Burning Spear News
Lessons from the African Revolution of Ayiti - Part 2: the African intelligentsia must fully commit class suicide
A painting depicting Toussaint L’Ouverture, African Revolution of Ayiti (Haiti)
HAITI—The African Revolution of Ayiti (Haiti) is one of the most significant events to ever take place in world history and certainly one that should be studied and summed up with revolutionary analysis.
For 12 years, between August of 1791 and December of 1803, enslaved African people engaged in extremely united and organized resistance against our colonial enslavers.
We were engaged in wars against the colonial British, Spanish and French armies—all of which were eventually defeated under the leadership of Toussaint L’Ouverture (organized the British and Spanish defeats) and General Jean-Jacques Dessalines (organized the French defeat).
Toussaint L’Ouverture and Jean-Jacques Dessalines were the two main leaders of the African Revolution of Ayiti. L’Ouverture was an extraordinary force and a great threat to colonial powers, but he came with class contradictions that could not allow him to lead Africans in Ayiti to our independence.
White power grooms African intellectuals to become the petite bourgeoisie
Toussaint L’Ouverture, born François-Dominique Toussaint, was born enslaved in the city of Cap-Haitien, Haiti. He was the son of a captured and enslaved African prince, Gaou Guinon from Benin in Africa.
Africans in Ayiti experienced the most brutal and ruthless regime of colonial slavery at the hands of the French, who were known for using the most extreme treatments against the enslaved. Toussaint, however, had a “liberal” slave-master and did not receive as brutal of a treatment as was the norm for colonial slavery.
Toussaint learned how to read and write during his childhood, an act that was forbidden by the colonial enslavers. His slave-master and other colonial enslavers, however, praised Toussaint for his intelligence, charm and charisma.
Toussaint moved up in the ranks of the colony and became an overseer of other enslaved Africans. By the time of his early 30’s he was a freed man. After being freed, he went back to work for his former enslavers, as a coachman, taking care of livestock and overseeing the functioning of the entire plantation.
It was common for freed Africans to become slave-owners themselves to build their wealth. Likewise, Toussaint had his own plantation and owned at least one slave, whom he later freed, as a means of building his wealth and buying his own family’s freedom.
Turn over all skills and talents over to the African Revolution
Wars were an everyday thing in Ayiti as not only were the Africans fighting back the imperialists to overturn colonial slavery, the imperialist powers were fighting amongst themselves for power over the colony.
The imperialists would make the promise that they would emancipate the enslaved Africans. Around this same time, the Africans were beginning to take a more organized approach in their rebellions against these imperialist forces.
Toussaint was reluctant to join the African rebellions and instead went to fight for the imperialist armies. He took his leadership from George Biassou, another enslaved African who, before becoming leader in Ayiti’s Revolution, joined the Spanish army in their war against the French.
Toussaint first fought for the Spanish against the French, and when the French made their promise to emancipate the Africans, he switched over to fight for them against the Spanish and British.
He was a self-taught military expert and strategist who played an integral role in the defeats of the Spanish and British armies. He eventually became the ruler over the whole island of Ayiti.
At the point that the African rebellions were expanding vastly and they were killing off the colonizers, Toussaint joined the ranks. Before he joined, however, he helped his former enslaver escape to his “freedom.”
We must believe in the leadership of the African poor and working class
Because of his skills and charisma, Toussaint immediately became the key leader of the African rebellions. He provided training to the other Africans on everything he knew regarding military tactics as well as guerilla tactics. Under his leadership, the Africans had become extremely organized and grew to about 4,000.
These troops had high-level unity with one another and they mobilized under Toussaint L’Ouverture’s motto “L’Union Fait La Force,” which is French for “Unity Makes Strength.” Such a motto is significant, because not only does it acknowledge that our strength is found in the collective, it also states that “even if we are weak, our unity will make the strength we need.”
It was during the time of organizing the African rebellions against the colonizers Toussaint adopted the name “L’Ouverture,” French for “the Opening.” This was also the time when he met Jean-Jacques Dessalines, an escaped slave who was participating in the rebellions from the very beginning.
