The Revolt in Haiti

Source: The Labour Monthly, Vol. 12, June 1930, No. 6, pp. 356-366;
Author: George Padmore;
HTML Markup: Pierre Marshall, with thanks to Lisa Jackson for finding and photographing the article.

Haiti, where the recent revolt of the Negro population has been drowned in blood by the machine guns of United States marines, ranks as one of the principal colonies of American finance-capital in the West Indies, and since 1915 has been politically and economically under the domination of Wall Street bankers.

Since the intervention of American imperialism in the conditions of the Haitian people, and especially of the workers and peasants, have become so terrible that only the institution of a military dictatorship has been able to avert more frequent revolts.

Nearly all the land held by the peasants since the establishment of the republic in 1804 has been appropriated by the invaders and vested in foreign corporations. As a result, most of the Haitians are now a landless proletariat and are compelled to become wage-earners for the Americans on the plantations and in the factories.

All the movements of the workers for liberation have been ruthlessly stamped out. The marines have spread a network of terrorism throughout the country. They have muzzled the Press, abolished freedom of speech and assembly, and either exiled or thrown into prison all those who have dared to champion the cause of national independence.

In order to effectively carry out this programme of subjugation, the United States Department of State, from the days of Secretary Bryant to the present, has maintained naval rule under the direct supervision of a High Commissioner, general John H. Russell. This marine officer is the real dictator of Haiti.

He operates through a puppet president, Louis Borno, and a Council of State. This council is a small committee or cabinet selected by the “president” from among his henchmen, who in turn select the “president.” Both the council and the “president” must be approved of by the High Commissioner, who in turn is responsible to the United States Government in Washington. Thus the Haitians have absolutely no voice in Government.

The Struggle for Independence

Geographically, Haiti is an island situated in the Caribbean Sea, midway between Cuba and Porto Rico, two other economic colonies of American imperialism. The entire island covers an area of about 28,249 square mules, and is divided into two political sections. The eastern portion is known as San Domingo, a separate and distinct republic; while Haiti proper comprises of the western part of the island and has an area of 10,204 square miles.

The population is about 2,500,000. The majority of the inhabitants are Negroes; there is also a large percentage of mulattoes, the descendants of early French settlers. The language spoken is French, but the peasantry speak a dialect known as Creole French or patois.

In social structure, the Haitians can be divided into two major classes; the aristocracy, a landowning semi-feudal group, and the peasantry, who form the majority of the people. The black aristocracy is largely concentrated in the cities and provides the political and social leaders of the republic. Most of them are products of European education and culture, chiefly reflecting the influence of French bourgeois society. The peasants are mostly illiterate but very militant, inheriting the revolutionary traditions of their ancestry.

Haiti was discovered by Columbus in 1492, and within thirty years of its discovery the aborigines, an Indian tribe named for the Caribs (from whom the name Caribbean was given to this section of the world), were crushed out of existence by the Spaniards. Negroes were then imported from the West Coast of Africa and enslaved on the plantation and mines of the Spanish nobility.

In 1630, a mixed colony of French and English settled on the island, and that part which now represents the Republic of Haiti was ceded to the French by the Treaty of Ryswick in 1697.

From this fate the colony remained in the hands of France until the French Revolution of 1789, when the Negroes together with the mulatto slaves — the blood descendants of the white overlords — demanded the full right of French citizens. In 1791 the General Assembly of the Revolution made this concession, but later revoked it. This act of deception led to an uprising on the part of the Negroes. At first the Mulattoes, because of their blood relationship with the French oppressors, were reluctant to join in the struggle, but later on yielded as a result of the pressure brought to bear on them buy the great masses of black slaves.

Under the leadership of one of the most heroic revolutionaries of all times, Toussant L'Ouverture, the slaves organised an army and killed off their French masters. They took possession of large estates and distributed the land among all those who loyally participated in the rebellion. At this juncture the English angered at the defeat of the white ruling class by black slaves, invaded the island in order to defeat the revolution and restore slavery. Toussant reorganised his army and drove the British troops into the sea.

In 1801 a constitution was drawn up, and Toussant was made President and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces and of the new State.

