Category Archives: Slavery

Hollow Promises of a Better Life: Modern Day Slavery

Despite the fact that slavery has long been abolished it continues to blight our world, destroying the lives of tens of millions of people. The Global Slavery Index (GSI) 2018 estimates there to be 40.3 million slaves in the world; however, given the difficulty of collecting data, the areas that are not included – organ trafficking, child soldiers, or child marriage – and the fact that, as GSI says, there are ‘substantial gaps’ from the Arabs States, where 17.5 million migrants workers live, the actual number will no doubt be a great deal higher.

Of the 40.3 million total, 24.9 million people “were in forced labor and 15.4 people were living in a forced marriage.” Men, women and little children living inhuman lives, imprisoned, abused, crushed. Women and girls make up 71% of the total; a staggering one in four (10 million plus) are children.

Treated and regarded by those that exploit them not as human beings, but as chattel property victims of slavery are traded for money and services throughout the world. The Asia-Pacific region has the largest number of enslaved people – 30.4 million, and, according to Anti-Slavery International 9.1 million people are in slavery in Africa. Repressive regimes, such as North Korea, Burundi, Eritrea, have the highest prevalence of slaves. In North Korea it is said to be as high as one in 10. But no country, no matter how wealthy, liberal and well policed, is immune to this abhorrent practice, it is happening everywhere.

As part of the 2015 UN Sustainable Development Goals (UNSGD) member states committed to eradicating modern slavery by 2030. But, unsurprisingly perhaps, progress towards this has been slow and, as GSI puts it, “disgracefully marginal”. Human trafficking is now the second most lucrative criminal activity after drugs and it’s increasing; a large percentage is sex trafficking (of women and girls) and over half of people are trafficked within their own country.

The most common forms of slavery are: domestic servitude – widespread in the Middle East and North African (MENA) countries but also prevalent in western nations; sexual exploitation/forced marriage, and bonded labor (or debt bondage/debt slavery) – when a person works in exchange for a loan or to pay off debt inherited from a family member – particularly common in South-east Asia and the Gulf States.

In India bonded slave labor is widespread, with people, specifically women, from the Dalit (previously labeled the ‘Untouchables’) caste and tribal groups being most affected. Although the caste system is illegal, social classification based on the family of birth dominates, particularly in rural areas. In a detailed report on slavery the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) state that affected Indian “families [can] remain enslaved for generations, working in dangerous conditions without the means to pay for their freedom…the cycle often begins with a loan request made to a landlord or business owner for expenses incurred burying a family member, treating an illness, procuring employment, or staging a wedding.” Once the loan is given threats are made, exploitation begins, often the work done far exceeds the value of the debt. Rice mills, textile factories, farms, brick kilns are some of the prisons of bonded labor.

Lost lives

A large percentage of victims work in the supply chains of multinational corporations in the form of forced or bonded labor, including child labor. They are paid little or nothing, work extended hours often in unsafe conditions and live in appalling accommodation. The more complex the supply chain the greater the risk of slavery, the more difficult to trace. Food and tobacco companies, clothing/textile businesses, mining, construction (migrant workers are particularly at risk of exploitation in this area), seafood and electronics, all are vulnerable to modern day slavery.

While the act of enslavement may occur in the depths of the supply chain, products are imported to developed countries, making these countries and businesses if not wholly complicit, certainly partly responsible; GSI estimate that “G20 countries are collectively importing US$354 billion worth of at-risk products annually.” Hidden in large part from unsuspecting or uninterested consumers; slave labor is cheap, reducing costs, maximizing profits.

Consistent with most, if not all of our social and environmental ills the global socio-economic system of the age, and the attitudes, values and ways of being that it encourages play a significant role in feeding the ground for exploration and abuse. Under the poisonous shadow of Neo-Liberalism everything and everyone is regarded as a potential commodity, something, or someone, to be profited from in some way; it is an inherently unjust system that corrupts action and fuels social divisions.

Competition together with notions of reward and punishment form the foundation of its doctrine. Desire, and with it fear, are relentlessly agitated, contentment and harmony brushed aside in the relentless pursuit of profit.

Within the Ideology of Greed and Selfishness, negative tendencies are emphasized; instead of encouraging expressions of unity human beings are set in opposition to one another, forced to compete to survive. The economically weak and socially vulnerable are manipulated, exploited, enslaved, and when, through ill health, physical deformation, old age, or exhaustion, they can no longer work ceaselessly for a pittance or nothing at all, cast aside. Broken in mind, body and spirit, a life for many is lost.

‘I was looking for a job’

Human traffickers and criminal gangs engage in slavery for one reason: it’s the same reason that drives the business world, large and small, and preoccupies people around the world – to make money. As such, it is, as Kevin Bales, Professor of Contemporary Slavery at the University of Nottingham, says, “an economic crime”. They prey on the poor, the naive and vulnerable, those without work or those working but living in terrible hardship.

While it is estimated that one billion people in the world live in poverty, a great many more exist in economic hardship and insecurity. People living in destitution, desperate to support themselves and their families, are a soft target for criminal brokers with hollow promises of a better life: A restaurant job in the city for the daughter of tea pickers in Assam, India – and the teenager is swiftly trafficked into prostitution; work as a housekeeper in Dubai for a young Ethiopian girl, who ends up in debt bondage and domestic slavery, often sexually abused. Construction work for a Nepalese man in Qatar, trapped into debt by unscrupulous ‘recruitment agents’ and exploited by greedy employers.

Another major factor allowing slavery to flourish is neglect or the total absence of the rule of law, as in countries that have been torn apart by armed conflict, or where corrupt police and government officials exist. In such places – Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya, Iraq, Syria and Yemen for example, human traffickers operate with impunity.

Over the last 70 years there has been a global population explosion contributing to a range of issues including slavery. In 1950 there were 2.5 billion people on Earth, now it’s 7.5 billion and there are also an unprecedented number of displaced people in the world – 70.8 million according to UNHCR. Without a home and stability, displaced people, including migrants and refugees, are extremely vulnerable. Uprooted and desperate, they can be easily manipulated by criminals seeking to exploit their dire circumstances. CFR relate that migrants and refugees, as well as ethnic and religious minorities, particularly women and children, are at heightened risk of enslavement.

The existence of modern day slavery is a stain on our collective humanity; this appalling practice must end, and, as GSI make clear, “governments around the world need to redouble efforts to identify victims, arrest perpetrators, and address the drivers.” The causes are complex, interrelated, connected to the current inadequate modes of living. If we lived in a world where social justice was central to economic policymaking, where the underlying causes of conflict were addressed and where values rooted in brotherhood and compassion prevailed, slavery would be banished. In the absence of such common sense and desperately needed radical changes, the steps required and advocated by those working in the field are all we have, and need to be acted upon – with urgency.

Like many of the issues facing humanity, modern day slavery demands a coordinated consistent approach, cooperation and commitment, not just among governments, but between nongovernmental organizations, and multinational corporations. Tougher law enforcement is needed, and greater transparency within global supply chains. Businesses should be forced to investigate their own suppliers, while responsible consumption should also play a part in cleaning up supply chains and helping to drive slavery from our world for good.

Death by a Thousand Trumps: The Logical End Point of Capitalism

The fundamental problem of political philosophy is still precisely the one that Spinoza saw so clearly (and that Wilhelm Reich rediscovered): Why do men fight for their servitude as stubbornly as though it were their salvation?

— Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Ant-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, 1972

There is a fairly typical and recurrent notion among many Americans that Donald Trump and his administration is some sort of aberration. As if his brutal, venal, racist, and bullying nature is something new, or different from previous leaders. For those not inclined to look at the historical record; one only has to look beyond our borders to view the authoritarian personality type that Trump represents in power all over the world: Modi, Orban, Erdogan, Jinping, Duterte, and Bolsonaro being the most obvious comparisons.

Our president is not an exception but the logical culmination of a nation built on genocide, slavery, empire, and capitalism. His virulent nationalism, his racist and sexist attitudes, and unbelievably fragile ego are all undisputable proof that millions of people enjoy, tolerate, or acquiesce to his behavior. Liberal pieties and paeans towards restoring normalcy don’t move the needle for most center-left voters either, as it is at least tacitly/subconsciously understood that after Trump and Brexit there is no going back towards “liberal democratic” rule. A threshold has been crossed.

Trump and his billionaire cronies are simply doing what capitalists do best: doling out more death and destruction, which many US citizens are all too comfortable eliding; except for the understandable shock and anger over the most outrageous travesties, such as the burning of the Amazon or children in concentration camps on our southern border. Even then, there is no programmatic analysis of what caused the problem (capitalism and empire) and very little visionary leadership with any social power or pop-cultural relevancy to propose realistic solutions.

It’s crucial to look outside the borders of the US to see how capital really operates. Western multinationals pay foreign governments to murder, ethnically cleanse, pillage, rape, and despoil entire nations and natural habitats. US transnational corporations as well as federal funding for various authoritarian regimes (notably Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, etc.) pay for their militaries, private security forces, death squads, proxy terrorists and spies, as well as corporate espionage.

For these reasons and many more it cannot be considered hyperbole to call the USA a fascist state. For those unconvinced, I suggest reading Umberto Eco’s 1995 essay  “Ur-Fascism” to understand why. Henry Giroux uses the term “neoliberal fascism” and his recent book American Nightmare, which I reviewed for New York Journal of Books, spells out in detail the deepening spirals of violence and ignorance American society is succumbing to.

The near total focus on purely domestic policies in mainstream media and by our politicians is excruciating, maddening, and cringe-inducing. The constant domestic policy myopia contradicts any statements that liberals and conservatives actually understand, or have genuine interest or empathy for foreign causes or solidarity with those in need around the globe.

One only has to find old news programs, for example, from the fifties through the eighties to remember that news media for all its flaws then was much more informed and nuanced about international relations compared to today. Dissidents, counterculture figures, communists, and radicals appeared regularly on TV talk shows and were generally encouraged or at least tolerated by liberal establishment journalists, whereas today there is a huge zero. Foreign wars and overseas events were covered more extensively.

There’s no doubt many liberals earnestly want Trump gone for his racist border policy and global warming denialism, among other issues. Yet, of course, much of the outrage revolves around the pseudo-moralizing, a way of saying: “He doesn’t represent us, the good-hearted progressive people in the USA.”

A petty, corrupt, racist, chauvinistic, violent grifter is exactly the type of person to represent the United States. It needs to be said, and repeated, over and over.

There are tens of millions of mini-Trumps all over the nation, exploiting, killing, jailing, and materially and mentally impoverishing working people. Here’s something to ponder. How many US citizens would support kicking out all undocumented immigrants in our country? Almost certainly the number is in the millions, if not tens of millions of people.

Where do US citizens think this is all leading towards? Have we not been locked in a death spiral, circling the drain for centuries, and have our leaders not plundered, murdered, enslaved, and ruthlessly exploited fellow humans, nature, and resources at a horrifying and increasing rate? Even further back, isn’t this where Western civilization has been headed towards for 6,000 years: a system based on brutal and authoritarian hierarchies propped up by organized religion, barbaric racism and tribalism, imperial delusions of grandeur, and myths about a world full of limitless resources?

Also, the ruling classes have been getting more ignorant, more venal, less philanthropic, and less empathetic. There are studies that can confirm this: for instance, through measuring emotional intelligence (EQ), it has been found that in corporate firms, positions above middle management show a dramatic drop in EQ. Of course, we know most CEOs and corporate owners are borderline if not full-blown psychopathic or sociopathic. The ownership of our nation are perfectly willing and able to exploit workers, cut benefits, destroy public programs, ignore the poor and minorities, and breed mass alienation at a level unseen since the Gilded Age.

There are about 585 billionaires in the US, about 175,000 people with over 25 million in total (0.05% of the population), 1.4 million individuals with wealth over 5 million (0.42% of the population), and it’s estimated there are about 12 million millionaires in the US (about 3.6% of the population). They are on the other side of a class divide that is widening more every year.

The 2016 election clearly showed white voters turned out in droves for Trump, but what mostly went unmentioned is that for all voters making over 50k a year, the edge also went to Trump, 49% to Clinton’s 47%. So much for the idea that those with wealth are part of a enlightened and tolerant “meritocracy” as our corporate overlords and their media puppets like to constantly remind us: rather, those with just a little bit of money, unconsciously or not, use their vote to crush the lower classes through Trump’s tax cuts for the wealthy, tariffs and trade wars, etc.

Umberto Eco also points this out: he correctly demonstrates that one of the features of fascism is an “appeal to the frustrated middle class, a class suffering from an economic crisis or feelings of political humiliation, and frightened by the pressure of lower social groups”. Erich Fromm also mentions this phenomenon at length in his classic Escape from Freedom.

The insatiable desires of the elites and the economic leverage the “Global North” holds further absolutely dirt-cheap prices for all manners of consumer goods, by externalizing the costs onto faraway nations, the environment, and the poor who inhabit nearby industrial or manufacturing sites, and other “sacrifice zones”.

This accounts for the burgeoning phenomena of the worker as an “independent contractor”, a model touted by Silicon Valley and venture capitalists. The new model is to cut as many benefits as possible and use low-wage service work or the threat of falling into this precariat as leverage to squeeze as much work and productivity as possible out of what remains of the middle class.

Small businesses which serviced the rich in previous eras are now forced to compete more fiercely or die, and thus compelled into deflationary business models with price wars, etc.; while the large-sector service corporations effectively have monopolies and can force workers to accept low pay due to the reserve army of labor.

Perhaps soon, the majority of the rich will be forced to acquiesce due to popular demand on issues such as free college or universal health care. Yet, they will never, ever choose voluntarily to surrender their basic model of economic power or to restructure corporate America. Freedom without economic equality is impossible. The majority of us are relegated to a form of serfdom, with no prospects for democracy in the economy and the workplace.

Another point worth mentioning is that reform is never going to happen in time through legislative and judicial means. The amount of hoops to jump through, in our constitution and in the legislature, to structurally change the system will take way too long, sap momentum, and destroy any movement based in electoral politics however good the intent.

Requiring any mass movement to follow every legalistic framework for change is just another form of elitism: forcing the multitude to advance at the glacial pace of the legal system is simply an authoritarian call for law and order to cement unjust property rights. Any form of reformist policies will be denied by appealing to the status quo of existing laws, and their deluded obsession with following corrupt legal procedures and bureaucratic red-tape written by corporations and lobbyists. Rather, citizen assemblies, general strikes, direct action, and public referenda should be used as much as possible to counter the dirty tricks of the elites.

The main strivings of the members of our government, Democrat or Republican, are for power, money, and fame: they are not any substantially or qualitatively different from Trump in this respect. Their warped, huge, and fragile egos have convinced themselves that they really are the right people for the job, regardless of their obvious corrupt nature, lack of knowledge, and moral failings. Rather than being devoted to public service, their actions imply that they view themselves as doing the public a favor by simply existing and choosing to run for office to provide us with an “enlightened” political class, rather than those scary “populists”.

There is an unacknowledged anti-democratic strain in US society which insists every public policy position must be run by an expert, a technocrat, despite all evidence suggesting these professional-managerial class types (personified by Obama, his reign marking the apotheosis, the high-water mark of meritocratic and liberal democratic ideology) are craven, corrupt sycophants beholden to the power elite.

Apparently there are about 5 million people in the US who hold clearance to view classified material. There are about 1.3 million military and about 700,000 police officers. So that’s 7 million right there which constitute the national security state. The 21st century Praetorian Guard, if you will. If you count the defense corporations, fossil fuel multinationals, and various conglomerates which profit off the destruction and exploitation of workers and the environment, and all the sub-contractors which rely on the largesse (trough) of defense, fossil fuel, and other anti-life industries, that’s a few more million easily.

