A Dossier on Disaster Capitalism and Haiti

Just three days after the January 10, 2010 earthquake activist and journalist Naomi Klein alerted her readers to the impending ways in which capital would use Haiti’s crisis as a means for exploitation and accumulation. “Readers of the The Shock Doctrine know that the Heritage Foundation has been one of the leading advocates of exploiting disasters to push through their unpopular pro-corporate policies,” Klein wrote on her blog. “From this document, they’re at it again, not even waiting one day to use the devastating earthquake in Haiti to push for their so-called reforms. The following quote was hastily yanked by the Heritage Foundation and replaced with a more diplomatic quote, but their first instinct is revealing:

“In addition to providing immediate humanitarian assistance, the U.S. response to the tragic earthquake in Haiti earthquake offers opportunities to re-shape Haiti’s long-dysfunctional government and economy as well as to improve the public image of the United States in the region.”

Klein’s warning was prescient. With the aftershocks came the shock doctrine and, as outlined in the dossier of articles below, crisis and neoliberalism have found a miserable unity in post-earthquake Haiti.

•   •   •

Benjamin Dangl, “Profiting from Haiti’s Crisis: Disaster Capitalism in Washington’s Backyard,” Toward Freedom (January 18, 2010).

Alec Dupuy, “Disaster Capitalism to the Rescue: The International Community and Haiti after the Earthquake,” NACLA: Report on the Americas (July-August 2010), 14-19, 42.

Mark Schüler, “Haiti’s Disaster after the Disaster: The IDP Camps and Cholera,” The Journal of Humanitarian Assistance (13 December 2010).

Matt Kennard, “Haiti and the shock doctrine,” Open Democracy (14 August 2012).

Anthony Lowenstein, “Foreign Powers Hollow Out Haiti,” New Matilda (28 September 2012).

Ama Biney, “Haiti: Capitalist Plunder and Empty Promises,” Black Agenda Report, (16 Jan 2013). 

Jesse Hagopian, “Seismic Imperialism: Haiti’s Buried Cry for Help on the Third Anniversary of the Earthquake,Black Agenda Report (16 January 2013).

Keir Forgie, “US Imperialism and Diaster Capitalism in Haiti,” Good Intentions: Norms and Practices of Humanitarian Imperialism, Maximilian C. Forte, Ed., (Montreal: Alert Press, 2014), 57-75. 

Mark Schüller and Julie K. Maldonado, “Disaster Capitalism,” Annals of Anthropological Practice (6 October 2016) [$$$]

Image: Marriott Hotel, Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Ciara Ferrie architects in collaboration with Hugh Murray Architects.

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Crucifixion de Charlemagne Pérale pour la Liberté

Detail from Philomé Obin (1891–1986), Crucifixion de Charlemagne Pérale pour la Liberté, 1970.

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Canada, Haiti, and Military Occupation: A Dossier

Canada in Haiti: Who Engineered the Overthrow of Democracy?

Canadian Crimes in Haiti: Beyond Complicity.

“Legalized Imperialism,” “Responsibility to Protect” and the Dubious Case of Haiti.

No Time for Democracy: Six years of Canada in Haiti.

Declassifying Canada in Haiti: Part I: Canadian officials planned military intervention weeks before Haitian coup.

Declassifying Canada in Haiti: Part II: Did Canada have plans to support another military coup in Haiti?

Canada in Haiti: Peacekeeping or Military Occupation.

Canadians Apologize to Haiti, 10 years after the coup.


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Port-au-Prince, Haiti, 12 January 2010

Evelne Alcide, Seisme (Earthquake), 2010. Museum of International Folk Art/Museum of New Mexico. Click links for more information; click image for larger version.

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Haiti: Roots of an Uprising

People walk in the street during protests over the fuel price increase in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Saturday, July 7, 2018. On Friday, the government announced that it would raise the prices of gasoline, diesel and kerosene from 38 percent to 51 percent beginning Saturday. (AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery)

Despite two U.S.-orchestrated coups against the administrations of former president Aristide, despite a sophisticated COINTELPRO-style campaign aimed at dividing and marginalizing Fanmi Lavalas and its allies, despite 14 years of United Nations military occupation, despite stolen elections, and despite the grinding economic misery facing most Haitian families, the popular movement has persisted.

