The Working Class Vs. Imperialism: from Haiti to the Belly of the Beast



Kiki Makandal
June 2, 2015



Since the start of the 20th Century, not counting secret operations, there have been over 120 US military aggressions, an average of more than one a year. In Central America and the Caribbean alone, the US has intervened militarily: 6 times in Cuba, 4 times in the Dominican Republic, twice in El Salvador, once in Grenada, 3 times in Guatemala, 4 times in Haiti, 7 times in Honduras, 3 times in Mexico, 6 times in Nicaragua, 8 times in Panama, and twice in Puerto Rico.

There are more than 865 US military bases abroad in more than 63 countries. In 2011, 20% of the US federal budget, or $718 billion, went to defense and security-related activities, representing 41% of the world’s military budget. The US Navy is larger than the combined navies of the next 13 countries, 11 of which are US allies. The US maintains 5,113 nuclear warheads, enough to exterminate humankind a few times over. Right now, the US is engaged in at least 6 theaters of war: Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and the Congo.

These are staggering statistics. But they only represent what many have called “the iron fist behind the invisible hand of the Free Market.” The US military is the enforcement arm of US economic policy: the composite of “investor friendly” policies, coerced, through financial crises and the accumulation of state debt, onto working peoples all over the world. These “neoliberal” policies include privatization of state services, austerity plans, reductions in wages and living standards, cutbacks in pensions, cutbacks in education, cutbacks in healthcare, cutbacks in social services, union busting, Free Trade Zones, WTO enforced free trade agreements… all ushered in under the guise of balancing budgets. The burden of state debt is being used to achieve the objectives of colonial invasions in prior centuries. These policies are being pushed through under the cover of a global war on terror, which equates dissenters to terrorists. All of this while the rich get tax breaks, global financial corporations get bailouts, giant multinationals get tax heavens, and CEOs get million-dollar bonuses.

These policies have wreaked misery on working people throughout the “third world” and are now striking workers in industrialized nations, as we see happening in Greece, throughout Europe and even here in the US. Finally, as the threat of catastrophic environmental change collides with bursting economic bubbles and rising global popular unrest, working people are becoming the targets of an increasingly repressive surveillance state.

While most of America’s population has been brainwashed into believing that the U.S. is a “good cop” worldwide peacekeeper and a defender of democracy, that “humanitarian interventions” are aimed at saving masses from massacre and disasters, and that US aid is geared to helping starving masses, the facts prove quite the contrary. For over a century, the U.S. has been and is still today the leading international imperialist aggressor. And now, with the global war on terror, drone warfare, with a joint strike force of special operations forces, signature strikes against “enemy combatants” defined in combat zones as any male over 14 years of age, secret kill lists, NSA global surveillance, the militarization of local police forces and anti-terror legislation that can be secretly interpreted in secret courts and used to detain and repress almost anyone they choose to target, the tools of repression and oppression have been honed for both inside and outside the US.

July 28, 1915-34 – 100 years since the first U.S. occupation of Haiti, which lasted 19 years, stands as a singular symbol of the racist character and rapacity of U.S. military aggression. In Haiti, these traits have been perpetuated since by puppet regimes and new US/UN proxy occupations in 1994 and 2004. These occupations have maintained the dominance of U.S. imperialist interests in Haiti, in alliance with local ruling classes who have collaborated in the continued exploitation of the working masses.

The 1915-34 US occupation was one of racist pillage and concession contracts to US corporations. Haiti was invaded and taken over by 330 US marines, part of a 2,200-troop invasion force. 3 Haitian soldiers were killed as they attempted to repel the invasion: Pierre Sully, Edouard François, Joseph Pierre. The Haitian army that had defeated Napoleon, the Spanish and the British, had been reduced to shambles by the corrupt and divided feudal class that had come to power during the Haitian revolution. The Haitian ruling classes collaborated with the occupation, voting an amended constitution in 1918 that enabled the expropriation of peasants and pillage by US corporations. 845,000 acres of land were expropriated for banana, sugar, sisal and rubber plantations, and railroad tracks. The slave-like “corvée” was instituted, forcing peasants to work for the occupation forces.

The US occupation force of about 1,000 marines force set up a Haitian gendarmerie under US command to police its occupation. An estimated 14,000 Haitians were killed during the occupation, mostly peasants who had rallied to the ranks of the Cacos, a guerilla force led by Charlemagne Péralte. Charlemagne Péralte was betrayed by Jean Baptiste Conzé, for $9,600. He was killed by 16 Haitian gendarmes led by US Sergeant Hanneken, on November 1, 1919. He is buried in the fields now claimed by the Caracol Industrial Complex, a sweatshop zone promoted by the Clintons and developed with USAID funding. By official counts, over their 3-year resistance, the Cacos killed 13 US marines and 27 Haitian gendarmes.

Smedley Darlington Buttler, commander of 1915 US occupation forces in Haiti, from his book “War is a Racket”:

“I spent thirty-three years and four months in active military service as a member of this country’s most agile military force, the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major-General. And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high class muscle-man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism…”

“I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China I helped to see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested.” “During those years, I had, as the boys in the back room would say, a swell racket. Looking back on it, I feel that I could have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.”