What I’m getting at is dislodging Trump, or any figurehead president, is small potatoes, because there are at least 10-30 million Americans with a shitload of guns and money who do not want to see any — and I mean any — fundamental progressive changes. Without a mass base advocating for socialist and revolutionary democratic policies, there is nothing the ruling classes won’t do to protect their privileges.

Forget an imbecile like Trump. The power elite would rather re-animate the corpse of Genghis Khan than have Bernie Sanders or anyone left of him in charge. Believe that. They would rather use the power of capital flight and take their money to Swiss bank accounts or the Cayman Islands and bankrupt our entire country than see any socialist in power. Bank on it. Forget elections as the exclusive means towards dismantling the power structure. Only mass movements in the streets can fight the barbarism we are confronted with.

How to find a Tiger in Africa

Agostinho Neto declaring independence of Angola 11 November 1975

What I want to do here is something very simple. I want to explain how I began to search for Agostinho Neto. I also want to explain the perspective that shapes this search.1

When I was told about the plans for a colloquium I was asked if I would give a paper.2 I almost always say yes to such requests because for me a paper is the product of learning something new. So I went to the local bookstores to buy a biography of Dr Neto. The only thing I found available was a two-volume book by a man named Carlos Pacheco called Agostinho Neto O Perfil de um Ditador, published in 2016. The subtitle of the book is “A história do MPLA em Carne Viva”. When I went to the university library I found another book, a collection of essays by Mr Pacheco and a book by Mr Cosme, no longer in print.3

Obviously the sheer size of Mr Pacheco’s book suggested that this was a serious study. Since these two ominous tomes were the only biography I could find in print in a serious bookstore, it seemed to me that the weight of the books was also designed as part of Mr Pacheco’s argument. The two volumes, in fact, comprise digests of PIDE4 reports and Mr Pacheco’s philosophical musings about politics, culture, psychology etc. There is barely anything of substance about the poet, physician, liberation leader and first president of Angola, Agostinho Neto, in nearly 1,500 pages.

As I said, I knew little about Dr Neto, but I knew something about Angola and the US regime’s war against the MPLA.5 I was also very familiar with the scholarship and research about US regime activities in Africa since 1945—both overt and covert. I also knew that dictators were not rare in Africa. However, in the title of Mr Pacheco’s book was the first time I had ever heard Dr Neto called a dictator. What struck me was that Dr Neto was president of Angola from the time of independence until his death in 1979—a total of four years. In contrast his successor remained president for almost 40 years. So my intuition told me if Agostinho Neto was a dictator he could not have been a very significant one. However, I wanted to know what the basis of this charge was. Certainly he was not a dictator on the scale of his neighbour, Joseph Mobutu.6 I reasoned that Agostinho Neto was called a dictator for the same reason all heads of state are called “dictators” in the West—because he held office by virtue of processes not approved in London, Paris or Washington. In the jargon of the “West”—a euphemism for the post-WWII US Empire—anyone called a communist who becomes a head of state must be a dictator, since no one in their right mind could elect a communist and no communist would submit to an election.

However, there was apparently more to this accusation than the allegation that Dr Neto must be a communist and therefore a dictator. Agostinho Neto had good relations with the Cuban “dictator” Fidel Castro and he enjoyed the support of the Soviet Union. When there still was a Soviet Union, anyone enjoying its support, no matter how minimal or ambivalent, could be considered at least a “potential dictator”. Then I read about a brief but serious incident in 1977, an attempted military coup against the Neto government on 27 May, led by Nito Alves and José Van Dunen. The coup was defeated and all sources agree there was a purge of the MPLA and many were arrested and killed. Writers like Mr Pacheco argue that Dr Neto directed a blood bath in which as many as 20-30,000 people died over the course of two years. There appears to be agreement that many people were arrested and killed but the exact figures vary.7

However, I still wondered whether this incident and its apparent consequences were enough to justify calling Dr Agostinho Neto, dictator of Angola.

While researching for this paper, while searching for Agostinho Neto, I found many people who had an opinion about him but very few who actually knew anything about Neto, and often they knew very little about Angola.

First I would like to deal with the coup attempt and the aftermath because that is the most immediate justification for this epithet. I am unable to introduce any data that might decide the questions I feel must be raised, but that does not make them less relevant to an accurate appraisal of Dr Neto’s four years in office.

  1. How, in the midst of a civil war, and military operations to defend the country, including the capital from a foreign invader—the Republic of South Africa—are the casualties and deaths to be distinguished between police actions and military actions? What reasonably objective apparatus existed to produce the statistics upon which the count could be based?
  2. What was the specific chain of command and operational structure in place to direct the purge on the scale alleged by Dr Neto’s detractors? What was the composition of the forces operating under government direction during this period? What was the composition of the command at local level?

Without claiming to answer these questions—they would have to be answered by research in Angola—there are some points that make the bald assertions of those like Mr Pacheco, who claim Dr Neto is responsible for the violent aftermath, for the thousands of victims, far from proven.

Casualty reporting during war is highly unreliable even in sophisticated military bureaucracies like those of the US or Britain. There were rarely bodies to count after saturation bombing or days of artillery barrage. To add a sense of proportion Sir Douglas Haig, commanding the British Expeditionary Force at the Somme during World War I, ordered the slaughter of nearly 20,000 British soldiers in one day with total casualties of some 50,000—the excuse for this was war.8 One’s own casualties are usually a source of embarrassment. But in Angola, like in other African countries, the presence of a stable and professional bureaucracy capable of generating any kind of statistics was certainly sparse. Whether those statistics can be deemed objective is another issue.

The absence of written orders or minutes is not by itself proof that no orders were given. In fact, as has been established in the research on the whole sphere of covert action, written orders can be issued “for the file” while operational orders are transmitted—deniably—by word of mouth.9 Then the question has to be answered in reverse: how did the actual enforcement officers receive their instructions and from whom? Here it is particularly important to note that the MPLA could not have replaced all police and other security force rank and file with personnel whose loyalty to the new Angolan government was certain. This means that many police or other security personnel had been performing under orders of the New State officers until independence and were still on duty.10 The actual relationships these personnel had to the people in the districts where they were deployed would have been known, if not notorious. It is not unreasonable to infer that a general purge would give opportunities to people at all levels to solve “problems” arising from the fall of the Portuguese regime.

Then there is one other factor—a question raised by the fact that Mr Pacheco’s book relies almost entirely on PIDE reports about the MPLA. One can, in fact, read in several accounts of the independence struggle that the MPLA was thoroughly infiltrated by PIDE operatives. So do we know if the orders which rank and file personnel took were issued by bona fide MPLA cadre acting on instructions from the president or issued by PIDE operatives within the MPLA command structure? In fact, it is a highly practiced routine of covert operations, also by the PIDE during the independence war, to appear and act as if they were the MPLA while committing acts intended to discredit it.11 While it is true that the Salazar/ Caetano regime had collapsed the people who had maintained the regime—especially in covert operations—did not simply disappear. Moreover, the world’s premier covert action agency, the CIA, was an active supporter of all MPLA opposition and certainly of factions within the MPLA itself. We know about IA Feature because of the revelations of its operational manager, John Stockwell.12 We also know that the PIDE and the CIA worked together and we know that the US ambassador to Portugal during the period (1975 to 1979) was a senior CIA officer.13 We also know many details about the various ways in which covert operations were run then.14 What we do not know is the extent to which it may have been involved in the coup against Dr Neto. But there is room for educated guessing.

I do not believe it is possible to reconstruct the events of the purge with evidence that can provide reasonable assurance of what responsibility Agostinho Neto bears for the deaths and casualties attributed to that period—beyond the vague responsibility which any head of state may have for actions of the government apparatus over which he presides. There, are however, grounds for a reasonable doubt—for a verdict at least of “not proven”.

Which brings me to my second argument: from what perspective should the brief term of Agostinho Neto as president of the Angola be examined.

First of all we must recognise that Angola prior to 1975 was a criminal enterprise.

It began with the Atlantic slave trade, which really only ended in the 1880s (although slavery did not end). Then, like in all other colonies created by Europeans, a kind of licensed banditry was practiced, euphemistically called “trade”. By the end of the 19th century most of this organised crime was controlled by cartels organised in Europe and North America.15

Why do I call this organised crime and not commerce? First of all if one uses force to compel a transaction; e.g., a gun to make someone give you something, this is generally considered a crime and in Europe and North America usually subject to punishment as such. To travel to a foreign land with a gun and compel transactions, or induce them using drugs or other fraudulent means, does not change the criminal character—only the punitive consequences.

Angola’s economy was based on stolen land, forced labour, unequal/ fraudulent trading conditions, and armed force, the colour of law not withstanding. Neither Portuguese law (nor that of any other European state) would have permitted inhabitants of Angola to come to Portugal, kidnap its youth or force its inhabitants to accept the same conditions to which all African colonies and “protectorates” were submitted.

In other words, Agostinho Neto was the first president of an Angolan state. He, together with his supporters in the MPLA, created a republic out of what was essentially a gangster economy protected by the Portuguese dictatorship in Lisbon. Does this mean that all European inhabitants of Angola were gangsters? Certainly it does not. However, it can be argued that many Europeans or children of Europeans who were born in Angola recognised this when they began to demand independence, too. Some demanded independence to run their own gangs free of interference from abroad and some certainly wanted an end to gangsterism and the establishment of a government for the benefit of the inhabitants.

The performance of Dr Neto as president of Angola has to be measured by the challenges of creating a beneficial government from a system of organised crime and defending this effort against foreign and domestic armies supported by foreigners, specifically the agents of the gangsters who had been running the country until then.

But stepping back from the conditions of Angola and its plunder by cartels under protection of the New State, it is necessary to see Dr Neto’s struggle and the struggle for independence in Angola within the greater context of African independence. Like Nkrumah, Lumumba, Toure, Nasser, Qaddafi, Kenyatta, Nyerere and Cabral, what I would call the African liberation generation, Neto was convinced that Angola could not be independent without the independence of all Africa.16  In other words, he was aware that the independence from Portugal was necessarily only partial independence. Like the others of this generation Neto rejected race as a basis for African independence.

The position of African liberation leaders who rigorously rejected racialised politics has often been criticised, even mocked as naïve. It has often been pointed out—accurately—that the African states were created by Europeans and hence the ethnic conflicts that have laid waste to African development are proof that these liberation leaders were wrong: that either Africa could not transcend “tribalism” or that the states created could not manage the inherited territories in a modern way.

On the contrary, the African liberation generation was well aware of the problems inherited from European gangster regimes. Moreover they understood quite well that race was created by Europeans to control them, that there was no “white man” in Africa before the European coloniser created him. The “white man” was an invention of the late 17th century. First it was a legal construct—the granting of privileges to Europeans in the colonies to distinguish and separate them from African slave labourers. Then it was elaborated into an ideology, an Enlightenment ideology—white supremacy. By uniting the colonisers, who in their respective homelands had spent the previous thirty odd years slaughtering each other for reasons of religion, ethnicity, language, and greed, the Enlightenment ideals of ethnic and religious tolerance or even liberty bound Europeans together against slave majorities. By endowing these European servants with the pedigree of “whiteness” the owners of the plantation islands could prevent them from siding with other servants—the Africans—and overthrowing the gangsters and their Caribbean drug industry. The white “identity” was fabricated to prevent class alliances against the new capitalists.17

It is not clear if the African liberation generation understood the impact of African slavery in North America. Many post-war liberation leaders have admired the US and seen in it a model for independence from colonialism. Perhaps this is because in the preparations for entering WWI, the US regime undertook a massive propaganda campaign of unparalleled success in which the history of the US was virtually re-written—or better said invented. There are numerous stories about photographs being changed in the Soviet Union under Stalin to remove people who had fallen from favour or been executed. There is relatively little attention devoted to the impact of the Creel Committee, a group of US advertising executives commissioned by President Woodrow Wilson to write the history people now know as “the American Dream” and to sell it throughout the world.18 This story turns a planter-mercantile slaveholder state into an “imperfect democracy” based on fine Enlightenment principles of human liberty. In fact, the contemporaries of the American UDI saw the actions in Philadelphia and the insurgency that followed in the same terms that people in the 1970s saw Ian Smith and his Rhodesian National Front. It is very clear from the record that the US regime established by the richest colonials in North America was initiated to avert Britain’s abolition of slavery in its colonies. It was not an accident that African slaves and Native Americans were omitted from the protections of the new charter. On the contrary the new charter was intended to preserve their exclusion.

Which brings me to my concluding argument. I believe there are two widely misused terms in the history of the post-WWII era, especially in the histories of the national liberation struggles and so-called Third World: “Cold War” and “anti-communism”. Since the end of the Soviet Union it is even very rare that these terms are explained. The reintroduction of the term “Cold War” to designate US regime policies toward Russia is anachronistic and misleading.

To understand this we have to return to 1945. In San Francisco, California, shortly before the end of formal hostilities representatives of the Allies met and adopted what would be called the Charter of the United Nations. Among the provisions of this charter were some ideas retained from the League of Nations Covenant (which the US never ratified) and some new ideas about the future of what were called non-self-governing territories (i.e. colonies, protectorates etc.) The principle of self-determination, a legacy of the League used to carve up Austria-Hungary, Germany and the Ottoman Empire, was to be extended to all empires. After the propaganda war by which colonial troops (natives) were deployed in masses against Germany, Italy and Japan, to defend freedom and independence, it became clear that the exhausted and even more heavily indebted European colonial powers could not return to the status quo ante. Britain was incapable of controlling India and with the independence of India it would become increasingly difficult to justify or sustain rule of the rest of the empire. The Commonwealth idea basically kept the “white” dominions loyal.19 But how were the “non-whites” to be kept in line? The US regime made it clear that there would be no support for European empires of the pre-war type. So the stated policy of the Charter was that independence was inevitable—meaning that all those who wanted it had a license to get it.

At the same time, however, an unstated policy was being formulated—penned largely by George Kennan—that would form the basis for the expansion of the US Empire in the wake of European surrender. That unstated policy, summarised in the US National Security Council document0 – NSC 68 – was based on some fundamental conclusions by the regime’s policy elite that reveal the essential problem with which all liberation movements and new independent states would be faced but could not debate. NSC 68 was promulgated in 1947 but remained secret until about 1978.

Kennan who had worked in the US mission to the Soviet Union reported confidentially that the Soviet Union, although it had won the war against Germany, was totally exhausted and would be incapable of doing anything besides rebuilding domestically, at least for another 20 years! In another assessment he pointed out that the US economy had only recovered by virtue of the enormous tax expenditure for weapons and waging WWII. It would be devastating to the US economy—in short, a massive depression would return—if the war industry did not continue to receive the same level of funding (and profit rates) it received during the war.

Furthermore, it was very clear that the US economy consumed about 60 per cent of the world’s resources for only 20 per cent of the population. Kennan argued the obvious, that this condition could not continue without the use of force by the US regime.

Although the US appears as (and certainly is) a violent society in love with its military, in fact, foreign wars have never enjoyed great popularity. It has always been necessary for the US regime to apply extreme measures—marketing—to generate support for wars abroad. The war in Korea was initially just a continuation of US Asia-Pacific expansion (aka Manifest Destiny).20 When US forces were virtually kicked off the Korean peninsula, the machinery that had sold WWI to the masses was put in motion and the elite’s hatred of the Soviet Union was relit in what became known as the McCarthy purges. The McCarthy purges were necessary to turn the Soviet Union—an ally against Hitler—into an enemy even worse than Hitler (who, in fact, never was an enemy of the US elite, some of whom counted the Führer as a personal friend.21  It was at this point that anti-communism became part of the arsenal for the unstated policy of the US regime. Anti-communism was enhanced as a term applicable to any kind of disloyalty—meaning failure to support the US regime in Korea or elsewhere. It also became the justification for what appeared to be contradictions between US stated anti-colonial policy and its unstated neo-colonialism.

