Confronting Black Jacobins : How the Haitian Revolution Smashed Slavery Worldwide

By Hugo Turner
Edited by Libya 360°Internationalist News

The Haitian revolution (1791-1804) was one of the most important events in modern history. It was the first successful anti-slavery revolution. Not only did Haiti’s slaves manage to liberate themselves, they also inflicted crushing defeats on three empires. Spain, France and Britain suffered catastrophic losses trying to take back the island from its heroic defenders.

I dealt with this glorious moment in human history in my “Revolution in Haiti” based on C.L.R James classic “The Black Jacobins.” I wrote about the critical role that slavery held in the global economy and its eventual part in fueling the industrial revolution in “Capitalism and Slavery“, based on the classic by Eric Williams. I tackled the role of slavery as the prime motivation behind the launching of the “American War for Independence” in “Counter Revolution of 1776“, based on Gerald Horne’s classic of the same title. Now I will deal with the role the Haitian revolution played in not only ending slavery on the island but throughout the Americas, relying another masterpiece from Gerald Horne “Confronting Black Jacobins: The United States, The Haitian Revolution, and The Origins of the Dominican Republic“, which is both a sequel to “The Counter-Revolution of 1776” and a companion to his excellent “Negro Comrades of the Crown“, which covers the alliance between American blacks and the British empire, which hoped to use the issue of slavery to destabilize its former colony-turned- imperial-rival, the United States.

In “Black Jacobins“, Gerald Horne revives the suppressed history of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries which has been thoroughly mythologized and whitewashed. Horne reveals a world embroiled in what I call world War Zero, which began around 1483 when De Gama the pirate began his raids on Asia and Africa, followed shortly after by the infamous and genocidal voyages of Columbus, which opened the Americas to the horrors of genocide, slavery and plagues. It would last until 1914 when with the whole world conquered by the imperial powers would launch World War 1.

World War zero began a centuries-long apocalypse. World War zero was a war of Europe upon the rest of the world, but also a centuries-long geopolitical power struggle between the European powers. Those resisting these empires had to learn to play one against the other. The “Slave Holding Republic”, as Horne refers to the US, had declared its independence to protect it from the danger of the abolition of slavery. London, overburdened by the endless but forgotten guerrilla wars, constantly had to fight against revolting slaves and whole communities of liberated Africans known as maroons (escaped slaves that had carved out their own liberated territories throughout the Americas). Britain wanted to focus more attention on conquering the rich and massive territories of India and eventually China. In the Americas, if Britain was going to compete with Spain, it realized it would have to start relying on armed Africans, since white colonists were too busy trying to keep their slaves in line and waging genocidal wars of conquest against the Indigenes to volunteer to fight Briton’s wars.

These were the cynical motives that prompted the ruthless British to slowly phase out first the slave trade and then slavery itself. The American counter-revolution was launched in direct reaction to this trend as Horne proves in his “Counter-Revolution of 1776.” Hence it is no surprise that the US would become the center of the global slaveocracy. It sought to defend and expand slavery everywhere. Ironically, the French who had helped fund this counter-revolution in revenge for the loss of its mainland colonies during the “French and Indian wars” would be bankrupted by the effort and would fall to the French revolution. The French revolution would in turn spark the revolution in Haiti, when conflicts between the whites and free people of color provided an opening for a slave revolt to turn into a slave revolution. Slavery would be abolished and Haiti would also liberate itself from the French empire, becoming the first revolution in the third world.

As can be imagined the news was greeted with utter horror in the United States, or at least among the white population. Both Washington and Jefferson reacted with abject horror. Gerald Horne amusingly quotes them. Jefferson called Haiti the “cannibal republic.” Both feared that what happened in Haiti could spread to the US and throughout the new world. For the slave,s the news was an inspiration, spoken of in triumphant whispers across the land. Haiti would inspire most of the major slave revolts, and often it was rumored that the Haitians were actively involved in aiding these rebellions. The isle of freedom, as Horne refers to Haiti, was surrounded by slave states and knew that its survival depended on changing the balance of power. Haiti was in direct communication with the leading abolitionists of Britain, France and the US. Haiti’s efforts would help liberate Latin America. It was with Haitian aid and supplies that Simon Bolivar set out to liberate Latin America in exchange for his promise to abolish slavery. Thus Haiti and the US would become involved in a cold war prefiguring the US reaction to the Russian, Chinese, and Cuban revolutions during what I call World War 3.

