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Friday, June 29, 2018
Haiti's Present Crisis: A History of Capitalist Expansion
Afscme Local 444,retired
US Capitalism Will Never permit an Independent Black Nation off its Shores
I have to confess that my knowledge of Haiti's history and the Island itself which includes the Dominican Republic, is not extensive. I understand the general process and the role of colonialism but the only book I have read and it is an excellent one, is The Black Jacobins by CLR James. It's been a long time since I read it but it gave me a real feel for what life was like there.
This video is not bad and interesting in that it points to the role of French and Spanish colonialism and touches on the US position. When Toussaint L'Overtuere led a successful revolution for independence in 1791 Haiti became the first independent black nation. There is no way that US capitalism will allow a truly independent nation a few miles from its borders, let alone a black one, particularly as revolutions produce radical changes that threaten US capitalism simply by their very existence. As Julian Assange pointed out, the US didn't invade tiny Grenada to corner the nutmeg market. Remember the US under Clinton kidnapped Aristide.
Haiti is also populated by the descendants of slaves brought to that part of the Island of Santa Domingo by the French, and the 1791 revolution terrified the young US ruling class as their wealth was built on the backs of human beings transported in chains from Africa and sold as slaves on the US market. They were convinced, and they were probably correct, that the newly formed black nation would threaten their system as African slaves in the US would be inspired by the revolution off their shores and revolt.
As I watched this video I don't think I heard the term, capitalism once. This is usually the case as the term is consciously avoided even by the liberals. It's as if we live in no organized system at all. It was the birth of capitalism arising out of the womb of the decaying feudal system that gave rise to the struggle for markets and the domination of commodity product and the need for raw materials. It is good that the video points, in a sort of historical materialist way, to the cause of the crisis but stops at colonialism. Feudalism was a self sustaining social system where what was produced was primarily for immediate consumption and the appropriated surplus for the feudal ruling class. Power and wealth was in land. Commodity production and market activity was limited.
With the rise of capitalism and production being socialized and dominated by commodities for sale in markets far and wide, the labor process became more brutal and exploitative. Commodity production is a brutal form of production which is why American slavery was so much more brutal than slavery in ancient times, it was predominantly for commodity production. The racism we see and others experience is part of that development as well. The destruction of the environment, felling of entire forested regions, misuse of the land is all driven by capitalism's rapacious and inherent desire for profits.
If we don't look at history in this way, with a class perspective we cannot understand why things are like they are and can easily fall prey to all sort of false arguments with, racist, nationalist or religious sectarian bias. When I was young growing up in England, Ireland, a few miles across the Irish Sea was a backward peasant country. I worked with semi-illiterate Irish immigrants who had never left their villages back home. It was still a very poor rural economy except sections like parts of the British occupied North which had industry and significant shipyards. The Titantic was built there. And as is always the case with rural people, their habits and expectations were very different from the "sophisticated" urban dweller.
As with the poor and underdeveloped in Africa and South America, the poverty and underdevelopment was subtly and not so subtly explained away as an "Irish" problem. They were stupid, dirty, backward., racially inferior I remember "no blacks, no dogs, no Irish" signs in boarding house windows before the race relations act. We only have to read older English/British newspaper articles about Ireland to get an understanding of the level of racial hatred waged against the Irish. The Irish economy could not develop being the first and longest held colony of British capitalism. Ireland was forbidden to trade with the rest of the world as an independent nation and as I have mentioned before, there was no famine as tons of food was exported as cash crops as people died of starvation.
I am not raising Ireland as a way to undermine the racist assault on people with black skin as some sort of competition of the oppressed, the latter is by far the more savage, after all, their look different, another way to divide, but the process that leads to it is the same. The history of Haiti is not Haiti's alone, it is the history of the development of capitalism on a world scale. And capitalism cannot solve it, cannot reverse the process. Only a world federation of democratic socialist states can end what we see in Haiti and throughout the world. As I watched these people it made me realize how lucky I am. Day in day out them and millions like them eke out this meager living, hounded, beaten, harassed and demonized seeing no light at the end of the tunnel.
It should be mentioned in any study of this history that when uprisings begin to take on a political character which they always will, and their goals conflict with the interests of the imperialist countries (in our case the US) who move to crush them as US capitalism has done time and time again in Latin America and the Caribbean are we to be surprised then that at times the anger and madness explodes in to mass violence? We have seen this in US history many times. I think it was Martin Luther King who said that, "Riots are the language of the unheard".
A good book on the development of capitalism and the working class with it is: The Many Headed Hydra by Marcus Rediker and Peter Linebaugh. I loved that book