Robert Roth, “Haiti: Roots of an Uprising,” Haïti Liberté, August 29, 2018.

[Published in French, Kreyòl and English, Haïti Liberté is the largest Haitian weekly newspaper, distributed throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, and Haiti. Haïti Liberté offers weekly news and analysis of Haitian affairs by some of the foremost writers and intellectuals in Haiti and its diaspora. Please subscribe.]


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Radical Black Reading: Late summer, 2018

A few late summer’s reading suggestions, with a little nod to the impact of the revolutions of 1917 and 1968 on the Caribbean.

In Toussaint Louverture: A Black Jacobin in the Age of Revolutions (Pluto) Charles Forsdick and Christian Hogsbjerg have produced what is arguably the most important biography of Louverture since CLR James’ magisterial Black Jacobins was first published in 1938. Kicking against the contemporary anti-Black and anti-radical revisionism that downplays the historical importance of the revolution while dismissing the significance of Louverture himself, Forsdick and Christian Hogsbjerg’s short monograph is urgent, timely, and strikingly well-written.

The Russian Revolution: A View from the Third World (Verso), edited by Jesse Benjamin and Robin D.G. Kelley and with a forward by Vijay Prashad, compiles the surviving texts of a series of lectures given by Walter Rodney at the University of Dar es Salaam during the 1970s. Together, the lectures represent an audacious attempt by the Guyanese Marxist and pan-Africanist to work through the history and historiography of the October Revolution, while grappling with the importance of revolutionary theory for the Third World masses.

Margaret Stevens’ Red International and Black Caribbean: Communists in New York City, Mexico and the West Indies, 1919-1939 (Pluto) is a provocative and deeply researched account of the transnational connections of Black radicals during the turbulent inter-war years. Stevens convincingly argues for the critical significance of the greater-Caribbean to global revolutionary struggle while providing capsule biographies of many un- or lesser-known Black and Brown communists in Haiti, Harlem, Cuba, and Mexico. A necessary starting point for students of the radical Caribbean.

Jean Khalfa and Robert J.C. Young have done us a massive favor by translating Écrits sur l’aliénation et la liberté, their edited collection of Frantz Fanon’s writings, into English as Alienation and Freedom (Bloombury). Included are Fanon’s plays, psychiatric writings, personal letters, and political tracts – as well as a near complete bibliography of the titles in Fanon’s personal library in Algeria. It’s an incredible volume, one that displays Fanon’s astonishing breadth as a writer and thinker while demonstrating the continuing importance of his writings to the present.

Connecting San Juan to Kingston to Pointe-à-Pitre to Havana, geographer Romain Cruse’s Le Mai 68 des Caraïbes (Memoire D’Encrier) is a rare survey of the popular uprisings that emerged across the Caribbean during the sixties and seventies. Cruse re-assesses both the causes and consequences of these Caribbean revolts while reading them in the context of the global turbulence of the time. The publisher’s description of Le Mai 68 des Caraïbes as “a little handbook of resistance” is not off the mark.

Held in Montreal in 1968, the Congress of Black Writers was perhaps the single most important gathering of Black intellectuals and activists of the late sixties. Bringing together the (mostly male) luminaries of the era, its reverberations were immediately felt throughout the Caribbean and North America (see, for instance the Sir George Williams affair in Montreal, the Rodney Riots in Jamaica, and the February Revolt in Trinidad). The proceedings of the Congress, and the political energy of the era, come alive in Moving Against the System: The 1968 Congress of Black Writers and the Making of Global Consciousness (Pluto Press), edited by long-standing Black Power chronicler David Austin. Unearthing  never-before-seen texts from Stokely Carmichael, Walter Rodney, and C.L.R. James and others, Austin has given us an invaluable source on Black radical thought.

