Workers Vanguard No. 1131
6 April 2018
French Colonial Massacre in Guadeloupe
The following article is translated from le Bolchévik No. 222 (December 2017), newspaper of our comrades of the Ligue trotskyste de France, section of the International Communist League.
The year 2017 marked the 50th anniversary of “Mé 67” (May ’67 in Creole), when on 26-28 May 1967 many Guadeloupeans were massacred in [the Caribbean island’s largest city] Pointe-à-Pitre and its outskirts by the French colonial state. The brutal repression of a construction workers demonstration, against a backdrop of racial oppression and the rise of radical nationalism, unleashed a series of racist manhunts in and around the capital. For nearly 20 years the official count of those shot and beaten to death by the riot police stood at eight. Then in March 1985, a representative of [French president François] Mitterrand’s government admitted that 87 people had been killed. For 50 years, the French government has maintained a veil of secrecy over the killings it perpetrated, as it did regarding the Algerian demonstrators murdered by the police in Paris on 17 October 1961.
The unbridled violence of the May 1967 repression in Guadeloupe was the result of an explosive situation combining a workers mobilization with nationalist militancy, striking fear in the bourgeoisie that an insurrection would drive out French imperialism. The repression reflected French imperialism’s determination to hang on to the last remnants of its colonial empire after its crushing defeats in Indochina and Algeria—defeats that encouraged national liberation movements throughout the world. In the French Caribbean, the Gaullist regime then in power in France feared the “contagion” of the 1959 Cuban Revolution, which had in particular inspired the creation of the GONG (National Organization Group of Guadeloupe), a pro-Mao, pro-Castro national liberation organization. Indeed, the first casualty of the May 1967 events was a GONG member, Jacques Nestor, who was shot by a police sniper.
Fifty years after May 1967, French imperialism continues to maintain its overseas possessions under the colonial jackboot because these territories remain international power bases and strategic military positions. At the same time, France is stepping up its bloody repression in the name of the “war on terror,” mounting murderous military expeditions to Syria, Iraq and the Sahel region south of the Sahara. French military bases, troops, cops and judges out of Guadeloupe and the other colonies! French troops out of Africa and the Near East!
Colonialism is a daily reality that means negation of national and cultural rights, underdevelopment, racist discrimination and contempt. These are reflected in all official statistics. According to the French national statistics bureau, the rate of unemployment is two or three times higher in the colonies than in “metropolitan France.” In Guadeloupe the Gross Domestic Product per person is over a third less than in France. Food products are much more expensive there because of the cost of importing them from France and the exorbitant profit margins of the big retailers. These businesses are owned by the békés, the descendants of the former slaveholding white plantation owners.
Black Guadeloupeans have French citizenship, but in fact they remain second-class citizens. In 2016, the proportion of young people with major reading difficulties reached 32 percent in Guadeloupe, as against around 10 percent in France. This is directly linked to the privileged status of the French language in education. Article Two of the Constitution of the French Fifth Republic stipulates that “the language of the Republic is French” and thus only one official language exists in France. All other languages spoken in the “one and indivisible” republic are relegated, at best, to the status of “regional languages” (Basque, Corsican, Catalan, Breton, Alsatian, the various creole languages).
The majority of the population of Guadeloupe speaks two languages, French and Guadeloupean Creole, but a full education is only available in French. Creole was only integrated into the national education system in 2001, and only in schools in which teachers had undergone supplementary training to teach it. Thus Guadeloupean Creole is considered a “foreign” language, taught optionally alongside other languages like English, Spanish or German. For the right of Guadeloupeans to receive education in their own language, from nursery school to university! No privileges for French!
For the Right to Independence for Guadeloupe!
