Haiti and African Liberation in the Americas: Gerald Horne

On Saturday, May 22nd, 2021, in anticipation of the global events marking African Liberation Day , the Black Alliance for Peace  hosted African Liberation Day in the Americas , a webinar exploring the parallel struggles and inter-connected histories of people of African descent throughout the Americas. The webinar featured Black activists and academics from Haiti, Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, and the United States. Together, they examined how anti-African repression extends across the geographic, national, and linguistic divisions of the hemisphere – only to be resisted by a shared culture and tradition of African revolt and autonomy. Haiti was at the center of African Liberation Day in the Americas. As Professor Gerald Horne’s remarks made clear, Haiti’s anti-slavery efforts contributed to the freedom struggles of all of the laborers and toilers throughout the Americas. For this reason, Haiti deserves the solidarity of all African peoples, and of all workers. 

The foremost radical historian of our era, Dr. Gerald Horne  holds the Moores Professorship of History and African American Studies at the University of Houston. He is the author of more than thirty books, including Confronting Black Jacobins: The United States, the Haitian Revolution, and the Origins of the Dominican Republic The Apocalypse of Settler Colonialism: The Roots of Slavery, White Supremacy, and Capitalism in Seventeenth-Century North America and the Caribbean ; and The Counter-Revolution of 1776 Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America .

Haiti and African Liberation in the Americas

Gerald Horne

My brief remarks will mostly be about slavery. That is to say, in the first instance, I will be laying the foundation for how and why Black people from Africa wound up in the Americas.

In the late 18th century, two profound processes unfolded in the Americas that were to have consequences for the entire hemisphere. First, in 1776, you had a revolt led by slave owners driven by the lust for indigenous land. They also felt the desire to continue and accelerate the enslavement of Africans, which they had thought might be in jeopardy because of a growing abolitionist movement – not only in the Caribbean, but also in London, itself. Second, another process began unfolding in 1791, culminating in 1804 with the Haitian Revolution. It was driven by anti-slavery.

Needless to say, the newly-born United States of America was quite hostile to revolutionary Haiti and indeed, in 1844, the US aligned with forces in a sizable portion of the island to engineer a split that led to the creation of the Dominican Republic. Haiti, on the other hand, sponsored abolitionists and anti-slavery  movements. The efforts of Haiti compelled London to abandon the slave trade by 1807 and slavery itself by 1833. Interestingly, Texas (where I am now sitting) seceded from Mexico in 1836 on pro-slavery grounds because Mexico had moved to abolish slavery in the late 1820s under the leadership of Vicente Guerrero , a president of African descent.

After Texas successfully seceded from Mexico on pro-slavery grounds, Haiti, along with an international abolitionist movement, put so much pressure on independent Texas it decided to join the United States in 1845, where it still resides. For Texas, it was an attempt to continue its slave trading operations. During its brief existence as an independent nation, Texas was a major slave trading force with slave ships flying its flag found off the coasts of Angola, Brazil, and Cuba.

Mexico, it is fair to say, was probably the major victim of U.S. expansionism — not least because Mexico offered a refuge to enslaved Africans fleeing not only the United States, but from the Caribbean as well. As a result, we saw the United States wage war against Mexico in 1846, which led to the United States seizing a sizable portion of Mexican land, including California, which today is the wealthiest and most populous state in the United States of America and by some measures, ranks as the fifth-largest economy on planet earth. Thereafter, the United States continued to try to seize Mexican territory, often with the help of traitorous Mexican forces. 

Brazil, too, was also a major victim of Washington. U.S. slave traders are largely responsible for the fact that Brazil has the largest Black population outside of West Africa itself. In the 1840s US-flagged ships could be found off the coast of Mozambique, off the coast of Angola, seizing and manacling Africans and dragging them across the Atlantic to toil in Brazil. There were powerful forces in Washington as well who wanted to execute in Brazil what they had executed in Mexico. That is to say, they had this scheme that suggested that the Amazon River was in some ways an oceanographic extension of the Mississippi River. By this logic, the United States should seize the Amazon River and indeed expel a good deal of the population of the United States of America to be enslaved workers in the Amazon River valley. 

Fortunately, that plan did not succeed. I should also say that all the while these diabolical schemes were taking place, it was Haiti, through its diplomatic missions, particularly in London, that was plotting against the United States . Haiti did this even though the United States did not recognize Haiti diplomatically  until the U.S. civil war in the 1860s, when the United States government was on the verge of being overthrown by energized, fanatical slave owners.

Central America was also a site where Haiti and the United States clashed. It was in the 1850s that a U.S. pirate by the name of William Walker seized power with a band of cut-throats in Nicaragua with the idea of reviving the enslavement of Africans in Nicaragua which had been banned in 1838.

Once again, throughout this entire period, Haiti stood tall as the first independent Black republic campaigning on our behalf. It is fair to say that the Haitian Revolution was not only a victory for the millions of enslaved Africans in the Americas. The Haitian Revolution was also a victory for all working class people because the existence of slavery drove down the wages and working/living standards of all people who sold their labor for a living. The Haitian Revolution needs to be saluted by us all, just as independent Haiti today deserves our solidarity.

In fact, I think we should stress that there are two nations in particular that deserve the solidarity of us all. Not only the Haitian Revolution, but the Cuban Revolution — executed successfully in 1959, 155 years after the Haitian Revolution.

Finally, let me make another point with regard to solidarity that could be considered scholarly solidarity. I proposed to the Haitian Studies Association , and there seems to be favorability towards this proposal, that we enlist an international team of researchers to dig into the archives of Caracas and Bogota in particular, but not exclusively, to uncover the documents that document how abolitionist Haiti was the main campaigner against enslavement of Africans before 1888, when the enslavement process came to a kind of halt in Brazil.  That is to say, to copy and scan these documents, email them and forward them so they can be published in books, so that they can be disseminated on the internet, so that we can all gain a deeper understanding of the debt that all working class people owe to Haiti and the debt that all Black people – not only in the Americas – but worldwide owe to Haiti.

Thank you very much for your attention.

Reposted from The Black Agenda Review.

First posted The Black Agenda Review

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Edward Kamau Brathwaite, Citadel, 1974

after a mural in port-au-prince by alexandre was

from the pic of le cap where the citadel sits
the arawaks wait
the fleshes of their headdress are stairs up the montagne

the rings of the palm trees are bells up the montagne
toussaint is a zemi
he stares from the flesh of stone

the white of the helmet, columbus conquistador
the white of the sword
becomes lightning

the steel of the cutlass
the knife of the god
the thongs of the whips

drink water like trees
africaines from the slave ships
dance out of the riflemen’s loins

become dessalines dessalines
la crete-a-pierrot
the spangle of death from the hot

of lianes
and christophe columbus climbs up to his mountain top
with the face of his horse in the faith of his shadow

he stumbles on priest on an african slave on a spaniard
the places of pain become pig snouts
the black becomes white becomes black becomes rain

falling to plunder the roof
of the world
toussaint is a zemi

he stares from the stone from the eye
lids of flame
at his fate.

From Edward Kamau Brathwaite, “Third World Poems,” The Massachusetts Review, 15 no. 1/2, Caliban (Winter-Spring, 1974), pp. 73-74

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Black Alliance for Peace Statement of Solidarity with Haitian Workers on International Workers’ Day

On May 1, 2021, on International Workers’ Day, the Black Alliance for Peace salutes the Haitian worker and applauds their long history of struggles for Black freedom and the universal rights of workers.

Haiti is often derided as the “poorest country in the American hemisphere.” Yet, we know it was the enslaved labor of Africans in the French colony of Saint-Domingue (now the Republic of Haiti) that contributed to the wealth of the European world, fueling the emergence of capitalism.

The resistance of those Africans against slavery and capitalism also provided a beacon of hope for the enslaved, peasants, and workers—both Black and non-Black—throughout the world. From small acts of subversion to slow-downs, Africans resisted slavery from the moment they arrived in the New World. In the 17th and 18th centuries, escaped Africans—maroons, or mawons in Haitian Creole—formed insurgent communities in remote, mountainous areas. Among the most famous mawon was François Mackandal, an African who in 1757 devised a plot to poison the white planters and burn down the plantations. He was captured and publicly executed as a warning to other Africans.