Also: Omar Gueye, Mai 1968 au Sénégal. Senghor face aux étudiants et au mouvement syndical (Karthala). Amzat Boukari-Yabara, Walter Rodney, un historien engage (Presence Africaine). Marlene NourbeSe Philip, Blank. William C. Anderson and Zoé Samudzi, As Black as Resistance: Finding the Conditions for Liberation (AK Press). Naomi Klein, The Battle for Paradise: Puerto Rico Takes on the Disaster Capitalists. Sixth Commission of the EZLN, Critical Thought in the Face of the Capitalist Hydra I (Paperboat Press).

Image: The Library of Muyinga, Burundi, BC Architects and Studies.


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Labor and Liberation: An Interview with Margaret Stevens

The Public Archive. A proud product of New Jersey public schools, historian Margaret Stevens went to Newark’s University High School and Rutgers College in New Brunswick before completing her doctoral work in the Department of American Civilization at Brown University. She is the author of the path-breaking study Red International and Black Caribbean: Communists in New York City, Mexico, and the West Indies, 1919-1939, published by Pluto Press. Red International and Black Caribbean is a provocative and deeply researched account of the transnational connections of Black radicals during the turbulent inter-war years. It demonstrates the importance of the greater-Caribbean to global revolutionary struggle while providing capsule biographies of many un- or lesser-known Black and Brown communists in Haiti, Harlem, Cuba, and Mexico. A contributor to the volume Communist Histories, Volume 1 (LeftWord, 2016), Stevens is Professor in the Department of History at Essex County College in Newark.

Can you say something about the kinds of archives you used and what you found in them? What role did the radical press and journals from Negro Champion to Machete to African Nationalism have in the history you recount?

Well a few basic points. First, even though I made a serious effort to get to and conduct research in as many of the Caribbean regions in this study as possible, I did not make it to all of them. So most of the research comes from DC—the National Archives surveillance reports and the Library of Congress reels. Some material was found in Puerto Rico and Jamaica that was critical, especially Jamaica. But part of the nature of imperialism is such that the archives in Haiti (as I witnessed) and Mexico (as I’ve been told), i.e. less “developed” countries, are way less organized. It is essentially a room full of stacked papers with a vague guide to what is where but nowhere near the organization and differentiation in the US. So it just requires way more time, patience and money–since you have to stay there longer. I’m hoping that for future projects I will be able to dig deeper in such archives.

Second, even though this work focuses on the interplay between militant Caribbean workers’ uprisings and communist party leadership, most of the archival work is disproportionately from or about the communist aspect of this dialectic. Communist newspapers and US surveillance archives are where the bulk of the evidence comes from, so there is still so much work to be done to uncover what everyday black workers in and around these movements were thinking, debating and experiencing outside of party circles. This is why the newspapers such as Machete, the Crusader and Emancipator are so important. They allow us—through their correspondence columns—to see what folks were thinking and reporting from a non-party angle.

In terms of what compelled me the most about the American ruling class archives, the first thing that struck me when I began investigating radicalism in the Caribbean was the fact that Naval Intelligence was the most developed and comprehensive archive in the WWI/Post-WWI period in the United States. In other words, when you follow how US imperialism has developed over the past 150 years, you see that it was the Navy in the late 1800s through WWI and into the 1920s that was the strongest arm of the military, so its intelligence was also the strongest. Moving into the 1930s it was the State Department that became the most comprehensive. I’m just surmising here but maybe it is because the consulate offices had been established for long enough by then that they could dig in and get semi-useful information from places like Mexico and Cuba.