The position of genuine Marxists has always been to fight for the liberation of oppressed nations and peoples. This battle, which is an integral part of the revolutionary struggle for the emancipation of the proletariat, can serve as a motor force for that struggle. For us fighting here in the “belly of the beast” of French imperialism, this fight is posed with special urgency, as was emphasized by the eighth of the “21 Conditions” of membership in the Communist International of Lenin and Trotsky, adopted in July 1920:
“In countries whose bourgeoisies possess colonies and oppress other nations, it is necessary that the parties have an especially clear and well-defined position on the question of colonies and oppressed nations. Every party wishing to belong to the Communist International is obligated to expose the tricks of ‘its own’ imperialists in the colonies, to support every liberation movement in the colonies not only in words but in deeds, to demand that the imperialists of its country be driven out of these colonies, to instill in the hearts of the workers of its country a truly fraternal attitude toward the laboring people in the colonies and toward the oppressed nations, and to conduct systematic agitation among its country’s troops against all oppression of colonial peoples.”
Thus, we are in favor of independence for all the colonies of French imperialism. However, we also take into account the ambivalent attitude of the Guadeloupean population regarding independence: we are not for imposing independence on them if they do not want it. This is why we call for the right to independence for the Guadeloupean people—that is, their right to choose whether or not they want to separate from France and form an independent state.
In Guadeloupe itself, our central perspective is the fight for working-class power. The overthrow of capitalism on the island would be a powerful leaven for class struggle throughout the Caribbean and beyond—particularly in France, where there are hundreds of thousands of workers from the French Caribbean. If the workers took power in France, they would grant immediate independence to Guadeloupe and the other French colonies and would send them massive aid. Down with French imperialism! For a workers republic of Guadeloupe!
However, the Ligue trotskyste de France has over the years actively polemicized against independence for Guadeloupe, using the argument that it could only lead to greater poverty for the masses. In an article on the 1967 massacre published in 1985, we argued that “there will never be any real independence for a bourgeois state in Guadeloupe or Martinique, above all in the ‘American lake’ that is the Caribbean.” We added: “In these small islands, which are deprived of a viable economy, all that the nationalists can offer the masses is poverty” (le Bolchévik No. 57, September 1985). More recently, we wrote in 2009:
“While in France the task of a revolutionary party is to rally the working class to the side of the West Indians in struggle, in Guadeloupe and Martinique the key task is to break the hold of nationalist false consciousness. Under imperialism, nations are not equal and while we defend the right to an independent Guadeloupe under capitalism, independence could only drive the standard of living of the poor further down.”
—le Bolchévik No. 187, March 2009 (reprinted in WV No. 937, 22 May 2009)
We repudiate this chauvinist line that French imperialism is at bottom beneficial (or in one way or another represents a lesser evil) for the peoples it continues to colonize, and that these peoples’ aspirations for national liberation is supposedly “false consciousness” that must be broken down.
The latest issue of Spartacist (English-language edition No. 65, Summer 2017) draws the balance sheet of a struggle waged at the Seventh International Conference of the International Communist League against a longstanding perversion of Leninism on the national question within our party and in our propaganda. As we explain in Spartacist, with such arguments “the liberation of Guadeloupe and Martinique was presented as being dependent on the French labor movement, as though the local workers did not have the strength to fight for their liberation.”
This kind of pseudo-Marxist anti-independence argument in fact has a long history dating back to the beginnings of French imperialist colonialism and the workers movement of this country. Before World War I, in l’Humanité (29 June 1904), edited by [the social democrat] Jean Jaurès, René Viviani, one of Jaurès’ cothinkers, wrote about French Algeria: “I have always thought that the penetration [sic] of this people is France’s duty” and that “to lead it along this road” (of colonial development) “is really a noble endeavor, which is bound to tempt the best among us.”
