FARMING PROLETARIAT AND RURAL SERVITUDE
The advanced and general rotting of all the Haitian social structures and the atrocious misery of the popular masses imposes an analysis of the present conjuncture which rigourously takes into account the weight of the past. In this, the agrarian question holds a central place.
Indeed, straight after the independance, the land distribution and the severe repression which was exerced against the poor peasants answered practically onl to the demands of the new ruling classes. The latter threw the bases for an economic system characterized on one hand, by the archaism of its principally agrarian relations of production ("two-halves" sharecropping) and on the other, the distorsions inherent to dependant capitalism (import-export). Even though the years going from 1870 to 1910 would witness the taking off of the national industry and the emergence of an industrial bourgeoisie, the pre-capitalist structures' resistance and the hateful struggle between the ruling classes never allowed the bourgeoisie to triumph, the pre-capitalist sector being already without an articulated social project but still profoundly entrenched in the popular practice.
In 1946 and particularly in 1957, it made a serious comeback. Making of the question of color (calls to "nationalism" and the regrouping of "the class" - black professional petty bourgeoisie) its spearhead, François Duvalier leaned on the large and medium landlords, all the while dreaming of a Puerto-Rico type of development, being himself the product of the american occupation of this country from 1915 to 1934. Duvalierism precisely symbolized and exarcebated this very contradiction.
Today, despite the very great destructuration of the rural milieu and the waves of migration that have followed it, the Haitian countryside continues to live in the time of these archaic and despotic relationships. Liberty of speech and independant associations of farming proletariat and poor peasants are hardly better tolerated than they were under the regime of the Duvaliers.
In St Michel de l'Attalaye in the Artibonite region, for example, cases of arrest and beatings of these social groupes continue to be legion. (Plaints are not even recorded by the Justice and Peace Commission in Gonaives, which claims to be inundated by this type of situation in which the concept of justice is no more than just that: a concept.) In the Central Plateau, similar to factory comittees in the assembly sector, agricultural wage laborers are forced to meet in hiding.
Their struggles, however, are important and basis.
For farming wage-laborers:
- Raising of the 20 gourdes salary presently payed, respect of the national minimum wage of 36 gourdes;
- Respect for the 8 hour work day, once again, according to the law. Ceasing of 5:00 am to 6:00 pm long days or else correct payment of all extra hours
- Decent meals during work hours and cool water for drinking
- Respect for workers, end to the yelling and humiliations
- Health centers and schools
- Freedom of association, meeting and speech.
For the Poor Peasants:
- Lowering of prices of the basic farming tools which have all at least tripled since the coup d'Etat (large hoes from $12 to 40, small hoes from 6 to $25, machetes from 4 to 12, picks from 5 to 20, axes from 7 to 25, saws from 60 to $200!!)
- Lowering of prices of seeds which have all also doubled or tripled since this same period (5 pounds of beans cost $12 instead of 5, corn and millet $4 instead of $2, peanuts $5 instead of 2).
- Irrigation destined to poor peasants, not only large landlords
- End of usury. The large landlords deliberately lend at rates of 100% in order to empoverish the peasants and in this way rob them of their lands and reduce them to sell their services. Necessity of Agricultural State Banks and judicial sueing of usurers.
- Lowering of Taxes: 419 gourdes tax on a bag of rice payed 550 gourdes - taxes are almost of the order of 100%! The same is true for small cloth and other retailers: on 600 gourdes of merchandise, the direct taxes are about of 500 gourdes. Which demonstrates that it is the people who pay the unpayed taxes of the bourgeoisie. Especially since the use of these taxes is not accountable and generally turned against us.
- Impossible price of building material which reduce one to abject living conditions
- Schools, health centers and roads
- Liberty of association, meeting and speech.
Repression against agricultural workers in Haiti is certainly secular. It sheds light, however, upon the inherent limits of the 1986 democratic movement and, in the framework of the so-called "national reconciliation", its cooptation by the very same traditional ruling classes. From 1986 to 1990, for example, the Centrale Autonome des Travailleurs Haitiens (CATH)'s headquarters were burned and that of Gros Morne riddled with bullets. In Ennery, union meetings were systematically blocked. In Thiottes, pure and simple terrorism: armed with machetes, individuals would penetrate meeting spaces, provoking immediately a forced retreat. Everywhere "section chiefs" continued to impede the holding of free meetings, demanding the authorization of the district commander and sometimes event the physical presence of an authority representative.
Today the "section chiefs" are replaced by the "CASEC" - "Councils for the Administration of Communal Sections"; but since their leading members continue to be called "chiefs" and are, in fact, "section chiefs", in consideration of their origins, positions anc class actions. Poorly payed, so easily bought off, corrupted... but especially of a clear class affiliation and always disposed to be at the service of the large landlords.
Haiti's history is scattered of peasant revolts: that of the South's peasants, directed by Goman, straight after the independance; the "Picket" revolt -"Suffering Army" - directed by Accau and demanding land for those who tilled it, during the 19th century; the Caco fight during the American Occupation headed particularly by Benoit Batraville, a small peasant, but also by Charlemagne Peralte, of the owning feudal class. And, since then, numerous small revolts of which, during the last few years, those of the Jean-Rabel and Milot small peasants, which demonstrate the same will.
All, however, have always been marked by class collaboration between the exploiting and exploited classes of the peasantry, to the detriment, naturally, of the achievement of the fundamental interests of the subjected classes. Within these generally "nationalist" movements, the canonflesh was proletarian, the direction feudal, undermined by the capitalist advance. Thus the assassination of Charlemagne Peralte, for instance, marked the the end of the Caco resistance movement because following that the feudal logistic support dwindled off.
Similarly, at the present time, most of those associations named "peasant" which emerged from the 1986 movement, are marked by this same amalgam. Under the direction of a "democratic" petty-bourgeoisie, often linked to the so-called "progressive" sectors of the Church, these "base groups" have certainly contributed to the emergence of a speech in the "peasant" sector. But at the same time, the twelve years which have gone by have finished demasking the opportunism of the stands they have taken, their tendancy to collaborate with the Sate and NGOs of various tendancies and their profound revulsion to defend the fundamental interests of the workers. Actually what is in question is their nature: that of the middle peasants forming their direction and their basic constituency, undermined by the present distorted development of capitalism, and wishful, before all, to benefit as well of its advances. This explains the limits and the opportunism of their inclination toward the demands of the poor peasantry during the moments of high struggle.
Thanks to this decantation, embryos are presently emerging, already strongly targetted by the repressive forces, of agricultural wage-laborers' and poor peasants' organizations, led by the proletariat's interests. The unceasing attacks of the large landlords, who have the state at their pay, is an unmistakable axis of democratic struggle. But they also have to overcome the isolation of their struggles by linking themselves solidly and on the basis of strict class principles, not only with similar organizations on a national scale but also on the international scale.