With respect to the radical archives from the communist and black radical circles, the newspapers, flyers and meeting minutes were essential to gaining perspective on how the political understanding of communists developed over time and, in turn, was impacted by and also impacted the militant struggles of workers in the Caribbean. But none of these sources alone was sufficient. Here’s an example: The CPUSA’s Negro Champion newspaper might have focused on and promoted the communist movement for the multiracial character of the 1929-1930s protests in NYC to defend Haitian workers, but meeting minutes of the CPUSA would show how divided the leadership within the Negro Department—whose members wrote for the paper—was precisely around what some believed was insufficient internal party support for the antiracist struggle it was waging and supporting in the labor movement. As another example, we know that the “workers correspondence” section of the Negro Worker was often written by editor George Padmore or other party members even when written with the signature of a worker from British Guiana or the French Caribbean. In short, when these newspaper pieces are read less literally and more figuratively, we can see that they represented not only the silencing of colonized voices that these communists were trying to give voice to but also the political imaginary that was demonstrated by these leaders as reflected by the papers. I think many have and continue to cynically dismiss the politics of these papers as shallow, Moscow-directed propaganda.

While you write against the tendency to write the history of Black internationalism as a “tradition” of “great men”, emphasizing instead the role of black workers and collective organizations, there are nevertheless a number of individual biographies that are critical to the history you tell. Can you say something about two Haitian Communists who figure prominently in the book? The first, Henri Rosemond, isn’t well known; the second, Jacques Roumain, is, though largely as a novelist, not an activist. Who were they? And what was the political and historical significance of the organizations?

Henri Rosemund and Jacques Roumain make my case perfectly about the importance of organization history with respect to antiracism in the 20th century precisely because both of their political significance stems most notably from the fact that they were part of the origination of the Haitian Communist Party in 1930. Sadly, I have very little information about the early Haitian Communist Party. Matthew Smith, a colleague I met in Jamaica some years back, actually wrote a whole book on Haiti and the left, though as I recall it was not based on the 1930s for the most part. Henri Rosemund for me is so fascinating for several reasons. He is a classic example of the reciprocity of radicalism between the Caribbean and NYC–the back and forth–that my book posits. He seems to have arrived as an immigrant worker into NYC where he was part of the Haiti Patriotic League, a non-Comintern affiliated nationalist group. From there, he seems to have been intrigued by and recruited into the Anti-Imperialist League, one of the Comintern mass organizations featured in this book, and from there, he seems to have joined the CPUSA and the American Negro Labor Congress. It was Rosemund who was clubbed and nearly beaten to death in NYC in early 1929—months before the “Haitian Revolution” that year which was sparked by radical Haitian students at the Damien School on the island who were upset with how the US occupation allowed for American overlordship in the educational system. When Rosemund was beaten, he was essentially part of leading thousands of workers in the needle trades (aka garment) industry in NYC to fight for better working conditions and rights, and that a black man took such a leading role in what would have been a fight largely geared toward immigrant eastern European workers was without a doubt pioneering for its time or even today. After recovering from his near-death experience, and despite feeling like the CPUSA could have done more to assist him personally in his recovery, he returned to organizing and by early 1930 had gone to Haiti to help develop and Anti-Imperialist League chapter there in the wake of President Hoover’s visit to the island. In two years, Rosemund did more for the international workers’ movement than many people then or today accomplish in a lifetime. And yet Toussaint is the only name many people know with respect to Haitian revolutionary history.

How did the Communist Party respond to the US occupation of Haiti and to the 1929 protests that eventually led to the occupation’s end?

The CPUSA called the 1929 protests the “Haitian Revolution.” That is, it invoked the most revolutionary anticolonial revolt of the nineteenth century as a means of conveying the significance of workers’ militancy in Haiti in the 1920s. And it placed this uprising alongside the victories underway in Soviet Russia and Communist China in the contemporary period. Rose Pastor Stokes of the CPUSA indirectly gave her life in defense of Haiti’s 1929 uprising in that she was clubbed in the head by police which later led to long-term brain injuries as a protest in NYC while defending Haitian workers. So people in the US physically gave their lives for the cause. Even more, the CPUSA supported the founding of a party in Haiti, as mentioned above in the case of Henri Rosemund.

You write of Cuba’s Oriente province as the country’s “Black Belt,” the latter term suggesting a link to the CP’s “Black Belt Thesis.” What is the nature of this link?