Dessalines became L’Ouverture’s confidant, right-hand-man and second in command. As much as L’Ouverture trusted Dessalines, his class interests could not allow him to take Dessalines’s advice of not meeting with the French upon the ship. He did not believe in the leadership of an African from the most poor and oppressed sector of the African Nation.
L’Ouverture was convinced that his status as a military official would gain him respect in the eyes of Napoleon Bonaparte and other officials of the French imperialist military. He would also try to demonstrate loyalty to Napoleon, which was his way of not provoking the French to attack.
The imperialists recognized L’Ouverture as a significant threat to their white power structure. L'Ouverture understood that the French would retaliate harshly to his betrayal of Napoleon, and so he believed that diplomacy would be the answer to both freeing the Africans and maintaining peace with the French.
Peace can only come through revolution. There is no diplomacy to be had when dealing with the colonizers. There is no such thing as a diplomatic settlement when dealing with those whose lives exist at the expense of ours.
We must cut all ties with colonialism
Toussaint L’Ouverture developed the 1801 Constitution of Saint-Domingue (one of Ayiti’s colonial names; given to it by France in the early 1600s), where he abolished slavery but did not declare Haiti to be an independent territory with an independent people.
His vision for Ayiti still included French dominion. Article 1 of Toussaint L’Ouverture’s Constitution stated:
Saint-Domingue in its entire expanse, and Samana, La Torture, La Gonave, Les Cayemites, L’Ile-a-Vache, La Saone and other adjacent islands form the territory of a single colony, which is part of the French Empire, but ruled under particular laws.”
Article 3 of the Constitution continued to say:
“There cannot exist slaves on this territory, servitude is therein forever abolished. All men are born, live and die free and French.”
L’Ouverture declared himself to be “Saint-Domingue’s” Governor-General “for the remainder of his glorious life,” in Article 28 of the Constitution. In Article 29, he said that each [other] governor would be nominated and selected every 5 years based on the good work of his administration.
L’Ouverture had good intentions, but essentially he would be back in the same place of serving as the overseer for a colonial power, as he was accustomed to being. His Constitution constantly referred to how the colony would function under his leadership, but never mentioned the destruction of the colony!
It was not until he realized that he was indeed tricked by the French did he also realize that the entire colonial system had to be destroyed and that African people must be a liberated, free and independent people.
In a letter to Jean-Jacques Dessalines, Toussiant L’Ouverture’s stance finally mirrored Dessalines’ call for the Africans to “Koupé Tèt! Boulé Kay!,” Kreyol for “Cut Heads! Burn Houses!”. He called for the destruction of the colony and of all colonial powers. He said:
“…Do not forget, while waiting for the rainy season which will rid us of our foes, that we have no other resource than destruction and flames. Bear in mind that the soil bathed with our sweat must not furnish our enemies with the smallest aliment. Tear up the roads with shot; throw corpses and horses into all the fountains’ burn and annihilate everything, in order that those who have come to reduce us to slavery may have before their eyes the image of the hell which they deserve.”
Toussaint L’Ouverture remains a ‘hero’ of the African Revolution of Ayiti. We must learn, as he learned, that the oppressed cannot be free until the oppressors are completely eliminated.
We must also learn that African independence must be defined by the poor and working class sector of the African Nation, who have absolutely no interests in maintaining any part of this oppressive colonial system.
Join the struggle for African freedom and independence!
Chairman Omali Yeshitela, author of African Internationalism, helps us to understand that within the struggle for national liberation lies the class struggle.
The African poor and working class must be aware of this struggle taking place within the nation, and we must defend the interests of the African poor and working class, all of the time.
No matter how talented and/or educated an African [intellectual] is, we must be won to accept the leadership of poor and working class Africans. Otherwise, the revolution will be undermined time and time again.
Committing class suicide is a must-do for any African intellectual who wants to be a part of the struggle for African liberation and independence.
African intellectuals must be won to a stance of using all of our skills and talents to the benefit of the African Nation and forwarding the African Revolution.
We must also be won to a stance of placing the interests of the African poor and working class, the most oppressed sector of our people and of the world, at the center of all of our work.
Join the African People’s Socialist Party!
Forward to African independence in our lifetime!
L’Union Fait La Force!
Long Live Toussaint L’Ouverture!