By 1801, Toussaint L’Ouverture was officially recognized by France as governor of its San Domingo colony and had de facto control of the colony, having led successful military campaigns to expel English troops and to subdue a counterrevolutionary force that sought to establish an independent nation under exclusive mulatto control. Toussaint had restored agricultural production to its pre-1789 level, using a strategy of capitalist agricultural production for export, with French proprietors of plantations and with emancipated slaves working as wage laborers (see “Toussaint L’Ouverture” 12/10/2013; “The problem of dependency” 12/11/2013).
Toussaint sought to legitimate the revolution with legal authority through a new Constitution. The German sociologist Max Weber distinguished three types of authority: legal, traditional, and charismatic. Legal authority is exemplified by a President, whereas traditional authority is possessed by a King or chief. Toussaint had charismatic authority, which is held by those with unusual or exceptional characteristics (see “Toussaint L’Ouverture” 12/10/2013). Thus Toussaint was seeking the institutionalization of charismatic authority, a process that Weber called the routinization of charisma (Weber 1947:328-73).
The proposed Constitution was prepared by a committee of six, composed of rich whites and mulattoes whom were appointed by Toussaint. It fully reflects the Toussaint’s thinking. The new Constitution abolishes slavery, and it established full equality for all, regardless of color. It protects the property rights of the plantation owners, including those who were absent from the colony, except for those who had been engaged in activities against France. The Constitution appoints Toussaint Governor for life, and it gives him the authority to appoint a successor. It concentrates power in the hands of the governor, giving him the authority to appoint municipal administrators, who have the authority to nominate members of the legislative assembly. It does not decree the independence of the colony; rather, it decrees that blacks in San Domingo are citizens of France. It gives France no real authority over the colony; French officials are to advise the governor, but they cannot overrule his decisions. Thus the new Constitution establishes the de facto independence of the colony. But France has the obligation to provide capital and administrators for the economic development of the country. Toussaint thus was proposing that the colony have dominion status, and that France set aside colonial intentions and work in cooperation with Toussaint for the economic development of the colony and the cultural formation of the people (James 1989:263-66).
Many from the North interpret Toussaint’s proposed constitution as a bid for personal power and as a confirmation of the adage that “power corrupts” and of the belief that revolutionary processes generally lead to a new form of authoritarianism. But such interpretations are examples of Northern narrow mindedness and cultural blindness. The Constitution sought to give legitimacy to what was de facto emerging and to strengthen tendencies that were prerequisites for the economic and cultural development of the colony. Toussaint faced powerful forces from above: Great Britain, the United States and Spain sought to control the colony and restore slavery. France under Jacobin rule had signaled the kind of cooperation that Toussaint understood to be necessary, but in 1801 France was ruled by Napoleon Bonaparte, who intended to restore slavery. At the same time, he faced opposition from below, from those who wanted: to declare independence and sever ties with France, erroneously trusting the promises of cooperation of the United States and Great Britain; to set aside the policy of conciliation toward whites and to engage in vengeful violence; and/or to break up the plantations into subsistence plots. Toussaint was seeking legitimation in order strengthen his capacity to respond effectively to the maneuverings of the forces from above and to manage the confusions emerging from below.
The Constitution would have given unchecked legal authority to a person who represented the best hopes of the majority for the long term and who intended to use his authority to promote the economic and cultural development of the colony. During the twentieth century, revolutionary processes would develop structures of popular democracy and popular participation. But let us not judge Toussaint by the standards of today. In the context in which Toussaint was operating, with powerful forces of opposition, with limited democratic structures everywhere in the world, and with the limited political formation and experience of the people, it was necessary to concentrate power in his hands.
What Toussaint proposed in 1801 was almost workable. The crucial missing element was the failure of the Jacobin Revolution to consolidate power in France. Toussaint correctly placed his hopes on the re-emergence of Jacobin values in France, for there was no other possibility for the development of the colony. It did not come to be. But let us imagine the impact on the world if it had: a developed nation of the North, whose development was made possible by colonialism and slavery, cooperating with a charismatic leader lifted up by the colonized and the enslaved, with the intention of promoting the economic and cultural development of the colony. With a concrete example of this kind, it may have been possible for humanity to begin to construct an alternative to the neocolonial and undemocratic world-system, thus preventing the structural crisis of the world-system that today threatens the survival of humanity. .
Toussaint’s proposal for North-South cooperation is today more urgent than ever. As in Toussaint’s time, the cooperation of the political centers of the world-system may well be necessary for the revolutionary transformation emerging in Latin America and the Third World to be sustained. Perhaps in our day the global constellation of forces necessary for the definitive transformation of the world-system can be mobilized.
James, C.L.R. 1989. The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution, Second Edition, Revised. New York: Vintage Books, Random House.
Weber, Max. 1947. The Theory of Social and Economic Organization. Translated by A.M. Henderson and Talcott Parsons. Edited with an Introduction by Talcott Parsons. New York: The Free Press, Macmillan Publishing Co.
Key words: Third World, revolution, colonialism, neocolonialism, imperialism, democracy, national liberation, sovereignty, self-determination, socialism, Marxism, Leninism, Cuba, Latin America, world-system, world-economy, development, underdevelopment, colonial, neocolonial, blog Third World perspective, French Revolution, Haitian Revolution, Toussaint L’Ouverture, charismatic leader, North-South cooperation