Saturday, February 27, 2021

Lamaute and the Bourgeoisie Nationale

One of the important theorists and activists in the annals of the Haitian Left, Alix Lamaute was one of the victims of the massacre of both PUCH members and innocent bystanders ordered by dictator François Duvalier.  Besides Lamaute, several prominent Haitian Communists were also killed, including Brisson, The  attack on the village of Cazale was particularly brutal, as young Communists and locals were mercilessly slaughtered by Duvalierist forces eager to end Communist armed uprisings. By 1969, Duvalier was already president for life with apparent total rule. Nonetheless, by the late 1960s, the two main Haitian Marxist parties unified into the Parti unifié des communistes haïtiens, which would embrace revolutionary violence to overthrow Duvalier. Rebels arriving from Cuban bases or across the Dominican border made clear the degree to which left-wing rebels poised a threat to the regime, even if their influence in numbers was rather small. 

Nevertheless, some of the ideas expressed by intellectuals within the PUCH are worth remembering for what it reveals of the nature of Haitian Marxism and political thought. Lamaute, whose La bourgeoisie nationale: une entité controversée encapsulates some of the main streams of Marxist thought in Haiti during the 1960s, deserves attention today for the still disturbing question of the Haitian prospects of a national bourgeoisie that could work with proletariat forces and a Marxist vanguard to transform Haiti. Lamaute, whose thought owes much to Alexis, Ambroise, Rameau, Pierre-Charles and other Haitian historians, economists, and intellectuals on the Left, presents an overview on primitive accumulation in Haiti, the idea of the 19th century Liberal party as progressive and the Nationals as feudal, and the weakness of the Haitian bourgeoisie. 

Lukacs and Christian Beaulieu also make an appearance on the caste question, as the so-called feudal or semi-feudal nature of the Haitian economy prevents the emergence of a full class-based society in which the embryonic national bourgoisie can truly emerge. Caste-like features actually, according to Lamaute, hinder the development of class consciousness among the bourgeoisie. Thus, the caste-like nature of Haitian social structure of that era is linked to the semi-feudal economy of rural Haiti and the dependence of the Haitian bourgeoisie on US and foreign capital and machinery. Borrowing from Gramsci, Lamaute also describes the the mimetism of the Haitian dominant classes and the forms of alienation one might suspect earlier generations of Haitian intellectuals to refer to as cultural bovarysme. But like Beaulieu, Lamaute probably saw the supposed caste system as being weakened by increasing industrialization and urbanization in Haiti over the course of the 20th century, particularly after 1915.

The remainder of the text focuses on the prospects of a joint anti-imperialist front connecting the proletariat and local bourgeoisie. Arguing against Fanon, who saw the bourgeoisie as a still-born class in the struggles of Third World liberation, Lamaute instead sees the development of a local bourgeoisie, primarily oriented towards the internal market and directing industries using local industry and labor and products as aligning itself with the proletariat and popular masses in the name of nationalism. For Lamaute, the national bourgeoisie only needs to see how nationalism could strengthen their class position. For, a truly national bourgeoisie (instead of the existing comprador Haitian one) would and could fight for a number of economic and social reforms that would benefit the proletariat and masses (free press, state policies, etc.) as well as accentuate the coming class conflict between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. This, to the Marxist teleological paradigm of Lamaute, would eventually usher in a socialist state with the proletariat and a vanguard of professional revolutionaries constantly pressuring the bourgeoisie to avoid too much collusion with imperialist powers.

In order to truly make sense of Lamaute's argument, however, one must see it as part of a trajectory of Haitian Marxist thought dating back to the 1940s and the Parti Socialiste Populaire. Like his 1940s forebears, Lamaute saw the peasantry, who comprised the majority of the Haitian population, as incapable of leading the path to socialism. Instead, Haiti must oppose imperialism and develop its bourgeoisie and proletariat, thereby strengthening class conflict and a shift in the mode of production to capitalism. Then, and only then, would a working-class revolution ultimately succeed. To Lamaute, who cited the example of the peasantry of Bolivia as a cautionary tale, the Haitian peasant will not come to a strict class consciousness and must be led by the proletariat in any alliance. Otherwise, the peasant will be used against the proletariat by the petit or moyenne bourgeoisie, as in Bolivia. In other words, the proletariat will make the revolution or there will be no revolution. But in order to reach that point, a truly national bourgeoisie must emerge that is not a comprador one, and which would heighten the class conflicts while further eroding the semi-feudal characteristics of the Haitian economy. 

