In Poverty of Philosophy, Karl Marx wrote: “Without slavery, you have no cotton; without cotton, you have no modern industry. It is slavery that has given the colonies their value. It is the colonies that have created world trade, and it is world trade that is the pre-condition of large-scale industry. Thus slavery is an economic category of the greatest importance.”
Marx is provably right, even if right-wing talking points would have you doubt.
Thankfully, modern economists are coming to terms with how much the exploited gave to the exploiters prior to the Industrial Age in Europe. Hitherto, the term “exploitation” was even problematic to discourse in classical economics.
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We have been witnesses to scholarship by usually white men which speculate that the West’s current prosperity has little to do with slavery; that colonialism and imperialism are not to blame for the insufficiency of African and continental blacks.
Every October 17, the world marks International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.
On this year’s occasion of the event, I am reminded of Haiti and the morally reprehensible and fate-defining bullying by France in 1825.
I am also reminded about how very few speak of Haiti as a country that was doomed from birth.
Haiti is the result of the first successful slave uprising that resulted in an independent state in 1804. The Guardian also calls the Haitian Revolution “the greatest revolt against slavery since Spartacus” tried to take over Rome in the 1st century BC.
Prior to the revolt, the island that is modern Haiti was known as Saint-Domingue. It was France’s most successful colony in the Caribbean but seethed with racial tension.
James Perry falls on historian Paul Fregosi who wrote describing the social situation in Haiti: “Whites, mulattos and blacks loathed each other. The poor whites couldn’t stand the rich whites, the rich whites despised the poor whites, the middle-class whites were jealous of the aristocratic whites, the whites born in France looked down upon the locally born whites, mulattoes envied the whites, despised the blacks and were despised by the whites; free Negroes brutalized those who were still slaves, Haitian born blacks regarded those from Africa as savages. Everyone quite rightly lived in terror of everyone else … Haiti was hell, but Haiti was rich.”
Haiti was a house divided against itself and as such, the charismatic and militarily-smart Toussaint L’Ouverture, took advantage.
Before the man popularly known today as General Toussaint died in 1803, he organised and led both free and enslaved blacks to fight against the rich white slave owners.
Indeed, historians put the end of the revolution in 1804 although much of the battle had settled by Toussaint’s death. Whatever we make of it, France was not happy that black people did not want to be owned by white people.
In 1825, with warships readied, France demanded that Haiti pay them 150 million francs. The French also ordered Haiti to cut by 50%, the cost of every export the country sent to France and its colonies.
Justification for the payment? Slave and plantation owning white families were not pleased that they could no more own their properties and they wanted to be paid for damages.
In 1838, Haiti pleaded with France to cut its demands to 90 million francs but it would take the first independent black country 122 years to pay the amount.
Forbes Magazine analysed in 2017 that the cost of all the money Haiti paid with its interests amount to $21 billion in present-day money.
The moral deplorability of the whole affair is strangely lost on the French. In 2015, they declined a request by the Haitian government to pay any of the bulk amount back.
France’s rejection, I argue, is rooted in the same white supremacist tendencies to construe Africans and peoples of African descent as the arbiters of their political fates.
This is not even revisionist history; it is worse. It is the denial of the causal link between yesterday and today, necessarily because white people would have to concede they did something wrong.
France outlawed the slave trade in 1826 and slavery in 1848. Yet, the country found nothing wrong in collecting restitution for the evils until 1947 from Haiti.
Haiti definitely had it worse but it is not different from francophone African countries in their relationship with France. These countries are supposed, by the agreement of independence, to keep their national reserves in France and pay France for all the “good” it did during colonisation.
France isn’t alone. Until 2015, Britain was paying descendants of families that owned slaves.
It should be interesting to be educated on the sort of understanding that permits one to say, “we owe slave-owners because they once owned human beings and we have deprived them of their property. That is unfair.”
Today, Haiti is one of the world’s poorest with one of four people unable to afford $1.25 a day.
Haiti’s Duvalier family of father and son, who ruled the country from 1957 to 1986, are the favourites punching bags of Western pundits who say Haiti caused its own problems.
The sheer historical inaccuracy, inadequate comparison and gaslighting are a bit troubling.
Haiti was destined to fail. The first black slave successful revolt that established a nation had to be punished. The white supremacy garden had to be watered.
Acknowledgement should not be too hard.