The Haiti Revolution, Genocide, and Us

The Haiti Revolution, Genocide, and Us
Image: Crucified Liberty. Ulrick Jean-Pierre. Oil on canvas (1956)

I’ve been listening to a podcast about the Haiti Revolution and even for someone like me who has read my fair share of brutal history, it’s quite a revelation. Haiti in the 1700s was a slave colony. 15% of the slaves would die in transit from Africa. Of those that arrived alive, half were dead within 5 years. This was deliberate policy - work them to death and then get fresh black bodies from Africa. Death came in many forms and terror was routine - castration, crucifixion, the whole thing.

90% of the people in the country were black, 10% white or coloured. To cut a long story short there was a 10-year slave revolt. At a critical point, the slave leaders came to the “Big Whites” (the rich plantation owners) and offered to return to being slaves but with regulations in place. The whites point blank refused. The whites were liberals for their time - they believed in private property, free trade, and the rule of law… but only for whites. Blacks were to have no rights because they were property. Of course, they would pay lip service to “rights” but when it came down to it, like today, black lives counted for next to nothing. Think about our society’s reaction to the destruction of Pakistan. A rigid racist ideology provided cover for their blind greed. That’s why they refused to make any concessions whatsoever.

The slaves went back to revolt and overthrew the French colonial regime. In response, France sent over 50,000 troops and white planters. Within two years every one of them was dead. They killed every living white French person on the island. They went into every village and town, pulled people out into the street and shot them. It was a genocide.

Why am I telling you this? Because behind all the horrors - the dogs that ripped out the stomachs of black prisoners put into cages by white soldiers - it was an unavoidable reality. Haiti was the most profitable colony in the Americas. And to keep it that way it required the organised killing of hundreds of thousands of human beings.

Sound familiar? The western world is full of liberal-minded people who love the benefits of our “civilised” society - property, open economy, and rule of law. But to keep things this way it is going to be necessary to kill hundreds of millions of people in the tropics. In the 1700’s mass killing was necessitated by the production of sugar. Today it is necessitated by the emission of carbon. People happily eat meat and take flights and vote for governments that ignore the suffering imposed on the people in Pakistan and other poor countries. The massive wealth created by carbon necessitates this unspeakable injustice. But it suits us very well.

It’s not that the people of Europe had always had slaves - they fell into their utter depravity through discovering the ultimate Eighteenth-century cash cow - plantation-based sugar production. Similarly, we did not set out to destroy the world. Locking in 1000 million refugees in the next two decades is the by-product of our discovery of and addiction to fossil fuels.

Of course many people today, like the court liberals of Eighteenth-century France, are familiar with this narrative but it is always constructed within the same deluded palace of Versailles-style dream world, where we feel “pity” for those we kill who we believe will passively just die. It is inconceivable to the powers that be that those we condemn to death will ever revolt and so we continue to not move an inch - like the Big Whites in Haiti refusing even to regulate slavery. Our “liberal” societies are not going to pay a penny of reparations to the people of Pakistan even though the causal link between our carbon emissions and their suffering is beyond dispute.

What we just can’t let ourselves consider is that these condemned “pitied” people are no better than us. Meaning too will be more than happy to kill. They will come over our borders and kill us by the million in the same way as the absolute hatred of the whites led to the mass slaughter in Haiti. I am not making any moral judgement on this – but rather pointing out this will very likely be the outcome of the actions of our elites.

If we allow the greed fuelled psychosis of our governments to continue it will lead not just to the genocide of hundreds of millions of black lives but the genocide of hundreds of millions of people living in the global north - most likely our children in two or three decades. If you live by the sword you die by the sword to put it in the old language.

Or do you still think History has ended? That you can allow our government to destroy other people’s countries without consequence? That you can stand by and let murder on a scale unknown in history go ahead and get away with it?

Resistance against our governments at present is not just an essential act of solidarity, not just an act of the most basic moral self-respect, it is also a response to the terror we feel about what will happen if we don’t resist.Or as my friend, the great American journalist Chris Hedges, an observer of many revolutions, puts it: real change only happens when people are made to feel the fear of what will happen if they do not change.

To contact civil resistance projects around the world:

The Climate Situation
is F*cked

Help me to get with the job of sorting it out.