Guns – weapons or tools? Pointed which way?
Part 5: Haitian Revolution defeated colonial armies
Under capitalism, guns — like other weapons technology — are commodities produced by workers hired as wage laborers in the military-industrial complex, in an arms race driven by the relentless pursuit of profit.
Karl Marx described the twin features that commodities share as products of labor under capitalism. They must have a use — meet a need. And they must be exchangeable based on their value — which is determined by the average socially necessary labor time to make them.
When it comes to use value, guns and other high-tech weaponry are distinctly different from other commodities.
The “use value” of guns depends on, as the U.S. working-class union anthem demands: Which side are you on?
Just one economic class — the 1% — profits, quite handsomely, from the large-scale production and exchange of guns as commodities, and from competition to develop increasingly advanced high-tech weaponry.
The late Sam Marcy — a leading Marxist thinker in the post-WWII epoch, and a founder of Workers World Party — offered a historical materialist, revolutionary perspective on the use of force in the class struggle.
“Military commodities,” he wrote in the aftermath of the first Gulf War, “are commodities sui generis (of a peculiar kind). They are not produced to be sold on the open market. Most of the time, their fulfillment as commodities is realized through sale by a prearranged contract where the government is the sole customer.”
“The military-industrial complex has produced more weapons than can ever be used,” Marcy continued. “They must be constantly updated, and the government has to pay the cost of obsolescence. This pumping up of the military budget is the product of a phase of capitalist overproduction which can’t go on endlessly.” (workers.org, April 25, 1991)
‘Shock and awe’ weapons
to exploit, oppress
From the economic and social class standpoint of the 1%, its arsenal of high-tech weapons of mass destruction is only “useful” when it is deployed in an overwhelming blitzkrieg of violence for domination, exploitation and globalization.
The 1% — more accurately the .001% — could not exploit the world’s majority for profit without a monopoly on the most advanced high-tech weapons of mass destruction, backed up by overpowering police and military force.
The law of the 1%, dictated by its economic class interests, legally sanctions the use of police and military weaponry to massacre workers and oppressed peoples who dare defy its imperial class dictates. When the 1% wages wars for profit, it sends the oppressed and impoverished to kill each other.
Military commodities don’t feed or house or clothe workers. Weapons don’t build schools, hospitals and recreation centers. Instead, these weapons are unleashed for the widespread military destruction of commodities that do have use value. Weapons violently raze the socially built apparatus of production — manufacture, storage, distribution, transportation, communications, infrastructure.
In his article entitled, “Marxism and insurrection,” Marcy pointed out, “There was a time when it was hoped that the mere development of technical and industrial progress, the increase in mechanization and automation, would contribute to the well-being of the masses.”
He continued, “The truth is that the development of higher and more sophisticated technology under capitalism doesn’t contribute to the welfare of the masses but, on the contrary, throws them into greater misery.”
The problem is not technology. The problem is the private capitalist ownership of the socially built apparatus of production, and the fact that it is run for profit to make fortunes for the 1%, not to meet the needs and wants of the 99 percent.
Marcy elaborated that under this restraint of capitalist productive relations, “Technology everywhere displaces labor, reducing the number of personnel. The growth of technology, particularly sophisticated high technology, has reduced the number of workers employed in industry as well as in the services. The introduction of labor-saving devices and methods has dramatically reduced the number of workers in all fields.
“But the opposite trend prevails in the police forces,” he contrasted. “This is an absolutely incontestable fact.
“The trend is quite the contrary: to increase the forces of repression. Their growth is geared to the growth of national antagonisms, the growth of racism, and the bourgeoisie’s general anti-labor offensive.”
And, Marcy stressed, “Does not the bourgeoisie, once it has tamed the proletariat at home, use force and violence through its vast military armada to more efficiently exploit and suppress the many underdeveloped nations throughout the world?” (workers.org, May 14, 1992)
Haitian Revolution: First successful
military defeat of slavocracy
C.L.R. James offered a detailed historical overview of colonial violence against Haitians in his classic book, “The Black Jacobins.” The title refers to the revolutionary Jacobin wing of the 1789 capitalist French Revolution.
James writes, “The Spaniards … annexed the island, called it Hispaniola … introduced forced labor in mines, murder, rape, bloodhounds, strange diseases, and artificial famine (by the destruction of cultivation to starve the rebellious).”
The revolutionary historian, scholar and activist recorded that this systematic oppressor violence, “reduced the native population from an estimated half-a-million, perhaps a million, to 60,000 in 15 years.”
French colonialists also superexploited Haitians as enslaved laborers, arrogantly referring to the people, their labor and land as a colonial “possession” by law — the “pearl of the Antilles.”
Without weaponry, the slavocracy could not have enslaved the Haitian population in the colonial plantation system.
