The Power of History: (Haiti)
[col. writ. 8/19/07] (c) '07 Mumia Abu-Jamal
Recently, while speaking with a younger journalist, I made mention of several points of Haitian history, and the writer looked at me blankly.
Although he was well-read, and had even traveled to Haiti, he hadn't the faintest idea of many of the historical facts to which I made reference.
He simply had never read nor heard of them.
As a student of history, I recommended he read the work of the late radical scholar-activist, C.L.R. James on Haiti: The Black Jacobins: Toussaint Louverture and the San Domingo Revolution, originally published in 1938. He knew of the book, but he never read it.
C.L.R. James was a man of remarkable brilliance, and a man who wore many hats and mastered many skills. His book, The Black Jacobins, is regarded as a masterwork of history, with perhaps the best telling of the story of the Haitian Revolution (at least in English).
James, a revolutionary organizer as well as an accomplished scholar, probed deeply into the forces that led to revolution, both in Haiti and in France.
One such factor was the relentless brutality of French slavery in Haiti, where sugar factories exploited black labor so totally that the life span of a captive worker there was 7 years. 7 years. To replenish this slave labor force, more and more Africans were captured from West Africa's coast, to work the sugar factories of Haiti.
Black suffering and death meant white profits and sweets.
James cites an axiom commonly used in France at the time of the French Revolution: "The Ivory Coast is a good mother."
What that meant was slavery and brutality was good for business!
Were it not for the immense wealth extracted from African slavery in Haiti, James explains, the French Revolution would never have happened. Quoting the French historian Jaures, James teaches us that "The slave-trade and slavery were the economic basis of the French Revolution."
"Sad irony of history," comments Jaures. "The fortunes created at Bordeaux, at Nantes, by the slave-trade, gave to this bourgeoisie that pride which needed liberty and contributed to human emancipation." Nantes was the centre of the slave-trade. As early as 1666, 108 ships went to the coast of Guinea and took on board 37,430 slaves, to a total value of more than 37 million, giving the Nantes bourgeoisie 15 to 20 per cent of their money. [p.35]
Haiti also had other impacts on the world.
Its Revolution spelled the end for Napoleon's dream of a Franco-American empire. Shortly after the Revolution cut off profits to France, Napoleon communicated to Thomas Jefferson his willingness to sell Louisiana to the US for several million bucks,
Jefferson leaped at the offer, and by the alleged sale (so-called because Napoleon sold land that belonged to Indians, not France), the United States doubled its size overnight.
History is important; it teaches us why things are the way they are.
It teaches not only about yesterday, but about today.