In 1791, a plot against slavery led by Boukman Dutty and Cecile Fatiman was launched at the famous Bois-Caiman ceremony. In the short term, their plot would fail, but it lit a fire that could not be extinguished. It sparked 13 years of revolt and counter-revolt that we now know as the Haitian Revolution. The Revolution’s heroes—Toussaint Louverture, Jean Jacques Dessalines and others are well known—but its success depended on the struggle of the Haitian masses. Tens of thousands of unknown enslaved Africans defeated Napoleon’s forces, ended slavery and established the Republic of Haiti: the first Black Republic in the Hemisphere, a place where all enslaved Africans would be granted freedom, and a potent symbol of pan-Africanism.

Yet, Haiti’s resistance did not end in 1804. With the establishment of the Republic, Haiti’s Black elites became the primary obstacle for freedom, dignity, democracy and economic sovereignty for Haiti’s African peasant classes. Peasant insurgencies occurred in 1807 and 1811. In 1844, a “suffering army” of peasants in southern Haiti were at the forefront of the Piquet Rebellion’s demand for social equality, radical democracy and the rights of small landholders.

In the 20th century, Haitian peasants initiated the armed resistance against the U.S. military occupation (1915-1930). A brief insurgency led by peasant insurrectionists, known as cacos, lasted from July to November 1915 before it was crushed by the Marines. Despite U.S. Marine efforts to arrest or assassinate suspected cacos, their insurgency was renewed under the leadership of Charlemagne Péralte and later Benoît Batraville. Péralte was assassinated on November 1, 1919—and, like Makandal, his corpse was used as a deterrent to future rebellion. Batraville was assassinated on May 20, 1920, his death effectively marking the end of the caco insurgencies. Rebellion against the occupation would be taken up by Haitian students whose protests in 1929 led to a general strike combining both workers in Port-au-Prince and other cities and peasants throughout the country. These new protests led to the withdrawal of U.S. troops in 1934.

In 1934, the Haitian Communist Party was formed by writer Jacques Roumain (author of the magnificent, fictional homage to Haitian labor, The Masters of the Dew) and others. Inspired in part by Roumain, Haiti Marxists, including Jacques Stephen Alexis, René Depestre and Gérald Bloncourt were behind the “Revolution of 1946” that saw the overthrow of the tyrannical regime of Élie Lescot, after student protests and nationwide strikes. During this period the Parti Communiste Haïtien was revived and the Parti Socialiste Populaire was organized, as was the Mouvement Ouvrier et Paysan, the largest labor organization in Haiti’s history led by the charismatic Daniel Fignolé.

While the United States and Haiti’s military forces remained powerful influences in Haiti’s political life, this movement of workers and peasants led to a brief, progressive period in Haiti’s politics before the emergence of the dictatorship of Francois and Jean-Claude Duvalier (1957-1986). In 1961, communist Jacques Stephen Alexis led a coup against Duvalier that ultimately failed. Alexis was brutally tortured and murdered for his efforts. The Duvalier regime would not fall for another two decades, after riots against poverty and student protests in the early 1980s led to a 1986 grassroots uprising. This unseated the Duvalier regime and eventually led to the coming to power of Famni Lavalas and Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

In the decades since, Haitian workers and peasants have continued a ceaseless fight against both the Haitian aristocracy and the imperial powers for sovereignty, dignity and freedom. Today, Haiti’s laboring masses continue this tradition of protest in their attempts to unseat Jovenel Moïse and to destroy the imperialism of the United States, the Core Group, the OAS and others.

To mark International Workers’ Day, the Black Alliance for Peace expresses its solidarity with the modern-day struggle of the Haitian worker—and our gratitude for Haiti’s history of resistance.

Source: The Black Alliance for Peace.

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Ten Commandments of Democracy in Haiti, September 25, 1991

Reposted from The Black Agenda Review.

On Wednesday September 25, 1991, Father Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the first democratically-elected president of the Republic of Haiti, addressed the forty-sixth session of the United Nations General Assembly. For Aristide, the address offered an opportunity to describe to the international community Haiti’s long historical contribution to the struggle for freedom and human rights, as well as to outline the very meaning of democracy for the Haitian people — especially as it was articulated through the strategy and praxis of the “lavalas ” movement. 

Titled the “Ten Commandments of Democracy in Haiti,”Aristide’s address is expansive, generous, humorous , and radical, centering the poor and dispossessed over the rich and powerful. While Aristide captures Haiti’s historic struggle for democracy, he also maps out Haiti’s position in the wider world of the early 1990s, a world riven by “profound upheavals,” as he called them, that were fundamentally reordering global politics. As such, he addresses questions of poverty and militarism, of the fall of the Soviet Union and the struggles of South Africa, and of the history of Haitian-Dominican relations and the status and rights of Haiti’s “tenth department,” the Haitian diaspora. 

Significantly, while the bulk of the address was made in Haitian Kreyol—perhaps the first time the UN General Assembly had been addressed in what, under Aristide, would become one of Haiti’s official languages—its extended preamble (not included here) also contains fraternal addresses to the nations and peoples of the world in Swahili, Spanish, French, Hebrew, Arabic, English, Italian, and German. While Aristide has been cast  by the Western media as a demonic and demagogic figure, the “Ten Commandments” remind us of his roots as a humble parish priest whose thought is grounded in a humanistic practice of liberation theology and radical democracy, conveyed in his promotion of liberty, the democratization of wealth, and the preservation of human dignity.

It is perhaps not surprising that on September 29, less than a week after his address to the United Nations, Aristide was deposed in a U.S.-sponsored  coup d’etat. Democracy in Haiti has been under attack ever since. 


Father Jean-Bertrand Aristide, President of the Republic of Haiti

Address to the Forty-Sixth Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations, New York City, September 25, 1991

This decade has begun with events that can shape the future of mankind and of course give rise to hopes and questions. The forty-sixth session of the General Assembly crystallizes, in our view, a period of profound reflection for the international community. Unlike previous periods, this session is taking place at a time when profound upheavals are appreciably changing the geopolitical axes of our planet. The dialectic of a bipolar policy is prompting the international community to wonder who is to accede to the seat of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in the General Assembly and the Security Council of the United Nations? What about democracy at the global level?

We are talking about the future of the geopolitical axes, which should never be allowed to develop into totalitarian and absolute power.

At a time when the international community is concerned with changes in the geopolitical axes of the planet, let us turn to our dear Haiti, the rebellious, faithful daughter, a rebel against all imperialist dictates but faithful to all democratic prescriptions.

I should like to speak of ten milestones that line our way; we could call them the ten democratic commandments that arise from our democratic praxis. Our message will be confined to the democratic arena, where the ten democratic commands stand up in a straight line.

The First Commandment of Democracy: Liberty or Death

The first milestone, or the first democratic commandment, is liberty or death. As you know, Haiti was one of the first beacons of liberty in the western hemisphere. In 1791 we gave the world its first slave revolution, which enabled hundreds of thousands of Blacks to throw off the yoke repression. The leaders of that victorious revolution helped to finance the liberation crusades of Simon Bolivar in South America. It was in Haiti that slavery was first abolished, taking a giant stride towards human freedom. From the Haitian Revolution grew the roots of the declaration of human rights. The Haiti of Boukman, Dessalines and Toussaint Louverture was and remains the first black republic in the world.

Like a star of liberty, Haiti shines in the eyes of all. Throughout our history, often glorious, sometimes troubled, we have always recalled with pride the unprecedented exploits of our ancestors. The cries of “Liberty or death, liberty or death,” far from being stifled in a sterile past, ring out continually in the heart of a people that has become, forever, a free nation.

All throughout our long march toward 1991, in spite of our contribution to the free world, Haiti has not been able to open all the doors of the international community. The colonists of those days and their allies were afraid of freedom, as were our leaders and the traditional oligarchy. White colonists, black colonists—we had to throw off the yoke of black dictators and their international allies.

