In seven posts from December 9 through December 17, I have discussed Toussaint L’Ouverture and the black revolution in the French colony of San Domingo. As a conclusion to this series of posts, I offer the following reflections.
(1) There is a fundamental contradiction in the world-system between its ideological formulation and its material foundation. Conquest, colonial domination, and peripheralization created the economic and cultural development of the nations of Western Europe and North America, a development that established the social and cultural conditions for the modern concept of democracy, according to which all persons and nations possess equal rights. But the concept contradicts the structures of domination that continue to provide the material foundation of the world-system.
(2) The movements formed by the colonized in opposition to domination have appropriated the democratic values proclaimed by the core powers of the system, expanding and deepening their meaning. In the early 1970s, there was a tendency in Black Nationalist thought to radically reject Western values and to turn to African values for a moral and intellectual foundation, and this radical rejection has been a secondary tendency in the Third World movements. But the predominant tendency has been the appropriation of Western democratic values, transforming them to adapt to the colonial situation. This is clearly represented in San Domingo, where the slave rebellions were stimulated by the French Revolution, and where Toussaint would develop a vision for the future development of the nation on a foundation of Jacobin democratic values.
(3) Revolutionary processes are characterized by the emergence of charismatic leaders, persons with exceptional capacities to understand, whose gifts are recognized by the people, thus providing the leader with a capacity to unify the various popular sectors in the struggle. In addition to Toussaint, examples include Lenin, Mao, Ho Chi Minh, Fidel, Allende, Chávez, Evo Morales, and Rafael Correa. The charismatic leaders do not emerge in a social vacuum; they are a product of the social conditions that have made possible the development of understanding. In cases where a revolution is unable to take power, one reason that this occurs is the fact that a charismatic leader that can unify the various popular sectors has not emerged, as a consequence of inadequately developed social conditions. Examples of this include the Mexican Revolution and the Revolution of 1968 in the United States, revolutions that we will be discussing in future posts.
(4) The mobilization of armed force or armed self-defense is a necessary condition for the taking of power by the revolutionary movement. Toussaint never would have been able to take power without the formation of a black revolutionary army. Nor would he have been able to obtain any degree of cooperation from the government of France and from white society in the colony had it not been for the black army that he commanded.
(5) The legitimate use of force is distinct from indiscriminate and uncontrolled popular violence and from violence against civilians in order to terrorize and instill fear. Unconstrained violence damages the revolutionary process in the long run. We have seen in the cases of the revolutions in France and Haiti that there is a tremendous thirst of the people for vengeance when an oppressive regime is overthrown from below. A similar phenomenon occurred in Latin America following the fall of military dictatorships. But the revolutionary leaders have the responsibility to ensure that the popular thirst for justice is constrained by respect for due process. In accordance with the possibilities of his time, Toussaint correctly took concrete measures to control popular vengeance. There has been some tendency in the Left to excuse revolutionary terror, rightly noting that the people were provoked by previous systematic abuses. But we must be diligent in being opposed to terrorism in all of its manifestations. There are not good terrorists and bad terrorists.
(6) Toussaint’s vision of the providing by France of capital, teachers, and administrators for the future development of San Domingo was remarkably advanced for its time. The concept of North-South cooperation, although complemented by South-South cooperation, is an important component of the movement for a just and democratic world today, as can be seen with the discourses of leaders of progressive and leftist governments in Latin America as well as the declarations of the Non-Aligned Movement. The cooperation of all of the peoples of the earth is necessary to confront the problems that humanity confronts.
(7) There is a tendency among socialists, particularly academics of the North, to hold to a fixed abstract concept of what socialism ought to be, and from this perspective to criticize measures taken by revolutionary leaders, without appreciation of the requirements of the particular context. Accordingly, some may be critical of Toussaint’s strategy of maintaining the production of raw materials for export with large-scale private ownership of plantations. But revolutionary leaders must choose the best option available in a concrete particular situation. For this reason, projects in various nations that have proclaimed themselves socialist have developed a variety of strategies, particularly with respect to production and forms of property. On the basis of observation of the socialist projects as they have developed in practice, it seems to me reasonable to conclude that socialism includes a variety of economic policies and strategies, in accordance with the various economic and social conditions in which they emerge. The most important characteristic is not what decisions are made, but who makes them, and in representation of whose interests.
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