The term “Cold War” has been attributed to US banker and diplomat Bernard Baruch and propagandist Walter Lippman. It has become accepted as the historical framework for the period from 1945 until 1989.  However, this is history as propaganda. The facts are that as George Kennan and other high officials knew in 1947, the Soviet Union posed absolutely no threat to the US. On the contrary the secret (unstated) policy of the US—declassified in the 1990s—was to manufacture enough atomic weaponry to attack the Soviet Union twice. Generals like MacArthur and Le May were not extremists. They simply discussed US strategy openly.22 The point of the “Cold War” was to create a vision, which would explain the non-existent Soviet threat as a cover for the unstated policy of US imperial expansion—against national liberation movements—while officially supporting national liberation.

Together with anti-communism, the Cold War was a propaganda/ marketing strategy for undermining what every member of the African liberation generation knew intuitively, that the liberation of Africa depends not only on the liberation of every African country on the continent but on the liberation of the African diaspora. Anti-communism and the Cold War myth successfully isolated African-Americans and Afro-Caribbeans from the international struggles for liberation and human dignity and an end to racist regimes.23 In that sense anti-communism is a direct descendant of white supremacy and served the same purpose. It is particularly telling that Malcolm X, who had matured in a sectarian version of black consciousness- the Nation of Islam—was assassinated after he returned from Mecca and an extensive tour of Africa and began to argue not only that African-Americans must demand civil rights, but that they must demand human rights and that these are ultimately achieved when humans everywhere are liberated.24 Malcolm was murdered not just for opposing white supremacy but also for being an internationalist.

If we look at the fate of the African liberation generation we will find that those who were committed internationalists and non-racialists were also socialists and not did not confuse possessive individualism with human liberty. We will also find that all the leaders of newly independent African states who were most vilified, deposed or murdered were those who did not surrender those ideals or the practices needed to attain them. They were not Enlightenment leaders building on European hypocrisy. They were Romantic revolutionaries who knew that there was no salvation—only honest struggle for liberation.25 I believe that Agostinho Neto was one of those Romantic revolutionaries. And the honest struggle is not over.

Neto’s Funeral in September 1979

• Photos courtesy of Fundação Antonio Agostinho Neto

  1. Monty Python’s Meaning of Life (1983) includes an episode set in South Africa as a parody of the film Zulu (1964). The upshot is that an army medical officer suggests that a tiger could have bitten off the leg of a fellow officer in the night. To which all respond, “a tiger in Africa?!”. Of course, tigers are indigenous to Asia but not Africa. Salazar was also to have attributed the indigenous opposition to Portuguese rule in Africa as “coming from Asia”. See also Felipe Ribeiro de Meneses, Salazar A Political Biography (2016).
  2. Presented at the colloquium “Agostinho Neto and the African Camões Prize Laureates” at the University of Porto, Portugal, on the 40th anniversary of Agostinho Neto’s death.
  3. Leonel Cosme, Agostinho Neto e o sua tempo (2004).
  4. PIDE, Polícia Internacional e de Defesa do Estado, Salazar secret political police, also trained in part by the Nazi regime’s Geheime Staatspolizei (Gestapo).
  5. MPLA, Movimento popular de libertação de Angola: Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola.
  6. (Joseph) Mobutu Sese Seko, (1930 – 1997) dictator of Republic of the Congo (Zaire), today Democratic Republic of the Congo, aka Congo-Kinshasa to distinguish it from the French Congo/ Congo Brazzaville, previously Congo Free State and Belgian Congo. Mobutu seized power in the wake of the overthrow and murder of Patrice Lumumba and ruled from 1965 until 1997. See Georges Zongola-Talaja, The Congo from Leopold to Kabila (2002).
  7. Alberto Oliveira Pinto, História de Angola (2015); Adrien Fontaellaz, War of Intervention in Angola (2019),
  8. Jacques R. Pauwels, The Great Class War 1914-1918 (2018).
  9. Ludo De Witte, The Assassination of Lumumba (2001) originally De Moord op Lumumba (1999). The Belgian foreign minister during the “Congo Crisis” wrote several memoranda in which the government’s position was that no harm should come to Patrice Lumumba while the Belgian secret services were actively plotting his kidnapping and assassination. Historical research generally privileges documents and they survive eyewitnesses.
  10. Estado Novo, the term used to designate the Portuguese regime under the dictatorial president of the council of ministers (prime minister) Antonio Salazar Oliveira from 1932 until 1968 and then under Marcelo Caetano until April 1974.
  11. This is also discussed in Fernando Cavaleiro Ângelo, Os Flêchas: A Tropa Secreta da PIDE/DGS na Guerra de Angola 1969 – 1974 (2016) history of the PIDE’s Angolan counter-insurgency force. Since the concept and organisation of the Flêchas bears considerable resemblance to the PRU formed by the CIA in Vietnam under the Phoenix Program, it would not be surprising ifCIA cooperation with the PIDE extended to “Phoenix” advice (see Valentine, 1990 p. 159 et seq.).
  12. John Stockwell, In Search of Enemies (1978) Stockwell had left the agency before the extensive covert support for UNITA was enhanced under Ronald Reagan, despite the Clark Amendment. However, Stockwell noted that when he had returned from Vietnam duty and before getting the paramilitary assignment for IA Feature, he noticed that the busiest desk at headquarters was the Portugal desk.
  13. Frank Carlucci (1930 – 2018), US ambassador to Portugal (1975 – 1978), Deputy Director of the CIA (1978 – 1981).
  14. Philip Agee, CIA Diary (1975), and Douglas Valentine, The Phoenix Program (1990) and The CIA as Organized Crime (2017) Douglas Valentine uses the terms “stated policy” and “unstated policy” to show the importance of overt and covert language in the conduct of political and psychological warfare.
  15. See Eric Williams, Capitalism and Slavery (1944) and Walter Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (1982).
  16. Ghana, Congo-Kinshasa, Guinea-Conakry, Egypt, Libya, Kenya, Tanzania and Guinea Bissau, Mozambique: Nkrumah was overthrown by a military coup and forced into exile. Lumumba was deposed and murdered by a Belgian managed corporate conspiracy with US/ UN support. Cabral was assassinated. Both Mondlane and Machel were murdered. Years later Qaddafi would be overthrown after massive armed attacks, tortured and murdered by US agents. The general attitude rejecting “race” and “racialism” can be found in the speeches and writings of these leaders, esp. those delivered on the occasion of independence. See also CLR James, Nkrumah and the Ghana Revolution (1977) and A History of Negro Revolt (1985) See also Jean-Paul Sartre Kolonialismus und Neokolonialismus (1968) in particular “Der Kolonialismus ist ein System” and “Das politische Denken Patrice Lumumbas” originally published in Situations V Colonialisme et Neocolonialisme.
  17. For a thorough elaboration of this see Gerald Horne, The Counter-Revolution of 1776 (2014) and The Apocalypse of Settler Colonialism (2018).
  18. George Creel, How We Advertised America (1920) also discussed in Stuart Ewen, PR: A Social History of Spin (1996).
  19. “Dominion” status was granted under the Statute of Westminster 1931 to the “white colonies”: Canada, Irish Free State, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. This gave these colonies so-called responsible government based on local franchise, largely eliminating the jurisdiction of the British parliament in London.
  20. US war against Korea, combined with a Korean civil war, began in June 1950. A ceasefire was agreed on 27 July 1953. However, the war has not officially ended and the US regime maintains at least 23,000 personnel in the country—not counting other force projection (e.g. regular manoeuvres, atomic weapons and naval power, etc.).
  21. Prescott Bush, father/grandfather of two US Presidents Bush, was nearly prosecuted for “trading with the enemy” due to his dealings with the Nazi regime. Henry Ford had even been awarded a decoration by the regime. These were the most notorious cases in the US. There were many other forms of less visible support to the Hitler regime from US corporations before, during and after the war. The fact is that the US did not declare war against Hitler’s Germany. Hitler declared war on the US in the vain hope of bringing Japan into the war against the Soviet Union. See Jacques R. Pauwels, The Myth of the Good War (2002) The US war against Japan was a continuation of its standing objectives for expansion into China—see also Cummings (2009).
  22. This argument has been made and documented in the work of Bruce Cummings, The Origins of the Korean War (1981, 1990) and Dominion from Sea to Sea (2009).
  23. Gerald Horne, White Supremacy Confronted (2019).
  24. Also formulated very clearly in his Oxford Union speech, 3 December 1964. Malcolm X was assassinated on 21 February 1965.
  25. For an elaboration of the term “Romantic revolutionaries” see the work of Morse Peckham, especially a collection of essays, Romantic Revolutionaries (1970).

“Down with the Rebels against the Bill of Sale!”

One hundred years ago this fall, on the morning of October 7, 1919, a group of two hundred to three hundred armed Haitian rebels launched an attack on U.S. occupation forces in Port-au-Prince. Wielding “swords, machetes, and pikes,” these cacos (as they were called) entered the city with hopes of national liberation, driven to violence by a brutal, racist U.S. occupation.1 This occupation had subjected Haitians to the hated forced labor system of the corvée, seized control over Haitian finance, and rewritten the Haitian Constitution at gunpoint, enabling foreign companies to acquire land in the country. But though well-armed with grievances, the rebels were outgunned; American troops and their Haitian gendarmerie decimated them with rifles and automatic weapons. Rebel leader Charlemagne Peralte was able to escape (for the moment), but dozens of rebels were slaughtered, their base camp overrun, their one field canon seized.2

By November 1919, Peralte himself would be betrayed and assassinated, his lifeless body strung up and photographed by his killers as so-called proof that resistance was futile. The American occupiers deliberately spread the photo of Peralte’s corpse across Haiti, attempting to demoralize supporters of the uprising. But standing stripped to the waist, strapped to a door with his arms flung wide, the slain Peralte resembled nothing so much as a victim of crucifixion, martyred by the American Rome. The propaganda image boomeranged on its makers, creating an unintended consequence: Charlemagne Peralte became hailed as a national hero.3

As many as three thousand Haitian people would be killed in what has been called the Second Cacos War (1917–20). Yet despite such repression, Haitian resistance to the U.S. occupation would continue for the next decade among students, peasants, and workers alike, until the exit of U.S. troops in 1934. As Haitian-American novelist Edwidge Danticat put it in a 2015 New Yorker article:

During the nineteen years of the U.S. occupation, fifteen thousand Haitians were killed. Any resistance to the centralized, U.S.-installed puppet governments was crushed, and a gendarmerie—a combination of army and police, modelled after an occupation force—was created to replace the Marines after they left. Although U.S. troops officially pulled out of Haiti in 1934, the United States exerted some control over Haiti’s finances until 1947.4

The distorting and oppressive impacts of the U.S. occupation have been felt in Haitian society ever since. As scholars such as Michel-Rolph Trouillot have long shown, the restructuring of the Haitian state during this period—from its financial institutions to its dreaded military police—created an enduring and corrupt governmental entity that answered less to the Haitian people than to local elites and foreign interests.5

The American occupation of Haiti (1915–34) had unintended consequence in the United States itself as well, where it spurred anti-imperialist consciousness and organizing. As Steve Striffler reviews in his critical history, Solidarity: Latin America and the U.S. Left in the Era of Human Rights, resistance in the 1920s was first centered in the African-American and Haitian émigré communities, with figures such as James Weldon Johnson of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) playing a critical role. The focus on U.S. abuses in Haiti encouraged greater internationalism within the existing “Negro” rights movement, while drawing together a broad anti-imperialist tendency that included magazines like the Nation as well as elements of the radical socialist/communist left. “Such efforts,” Striffler writes, “made the occupation increasingly unpopular in the United States by the mid-1920s, and created space for expanded opposition in Haiti,” ultimately making the formal military occupation untenable.6

One lasting legacy of this oppositional movement can be found in the work left behind by politically engaged authors, who, in their creative and critical writings of this period, foreground Haiti and the burning issues its history raises. Across the 1930s, U.S. radical writers looked to Haiti not just to dramatize Black victimization or American brutality, but for insight and inspiration that could empower progressive labor, antiracist and antifascist struggles in the United States and worldwide. As Benjamin Balthaser has shown in his recent book Anti-Imperialist Modernism, left-wing writings from the period of the U.S. occupation of Haiti often emphasized the historical, revolutionary agency of this long-oppressed people.7 Against the grain of dominant North American discourses that routinely depict the Haitian people as helpless victims, unruly mobs, postapocalyptic zombies, exotic-erotic tourist attractions, or raw human material ripe for exploitation, anti-imperialist literary representations of Haiti from the 1930s treat Haitians as potential revolutionary subjects. A now-well-known work such as C. L. R. James’s Black Jacobins (1938) was not alone in its insight, but rather emerged from the crucible of a broader radical movement that sought to put Haiti front and center—both as capitalist profit center and as site of revolutionary ferment.8

Among the all-but forgotten figures in this underappreciated anti-imperialist movement was the writer Guy Endore (1900–70). Turning to study the history of Haiti just as the formal U.S. military occupation was coming to its end in 1933–34, Endore was inspired to create one of the great neglected, anti-imperialist works in twentieth century U.S. literature, his historical novel of slavery and revolution, Babouk—a book that is still in print, thanks to Monthly Review Press. Born in Brooklyn, raised partly in Europe, partly in an Ohio orphanage, fluent in French as well as German from youth, Endore lacked a sense of a stable social position. He would state later that he had “never been able to discover exactly where I fit in…everything sort of cancels out in me. I’m neither European, nor American; neither Jew nor Christian; neither of the country nor the city; neither of this century nor the last; neither rich nor poor; and even in my studies, I was always divided, always torn between the sciences and the arts.”9 By the mid–1930s, Endore was, like many young writers of his generation, turning to the left. He would spend two decades as a committed member of the Communist Party (CPUSA)—finding there a kind of home for his homelessness. However, though his political awakening was shaped by the Great Depression and the rise of fascism, “it was when I studied that Haiti business,” Endore recalled, “that I really began to take a side and began to see that there were exploiters and exploited.”10 In Babouk, “my intention,” he wrote, “was to make the reader feel and smell and taste the crime of slavery, until he abominated it; and not only historical slavery, but all those too-numerous characteristics of it that have survived into our own day.”11

Such comments make clear that while eighteenth century Saint Domingue was Endore’s immediate focus, his aims extended beyond that singular situation. He sought to intervene not only in the historiography around Haiti, but also in contemporary 1930s struggles for social justice. To pursue this split purpose—addressing not just “historical slavery” but its present surviving aspects—Baboukdeploys a self-conscious narrative voice that frequently “interrupts” the action of past events to comment directly to the modern reader, drawing parallels to more contemporary injustices and pointing out the failures of traditional history or literature when it comes to representing such issues. While working closely from primary historical documents—thanks to his fluency in French—Endore crafted a meta-historical form that could simultaneously do justice to the historical reality of Haiti, while also allowing the fires of exploitation and revolution there to illuminate a broader contemporary web of capitalism, racism, and empire. Baboukthus deserves attention today not only as a historical document of the “Hands off Haiti” movement, but also as an exhortation and provocation to revolutionary thought and practice more generally.12

To be sure, this radical book emerged from an unlikely quarter.