Happily, in 1986, to the surprise of the entire world, the Haitian people overthrew a dictatorial regime of 30 years’ standing. This was the beginning of the end of a dictatorship which has left indelible scars. But the more we recall these scars, the louder we cry: “Liberty or death, liberty or death!”

The Second Commandment of Democracy: Democracy or Death

The second milestone, or democratic commandment, is democracy of death. After having thrown out the repressive, corrupt regime of the Duvaliers on 7 February 1986, the people of Charlemagne Péralte had only one choice: to establish, once and for all, a democratic regime in Haiti. Hence, “liberty or death” is equivalent to “democracy or death.” We therefore struggled relentlessly for the attainment of our rights against minority groups that held a monopoly on power after 1986. A relentless struggle and a legitimate one, since those in power did nothing to change the nature of the State, which for such a long time created conditions for maintaining the status quo and the functioning of the machinery of exploitation and repression. 

Finally, on 16 December 1990, thanks to the valor of the Haitian people and thanks to your contribution, for the first time we held free, fair and democratic elections. Honor to the Haitian masses. Glory to our ancestors, who thwarted colonialism at the beginning of the 19th century. Hail to the international community and hail to the United Nations!  

This is indeed an important first in history. For once, for the first time, a people with an ingenious tactical movement brought a revolution by the ballot box. The election of the President of the Republic by more than 70 percent on the first ballot symbolizes the victory of the people, the power of the people and the demands of the people.

These free, honest and democratic elections are ultimately the result of our own political strategy, that is to say, the historic upsurge of ‘”lavalas.” We fought in the manner of “lavalas,” we won in the manner of “lavalas” and we are advancing in the manner of “lavalas.”

In union there is strength, this is our motto. With the fork of division one cannot drink the soup of elections; with the fork of division, one cannot drink the soup of democracy. 

In a way, the “lavalas” strategy is akin to the thoughts of the Pope, who, in his “Centesimus Annus” encyclical, suggested that events in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union were paving the way for the reaffirmation of the “positive character of an authentic theology of the total liberation of man.” In Haiti, this theological approach cannot be confined to a simple analysis of reality; it is meant to be, rather, a method of thought and action in the school of the poor, a privileged site of the revelation of God, the historical subject of this struggle for the total liberation of man.

It is on the basis of the experience of the poor that we base the teachings of the democratic praxis, fueled and illuminated, of course, by the theology of freedom. The dialectic to be established between the theology of freedom and the politics of freedom necessarily passes through the life and experiences of the poor.

When Jean-Paul Sartre criticized Hegel he noted that the latter had overlooked the fact that a void is devoid of something, and we liberation theologians can state that the void of poverty is an avid void, and not devoid of what is essential. A void of liberation, its void entails a legitimate expectation whose essence dwells within the spirit of the poor. It lives by giving life to democracy. We, who are elected democratically, must be faithful to its rights.

The Third Commandment of Democracy: Fidelity to Human Rights

I turn now to the third milestone of democracy: fidelity to human rights. If a man has duties, he certainly also has rights, rights to be respected and to respect, rights to guarantee that ultimately a State ruled by law will emerge.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights  is and must remain sacred. It is our heavy responsibility to observe the Constitution faithfully to guarantee our inalienable

rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, in keeping with our Act of Independence  of 1804 and the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

There must be respect for the Constitution in order to build a socially just, economically free and politically independent Haitian nation.

There must be respect for the Constitution, in order to establish ideological pluralism and political diversity, to strengthen national unity, to eliminate the differences between towns and rural areas, to ensure the separation and the harmonious allocation of executive, judiciary, and parliamentary powers; so as to establish a government based on fundamental freedoms and respect for human rights, a national dialogue, and the participation of the population as a whole in major decisions touching upon national life through an effective decentralization.

The Fourth Commandment of Democracy: The Right to Eat and to Work

The fourth milestone or fourth commandment of democracy is the right to eat and the right to work.

It goes without saying that the right to eat is an integral part of human rights. The existence of a person who is hungry because he is exploited indicts both the oppressor and the authorities who are responsible for enforcing respect for the inalienable and indefeasible right to life. In Haiti, victims of international exploitation have difficulty getting enough to eat because they themselves are being ground by the axes of international exploitation. In the arms race, the nations of the world are devoting to it more than $500 billion a year, or $1.4 billion every day. Only 15 days of such expenditure could eradicate hunger from the planet for many years.

The tragedy of hunger arises not out of lack of food but out of a lack of social justice. Work, more work, always work – this is what man needs if he is to earn his bread by the sweat of his brow. It has been noted that if the amount being spent on building a B-1 bomber were to be spent on constructing dwellings, 70,000 jobs would be created.

How can we justify the fact that 71 percent of Haitian farmers cultivate only a small square of land, less than 1.2 hectares? How can we justify the fact that 30 percent of the wealthiest landowners in our country own more than two thirds of the arable land?

We must rise above the age-old indifference of the dominant political and economic sectors and demand respect for the right to food and the right to work. The hunger of one man is the hunger of all men. Everyone must work to achieve a laboring civilization in which the roots of hunger will be eradicated. The hunger of one man is the hunger of all men.

We must go beyond verbiage and explore some of the factual pathways that have been traversed since 7 February 1991. On 7 February 1991 the “lavalas” government began to bring order to the administration. State resources have increased appreciably. In the last four months of the prior government, fiscal and customs revenues stood at a monthly average of 86.8 million gourds, in contrast to an average of 122.9 million for the first four months of our “lavalas” government, with a clear upward trend — 137.6 million in the month of June. As for expenditures, in November 1990 the former government spent 164.7 million goures; in June 1991, the “lavalas” government spent only 86 million. Thus, for the first time in a long time, public funds showed a surplus of 41 million gourdes.

An increase in food production is a necessity. In order to achieve this, we are going to implement the agrarian reform set forth in article 248  of the Constitution and provide peasants with the wherewithal for production.

The participation of the private sector is essential for the creation of highly labor-intensive business. Whereas in the past illegal practices made it possible for some sectors to plunder the country to the detriment of the vast majority of the population, our “lavalas” government is ensuring respect for the rights of all: the right to invest in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution; the right to work for human and economic growth. To our dear friends and investors abroad, Haiti here and now extends a most cordial and heartfelt welcome.

The Fifth Commandment of Democracy: The Right to Demand What Rightfully Belongs to Us

The fifth milestone of the democratic commandment is the right to demand our due. In the past five years the Haitian people have made an outstanding and remarkable contribution to the democratic struggle that is being waged throughout the world. As the democratic tide surged in—in Eastern Europe, in Asia, in the Middle East, South Africa and Central and South America—we in Haiti witnessed an avalanche of democracy we have called “lavalas.” No democratic nation can exist in isolation without geopolitical, diplomatic, economic, and international ties.

Today, we see our right to demand our due as part of this network of relationships, in which we can on the one hand recognize the fruits of a rich but impoverished past and on the other discern the fruits of an exploited but hopeful present, thanks to the opportunity we now have to combine a colonized past with a democratic present.

Heraclitus of Ephesus rightly said: “Awakened men have but one world, but men asleep have each their own.” Awakened men and women of Haiti, our world is a world of justice, justice for all, justice for us Haitians, who have all too often been the victims of social injustice.

If we scan the horizon of this world of justice, we wonder how long the impoverished will be forced to cry out, with Democritus: “We seek the good and do not find it; we find evil without seeking it.”

In the belief that mens agitat molemmind can move matter—our policy will continue to be attentive to the masses, who are calling for the respect and dignity due them. The same applies for the treatment inflicted upon so many of our Haitian brothers and sisters who live in foreign lands. 

The Sixth Commandment of Democracy: Self-Defence of the Diaspora

The sixth democratic milestone or commandment is: self-defense in the diaspora—the so-called tenth department. Hunted and harassed until 1991 by the blind brutality of the repressive machine, or by the structures of exploitation fashioned into an anti-democratic system, our Haitian sisters and brothers have not always experienced the joy of finding a promised land.