Since 1915, in Haiti, the US has been the dominant imperialist power overseeing the implementation of policies crafted to the advantage of US and multinational corporations. This has led to the systematic degradation of the Haitian social formation. How have these policies been implemented? 3 military invasions, 3 occupations, a US supported 29-year dictatorship, 3-4 US sponsored coups, numerous sham elections, particularly the 2010-11 election of Martelly, on the rubbles the 2010 earthquake, after the outbreak of a cholera epidemic and Hurricane Tomas. The first round results election were reversed, under US pressure, by an OAS commission that put Martelly in the run-off, which he won with less than 21% voter turnout. Lavalas, the most popular party, was kept out of the election.

This political framework of puppet, compliant regimes, has enacted the most anti-national pro big foreign company policies imaginable, which have led to the continuing degradation of the Haitian economy and social fabric. National agricultural production has been practically wiped out by cheap imports promoted through free-trade policies. Sweatshops paying the lowest wages in the Western Hemisphere, about $5 a day, less than half a subsistence wage, are producing for giant multinational corporations like Hanes, Gildan, Levis… Land is being expropriated for agro business ventures, mining and tourism. Foreign companies are buying up all the water resources. Companies like Monsanto are imposing their GMO seeds and associated fertilizers and insecticides.

The unemployment rate is around 70%. The forest cover has been reduced to less than 1%. At best, there is electricity and running water for a few hours a day, a few days a week. In most parts of the country, there is none. The vast majority lives in unimaginable poverty. And the situation is getting worse. The cholera epidemic is at best only partially contained and rainy seasons bring out regular new outbreaks because capitalism and imperialism have no answers to the structural causes that enable cholera to propagate: lack of sanitation, lack of clean and potable water, and malnutrition.

While the burning of American flags and Uncle Sam puppets is commonplace in many demonstrations in dominated countries throughout the world, in the US most people are still puzzled by this behavior. Most still ask, “Why?” Didn’t masses of immigrants seek US shores as a haven?

We the 99%, the working people of the world, need objective and scientific historical analysis to develop our strategy of struggle. Historical materialism (pioneered by Marx and Engels) helps us understand History and craft our political line.

Imperialism in capitalist times: contrary to feudal times, wealth accumulation in capitalism does not happen through hoarding, it happens through investment. Investments must produce profits… and the money makes more money… This engenders a different dynamic: the imperative for constant expansion, constant striving to achieve the highest rates of profit, because free-market competition eliminates the weakest.

Free market capitalist competition leads to the concentration of capital, the formation of monopolies, which eventually become hegemonic at the state level, and internationalized. Banking and industry join and form finance conglomerates. Finance becomes the dominant economic sphere, finance capital establishes its hegemony.

In the current stage of capitalist imperialism, globalization of finance has been established. Odious foreign debt, piled on by corrupt imperialist backed dictators in dominated countries has been used by the IMF, the World Bank, the IDB and the USAID to force compliance with the Free Trade mandate of Finance capital, achieving through financial coercion what used to be achieved through war and occupation. These neoliberal policies have enabled finance capital to penetrate foreign markets at will and take advantage of the privatization of state owned monopoly enterprises, (like Water, Electricity…), flood foreign markets with cheap exports, particularly US agricultural products, expand their influence and control even further, take control of the finances of dominated countries, and exploit cheap labor by outsourcing manufacturing to sweatshops.

This is not without contradiction. This Free Trade has wreaked havoc of the economies of dominated countries, provoking a massive exodus of a workforce seeking viable employment toward imperialist social formations.

Inside the imperialist social formations this process has led to the stratification and marginalization of society. The capitalist imperative to maintain profitability translates into the super-exploitation of the weakest, meaning the undocumented immigrant workers, the farm workers on work permits, the workers who have been marginalized into low wage and minimum wage jobs. This process has outcast those who cannot be recuperated by the system into urban and rural zones of decay, from ghettos to bankrupt cities, to bankrupt rural communities.

These marginalized sectors must be disenfranchised of their bourgeois democratic rights, like the right to vote and a place in the labor market. Michelle Alexander’s book, “the New Jim Crow” explains how policies of mass incarceration of Black, Latino communities, particularly of the youth, under the pretext of the War on Drugs, have enabled this marginalization, controlled by militarized police forces, Stop and Frisk, Broken Windows, the systematic criminalization of our youth, and a school to jail pipeline to feed the prison industrial complex. Voter legislation reforms underway in practically all US states with Republican Party majority control are also geared to making sure that these disenfranchised and marginalized communities are no longer part of the voting public and have no voice in public policy, because their discontent is a threat to the social order.

The bourgeois democratic order needs the compliance of a willing majority to accept and submit themselves to exploitation. The willingly exploited are crafted through brainwashing and systematically maintained illusions:

Worker aristocracy: the push for protectionist reforms by the trade union movement to carve out a “good standard of living” exclusively for its members, divorcing the social class that has as a class position the objective interest to fight to end exploitation in society from that struggle. As a result, today’s labor movement is in shambles, industrial labor unions are fighting to hold on to benefits, with ever shrinking membership and public sector unions are now the main targets facing the ax.

