For those interested in the 1820s African American emigration movement to Haiti, Sara Fanning’s Caribbean Crossing: African Americans and the Haitian Emigration Movement is an excellent introduction. Fanning locates the movement in larger migrations in the early 19th century, incipient black nationalism, abolitionist debates, and Haiti’s struggle for recognition before the 1825 negotiations between Boyer and Charles X. Fanning’s short yet precise investigation into this phase quite convincingly argues for its importance as a gambit on Boyer’s part to achieve US recognition of Haitian independence, as well as the labor challenges Haiti faced at a time of resistance to the plantation system.
In addition, those who think of postrevolutionary Haiti as isolated or removed from migration patterns or economic exchange of the early 19th century, will be pleasantly surprised by Fanning’s astute introduction and subsequent chapters on the importance of Haiti for US trade. Thus, Fanning’s convincing argument for the basis of the African American Emigration movement as an attempt to impel the US government to recognize Haiti, which it had came close to prior to the Vesey conspiracy, reveals the nuances in US-Haitian relations. Northern newspapers, free African American urban communities, and prominent supporters of emigration of free blacks saw benefits from establishing formal diplomatic relations with Haiti, as well as a cheaper option for ridding the US of the free black population, which experienced significant obstacles in the antebellum US.
Ultimately a failure (2/3 of the estimated 6000 African Americans returned to the US), the movement nonetheless demonstrates two noteworthy trends of 19th century Haiti: black nationalism identifying with Haiti as a source of pride or dignity, including subsequent migration waves, and Haiti’s unique struggle in the 19th century world system of international relations. As Fanning illustrates so well, many of the families who came to Haiti struggled, faced a drought, too many came to Port-au-Prince directly instead of the dispersal Boyer envisioned, and expenses crushed the aspirations and hopes of most of the African Americans.
Unfortunately, Fanning does not extend analysis for a comparison with later African American migration for change or continuity in African American motives for leaving the US or policy differences between Boyer and Geffrard, for instance, but Caribbean Crossing: African Americans and the Haitian Emigration Movement is a thorough examination of an important early moment in US-Haiti relations.
To be sure, Laclau and Mouffe [in their ‘negation of socialist totality’ theory] are correct that the 'disappearance of private ownership of the means of production’ does not automatically 'set up a chain of effects’ that would 'lead to the extinction of all forms of subordination.’ But only the crudest of economic determinists would make such a claim – which removes human agency from the equation. Marx himself, as shown earlier, takes a much more nuanced approach. Dismantling capitalist social relations will not automatically liberate women but will create the material possibility for achieving women’s liberation, which requires further struggle. This is certainly the lesson of the postrevolutionary struggles against women’s oppression undertaken by the leaders of the Russian Revolution.
The shift we are dealing with here is the key dialectical shift—the one which is most difficult to grasp for a ‘negative dialectics’ in love with explosions of negativity, with all imaginable forms of ‘resistance’ and ‘subversion,’ but unable to overcome its own parasitizing on the preceding positive order—from the wild dance of the liberation from the (oppressive) System to (what German Idealists called) the System of Liberty. Two examples from revolutionary politics should suffice here: it is easy to fall in love with the multitude of freethinkers who blossomed in the prerevolutionary France of the late eighteenth century, from libertarians debating in the salons, enjoying the paradoxes of their own inconsistencies, to pathetic artists amusing those in power with their own protests against power; it is much more difficult fully to endorse the reversal of this unrest into the harsh new Order of the revolutionary Terror. Similarly, it is easy to fall in love with the crazy creative unrest of the first years after the October Revolution, with suprematists, futurists, constructivists, and so on, competing for primacy in revolutionary fervor; it is much more difficult to recognize in the horrors of the forced collectivization of the late 1920s the attempt to translate this revolutionary fervor into a new positive social order. There is nothing ethically more disgusting than revolutionary Beautiful Souls who refuse to recognize, in the Cross of the postrevolutionary present, the truth of their own flowering dreams about freedom.