They were considered to be illegal because the torturers would not give their victims properly signed certificates of torture; they were considered to be illegal because they had to travel as boat people or without legal identity papers. But they made a large contribution to the economic prosperity of bosses who preferred malleable and freely exploitable human labor.

What can we say about our sisters and brothers imprisoned in Krome , and elsewhere? Is it not time, in the name of democracy, to study their cases and turn their suffering into rejoicing? With a view to encouraging the authorities concerned to take the appropriate steps to bring about this long-awaited rejoicing, we in the Haitian Government are constantly fighting against fraudulent practices and the procurement of false visas on Haitian territory.

As we address the forty-sixth session of the General Assembly, we are expressing ourselves in these terms for the sake of the well-being of our community. We feel bound to denounce and condemn before the whole of mankind the flagrant violation of the rights of Haitians living in the Dominican Republic. While we recognize the sovereignty of the Dominican Republic, we must firmly denounce and condemn this violation of human rights.

Haiti and the Dominican Republic are the two wings of a single bird, two nations which share the beautiful island of Hispaniola. Echoing the cries of all the victims whose rights are denied them, and in keeping with our commitment to respect human rights, despite the social problems and financial difficulties caused by this forced repatriation, we intend to show respect for both wings of the bird. This is attested to by the welcome that Haiti gives all those men and women who cross our border, be they Haitians or Dominicans. In solidarity with disadvantaged minorities, we call for reparation, as much for Dominican citizens by birth but of Haitian origin as for Haitian citizens who have fallen victim to this repatriation.

(spoken in Spanish)

It is not a matter of weeping when one realizes what is happening in the Dominican Republic; it is a matter of defending human rights, in the name of the Haitian people, in the name of all men who are really men and all women who are really women throughout the world. Therefore, we Haitians are working together with our Dominican brothers and sisters to be able to live in communion, with a continuing dialogue.

That is why, together with Dominican men and women who do not agree with this flouting of human rights, we Haitian men and women, we the entire Haitian people, declare to the world that we demand reparation.

We shall always walk side by side with the Dominican people as brothers and sisters, in order to live in peace, but a man worthy of the name can never bow his head when human rights are trampled upon as they now are in the case of Haitians born in the Dominican Republic or in Haiti, Haitians of Dominican origins, or Dominicans of Haitian origin. It is regrettable that the question of color comes into play even when Dominicans are involved.

(spoken in French)

Arrested and expelled into Haitian territory, they generally have no homes, families or employment. Conservative estimates place the number of repatriated persons at more than 50,000 already. In the hope that the international agencies concerned will assist us to ensure respect for fundamental human rights, we here and now solemnly proclaim with pride and dignity that never again shall our Haitian sisters and brothers be sold so that their blood may be converted into bitter sugar. Blood in bitter sugar is unacceptable—and the unacceptable shall not be accepted.

(Spoken in Spanish)

I hope that my Dominican brothers and sisters will always walk side by side with us in dialogue so that together we may protect the rights of all Dominicans and Haitians.

I say to my Dominican brothers, whom I love so much:  let us go forward to build a world of peace.

The Seventh Commandment of Democracy: No to Violence, Yes to “Lavalas”

The seventh democratic milestone or commandment is: No to violence, yes to “lavalas.” Is an unarmed political revolution possible in 1991? Yes. Incredible, but true.  This is “lavalas” teaching: the tactical and strategic convergence of democratic forces brandishes the weapon of unity to combat that of violence. A stunning victory, a historic surprise!

In the schools of the poor, the teaching of active non-violence and of unity is triumphing over institutionalized violence. 1804 was the date of our first independence, but 1991 marks the beginning of the era of our second independence.

Is there any democratic nation that is capable of remaining indifferent to this victory of non-violence precisely where structures of economic violence still exist? Is it legitimate to try the patience of the victims of economic violence? There is no policy apart from relations of strength, but there is also no economy apart from relationships of interest.

Because of the restoration of peace, the capital of non-violence that the Haitian masses have invested is yielding considerable economic interest. A simple psycho-social analysis is very eloquent. For the more social ego is attacked by oligarchical sclerosis, the healthier it becomes, psychologically, politically and economically. The teaching of non-violence should arouse a collective awareness of our land of non-violence. Ours is a land of non-violence, where 85 percent of the population is still crushed by economic violence, is still illiterate—but is not stupid. Making these victims literate requires help from the true friends of Haiti—not simply friends, but true friends. You who are our true friends, work with us not as observers but as performers, as citizens of the world. We hope we can count on your cooperation in our literacy campaign. Any cooperation at this level attests to a determination to combat economic violence by active non-violence. Where the guns of violence sound, let the sun of non-violence shine in the “lavalas” spirit. 

 The Eighth Commandment of Democracy: Faithfulness to the Human Being–the Ultimate Form of Wealth

The eight democratic milestone or commandment is: faithfulness to the human being —the ultimate wealth.

To speak of the human being as the ultimate wealth may perhaps suggest that one is disregarding gold, oil, and dollars. Far from it. There is wealth and wealth. According to certain experts, if the hydro-electric potential of the United States were to be fully exploited, it could provide more energy than all the oil consumed in the world.

All these riches should be placed at the service of mankind—the axis of the “lavalas” policy. We are ready to demonstrate our faithfulness to that approach by embracing anything that can promote the full development of the human being. Thus the harmonious links that we have already established with the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) are part of the framework of Caribbean solidarity, with a view to more effectively fostering human well-being.

We are also working to expand South-South relations, between us and our neighbors in Latin America. It goes without saying that South-South relationships are not the only important relationships for Haiti. For we share a political heritage with the United States, whose independence reminds us of the Haitian pioneers who fought and died precisely for the same independence. France, with which we also share a political heritage, the United States and other countries of North America, and the countries of Europe, of the Middle East, of Africa and of other parts of the world form a part, together with us, of the interdependent network of nations throughout the world.

We patriotically hail the Haitian men and women living in Cuba, and we also hail Cuba and the Cuban people, to whom we address our wishes for peace and democratic growth. We address the same good wishes for peace and democratic growth to the Middle East and South Africa.

In recent years the United Nations, under the guidance of Mr. Javier Perez de Cueller, has demonstrated that, given the means, it can be effective in settling conflicts. This is attest to by the cessation of hostilities  between Iran and Iraq, the independence of Namibia  and the dawning of a solution to the question of the Western Sahara. Further proof of this is the way in which the United Nations, in accordance with its Charter, reacted when one of the States Members of the Organization fell victim to such cruel aggression on 2 August 1990  at the hands of Iraq. The manner in which the conflict was handled raised some legitimate reservations, but the role of the United Nations was never challenged. Nevertheless, the Gulf crisis has given rise to a number of still unanswered questions.

We all know that, in spite of the efforts of the United Nations, there are still parts of the world where divergent interests and lack of understanding between peoples continue to cause conflicts between States and within them. Despite the victories of the people of Azania over the juridical apparatus of the apartheid system, we are far from reaching the peak—that is, democracy.

Out of our sense of unity with the black people of Africa, who should enjoy all the rights recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we take this opportunity to appeal to the international community and, above all, the industrialized countries not to lift the comprehensive sanctions decreed against the Pretoria regime at this early stage. In its diametrical opposition to apartheid, the Republic of Haiti is struggling to ensure that the black majority of South Africa enjoys its rights to the full in a multiracial and democratic society. Bravo Mandela! Honor to Mandela!

If the memory of Mandela evokes such applause as I am hearing now, applause is surely due the memory of another truly great man—Martin Luther King.

The Haitian Government has noted with satisfaction the cease-fire recently arrived at between the parties in conflict in Western Sahara. We reaffirm our support for the process now under way.

The suffering of a single individual is the suffering of mankind. Our policy aims at providing, day after day, eloquent testimony to our faithfulness to man. 

 The Ninth Commandment of Democracy: Faithfulness to Our Culture

The ninth democratic milestone or commandment is: faithfulness to our culture.

