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Publication Details

Reference
Depelchin, Jacques  (2004) HAITI 1804 --AS AN EVENT Fidelity to Freedom:
Why has it been so difficult to achieve?. CCS Seminar Series : 1-17.

Summary
In 1989, the French government organized the bi-centenary celebration of the French Revolution. The descendants of Toussaint-L'Ouverture were banned, literally and figuratively, from the celebrations. In 2004, two hundred years after the singular victorious event of 1804, the Haitians and all those who have battled from slavery (and its direct and indirect consequences) continue to be punished, tortured, humiliated simply for either having done or trying to do what people the world are eager to do: freeing themselves from all forms of oppression, be it slavery, colonial rule, Apartheid, prisons of the body and prisons of the spirit.

The dogma in 1789 and before, especially from the dawn of the globalizing-enslavement of African cheap labor was that, slaves (migrant workers, workers, peasants of all colours), could not think and had no clue what freedom meant. The mantra has continued, meticulously maintained, with the most violent means by regimes determined to ensure that the so-called "discovered" ones never step out of their status: submit to might or else. Massacres, holocausts, genocides have been perpetrated on countless people whose only wish was to be free. Trying to compare the incomparable would trivialize, tribalize the terror and suffering borne by people across continents in the past few centuries simply because they refused to submit to emprisonment of the mind and the body in any shape or form.

In the eyes of the slave holders, slave traders, sugar plantation owners, slave speculators and profiteers, what happened in 1804 was so unexpected, so impossible, such a blow to the economic, financial and political hierarchy that the victory of the slaves had to be turned into a never ending, low intensity war against what the slave holders considered sheer insolence, or, worse, a crime: Something which happened against everything that the world of the slave holders considered impossible, improbable, and therefore prohibited. The event of 1804 --slaves freeing themselves-- was perceived as trespassing into a territory considered to be off-limits. Since slaves, deemed less than human, were not supposed to know the value of freedom, any demonstration of the contrary had to be punished as ferociously as possible. In such a way that no one else would dare to venture into a territory which could only be accessible through the goodness of the enslavers' unquestionable immortal, moral superiority.

To many, not all, 1804 is an event which belongs to the sequence which erupted in 1789 in France, and more precisely to the 1792-94 period during which someone like St Just reminded his companions at the Convention that "in monarchies, all powerful men are free and the people are slaves, in a Republic the people are free." 2004 gives us the opportunity of trying, once again, to be faithful to what happened two hundred years ago in a way which gives birth to a new world conscience, a conscience consistent with the prescription of changing the world without taking power (John Holloway, 2002). The challenge with 1792-1794 in France (then again during the Paris Commune in March 1871), and in Haiti since 1804 has been the same. Again, in the words of St Just: "The Revolution moves on, what is needed is institutions", not derived from the State, from society or from so-called experts, but from a public conscience dedicated to finding ways of guaranteeing public freedom. Such institutions would ensure that public safety is not just the safety of the most powerful and the most corrupt. How to make the State equally responsive to all members of the public with regard to all matters, economic, social, political, financial, cultural and religious?

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