Yes, I don’t think I’m the first to point to this connection, but it plays a pretty major role in my book. The main point that I was trying to make about Cuba’s Black Belt thesis, and this is precisely what it was, is that its application was in many ways more revolutionary than that which emerged in the southern United States. In the early 1930s, the Cuban political scene was extremely unstable, characterized on one hand by divisions within the island’s ruling elite all vying for degrees of power in collusion with or against the US–depending on economic interest, and on the other hand the working class was extremely militant, almost to the point that the Cuban Communist Party could potentially have seized political and economic power in small portions of the island. Indeed, in the Black Belt of Cuba, which is a reference to Oriente province, there were several instances wherein the sugar workers actually seized hold of the estates if only for a time. I even came across talk of Jamaican “red guards” preventing bosses from entering their own property which had been seized by militant workers. The communists were all part of this militant direct action in Cuba, though to a significant degree they were not fully enough in charge as communists per se but more so as radical labor leaders.

That is the internal situation within Cuba, but from the hemispheric and then global angle, the CPUSA and CCP (Cuban Communist Party) were in what appears to have been pretty frequent touch. Indeed the CPUSA had been assigned Cuba by Moscow as one of the hemispheric locales that it was responsible for helping to direct politically. Since much of the most militant and anti racist action was actually emanating from Cuba more so than the United States, many members of the CPUSA found themselves in Cuba throughout the 1930s in support of the radicalism there and also to help bring issues like the Scottsboro Boys to light on the island. By 1934, the “Black Belt Thesis” was not only a major aspect of the CPUSA strategy toward waging antiracist struggle in the United States but at the same time black working class militancy was at its peak in Cuba’s “Black Belt.” So communist organizers like Henry Ford and Henry Shepard who went from Harlem to Cuba that year did so to help forge labor solidarity among union workers in the US and Cuba and also to show that multiracial unity was necessary for fighting racism and gaining workers power. In turn, Cuban workers across the island had banners and protests to defend the Scottsboro Boys campaign based out of the US. In this way, as this book constantly points out, the interwar period of radicalism was much more transnational and reciprocal than most people acknowledge, and black workers were always critical to this process.

While the book focuses on what you term the “Black Caribbean,” you also engage the “Brown Caribbean” through your discussion of the Indian populations of Trinidad and British Guiana – and, surprisingly, through the role of Mexico in regional organizing. What is the significance of Mexico for your story? And what does Red International, Black Caribbean teach us about solidarity across Black and Brown racial lines?

Thank you for this question. It is such an important one. The significance of Mexico for this work is still emerging. Much more remains to be seen about just how deeply embedded the Mexican communists were in the radical networks across the Caribbean where black workers were predominant. Of what I have uncovered, the place of Mexico has two important functions in our historical understanding of the period. First, it was a place of refuge for not only radicals like the forced emigre from Republican Spain, but also for black revolutionaries like Jacques Roumain who spent some time there after being released from prison in Haiti and a short stint in Europe. Second, Mexico was the first people of color Communist nucleus in the western hemisphere, and the sense of anti-imperialism and sensitivity to chauvinism in the CPUSA was critical to strengthening the antiracist struggle across the region.

You both begin and end Red International, Black Caribbean, by suggesting that the history of Communist anti-racist and anti-imperialist organizing offers lessons for the present, even if mistakes were made in the past. In your view, what are some of these lessons?

First, black workers can not successfully fight racism alone. Black working class militancy is THE essential precondition for the fight against racism, but it is not sufficient. Integrated efforts with the support of white radical workers and political activists is necessary as well. Second, militancy from colonized workers and workers at the periphery of finance capital are still THE essential precondition for destabilizing imperialism, but they can not do this without the international support of radical and militant workers in more economically advanced regions of the world.