Originally, Endore had been commissioned in 1933 by a commercial publisher to write a “Caribbean romance” set against the horrifying “backdrop of tom-toms.” Exoticizing travel narratives of Haitian “voodoo,” after all, had been in vogue since the U.S. occupation13 and Endore was at this time best-known as a horror writer, especially for his New York Times bestseller Werewolf of Paris (1933). But Endore’s research, which included an extended trip to Haiti, led him to produce a very different kind of book, one that not only brings the horrifying “backdrop” of Haiti into the foreground, but inverts the nature of the “horror” we encounter. The horror here is not on the side of “native savagery,” but of so-called civilization. From its first page to its last, Babouk confronts us with the callous strategies and often monstrous technologies of physical and ideological repression that were building blocks of colonization and slavery. Readers turning to Babouk for a glimpse of the “monstrous Other” then are likely to be surprised, for the book compels us to recognize how the true monstrosity afflicting Haiti were the products of capitalist “reason” in the service of profit and empire.

And so, sent to Haiti to write a romantic/horrific page-turner, Endore wrote instead a masterpiece to overthrow masters with, a horror tale in which the three-headed monster is capitalism, racism, and empire, and the heroes are slaves in revolt. His commissioned employer, Century Press, seeking a different kind of horror, refused to publish the book and other major commercial publishers followed suit. Clifton Fadiman, then editor at Simon and Schuster and lead book reviewer for the New Yorker, wrote Endore privately to compliment him, “Babouk is a powerful, moving piece of work,” but he added that “it won’t sell because it’s just too horrible. The reviews would warn people away from it. We would be afraid to handle it.”14

Fadiman was not far off in his commercial estimates—though considering his position of influence, his lament was something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Brought out by the small radical press Vanguard, Endore soon found his novel denounced by the New York Times as an attempt to inspire a “race riot,” and criticized in the New Republic by reviewer Martha Gruening, who charged Endore with producing not a novel at all, but a mere “calendar of horrors.”15

Make no mistake: there is certainly plenty in Babouk that could be seen as “horrible,” beginning with the history itself—enslavement, resistance, and ruling-class repression. Moreover, the writing in the text often retains an element of the sensationalist horror style that put Endore on the map. The very first page of the book contains a detailed discussion of the “work” done by a “genius,” a so-called “nigger taster” whose trained tongue helps tell which of the enslaved are healthy enough to be purchased, and which not. (The slave traders after all, are interested in cheating one another as well, hiding the illness of their captives with perfumes and make-up and even fake teeth.) Later chapters detail grotesque diseases and conditions aboard the slave ship, the torture techniques used to punish rebel slaves, and even the brutal pike-impaling of a white infant at the height of the slave rebellion. The book at times seems to sarcastically revel in revealing the historical monstrosities that enslavers and colonizers devise to manage and rationalize their vicious regime. Endore’s wager seems to have been that his talent for the graphic and gothic could be leveraged to bring a broader popular readership to confront uncomfortable social and historical truths. He had clear political motivations for Babouk to be sure, but, as he put it, he also “wrote the book to sell.”16 In 1934, somehow, it had not seemed impossible for a book to be both an anticapitalist horror and a commercial hit. After all, hadn’t his 1933 horror novel Werewolf of Paris topped the charts, despite (or perhaps because of) its class-conscious account of the Paris Commune?17

But it would be a mistake to write off Endore’s vivid depictions of violence as mere sensationalism, or as a left-wing replication of the “exotic discourses” that predominated in U.S. depictions of Haiti at the time.18 Similarly, it would be a mistake to see Endore’s representation of the repressive effects of imperialism and slavery as a gratuitous objectification of black bodies, aimed at stirring the sentimental emotions of (predominantly white) readers. Rather, Endore’s goal in so vividly depicting historical horror is to bring to consciousness the ways that the most seemingly extreme and “monstrous” acts of the slave system—for instance, the public burning of slave rebels, the clipping of ears from runaways, elaborate regime of torture, and so on—were in fact “logical” and “rational” outgrowths of the capitalistic logic of profit-maximization and social control. At the same time, Endore draws out the ways that such extreme measures of repression testify to the pervasive resistance of the enslaved.

As an exploration of history, Babouk remains remarkable for the way it explores the dialectic of oppression and resistance, foregrounding how contradictions among the ruling classes themselves (such as the contradiction between maximizing short-term profit and sustaining long-term social control, or the contradiction between different blocs of rival property owners), open up space for resistance from below. Even such a totalitarian system as racialized chattel slavery had its cracks and weak links. At the same time, Endore zooms in on slave resistance in its own right, emphasizing the importance of cultural practices—and in particular practices of collective story-telling—as a crucial site of mass resistance and revolutionary preparation. Through the story-telling gifts of his titular character Babouk, Endore suggests the ways in which the verbal arts can be used strategically, raising the consciousness and sustaining the spirit of the oppressed, while puncturing the myths of racial or class superiority that seek to naturalize ruling power. Thus, at the same time as it confronts us with the stark limits of traditional Western historiography, Babouk—as imaginative fiction—explores the importance of creative culture for preparing the path to revolution. Babouk himself might be read as a figure for the radical artist that Endore may have aspired to become, working with complex inherited cultural materials—African trickster stories and European Bible tales alike—to forge unity among the oppressed and to clarify the need for a general revolt.

Thus, while Endore constantly exposes the “background” apparatus of exploitation, the main story of Babouk reimagines the leadup to the Haitian Revolution, through the coming-of-age story of an eponymous protagonist based loosely on the historical figure of Boukman Dutty. Remembered as a crucial catalyst of the early uprisings of 1791, known for his key role at the ceremony of Bois Caiman, Boukman’s early death left subsequent leadership to other, now better-known figures, such as Toussaint L’Ouverture and Jean-Jacques Dessalines. It also left Boukman himself something of a historical mystery, creating room for much subsequent historical debate, while providing Endore with the space for reimagining the unrecorded pre-history of the revolution.19

Endore presents Babouk as a field slave, emphasizing his talents as an unconventional, yet popular story teller. In stark contrast to those nationalist writers of the 1920s and ’30s who sought to champion Haiti in the face of imperialist degradation by celebrating its long line of strong black military men, from Toussaint and Dessalines to Henry Christophe, Endore chose instead to foreground a lowly field worker, whose only power among the Haitian masses comes through his well-chosen words. Though Toussaint and Dessalines are never mentioned by name in the book, Endore implies a sharp distinction between Babouk and those leaders who were “as astute as the whites” and would come to dominate the Haitian state after the revolution. Emphasizing the “gold bedizened uniforms” of leaders who seek to imitate their former masters, Endore reminds us that some of these figures were all too eager to compromise with colonial powers, some even proposing the reintroduction of slavery. “Babouk,” Endore writes, “had nothing to do with these.”20

Babouk thus attempts a tense balance: conjuring the emancipatory spirit of slave insurrection and emphasizing the revolutionary importance of storytelling, but without romanticizing the contradictory aftermath of a revolution that—despite its historic achievements—would leave in place new forms of egregious exploitation and inequality. Recalling Peralte’s attack on Port-au-Prince, Endore chooses to focus Babouk’s climax not on a heroic moment of victory, but on an insurgent attack that fails…but that (like this historical uprising led by Boukman in 1791) helps usher in a broader mass upsurge. As we finish Endore’s novel, we are still in 1791, the Haitian Revolution represented not as monumental accomplishment of the past, but as an insurgent necessity of the present. He leaves us looking at the burning sugar cane fields beyond the walls of the city; the horizon of emancipation remains a future to be fought for.

In this way, Endore distinguishes his narrative from accounts that portray the human aspirations of the Haitian Revolution as fulfilled with the achievement of national independence alone, as if the formal rejection of foreign rule had thereby ended economic exploitation and extreme social inequality in the formal colony.

In his critical report from Haiti in 1934, “Haiti and U.S.A. Occupation,” published concurrently with Babouk, Endore specifically targets the ruse of nationalism as a main danger to the cause of liberation. In this (nonfiction) piece, published in the antifascist magazine Fight, Endore offers a sharp class critique of Haitian nationalism (and the U.S. liberalism that embraces it), taking aim at the notion that rule by the local elite represents genuine progress as far as the working Haitian masses are concerned. This local elite is a class of exploiters, he underscores, just as much as U.S. financiers and occupiers, notwithstanding their claims to the contrary.

At the same time, Endore’s essay makes an effort to understand why well-intentioned liberal or African-American intellectual observers feel the impulse to rally to a nationalist defense of Haiti, as “the last refuge” of “Negro pride” in a world dominated by European colonialism. But to identify Haitian elite rule with a refuge from racism or class domination would be, Endore argues, not only “erroneous” but “vicious.” “A Negro bourgeoisie can and has in some places replaced a white bourgeoisie with no improvement in the lot of the majority,” as he points out. “Such are the fruits of Haitian nationalism acquired so painfully at the price of the lives of a hundred thousand Negroes.”21

Nor is Endore’s problem only with the particular nationalism of the Haitian elite. Rather, he generalizes the point, arguing that “national prejudice is only a different form of the class system by which the ruling class is assured of always having someone to remove its garbage or do its unskilled factory work, someone whom the ruling class will despise and keep in his ‘place.’” Whether in the United States or elsewhere, Endore writes, race prejudice is “fostered by capitalism to disrupt the strength of the proletariat by preventing the oppressed white worker from acting in concert with the Negroes.” (We can hypothesize that Babouk was aimed in part at helping those oppressed white workers to see why they should act in concert with their black brethren and reject the racist bait of their own ruling class.)

Endore closes his Fight article by asking readers to “strip the bright paint of patriotic idealism off the Haitian upper classes and reveal what is beneath,” while at the same time forging a Hands off Haiti movement that sides not with the “gros negre kulaks,” (that is, the wealthy Haitian landowners), but with the “cacos spirit” for the “realization of full social justice.” Clearly, Peralte’s Cacos insurgency of 1919 was not far from Endore’s mind as he attempted to articulate a class-conscious anti-imperialism.

While Endore abstains from commenting directly on the U.S. occupation in Baboukitself, there can be no doubt that what he learned from Haitians themselves had a major effect on his novel. For instance, during his trip to Haiti, Endore learned of how the U.S. military occupation facilitated massive land theft, turning literacy itself into a weapon against the Haitian masses. It was “easy” to steal local peasants’ land, Endore recalled:

You just go up to a man and you say, “Who owns this land?” He’ll say, “I do.” Then you go to the land records office and you record your name for that land, and then you go to him and you say, “I’ve got a record for this land. I own it. Where’s your record? Let’s see which one is the real one.” Of course, he hasn’t got a record.… If the man refused to leave [the land] the American would threaten him with a gun, and if he was halfway decent, he’d give him a job. So, in this way, a number of plantations were built up.22

Acutely conscious of the power of written “records” backed by guns, it is surely no coincidence that, near the climax of Babouk, as the Haitian masses set fire to the sugar fields outside the capital, Endore champions the insurgents, not merely as race rebels or as black workers, but as “rebels against the bill of sale.” Employing his ironic narrator to ventriloquize a self-righteous ruling class, he sarcastically declares:

Here is our bill of sale! Flag of the unmapped land that covers the earth!

Revolt against that if you dare and you will be broken on the wheel!…

Millionaires! you true internationalists who regiment your workers into countries, hoist aloft your flag: the bill of sale!

You wretches out in the burning plain before Le Cap, where is your bill of sale? What! Have you [slaves] taken your liberty and you have no bill of sale?

Then beat the general alarm!… Down with the rebels against the bill of sale!23

Reframing the historic slave revolt this way, Endore distills from the rebellion of 1791 a universal meaning that can resonate with readers in other places and times, beyond the immediate context of the fight to end chattel slavery or colonialism. To be sure, as is now widely known, generations of Haitians have been burdened with a massive and odious “bill of sale” forced on them by French gunboats and U.S. banks after 1804, as penance for its costly “theft” of property in flesh, (a debt the equivalent of $21 billion today).24  But Endore’s “bill of sale” frame resonates even more broadly, allowing us to see a kinship to other struggles as well, wherever the militant movement of the people come up against the sacred “property rights” of their would-be masters—whether that be in the form of an eviction blockade, a workplace occupation, or the expropriation of the expropriators of Marxist prophecy.

In such a way, Endore implies that the mass of humanity—across the illusory lines of race and nation—is still in a sense enslaved to the domination of “the bill of sale.” At the same time, he suggests that the kinds of brutal repression brought down on eighteenth century Haitian rebel slaves may lie in wait for all those who are serious about depriving the ruling class of their most precious property. Babouk thus asks readers to see in the revolt of Haitian slaves the vanguard of a more general and global revolution, while confronting us all with the sobering fact that, if the goal is revolution, grievances alone will not be enough.

The second to last chapter of the novel ends with a description of how Babouk’s body is decapitated, dismembered, and publicly displayed—not unlike Peralte’s own—as a warning to those who would challenge the masters’ power.But like the photo of the martyred Peralte, the displaying of Babouk’s corpse does more to incite rebellion than to quell it. In this way, Endore pays closing honor to the cacos martyrs whose brave attack on imperialist occupation—however ill-fated—nonetheless helped raise the consciousness of people who came after them, including North American writers such as himself. Perhaps Endore wagered that, like the death photos of Peralte, the depicted brutalities of his own book would help inspire new waves of revolt.

*****

Coming off Babouk, in 1935, Endore seemed to be full of the sense of radical possibility, publishing a vision for what he called a “new school of Marxian historical fiction,” whose principal aim would be “the revelation of the hidden but unending class struggle of the ages.” His enthusiasm for the work to be done is palpable as he lists what might have been his next series of books: “Gracchus [Babeuf], Spartacus, the Crusades, the Peasant Wars, colonial expansion—history is replete with magnificent untouched material that the old novelist bent on portraying love triumphant, picturesque adventures or some trivial plot, could not use.”25

But, sadly, Endore would not complete—indeed, would hardly even begin—the avowedly revolutionary literary project he outlined. Quickly, he fell from this vista of enthusiasm; Babouk sold only a few hundred copies, met mixed reviews, and soon went out of print. Even sympathetic comrades failed to grasp the richness of his radical work. African-American Marxist literary critic Eugene Gordon praised the book in The New Masses as the “best of its kind” and yet, notwithstanding Endore’s comments to the contrary, criticized Babouk as “too nationalistic,” suggesting that it implied a modern world driven by racial resentments, rather than the systemic forces of capitalism.26

Having his forgotten masterpiece fail to connect was a profoundly deflating experience. By 1941, while still publicly identifying as a communist, Endore wrote not to herald a new revolutionary genre, but to lament a radical conundrum:

The writer’s task is to amuse, to interpret, to exhort. It is my aim to do all three together, whenever possible.… The predicament of the writer is that the average person wishes to be amused and not instructed in his short leisure; he does not wish to be made aware of his misfortunes; he wants something to help him forget; while the upper classes threaten to tear the social structure down with them, if, by interpretation or exhortation, their privileges are attacked.27

Still later, Endore lamented: “I wrote [Babouk] to sell, but I misjudged the people, I misjudged the time, everything. So, I turned away from that kind of writing and worked on motion pictures.” (Soon after he would be blacklisted from Hollywood for his communist political affiliations.) Chastened by Babouk’s failure, Endore would later refer to himself as a “hack writer” who wrote only “for money to support myself and my family, and that’s it.” It is important to underscore that Endore would remain active for decades, as a writer of Hollywood screenplays and popular novels, and as a communist activist, authoring pamphlets against racism and teaching writing in CPUSA-run schools near Los Angeles. But the revolutionary fusion of literary and political intervention that Babouk represented was no longer on his agenda. Yet decades later Endore would still refer to Babouk as his “forgotten masterpiece.”16

But though it failed commercially in Endore’s own time, Babouk deserves renewed consideration in ours, from those interested in reimaginings of slavery and the Haitian Revolution, and more broadly. For by closely studying the particular history of Haiti, Endore presents us with broader insights about the ongoing class struggles that continue to drive world history, while offering a radical critique of the ways that inherited literature and dominant history tend to hide those struggles from view. At the same time, Endore points us towards the need for a different kind of historical imagining—and a different kind of story-telling—that might become a weapon in the revolutionary struggle. At one point, Endore apostrophizes his own main character, confronting the paradox of recovering voices of resistance that all too often have been lost to written history:

Babouk, we have gone beyond your century. Your voice is lost in the past. Your wavering voice is lost in the steaming field of Saint-Domingue. It is lost both in time and space. And yet it cannot be lost altogether, Babouk. It cannot die in a void. Oh, no. All the wavering voices of the complaining Negro, be they of the dead or of the living, of Africa or America, yet they will someday be woven into a great net and they will pull that deaf master out of his flowery garden and down into the muddy stinking field.28

If studying Haitian history helped inspire Endore to take the side of the exploited and oppressed, Babouk weaves together stories of struggle, arming readers for the battle to come. Whatever we ultimately make of the literary weapon he forged, Endore’s own story reminds us that, by confronting the horror and hope of history, it is possible for people (even from ostensibly privileged groups) to transform themselves and their work in solidarity with the oppressed.