One wonders if Lamaute, like Alexis, Roumain and other Haitian Marxists, may have adopted a somewhat anti-paysan perspective by viewing the religion of Vodou as encouraging fatalism. The complex question of the Haitian peasant in Haitian socialism, however, is beyond the immediate concerns of Lamaute's La bourgeoisie nationale. And after another half century, it is clear that the kind of national bourgeoisie called for by Lamaute did not emerge. If anything, an anti-national bourgeoisie strengthened itself under the rule of Baby Doc, and the question of the peasantry and democratic reforms would have to change. Nevertheless, Lamaute's treatise provides a window onto the thoughts and theoretical formulations that guided the young militants of the PEP, PPLN, and later PUCH in the turbulent 1960s and 1970s. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Second Foundation

The final novel of the original Foundation series is a mother. Suspenseful, filled with intrigue, and building on the theme of mentalics and emotional control and manipulation as an innate trait of the human mind. Asimov finally reveals the location of the elusive Second Foundation, but only after the final defeat of the Mule and an elaborate heist to fool the leaders of the First Foundation about 50 years after the fall of the aforementioned Mule. This final chapter in the original trilogy really does illustrate the inner workings of Seldon's Plan and the threat posted by individuals and unaccounted for anomalies like the Mule. Indeed, the Second Foundation's possession of mentalic powers, plus the physical sciences of the First Foundation, will both be necessary to usher in the Second Empire. 

But, the Galaxy is not yet ready for outright rule by the psychologists of the Second Foundation, which must remain shrouded in secrecy until a future date. Of course, the Second Foundation is hiding in plain sight and must rely on guile to defeat the more powerful foes of the First Foundation and the Mule. Needless to say, the Second Foundation's guiles, emotional and political manipulation, and sleights of hand succeed. It becomes clear how, despite all their predictions and careful editing of the Seldon Plan, deviations caused by individual actions had a large impact on nearly ruining the chances of long-term success. 

In short, human agency and free will coexists, alongside control from forces above that limit or shape the decisions made by Arkady, Darrell, and other characters in the novel. While the novel ends with several centuries left before the predicted emergence of the Second Empire, it seems to posit a future grand empire based on a fusion of the social and physical sciences as the path forward for human evolution when a new age of humanity will rule the Galaxy.

Friday, February 19, 2021

Jazz des Jeunes


Love the rhythms in the music of Jazz des Jeunes. Haitian music of the pre-compas era was quite something.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Foundation and Empire

The second installment in the Foundation series is based on two previously published novellas. The first, inspired by General Belisarius and the Byzantine Empire during the reign of Justinian, features a similar general named Bel Riose. Bel Riose sees the looming threat of the Foundation to the still-strong Galactic Empire, and nearly succeeds in reconquering it before Emperor Cleon recalls him on the verge of final victory. Inspired by Justinian's Wars and reconquest of lost Roman territories in the 6th century, Bel Riose had to be recalled and stopped to prevent a possible rival claimant to the throne.

Thus, the social laws and predictions of Hari Seldon correctly foresaw an invasion of the Empire as being thwarted by a strong emperor of a declining state wishing to retain as much control as possible. Unfortunately for us, Bel Riose is less of a compelling character than Procopius's Belisarius of the Secret History. Procopius provides us with several details of the whoring wife of Belisarius and the juicy and exaggerated personal flaws of the Byzantine general and his wife Antonina. Bel Riose, on the other hand, is just a brilliant general loyal to the idea of the Empire. Nor do we receive any detailed battle accounts of Bel Riose's ships against those of the Foundation, which is now a powerful trading state in the Periphery. 

The second and longer part of the text consists of the novella on the rise of the Mule, the great crisis not predicted by Hari Seldon. Since Seldon's theory of psychohistory did not account for a mutant individual capable of having such an outsized influence on others, the Mule disrupts Seldon's prediction of the Foundation's civil war against the oligarchic traders. The Mule, a mutant being who can manipulate the emotions of others around him, succeeds in conquering the Foundation and becoming the most powerful man in the empire. 

