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Albert Gates

The United States Empire – Its History

Hawaii – Land of Sugar and Pineapples

(December 1940)

From Labor Action, Vol. 4 No. 37, 23 December 1940, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

(From last issue)


Under the protection of the marines, the “Committee of Public Safety” (!) proceeded to the government building and read a proclamation dissolving the native government, setting up a provisional state to exist “until terms of union with the United States have been negotiated and agreed upon.” Within one hour, while the native government was still in possession, the U.S. minister recognized the “provisional government.” Lilinokalani was prepared to send her troops against the usurpers, but was persuaded otherwise by her aides, in the hope that Washington would intervene on their side! Commissioners of the provisional government were dispatched to the United States to discuss the question of union or annexation. They found President Harrison and his Secretary of State Foster extremely friendly. Together they drew up a treaty of annexation, signed it, and sent it February 15, 1893, four weeks after the outbreak of the revolution!

Blount Report

The Cleveland administration, however, took office on March 4. It withdrew the treaty from the Senate and proceeded to investigate the Hawaiian situation. There followed the struggle in Washington between the expansionists and anti-expansionists. The Cleveland investigation brought out a number of ugly facts to show that the revolution was principally the work of American business interests who were determined to obtain unobstructed control of the island in order to more thoroughly exploit its land and its people. One thing was made clear by the Blount report. He stated that “The leaders of the revolutionary movement would not have undertaken it but for Mr. Stevens’ promise to protect them against any danger from the government (the Hawaiian Government – AG) ... had troops not been landed no measures for the organization of the the new government would have been undertaken.”

In order to overcome the shock of many “respectables” on the mainland, who reviled “revolutionary actions”, the new Hawaiians sought to prove that their revolution was a respectable one. In an Address by the Hawaiian Branches of the Sons of the American Revolution, the Sons of Veterans and Grand Army of the Republic, to their Compatriots in America Concerning the Annexation of Hawaii, they stated: “The Revolution (1893) was not the work of filibusters and adventurers, but the most conservative and law-abiding citizens, the principal taxpayers, the leaders of industrial enterprises, etc.” Minister Stevens referred to the leaders of the revolution as “... highly respectable men with Judge Dole at the head ...” In his book, Since the Civil War, C.R. Lingley wrote: “In Hawaii the more influential and propertied classes supported the revolution and desired annexation.” For you see, the only non -respectable revolutions are those which threaten the vested interests of big business – a revolution in the interests of private profits is quite a respectable and necessary thing and the conservative business and land owning classes are not averse to resorting to revolution to obtain their ends. In this case the revolution sought annexation and union with the United States, the principal sugar market for Hawaii. Such a union would automatically mean the abolition of tariffs against the Islands’ products, permit it to compete successfully with the products of other countries and thereby enrich the American plantation owners. Not without reason and some humor did one plantation owner answer the question on what caused the revolution: “Simply two cents a pound on sugar – to get some treaty or some arrangement with America.”

Recognition from Washington was slow in coming, and the planters fearful of losing what they had gained from the revolution declared their sovereignty as a republic (July 4, 1894) and sought recognition from other nations. President Cleveland in turn, fearful of what the “patriotic Americans in Hawaii” might do, recognized the new government “without regard to any of the incidents which accompanied or preceded it.”

With the election of McKinley, the imperialist program of the Republican Party was put into operation. It called for American control of the Caribbean Sea and the admission of Hawaii as a territory of the United States. Shortly after his inauguration the president presented a treaty of annexation before the Senate. But the democratic bloc, under the two-thirds vote rule, blocked its passage. The Republicans, however, more far-sighted than the democrats as regards American imperialist interests, did not stop at this point. Specifically, in relation to Hawaii, the chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs announced the Administration’s policy as follows: “The importance or the question lies, first of all, in the necessity of possessing these Islands for a defense of our Western shores, the protection and promotion of our numerous interests, and the welfare and security of our country generally.” Thus did the imperialist aim broaden and become more inclusive. Annexation, however did not occur until the outbreak of the Spanish-American War. Then, under the hysteria of war, a joint resolution, requiring only a majority vote, carried and Hawaii became a possession of the United States.


The post-annexation period has largely followed the pattern of other colonial possessions. Concentrated financial interests enjoy a monopoly in land ownership, industrial plant, transportation, communications, food, housing, etc. The pre-annexation trends of development were intensified. The production of sugar and pineapples increased manifold under monopolistic control. The vicious contract labor system was broadened; thousands of laborers were imported from the Orient to the great profit of American financial interests. Expropriation has reached a point where the small remaining native population has little or nothing left in its homeland.

