The following article was originally published in Proletarian Revolution No. 48 (Spring 1995).
With President Aristide back in office, Bill Clinton, the liberal politicians and the mass media are proclaiming the American occupation of Haiti to be a triumph for democracy.
This lie hides the imperialists’s real aims. They are: 1) to prepare for the crushing of the Haitian workers and peasants and deepen their super-exploitation; 2) to stop the huge outflow of Black refugees fleeing poverty and repression; 3) to serve notice to the masses at home and abroad, as well as to rival imperialist powers, that the U.S. can still throw its weight around when it wants to — especially since Haiti promised to be an easy military triumph, compared to other areas where U.S. foreign policy has been floundering.
The U.S. ruling class saw nothing fundamentally wrong with the rule of General Cédras, who overthrew Aristide on September 30, 1991 with U.S. connivance. But Washington finally decided that the naked reign of terror couldn’t break the spirit of the masses, nor stop the wave of refugees.
At first the Haitian people celebrated the fall of the dictators with rallies of thousands, liberating food depots where profiteers stored “humanitarian aid” while allowing people to starve, meting out justice to every attaché they could get their hands on, and ransacking stations of the hated police. Their actions exemplified the revolutionary potential Clinton fears. In the future their movement will turn against the U.S. and its Haitian bourgeois allies, once the real role of the occupation becomes clear to them.
The U.S. military plans to strengthen and “professionalize” the Haitian military and police, which will lose only their most infamous officers. Despite token gestures toward defending the masses (and some genuine solidarity on the part of U.S. soldiers), the U.S. is protecting not only the bourgeoisie’s homes and property, but also their FRAPH and Macoute thugs. Clinton & Co. are preparing Haiti for a more thorough reign of terror under the figleaf of “democracy.”
The U.S. and U.N. have long been waging war on the Haitian masses. Along with the forced return of refugees to the tender mercies of the military thugs, they have enforced economic sanctions against Haiti. The ban on imports of essential goods and on export of manufactures hurt only the poor and working people, not the dictators or the millionaires who actually profited by smuggling.
Clinton, the U.S. bourgeoisie and its Haitian compradors have little respect for Aristide. Aristide’s claim to power was his popularity; he had won a massive popular vote. The imperialists can’t rely on him to enforce their austerity policies — they suspect he might come under pressure from the masses who have illusions that he represents them, not a sector of the bourgeoisie.
Aristide in fact made clear when in office three years ago that he was no threat to capitalism. He promised to pay Haiti‘s immense debt to imperialism, incurred by the monstrously corrupt and murderous Duvalierists, and pledged to cooperate with the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, imperialism’s financial enforcers. He ended price controls on basic foods, fired 5000 public workers and privatized state industries.
His promised goal then and now has been to “move the people from misery to poverty with dignity” This means a thin veneer of limited democratic reforms, with living standards shoved down even further. By keeping within capitalist parameters, Aristide accepts the impossibility of real gains.
Yet the capitalists and imperialists still distrust him. In office, he did not use the military to suppress the workers and peasants, who persisted in resisting their oppressors and made constant threats to bourgeois property. In fact, he tried to appease the masses by reforming the hated army and police. The Cédras coup proved his reforms meaningless.
Today, the economic and social crisis of world capitalism, especially in “third world” countries, is so deep that the bourgeoisie fears to invest wherever working people dare to fight back. As in South Africa, Palestine and elsewhere, the imperialist strategy is to first mislead and deceive the masses so that they can be softened up and thoroughly crushed.
The occupation of Haiti also poses a threat to Cuba. Fidel Castro’s pseudo-socialist regime is bitterly hated by all sections of the U.S. ruling class, which — despite Clinton‘s agreement with Castro to keep Cuban refugees at home — is trying to starve Cuba into submission. The defense of Cuba against imperialism is an essential task for all revolutionaries.
However, it is also critical to dispel illusions in Cuba as any sort of revolutionary beacon. Castro’s Stalinist regime is hardly leading a fight against imperialism. Despite its opposition to the occupation, it called on the U.S. to use its “power of persuasion over the Haitian military” to get the dictators to leave ( Radio Havana, Sept. 21), in effect urging imperialist intervention. As well, in his typical bourgeois nationalist fashion, Castro also endorses Aristide without mentioning his deals with imperialism. Castro seeks his own deal and therefore helps pave the way for imperialist advances across the Caribbean — including against Cuba. (See Cuba Faces U.S. Threat: “Socialism in One country” No Answer in PR 39 for an extended analysis.)
Aristide has done his best to earn his masters’ trust. After his ouster, he made just about every concession to the dictatorship that the U.S. demanded. His latest sell-out, the “Strategy of Social and Economic Reconstruction,” was presented to the World Bank in August. It commits his government to eliminate half its civil servants, privatize public services, drastically reduce tariffs and import restrictions (a boon to the wealthy merchants and a serious blow to thousands of small artisans and millions of peasants), cancel price and foreign exchange controls, aid the export sector, follow an “open foreign investment policy,” set up special business courts with bourgeois judges, “limit the scope of state activity and regulation” and reduce the power of the Presidency in favor of Parliament.