The proclamation of a Black Republic was too much for Napoleon to tolerate, so he decided to make war on the Haitians and regain for France her once-slave colony. In order to do this he collected an army of 25,000 of the best troops of France and despatched them to reconquer the island under the command of his brother-in-law, General Le Clerc. The invaders arrived at Port-au-Prince in 1802. Le Clerc, under the pretence of holding a private conference with Toussant, induced him to visit the ship where he was treacherously seized and taken away to France. Toussant was thrown into a dungeon at Joux and starved to death. Such was the cowardly role of the French bourgeoisie even in the days of Napoleon.

The French had hoped that by murdering Toussant the revolutionary spirit of the Haitians would have been crushed, but this simply made the Negroes more determined to consolidate their victory. They swore vengeance on their French invaders and pledged themselves to fight to the bitter end.

The Haitians appointed Dessalines, one of the most trusted of Toussant's generals, commander of the army, and he carried on the war against the French until they were finally driven away from the island. After this victory the Haitians proclaimed their declaration of independence on January 1, 1804.

This was the first and only successful slave revolt in history.
To quote the words of Wendell Phillips, the American Abolitionist:

There never was a race that, weakened and degraded by chattel slavery, tore off its own fetters, forged them into swords, and won its liberty on the battlefield but one, and that was the black race of San Domingo.

From that time Haiti has been an independent sovereign State until November 1915, when American imperialists landed the first batch of marines in Port-au-Prince and established an armed dictatorship over the country.

This, in brief, is the historic background of the Haitian Revolution.

The Intervention

From the very day when President Roosevelt seized Panama in 1903, through which the United Stated constructed a canal to link up its Atlantic and Pacific trade and naval routes, Haitian independence was doomed

Because of the geographical position of the island, which overlooks the Panama Canal and the proposed naval canal through Nicaragua, it is considered a valuable strategic base for the United States navy, as well as a fertile field for the investment of finance-capital in the development of tropical products, such as sugar, coffee, tobacco, cotton, and cocoa. But in order to annex the island some pretext had to be found. This came in 1915.

In this year a revolt broke out in Port-au-Prince. President Guillaume Sam, a bloody despot, caused some 200 political prisoners to be murdered. This heinous act so enraged the masses that they stormed the presidential palace bent on taking Sam's life. The villain took refuge in the French Consulate from where he was dragged and murdered in public.

The murder of President Sam and the subsequent unrest which prevailed in the capital provided the Yankee imperialists with splendid excuse to land additional military forces. Theirs was the “holy mission” to establish “law and order” and save Haiti for white civilisation! The White Man's Burden, the Monroe Doctrine, the Christian religion, and all the other hocus-pocus behind which imperialism operates, were invoked in this new crusade of Uncle Sam in the Caribbean.

The State Department, under the hegemony of that arch-hypocritical college-professor “pacifist,” Woodrow Wilson, ordered the United States naval forces in the West Indian waters to proceed to Haiti and take control of the Customs and other revenue departments of the Government.

On the occasion when the first batch of marines landed, their leader, Admiral Caperton, was instructed by the United States State Department to look around and select some sycophant, who was prepared to barter away the rights of the Haitians to the United States. And having found such a renegade in the person of Dartinguenave, he was made “President.” This puppet readily signed a treaty drawn up by the Americans, imposing the following conditions on the Haitians:

  1. That the mining, commercial and agricultural resources of the country be developed exclusively by American financial interests.
  2. That the United States would provide a general receiver and financial adviser to the new Government and thereby restore complete control over revenue.
  3. That Haiti would not float any new loans or change her tariff unless first approved by the United States.
  4. That Haiti would neither lease nor cede territory to any foreign power.
  5. That the United States supply officers for the Haitian gendarmerie police force.
  6. The State Department at Washington would have the right to intervene and land more marines whenever it saw fit to do so.

These were the humiliating conditions imposed upon this small nation by the great Colossus of the North.

With the institution of naval rule all semblance of civil government has been abrogated.

No elections have taken place since 1922. Every form of opposition to the present dictatorship meets with open hostility and white terror. Even the Haitian Patriotic Union, the leading bourgeois opposition party to the present administration and American imperialism, is subjected to persecution. Its officers, as well as newspaper editors, are constantly being arrested and thrown into prison. Many of them have been foully murdered, while other have been compelled to flee the country. It has been officially estimated that over 3,000 Haitians have been murdered by the marines since the occupation.

Charlemagne Peralte, the peasant leader who organised the revolt of the oppressed people of the countryside against the imperialists was foully assassinated some years ago. A marine officer disguised himself as a native by blackening his face and through cunning and bribery got into the camp of the Haitians and shot Peralte to death while the Negro was asleep. The officer was loudly applauded by the American capitalist Press for his “courageous” act, and decorated by the military authorities.