The “lavalas” praxis intertwines cultural links at the very heart of the political universe. Resistance to cultural alienation guarantees the psychological health of the democratic fabric. For any cultural suicide leads to the devitalization of the social body and cannot but threaten the democratic cells of the body.

To live, and live to the full, is also to draw nourishment from the source of one’s culture. To live to the full is to send one’s roots deep down to the source of one’s own culture.

This embraces the totality of the life of a people. What is involved here is a depth of being that must be delved and explored, and by this being we mean a fabric of relationships, pluri-dimensional relationships. Defining man not as an end but as a bridge, Friedrich Nietsche places him—whether we like it or not—at the crossing point of the process of acculturation and inculturation. What is involved is a transmission of cultural seed which may give life to the being or wound it [sic] in its very essence.

The germs of pathologic culpability transmitted by contact between so-called dominant and dominated cultures can only be damaging to any democratic growth.

The “lavalas” praxis seeks to give our cultural identity its true value. Any in-depth change can be achieved democratically only if indigenous values are [interwoven] in a particular social-cultural tissue.

This faithfulness to the culture of mankind prompts us to share the concerns of the Kurdish people, the Palestinian people, the Jewish people, the peoples of Iraq—all cherishing the roots of their beings.

In this context of respect and peace, the Republic of Haiti warmly welcomes the accession of the two Koreas to the family of the United Nations.

Fidelity to our culture prompts us to sharpen our critical senses in order to protect our culture’s health against certain evils such as illicit trafficking in narcotic drugs. The Haitian Government wishes to recall that effective work to combat the production of drugs also involves greater assistance to Latin American countries.

As far as drug trafficking itself is concerned, it is important to recall that it is generated and fueled by the demand that comes from the North. Thus, at all cost, stimuli to production from the consumers of the industrialized countries must be eliminated. Concerted action between the States of the North and those of the South, with the assistance of the United Nations, would make it possible more effectively to combat this evil of drugs in its devastating effects on men and women. 

The Tenth Commandment of Democracy: All Around the Table

The tenth—and last—landmark, or tenth democratic commandment: all around the table:

Yes, all around the democratic table.

Not a minority on the table.

Nor a majority under the table.

But all around the democratic table.

We are faced with an historic encounter as we approach 1992. It is an historic encounter on the eve of the 500th anniversary of the evangelization and of the struggle of the Haitian people to survive and retain its dignity and identity. As we approach this 500thanniversary of resistance, both qualitative and quantitative, we can speak of a meeting around the table. This is in truth a real challenge facing us at the threshold of the third millennium.

Brothers and sisters of Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad, Cuba, Dominica, Guadeloupe, Martinique and so on, our past in the struggle against colonialism leads us inevitably to establish stronger and deeper links throughout our progress toward the Democratic Table.

A new social contract at the Caribbean, Latin American and international levels is necessary so that we may all one day meet around the Democratic Table.

Since 16 December 1990, the date of elections held under the lofty sponsorship of the United Nations, we in Haiti have been moving towards that meeting-place.

If we are all to get there, it is time that indebtedness cease to effect a net transfer of resources from our impoverished countries to the rich countries. In fact, between 1983 and 1988, the net transfer of resources to the so-called developed countries amounted to $115 billion. For one year alone, 1989, that transfer amounted to approximately $60 billion—financial resources the countries of the South desperately need for growth.

I hope that the Fourth Decade will yield positive results in the context of the new international order that is to be established.

At this close of the twentieth century, the Republic of Haiti renounces absolute power, embraces participative democracy and sings the hymn of liberty, pride and dignity – liberty won; pride regained; dignity reborn.

At this close of the twentieth century, the Republic of Haiti has the honor to hail the unity of nations: the United Nations for a united world; the United Nations through united peoples.

As for the Haitian people, we once again hail its heroic courage, crying out tirelessly and in the spirit of “lavalas”:

It is better to perish with the people than to succeed without the people. But with the people there can be no defeat. So, victory is ours.

In the same vein: we believe in Man; where a Man is exploited, call on us. To your call we will respond “yes,” 77 times  “yes.” To exploitation we will answer “no,” 77 times “no.” To defend human rights, such is the mission of the United Nations. We believe in peace; where war rages, call on us. To your call, we will answer “yes,” 77 times “yes.” To war we will answer “no,” 77 times “no.” Guaranteeing peace, such is the mission of the United Nations.

We believe in the brotherhood of peoples. Wherever people turn away from each other, call on us. To your call we shall answer “yes,” 77 times “yes.” To rejection we shall answer “no,” 77 times “no.” To be a place for dialogue: that is the mission of the United Nations.

We believe in the Haitian people. Wherever they are struggling tirelessly in the “lavalas” spirit, we shall be; we shall always be there. It is better to perish with the people than to succeed without the people.

With the echo of this creed resounding in our ears, by way of conclusion let the echo of the democratic creed also resound. We believe in these ten democratic commandments. We believe in this democratic policy. We believe in that meeting where there will be no minority on the table and no majority under the table, but where everyone will be seated around the democratic table. So be it in the name of the people, of its sons and of its Holy Spirit. Amen.

United we are strong. United in the Caribbean we are a Power. United in the world we are a power for peace, justice, love and freedom.

Have we the right to speak here? If we have, let us say it together so that the echo can be heard in Haiti.

This column was created by The Black Agenda Review team.

Reprinted from the Provisional Verbatim Record of the 9th Meeting of the Forty-Sixth Session of the United Nations General Assembly, Held at United Nations Headquarters, New York, on Wednesday, 25 September 1991, at 3 p.m .

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For Biden Administration, Black Lives Don’t Matter in Haiti!—A Black Alliance for Peace Statement on Haiti, 12 February, 2021

The people of Haiti have been demanding freedom from the succession of U.S.-imposed dictators for decades. One such dictator, Jovenel Moïse, refused to leave office February 7, which marked the end of his term four years after an illegal election. This move catapulted yet another intense episode in the historic struggle of the Haitian masses against colonial intervention. Tens of thousands of Haitians went to the streets demanding democracy and an end to dictatorship. And what was the response from the U.S. puppet regime? Bullets, paramilitary terror, curfews, house raids, beatings and the imprisonment of opposition leaders.

With the election of U.S. President Joe Biden, folks believed this so-called “champion” of fair elections and the rule of law—who had expressed a commitment that “Black Lives Matter”—would rally to the side of Haitians and end U.S. support for the dictatorship.

But that did not happen.

When Moïse announced he would stay in office past February 7, and continue to rule by decree, the Biden administration signaled it supported that decision. Moïse’s rule by decree was made possible because elections were postponed in 2019, which allowed the mandates of most of the representatives to the National Assembly—Haiti’s parliament—to expire.

It did not matter that Moïse ruled by decree, that he violated the rights of his people and that the majority of the people wanted him gone. What mattered to the Biden administration was the purpose Moïse served in U.S. plans for the Caribbean and Latin American region.

In other words, the people must be sacrificed for the larger interests of the U.S. imperial project. These interests that could not be bothered with the trifle concerns about democracy, legitimacy or the rights of the people. Those rhetorical terms are only evoked as expressions of the United States’ so-called “values” when directed at an adversary like Russia, Venezuela, China or any other country the United States is actively attempting to destabilize. But those values cannot be allowed to complicate U.S. interests in Haiti or even in the occupied Black and Brown communities within the United States.

We ask Joe Biden and his supporters, who claim Biden cares about African/Black people: Why does it seem like the lives of African/Black people in Haiti do not matter? Is it that Black lives only matter when they are supporting U.S. and European colonial white power?

In the Black Alliance for Peace (BAP), we know the answer to that rhetorical question. Both parties and the U.S. state have demonstrated the lives of non-Europeans mean extraordinarily little. And the values that the United States and Western Europeans pretend to uphold—like democracy and human rights—are dead letters when it comes to the fundamental human rights of the peoples of the global South.