Here, much intrigue, some ruin porn (the remnants of the imperial capital are now inhabited by small communities of farmers) and plot twists make for more exciting reading. The revelation of the Mule's identity was well-handled and suspenseful, and the first crisis to actually constitute a real challenge to the prognostications of Seldon is a welcome change in the series. Intriguingly, the second novella also introduces a strong female character in Bayta, who not only cracks the riddle of the Mule's identity, but saves the Second Foundation from the Mule's discovery.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

The World of Late Antiquity

Finally read Peter Brown's The World of Late Anqituity, a far more accessible essay on the period than the lectures The Making of Late Antiquity. Here, Brown's classic essay provides a great overview of the period, challenging the Gibbonesque paradigm of decline and fall. Instead, changes in the social, economic, religious, and spiritual conditions in the Roman Empire and its environs beginning in the 3rd century gradually brought about the features now known as "Late Antique," which created a different type of Roman Empire and new orientation to spirituality that favored Christianity's expansion. While there was undoubtedly a collapse of the western empire's political administration, when looking at the entirety of the region during the period, it is not really a tale of decline and fall brought about by Christianity. The book's definite strength lies in its analysis of religious and spiritual changes in the eastern Mediterranean and the western empire. The chapters on Sassanian Persia and early Islam may have been necessary to provide a complete overview of the "Near East" that led to the "end" of a united Mediterranean world centered on a single empire, but they are clearly not the author's area of specialization. The figure of the holy man, the growing importance of bishops and monastic communities in the eastern Mediterranean and the increasing importance of the Roman Catholic Church in the west as the inheritor of the aristocratic senatorial classes are all fascinating processes.

Thursday, February 11, 2021


 After hearing so many great things about the Foundation series for several years, and missing old-school space-opera for the last couple of months, I finally read Asimov's first Foundation. It is basically interconnected short stories set in the same fading Galactic Empire, heavily inspired by Gibbon and Rome. Who would have thought the rise and fall of the Galactic Empire would be so much  more exciting than the Roman Empire? Diplomacy, intrigue, imperial political, social, cultural, and technological decline, power feuds between various factions on Terminus, and the all-knowing legacy of Hari Seldon make for entertaining space-opera. 

Unfortunately, due to the theory of psychohistory and Seldon's so far successful attempts to limit knowledge of psychology, none of the descendants of the Encyclopedists and the foundation of the second Empire really know the full trajectory charted for them by Seldon. However, Seldon's theory, based on the assumption that the people of Terminus will not know enough to disrupt social forces. This leaves the central characters at each "Seldon crisis" with the choice to either act in what they think is best or "safe" versus those who are willing to take a risk and do nothing or little. It becomes somewhat anticlimactic when the ultimately correct thing to do becomes akin to "do nothing." 

Of course, the subsequent books in the series will develop in more interesting directions so at some point this blog will endeavor to include short reviews of the rest of the series. It might be interesting to see the full outline of Asimov's attempt at the rise and fall of an Empire and the various social-economic forces that will drive the eventual return of the Galactic Empire. Who knows, maybe they'll one day locate our lost homeland of Earth...

Saturday, February 6, 2021

This Immortal

Roger Zelazny has always struck me as a strange author. I did not think much of his co-authored novel with Philip K. Dick a few years ago, but that project is not a fair one to judge his work. So, after receiving a copy of This Immortal, I can appreciate his unique style and fast-moving prose and dialogue more. Set in an underpopulated and post-apocalyptic world, featuring aliens with an interest in the past of humanity, it actually brings Samuel R. Delany's Einstein Intersection to mind. 

Both novels share a similar post-apocalyptic setting with various mutants and alien life-forms, deeply immersed in Greek mythology and 20th century cultural references. Intriguingly, Zelazny's novel features Haitian Vodou, Port-au-Prince, and Egypt as additional settings and cultural allusions, with the main characters actually taking an alien visitor to a Vodou ceremony near the harbor of the Haitian capital. This could be a reflection of the legacy of Haitian tourism in the 1950s and 1960s, and makes one wonder if already in 1965 Zelazny was aware of the exploitative aspect of tourism in Haiti, Egypt, and Greece. 

While the book's representation of Haiti seems to owe more to Seabrook and primitivist foreign conceptions of Vodou, the novel offers a mix of Haitian and Greek mythological material as collective remnants of human civilization. Indeed, one of the main characters, an Arab named Hasan, appears to be possessed by a loa named Angelsou, while Conrad either is or isn't Pan. The Zelazny protagonist, however, is the only compelling character whose quest to discover the truth behind the alien tourist's visit maintains suspense. Overall, an interesting read.