Such is the gallantry of the agents of “democratic” America!
The natives, deprived of their leader, were collected into chain-gangs and forced to work at the point of naval bayonets in the construction of roads and railways for the Wall Street bankers.

All of the large plantations, railroads, street railways, electric and gas plants, are already under the control of American banking institutions. In 1915, agents of the National City Bank under the escort of marines, entered the Haitian National Bank and took away all the gold which they deposited in the vaults of the New York Bank.

Alongside this economic domination, the Naval Department of the United States has also demanded its share of the Haitian spoil. Under the excuse of protecting American lives and property on the island as well as to insure an additional point of vantage in the imperialist expansion of America, and to strengthen her position against her British rival in preparation for the inevitable clash between these two imperialist Powers, the Mole St. Nicholas, a strategic point on the extreme north-eastern part of the island, has been converted into a veritable fortress.

Thus we see the close relationship between the State apparatus and Wall Street.

The Agrarian Crisis

Since the introduction of the new land laws which aim to expropriate whatever lands still remain in possession of the peasantry, the agricultural situation has reached a crisis. A new measure known as the Cadastral Bill has been imposed upon the Haitian masses.

Ever since the Revolution of Independence in 1804 the Negroes have occupied the land as squatters. They hold no documents proving freehold ownership in the Anglo-American juridical sense. And it is just because of this the American bankers and land-grabbers are attempting to defeat the Haitians of their rights by revolutionary heritage. There can be no dispute about it, the Haitians have been unmolested owners of the land for over a century and a quarter.

Clarence K. Street, a bourgeois authority on Caribbean problems, writing on the Haitian Land Problem in the New York Times of April 4, 1929, says:

One of the basic elements in Haitian mentality is the memory that their ancestors were slaves of great French planters and that they hold their land by virtue of successful revolt against these masters. They abhor anything that to their minds is associated with slavery. They cling to their land as the symbol that they are free and their own masters.

Immediately after the establishment of the Republic the Haitians, in order to safeguard their property rights, inserted a clause in their constitution which prohibited foreigners from owning land. Now that the American imperialists are seeking tropical products and an outlet for more and more finance capital, they are bent on abolishing all laws which prevent them from acquiring land. In the past the imperialists attempted other schemes of land robbery, but the repeated peasant revolts tended to frustrate all these plans. Now comes this new Land Law, which is nothing else but another manoeuvre on the part of the Americans to gain their objective. The Bill is one of the most vicious documents, for it provides that unless the peasants produce title-deeds within a certain prescribed period of time, their lands would be taken away from them and turned over to the foreign corporations in order to enable American industrialists to develop large-scale agricultural undertakings. Together with this the Government has also imposed additional taxation on tobacco and alcohol, two important commodities among the natives.

They have also compelled the peasants to standardise the quality of marketable products, chiefly coffee. This, together with the present economic crisis of world capitalism, has lowered the price of crops and has made considerable inroads on the income of the toilers. This measure has been adopted by the American concerns in order to compete with British coffee interests on the island of Jamaica as well as Brazil, and the Dutch imperialists' coffee corporation in Indonesia, on the world market.

These high-handed methods of imperialist exploitation were the principal factors which prompted the revolt among the peasants. To this must be added the abrogation of every vestige of civil rights which has aroused a tremendous revolutionary upsurge among the liberal, petty-bourgeois and intellectual elements, who form the vanguard of the national-liberation movement. Therefore, it was no surprise to those acquainted with the recent events in Haiti to learn of the united front attack of all strata of the population against Borno and American imperialism.

The Bloody Massacre

As soon as the recent uprising occurred, on December 5, 1929, martial law was proclaimed by Colonel Richard Cutts, the American commanding officer of marines in Port-au-Prince. The troops were immediately got in readiness and a bloody attack launched against all those who dared participate in the uprising.

The revolt was precipitated by a strike among the students at the National University in the capital. They held monster parades through the principal thoroughfares of Port-au-Prince, protesting against the educational bureaucracy saddled upon them by Borno and his American educational advisers. Budgets have been cut down and the general educational standards lowered. So incensed are all sections of the population against the Fascist dictatorship that no sooner did the students walk out of their classes than the native staff in the Customs Department joined in the strike. The clerks attacked the American officials with ink bottles and parts of typewriters, chasing them into the streets. The workers also declared a general strike and within a few hours, the entire business of the city was closed down.

