Free and French in the Caribbean: Toussaint Louverture, Aimé Césaire, and Narratives of Loyal Opposition

By John Patrick Walsh | Go to book overview

5 Césaire reads Toussaint
The Haitian Revolution and the Problem
of Departmentalization

THE CENTRAL CLAIM of Part I is that Toussaint transformed the relationship between Saint-Domingue and France, especially in the consolidation of his agency, understood both in terms of literacy and political skill. The core argument that I develop in Part II is that his vision for the future for Saint-Domingue was passed on to Césaire, who, shuttling between Martinique and France, contemplated the interstices of colonial past and departmental future. In the space of the French Caribbean, both men, though separated by some 150 years, battled the obdurate forces of French colonialism and the specter of slavery. Educated in the school of French republicanism, both men were apprenticed to the language of liberty, equality, and fraternity; in return, both men inscribed lessons that erstwhile masters failed to translate. While Toussaint and Césaire share the mantle of anticolonial struggle, their stances, and the ambiguities of these positions, differed significantly. Toussaint was a leader of rebel slaves, a supreme military tactician who defeated European armies, and a skilled administrator, yet some of his policies, particularly those related to agriculture, were a continuation of French colonial methods. Césaire’s anticolonial voice first rang out in the pages of L’Étudiant noir and in the epic Cahier d’un retour au pays natal, but his subsequent political decisions, most notably the project of departmentalization, compromised his anticolonial legend.

Throughout Part I, I argued that Toussaint walked a fine line between autonomy and assimilation, and read in his writings a less binary history of the Haitian Revolution. Similarly, Césaire’s texts defy the more simplistic understanding of

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