Michel Hector, 1932-2019

From our friends at the excellent Dream Variants blog:

A few years ago, my interest in the history and development of Haitian labor movements and radicalism led me to a renewed interest in the works of Michel Hector. From his various works written under the pseudonym Jean-Jacques Doubout to his later writings on the Haitian Revolution and the genesis of the state, Hector illustrates the utility of Marxist and materialist theory for understanding Haitian historical development. Furthermore, as a militant involved in the labor and socialist movements, Hector’s objective analysis offers key insights into different moments and conflicts over strategy, ideology, tactics, and goals of the various left-wing political parties and labor federations. Furthermore, without Hector and his legacy rooted in the long history of Haitian Marxist critique, contemporary scholarship on the Haitian Left would be impoverished and sorely lacking the testimony and analysis of a participant of its struggles.

His work, in both Spanish and French essays and monographs, also provides key sources and an interpretative framework for understanding Haiti’s position in the larger political economy of the last two centuries. The earlier work written under the name of Doubout explores the Marxist framework for analyzing the development of social classes and the “semi-feudal” nature of the economy for most of the 19th century. Doubout explains this in Feodalisme ou capitalisme by arguing that the Haitian Revoluton was neither anti-capitalist, nor anti-feudal. One can debate the utility of using terms like feudal, but if understood as “feudal-like,” the dichotomy is warranted. Then, the rupture beginning in 1915 with the US Occupation and a rapid increase in the size and number of large-scale agro-industrial firms and proletarianization proceeds. Hector’s work follows this development to the early labor movement of the 1920s and 1930s (through figures such as Joseph Jolibois, Jacques Roumain, and Christian Beaulieu), paving the way for the “explosion” of 1946 and independent labor’s influence on politics.

Hector, however, also outlines the importance of changes in political economy during the second half of the 19th century with a limited opening of Haiti to foreign capital and enterprise, particularly after 1860. Hector is one of the few historians I have come across whose work encompasses that period in class formation and the extent to which the US Occupation merely accelerated a process that had begun in the later decades of the 19th century. His works include useful chronologies and timelines on the development of capitalist industries in the country, pivotal dates for strikes, and the formations of unions and political parties. Hector’s also one of the few sources who wrote about artisans and wage-workers in that period, 1860-1915, including the incipient proto-proletariat into what may be early formations of class consciousness. 

While some may take issue with his Marxist-inspired critiques of the MOP’s Fignolé or the UIH’s lack of a clear political program or almost anarchist-inspired politics (essentially, playing with fire just as the Duvalier dictatorship was increasingly tyrannical), Hector’s oeuvre is foundational for any kind of clear comprehension of the history of modern Haiti. His later work, which, unfortunately, I have not completely read, encompasses social movements and political crisis, such as the piquets of the 1840s and the 1946 revolution. A return to studying early Haiti also manifests, requiring close reading for analysis of the colonial period. In short, Hector’s long list of published writings assist in elucidating the entirety of our past, as well as the applicability of Marxist framework for the Caribbean. Rest in peace, Michel Hector Auguste.

Michel Hector Auguste: November 20, 1932, Cap-Haïtien – July 5, 2019, Pétion-Ville.

Re-posted with permission from The Dream Variants, July 9, 2019.

Also see:

Watson Denis, “Hommage au mapou Michel Hector (1932-2019) : professeur, historien et militant politique,” Le Nationale, July 12-15, 2019.

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