And let us not forget, even in Endore’s own time, there were readers who were ready for Babouk. The glowing 1935 review for The Crisis, the journal of the NAACP, makes that very clear. “Here is a book that should be in the bookcase of every Negro family” as they wrote:

Devastating is the only word that describes adequately the irony running from its first page to the last. Speaking through Babouk and seeing through the slaves’ eyes, the author punctures all the cruelty, greed, pomp, and vainglory of whites with deadly rapier thrusts. There is scarcely a topic in this whole race problem which the author does not permit Babouk to address.… Babouk should be in your library.29

Thankfully today, Monthly Review Press continues to keep Babouk’s voice alive into the twenty-first century. In a world more than ever dominated by “the bill of sale,” and still shaped by the legacies of slavery, Endore’s “forgotten masterpiece” deserves a place on the radical bookshelf.

  1. Benjamin R. Beede, The War of 1898 and U.S. Interventions, 1898–1934: An Encyclopedia (New York: Routledge, 1994), 435.
  2. Ivan Musicant, The Banana Wars: A History of United States Military Intervention in Latin America from the Spanish-American War to the Invasion of Panama (New York: Macmillan, 1990), 215.
  3. The image of Peralte’s slain body can be found in “An Iconic Image of Haitian Liberty,” New Yorker, July 28, 2015.
  4. Edwidge Danticat, “The Long Legacy of Occupation in Haiti,” The New Yorker, July 28, 2015.
  5. Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Haiti,State Against Nation: The Origin and Legacies of Duvalierism (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1990).
  6. Steve Striffler, Solidarity: Latin American and the U.S. Left in the Era of Human Rights (London: Pluto, 2019), 62.
  7. Benjamin Balthaser, Anti-Imperialist Modernism: Race and Transnational Radical Culture from the Great Depression to the Cold War (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2015).
  8. See Mary A. Renda, Taking Haiti: Military Occupation and the Culture of U.S. Imperialism, 1915–1940 (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2004). Also see Paul Farmer , The Uses of Haiti (Monroe, ME: Common Courage, 1994).
  9. Reflections of Guy Endore: Oral History (Guy Endore Papers, University of California, Los Angeles, Special Collections Library, 1964).
  10. Reflections of Guy Endore, 133–34.
  11. New Republic, November 28, 1934, 283. For biographical and literary overviews of Guy Endore, see Alan Wald, “The Subaltern Speaks,” Monthly Review 43, no. 11 (April 1992); Robert Niemi, “Guy Endore,” in American Writers, vol. XVII, ed. Jay Parini. (Farmington Hills, MI: Gale, 2008); Joseph G. Ramsey, “Guy Endore and the Ironies of Political Repression,” Minnesota Review 70 (2008): 141–51.
  12. Guy Endore, Babouk (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1991).
  13. See Renda, Taking Haiti.
  14. Clifton Fadiman, letter to Guy Endore, March 31, 1934 (Guy Endore Papers, University of California, Los Angeles).
  15. New Republic, October 17, 1934, 283.
  16. Reflections of Guy Endore.
  17. For a timely discussion of Werewolf of Paris, see Carl Grey Martin, “Guy Endore’s Dialectical Werewolf,” Le Monde Diplomatique, English ed., September 15, 2014.

  18. See, for instance, Mary Renda’s brief and rather dismissive discussion of Babouk in Taking Haiti.
  19. See Carolyn E. Fick, Making Haiti: The Saint Domingue Revolution from Below(Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press, 1990).
  20. Endore, Babouk, 168–69.
  21. Guy Endore, “Haiti and the USA Occupation,” Fight, January 1934, 13.
  22. Reflections of Guy Endore, 81.
  23. Endore, Babouk, 181.
  24. See for instance, Jérôme Duval, “Haiti: From Slavery to Debt,” Counterpunch, November 10, 2017.
  25. Guy Endore, “Review of Black Consul,” New Republic, 1935.
  26. Eugene Gordon, “Black and White Unite and Fight,” New Masses, October 1934, 24–25. Gordon’s concerns about Babouk have been echoed by later Marxist critics such as Barbara Foley, in her important study Radical Representations: Politics and Form in U.S. Proletarian Fiction, 1929–1940(Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1993).
  27. Guy Endore. About the Author to Werewolf of Paris (New York: Pocketbooks, 1941), 324–25.
  28. Endore, Babouk. 97.
  29. R. W., “BABOUK, by Guy Endore, 297 pp.…,” The Crisis 41, no. 12(December 1934).

White People Will Be Rubbed Out Along With Their History

Recently I wrote of the failure of white liberals to realize the consequences of their good intentions toward preferred minorities. 

The cost of this miscalculation rises by the day. Now white people in America are to be stripped of their history, because white history traumatizes preferred minorities.  At George Washington High School in northern California an historic mural depicting the school’s namesake has been declared offensive.

(You can read the mural’s history here.)

This means that history itself is offensive as are the Founding Fathers as some of them, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, owned slaves.  Al Sharpton says the Thomas Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C., is “an insult to my family.”  He demands that the funding for the national monument cease.  Next Antifa, or some other collection of violent morons, will vandalize the Jefferson Memorial and then agitate for its removal.  We will also have to burn the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution as they are “racist documents.”  And take Washington’s picture off of the one dollar bill and Jefferson’s off of the two dollar bill, which has already disappeared from circulation.

The lack of any historical awareness is testimony to the complete failure of American Education at every level.

George Washington and Thomas Jefferson are not responsible for slavery. Slavery was an institution that existed in the English colonies a century before Washington and Jefferson were born. For them it was an inherited institution. It was all they could do to free the colonies from the British. The reason there was slavery in the new world is that there was no work force with which to develop the resources. With no labor to hire, labor was purchased as chattel.

The first slaves brought to the North American British colonies were white. As Don Jordan and Michael Walsh document in White Cargo: The Forgotten History of Britain’s White Slaves in America (New York University Press, 2007), the first slaves were white children. Beginning in 1618, the authorities in London began sweeping up urchins from the slums and shipping them to the colonies. “They were sold to planters to work in the fields and half of them were dead within a year. Shipments of children continued from England and then from Ireland for decades.”

Undesirables—convicts, prostitutes, beggars, Quakers, Catholics—were pressed into slavery and sold in the colonies.

The Irish were a large source of slaves. Under Oliver Cromwell’s ethnic-cleansing policy in Ireland, unknown numbers of Catholic men, women and children were forcibly transported to the colonies and sold as slaves.

Kidnappers snatched people from English streets and sold them to planters’ agents. “London’s most active kidnap gang discussed their targets at a daily meeting in St Paul’s Cathedral.”

And there were “indentured servants,” many of whom remained indentured for their lifetimes.

Jordan and Walsh report that today in the US there are tens of millions of white Americans who are descended from white slaves.  If the tens of millions are more than 47 million, there are more white descendents of slaves in the US than black descendents.

White slaves suffered all the horrors, if not more, that the subsequent black slaves suffered, but their story is not part of the educational curriculum. Blacks and their white advocates would never stand for it, because white slavery detracts from the racist image that black studies has created, an image that conveys special victim status to blacks just as the Jews have acquired by the holocaust.  But the facts are, report Jordan and Walsh, that black slavery emerged out of white slavery and was based upon it.  They quote the African-American writer Lerone Bennett Jr:

When someone removes the cataracts of whiteness from our eyes, and when we look with unclouded vision on the bloody shadows of the American past, we will recognize for the first time that the Afro-American, who was so often second in freedom, was also second in slavery.

When black slavery superseded white slavery, the source of the slaves was the black king of Dahomey.  The English colonists were merely the black king’s customers.

But just as it is impermissible to question the holocaust, it is impermissible to question the uniqueness of black Americans’ experience of slavery.  History is falsified, because falsification serves the material interests of those who falsify history.

White Americans, still a majority, are refused permission by the preferred minority to retain “offensive” statues, murals and monuments of the founders of their country. A small percentage of the population claiming special status by virtue of their “unique suffering” expect the majority to accept an historical cleansing in which their history is swept away as “offensive.”

Once the evil of Identity Politics succeeds in its demonization of white people, white people along with their history will be swept away by their enemies that they stupidly empowered.

My Response to the PBS Series: Reconstruction: America After the Civil War

The Civil War which ended in 1865, demolished slavery and emancipated four million human beings. What happened next in the South remains largely unknown to most Americans.  In a recent poll of high school graduates, only 20 percent had even heard of Reconstruction, in part because history classes about this period invariably end with the South’s surrender.

During the short Reconstruction period from 1865-1877, the Federal state was empowered to act on behalf of freed black men and poor whites.  Unprecedented changes followed, including new public hospitals, schools, aid to the poor and public programs offering a wide range of services that gave preference to the needs of those previously deprived of them.  The beginning of meaningful democracy was exemplified by new Federal courts, replacing state governments and well-attended state constitutional conventions to Black suffrage, ratification of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments and the Civil Rights Act of 1875, This mandate’s enforcement could rely on the full force and protection of Federal troops in five military zones.

Political power was prodigiously evident as blacks were elected to state governments (600), the U.S. Congress (14) and Senate (2), and as judges, sheriffs and countless lower offices in the former slave states. Organizations like the Union League and the Southern Farmer’s Alliance appeared across the South to encourage and advise alliances between ordinary blacks and whites that would liberate both from economic bondage.

It’s not hyperbolic to suggest that in 1865, African-Americans experienced exhilaration, pride and virtually limitless enthusiasm after two hundred and fifty years of enslavement. Paramount among these expectations was the prospect of owning one’s own land gained by the political power realized from the right to vote. If achieved, this would be the single most radical structural change in US. history.

This astonishing political revolution is effectively portrayed via commentary by dozens of  experts, interviews, documents and graphic, often heart rending visuals in the first two episodes of “Reconstruction: America After the Civil War,” a four-part series written and narrated by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. on PBS. It links to Gates’s book, Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy and the Rise of Jim Crow, (New York: Penguin, 2019).  The series makes for compelling even compulsory viewing.  As Eric Foner, the dean of living writers about this period, concluded in a 2015 essay, “freedom, rights, democracy” were at the apex of Reconstruction. All remain vexing issues today.

I would also be remiss not to credit parts of the program (especially episode #3) for their compelling description of the means employed to totally eviscerate Reconstruction: pseudo-scientific racism, eugenics, elaborate mythologies about plantation life,” Sambo art” representation in novels, cartoons, and advertising, rape imagery, Blackface, and the infamous, incalculably detrimental film, J.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation,” the Jim Crow system and, of course, the ubiquitous deployment of terroristic lynchings, massacres and the KKK.  It’s not cited in the series but according to the Smithsonian Magazine, some 53,000 thousand African-Americans were targeted for murder across the 11 former Confederate states.  Viewers will have to come to grips with the massacre of 250 African-American men, women and children in Opelousas, Louisiana in 1868.

Other topics receiving careful attention include: creative disenfranchisement maneuvers, the exploitation of enervating indebtedness attendant to new-slavery in the form of sharecropping (neo-slavery) and still another iteration, namely, convict-leasing. We also learn about the black resistance and its manifestation in literature, photography, music, success in higher education, self-sustaining communities, and the founding of the NAACP. I was especially taken with the courageous, indefatigable activism of Ida Tarbell and role of speaker, organizer and towering public intellectual W.E.B. Du Bois.

Critique:

In a preview to the PBS series, viewers are promised the full truth of about this “misrepresented and misunderstood” chapter of American history. In my opinion, this pledge was not entirely kept. The program’s viewers might be forgiven for gaining the impression that an “indifferent North” was a major factor in Reconstruction’s total overthrow. That Northerners — without specifying their class identity — eventually “grew tired” of the South’s seemingly intractable racial problems, withdrew Federal troops in 1877 and “tragically” allowed the South to restore white supremacy and re-subordinate the black labor force. For me, this serious glossing over what actually happened imposed limits on what lessons might be derived from Reconstruction and applied to our situation today.  If asked to suggest a fifth episode, I would add something like the following, beginning with three quotes:

Without slavery there would be cotton, without cotton there would be no modern industry. It is slavery which has given value to the colonies, which have created world trade, and world trade is the necessary condition for large-scale machine industry

— Karl Marx,1

The consolidation of capitalism in the US during the Reconstruction period required the radical curtailment of substantive popular power and democratic rights for the vast majority of producers… Put another way, the experience of Reconstruction provides yet another example of the incompatibility of substantive democratic power and capitalist class relations.

— Charlie Post,2

The American Civil War was fought over which type of slavery would exist in the United State; chattel slavery, as was practiced in the South, or wage slavery, as practiced in the North. These two economic systems were both subdivisions of Capitalist, or private ownership of the means of production. Theoretically, it is impossible for these two subsystems to coexist peacefully in an economy; so an ultimate conflict to determine the future of capitalist production was inevitable.

— Kent Allen Halliberton,3

I’ve included Marx’s quote because the program failed to devote sufficient attention to the fact that slavery and capitalism were deeply enmeshed and the former was indispensable to the nation’s economic development. Slaves produced the nation’s most valuable export and there wasn’t a close second, as Northern financiers, bankers and textile factory owners amassed fortunes from slavery.

For just one example, as historian Edward Baptist’s pioneering research demonstrated, in Lowell, Massachusetts, massive mills owned by a group called Boston Associates, “consumed 100,000 days of enslaved people’s labor every year” and this  resulted in enormous profits, investments for further expansion and lavish life styles. Further, owners of New England factories were profiting from shipping provisions like shoes, hoes, hats, nails and probably whips to South Carolina, Mississippi and Virginia.4

The North and the South were not discrete economies as commodities and capital flowed between them. As such, narratives about Reconstruction that neglect to portray slavery as a national institution and refer to it as a “Southern problem” are limited in their explanatory power.  Should we be surprised that the word “capitalism” isn’t listed in the index to Gates’s book and if memory serves, it also remained unmentioned in the series? Viewers might ponder the reason for this omission.

The inclusion of the other two quotes is a response to the oft-asked question, “What if Reconstruction had succeeded?” The point here is that the question suggests an outcome that was never an option.  In the early days of Reconstruction, the expectation of northern business interests had been that the post Reconstruction period would see chattel slavery replaced by wage slavery (euphemistically called “free labor”) to serve the rapidly growing needs of an industrializing nation. We see a paradox here in that Northern monied elites could righteously oppose slavery while retaining circumscribed notions of inequality (and racism) in a post-slavery world. Again, the parallels with today’s Democratic Party “We are all capitalists” hierarchy are transparent.