Let’s take the recent situation in Puerto Rico with Hurricane Maria. While the island was already suffering from over a century of super-exploitation at the hands of US industrialists, pharmaceuticals, and the military, it would be absolutely naive to think that Puerto Rican workers alone can successfully take on the US imperial machine. The book showed that there has always been a pendulum swing effect for imperialism. The 1929 crash on Wall Street, which was anticipated by smaller crashes across the Caribbean where US imperialists were based was followed by even more intense attacks on workers in these same peripheral regions of finance capital. In a similar way the 2008 housing crisis in the US was precipitated by smaller crashes like in the Puerto Rican economy in 2006, and it was echoed even more severely in the aftermath of the US domestic crash. Student led mass strikes in the mid 2000s in Puerto Rico led to larger working class strikes which, leading up to and after Maria, have resulted in tens of thousands of workers protesting at May Day and militantly taking on the local elites and US bank industry. But this militancy alone, coupled with calls for independence, would never be enough to liberate Puerto Rican workers from this system of oppression. Deep seeded, deliberate and long-term strategic alliances between US and Puerto Rican workers through organizational infrastructure are still the necessary foundation for lasting workers’ empowerment in both regions. This is something that the book demonstrates to some extent but that today’s radical movements can demonstrate even more powerfully.

Image: The Negro Worker, August-September, 1933. Source: AOM/Slotfom/XV/304, D.R. reproduced in Amzat Boukari-Yabara, « Les militants noirs anglophones des années 1920 à 1940 », Gradhiva 19 | 2014.

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Imperialism and Apocalypse: An Interview with Gerald Horne

Historian and political activist Gerald Horne is the Moores Professor of History and African American Studies at the University of Houston. He grew up te Missouri, where he graduated from Beaumont High School in St. Louis in 1966, and obtained a Bachelor’s degree from Princetion (1970), a J.D. from University of California, Berkeley (1973), and a Ph.D. in history from Columbia University (1982). He is the author of more than thirty books addressing the questions of racism, labor, politics, civil rights, international relations, and war. The Public Archive interviewed him about two of his more recent books, Confronting Black Jacobins: The United States, the Haitian Revolution, and the Origins of the Dominican Republic and The Apocalypse of Settler Colonialism: The Roots of Slavery, White Supremacy, and Capitalism in Seventeenth-Century North America and the Caribbean. Both were published by Monthly Review Press.

The Public Archive: I want to begin by asking you about your intellectual biography. You have a law degree from Berkeley and were a practicing lawyer before returning to graduate school at Columbia to complete your PhD in history, with an excellent dissertation, titled Black and Red: W.E.B. DuBois and the Cold War, 1944-1963. What first led you to law and then from law to history? And can you say something about how your approach to archives and research developed during your studies?

Gerald Horne: What led me first to law was the political activism of an earlier era.  I went to Berkeley in part because I wanted to be close to the Black Panther Party, whose roots were in nearby Oakland; like others I saw the formation of the BPP as an excitingly transcendent development.  Alas, by the time I graduated the political climate had taken a turn for the worst and it was apparent that I—like many others—miscalculated the strength of the U.S. right wing and its capacity for Counter-Revolution, a trend I have addressed explicitly in my historical writing.  So, I moved to New York City and became involved with various forces, including Herbert Aptheker’s American Institute for Marxist Studies and Esther Jackson’s Freedomways magazine and related entities, not to mention anti-apartheid activism and trade union activism (Hospital Workers Union) and the National Conference of Black Lawyers.  I also entered graduate school in History at Columbia.  As for the archives, my association with the foregoing led me to the Du Bois Papers—Aptheker and Jackson both worked closely with him—and my dissertation and first book.  It seemed obvious to me that there had to be a deeper explanation for how the mighty Du Bois was made marginal in the last few decades of his life–just as desegregation seemed to be taking root.  I explored this apparent paradox in this and other works.

Confronting Black Jacobins has an obvious debt to CLR James’ classic study, The Black Jacobins: Toussaint Louverture and the San Domingo Revolution. What is the impact of James’ work on your own writing and how does your book diverge from James’?

Like James I have sought to emphasize the world historic importance of the Haitian Revolution, how it ignited a General Crisis of the entire slave system that could only be resolved with its collapse and how that was a condition precedent for the post-U.S. Civil War rise of a working-class movement and a socialist movement—not just in North America but globally.  Unlike James, however, I see 1776 and the formation of the resultant republic as not a step forward but a Great Leap Backwards, to which 1804 administered a fitting rebuff.  Likewise—unlike James—I write of the de facto alliance between Hayti and Britain in confronting the slaveholders’ republic in North America.  Perhaps the difference has something to do with my being born under the “Stars and Stripes” and he under the “Union Jack”?

