Rivoluzionario o riformista? Victor Schoelcher e l’abolizione della schiavitù

ANNO 54 2013
Francesco Magris

Revolutionary or reformist? Victor Schoelcher and the abo-lition of slavery
The article concerns the life and work of Victor Schoelcher (1804-1893), architect of the abolition of slavery in the French Antilles (1848), beginning with his Alsatian origins which sharpened his sensitivity to the often dramatic problems of ethnically mixed territories, and going on to analyze both the «cult of Schoelcher», liberator and revolutionary, and the radical accusations of his being no more than a moderate reformer and an instrument of assimilation. His fight against slavery – in the context of the European abolitionary movement at large – is examined from his initial concept of gradual abolition to his later championing of immediate abolition, in contrast to the precisely opposite development of another prominent abolitionist, Cyrille Bis-sette. The article concentrates on such basic aspects of the Antillean reality as the frequent conflict between blacks and mulattos, and the difference in attitude between the receptiveness of the plantation owners and the strong opposition of «small-time» whites fearful of black competition. Finally, the article describes Schoelcher’s last years – his opposition to the coup d’état of December 21, 1851, his exile in London, and his engagement in many progressive struggles for, among other causes, women’s rights, social assistance, and the abolition of usury and of the death penalty. It concludes by pointing out that though «Schoelcherism» was on the wane until briefly revived at the time of Mitterand, it nevertheless remained very much alive in the Antilles.

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