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This article analyzes the depiction of contact and revolutionary politics in Jacques Roumain's Gouverneurs de la rose (1944). While this novel is often interpreted as participating in a narrow cultural nationalism, I show the ways that Roumain, in fact, represents a liberatory internationalism that connects the demands of Haiti's rural populace to the larger context of the Marxist-influenced decolonization struggles of the World War Two era. Revisiting the more political aspects of Edouard Glissant's theories of creolization and revealing their similarities to another recent analysis of "global modernity" and proletarian internationalism, I argue that Roumain's novel could be seen as corresponding with rather than opposing current notions of hybridity and cultural heterogeneity in the Caribbean. I thus analyze the novel's main character, a migrant sugarcane cutter, as a figure of creolization that grounds cultural creolization in the economics of one specific moment of US imperialism in the Caribbean.
While the political decolonization of Africa and Asia does not take place on a grand scale until the post-World War Two era, the process of cultural decolonization begins much earlier, at least with the modernist black cultural movements of the teens, twenties, and thirties. The Harlem Renaissance, Caribbean and African negritude, and Haitian indigenisme all resisted the violent epistemologies and economics of Western colonialism by revalorizing African culture and history, and in many cases by engaging in pan-Africanist and transnational political movements aimed at imagining new forms of black self-determination. Despite a racial essentialism that many now perceive as unpalatable, these black modernist movements provided early examples of anticolonial poetics and politics that put pressure on Western definitions of modernity by insisting on modernity's complicity with colonialism, racial genocide, and modes of enslavement. (1) In this respect, black modernism can be categorized as what Paul Gilroy, following Zygmunt Bauman, has called "a distinctive counterculture of modernity" (36) that exists both "inside and outside the West" (30).
Given their anticolonial politics and cosmopolitan international orientation, it is no surprise that many of the writers associated with the various black modernist movements, at one time or another aligned themselves with communism, one of the few political ideologies of the era to foreground the question of international black liberation. As Michelle Stephens has argued in her discussion of the Harlem Renaissance and black transnationalism, in the wake of the League of Nations' refusal to grant independent national status to the African colonies, Third International Communism and radical socialism in general offered West Indian intellectuals models of liberation that were transnational, global, and pan-Africanist in their orientation, important alternatives to the European construction of the nation-state with its imperial designs (598). (2) Indeed, in the 1930s and '40s, the Communist Third International placed heavy emphasis on the national liberation of the colonies and neocolonies of Africa, Asia, and the Americas as the first step toward worldwide working class revolution. Participating in what Gilroy has termed a "politics of fulfillment" (37), Aime Cesaire, Richard Wright, C. L. R. James, and later Frantz Fanon (3) all saw in communism a genuine universalism that insisted that modernity make good on its philosophical premises and promises. (4) As Cesaire wrote in Pourquoi je suis communiste (1946), "in a world not yet cured of racism, where the fierce exploitation of colonial populations still persists, the communist party embodies the will to work effectively for the coming of the only social and political order we can accept-- ... founded on the right of all men to dignity without regard to origin, religion, or color" (qtd. and trans, in Arnold 174).
In the Haitian literary tradition, Jacques Roumain is the writer most emblematic of the engaged cosmopolitanism of these modern black countercultures. A poet, novelist, and essayist, Roumain once wrote, in typical modernist internationalist fashion, that "au XXe siecle [...] on est un citoyen du monde" 'in the twentieth century [...] one is a citizen of the world' (RI 103; trans, mine). He was one of the leaders of the nationalist movement in Haiti against the US occupation (1915-34), and he founded the Haitian Communist party in 1934. Roumain was a close associate of fellow Marxists Langston Hughes and the Cuban poet Nicolas Guillen; he studied anthropology in Belgium and in Paris, established the Haitian Bureau d'ethnologie, and in the 1930s wrote militant journalism denouncing fascism and in support of the Spanish revolutionaries. His most renowned work, Gouverneurs de la rosee (1944), a Marxian treatment of a rural Haitian village, has been translated into several languages, including a celebrated English translation by Hughes and Mercer Cook.
