II. An Interview with Dr. Meisel7
1. If we accept that slaves did not attack slavery as an institution, or institutionalized racism, but rather sought to attain their individual liberty through the adoption of creole political discourse, is it possible to talk of a 'political consciousness'?
Meisel argued that racial solidarity was the exception rather than the rule in colonial societies. There was not sufficient cohesion among slaves that would make possible a concerted struggle for the abolition of slavery. It is true, then, that slaves' military service for the patriotic cause may have been a strategy to gain their freedom. A great level of desertion in the insurgent armies seems to back this claim. In a similar way, slaves' petitions, which appealed to nationalism and equality, served the slaves' own cause. But was this just a strategy? Slaves may indeed have used political discourse as a strategy for their own struggle, but their adherence to the universal equality promoted by the independence movement may have surpassed just their struggle for individual liberty. So Meisel asked, "why not believe" that they actually supported the cause of independence beyond immediate objectives? Why not believe, then, that they did develop a political consciousness compatible with the ideological foundations of the Wars of Independence? Military service led slaves to assert their honor, so important in the Spanish tradition. In a way, the fight for independence provided a space for political ideas to shape the political discourse of the oppressed.
2. Can we understand post-Independence civil wars in most emergent Latin American 'nations' as resulting from the contradictions of nationalist rhetoric during the Wars of Independence?
During the Wars of Independence there was a revision of stereotypes (especially concerning 'morality'), exemplified by the image of slaves in uniform; now slaves claimed honor for themselves on behalf of their military service. The internal tensions and contradictions of the
7. This interview was conducted by the present author and Marisabel Villagómez immediately after the lecture. I must thank Dr. Meisel for the time that he dedicated to answering our questions. For lack of a tape recorder, it has been necessary to paraphrase his responses on the basis of notes, which I have done as accurately as possible.