The Haitian Revolution, on the same stage as the American revolution and the French revolution, was the first revolution in the Western world to abolish slavery, and this field of study of Haitian Revolution has just come to the public horizon. This Monday in our STS series sponsored by Colby Humanities and Arts, history Professor Jeremy D. Popkin from University of Kentucky presented Haitian Revolution to us from a completely new perspective.
Haitian Revolution is truly remarkable in its own ways. It is the only slavery rebellion that actually succeeded in modern history. Referring back to my sociology class from freshman year, the Bacon rebellion in the US only resulted in worsened treatment of the slaves; therefore the Haitian Revolution was a defining period for racial relationships in the Western world.
Similar to other social movements, the Haitian Revolution was built during a time demanding changes: social stratification, slavery suppressions, regional conflicts, and the divide between nationalism and globalization, at the time mostly taking form of colonization.
Sparked by the influence of Enlightenment ideals and the societal changes in France, the Haitians had no help but their own and successfully carried the revolution through, regenerating a lasting impact that fed into later slavery abolishment revolutions.
However, the Haitian Revolution, despite its lasting changes, was never pretty. Thousands were killed during the rebellion while a massacre was carried out against the remaining white population. Now, in hindsight, many people critiqued the violence element of the revolution while acknowledging what the revolution has accomplished. However, given the circumstances the revolution probably could not have been more successful and less brutal.
In terms of brutality, every revolution almost certainly comes with bloodshed. The Chinese civil war, a revolution that transformed China from capitalism to communism, sacrificed tens of millions of people solely on the march that trekked through half of China. The American Revolution; however, saw much less bloodshed with a death toll of thousands. The English revolution was completed without even beheading a king. What made the difference?
I personally speculate that the brutality is dependent on the previous political infrastructure, and how much non-violent power a citizen has. In China, where the political voice of the common people was not represented, the only way to push for a revolution was through violence and battles. In the US, however, though the divide was so great and forces must be used to reconcile the difference, an ordinary citizen could express their opinion through a vote, rather than through the burrow of a gun. In England, the revolution was hardly a populous one and the transformation of power was completed at the top, when the mass was not mobilized.
However, all the revolutions aforementioned transformed the nation one step closer to democracy. Given different circumstances, the brutality pattern might not follow at all; and in light of Aleppo we must continue to figure out how to fight a social battle instead of a violent one.