“The Problem of David Nicholls’s thesis about Haiti’s ‘Color Question’: The Marxist Reading and Dialectic Interpretation of Haitian History are Inadequate”

“The Problem of David Nicholls’s thesis about Haiti’s ‘Color Question’: The Marxist Reading and Dialectic Interpretation of Haitian History is Inadequate”

An explicit Marxist reading or interpretation of Haitian history does not do justice to the complexity of the human condition in Haiti, the country’s historical trajectories, and the intersections of race, class, colorism, gender, imperialism, neocolonialism, the American occupation of Haiti (1915-11934), and the country’s ambivalent political narratives. The greatest Haitian Marxists and radical Socialists Jacques Roumain, Jacques Stéphen Alexis, René Depestre, Max Hudicourt, and Christian Beaulieu would have disagreed with David Nicholl’s basic thesis (in “From Dessalines to Duvalier: Race, Colour and National Independence in Haiti,” 1996) that colorism in the Haitian society is the single factor that best explained Haiti’s political ideology, class division, and social conflict in Haitian society. For example,

• Michel-Rolph Trouillot, the greatest Haitian thinker in the twenty-first century categorically disagreed with Nichols’s thesis (See Trouillot, “Peasants and Capital: Dominica in the World Economy,” 1988, and “Haiti: State against Nation. The Origins and Legacy of Duvalierism,” 1990)
• Robert Fatton Jr., Haiti’s most important political scientist, questioned and rejected Nicholl’s argument (See “Haiti’s Predatory Republic: The Unending Transition to Democracy,” 2002, “The Roots of Haitian Despotism,” 2007, and “Haiti: Trapped in the Outer Periphery,” 2014)
• Famed Haitian sociologist and historian Alex Dupuy disagreed with Nicholl (See “Haiti in the World Economy: Class, Race, and Underdevelopment Since 1700,” 1989, “Haiti in the New World Order: The Limits of the Democratic Revolution,” 1997, and “Haiti: From Revolutionary Slaves to Powerless Citizens. Essays on the Politics and Economics of Underdevelopment,” 2014)
• Haitianist historian Matthew J. Smith (See “Red and Black in Haiti: Radicalism, Conflict, and Political Change, 1934-1957,” 2009)

***Smith, who has written one of the most important works on the rise of Haitian radicalism and the country’s complex political narratives in the twentieth-century, rejects Nicholl’s monolithic-single story narrative on Haiti’s color politics or colorism problem.

Smith makes the following observation about Nicholls’ argument:

“Color divisions supersede virtually all other issues, particularly class interets, and concluded that ‘divisions connected with colour have been one of the principal reasons why Haiti has failed to maintain effective independence. A fundamental aspect of Nicholls’s thesis is that the social polarization in Haiti determines the political groups they form. Thus, each group supports political elite of a similar class and color background, largely on the expectation that their group interests will be secured. Although one can arguably find such a division operative in nineteenth-century politics, it is an inadequate explanation of twentieth-century political conflict. One of the major shortcomings of this perspective is it its failure to properly explain the incongruity between the stated ideological positions of certain political rivalries are not always reducible to color and that the ‘color question’ it itself is largely the preoccupation of elites with the majority of the nation left out. Still, color remains a central problematic for Nicholls as it does for analyses of Haitian politics, Nicholls’s work, exceptional as it is, also offers little explanation of the agency of non-elite actors in shaping the terms of political debate (Matthew Smith, “Red and Black,” pp. 4-5)

In addition, read some of the original texts written by these twentieth-century Haitian Marxists:

• Jacques Roumain, “Analyse schématique [1932-1934] et autres textes scientifiques,” http://classiques.uqac.ca/classiques/roumain_jacques/analyse_schematique/analyse_schematique.pdf
• Jacques Stéphen Alexis, “Jacques Stéphen Alexis’s Letter to François Duvalier,” 1960, https://www.marxists.org/history/haiti/1960/jacques-stephen.htm , and “Compère Général Soleil,” (1955)/”General Sun, My Brother,” 1999
• René Depestre, “Pour la révolution pour la poésie,” 1974, and “Bonjour et Adieu à la Négritude,” 1980, and “An Interview with Aimé Césaire,”1967, https://politicaleducation.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Interview-with-Aime-Cesaire.pdf

*** “The interview with Aimé Césaire was conducted by Haitian poet and militant Rene Depestre at the Cultural Congress of Havana in 1967. It first appeared in Poesias, an anthology of Césaire’s writings published by Casa de las Americas. It has been translated from the Spanish by Maro Riofrancos.

In addition, read other criticisms on the complexity of Haiti’s class problem and other political and historical trajectories that have shaped the human condition, the country’s society, and political order:

• Jean Price-Mars, “La vocation de l’élitePrécédée d’une notice biographique”
littéraire, politique et sociale, ” (1919), http://classiques.uqac.ca/classiques/price_mars_jean/vocation_de_elite/vocation_de_elite.pdf

*** Jean Price-Mars is the most important intellectual or thinker Haiti has produced.

• Celucien Joseph, “Thinking in Public: Faith, Secular Humanism, and Development in Jacques Roumain,” 2017, 496 pages. I wrote in the English language the most comprehensive intellectual biography on Haiti’s foremost Marxist thinker. It is the second biography on Roumain written in English.

***In my book (chapter 3), I bring Roumain, Dantes Bellegarde, and Price-Mars in conversation with Nicholls’ s exaggerated thesis on the color question that explains all of Haiti’s political woes and social divisions.

*** Also, see these new and important texts on Haitian Marxism and society:

• Jean Jacques Cadet, “Le Marxisme haïtien: Marxisme et anticolonialisme en Haïti (1946-1986),” 2020
• Jacques Stephen Alexis and Fred Brutus, “Le marxisme seul guide possible de la révolution haïtienne,” 2021
• Yves Dorestal, “Jacques Roumain (1907-1944): un communiste haïtien: Le marxisme de Roumain ou le commencement du marxisme en Haïti,” 2015, and “Le marxisme haïtien, clé du socialisme latino-américain. Un entretien avec Yves Dorestal,” https://www.contretemps.eu/le-marxisme-haitien-cle-du-socialisme-latino-americain-un-entretien-avec-yves-dorestal/
• Herold Toussaint, “Sociologie d’un Jésuite haïtien. Karl Lévêque, éducateur politique,” 2014.

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