Gouverneurs de la rosee is considered a masterpiece of Haitian indigenisme, (5) negritude, and international modernism. It has been extolled by critics for its realism, its literary language--a kreyolized French that captures the rhythm of Haitian popular speech-and its mythopoetic imagery. (6) In their discussions of the novel's Marxism, however, critics have often demonstrated a marked ambivalence. While there exist a number of studies sympathetic to the Marxist elements of Gouverneurs de la rosee (usually published outside the US and prior to the 1990s), (7) critics have most often viewed this aspect of Roumain's novel, as well as the Marxism of other Haitian novels of the period, as programmatic, lacking in realism, and incompatible with the individual artistic vision. In this vein, in 1956 Edmond Wilson wrote the most scathing indictment of Gouverneurs de la rosee, calling it "the inevitable Communist novel that is turned out in every country in compliance with the Kremlin's prescription" (116). Similarly, Carolyn Fowler wrote several years later that the novel's ideological "editorializing" tended to distract from its "archetypal" themes (237-38). (8)
More recently, analyses of the ways that Marxism tarots Gouverneurs de la rosee's aesthetic quality have been superseded by discussion of the novel's textual politics. Both Michael Dash and Joan Dayan argue that Gouverneurs de la rosee's revolutionary socialism functions to totalize and contain a more complex and multifaceted Caribbean reality. Seen variously as hybrid and indeterminate, or specific and local, Caribbean reality, according to these critics, is not reducible to the kind of grand salvational narrative imagined by Roumain. Dash, in particular, places Roumain along-side Frantz Fanon and Aime Cesaire as initiators of a form of Caribbean modernism in which emancipatory, revolutionary impulses and fantasies of pure mythic pasts mark a break with an earlier more cosmopolitan and future-oriented approach to the modern. So problematic does Dash find Gouverneurs de la rosee's Marxian politics and its "totalizing" representation of history and development that it is the primary example in a section of his book subtitled "The Totalitarian Temptation." Yet Marxism is precisely the discourse that lends a cosmopolitan political orientation to Roumain's novel. Gouverneurs de la rosee's protagonist Manuel is a viejo, or migrant sugarcane cutter, a displaced peasant who travels from Haiti to a US-owned sugar plantation in Cuba and back again. The deplorable conditions of the cane plantation lead to worker revolt, a labor strike designated in the novel by the Spanish term huelga, the local expression of a larger internationalist movement. In Cuba, the viejo makes contact with the knowledges and political practices created out of international resistance to the colonial and neocolonial projects of the World War Two era:
[Dans] les commencements a Cuba, on etait sans defense et sans resistance; celuici se croyait blanc, celui-la etait negre et il y avait pas mal de mesentente entre nous: on etait eparpille comme du sable et les patrons marchaient sur ce sable. Mais lorsque nous avons reconnu que nous etions tous pareils, lorsque nous nous sommes rassembles pour la huelga ... [...] --Tu vois, c'est la plus grande chose au monde que tous les hommes sont freres, qu'ils ont le meme poids dans la balance de la misere et de l'injustice. (88-89) "At first, in Cuba, we had no defense and no way of resistance. One person thought himself white, another was a Negro, and there were plenty of misunderstandings among us. [...] But when we realized that we were all alike, when we got together for the huelga ..." [...] "You see, the greatest thing in the world is that all men are brothers, each weighs the same on the scales of poverty and injustice. (Hughes 89-91) (9)
The operations of capital have thrown the migrant workers together on the cane plantation, a crucible of the world system that provides the ground for the imagining of global solidarity. Armed with this "worldly" experience, Manuel returns to Haiti and reminds the local peasants of their own connection to a world context, not merely as producers, but as global actors, participants in processes of communication, contact, and exchange. The social type of the viejo thus provides Roumain with a narrative figure for the positive and negative effects that derive from Haiti's new and yet familiar role in a global economy increasingly dominated by US hegemony.
In Gouverneurs de la rosee, Roumain also contextualizes the socialist decolonization movements of the mid-twentieth century in the long history of resistance to capitalist modernity that begins with the Haitian Revolution. For the representation of coerced labor on the Cuban cane plantation in Gouverneurs de la rosee cannot not resuscitate the memory of slavery and slave uprising in colonial St. Domingue. (10) Roumain's depiction of the viejo embodies this particular history of modernity: reperforming the labor and resistance of his ancestors, the St. Domingue slaves, the figure of the viejo, with his demands for equality and freedom, suggests that slavery, labor struggle, and slave revolution are at the center-and not on the margins--of the struggles of "enlightened" modernity. Indeed, the moment, according to Edouard Glissant, that marks the Caribbean's "irruption dans la modernite" (DA 255) "irruption into modernity" (146), (11) the Haitian Revolution witnessed those left out of the Enlightenment project demanding their right to the universalist ideals of egalite, and liberte. C. L. R. James and more recently Michel-Rolph Trouillot and Susan Buck-Morss thus single out the Haitian revolution as a watershed event in which modernity as a global political, philosophical, and economic project met its most significant challenges. (12) As Buck-Morss writes, revolutionary St. Domingue "[gave] proof that the French Revolution was not simply a European phenomenon but world-historical in its implications" (836). Black slaves in Haiti, periodically rebelling since the inception of the slave trade, could not be prevented from appropriating French …