Thousands of Haitians gathered before the Government Administration Building and the President's Palace, shouting
“Down with Borno!”
“Down with American Imperialism!”

The most serious demonstrations, however, took place in the country districts where peasants are largely concentrated. Because of their impoverished condition they showed the most militancy and immediately organised their forces for an attack upon the city.

Thousands of them gathered at the place called Aux Cayes, and important agricultural community. An advanced guard of about 150 men and women, armed with machetes (long knives used for cutting sugar canes) and sticks, marched ahead of demonstrators. They were bent upon driving the American officials and their puppet, Borno, out of the capital.

As the column advanced on Port-au-Prince, shouting
“Down with Borno!”
“Down with Freeman!”1
they were met by a regiment of marines armed with every modern device of warfare.

The officers demanded that the peasants halt and return back to their villages, which they refused to do. The marines then opened fire on the natives, killing thirteen and wounding twenty. Despite the overwhelming superiority of the American forces in numbers and equipment, the natives fought gallantly, making successful counter-attacks upon the military outposts at Chatel and Torbeck. By bringing up their reinforcement, the peasants were able to break into the barracks of the National Guard at St. Michael, where they inflicted a severe assault on Lieutenant Georges Bertein, a Haitian renegade in the service of the imperialists. This degenerate's life was saved by the machine-gun fire of the marines who appeared on the scene just as the peasants had dragged him into the street.

As the struggle increased, more marines and American businessmen who volunteered their services as a special Fascist guard were hurried off in armoured cars to various sections of the island to suppress the insurrection which was spreading like wildfire from village to village.

While all this was taking place on the outskirts of the capital, General Russell, the real dictator of Haiti, telegraphed the “Emperor” Hoover informing him of the revolt. The American “Dictator,” who is fast adapting himself to the mantle of Mussolini, ordered the cruiser “Galveston,” then at its naval base in Guantanamo, Cuba, to proceed to Haiti. The bombing plane “Wright,” with 500 more marines, was also dispatched “on its mission of peace and goodwill.”

With this formidable array of the armed forces was the most powerful imperialist State in the world, the revolt was crushed with the same ruthlessness which characterised the marine campaigns in Nicaragua.

Men, women and children were brutally murdered, homes were ravished and people were arrested under the slightest pretext and thrown into gaol or exiled. It has been estimated that over 500 Haitians have already been arrested, and many of them charged with plotting to overthrow the State and against the life of the hangman Borno.

The entire sections of the country where clashes occurred between the marines and the natives have been converted into armed camps. Soldiers parade the streets day and night bullying and harassing the people. The reaction that set in has created an atmosphere of widespread terrorism. Nobody dares to express oppositional sentiments for fear of being thrown into gaol or murdered by the soldiers.

Haiti is, indeed, the playground of the marines, and its people the slaves of Yankee imperialists!

American “Pacifism” Exposed

The events in Haiti, following closely on the Russian-Chinese conflict in Manchuria, which grew out of the seizure of the Chinese-Eastern Railroad by Chinese Warlords at the instigation of Western imperialists, have created such a contradiction for American diplomacy that the United States now stands exposed before the international working class for its pacifist bluff.

It was only a few days before the Haitian revolt that the contemptible Stimson, office boy of Wall Street bankers, had the impudence to address a note to the Soviet Union in the name of the Kellogg “Peace” Pact. This hypocritical gesture of the American imperialists shows that while the capitalists give lip-service to peace they not only prepare for war but actually carry on a policy of bloody subjugation and enslavement of the colonial peoples.

The Haitians have torn the mask of pacifism away from the face of Uncle Sam, and have shown that the Kellogg “Peace” Pact is merely a device behind which the American war-mongers are preparing for new imperialist wars, as well as for an armed attack upon the Soviet Union.

The workers of America, as well as the entire international proletariat together with the millions of oppressed and exploited colonial and semi-colonial slaves, who all suffer under the bloody system of capitalist-imperialist subjugation, must join in protest against this outrage inflicted on the Haitian masses, and demand the immediate evacuation of the marines from the island, and the right of the toiling masses to organise their own Workers' and Peasants' Government.


1. The latter is the most vicious agent of American imperialism in the island, enjoying a salary of $10,000, while the Haitians hardly get 20 cents per day for their labour.