The United States and the United Nations armed and trained Haitian police. Moïse has the full support of these armed paramilitary forces, who are committed to upholding the rule of the Haitian ruling class that serves international capital. That is why the Biden administration supports Moïse. Therefore, Moïse has no legitimacy.

Haiti emerged as a free society in the greatest revolution in human history in 1804, when the people of Haiti established the first Black Republic after fighting and defeating first the Spanish and then the French, at the time the greatest military power on the planet. Since then, the West has tried to destroy Haiti.

Invasions, occupations, death squads, economic plunder, attacks on their culture, political isolation and U.S.-backed dictatorships have exacted a severe price on the people of Haiti. Yet, they have never surrendered. That spirit of resistance is on display today in the streets of Haiti.

We, in the Black Alliance for Peace, will continue to support those efforts by organizing actions throughout the United States in solidarity with the Haitian people.

We are not confused. There is nothing exceptional about the United States, except perhaps its hypocrisy. Declarations made by white-supremacist politicians and heads of imperialist corporations that “Black Lives Matter” have rung hollow, opportunistic and completely in contradiction to the lived experiences of African/Black people in the United States from 1619 to the present.

Stripped of the veneer of liberal-rights discourse, the true core values of the U.S. settler-colonial project are obvious: Glorification of violence, white supremacy, patriarchy, social Darwinism, materialism and extreme individualism. These core values facilitated the land theft that allowed for the creation of the United States, enslavement and the most rapacious forms of capitalist accumulation on the planet.

The abandonment of the people of Haiti affirms once again the United States is committed to white power. Subversion, war and brutal sanctions are just some of the instruments employed to maintain the structures of white colonial-capitalist power.

So, our appeal is not to the conscience of Biden and the neoliberal imperialist Democrats—they only have objective interests. Instead, we call on the people of the United States to demand an alteration both in U.S. policies regarding Haiti and in its relationship with Haiti as well as with all nations that currently find themselves in the crosshairs of U.S. imperialist reaction.

However, we understand our commitment to peace and People(s)-Centered Human Rights, social justice, democracy and self-determination cannot be realized without an organized people who are struggling for power.

The people of Haiti are fighting for power, for the ability to determine their own destiny. Stand with them. Stand with us. Fight for freedom and for a new reality in Haiti and the world.

No Compromise, No Retreat!

Reposted from The Black Alliance for Peace.

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Anarchy / Autonomy / Utopia

Shadowdancer. © Kevin Adonis Browne.

There is a present-day tendency to retreat into the realms of dystopia, of catastrophe and disaster, of failed states and fascism, of environmental collapse and economic apocalypse. This tendency is neither wrong nor mistaken. Yet it is often suffocating, only adding to the pressurized dread of the era, offering no antidote to the plague of cynicism, the chokehold of hopelessness, the drift, or, perhaps, the plunge, into a miasma of pessimism and hopelessness. Of course, there are other tendencies, other possibilities, other ways forward. Here, we briefly mention five recent books, loosely grouped under the banners of anarchism, autonomy, and utopia, that propose better worlds to come – as better must come.

It is often said that the hopes and dreams of the Anglo-Caribbean left were dashed by the failure of the Grenada Revolution. Against this tendency, Laurie Lambert, in Comrade Sister: Caribbean Feminist Revisions of the Grenada Revolution (University of Virginia), returns to the history of the Revolution to explore its visions of a future, more egalitarian world. Recovering the literary output of the Caribbean women writers of the 1980s, Lambert demonstrates how they both critiqued the masculinist limits of revolutionary politics, while foregrounding the possibilities of revolutionary Black feminist imaginations.  

If the question of land and Black sovereignty should be at the center of any debate on reparations and Black freedom, then we are lucky to have historian Edward Onanci’s Free the Land: The Republic of New Afrika and the Pursuit of a Black Nation-State (University of North Carolina). The first historical study of an organization that has been both misunderstood and neglected, Free the Land offers an important assessment of the Republic of New Afrika’s efforts to create an autonomous Black nation within the boundaries of the United States. Onanci makes a compelling case for the RNA’s contribution to the revolutionary ideologies and political struggles of the sixties and seventies. 

In The Point is to Change the World Selected Writings of Andaiye (Pluto), Alissa Trotz has gathered together some fifty years of essays, letters, and journal entries of the late Andaiye, the radical Guyanese activist and educator who was among one of the Caribbean’s most important political voices. The range of Andaiye’s ethical and political commitments dazzles. Andaiye’s writing examines her work with Guyana’s Working People Alliance as well as with the women’s development organization Red Thread. She considers questions of Black-Indian relations in Guyana, the political economy of waged and unwaged labor, and of the ethics and politics of care work. She also reflects on the life and work of her old comrade, Walter Rodney. The Point is to Change the World is an intervention that is both critical and timely – not just for Guyana and the Caribbean, but for anyone committed to radical praxis. 

First published in 1979 and revised and reissued in the early nineties, Chattanooga-based writer and activist Lorenzo Kom’boa Ervin’s Anarchism and the Black Revolution is as legendary as it is prescient. While it quickly became something of an underground classic within the historiography of Black libertarian thought, it also posed a number of serious critiques of – and challenges to – the ideological positions of the Left. Ervin’s insights into racism and capitalism, fascism and police violence, the politics of mutual aid and community, and, above all, the liberal fetishism of the state as an ultimate political authority, make for necessary reading. Have the courage to read this book.

While there may be many books that are about performance and culture, there are few books that actually perform culture. Kevin Adonis Browne’s High Mas: Carnival and the Poetics of Caribbean Culture is one of those rare monographs that fall into the latter category. High Mas is a stunning compilation of photography and prose that documents Trinidad carnival while shattering any perceived notion we might have of the book as an object itself. But High Mas does even more. With its breathtaking documentation of the kinetic and quivering movement and motion of Caribbean revelers – combined with Browne’s dynamic amalgamations of poetry, criticism, and autobiography — High Mas provides us with an archive of Caribbean autonomy and freedom. We need Browne’s work now, more than ever. 

Additional Reading: Modibo Kadalie, Pan-African Social Ecology: Speeches, Conversations, and Essays. Jessica Marie Johnson, Wicked Flesh: Black Women, Intimacy, and Freedom in the Atlantic World. Quito J. Swan, Pauulu’s Diaspora: Black Internationalism and Environmental Justice. Kaiama L. Glover, A Regarded Self: Caribbean Womanhood and the Ethics of Disorderly Being. Jovan Scott Lewis, Scammer’s Yard: The Crime of Black Repair in Jamaica. Mariame Kaba, We Do This ‘Til We Free Us: Abolitionist Organizing and Transforming Justice.

The Public Archive’s prior readings lists: Radical Black Reading: 2011201220132014. 2018. Reading Haiti: 20112012.2013. Radical Black Cities: 20122015Reading Against FascismA decade of radical Black reading.

Image: Shadowdancer © Kevin Adonis Brown. Kevin Adonis Browne from Seeing Blue: “The first of four series in my book, HIGH MAS: Carnival and the Poetics of Caribbean Culture, “Seeing Blue” is a premonitory chronicle of my own return to Trinidad and Tobago—and the emergence of an idea of Caribbeanist Photography as I would come to understand it.” For more information visit kevinadonisbrowne

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The Black Agenda Review: A Manifesto of First Principles

The 2020 U.S. elections seem to be over and much of the world is preparing for a new Biden-Harris administration. So, what now? What changes should global Black communities expect? Our sense is that expectations need to be tempered by the lessons of past experience. Long ago we learned that representation is not a sign of radicalism, that the slick and polished surfaces of neoliberal multiculturalism do not mitigate the cynical viciousness of anti-Blackness, capitalism, and imperialism. And yet, as many people are looking towards 2021 as a new era that breaks decisively with the last four years, it becomes more urgent than ever to expand the terrain of critical analysis and historical inquiry, to move away from the easy sophistry of punditry, and to develop a clear-sighted and autonomous forum for the discussion of ideas, histories, and texts about and by the Black radical left. That is the purpose of The Black Agenda Review

Read about this new project from The Black Agenda Report here.