But the view from inside the belly of the beast, atop the imperialist food chain is somewhat distorted. The capitalists promote a conception that “the US is the best country in the world” and if you don’t like it, go home.

Such views are promoted by petit bourgeois liberalism, the bleeding heart liberals who gave us Obama after 8 years of Bush with the call that “We need to restore democracy in America, we need to go back to the good times”.

But we should ask ourselves: When was there ever democracy in America? Was it in 1776, after the American Revolution? In their infinite wisdom, about half of our Founding Fathers were slave owners. So, there was slavery, indentured labor and women had no rights and the native American population was systematically expropriated, exterminated or put away in reservations.

Was it after the Civil War? But there was still Jim Crow and lynching, and women still had no rights. Was it in the early 1900’s when union organizing and universal suffrage made significant breakthroughs? But an average of 25,000 workers a year were being killed in industrial accidents, there was no minimum wage, child labor was rampant, the average work day was around 14 hours for men women and children, blacks were still excluded from most labor unions, Jim Crow was still in force, lynchings were still organized publicly and attended by thousands, and America was expanding as an imperialist power with its Big Stick policies, invading countries in the Caribbean, Central America and the Pacific (including Haiti).

Was it during the Great Depression of 1929? Let’s just pass that one over. Was it after 1937, with FDR’s New Deal, when a minimum wage, 8-hour workday and Social Security were established? But the minimum wage was just 25¢ an hour (worth about $4.20/hour today), and the economic expansion of that period, which doubled manufacturing output in a span of 4 years (39-43), was driven by WW2.

Was it the 50’s, when the US enjoyed the position of the only super power left unscathed by WW2 and returning veterans took advantage of the GI Bill to buy houses and attend college? But there was still Jim Crow, Black veterans were denied GI Bill benefits, and McCarthyism was making communism and socialism synonymous with evil and the House Un-American Activities Committee led a witch hunt across America.

Was it during the 60’s, when civil rights legislation finally outlawed Jim Crow and desegregation measures were put in place? But the bussing did not desegregate the jobs and the neighborhoods, the bussing did not stop racism, the bussing did not provide equal opportunities, we still never got our 40 acres and a mule, and Eisenhower issued his famous warning about how the military-industrial complex he helped to set up was taking over the US government. The Viet Nam war was expanded, even though opposed by a majority, the Cold War was in full swing, and nuclear devastation was just a push of a button away.

Was it during the 70’s, after the end of the Viet Nam war? That’s when real wages in the US stopped rising. We still have not gotten back to the level of the 1967 minimum wage, which economist evaluate today at about $11 to $18 an hour, depending on how you do the Math. That’s also when “CoIntelPro” was being deployed to subvert rising popular movements. That’s also when the CIA was toppling governments in all over the world, particularly in South America, like Allende in Chile.

Was it during the 80’s? That’s when Reaganomics came into full swing, the PATCO strike was squashed by a mass firing of air traffic controllers signaling a new phase in the war on workers, manufacturing was massively outsourced to offshore sweatshops, US workers lost their pensions, we started to have to pay for medical, and the neoliberal policies that had been implemented overseas with devastating impact came home to roost in the form of cutbacks in social spending, privatization of state services and the build up of the security state.

We don’t even have to go on about the 90’s and beyond, because it’s been wars, the unending world war on terrorism, and the continuing slide downwards, with the specter of looming environmental devastation brought about by capitalist short-minded greed casting a growing shadow over humanity, and most of us are victims of that story.

So we’d like to know, after the 2008 crash of the real estate market, when bleeding heart liberals talk about restoring democracy in America after 8-years of Bush, what period did they want to go back to? And how did the Obama presidency bring about any change to those policies? Obama is just a kinder, gentler, black face to US imperialism. Just ask Palestinians.

In a lot of circles, a gut reaction to this still often takes the form of: “You’re just a US hater. It’s still the best country in the world, if you don’t like it go home.” Many of us are first or second generation immigrants. For most of us the reason we are here is because of the devastating impact of imperialism on our countries of origin. The fact that we can still eke out a living, working double shifts and downsizing our life style and expectations, doesn’t make this the kind of world we should choose to live in.

As workers, we can choose differently, we can choose to make the world that conforms to our class interests, a world free from exploitation and oppression, a world free from class divisions.

An opinion is a point of view determined by class position. If you ask an average US CEO whose salary has climbed from 42 times to 354 times that of the average employee in his firm, from 1980 to 2012, he or she should tell you: “This is the best country in the world”.

If you ask am average working person, whose real wages have fallen during that same time period, with substantially degraded social benefits, healthcare and retirement provisions, she or he should tell you, at least: “times are getting harder, we need to fight back”. And if he or she thinks a little harder: “we need to take over this system and run it, eliminate exploitation”.

So let’s organize ourselves in an anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, non-sectarian manner.