Scholarly study of 20th century Haiti clusters around the American Occupation (1915-1934) and the regimes of François Duvalier (1957-1971) and Jean-Claude Duvalier (1971-1986). In contrast, Matthew J. Smith convincingly argues that the years between these two eras is a key period in Haitian history and a central feature of Haiti's transition to the era of the Duvaliers. Radical opposition movements, he contends, were prominent and influential during these decades and shaped the direction of Haitian governance in important and lasting ways. Smith skillfully analyzes the intersection of class and color in the opposition movements and highlights the complexity of the relationships between the milat elite, the black middle class, and the masses. Furthermore, he examines the many and diverse ways that informal American intervention influenced both the opposition movements and the state's reaction to them.
Smith's chronological approach traces the changing movements in the context of international events such as WWII and the Cold War. He constructs his narrative from previously unstudied Haitian and American sources including official and personal correspondence, political writing, personal interviews, and popular music to document the rise and decline of a vocal and energetic leftist opposition before 1957. [End Page 1252]
Two broad divisions characterized Haiti's opposition movements: one based on class and one based on color. Marxist opposition, led early on by Jacques Roumain and Max Hudicourt, argued that class hierarchy caused inequality in Haiti; they posited that color conflict simply masked deeper issues. In contrast, noiriste thinkers, led initially by the Griots, a group formed in the early 1930s by Lorimer Denis, Louis Diaquoi, and François Duvalier, argued that the milat elite oppressed the masses through mimicry of French culture. They clamored for recognition of the psychological and biological specificity of people of African descent. However, Smith shows why neither characteristic can fully explain the socio-economic divide in 20th century Haiti and why class and color hierarchies were inextricably intertwined.
Smith begins his account with the American désoccupation. He highlights how the departure of the US Marines stimulated nationalist fervor and brought together diverse groups in a "rare opportunity for lasting political change" (2). Haiti's first post-occupation president, Stenio Vincent, received criticism from an optimistic and then disillusioned political left. Government reaction to the fear of communist incursions, Smith notes, led to the arrest and exile of many Marxist leaders. Radicals further vilified Vincent after his disastrous handling of the 1937 massacre of Haitians along the Dominican border. Vincent focused his attention on the capital and put forth an ambivalent reaction to the bloodshed in the borderlands. Combined with the intense repression by the Garde D'Haiti and pro-American policies, Vincent's feeble response to the violence discredited the nationalist rhetoric that had put him in power and it radicalized opposition voices.
Smith identifies a key transition that took place under the Elie Lescot regime (1941-1946): an expansion of the socialist movement and the spread of black consciousness among the masses. Smith creatively approaches the intersection of political voice and popular music, contending that this new means of political activism attracted greater numbers to the noiriste ideology. Using music as a political vehicle and the expansion of radio broadcasting as their means, black Haitians created space to promote and valorize Haitian culture over French culture. Though not a serious challenge to milat rule, this movement promoted racial pride and reformed public Haitian identity. According to Smith, labor leader Daniel Fignolé, an energetic black nationalist, launched a more direct intellectual attack on the government claiming that color conflict caused the social inequalities in Haiti.
At the same time that the radical opposition became more vocal, discontent with the Haitian government was exacerbated by the intrusive and ultimately disastrous economic agreement with the United States that formed the Societé Haitiano-Americaine de Développement Agricole (SHADA). Lescot hoped that this agreement would promote Haiti's reputation abroad and publicly demonstrate support for the allied war...