At least on the issue of slavery, Haiti would win this cold war, although it was nearly destroyed in the process. Haiti would be the target of a destabilization and balkanization campaign and would nearly suffer a “humanitarian intervention” by which the US hoped to conquer the island and re-institute slavery. Haiti would be forced to fight a bloody civil war and would loose half its territory, thanks to one of America’s first covert ops, masterminded by John C. Calhoun. This would result in the creation of the Dominican Republic. Yet these events would help fuel the US civil war, as the merchants of the north were constantly seeking to expand trade with the island at the same time the south sought to destroy it. Southern racism prevented the US from being able to reap the rewards of its dirty war when the south rejected a treaty with the Mulattoes of the Dominican Republic. The tensions would soon explode into a US civil war during which Haiti would prove the North’s only true ally. Yet, even with the victory of the North, the United States would remain as malevolent and racist as ever, concocting a scheme to annex first the DR (Dominican Republic) and then Haiti itself, so that it could deport all newly freed slaves to the island. In the 20th century Haiti experienced the terrible revenge of empire, suffering 20 years of brutal military occupation, which they met with heroic resistance. Haiti suffered for decades under a brutal military dictatorship. The brief ray of hope brought by Arirstide was crushed in two US backed coups. Currently, the people of Haiti are resisting the sham elections being held as part of the UN occupation. As we shall see, the people of the world owe Haiti a tremendous debt, especially those like myself, descended from African slaves who owe our freedom to the courage and cunning of the Haitian revolutionaries. We must do all we can to see that Haiti is liberated from its occupiers so that Haitians are once again allowed to determine the destiny of their nation.

But we must return to the 18th century to answer the question of how Haiti managed to have such a huge impact on history. Even before the revolution had succeeded, the US had sent aid to the island to try to suppress the revolt. Once it succeeded the Haitian revolution became a polarizing event. For the US it was their worst nightmare come to life, the very thing they had fought to prevent. Many of the former Haitian slaveholders became penniless refugees in America, although many would also rise to positions of influence. These angry emigrants like the “white” Russians, or the right wing Cuban exiles, would plot their revenge from exile. Their tales of woe that the press dubbed the “horrors” of Haiti” would stiffen American resolve to preserve slavery and would lead it to become even more racist. They blamed the “Mulattoes” for the revolution, whose calls for equal rights for non-slaves had sparked a civil war that created the chaotic conditions for the successful slave revolt. They became determined to keep anyone with African blood in an inferior role, which only heightened tensions and dangers. In the Spanish colonies they managed to buy the allegiance of the “free people of color” with special privileges (like owning slaves), and even the sale of “honorary whiteness”. In the US on the contrary, the “free people of color” were in constant danger of being deported, murdered and re-enslaved. Haiti would profit from this American ultra-racism, as many free people of color who were often skilled craftsmen, would emigrate to the island, providing a boost to the economy and often rising to positions of prominence.

While the Haitian revolution pushed the US to become eve- more harsh advocates of slavery and racism, it had the opposite impact in London where it accelerated the abolition movement as the imperial planners realized they were creating a powder keg. Slavery lead to insurrection. Britain was forced to change its tactics, or risk loosing control of its colonies. In Jamaica they had been embroiled in a series of wars against rebellious slaves and maroons. Across the Caribbean, there were periodic slave revolts and dangerous conspiracies for liberation that brought endless terror to the slaveholders. With the Haitian example, the situation would only intensify, but also yield rewards Britain could gain by only by abandoning its abolitionist policy. Its outlawing slavery in England along with its offers to free slaves who fought on their side during the American counter-revolution, had won it a great deal of goodwill among blacks. Haiti had been the most valuable possession, the richest colony, not just belonging to France but to any empire. Now English merchants received preferential treatment in Haiti. Haiti was a valuable ally against both France and “The Slave Holding Republic.” Haiti’s geo-strategic location was pivotal to any agenda for controlling the Americas.