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Black Struggle and the New Society: An interview with C.L.R. James

Federal City College — Faculty — C.L.R. James, 1975.

Across three Saturdays in June, 1977, the New York Amsterdam News ran an extended interview with CLR James. At the time, James was seventy-six years old and teaching at the University of the District of Columbia. The interview, conducted by Amsterdam News feature writer Dawad Wayne Phillip, covered the question of Caribbean Federation, the importance of literature to politics, anti-colonialism in Africa, and the dilemmas of Black struggle in the United States in the wake of Black Power and the Civil Rights movement. James’s responses provide not only an incredible anatomy of Black politics in the 1970s, but a remarkably prescient reading of our contemporary present.

While we have retitled the interview “Black Struggle and the New Society,” we reprint all three parts of the original unchanged but for a few minor copy edits.

Part I: Saturday, June 4, 1977

AMSTERDAM NEWS:Dr. James, presently what projects are you involved with?

C.L. R. JAMES:I am involved, number one, in teaching at the University of the District of Columbia and in various other places in the United States. At the same time, I am preparing, practically and ideologically, my autobiography which a lot of people are looking forward to.

One of the many projects you are involved with is a paper.

I am doing a paper that the University of the West Indies asked me to do, more or less on the West Indies from say 1945 to the present day. I am working on that with great care, and with an immense amount of satisfaction. I have made it clear that I am going to say exactly what I think. This, the political necessity demands.

What would be the primary focus of the paper?

I will tell you what my thoughts are. I have long believed, that the future of the Caribbean is, as a Federation of all the islands beginning with Cuba. There must be a total federation. That is the basis of my thoughts at present. I don’t believe that any of those islands, large or small, can do it by itself.

You mentioned “beginning with Cuba.” Would such a Federation use Cuba as the model?

I would not say that the model would be Cuba. Except, in this respect: I do not expect that such a Federation would take place unless there were complete changes in the government of the Caribbean. The kind of government I am thinking of, is the kind that (Jamaican Prime Minister) Manley has proposed; where, the economic resources of the Caribbean; are in the hands of the Caribbean people.

To more understand the idea of a unified bloc could we say that CARIFTA and CARICOM, are roads in that direction? Or is this contradictory to what you are saying?

There is no contradiction. They are roads in that direction: going at the rate of one mile an hour. They are not headed for any Federation with control of their resources. I am not speaking of joining together. I mean a total change in the relations of control and ownership of the resources. I don’t see that in CARIFTA, or CARICOM or any of the Caris.

What then would be the radical step in the formation of such a Federation?

The radical step would be, in my opinion, what Manley has said in his speech to his own conference—“That Jamaica,” he said, “is not for sale.” That, to me, is as good a basis for the whole of the Caribbean as any there could be. If the whole of the Caribbean today were saying what Manley has said and were seeking ways and means to create a Federation that I believe would be the basis for what I have in mind.

But this is not taking place throughout the remainder of the Caribbean?

No. It is not taking place in the Caribbean at all. Mr. Manley, with a real tremendous amount of courage, and with great political clarity, has stated that – for the Jamaica people—this is the way we have to go. And the Jamaican people have responded splendidly. I believe that that kind of request, and that kind of response throughout the Caribbean, could—within a few years—be the basis of this Caribbean Federation. Cuba has already gone the road. And Manley is showing that he is ready to go. He isn’t going to go the same way as Cuba. I don’t expect that. These islands have different pasts; and they have different national structures. But the idea of total control of resources, and the Federation of all your resources with the view toward a Caribbean whole; that, I believe, is what is to be the future.

What about Burnham’s role in Guyana?

I would like to say this: Mr. Burnham in Guyana is doing a great number of things which the other Caribbean countries are not doing. It would appear—from here—that he is really taking the steps that are necessary. Personally, however, I am very skeptical when it comes to any real transformation in Guyana, at the hands of Mr. Burnham. But that is a personal view. From my personal experience of him, I haven’t the confidence in what he is doing; as I have of what Mr. Manley has said.

It seems then, that what you are in the process of expressing would have to come through the formation of a new left-throughout the Caribbean, working in a co-operative sense toward that unit?

Now wait a minute. I am anxious that I get myself away from what you call a left. Mr. Manley is not a leftist. Mr. Manley has a program and a policy. (Cheddi) Jagan has been a leftist in Guyana all the time but he has never said, or put forward ideas, and appealed to the people, with the clarity, force and simplicity that Manley has done.

So I am cautious about this left. Manley has said what is necessary to do; and he has put it to the people, and the people have responded. That is not a left. That is a new policy. That is a policy for Jamaica, and, I hope, for the whole Federation… which means a transfer of the actual relations into relations that are new. These ideas are entirely new.

This idea then—the Manley proposal in the context of present multinational interests in the Caribbean—would appear headed for the strongest types of opposition…

The movement is up against a strong opposition. Any country, which seeks to change the relationships and transfer wealth, and the control of wealth, is always up against a strong opposition. That is nothing new. Once you begin to do that sort of thing you are aware that is what you are going to face.

There is only one possible means of resisting it—and that is—the gaining of the support of the mass of the population. If a political leader has the mass of the population behind him, and behind a real political objective, which is made clear to the masses and to the people abroad—nobody is going to intervene.

Part II: Saturday, June 11, 1977 

“It is clear that the idea of an egalitarian society, in which, the aim of the government is not merely welfare—in the superficial sense—but the total reorganisation of the economy, in the interest of the mass of the population, is today a universal concept. I will venture a prophecy, which, is always a stupid thing to do. But the man who is not ready to be stupid at times, is a stupid man. Now if Manley of Jamaica succeeds—and he will succeed if the others come to his assistance—the whole of the Caribbean will go his way in time. If he fails; then we could look forward autocratic, dictatorial and oppressive governments throughout the Caribbean.”—C.L.R. James

AMSTERDAM NEWS: Do you see the direction of Jamaica being taken elsewhere in the Caribbean?

JAMES:Yes. And of this, I have been assured by people in the Caribbean that it is widespread throughout. I am told—and you will tell me—that in Trinidad the workers who work in the sugar estates, plant the crops and draw the money; when the time comes to reap, they go out and burn down the fields. They do the same in Barbados. They do the same in Jamaica. 

The trouble is they have reached the stage where they do not wish the sugar economies to dominate the islands. It means a total rejection of the sugar economy. Many advanced economists have told me—as you will find in the appendix to my book Black Jacobins—that, the future of the Caribbean depends on getting rid of the sugar economy.

In Trinidad, where the main source of revenue is not on sugar, but oil, what is the hindrance toward a worker’s cooperative?

There is no hindrance in Trinidad. I can only tell you that the need for a reorganisation of the Trinidad economy was written in letters of blood across the sky in 1970. Either the people were playing the fool or they were showing that they wanted to wreck the old economy and have something new.

What are your thoughts on the Trinidad elections of 1976?

The elections of 1976 must be seen in relation to the elections of 1970. In 1970, the population showed that it rejected the parliamentary system completely. But no one came with a replacement. They haven’t put before the people a concrete proposal for a new type of political economy and organization.

I have only to confess to you—that those of us watching from the outside, believed that the outbreak would come first in Jamaica. But you can never tell these things—they do not work mathematically but psychologically. As it did, it came first in Trinidad.

The Trinidad uprising skyrocketed the movement for change in the Caribbean…

Yes. And that could only come about because it was deeply seated. Otherwise, people don’t move to the extent that they did in Trinidad. It meant that the need for change had penetrated very deeply. Even the army was ready to go. That means an advanced stage of degeneration in the existing regime.

There are claims of internal bickerings in the ULF [United Labor Front], in Trinidad; that efforts by party-leader, Basdeo Panday, to create a multiracial party, seem only to be a gesture by a political leader…

Panday has only been in the legislature five or six months. Give him five or six years. You can’t judge him by what he does in five months; that is not a serious method of approach to a political situation. If Panday began badly—with this tremendous vote of the East Indian population—remember those politicians have been playing Africans versus Indians, for 20 years. It is a difficult thing to manage. But it has to be tackled. Panday shows he is serious by the persons he appointed to the senate. That was the first gesture to let the Black people know—we want to be multi-racial. You are not going to get rid of 20 years of manipulation, by those parties, through six months of activity.