However, as historian Heather Cox Richardson explains, reactionary Southerners and liberal anti-slavery Northern elites eventually persuaded enough people that Reconstruction was in a sense, anathema to the American system. That, in fact, “an active government redistributes wealth from hardworking white people to lazy African-Americans.”5 Again, the resonance of this liberal posture with our last forty years of neoliberalism is impossible to ignore.

The Northern power elite gradually came to view Reconstruction as too ambitious, too dangerous, because it raised expectations, especially regarding land tenure and its implications for wealth redistribution. One episode in the series does mention that Union General William T. Sherman had confiscated some 400,000 acres of land to be allocated in roughly 40 acre plots. Under General Sherman’s famous special Field Order No.15 some few thousand newly emancipated black families were settled on land in coastal Georgia and South Carolina. Others are far more qualified to judge Sherman’s motives  but we can’t rule out the possibility that he only sought to temporarily pacify the recipients.  It’s a moot point because President Andrew Johnson, the southerner who succeeded Abraham Lincoln and hated African-Americans, quickly nullified the order and the land was returned to the wealthy plantation owners. Here we see the inherent constraints on a bourgeois revolution imposed from above rather than one emerging from a mass movement. In short, we see the critical difference between a political revolution and a socio-economic one, a scenario that would become all too familiar during the next century.

Union organizing and strikes in the North cast doubt on the convenient conviction that workers would be satisfied  with their new “free labor” status. What if they wanted to own the means of production? In any event, poor workers in the South could not be trusted with the vote because they were “fledging revolutionaries” and “given the chance, they would insist on wealth redistribution.” Northern elites, not Southerners, were firmly in control of national politics and their priority was to protect capital (property) from an aroused, potentially dangerous working class that was beginning to respond to worsening conditions.

The New York Tribune featured an interview with a prominent former slaveholder who opined “Only those who owned property should govern it, and men who had no property had no right to make laws for property holders.” The New York Times would echo this argument and when workers in Paris established a commune, its editors responded with disingenuous euphemisms not unknown in our day, “The great ‘middle class’ which now governs the world, will everywhere be terrified at these terrible outburst[s] and absurd[ities], they will hold a strong rein on the lower.” Even the liberal Nation magazine warned that changes in the South were making “socialism in America the dangerous deadly poison it is.”6 Note that the race card is held back.

WE.B. Du Bois knew that the “economic foundation” of the northern bourgeoisie would never allow them to follow through on Reconstruction. From that he drew the lesson that blacks and poor whites in the South must unite against the ruling class. He was to expand on this when categorizing the American worker into four sets: “The freed Negro, the Southern poor white, and the Northern skilled and common laborer” and grieved over the fact that “These groups never came to see their common interests and the financiers and capitalists easily kept the upper hand.”7 This begs the question of how far class consciousness has advanced today.

Du Bois compared black resistance to slavery as a “proletarian revolution within a bourgeois republic.” And when poor white men were successfully turned against their black brothers they “surrendered the hope of democracy in America for all men.” Even though only 7 percent of the total Southern population owned three million of the four million enslaved blacks, white workers came to accept their wage labor status because, in historian David Roediger’s felicitous phrase, they might lose everything “but not their whiteness.” These “wages of whiteness” or what Du Bois formulated as a “psychological wage” — differentiated from a material wage — set them apart from and against black workers and according to Frederick Douglas the slaveholders were then able to “divide both to conquer each” This formed part of the ideology perpetrated by the ruling class even as it reverberate in contemporary politics.

My sense is that gaining a deeper understanding of the Reconstruction period can contribute to our analysis of contemporary issues like voting rights, affirmative action, reparations, white supremacy, and the meaning of citizenship. In that vein, Naima Wandile, my friend and fellow FB rabble rouser, recently drew my attention to the fact that although the PBS series makes reference to current events it does so in a highly selective manner. She noted that the series “failed to fully (or forcefully enough) connect past history with current events. For example, policies like black codes, peonage and slave patrols are very much in effect today in the form of stop-question-frisk, bail traps, and extra-judicial executions in cities across the US and still serve the same purpose.” She adds that “These are the main reasons blacks protest, but many Americans do not fully understand these are the most effective tools in a capitalist toolbox.”

Finally, as I mentioned above, we can glean helpful insights from sources like this PBS series but only by conjoining them with an analysis of the class dynamics of the period can we use this knowledge on behalf of our quest for a just society.

  1. Karl Marx, Collected Works, Vol. 32 (New York: Progress Publishing, 1982, Pp. 101-102.
  2. Charlie Post, “Is Democracy Compatible with Capitalism,” The Brooklyn Rail, April 4, 2018.
  3. Kent Allen Halliburton, “The American Civil War, 1964-1876: A Marxist Perspective.
  4. Edward Baptist, The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism (New York: Basic Books, 2014), p.317.
  5. Heather Cox Richardson, “Killing Reconstruction,” Jacobin, August 19, 2015.
  6. Ibid.
  7. W.E.B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction in America (New Brunswick: Transaction, 2013), p. 216.  Originally published by Harcourt, Brace and Company in 1935; Keenanga-Yamahtta Taylor addresses these matters in his “Review of Du Bois’s Black Reconstruction” in ISR, Issue 57, January-February, 2008. Taylor’s piece is highly instructive and recommended for further exploration of this subject.

The Expense of the American Dream

Political analysis, alas, is no less immune to what has been called the “fashion system” than any other segment of human consumption habits since the end of the Great War bequeathed the industrial form of indoctrination that prevails—now in digital form—today. The polemics offered as contemporary insights can be found in older documents, the sources we call history. Like fashion and pageantry, the writing for daily consumption is always presented as “new” and/or “improved”. Sometimes it is presented as “classical” with the veneer of ancient authority. Yet the misery to which the vast majority of humanity is subjected has been altered only minimally since 1492 gave the Roman Catholic and later Protestant elites in Europe the impetus to seize the rest of the planet, dominating the world’s population and the rest of nature.

Despite this power the Eurocentric cultures have never transcended their propensity or vulnerability to the millenarianism that is pejoratively attributed to the medieval period, the previous era of Roman Catholic domination over the peoples of Christendom. Perhaps this is a condition of the unique solar-based calendar system that prevails in the Dark Peninsula of Europe. Ironically, it is the darkest part of the planet Earth (at least in terms of days of sunlight) that has acquired the habit of calling the rest of the world—where, in fact, there is more sunlight—“dark”; e.g., Africa. It is also this relatively small region of the world whose population claims to have ennobled humanity with the supposed escape from its pathological violence with the Enlightenment.

The countries in which this Enlightenment was to have occurred—as an end to its shameful “darkness”—have nevertheless been the source of the greatest violence and destruction ever caused by humans. In the course of a mere 500 years, the peoples from the European peninsula managed to systematically decimate three continents and develop weapons and business practices capable of killing the rest. At the same time, this homicidal culture is managed and perpetuated by people who now believe the world is doomed because of climate change. Hence they have begun preaching that all those who happened to survive the vicious onslaught of half a millennium are at fault now for the immanent destruction of life on Earth—as they have come to know it.

The “dark” world—meaning, in fact, the non-white part—is alleged to be the cause of this impending apocalypse through overpopulation, overconsumption, overdevelopment, or mere striving for equality of life with those Enlightened who have plundered the planet.

Gerald Horne asks us to reconsider this perverse reversal of the facts. He is not talking about the impending apocalypse, but about the one that already occurred and thus the processes that apocalypse already set in motion. Although his 2018 book is clearly a response to the 2016 US Presidential elections, Professor Horne is simply asking a question that should be obvious. Why does the world have to suffer at regular intervals the messianic anointment of rich white people whose mission is to impose their will on whole nations and continents? Why have two revolutions in the dark centres of power been unable to stop the homicidal juggernaut of European culture, controlled by a tiny elite in the North Atlantic basin? Professor Horne focuses on the events in England, North America, and the Caribbean in the Seventeenth Century. In his view, the so-called Glorious Revolution in England constituted a crucial turning point launching the ascendancy of the English-speaking peoples; making them the premier “white” race upon whose domination the sun should never set and the blood should never dry.

Establishment history defines the Seventeenth Century as the beginning of progress. In North America that “progress” led to the founding of the new Eden later to be constituted as the United States. On the older side of the Atlantic basin, the great hope was to be the United Kingdom. By the end of the Great Slaughter of 1914-1918, these two pretenders to civilisation joined for all intents and purposes to embody the new Jerusalem, even recreating the Crusader fortress to restore imperial control over the inhabitants of the old Jerusalem by mid-century. The United Kingdom fought nearly forty years to defeat the French Revolution in Europe, while the United States helped to defeat it in the western hemisphere. It took some seventy years for their combined forces in the “special relationship” to defeat the Russian Revolution.

The question that must be asked is, if there was, in fact, Enlightenment in the dark peninsula of Europe, among the most backward societies on the planet, why did the inhabitants of those societies find themselves compelled by the supposedly most enlightened among them to destroy any and every attempt to follow the principles of that Enlightenment—liberty, fraternity, equality—in the most ferocious manner, developing for that purpose the capacity to annihilate millions and poison the environment for man and beast alike?

Of course, this question has been asked, especially by European scholars writing in the wake of the Second World War.1 Much has been said about the internal contradictions between equality and social order or the defects of secularised Christianity. There has been a good deal of criticism directed at the imperatives of modern science and the ideology of progress. In the end there seems to be a consensus that it is man’s weakness (dare we say “sin”) in the face of forces he has unleashed—the indeterminacy of even the best planned actions—which has led us all to the realisation that the Enlightenment was not that bright after all, that liberty, fraternity and equality are quaint illusions, the pursuit of which has most recently burdened us with “climate change” due to “global warming”.

Professor Horne’s reply to this question, I suppose—were he to breach academic decorum—would not be “man’s weakness” or that the trinity of Enlightenment virtue was illusory. Rather he would—and, in fact, does—argue that the Enlightenment was not the cause of European improvement (which did not occur) but a polemic that emerged mainly in the countries that became the greatest colonisers and traders in non-white human flesh. In other words, Enlightenment discourse was a product of the ideology of white supremacy, which preceded it in development. The Enlightenment emerged as a style for rationalising the creation of “white” identity or “European” identity. That meant suppressing the urges to murder and steal from each other based on differences of language, religion, family or ethnicity or general brigandry. Why after the slaughter of the Thirty Years War was that necessary? The European population itself had been seriously depleted. And the hope of further enrichment from abroad required every available hand for its achievement.

Andre Gunder Frank gave a plausible economic explanation for how the backwater of the Eurasian continent began to undermine the largest and most developed economy of the time after 1492.2 He argued that the Spanish conquest of South America introduced masses of new precious metals, primarily silver, which opened the Chinese economy to Europeans for the first time on a large scale. China’s silver-based economy was increasingly destabilised by the inflow of new money into the Asia-Pacific region China had traditionally dominated. Of course, Spanish gold and silver also destabilised the economies of Europe, leading to competition and more wars. However, this would not have been possible without the annihilation of the indigenous population in the Americas, whose land and labour had to be stolen for this purpose. Spanish loot became the target of England’s pirate fleets, ultimately exhausting His Most Catholic Majesty’s treasury. The defeat of the Spanish Armada was to leave Britain to become the ruler of the waves.

When the supply of precious metals became insufficient to award unearned wealth, Europeans shifted to drugs. The principal drugs of that era were sugar and tobacco. Unlike mining, which ends when the lode has been exhausted and the metal has found its way into foreign treasuries, drugs are a renewable source of wealth. However, prior to the emergence of the chemical industry, most drug production was labour-intensive and plantation-based. The only way to keep the industry profitable was low input costs and monopoly control of supply and price. With little labour in Europe to spare, what remained of the indigenous populations was enslaved along with a new source found in Africa. For Europeans, Africans were a population surplus that could be used to drive the sugar plantations of the Americas. Sugar was foremost a product of Caribbean islands and hence every striving European ruler sought islands for his own domestic drug market. At the same time competition for slave labour intensified to permit the maximum volumes for the least possible cost. The competition was finally reduced France (with Saint Dominique), Spain (with Jamaica and Cuba) and Britain (with Barbados and the neighbouring islands). France’s colony was by far the richest and most profitable until it was lost by the Haitian Revolution. Britain finally drove Spain out of Jamaica and with its superior naval forces emerged as the leading drug producer of the Caribbean and ultimately Europe’s leading drug pusher.

The island economies had two serious disadvantages in the Seventeenth Century. At some point, especially the smaller islands like Barbados, would be fully exploited. New territory was needed for new profits. Far more serious, however, was the population problem. European colonisers had been unsuccessful at inducing or forcing enough of their subjects to leave their homes and work as serfs in the Caribbean. The importation of African slave labour soon led to overwhelming African majorities on the sugar islands. These majorities were not passively resigned to their lot. On the contrary it became increasingly dangerous for Europeans to live among these large slave populations without the use of extreme violence and military force. The cost of maintaining military domination of the slave populations and fighting drug wars against rivals was decreasing the profitability of these colonies steadily. Thus in by 1688 and the Glorious Revolution new means had to be sought to maintain the profitability of both African slavery and the drug economy it was used to support.

Professor Horne shows that the new monarchical dispensation created by the election of William and Mary to the British throne opened the market for the trade in Africans by abolishing the previous royal monopoly on the slave trade. Moreover the reconciliation of mercantile interests with those of the landed aristocracy created an ideological consensus, which would reduce the historical tensions within Christendom. The ideology of free trade, expressed in Adam Smith’s canonical text, was an outgrowth of the reorganisation of the European drug trade and slavery as its principal labour policy.3 While the State, in Britain’s case the Royal Navy, would continue to protect the essential trading infrastructure and fend off competition, the rest of the business would be opened to private enterprise. As in the economy today, the expenses were socialised and the profits privatised.

A solution had to be found to the labour crisis in the Caribbean. The problem was complex. On one hand the island drug economies relied on African slave labour. However, since the Africans soon outnumbered the Europeans, increasing degrees of violence were needed to subjugate this workforce. The competition between rival national gangs, especially between Britain and Spain, meant that enslaved labour (including the residue of indigenous people among the slave population) was not only tempted but were often successful at alleviating their condition by changing sides in the various drug wars that plagued the islands. In Jamaica, the entrenched free African enclaves, fought alternatively with the Spanish against the English or the English against the Spanish in order to obtain relative advantages.

On the other hand indentured European labourers were just as likely to join Africans to rebel against their oppressors, especially Irish Catholic labourers against their English Protestant lords. The necessity of reducing the cost of violent control over Africans led the owners of the plantations to look for another strategy.

As Theodore Allen also argued in an earlier study, the solution was found in a new legal regime.4 African labourers were to be subjected to very strict and harsh controls from which Europeans were exempted. Europeans were to be punished for cooperation with Africans. Europeans were to be released from their bondage after a term of years while Africans would not only be bonded for life but also as a class. White’s study focussed on the British colonisation of Ireland and the creation of the race regime in North America. Gerald Horne shows that this process began even earlier in the Caribbean. Moreover in Horne’s work the process is fundamental for the inception of the United States. It was, in his view, the threat by the United Kingdom to revise its labour regime by abolishing bonded labour that led the English colonists on the mainland (many of whom had moved their wealth from the Caribbean to North America) that led to the war creating the United States.