The Plan says nothing about the urgent need to raise the minimum wage, now barely a dollar per day. As well, the first obligation of the new “aid” funds Haiti will get must go to pay off debts owed to the IMF & Co. As Haiti Info reports:
The plan was presented [for Aristide] in part by Leslie Delatour, a member of Marc Bazin’s private cabinet when he was Jean-Claude Duvalier’s finance minister and a much-decried minister of finance under dictator Henri Namphy, when frequent demonstrations were held against his policies. ... At a Washington briefing, Delatour explained that Haiti‘s greatest asset was its “people,” a veiled reference to the country’s rock-bottom wages.
If Aristide had run on his current platform — the Governor’s Island accords, his “reconciliation” theme and reconstruction program — he would have been indistinguishable from the open bourgeois candidates he defeated in 1990.
While the Haitian people had the right to have Aristide as their president when they chose him overwhelmingly, revolutionaries oppose his return as a figurehead for U.S. domination. Real self-determination will come with the arming of the workers and peasants. In Haiti, the demoralized armed forces could only rule over unarmed masses; they would never have lasted against an armed mass uprising. That is why the U.S. occupation aims to keep the people, not the army and police, disarmed.
President Aristide has already shown that he can’t and won’t fulfill even his own cynical program of “poverty with dignity” in the face of imperialism. (But it is predictable that he will yet vacillate between the demands of his imperialist masters and his need to provide a facade for the masses.) This confirms the Trotskyist theory of permanent revolution: the struggle for bourgeois-democratic gains inextricably depends on the fight to end exploitation through socialist revolution. Even achieving “poverty with dignity” within the borders of a tiny impoverished nation under the guns of imperialism cannot be done without overthrowing Haiti’s semi-colonial capitalism. This lesson the masses will learn in struggle despite Aristide’s preachings.
In the imperialist stage of capitalism, no lasting democratic gains are possible without workers’ rule. Even in Haiti, where the working class is a minority, it has stepped to the fore of the mass struggles. The revolution that brought down Duvalier developed from general strikes; at key conjunctures afterward workers built huge strikes that helped oust each successive military dictator. Under Aristide the “vigilance brigades” that defended popular quarters from Macoute resurgence were embryonic workers’ militias that grouped unemployed youth and others behind proletarian leadership.
One essential ingredient was lacking: an internationalist revolutionary party of the working class. A revolutionary party would fight to build a workers’ militia in Haiti as part of its strategy of overthrowing the armed capitalist state and replacing it with a workers’ state.
However, the Haitian masses have to deal not only with the miserable Haitian army but with U.S. imperialism, armed to the teeth. An internationalist revolutionary party would urge fraternization with the American soldiers on a class basis. It would campaign for political solidarity with the working masses of the Caribbean, the United States, etc. — in order to make it impossible for imperialism to attack without risking a backlash at home.
The workers and peasants are recovering and preparing to fight again. Even the U.S. government knows that the people will sour on the occupation as their hopes are dashed. But misleaders are trying to divert the movement once more. Aristide and his supporters base themselves on the masses’ bourgeois-democratic illusions, and are instilling false hopes about imperialist aid. The most class-conscious workers have to form a revolutionary proletarian party that can lead the peasants and other working masses to power, based on their needs, aspirations and fighting spirit.
The scenes of Haitian masses overrunning police headquarters after Aristide’s return were inspiring, but the fact that many then handed the guns over to the U.S. occupiers proves the need for revolutionary leadership. Working people will need all the arms they can get to defend their struggles — from Macoute thugs, from the U.S. defenders of capital and from Aristide’s “reconciliationist” armed forces. A revolutionary party arms the proletariat militarily and politically. If a communist leadership is not built in time, the masses will go through the same bloody lessons over again as their struggles are betrayed by pro-capitalist leaderships.
The goal of a mass uprising could be to convene a democratic constituent assembly to decide on and implement the new society. But real democracy is impossible when one tiny class holds all economic power. Marxists stand for socialist revolution, in which the workers replace the bourgeois state with their own. Through a workers’ state they would expropriate industry and transport, build ample public works and organize the economy to feed, house and employ all.
As permanent revolution teaches us, a workers’ state isolated in one nation, especially a small and poor one, would be choked by imperialism. A Haitian revolution would have to spread to the Dominican Republic, throughout the Caribbean and further internationally. The increasingly angry world proletariat is looking for such a lead: Haitian workers’ resistance to the occupation would ignite revolts across the world.
Revolutionary internationalism also teaches that the main enemy is at home. The left in the U.S. ought to be combatting American imperialism at its every turn. Many, however, called on Clinton to engineer the return of Aristide. Even if they now oppose the occupation, they helped pave the way for it. Groups like Solidarity and the Campaign for Peace and Democracy supported the U.S./U.N. sanctions, thereby endorsing imperialism’s “right” to intervene.
