From peasants to workers in the aftermath of emancipation: Class, nation and reform, 1865-1914
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This dissertation situates the experience of former serfs from partitioned Poland-Lithuania in the transatlantic context of the nearly simultaneous abolition of serfdom in East-Central Europe and slavery in the United States. It follows the migration of rural Poles to the United States in the aftermath of abolition and prior to the outbreak of World War I. Exploring the post-abolition experience of the Polish peasantry on both sides of the Atlantic, this dissertation focuses on how the Polish and American progressive middle class responded to the emancipation of millions of rural workers who shortly after the abolition engaged in massive transnational movement. The transatlantic abolition of forced labor and its consequences serve here as a context for the upsurge of progressive reformism that was particularly influential in contemporary partitioned Poland-Lithuania and the United States. Drawing upon W.E.B. Du Bois' analysis of the post-abolition experience of African Americans as "modern serfdom" as well as Keith Griffler's framework of the race-based global division of labor and conceptualization of unfree labor, this dissertation argues that the transatlantic journey of the Polish peasantry in the aftermath of the abolition of serfdom offered to the impoverished uneducated Polish peasants an opportunity to transcend the multiple borders of modernity. Despite being members of a formally colonized nation and subjects of three European empires, the Polish rural migrants in the United States became legal residents of a sovereign state that was turning into an imperial power. They moved from the countryside to settle in urban spaces. Finally, upon the arrival in the United States, they joined the ranks of the industrial working class. All these developments demonstrate that the ability to cross the Atlantic and the conditions granted to the migrants in the United States enabled Polish and other formerly enserfed East-Central European peasants to leave behind their own and their ancestors' long-lasting bondage. The basic and necessary condition for these truly revolutionary changes was inclusion in the category of whiteness. This dissertation contends that on the U.S. side of the Atlantic, serfdom and its legacy dissolved due to the racial identity of the migrants. Because of the racial character of New World slavery, the same was impossible for former slaves and their descendants born on the American soil. Through race, the condition of enslavement continued to impact the lives of those who were born free in the country where slavery was no longer legal.