Sarah Badcock’s study of exile in Eastern Siberia between 1905 and 1917 mines several little-explored regional archives to offer a thickly descriptive study of the carceral experience of tens of thousands of tsarist subjects. Building on the transnational historiographies of punishment and migration and more recent spatial or imperial turns in histories of Russia, Badcock explores ‘the formation of multiple identities for the punished and the meaning and experience of displacement’ (p. 23). Moving beyond a discussion of the lives of literate political exiles who left extensive personal correspondence to posterity, Badcock seeks to unearth from the archival record the experiences of common criminals ‘who were often occluded or demonized in the political prisoner accounts’ (p. 24). Badcock acknowledges, though, that the archival sources provide only fragmentary insights into the experiences of the tens of thousands of semi-literate or illiterate prisoners and their families who were transported across the Urals and into (relative) oblivion. Badcock’s broad narrative arc threads its way through four thematic chapters which deal with the journey into exile, life in exile communities, work and escape, and illness and death. Badcock shows how ‘travel was an integral part of Russian exiles’ penal experience, and more than that, it was an integral part of their punishment’ (p. 69). The deportation process involved the convicts’ ‘divorce from society’ and the relationships ‘that were forged during travel, towards other exiles, and to convoy officers, were formative in the construction of a distinct carceral identity for exiles’. New communities were forged in the process that were grounded in ‘hostility towards the state’ and often endured throughout captivity (p. 69). The historiography of the exile system is dominated by discussions of the benefits that educated exiles brought to the Siberian continent. The memoirs of political exiles repeatedly made bold claims about the enlightening and elevating influence of educated exiles on the Siberian native populations of Russian peasants and indigenous peoples, and Badcock shows that the ‘political exiles’ cultural imperialism’ was ‘reminiscent of educated Russians’ attitudes to the rural population in the late Imperial period’ and ‘limited their ability to interact meaningfully with native Siberians’ (p. 105). Most of the convicts who flooded into the exile system in the wake of 1905 were lower-class Russians who lacked the skills and resources to establish themselves as frontier colonists. Thousands fled their captivity and ‘escape brings the problem of administering exile to its fulcrum’. The local administration was charged with ‘monitoring exiles and controlling their movements but they had insufficient means and resources at their disposal to complete this function’. As a result, the ‘Prison without Walls?’ of Badcock’s title deserves its cautious question mark, for ‘in practice the boundaries of exile locations were entirely porous’ (p. 138). The book explores the paradox of a state ‘that exercised less control than one would expect in the context of the “late Imperial police state”, but this did not entail less punishment for the state’s subjects’. To the contrary, Badcock argues, ‘the inadequacy of state control and intervention could mean more suffering for those punished’ (p. 176). Above all, the position of exiles’ families ‘shows how categories of free and forced, convict and innocent, punished and unpunished, were profoundly blurred’ (p. 168). The suffering of those who followed husbands and fathers into exile only ‘reinforces the sense that punishment was not rational, or controlled’ (p. 177). The exile system in this period raises, therefore, fundamental questions (about some of which Badcock might have been more explicit) on the ‘relationships between subjects and the state in the late Imperial period’ (p. 178). The exile system that Badcock describes stood very much in the shadow of the 1905 Revolution. Government repression produced a huge influx of convicts into the penal system and significantly blurred the traditional boundaries between political and common criminals. Faddei Savitskii, the commandant of the Aleksandrovsk Central Prison in Irkutsk province, through which most exiles bound for Eastern Siberia passed, observed of the increasingly close relations between political and common prisoners that the latter had ‘an increasing sense of citizenship, carrying themselves freely and independently’ (p. 50). Ultimately, then, 1905 appears in Badcock’s book as a turning-point in Russian history and one that ultimately sealed the fate of the autocracy. The regime’s previous steps towards penal reform were halted and Siberia’s prisons became centres of confinement for an increasingly politicised and embittered population, while the traditional culture of deference and authority that underpinned the patriarchal state was crumbling. At the heart of this book is the autocracy’s contradictory pursuit of the goals of punishment and colonisation. The state nurtured the ambition (in the face of evidence to the contrary that had mounted over the previous century) that ‘exiles would be productive members of Siberian society’ even as it still sought to ‘isolate and punish’ them (p. 177). Badcock has produced a finely researched, elegantly written and thought-provoking contribution to our understanding of a sprawling penal realm that eroded the state’s colonial ambitions in the East. © Oxford University Press 2018. All rights reserved. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
The English Historical Review – Oxford University Press
Published: Apr 10, 2018
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