Professor Horne’s argument, published in several books over the past decade, explains the roots of Anglo-American empire and the so-called free market/ free enterprise or capitalist system in a manner consistent with Marx but with more reliance upon the insights of Walter Rodney5 and Eric Williams.6 While Karl Marx may have provided the most useful theoretical description of the system called capitalism, it is apparent that the program derived from Marxism by various European and North American political parties has been insufficient to remedy the fundamental crimes of African slavery. He says this failure is not an oversight but due to a fundamental error. By treating industrialisation and modernisation as the results of the Enlightenment and the product of European humanism, a reversal is made.

Slavery made industrial capitalism possible. It was the obscene profitability of the Caribbean drug trade, later expanded to other primary commodities, based on African slavery that gave Britain and, to a lesser extent, the Netherlands the enormous capital resources to develop its industry. Moreover it was the culture, the ideology of white supremacy that the Enlightenment first theorised. For that reason there should be no surprise that the leading Enlightenment leaders of the day; e.g., Thomas Jefferson in the United States, should have felt no compulsion to include Africans among the beneficiaries. Quite the contrary, the Haitian Revolution forced the “enlightened” French in Bordeaux to accept that liberté, egalité et fraternité was not meant just for Europeans—but for all the French.7 Admittedly this class has never fully accepted the Haitian argument. But according to Professor Horne that should be no surprise since the slogans were intended by the emergent bourgeoisie to unite Europeans against Africans, not with them.

Without abandoning the Marxian analysis of capitalism, despite its historical limitations, the questions have to be asked. Why does the United States claim to “exceptionalism” retain its high level of acceptance even among the anti-establishment? Why is slavery, despite the historical and economic data, still treated as incidental to the foundation of the exceptional US? Professor Horne poignantly recalls that three hundred years of slavery and genocide are ignored when the origin of the United States is described, but the Russian Revolution and the Soviet Union are reduced to the ten years of Joseph Stalin’s wartime rule. African slavery is treated as mere collateral damage in the pageant of Manifest Destiny.

Much of the historical data has been compressed but can be found elsewhere in Gerald Horne’s earlier works. The core is argued in depth in The Counter-Revolution of 1776. In The Apocalypse of Settler Colonialism he summarises his previous work as an explicit criticism of the political inflammation exposed by the 2016 election of Donald Trump to the slave-built mansion at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. He says that the present US government is extreme in its expression but of a deeply held faith shared across the US political spectrum.

Donald Trump has been the target of attack on both sides of the Atlantic basin. It is hardly possible to find anyone who can say anything about United States policy without blaming the real estate mogul from New York. The revulsion is obvious in this short essay. However, a careful reading will reveal that the present POTUS is merely a more obvious and inane expression of the consensus forged by the ideology of white supremacy, the driving force of cross-class capitalism. That ideology was necessary for Europeans to suppress their other homicidal differences; e.g., religion, language, nationality and greed.

Professor Horne shows that the Dark Continent was Europe, not Africa. The Enlightenment was made possible by a bonfire of African slaves. And as James Baldwin once told the Cambridge Union, the American Dream was at the expense of the American Negro—who built the country: picked the cotton, dug the canals, laid the railroads, for nothing, for nothing.8

Today the world is still dominated by states and corporations warring for control of the drug traffic and other primary commodities. Africa is still being plundered and apparently its inhabitants can be enslaved, displaced, starved or killed at will. There is virtual silence among those Enlightened.

The first rule of any successful crime is to make the victim feel he or she deserved it. The darkness that has hung over the non-white world for the past half a millennia could only be maintained by the fiction that the light is “white”.

  1. Probably the most well known of these is The Dialectic of the Enlightenment by Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer (1944).
  2. Andre Gunder Frank, ReOrient: Global Economy in the Asian Age, 1998.
  3. Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, 1776.
  4. Theodore W. Allen, The Invention of the White Race, 1994.
  5. Walter Rodney, A History of the Upper Guinea Coast 1545 to 1800, 1970 and How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, 1982.
  6. Eric Williams, Capitalism and Slavery, 1944.
  7. C.L.R. James, The Black Jacobins, 1938.
  8. James Baldwin v. William F. Buckley, debate before the Cambridge Union, 26 October 1965.

The Lost Morality of Economics

One of the most powerful and effective tools in the hands of capitalist economists is the suggestion that economics in general and capitalism in particular is some sort of science. This illusion – and illusion it is – is strongly assisted by the fact that modern economics is taught with the aid of impressive-looking mathematical equations and “proofs”. Economic textbooks are cluttered with tables, statistics, and graphs which make the books look like physics textbooks, or maths books even. Therefore economics must also be a science, right?

Well, no, actually. For the very simple reason that real sciences, such as physics and chemistry, demand a standard of proof and intellectual rigour that not only doesn’t exist in modern economics, it has never existed at all since the earliest days when some sort of economic theory could be perceived. Early economic principles were conceived in religion, and religion strongly influenced economic practices for at least two thousand years. Capitalism, the dominant economic belief of today, is still more of a religion than a science, because it demands from its adherents a level of blind faith which is little different from any other religious fanatic.

In the beginning

As an atheist I’m not much impressed by the bible, or any other religious work. I accept that there’s some limited utilitarian value in such books, for the slight contribution they make to studying the essential subject of history, but the main purpose they have always served – tools of psychological oppression for the rich to control the thoughts and actions of the poor – is reprehensible, and devalues any use they may have as lessons of history. The bible’s usefulness as a collection of historical documents is helpful for this discussion not because of any particular value to economic thought in the stories themselves, but in the almost undeniable fact that those stories were told, and presumably believed, a very long time ago.

RH Tawney was an economic historian whose work was well known in the first half of the last century, and was strongly influential on the embryonic ethical values of Britain’s Labour Party. He was a devout Christian and lifelong friend of William Temple, who became the Archbishop of Canterbury. Unsurprisingly he clearly felt no conflict of interest between his Christian faith and his staunch support of socialism, and if Tawney’s work is now largely unknown it’s probably due more to the latter fact than the former. However, much of what he had to say is as relevant today as it was in Tawney’s day – if not even more so.

One of his once quite well-known books, Christianity and the Rise of Capitalism, written in the 1930s, is a seriously important piece of work. It’s not an easy read, especially at the beginning where some of the old references he uses appear in the original Latin, Greek, German or French – without translations. And although he wrote with a beautiful elegance which is quite rare today I found I often needed to read some sections two or three times over to properly understand him.

The message of Tawney’s book is, essentially, this: although ruthless exploitation of the poor by the rich is probably as old as human history itself, there appears to have been a significant change in the wider social acceptance of the “rightness” of it starting somewhere around the time of the European Reformation in the sixteenth century.

The early morality of moneylending

I happened to be reading Tawney’s book at the same time as I was reading Ellen Brown’s excellent The Public Banking Solution, which coincidentally has a brief reference to a related point: that over two thousand years ago lending money at interest (which today we’re all conditioned to accept as the only way to do it) was not necessarily recognised as a good thing, and acceptable only in certain circumstances.

The Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy, Chapter 23 : 19 says:

Thou shalt not lend upon usury to thy brother; usury of money, usury of victuals, usury of any thing that is lent upon usury.

It’s not clear what was meant by “brother”, but it’s assumed it had a wider meaning than just one’s male sibling, and possibly meant any Jewish person (given that the book is mainly about the Jewish people). Because the very next verse goes on to say:

Unto a stranger thou mayest lend upon usury; but unto thy brother thou shalt not lend upon usury: that the Lord thy God may bless thee in all that thou settest thine hand to in the land whither thou goest to possess it.

These biblical references are interesting because they indicate the morality practised by the ancient Jews with respect to the business of lending. Furthermore, the second part of that last verse is intriguing, as it suggests that usury is a good way to help possess new lands. This theme is echoed earlier in Deuteronomy; for Chapter 15 : 6 reads:

For the Lord thy God blesseth thee, as he promised thee: and thou shalt lend unto many nations, but thou shalt not borrow; and thou shalt reign over many nations, but they shall not reign over thee.

So lending at interest was clearly recognised thousands of years ago as a tool to control other lands, and presumably for that reason it was forbidden for Jews to borrow from others.

This biblical chapter has other interesting comments on the morality of lending. It opens, for example, with this:

“1. At the end of every seven years thou shalt make a release.

  1. And this is the manner of the release: Every creditor that lendeth ought to his neighbour shall release it; he shall not exact it of his neighbour, or of his brother; because it is called the Lord’s release.”

This is obviously a clear statement that all debts should be wiped out every seven years.

There are further verses in Chapter 15 which clearly describe a high standard for the morality of money lending:

“7. If there be among you a poor man of one of thy brethren within any of thy gates in thy land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thy heart, nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother:

  1. But thou shalt open thine hand wide unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his need, in that which he wanteth.
  2. Beware that there be not a thought in thy wicked heart, saying, The seventh year, the year of release, is at hand; and thine eye be evil against thy poor brother, and thou givest him nought; and he cry unto the Lord against thee, and it shall be sin unto thee.
  3. Thou shalt surely give him, and thine heart shall not be grieved when thou givest him: because that for this thing the Lord thy God shall bless thee in all thy works, and in all that thou puttest thine hand unto.
  4. For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land.”

Some of this morality was clearly adopted by the early Christian church, because lending at interest (usury) was regarded as a serious sin, and charity towards the poor was routinely practised by most Christian churches and monasteries, and taught as a Christian virtue. This situation lasted for the best part of fifteen hundred years – until the Protestant Reformation.

 The age of Calvin

Arguably the single most powerful driving force behind the Protestant Reformation, the one thing which, probably more than any other that drove Martin Luther to hammer his 95 theses to the door of Wittenberg Castle church on Halloween in 1517, was the cesspool of corruption that had overtaken the Christian Church. The many problems that Luther publicly exposed to the glaring light of day, like the little boy who cried out that the emperor wasn’t wearing any clothes, gradually galvanised like-minded thinkers into action all across Europe.

Although Martin Luther is widely credited with initiating the Protestant Reformation, his interests appear to have been largely focused on reformation of the Church, to try to end the rampant corruption that was decaying the institution which meant so much to Luther for its spiritual values rather than its income-generating qualities. However, there were others, such as Huldrych Zwingli, and John Calvin, who interpreted Luther’s lead as an opportunity to liberate the business world from the traditional grip of the Church. Of these, Calvin arguably had the most influence on the economic changes that were soon to come about, and which would provide much of the moral justification for what is today widely recognised as capitalism.

Tawney captured the essence of the significant societal change that took place in the new dawn of the European Reformation:

To countless generations of religious thinkers, the fundamental maxim of Christian social ethics had seemed to be expressed in the words of St Paul to Timothy: ‘Having food and raiment, let us be therewith content. For the love of money is the root of all evil.’ Now, while, as always, the world battered at the gate, a new standard was raised within the citadel by its own defenders… Not sufficiency to the needs of daily life, but limitless increase and expansion, became the goal of the Christian’s efforts. Not consumption, on which the eyes of earlier sages had been turned, but production, became the pivot of his argument… The shrewd, calculating commercialism which tries all human relations by pecuniary standards, the acquisitiveness which cannot rest while there are competitors to be conquered or profits to be won, the love of social power, and hunger for economic gain – these irrepressible appetites had evoked from time immemorial the warnings and denunciations of saints and sages. Plunged in the cleansing waters of later Puritanism, the qualities which less enlightened ages had denounced as social vices emerged as economic virtues. [My emphasis].1

Although it’s highly unlikely that Calvin ever intended his writing to have the savage effect that modern capitalism has produced on humanity, our planet, and all living creatures, it’s clear to see a watershed moment coinciding with his work. Before Calvin the generally practised morality of everyday economic affairs was largely influenced by the same values the Church had been promoting for over a thousand years, significantly based on Old Testament teaching. But with Luther’s bold attack on the Church’s lucrative and highly corrupt protection racket, the door was flung open to confront any and all inconvenient Church restraints – such as money-lending and profit-making businesses, subjects about which Luther’s famous protest showed no particular interest:

What reason is there [asked Calvin] why the income from business should not be larger than that from landowning? Whence do the merchant’s profits come, except from his own diligence and industry?2

Today these seem innocuous questions, but in Calvin’s day they were almost sacrilegious. However, given the seismic rumblings that Luther had triggered they would have passed almost unnoticed – except by those who could see their potential for economic liberalism.

Tawney provides profound evidence for the effect this new thinking produced:

A practical example of that change in emphasis is given by the treatment of Enclosure and of Pauperism. For a century and a half the progress of enclosing had been a burning issue, flaring up, from time to time, into acute agitation. During the greater part of that period, from Latimer in the thirties of the sixteenth century to Laud in the thirties of the seventeenth, the attitude of religious teachers had been one of condemnation…

[but] When Major-General Whalley in 1656 introduced a measure to regulate and restrict the enclosure of commons… there was an instant outcry from members that it would ‘destroy property’ and the bill was refused a second reading.3

Enclosures in England, like the Highland Clearances in Scotland, were the massive thefts of land from the millions of poor who depended on it for their very survival. It’s easy, and not entirely incorrect, to see the plump hands of the well-nourished aristocracy behind this, but Tawney also draws our attention to the actions of another group who, if anything, are even more despicable than over-pampered patricians, a group who, two hundred years later, would be contemptuously identified as the “bourgeoisie”:

It was not the lords of great estates, but eager and prosperous peasants, who in England first nibbled at commons and undermined the manorial custom, behind which, as behind a dyke, their small savings had been accumulated. It was not great capitalists, but enterprising gildsmen (soc), who began to make the control of the fraternity the basis of a system of plutocratic exploitation.4

Many of those born into lives of luxury and over-pampered indolence, then and now, have no idea of the price paid in human misery and environmental destruction for their grotesque over-consumption. Whereas most of those who emerged from humble backgrounds and ruthlessly clawed and gouged their way to riches are only too well aware of the suffering they left far behind, and their own vital roles in perpetuating it.

Capitalism in its teenage years

There was still a significant ethical component in the teaching of economics two hundred years after Calvin. The subject was still not widely known as economics, merely part of the much wider subject of moral philosophy. Adam Smith, often called the father of capitalism, was not an economist, but occupied the chair of moral philosophy at Glasgow University for a number of years.

Smith’s best-known work “Wealth of Nations” is most well-known for one of its least important (and least accurate) phrases – the suggestion that everyone is driven by their own self-interest, and that an “invisible hand” guides their selfish actions toward the overall best interests of society.

Although much of Smith’s book sings the praises of profit-seeking, showing how far times have moved on from pre-Reformation days, the moral philosopher inside him is still cautious about the limitless power of corporations which, in Smith’s day, were just beginning to exercise their full nation-making (or breaking) strength:

The government of an exclusive company of merchants is perhaps the worst of all governments for any country whatever. 5

And he was concerned about the corruptive influence of big business upon the nation’s rulers:

In the mercantile regulations the interest of our manufacturers has been most peculiarly attended to; and the interest, not so much of consumers, as that of some other sets of producers, has been sacrificed to it.6

Although Smith was much mistaken, in my view, about the easy availability and sufficiency of work, it has to be remembered that when Wealth of Nations was written the worst effects of enclosures in England, and the clearances in Scotland were yet to be felt. Most people could still sustain themselves to some extent on the land if they had to, and at least provide basic shelter and prevent starvation for themselves and their families. The worst horrors of the so-called “Industrial Revolution” were still almost a hundred years away. Nevertheless Smith still had a high regard for the importance of human labour, rather than money, as the real source of a nation’s wealth:

Labour was the first price, the original purchase money that was paid for all things. It was not by gold or by silver, but by labour, that all the wealth of the world was originally purchased; and its value, to those who possess it and who want to exchange it for some new productions, is precisely equal to the quantity of labour which it can enable them to purchase or command…

Labour alone, therefore, never varying in its own value, is alone the ultimate and real standard by which the value of all commodities can at all times and places be estimated and compared. It is their real price, money is their nominal price only.7

It’s possible that Smith conceived this thought all by himself, but it’s also possible he obtained it somewhere else. Ben Franklin, for example, wrote the following well before Smith’s book came out:

The riches of a country are to be valued by the quantity of labor its inhabitants are able to purchase and not by the quantity of gold and silver it possesses.8

So it’s reasonable to assume that in Adam Smith’s day the slowly-evolving theory of capitalist economics still retained some of the teachings of the early Christian Church, not least of which was its recognition of the importance of human labour. Consider, for example, the harsh but generally not unreasonable words of 2 Thessalonians 3:10:

[I]f any would not work, neither should he eat.

