" one.


Defining slavery is considered difficult. It has existed for around 10,000 years and has spread worldwide. [4] We know an enormous variety of forms of slavery, including mine, plantation, house, temple, palace, sacrificial, child, contract and debt slavery. The criteria for the formation of the term vary: sometimes activity, sometimes location, purpose, social context (kin = Kinship) or reasons of enslavement. Instead of using the singular, it is better to use the plural of "slavery" or, in relation to work, of slaving[5] Sociologist Kevin Bales and human rights expert Becky Cornell define modern slavery in terms of three criteria: control through violence, loss of free will, and economic exploitation. [6] The historian Michael Zeuske adds a fourth characteristic, namely social marginalization. [7]

The GSI defines, more specifically, three things under modern slavery: human trafficking, slavery or practices similar to slavery, and forced labor. They are not clearly delimited from one another and come from different sources. At the human trafficking two things are particularly important: on the one hand, that a person's will is broken (e.g. through violence) or manipulated (e.g. through deception); on the other hand, that the trade is done with the intention of exploitation. slavery is when one person has someone else as if they were their own. Under slavery-like practices Examples include bonded labor, forced marriage, and the sale or exploitation of children. Forced labor is defined as work that a person is forced to do through threats of sanctions. In summary, this means in the GSI: "Modern slavery involves one person possessing or controlling another person in such as a way as to significantly deprive that person of their individual liberty, with the intention of exploiting that person through their use, management, profit, transfer or disposal. "[8]

The feature of purchasability is controversial: Anyone who strictly defines slavery as the "extreme form of bondage" (Flaig) concentrates only on the second form of the GSI definition, possibly even excluding practices similar to slavery. Flaig, for example, excludes the forced labor of the Nazi and Soviet dictatorships from the definition of slavery. Despite all the violence, all lack of freedom and all forced labor, the prisoners were not degraded to merchandise for sale. [9] According to this argument, the radical reification of human beings, typical of slavery, only arises through marketability. Modern slavery would therefore be the work of children on the cocoa plantations in West Africa, which the plantation owners buy for the equivalent of 230 euros (including transport costs). [10] This also applies to the so-called Restavecswho run the household of wealthy citizens in Haiti; they cost around 50 euros. [11] The sale of women and children to forced prostitution by relatives or "friends" also falls under this definition.

Other exploitative employment relationships fall outside this definition. The foreign workers who are working under the most precarious conditions on the construction sites for the planned soccer World Cup in Qatar in 2022 would therefore not be slaves. They are not bought, but rather pay agencies themselves to find a job. Debt bondage in the Pakistani Peshgi system (e.g. clay brick production) or in the Indian Koliya system (agriculture) could not be described as slavery. In both cases, people are exploited and are completely socio-economically dependent on their employers or lessors. But they are not traded.

Another point of contention is the loss of free will as a criterion. When does an economic constraint go so far that the formation of free will is no longer possible? This question is particularly controversial when it comes to prostitution. It is sometimes argued that no one who is able to form his own will would sell his or her body for sexual activities. Prostitution would therefore always be slavery, aside from the discussion about viability. A similar argument is made with regard to organ trafficking.

Depending on the definition, exploitation begins with mutual underpayment and ends with violent reification. The boundaries are fluid - but where does slavery begin? [12] The points of contention outlined above show that a definition of slavery is neither arbitrary nor objective or neutral in a naive sense. Calling a relationship "slavery" leads to severe moral criticism and possibly legal or political action. Those who benefit from such conditions will try to prevent the label "slavery" from being attached to them. Conversely, those who want to generate (media) attention for the topic of "modern slavery" will benefit from the high number of cases that can be achieved through a broad definition.