You’ve taken the Harvard eugenicist Lothrop Stoddard’s comment that the Haitian Revolution provided “the first great shock between the ideals of white supremacy and race equality” to suggest the revolution’s impact far beyond the Caribbean region. What was that impact?

As for the impact of the Haitian Revolution, see the immediately preceding paragraph.  To elaborate, London recognized the jig was up with 1804 and moved away from the ignominious African Slave Trade by 1807 and then began pressing the U.S. in a similar direction (see my ‘Negro Comrades of the Crown’), while Hayti in turn began aiding revolts of the enslaved throughout the hemisphere (detailed in ‘Confronting Black Jacobins’).  Both pressed the analogue of 1776—Texas’ pro-slavery secession from Mexico in 1836—which caused the so-called Lone Star Republic to turn tail and crawl into the U.S. federation, to which it remains attached.  This was not minor since early on Texas became a major slave trading state, with its ships found off the coasts of W. Africa and Brazil and Cuba (see my ‘Race to Revolution’ on Cuba and ‘The Deepest South’ on Brazil).

For many historians, the revolution is fetishized and Haitian history ends in 1804. As a result, there are relatively few studies of post-Revolutionary Haiti. What are the major challenges that this newly born Black Republic composed of formerly enslaved-Africans faced across the nineteenth century?

Hayti faced destabilization, not least from Spanish Cuba and the U.S., culminating in the secession of the Dominican Republic in 1844, unleashing a seemingly endless cycle of conflict between the close neighbors.  The payment to France of a kind of ‘reparations’ is also well known, a criminal injustice that continues to resonate.

One of the surprising insights of The Apocalypse of Settler Colonialism is your narration of the history of the Muslim world, of the Ottoman and the Barbary Coast, in particular, to the history of modern slavery, settler colonialism, and the emergence of a “pan-European” white identity. What are the main points of this story?

Unfortunately, there is this well-known trend of reading the present back into the past:  i.e. Turkey is not a major force globally today—though that is changing rapidly—and, ergo, de-emphasizing its past strength has become common.  This is unfortunate.  One of the points I will make in my 16th Century book is that London surged to the front ranks of nations in part by cutting deals with the Ottomans and Africans against the interest of the Iberians (this included backing Morocco and even the Cimarrones or the “Maroons” of what is now Panama in their contest with His Catholic Majesty).   Of course, Western Europeans generally ran the risk of being enslaved themselves as they sailed southward to enchain Africans.  The halting of the Ottomans at the gates of Vienna in 1683 was—thus—a defeat for Africa too (at least in the narrow sense).  And, yes, the deal cut between England and the Ottomans is—in a sense–reminiscent of the deal cut between China and the U.S. in the early 1970s, with the latter not contemplating that this Asian giant would surge to the forefront, just as the Ottomans did not realize how London would be propelled forward decisively.

I have two questions on the historiographical location of your research and writing, especially concerning the critique of capitalism within Black historical studies. First, what are your thoughts on the “new” history of capitalism — especially with its “discovery” of a link between capitalism and slavery – and how would you situate your own work in relationship to it? Second, the phrase “racial capitalism,” as deployed by the late Cedric Robinson, has gained a recent currency for the discussion of the racialized origins of capitalism. However, “racial capitalism” is not a term that appears in your work and you write instead of “capitalism” as the “ultimate expression” of slavery and white supremacy.

I welcome these “new” studies of slavery and capitalism but, as I’m sure you know there is a kind of “Columbus” quality about the enterprise, i.e. “discovering” what Eric Williams, Walter Rodney and others have written about for decades.  Besides, some of these scholars write about slavery without slaves—i.e. they mostly discuss the activity of slaveholders, and rarely discuss resistance (at times some scholars explicitly deny the existence of resistance!), which is akin to seeking to judge a pugilistic contest while only focusing on one combatant.  Inevitably, it leads to “one-sidedness”:  it is baked into the cake.  As for “racial capitalism,” I do not reject the term–in fact I have used the term ‘racialized bourgeois democracy’, as a corrective to how this latter phenomenon has been evaluated.