Haiti was able to play the various powers off against each other thus insuring its survival, despite being surrounded by hostile powers. It had diplomats stationed around the world closely following the global geopolitical situation. Its trade was so valuable that even the US sought to expand its trade with the island. However, as Horne delights in recounting, the racist Americans encountered danger, often having their cargoes impounded and their lives threatened. Perhaps even worse, from their perspective, they were forced to treat the blacks of the island with respect or face the potentially dire consequences, which was a major humiliation for people so thoroughly steeped in their ideology of white supremacy. Like communist China later the US stubbornly refused to officially recognize Haiti, which meant their traders and diplomats were at a constant disadvantage with their European competitors. US traders were saddled with an extra 10% tariff for their racist arrogance.

Haiti sought to create an alliance with the blacks of the Americas and Caribbean and they were quite successful. Haiti became a magnet for blacks, both slave and free. The “Isle of Freedom” was soon flooded with slaves escaping from all over the Caribbean. Black sailors would jump ship deciding to stay in free Haiti. The Haitians even used their Navy to capture slave ship,s enrolling the liberated in their armies. In Toussaint’s time, his 55,000 man army dwarfed the 22,000 men Washington could muster. The American counter-revolution was not exactly covered in military glory, barely defeating a halfhearted British campaign with French help, while Haiti had smashed Napoleon’s finest troops and inflicted the most catastrophic defeat the British would suffer in a century. No wonder Washington and Jefferson feared Haiti might invade, its armies provoking a slave revolution that would have drowned the infant imperialist power in blood and fire. Unfortunately that never happened but indirectly Haitians were involved in inspiring revolts across the Americas including in the US. The famous revolts by Gabriel, Nat Turner and Denmark Vesey were all inspired by the Haitian example and slaves imported from Haiti were involved in Turner’s revolt. Vesey traveled to Haiti and was inspired by what he saw there. America was the scene of a decades-long black scare, similar to the red scare. Wherever their was discontent and revolt America saw the Haitian hand at work and Horne believes that this was not mere paranoia. Everywhere blacks were menacingly singing the songs of the black Jacobins. Though in bondage, slaves had their own communications network and were surprisingly well informed about what was going on in the world. They closely followed news of abolitionist debates in London, slave revolts in the Caribbean, and the triumph and continued independence of Haiti. As Horne writes, there were dozens of slave revolts between 1791-181,5 many inspired by the Haitian example.

Haiti was also able to form alliance with free US blacks many who would choose to emigrate there. The Black press defended the island against the machinations of the empire and journalists like Frederick Douglas praised its heroic example just as W.E.B. Dubois would later do. Haiti was in close contact with the worldwide abolitionist movements, closely allied to figures like William Loyd Garrison in America and Wilberforce in England. The Haitian example proved the complete falsehood of the myth of white supremacy, which declared that blacks were naturally subservient and incapable of self rule. Haiti maintained a sophisticated global diplomacy, sustaining ties not just with Europe and the Americas, but even with Asia. It managed to play the great powers against each other and hence insure its own survival.

The second major triumph of the Haitian revolution was its role in ending the slave trade. Not only had the American counter-revolution unintentionally set the conditions for the French revolution by bankrupting France. It Had also helped set the stage for the Haitian revolution with US merchants quickly becoming the biggest slave traders on the planet. By flooding Haiti with slaves they had set up a dangerous demographic imbalance in which slaves far outnumbered their masters, which in Haiti, resulted in victory for the slaves. In order to curtail this dangerous trend the British quickly moved towards ending the slave trade. Even the US in the immediate aftermath of the Haitian revolution tried to halt this trade, passing laws banning it. Unfortunately the greed for profits outweighed the risks and the US became masters of the illegal slave trade while the British would attempt to police the trade using it as an excuse to expand their African empire. Whatever progress was made in ending this horrifying trade that killed tens of millions of Africans on the voyage and countless millions more who were killed in wars fueled by the guns for slaves trade, was due to the triumph of the Haitian revolution. The Haitian revolution also improved the lives of slaves in British colonies when Britain was forced to pass “black codes” regulating the treatment of slaves in an attempt to quiet the never ending slave revolts. In the US they chose an opposite course, becoming ever more ruthless and cruel after every slave revolt, passing ever more draconian security measures.