We have already shown that only 20,000 native Hawaiians remain of the original 300,000. The Japanese now compose 37 per cent of the population; Caucasians 26.1, Filipinos 12.8 and the Chinese 6.9.

There are 50 thousand workers on the Islands, 30 per cent of whom are employed under the contract system on plantations. They live under a feudal system of labor and existence, completely at the mercy of the plantation owners who own the homes, the stores and all other means of life.

The New York Post quoted an old Hawaiian on the new situation in the Islands: “When the white man came they had the bibles and we had the land; then, we had the bibles and they had the land.” In that remark is graphically described what had transpired since the Hawaiians lost their land and their independence.

The Big Five

Hawaiian economic life is today dominated by The Big Five. This group, through interlocking directorates control everything.

The Big Five are the following: Alexander and Baldwin, American Factors, C. Breuer & Company, Castle & Cook and Theo. H. Davis & Company. Actually they are one enterprise. They control the Matson Navigation Company which has a shipping monopoly and is the principal link to the mainland. Through this monopoly they control the delivery of all supplies and equipment coming to the Islands, completely controlling prices of all commodities. They control the shipping of all exports. The Big Five owns 37 out of 39 sugar plantations, the largest industry on the Islands; that is, it controls not only the plantations, but the special gauge railroads that deliver sugar cane to the refineries and the refineries themselves. Subsequently their shipping takes the sugar to markets. It owns the Hawaiian Pineapple Company (Dole’s) and two smaller companies. The two main resort hotels, Royal Hawaiian and Wakaiki, are also their property They own, too, the Inter-Island Steam Navigation Company, the only connection between the eight islands; they control the airline. Still other enterprises in The Big Five monopoly are the telephone and telegraph. the street railway company, light and power companies and the Piggly-Wiggly store.

The monopoly also controls all farming in a country where there is no diversified farming. Food, which comes from the mainland is high priced because the Matson Line brings all of it and charges high freight rates. Forty ships carry sugar and pineapple to the United States and bring food on return trips. Since they own all the plantations, houses and stores, they sell their commodities at such high prices as to keep the workers in a constant state of debt, and therefore subservient to the bosses. But that isn’t all! The Big Five owns the one department store in Hawaii and a number of smaller enterprises. Congressional hearings showed that it also controlled the polls, the legislature, the territorial executive department, the judiciary, the bar, press, radio, churches, the army and navy, the national guard, the University of Hawaii (and professor Coulter) and all labor.

Labor and Wages

E.J. Eagan, an investigator for the National Labor Relations Board, pointed out that The Big Five pays plantation labor a base rate of a dollar a day, operates a speed-tip system, intimidates labor organizers and incites racial antagonisms to keep labor divided and thereby impotent to fight for its own interests. An explosive situation exists underneath the apparent placidity which is publicized by a powerful advertising agency.

Big Five employs the Pan-Pacific Press, a subsidiary of Bowman, Deute, Cummings of San Francisco, to control all news from Hawaii. That Press suppresses all labor news, “presenting the sugar barony as a paternalistic 100% American group and keeping to a minimum all reference to the Japanese (155,000), so as not to frighten away from the islands any of the $20,000,000 a year tourist trade.” The co-directors of this publicity program are Harold Lord Varney, ex-Wobbly and former editor of the Fascist magazine. The Awakener, decorated by Mussolini for his work in behalf of Italian fascism, and regarded as a labor “expert”; and Dr. F.B. Robinson, the reactionary former president of City College of New York. A third member is former governor Judd, manager of the Hawaiian Industrial Association, “an organization engaged in espionage and anti-labor activity.”

One might ask with some justification, what is Hawaiian about the Hawaiian Islands? The population has been decimated. They no longer own their land. They have no governmental power. Sugar and pineapple, the principal agricultural products, are in the hands of U.S. capitalists, as are all other enterprises. Japanese. Chinese, Americans, Portugese and others make up the overwhelming population. The American army and navy are dominant on the Islands. All agencies of thought and expression are in American hands. All that remains of the original islands is the name: Hawaii.

The revolution of 1891 has, in contrast, gained much for American business: their complete control of the Islands. Sugar and pineapples have enriched them beyond their highest expectations. They control everything: they own everything! A truly “respectable” revolution!

And now listen to the two professors from the rich man’s university (Northwestern), Haas and Cox: “It is ... difficult to imagine a situation in which the Hawaiian Islands would be happier or more prosperous, whether independent or subject to another world power.” Yes, it is difficult to imagine ...

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