The same guns that had been used to oppress and exploit enslaved Haitian laborers, however, became tools in the hands of those who self-emancipated by fighting for freedom.
Armed with weapons and organized to fight in its own national and class interests, the Haitian Revolution militarily defeated the armies of the colonial slavocracy.
Mumia Abu-Jamal wrote from behind U.S. prison walls, “The slaves’ struggle produced heroic leaders, especially Toussaint L’Ouverture. He and his revolutionary army of self-emancipated slaves defeated the three great empires of the eighteenth century — Spain, England, and France — and finally won independence after a decade of struggle in 1804.”
Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the Pan-African News Wire and contributing editor to Workers World newspaper, explained, “Haiti became the first successful slave revolution in history, which led to the establishment of the first Black Republic during the period of slavery and colonialism.” (workers.org, March 18, 2009)
G. Dunkel, also a Workers World contributing editor, stated at a Jan. 29, 2010, Workers World Forum in New York City, “After 1804, Haiti had a peasantry with some access to weapons. These peasants were confronting big landlords, called grandons, and the merchants and traders, a nascent bourgeoisie, in the cities.” (workers.org, Feb 3, 2010)
But the North American 1% closed ranks with capitalist colonial competitors to form an alliance of exploiting classes to wage a war of economic force and military violence against Haiti’s right to sovereignty and self-determination.
The late Pat Chin, a contributing writer for the book, “Haiti: A Slave Revolution,” explained, “The first U.S. foreign aid — by slave owners George Washington and Thomas Jefferson — went to help the French suppress the Haitian revolution. The first U.S. sanctions ever were leveled against the new Haitian state.” (workers.org, March 4, 2004)
Dunkel noted, “From 1804 to 1862, the U.S. enforced a diplomatic and trade embargo against Haiti. From 1915 to 1934, a U.S. military occupation tried to mold Haiti into a profitable neocolony.” (workers.org, Jul 31, 2010)
Dunkel stressed that the embargo gave U.S. merchants the power to dictate terms of trade with the island nation, establishing a neocolonial relationship. (workers.org, Oct. 16, 2003)
“This extortion was a major burden on Haiti’s economy,” Dunkel explained. “Haiti had to borrow the money to pay France from private French, British and American banks, and didn’t finish paying all these loans off until 1947.” (workers.org, Feb 3, 2010)
Yet Haitians continued to resist.
Haitian Revolution: continued resistance
“The U.S. has intervened on numerous occasions in the country,” Azikiwe pointed out, “including the 1915-34 occupation that was resisted vigorously by the Haitian masses.”
Dunkel summarized, “All four U.S. invasions — 1915-34, 1994, 2004 and 2010 — were justified with so-called humanitarian reasons and allegedly designed to promote ‘stability,’ which is another name for U.S. interests.”
The Fight Imperialism-Stand Together youth group underscored in their statement that this U.S. military occupation, “destroyed the Haitian constitution and established the armed forces that would later be dismantled by the first democratically elected president of Haiti in 1990, President Aristide, because of its ties to the Haitian ruling elite.” (workers.org, Jan 14, 2010)
FIST also noted that the U.S. “supported the brutal regimes of Francois ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier and his son Jean-Claude ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier. Tens of thousands were killed under the twin repressive regimes, mostly by the paramilitary Tonton Macoutes.
FIST stated, “When the people of Haiti were able to force out Baby Doc through a mass struggle, another repressive military regime took over from 1987,” until the election, by two-thirds of the electorate, of mass leader Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
Azikiwe stressed that the U.S., France and the imperialist-dominated United Nations forces were the “entities that were responsible for the removal of the Aristide government on Feb. 29, 2004. Thousands of U.S. troops landed inside the country, kidnapped President Aristide and sent him to the Central African Republic.”
The popular demand in Haiti for the return of Aristide could not be suppressed, and sparked international anger. “In 2004,” Azikiwe reported, “it was only the worldwide outrage at the kidnapping of Aristide and the intervention of the International Action Center along with Congressperson Maxine Waters that brought about the release of the Haitian president.”
The Haitian Revolution is a powerful historic example of how the dead labor embodied in guns and other technological weapons — used by the capitalist 1% to enslave living labor — comes alive as a useful tool in the hands the oppressed and exploited when they organize to take up arms for defense and liberation.
Resistance is as old as oppressions, and the exploitation they serve.
When the violent dictatorship of the 1% over the 99 percent has finally been historically overturned around the globe, capitalism’s hard-wired profit motive will no longer generate mass production of increasingly advanced weaponry.
When the terror of counterrevolutionary violence no longer remains — and when people can contribute their labor to society, as they are able, and receive from society what they need and want — then guns and other weapons will have no use as tools for defense.
High-tech ploughshares will be socially necessary, not swords, shields or assault rifles.