Unsurprisingly the “Slave Holders Republic” did not sit idly by while the black Jacobins of Haiti were having such a dangerous effect on the future of slavery. It pressured Haiti to pay France reparations while France threatened invasion. The Haitians were saddled with a massive debt which explains how the richest country in the new world became the poorest. Haiti became one of the first neo-colonial experiments. America profited hugely from reparations since many of the former slaveholders had moved to the US. Louisiana, where they were most concentrated, became the richest state in the union. However the US wasn’t satisfied with economic warfare. It would turn to the tactics that have become infamous trademarks of the Empire of Chaos. The US launched a covert destabilization campaign in Haiti, sparked a brutal civil war and were successful in dividing the island, creating the Dominican Republic. John C. Calhoun sent weapons and advisers while corrupt businessmen/spies like William and Jane Cazneau worked behind the scenes to manipulate events. Haiti was subjected to a constant propaganda campaign. The brutal war the US initiated was used as an excuse to lobby for “humanitarian intervention”, supposedly to protect the Mulattoes (who the US despised) from the blacks (who the US hated). In reality they hoped to reconquer the island and re-establish slavery. The Haitians were tough fighters and the Haitian people were always ready to wreak revenge on scheming foreigners in their midst. US envoys could count on brutal treatment, beaten by angry mobs and imprisoned, while their homes and offices were looted. Thus these decades-long schemes to invade and conquer the island as a first step to seizing the Caribbean would be delayed because of these dangers, until Woodrow Wilson launched his invasion and occupation just prior to world war one. The US and the French were successful in keeping the island in a constant state of civil war – a war from which the Dominican Republic (DR) would emerge with 3/4 of the islands territory, even though it had a tiny population. The US was unable to fully reap the rewards of this successful balkanization strategy because the racist southerners who had backed the war in the first place were too racist to accept a treaty with the DR because they didn’t want to accept mulatto diplomats. This helped fuel the US civil war, as did Haitian support for the famous John Brown who attempted to arm slaves so that they could liberate themselves. As Horne writes, the Haitian revolution, by causing ever-increasing world polarization on the issue of slavery, inevitably resulted in the US civil war.

The civil war would make the US vulnerable to the machinations of its rivals. The offended DR would actually call in Spain to reclaim its colony, a unique event in the history of colonialism. France would try to take over Mexico while the US was distracted. England would toy with the idea of recognizing the confederacy in hopes of weakening the U,S an imperial rival destined to become the dominant empire of the 20th century, absorbing the French and British empires. The north was forced to officially recognize Haiti. Haiti proved a valuable ally, closing its ports to confederate ships and allowing the northern navy to resupply at its ports. Some Haitians, and also US blacks who had immigrated there to escape US racism, would return to fight on the side of the Union. The confederacy on the other hand, plotted to conquer the island and re-enslave the Haitians. They even sent a slave ship on a doomed raid to kidnap and enslave Haitians or US blacks living in the DR. Luckily their plot was discovered and the captain, a wealthy businessman, would spend years in prison narrowly avoiding the death sentence he deserved. After the wa,r the US would force Haiti to pay reparations after a long legal battle which soured relations between the countries.

Yet despite this alliance during the war once the north won it’s evil schemes against Haiti continued. In Horne’s final chapter he discusses another forgotten saga in American history. The US sought to annex the DR and then Haiti and deport all of its newly freed slaves to the island. Due to fierce Haitian resistance, which had also managed to evict the Spanish, the schemes for annexation were foiled. The events revealed the Faustian bargain that US blacks had made in exchange for their freedom. They were now expected to support the US empire. Blacks would be recruited to help exterminate the Indians. In the plan to conquer the island, Frederick Douglas was recruited as the front man for this sinister plan, forever staining his career as a voice for black liberation. His reward was to suffer one humiliation after another at the hands of the empire. Twenty years later he would once again come to his senses and praise the glory of the Haitian revolution as he once did in his youth. Other US blacks remained loyal to their Haitian allies. Many elements of the black press opposed the schemes to destabilize and later annex Haiti, even leveling harsh criticism at Frederick Douglas’s ignoble role. They would form a counter-current to those who hoped that by obediently serving empire they might one day be granted equal rights, which have yet to materialize 150 years later, as blacks are shot and killed with impunity and imprisoned en masse in the empire of chaos. The role of the black press in opposing US imperialism in Haiti would prefigure the more recent tradition of black opposition to imperialism from men like Paul Robeson, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Huey P. Newton. No doubt Horne included the tale of Douglas as a subtle commentary on America’s first black emperor Barrack Obama. Now with the election of Emperor Trump, Horne’s terrifyingly prophetic ending to the counter-revolution of 1776 should also be carefully studied. He wrote of the nearly successful gubernatorial campaign of Neo-Nazi Klansman (and CIA operative) David Duke in Louisiana in 1992. He warned that believing in the liberal myths of America’s origins would blind people to the deeply racist and reactionary nature of the settler colonial mindset of the American public. Horne was one of the few commentators on the left who predicted Trump would win.