Notions of “debt” and “vengeance” circulate within The Apocalypse. What is the significance of both terms, especially for the children of the African diaspora living in the United States today?

You may know the lyric, “Love, Love, Love—Makes you do Foolish Things.”  For rising nation states, you may well substitute, “Debt, Debt, Debt—Makes you do Criminal Things.”  I plan to argue in a forthcoming book on the 16th century that London’s break with the Catholic Church was driven not only by the marital choices of Henry VIII but also to appropriate the wealth of the established faith in England and the immediate environment.  This in part was driven by what I note in the first sentence of my 17th century book:  England was a minor power on the fringes of Europe at the beginning of this pivotal century and as I go on to suggest, was being pressed by the Iberians, the French, the Ottomans, and—subsequently—the Dutch.  London was in debt for some time because of these stiff challenges (London barely repelled the Spanish Armada in 1588), which drove not only the break with the Catholics and the acceleration of religious conflict (Protestant v. Catholic and Christian v. Muslim) but also the advent of settler colonialism, which can be seen not only as a raw lurch for the land and wealth of “others”–at least in terms of North America—but also the outflanking of Spanish Florida and Spanish Cuba by “settling” due north in what is now Virginia.  Of course, this brings us to 2018 and musings about what the successor regime—U.S. Imperialism—will be driven to in light of the massive national debt, not to mention consumer debt and student debt but, besides, what the 45th President sees as the related issue of the trade deficit–notably with China.

As for vengeance, establishing settler colonialism based on the illicit expropriation of the land of indigenes, accompanied by their enslavement and the accompanying enslavement of illicitly procured Africans perforce must be perpetrated by massive violence, which inexorably engenders a ceaseless cycle of vengeance.  Of course, the settlers with their religious zeal felt the land and labor improperly obtained was mandated by the “Almighty,” and those victimized stoutly disagreed, and—arguably—this resultant cycle has yet to be extirpated altogether.

A number of your books have been published by International Publishers and you have had an ongoing interest in Communist figures including DuBois, William L. Patterson, and Benjamin Davis. Yet it seems to me that current academic interest in Black radicalismin the Black Radical Tradition, Black internationalism, etc.is not matched by a commitment to radicalism in the contemporary Black political sphere where critiques of both capitalism and imperialism are almost non-existent. Can you comment on this gap? And, for you, what lessons for the present can we learn from the Black Communists of the past, especially on the question of anti-imperialism?

Yes, I’m afraid that you have detected something that is real and evident.  Let me speak prospectively and encourage younger scholars to ascertain who and what represent the most advanced stage of the struggle and seek to build upon what they have constructed: assuredly, do not ignore these trends and personalities.  I chuckle when I hear certain colleagues reproving their counterparts in South Africa for “selling out” when—in a real sense—what has happened in recent decades among these colleagues in the U.S. is a decision to “take the money and run.”  I understand this since U.S. Imperialism is formidable and violently vindictive simultaneously.   However, with the crisis ignited by the rise of China, accompanied by an increasing challenge from the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa), not to mention the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and Iran and Cuba and all the rest, U.S. imperialism will not be as capable of assuaging those on the domestic front, meaning a confrontation with Washington and Wall Street on disadvantageous terms, or terms that would have been more advantageous if a more spirited anti-imperialist struggle had been mounted.  Because the Euro-American majority in the U.S. tends to lean to the right, it becomes all the more important to engage globally—to lengthen the battlefield by dint of anti-imperialism:  failure to do so is suicidal.

Image:  Revenge taken by the Black Army for the cruelties practised…by the French. Illustration in: Marcus Rainsford, An Historical Account of the Black Empire of Hayti. Library of Congress. Prints & Photographs Online Catalogue.

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