Toussaint L’Ouverture was a charismatic leader lifted up by the slave revolution in the French colony of San Domingo. He formed a black revolutionary army, took power, and proceeded to govern in accordance with universal human values and the interests of his people.
Toussaint developed a plan for economic and cultural development based on capitalist agricultural production for export, using the emancipated slaves as wage laborers. He understood that the system of slavery had created a situation in which the slaves did not possess the capacity to administer the plantations, whereas the white plantation owners did. He therefore permitted the white proprietors to keep their plantations, if they paid wages to the workers, rather than forcing them to work. He confiscated the property of those proprietors who refused to comply. He took a similar approach in relation to government bureaucracy: he appointed whites to government posts, recognizing that they possessed the education to fulfill necessary governmental functions (James 1989:155-58).
He understood that the parceling of the plantations into small plots would limit the land to subsistence production and thus would retard the development of education, transportation, and commerce. He therefore insisted that the plantations be maintained, and that the laborers be converted into wage-workers, receiving one-quarter of the value of what they produced, thus providing incentive for work in the salary structure. Formerly the slaves had worked from dawn to dusk, but now the workday was from 5:00 to 5:00. Employers were not permitted to whip workers, as had been the custom under slavery (James 1989:242).
Toussaint understood the need to overcome the limited cultural formation of the people, a legacy of their enslavement. The Trinidadian C.L.R. James has written of Toussaint: “Personal industry, social morality, public education, religious toleration, free trade, civic pride, racial equality, this ex-slave strove according to his lights to lay their foundations in the new State. In all his proclamations, laws and decrees he insisted on moral principles, the necessity for work, respect for law and order, pride in San Domingo, veneration for France. He sought to lift the people to some understanding of the duties and responsibilities of freedom and citizenship” (James 1989:247).
Toussaint’s development plan confronted the problem of dependency. Among the ex-slaves, there were not sufficient numbers of persons with the education and experience necessary for the management of the plantations, for political administration, and for the education and cultural formation of the people. These functions would have to be carried out by educated whites and white proprietors.
Toussaint dealt with this problem through a conciliatory policy toward whites, seeking to reassure them that the ex-slaves did not seek vengeance and that there was a place for them in the new society. But at the same time he insisted that whites accept that a new society was indeed being forged, one which protected the rights of all, regardless of color or previous condition of servitude.
For a brief historical moment it worked. Under his governance, cultivation prospered. In a year and one-half, cultivation was restored to what it had been in the flourishing days of the old colony (James 1989:247, 249).
Building on this beginning, Toussaint sought the institutionalization and formalization of what had been emerging in fact. He proposed a new Constitution, which we will discuss in the next post.
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.
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