The US has remained true to it’s origins a brutal and murderous empire destabilizing dividing and balkanizing the planet. It’s allies are the western imperialist countries and the fascist axis powers from world war 2. It’s allied to the genocidal fanatics of Saudi Arabia and the settler colonial state of Israel with it’s apartheid system so similar to America’s. It was able to carry out its dreams conquering Haiti in a brutal military occupation launched by that grand hypocrite and doctrinaire racist Woodrow Wilson who also brought Jim Crow to the capital. The Haitian people heroically resisted fighting an endless guerrilla war. After a bloodbath the US installed “Papa” Doc Duvalier, and later his son, to rule the country under a brutal, fascist dictatorship. They established the Haitian secret Police (SIN) and the hated death squads which terrorize the island. After “Baby” Doc Duvalier was finally overthrown, Jean Bertrand Aristide, a liberation theology priest who wanted to help the poor majority, would become president. He in turn would be overthrown in two US backed coups. After the 2010 earthquake and the intentional destruction of the Haitian state, replacing it with foreign NGOs, the US used the ensuing chaos to invade and occupy the island under UN cover. Now the US, with typical racism, claims the Haitians cannot be allowed to rule themselves and is attempting to force another puppet government on them through sham elections. All those opposed to slavery and imperialism must support the struggle of the Haitian people to liberate themselves from this new form of “humanitarian imperialism” which is meant to keep the Haitians poor while foreign companies get rich looting Haiti’s natural resources and exploiting its people in sweat shops. Meanwhile Haitians are murdered with impunity for resisting.

Free Haiti!

The story of the Haitian Revolution also reminds us that we have many battles left to fight in the United States which has been waging centuries of warfare on Blacks, Asians, Indians, Mexicans, and even poor whites when necessary. There is a reason that American policemen like Dan Mitrione were sent to train Latin American torturers. Countless Horrors are being committed in Prisons and police stations and on the streets of American cities. We must end this Mass incarceration system and this endless low intensity warfare on the American public. Horne would also remind us that we should look abroad for allies in the struggle. Without the Assistance of Haiti Slavery might never have ended in the US. Without the help of Russia Jim Crow might never have been abolished. Since America, despite it’s history of genocide, slavery, and imperialism, continues to lecture the world on human rights, it is time the world fought back by demanding America grant human rights to blacks and other minorities, that it end its modern forms of slavery and rein in its trigger happy police force. Free Haiti and abolish the mass incarceration system. We must also oppose schemes to deport Latin Americans and Muslims which are so similar to what the US planned for the black population after the civil war. Let the heroic tale of Haiti’s centuries long struggle inspire the world in its struggles against racism, exploitation, and imperialism.


Sources

My main source was of course Gerald Horne’s “Confronting Black Jacobins: The United States the Haitian Revolution and the Origins of the Dominican Republic.” I could not begin to do this book justice. Horne provides a complex and detailed account written in his wonderfully exuberant style. I also highly recommend “The Counter-Revolution of 1776” and “Negro Comrades of the Crown” also by Gerald Horne since they are interrelated. For those shocked into a rude awakening by the Trump administration these books will explain why people shouldn’t be surprised. Be sure and check out Gerald Horne’s many lectures and interviews available for free online. I also highly recommend “The Black Jacobins” by C.L.R. James and “Capitalism and Slavery” by Eric Williams.

I also recommend a film, “Birth of a Nation” (The 2016 version) about Nat Turner’s Slave Revolt that struck terror into “The Slave Holding Republic” as Horne calls the US. After lamenting the racism and cowardice of Hollywood in ignoring the rich history of slave revolts I must offer proper praise to Nate Parker for directing this masterpiece which Gerald Horne himself recommends you watch.

Interview with Gerald Horne on the Impact of the Haitian Revolution

https://beta.prx.org/stories/168948

Interview with Gerald Horne on “Confronting Black Jacobins”

Revolution in Haiti

Capitalism and Slavery

Counter Revolution of 1776

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