Solidarity wrote in an editorial: “We supported the sanctions against South Africa because that is what the liberation movement demanded. Similarly, the popular movement in Haiti and the sole legitimate government of that country — led by Aristide — raise this demand today. We realize that it will impose grave sacrifices on the popular movements, but poor people always bear the price of their victory.” (Against the Current, July/August 1994.)
These are the words of comfortable cynics. It is no “victory” when long-suffering masses are imposed upon to suffer passively still more.
Just as bad are those on the left who patronizingly refuse to utter a word in public against Aristide. The Workers World Party is a leading practitioner: it promotes “Aristide’s right to return” despite his deal with imperialism. The WWP, which refused to allow any criticism even of the Ayatollah Khomeini when he was strangling the Iranian revolution in 1979, will never warn the masses when they are being led to disaster.
The International Socialists offer no alternative. The ISO says that the U.S. won’t bring democracy, but its featured slogan for Haiti is “Support the Popular Movement.” This was deliberately imprecise: it ignores the vital class distinction between the exploited masses and their misleaders, the “popular movement’s” bourgeois Lavalas politicians associated with Aristide and his U.S. deal. Some “socialists” these, who talk only of democracy and won’t fight for working-class independence and revolution!
Another dodge comes from the badly misnamed Revolutionary Communist Party. Claiming that Aristide represents the Haitian middle classes against the “feudalists” (Maoist obfuscation for bourgeois landlords), the RCP writes: “These forces hate the oppression brought down on their country by imperialism and feudalism, but their class position makes it difficult for them to fully unleash the mass struggle and they fear an all-out confrontation with the reactionaries.” (Revolutionary Worker, Oct. 25, 1992; repeated Oct. 16, 1994.)
Bullshit. The Haitian bourgeois elements behind Lavalas and Aristide want to halt the mass struggle, not “unleash” it, even partially. And if they hate imperialism so much, why are they fully collaborating with it? This repackaged analysis comes straight from Mao’s handbook for manipulating the masses: tail the leftward sections of the bourgeoisie and hope to leap over it to power — above all, don’t tell working people the truth about their populist enemies.
A different deception comes from the Stalinist-tailing Spartacist League and Bolshevik Tendency, who invoke the Cuban “workers’ state” in order to leave the impression that Castro will support a Haitian revolution. As Castro himself makes clear, nothing could be farther from reality.
In Haiti, the restoration of Aristide generated confusion. Obviously the President still has mass support, although many are coming to realize that he has turned his back on the needs of the masses. This growing consciousness has not been helped by those “popular organizations” which condemned the U.S. occupation but still failed to break with Aristide.
For example, the Asanble Popilè Nasyonal (National Popular Assembly) said, “We have always been for the return of Aristide, and we always told him that we think that the return is something vital so that democracy can go forward in this country, but we never wanted him to return with an occupation force.” For over a year at least, it was plain that Aristide planned to return no other way.
Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, founder and chief spokesman of a major peasant movement (and a hero of U.S. groups like the Anti-Intervention Committee), had taken part in the Governor’s Island delegation that prepared Aristide’s disastrous attempted deal with Cédras. In October, Jean-Baptiste pointedly announced his opposition to the occupation. Still, he remains in Aristide’s cabinet, undercutting the essential task of organizing the workers and peasants independent of the bourgeoisie.
Some Haitian groups openly oppose both the occupation and Aristide, fighting the present tide among the Haitian masses. But their alternative for Haiti takes the form of left-wing populism. Slogans like “Long live the autonomous struggles of the popular masses!” and “The only solution: democratic popular uprising leading up to popular revolution!” are raised by MOKAM (Haiti World Autonomous Culture Movement), KAP (Committee for a Progressive Alternative) and KILI (Unity-Struggle-Unity Committee).
Such slogans ignore the centrality of proletarian leadership and are rigidly stagist. In the belief that a working-class revolution is not on the agenda now, the would-be revolutionary left fails to fight publicly for the only way forward and thereby feeds the masses’ bourgeois-democratic illusions.
Aristide’s betrayal stems not only from his “opportunism” but from his class allegiance and program. He represents, now more clearly than ever, a wing of the Haitian ruling class with international ties. He must be fought on a class basis. If the most advanced workers are not educated scientifically to know who their enemies and friends are, they may end up fighting Aristide only to accept other bourgeois or middle-class leaders.
The task of communist revolutionaries is to tell the truth and show the way forward to the working class. Marxists stand for a strategy of working-class independence so that a proletarian party can prove that the interests of the mass of its peasant allies lie with workers’ power. Socialist revolution and the destruction of imperialism will never be accomplished by seeking temporary popularity and tailing the Mandelas and Aristides, who try to give super-exploitation a human face. Instead, let us build the revolutionary proletarian party in Haiti, the U.S. and everywhere!