Slavery

Kino Eye: Queimada - the slaves revolt

Directed in 1969 by the brilliant Gillo Pontecorvo (best known for The Battle of Algiers), Queimada is usually released in the UK under the stupid title Burn! The year is 1844 and British agent Sir William Walker (played by Marlon Brando) helps to instigate a slaves’ revolt against the Portuguese colonial authorities on the (fictional) Caribbean island of Queimada. He aligns himself with the leader of the black slaves, José Dolores (Evaristo Márquez), but his main purpose is to dislodge the Portuguese so that the British colonialists can monopolize the lucrative sugar trade. The revolt is...

Kino Eye: Eisenstein's unmade films about Haiti

A first for Kino Eye — films you can’t see because they were never made! The Soviet director Sergei Eisenstein had always been fascinated with the slaves’ revolt on Haiti. It was one of his lifetime ambitions to make a film about this subject but, unfortunately, none ever materialised. The nearest he came was on an extended trip to the USA and Mexico in 1930. Arriving in Hollywood in May he read Black Majesty: The life of Christophe, King of Haiti, written by John W. Vandercook. Eisenstein wanted the black singer and actor Paul Robeson to play the leading role. However, Paramount Studios, who...

Haitian revolution vs British empire

The French Revolution was a bourgeois revolution, and the basis of bourgeois wealth was the slave trade and slave plantations in the colonies. Though the bourgeoisie traded in other things than slaves, upon the success or failure of the traffic everything else depended. Therefore when the bourgeoisie proclaimed the Rights of Man in general, with necessary reservations, one of these was that these rights should not extend to the French colonies. There was the abolitionist society to which Brissot, Robespierre, Mirabeau, Lafayette, Condorcet, and many such famous men belonged even before 1789...

Statue wars: some should go up

Some people — and by that I mean some Tories — have whipped themselves up into a frenzy over the issue of statues. The pages of newspapers like the Daily Mail and Daily Express are full of “rage” about the statues of Edward Colston in Bristol, or Cecil Rhodes at Oriel College in Oxford. Colston’s statue was toppled and tossed into the water. Rhodes’ statue remains in place, due to the college’s reluctance to take it down. This week protests have taken place in east London demanding the removal of a statue of slave-ship owner Robert Geffrye, which stands outside a museum in Shoreditch. The...

Plutocrat philanthropy and workers' rights

Andrew Forrest is an Australian mining magnate and billionaire who set up a foundation with the seemingly benign purpose to “end modern slavery in our generation”. But as with Bill Gates and his philanthropic foundation, all is not what it seems. In spite of his lobbying for patents and intellectual property, Bill Gates has actually helped some people in the global south get vaccinated. Forrest’s advocacy does very little to alleviate the material conditions which make modern slavery, namely poverty. Within Australia, Forrest’s chief lobbying has been for controls and limits on welfare...

"Modern slavery": grandstanding vs helping workers organise

Emily Kenway is a former adviser to the UK’s first Anti-Slavery Commissioner and the author of The Truth About Modern Slavery (Pluto Press, 2021). She spoke to George Wheeler for Solidarity. (The book is reviewed here.) Can you explain a little of what the book is about, and why you wrote it? The book is about how modern slavery is a particular narrative about exploitation, constructed largely by philanthrocapitalists, anti-sex work activists and anti-migrant politicians. It shows how calling exploitation “modern slavery”, and all that this entails, suggests a moral crusade but undermines the...

John Brown through different eyes

Many in the Abolitionist movement to destroy US slavery were originally pacifists, militantly anti-slavery but hoping to convince slaveowners to abandon the institution. Many of the growing number of black Americans who joined the movement opposed such ideas, and events would severely test even those Abolitionists most committed to non-violence. When the Civil War finally came in 1861, the vast majority backed the Northern war effort. Abolitionist leader John Brown, the subject of recent seven-part TV series The Good Lord Bird, was frankly opposed to non-violence. He devoted himself to...

The Colston four on trial

The Black Lives Matter march in Bristol on 7 June 2020 was one of the biggest and liveliest in the city in years, with 5,000 people. The statue of slave trader Edward Colston was removed from its plinth and thrown into the river. The Crown Prosecution Service has since pressed charges of “criminal damage”, and on 25 January four people faced a hearing at Bristol Magistrates’ court. Five others were given cautions with bizarre conditions. After police pressure — using lockdown laws — organisers of a solidarity demonstration moved it online, with over 150 participating. Swarms of police gathered...

The Black Jacobins: the Haitian revolution against slavery

This is a speech by Dan Davison, a labour activist and sociology PhD student at the University of Cambridge, for a talk on C.L.R. James and the Haitian Revolution held in July 2020. All page references are to C.L.R. James, The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution (London: New edn., Penguin 2001). Video, text, and audio.

The French revolution and black liberation

I’ve never read anything by the French novelist Alexandre Dumas. I might now, after reading the remarkable story of his father in Tom Reiss’ remarkable book, Black Count. I didn’t know that Dumas the novelist was mixed-race. His father, Thomas-Alexandre Dumas Davy de la Pailleterie, was born in the French colony of Saint-Domingue (today’s Haiti), the son of a French nobleman and a black woman he owned as a slave. Eventually also known as just Alexandre or Alex Dumas, he became a top general in the French revolution - not in Haiti, but in Europe. He was the highest-ranking black officer in a...

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