However, not only was the brutality of the “Industrial Revolution” yet to reveal its advantages to the fledgling capitalists of Smith and Franklin’s day, so too was the steadily growing transatlantic slave trade.

Capitalism reaches full maturity

By the middle of the nineteenth century Capitalism had possibly achieved its zenith. The most powerful empire of the day, based in London, was ruthlessly exploiting the people and resources of so much of the Earth’s surface that the sun never set over it. The United States had seized control over the central landmass of North America by massive acts of genocide of its native people, and waging war with Spanish colonizers. As British colonizers wallowed in the wealth generated by millions of oppressed natives, British workers were literally starving to death in depopulated common land and the industrialised ghettoes of the new manufacturing hell-holes of England. As new US multi-millionaires wallowed in their wealth, the African slave population that was worked to death producing it reached its greatest number, about ten per cent of the total population of the US. Capitalism must have surveyed its work around the globe and smiled in satisfaction.

But to every action there is reaction.

There have always been small groups of oppressed people who have bravely resisted their oppression. For most of human history their small victories have usually been short-lived affairs ending not so much in ideological failure but by the same vicious brutality against which they fought. Even the more successful rebellions, such as the English and French Revolutions, were eventually crushed by the same reactionary forces that were initially overwhelmed. However, these more successful popular uprisings sent out ripples of change, which astute governments were quick to notice. Many of the political and social reforms that were slowly achieved in Britain in the nineteenth century were won not so much because of the ruling aristocracy seeing the wisdom of the reformers’ campaigns, but because of the salutary lesson taught to their French counterparts in the 1790s when they failed to heed the wrath of the masses.

Emerging from early seventeenth and nineteenth century reformers such as the Levellers, Diggers, Luddites and Chartists appeared an even more radical and coherent ideology: communism. Argued and explained in the writings of Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx, for example, communism inspired rebels all around the world, and with the victorious Russian Revolution in 1917 reason for real hope inspired reformers in almost every country.

Like the English and French Revolutions before it, the ripples spread out from Moscow across the world, and capitalist governments sat up and took notice. Obviously the new Russian upstart must be crushed, and it would indeed be ruthlessly opposed and attacked at every opportunity throughout its life, but in the meantime the rabble-rousers at home had to be carefully handled. Using the tried and tested method of divide and rule, together with liberal use of the more dark and sinister devices that have always been at the fingertips of powerful governments, communism was kept at bay in most of the western world. It was eventually defeated in 1989 when Mikhail Gorbachev served up his communist country on a platter to the treacherous western powers who would immediately sell his capitulation as a victory of the ideology of capitalism over communism.

Of course, it was nothing of the sort. Given that Russian communism, and later Chinese communism, were savagely and relentlessly attacked throughout their lives by the most powerful nations on the planet, it was not communist ideology that failed, it was western military and economic warfare that won.

But the key point to note, and indeed the point of this essay, is that at the heart of this ancient struggle lies a very simple economic question: whose benefit should the wealth of a nation serve? The capitalist believes that all wealth should be concentrated in the hands of a tiny minority of powerful people, utterly ruthless people driven only by their own greed and ambition and who will stop at nothing to achieve it. They do not openly say this, but it is without question how they behave. The communist believes that wealth should be evenly distributed between all people. Unlike the capitalist, who keeps his ambitions secret, the communist is perfectly open about his aims.

So it all comes down to morality. Who is right, from an ethical perspective, the capitalist or the communist? The communist is perfectly happy to argue his point on ideological grounds, but the capitalist has tried to turn his ideology into a bogus science, not only utterly devoid of any morality whatsoever, but also devoid of any intellectual rigour – and with its real purpose kept permanently hidden from view.

That modern capitalism is wholly conspiratorial in nature was once openly confessed by one of its leading champions, the American economist James Buchanan. Describing the exclusive gatherings of disciples that Buchanan hosted, historian Nancy MacLean explained:

Buchanan made one more important point to his invited guests. The key thing moving forward, he stressed, was that “conspiratorial secrecy is at all times essential.”9

But apart from being an ethical vacuum, modern economics as it’s widely taught, which is almost exclusively capitalist economics, is also not a science. It’s a construction composed entirely of fabricated nonsense, unproven and unprovable theories, and perfectly ridiculous claims, all dressed up in mathematical symbols to create the illusion that it’s somehow deep and meaningful. Even professional economists admit to the deceitful gobbledegook that is the subject of economics.

Thomas Balogh, for example, economic adviser in Harold Wilson’s Labour Government, here quoting the economist and Nobel Laureate Wassily Leontief, partly explained how this trickery has succeeded:

The increasingly technical formulations [of mathematics in economics] and the debate over their validity and precision provided employment for many of the thousands of economists now needed for economics instruction in universities and colleges around the world…

Mathematical economics also gave to economics a professionally rewarding aspect of scientific certainty and precision, adding usefully to the prestige of academic economists in their university association with the other social sciences and the so-called hard sciences. One of the costs of these several services was, however, the removal of the subject several steps further from reality. Not all but a very large number of the mathematical exercises began (as they still do) with the words “We assume perfect competition.” In the real world perfect competition was by now leading an increasingly esoteric existence, if, indeed any existence at all, and mathematical theory was, in no slight measure, the highly sophisticated cover under which it managed to survive.10

Australian economist Steve Keen is more direct:

There is one striking fact about this whole literature [of economics], and that is that there is not one single empirical fact in it.11

Even one of the best-known economists of all time, JM Keynes, is positively scathing about the pseudo-science in economics:

Too large a proportion of recent ‘mathematical’ economics are merely concoctions, as imprecise as the initial assumptions they rest on, and which allow the author to lose sight of the complexities and interdependencies of the real world in a maze of pretentious and unhelpful symbols.12

Under the careful management of capitalist economists, such as James Buchanan, the philosophy of economics has been entirely sacrificed to the lies and myths and pseudo-science of capitalist theory, a theory which serves no one except the super-rich. Keynes was unequivocal in his condemnation:

Capitalism is the astounding belief that the most wickedest of men will do the most wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone.13

And that was before modern capitalism properly hit its stride. Andy Grove, co-founder and CEO of Intel, provided a more recent, and accurate definition of capitalism:

The purpose of the new capitalism,” he said, “is to shoot the wounded.14

Well, it’s high time the wounded started shooting back. Economics is first and foremost about morality, not money.

  1. Christianity and the Rise of Capitalism, R.H. Tawney, p. 246.
  2. Ibid, p. 246.
  3. Ibid, p. 253 and 256.
  4. Ibid, p. 78.
  5. Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith, p. 722.
  6. Ibid, p. 841.
  7. Ibid, p. 44 and 47.
  8. The Public Banking Solution, Ellen Brown, p. 123.
  9. Democracy in Chains, Nancy MacLean, p. 117.
  10. The Irrelevance of Conventional Economics”, Thomas Balogh, p. 8.
  11. Debunking Economics, Steve Keen, p. 67.
  12. General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, JM Keynes, p. 298.
  13. Extreme Money, Satyajit Das, p. 128.
  14. The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, Greg Palast, p. 146.

Justin Trudeau’s High-mindedness

Justin Trudeau likes making high-minded sounding statements that make him seem progressive but change little. The Prime Minister’s declaration marking “Haiti’s Independence Day” was an attempt of the sort, which actually demonstrates incredible ignorance, even antipathy, towards the struggle against slavery.

In his statement commemorating 215 years of Haitian Independence, the Prime Minister failed to mention slavery, Haiti’s revolution and how that country was born of maybe the greatest example of liberation in the history of humanity. From the grips of the most barbaric form of plantation economy, the largely African-born slaves delivered a massive blow to slavery, colonialism and white supremacy.

Before the 1791 revolt the French colony of Saint Domingue was home to 450,000 people in bondage. At its peak in the 1750s the ‘Pearl of the Antilles’ provided as much as 50 per cent of France’s GNP. Super profits were made from using African slaves to produce sugar, cocoa, coffee, cotton, tobacco, indigo and other commodities.

The slaves put a stop to that with a merciless struggle that took advantage of divisions between ‘big white’ land/slave owners, racially empowered though poorer ‘small whites’ and a substantial ‘mulatto’ land/slave owning class. The revolt rippled through the region and compelled the post-French Revolution government in Paris to abolish slavery in its Caribbean colonies. Between 1791 and 1804 ‘Haitians’ would defeat tens of thousands of French, British and Spanish troops (Washington backed France financially), leading to the world’s first and only successful large-scale slave revolution. The first nation of free people in the Americas, Haiti established a slave-free state 60 years before the USA’s emancipation proclamation. (It wasn’t until after this proclamation ending slavery that the US recognized Haiti’s independence.)

The Haitian Revolution’s geopolitical effects were immense. It stimulated the Louisiana Purchase and London’s 1807 Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade. The revolutionary state also provided important support to South American independence movements.

Canada’s rulers at the time opposed the slave revolt. In a bid to crush the ex-slaves before their example spread to the English colonies, British forces invaded Haiti in 1793. Halifax, which housed Britain’s primary naval base in North America, played its part in London’s efforts to capture one of the world’s richest colonies (for the slave owners). Much of the Halifax-based squadron arrived on the shores of the West Indies in 1793, and many of the ships that set sail to the Caribbean at this time were assembled in the town’s naval yard. Additionally, a dozen Nova Scotia privateers captured at least 57 enemy vessels in the West Indies between 1793 and 1805. “Essential tools of war until the rise of large steam navies”, the privateers also wanted to protect the British Atlantic colonies’ lucrative Caribbean market decimated by French privateers. For a half-century Nova Scotia and Newfoundland generated great wealth selling cheap, high-protein cod to keep millions of “enslaved people working 16 hours a day”.

A number of prominent Canadian-born (or based) individuals fought to capture and re-establish slavery in the French colonies. Dubbed the “Father of the Canadian Crown”, Prince Edward Duke of Kent departed for the West Indies aboard a Halifax gunboat in 1793. As a Major General, he led forces that captured Guadalupe, St. Lucia and Martinique. Today, many streets and monuments across the country honour a man understood to have first applied the term “Canadian” to both the English and French inhabitants of Upper and Lower Canada.

Other “Canadians” played a part in Britain’s effort to corner the lucrative Caribbean slave plantations. Born into a prominent Québec military family, Charles Michel Salaberry “was part of successful invasions of Saint-Dominique [Haiti], Guadeloupe and Martinique.” A number of monuments commemorate Salaberry, including the city in Québec named Salaberry-de-Valleyfield.

To commemorate Haitian independence the Secretary General of the Caribbean Community, Irwin LaRocque, also released a statement. Unlike Trudeau, LaRocque “congratulated” Haiti and described the day as “a timely reminder of the historic importance of the Haitian Revolution and its continued significance as a symbol of triumph over adversity in the quest for liberty, equality and control of national destiny.”

Trudeau should have said something similar and acknowledged Canadians’ role in the slave trade and crimes against the free people of Haiti.

Justin Trudeau’s High-mindedness

Justin Trudeau likes making high-minded sounding statements that make him seem progressive but change little. The Prime Minister’s declaration marking “Haiti’s Independence Day” was an attempt of the sort, which actually demonstrates incredible ignorance, even antipathy, towards the struggle against slavery.

In his statement commemorating 215 years of Haitian Independence, the Prime Minister failed to mention slavery, Haiti’s revolution and how that country was born of maybe the greatest example of liberation in the history of humanity. From the grips of the most barbaric form of plantation economy, the largely African-born slaves delivered a massive blow to slavery, colonialism and white supremacy.

Before the 1791 revolt the French colony of Saint Domingue was home to 450,000 people in bondage. At its peak in the 1750s the ‘Pearl of the Antilles’ provided as much as 50 per cent of France’s GNP. Super profits were made from using African slaves to produce sugar, cocoa, coffee, cotton, tobacco, indigo and other commodities.

The slaves put a stop to that with a merciless struggle that took advantage of divisions between ‘big white’ land/slave owners, racially empowered though poorer ‘small whites’ and a substantial ‘mulatto’ land/slave owning class. The revolt rippled through the region and compelled the post-French Revolution government in Paris to abolish slavery in its Caribbean colonies. Between 1791 and 1804 ‘Haitians’ would defeat tens of thousands of French, British and Spanish troops (Washington backed France financially), leading to the world’s first and only successful large-scale slave revolution. The first nation of free people in the Americas, Haiti established a slave-free state 60 years before the USA’s emancipation proclamation. (It wasn’t until after this proclamation ending slavery that the US recognized Haiti’s independence.)

The Haitian Revolution’s geopolitical effects were immense. It stimulated the Louisiana Purchase and London’s 1807 Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade. The revolutionary state also provided important support to South American independence movements.

Canada’s rulers at the time opposed the slave revolt. In a bid to crush the ex-slaves before their example spread to the English colonies, British forces invaded Haiti in 1793. Halifax, which housed Britain’s primary naval base in North America, played its part in London’s efforts to capture one of the world’s richest colonies (for the slave owners). Much of the Halifax-based squadron arrived on the shores of the West Indies in 1793, and many of the ships that set sail to the Caribbean at this time were assembled in the town’s naval yard. Additionally, a dozen Nova Scotia privateers captured at least 57 enemy vessels in the West Indies between 1793 and 1805. “Essential tools of war until the rise of large steam navies”, the privateers also wanted to protect the British Atlantic colonies’ lucrative Caribbean market decimated by French privateers. For a half-century Nova Scotia and Newfoundland generated great wealth selling cheap, high-protein cod to keep millions of “enslaved people working 16 hours a day”.

A number of prominent Canadian-born (or based) individuals fought to capture and re-establish slavery in the French colonies. Dubbed the “Father of the Canadian Crown”, Prince Edward Duke of Kent departed for the West Indies aboard a Halifax gunboat in 1793. As a Major General, he led forces that captured Guadalupe, St. Lucia and Martinique. Today, many streets and monuments across the country honour a man understood to have first applied the term “Canadian” to both the English and French inhabitants of Upper and Lower Canada.

Other “Canadians” played a part in Britain’s effort to corner the lucrative Caribbean slave plantations. Born into a prominent Québec military family, Charles Michel Salaberry “was part of successful invasions of Saint-Dominique [Haiti], Guadeloupe and Martinique.” A number of monuments commemorate Salaberry, including the city in Québec named Salaberry-de-Valleyfield.

To commemorate Haitian independence the Secretary General of the Caribbean Community, Irwin LaRocque, also released a statement. Unlike Trudeau, LaRocque “congratulated” Haiti and described the day as “a timely reminder of the historic importance of the Haitian Revolution and its continued significance as a symbol of triumph over adversity in the quest for liberty, equality and control of national destiny.”

Trudeau should have said something similar and acknowledged Canadians’ role in the slave trade and crimes against the free people of Haiti.