The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Slavery:
An Immeasurable Debt

Nov 11, 2013

This article is excerpted from the October 19th, 2013 issue of Combat Ouvrier (Workers Fight), the paper of the revolutionary workers group of that name active in Guadeloupe and Martinique.

The demand by descendants of slaves for reparations from the French government and from other governments that once practiced slavery has resurfaced from time to time, but no agreement of any kind has been reached. An organization called CRAN (Representative Council of France's Black Associations) is calling for financial compensation for slavery, which the Taubira Act of May 10th, 2010, has labeled a crime against humanity.

In fact, reparations have already been paid around the time that slavery was abolished in different countries. However, it was the slave-owners and the slave-trading governments who received enormous compensation, all in exchange for the loss of their land, their slaves, and their ability to get rich through such despicable exploitation.

In 1825, the French government agreed to recognize Haiti’s sovereignty in exchange for 150 million gold francs, a debt that was later brought down to 90 million. The new Republic of Haiti accepted this “deal,” which left the country in debt until 1946 and added to the poverty of the population.

In 1833, the British West Indies compensated 3,000 former slaveholders to the tune of 20 million British pounds, a huge amount at that time.

Likewise, in 1849 the French government compensated French settlers for the liberation of 250,000 slaves in the French West Indies, Guiana, and Réunion Island.

The exploiters have already been generously compensated for having been forced to stop committing the crimes against humanity that they practiced for over three centuries – crimes that allowed influential families and major cities in France and England to grow rich. The former slaves and their descendants, on the other hand, have been granted nothing other than the right to fall into the wage slavery that continues to this day.

In this sense, the demand for reparations advanced by the black associations seems scant compared to the harm that has been done. These associations do not demand real reparations that might make the lives of the poor population easier. For them, the important thing is to remain acceptable in bourgeois society; to obtain funds to establish museums or research projects, and to set up a commission to explain the profits made at the time.

Even if the reparations included financial aid to African countries, which had been emptied of a large part of their populations by the slave trade, or even if they allowed the Antillean nationalist leaders to plan more comfortably for independence, the reparations would do nothing to improve the lives of those who were truly disinherited.

The bourgeoisie of the world owes a colossal debt to the descendants of slaves, as it does to all workers. It owes its wealth to the slave trade, its profits to the blood and the sweat of slaves. This debt is so enormous that it is impossible to put a figure on it. It can in no way be limited to some financial aid, aid the bourgeoisie has no intentions of giving. The only reparation possible for the harm that the descendants of slaves and the poor of the world have suffered is the expropriation of their exploiters.