Toussaint sought common ground between blacks and whites and cooperation between the global North and South. He understood that mutual cooperation could only be based on a foundation in which blacks possessed military strength, and to this end he had formed a black revolutionary army and led it in successful campaigns against French and English troops. But having attained a position of strength, the question becomes: What should be done with the power obtained through force of arms? Here is where Toussaint sought cooperation, and he favored a policy of conciliation rather than vengeance.
Toussaint’s policy of conciliation toward whites was expressed in a number of different contexts: he opposed vengeful violence, and he adopted concrete measures to protect whites; he promised full rights as French citizens to whites and mulattoes who were faithful to the Republic; after the British were expelled, he granted amnesty to white proprietors who had cooperated with the British, as long as they had not fought with the British ranks; and he invited white émigrés back to the colony, on the condition that they take an oath of fidelity (James 1989:201, 204, 215)
For Toussaint, the conciliatory policy toward whites was strategic. Whites were necessary as a counterweight to the mulattoes, who sought independence under their exclusive control. And they were necessary for their education and administrative skills, taking into account the limited education and political formation of the people, a legacy of slavery (James 1989:215). C.L.R. James writes: “He knew that these owners of property . . . [were] . . . utterly without principles except in so far as these helped to preserve their plantations. But they had the knowledge, education and experience which the colony needed if it was to be restored to prosperity. . . . They had culture, which only a section of the Mulattoes had and none of the slaves. Toussaint therefore treated them with the utmost forbearance, being helped by an unwarped character which abhorred the spirit of revenge and useless bloodshed of any kind. ‘No reprisals, no reprisals’ was his constant adjuration to his officers after every campaign. It was their plantations these whites wanted and he gave them their plantations, always ready to forget their treachery if they would work the land” (1938:156). James further observes that Toussaint “guarded his power and the rights of the labourers by an army overwhelmingly black. But within that wall he encouraged all to come back, Mulattoes and whites. The policy was both wise and workable” (1938:261).
Most blacks were not in agreement with the policy of conciliation. James believes that the policy was correct, but that Toussaint took for granted support from the masses of blacks, and he therefore did not make a sufficient effort to explain why the policy was necessary in the long run. Toussaint was much more oriented to convincing whites to participate in the new society and to convincing Bonaparte that he would protect the property of the plantation owners. Toussaint’s policy of racial conciliation, combined with the maintenance of capitalist export-oriented agriculture, led to insurrection from below. In the eyes of some, Toussaint was too moderate; they wanted to see more radical change (James 1989:262, 283-88). This division in the black revolution damaged its prospects for success.
But Toussaint was right. Nationalization of the plantations would have led to white emigration and the aggressive hostility of the global powers, leaving the nation in a position of trying to develop agriculture without sufficient trained staff and without the international commerce necessary for technical support and for markets. On the other hand, the parceling of the plantations into small subsistence plots would mean that there would be little possibility for economic and cultural development. The formation of national and international alliances was necessary.
Toussaint saw the Jacobin values of the French Revolution as providing a foundation for a practical alliance with France that would facilitate economic and social development. “What revolutionary France signified was perpetually on his lips, in public statements, in his correspondence, in the spontaneous intimacy of private conversation . . . . It was not only the framework of his mind. No one else was so conscious of its practical necessity in the social backwardness and primitive conditions of life around him. . . . His unrealistic attitude to the former masters, at home and abroad, spring not from any abstract humanitarianism or loyalty, but from a recognition that they alone had what San Domingo society needed” (James 1938:290).
We would not today use the language that C.L.R. James employed, writing in 1938, when he describes blacks as lacking in culture. We today are more sensitive to the fact that all people have culture, which is expressed in popular language, religion, and music. But his point is valid. The majority of emancipated slaves had little knowledge of the world beyond the plantations, of the historical and social forces that had established the plantations, of the policies that could be adopted to defend the people, and of the possibilities for human life that education could provide. But they had the wisdom to appreciate the limitations in their understanding and to lift up Toussaint to speak on their behalf. This humility and practical wisdom of the people is an important factor in the emergence of charismatic leaders in revolutionary processes.
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, North-South cooperation