How do you view the ULF, which supports a socialistic ideology, while at the same time works through the Parliamentary process?

That depends now. Can anybody be asked to put forward a more socialistically inclined proposal than Manley? If the ULF, after a time, is able to verbalize itself and get the support of the Trinidad people that then is the way I hope it would go. But they would have to aim and work at that.

Taking a look now at the arts in the Caribbean: what do you feel is incumbent on the artists and creative people in the effort to crystalise this new vision of Caribbean society.

There are people like (George) Lamming, Vidia Naipaul, and Wilson Harris—three of the most remarkable writers of the day. The business of the politicians and the population in the Caribbean is to create a condition whereby these men could return home and write for them. Not abroad—writing for a foreign audience about the situation in the Caribbean. That is a bad situation.

In England you will find in the educational system, especially in London, that West Indians form a fundamental part of that constituency, in education and medicine. If they could go to an advanced country like Britain and take part from top to bottom, there is nothing that they cannot do in the Caribbean. The day of people coming from abroad, believing that they are bringing western civilization to the Caribbean, is over.

How do you view the press treatment on Africa and particularly Uganda’s Amin?

You have to expect that when you are going into a change in the social structure of your country, you must be ready for those inside and those outside of the country—especially those with great media opportunities on the outside—to attack you. Now, it happens that Amin is behaving in a way that every now and then, you find extraordinary freaks—inside of a revolutionary upheaval—behaving. That is very unsatisfactory. But I am glad to say, the Black African press and leaders themselves, are attacking Amin and making the people in Africa recognize that Amin has nothing for then. There is nothing but an obstacle in the way of the African development.

There is not going to be seen in the foreign press what is required for a proper understanding, not only of the Caribbean, but of the entire Third World.

Here in the U.S. we are fed these distortions, often without a base to refute.

Refutations are taking place. It isn’t what it ought to be; but that is our fault. If the press isn’t doing what it ought to do then we ought to take it on ourselves to go ahead and organise. In addition—I take my own case—I am all over the place. I can’t say no. The urge is so great.

Part III: Saturday, June 18, 1977

AMSTERDAM NEWS: What are your views on the Cuban presence in Africa?

C. L. R. JAMES:It is to be seen as the military period in the continuation of a tremendous West Indian presence in Africa, a presence which has included important figures like Franz Fanon, Aime Cesare and George Padmore. Nobody did more than George Padmore to initiate the struggle for African emancipation; together with Kwame Nkrumah. I did my share. The historical work which posed the African revolution was “Black Jacobins”. I function with them all the time. At the same time that Cuba was sending its soldiers to fight against what Britain and the United States were doing from the North, and what South Africa was doing from the South; while those soldiers were sent there from the Caribbean, at the same time, I was taken to Africa to open the Black Writers Conference.

Shifting our focus to America, how do you view the present Black struggle here in the United States? Where do you see it going?

It is the most difficult situation of Black people among all the Black struggles. Nevertheless, ever since Montgomery, Alabama, the Blacks have come forward and made tremendous impact on the consciousness of the American people. Martin Luther King was not merely advancing the Black cause but lifting the entire civilization of the United States to a higher pitch. That was recognized all over the world. King got shot—we believe—because he has started to raise the question of the Vietnam War.

Are we seeing those victories won through the struggles of the 60’s now being eradicated?

They are not. Two things are happening. Number one: after the tremendous outbursts of Black power and civil rights Blacks gained certain advances and certain qualifications. But they realize that it is not sufficient, so that, a great thinking is being worked out at the present time as to what is to be done now. That is the process of every revolution. 

In France, they said, “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity” and two years after they cut off the king’s head. You know, there is the tremendous outburst and then there is the retirement. The outbursts merely made clear the situation. But it has gone further. American Blacks are now working out what is the next stage.

Now, two things have been shown and they are most important. Number one: They put Carter where he is. People must look at these things in the way that they should. The South always kept on the concept of the Civil War but Carter—a man from Georgia, a peanut farmer—has brought the South back into the American condominium.

The South is no longer outside of the American society. And the Blacks did that. That is an historical event of tremendous importance. It has brought the Blacks closer to the American community.

Number two: The “Roots” question. The films were not good, but 130 million people looked at them which meant that the whites today have realized, for the first time in their history, that they have to understand what these Black people are, where they came from, and what their concerns are.

No political figure in the United States is going to take part in politics without being aware that there is a Black community in the United States with whom he has to get himself right. At the same time, Black intellectuals are working out what is to take the place of racialism and nationalism. The big debate is taking place between racialism, nationalism and Marxism. Having found that the civil rights era was not sufficient, they are seeking a new way.

What do you see as the future? What in your view is the best road?

I wouldn’t say what is the best road. Because they have to find that themselves. But this I am certain of: America is in a state of crisis. Fundamental changes must be made. And I cannot imagine fundamental changes taking place in the American society without Black leaders right in the front taking part in the re-structure of an advanced American society. That has been demonstrated ever since Montgomery, Alabama. They are not going to be pushed aside. They are going to be in the front of whatever is taking place. And when the victory is won, they are not going to be pushed out again.

The Black Panther Party was a tremendous stage of the African struggle here. They were defeated. But that is an experience that is being considered now: why did we fail? And so on.

Another thing, they are putting Black mayors in city after city. In important cities in the United States a Black mayor is there. In Los Angeles, in Atlanta, (which is the real capital of the South), in Detroit (the manufacturing capital of the country), in Newark and now a man is applying to be major of New York.

This does not mean that they are doing very much, but whites are saying, let us give them a chance. They have ability. Maybe they will do something. If they do not do very much, the Black people will be able to see that it is not a Black man who will help them, but a man with a policy.

A great political experience is being undertaken and understood now. I can’t understand people who think that nothing is happening in the United States. The country is moving but not romantically. Ten years ago, it moved. But now it is absorbing what has happened and seeking ways and means to carry it further.

How do you see this new society being forged beginning with the urban conditions?

Whites have gone out to the suburbs and have left the inner cities which are being inhabited and often governed by Blacks. That is so in city after city. Three-fifths of the inner-cities, of a hundred cities in the United States, are governed by Blacks which means that is absolutely impossible for them to make any fundamental changes in the structure of the American city, without incorporating the Blacks into it. That is a geographical question.

But what of the fact that when capital leaves the urban setting, it takes industry with it. It takes the wares with it, and invariably, leaves the inner-city hollow of any life.

Not of any life. The taxation etc., goes out to the suburb. But the government has to do something. The centers of government are in the heart of the cities and they are surrounded by the Black population.

What I am saying is this: if they are going to make any attempt—as they have to—to reorganize, and to bring those cities back to some sort of consistency and possibility, they cannot leave out the Blacks.

Is the tendency of more state control and participation in the urban situation, replacing private capital, to be the trend of the future?

That is not in the urban cities alone. There is taking place in America, a transference of finance, and other abilities, from the North-East coast. Money has gone into the South. And they have built factories there for the manufacture of military materials.

The financial and structural strength which was in the North-East has shifted down to the South, to the West and South-West. The whole thing is changing. The economy has to be reorganized. If the whites have gone to the suburbs, they have to reorganize the central cities too. This must be taken on a scale, and as such, less and less will the Blacks be second class citizens.

Additional interviews with James can be found on: CLR James: Conversations and Interviews, 1938-1989. Additional interviews on The Public Archive can be found here.

Image: Federal City College — Faculty — C.L.R. James, 1975. Learning Resources Division. University Archives Collection, University of the District of Columbia. Washington, DC. Description: C.L.R. James (1901-1989) taught humanities at FCC between 1972 and 1980. James was a prominent Afro-Trinidian journalist, socialist theorist, and writer.

Transcription and copy-editing by Jessica Newby, Department of African American Studies, UCLA.

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