The Communist International (CI) waged a bitter struggle against the colonial prejudices that continued to infect the young Communist Party. Thus, Trotsky made the main report on the French Question at the Fourth Congress of the CI in 1922, and denounced at length a resolution of the Sidi-bel-Abbès section of the Communist Party in Algeria. That resolution stated: “A victorious rising of the Muslim masses of Algeria that is not preceded by a victorious rising of the proletarian masses of the mother country would necessarily lead in Algeria back to a regime bordering on feudalism, which cannot be the aim of a communist action.” Trotsky replied: “As for us, we cannot tolerate two hours or two minutes from comrades who have the mentality of slaveholders and who wish for Poincaré [head of the French government at the time] to maintain them in enjoying the blessings of capitalist civilization!”
May 1967: Massacre and Colonial Repression
In the early 1960s, Guadeloupe was undergoing a serious economic crisis. The sugarcane industry was collapsing (due to the development of less expensive sugar beets); the banana plantations were just getting started; and tourism was still small. Because of the economy of dependence imposed by France on its colonies, products imported into Guadeloupe cost 50 percent more than in France, weighing heavily on the living standard of the population. Furthermore, like the other Caribbean islands, Guadeloupe was hit very hard by Hurricane Inez in September 1966: 33 dead, hundreds injured and 15,000 left homeless. Half the sugarcane crop and all the banana plantations were destroyed and 25,000 workers were left jobless.
The agricultural workers fired by bankrupt sugar refineries swelled the ranks of the construction workers, a booming industry. In Pointe-à-Pitre, Mayor Henri Bangou, a member of the Guadeloupean Communist Party (PCG), launched a program of public housing to begin to replace the thousands of shacks in which a large part of the population was living. The working conditions imposed by the bosses, whether békés or French, were hard and the wages miserable.
The strike of May 1967 took place against a background of racial tensions exacerbated by the Srnsky Affair. On 20 March 1967, nearly two months before the strike, one Vladimir Srnsky, owner of a shoe store in Basse-Terre [the capital of Guadeloupe], had set his dog upon Raphaël Balzinc, a black handicapped shoemaker whose workbench was on the sidewalk across the street, while hurling racist insults at him. (Srnsky, a notorious Gaullist, had contributed to electoral fraud in the March legislative elections by buying votes with funds officially intended for the victims of Hurricane Inez.) This was all too reminiscent of the hunt for fugitive slaves, and it provoked two days of revolt in the city. Srnsky’s store in Pointe-à-Pitre was the target of an explosive device. The PCG mayor intervened to restore order, and Srnsky had to flee to the United States.
Two months later, on May 24, the construction workers of Pointe-à-Pitre struck for higher wages. Negotiations took place at the Chamber of Commerce on Place de la Victoire, the main square in Pointe-à-Pitre. The construction bosses, all white, did not give an inch. One to two thousand people rallied in front of the Chamber of Commerce on May 26 to show their solidarity with the workers.
Suddenly, a rumor spread that one of the leading bosses had declared: “When the n----rs get hungry, they’ll go back to work.” This sparked an explosion of anger. The first projectiles (stones and large seashells picked up near the port) rained down on the riot police stationed in the surrounding areas. The cops struck back immediately, firing on the crowd. Jacques Nestor fell dead. He had been especially targeted by a police sniper posted on a terrace next door to the police station. At the sniper’s side was Commissioner Canalès, Pointe-à-Pitre’s police chief. Two other demonstrators in the crowd were also killed: Ary Pincemalle (killed by a bullet to the head) and Georges Zadingues Gougougnan. Faced with these atrocities by the guard dogs of French capitalism, Pointe-à-Pitre rose in revolt. Two armories were raided. Youth came out into the street and began to confront the police.
Pierre Bolotte, the prefect of Guadeloupe ([the highest civilian authority on the island and] formerly one of the organizers of the Battle of Algiers), organized the repression along with Jacques Foccart, de Gaulle’s éminence grise. Foccart, the son of a béké mother and a Guadeloupean planter father, was the kingpin of “Françafrique” [the neocolonial system by which France controls its former sub-Saharan colonies]. Bolotte deployed two squadrons of riot police, the “red képis [military caps].” This kicked off a series of police raids that became a wholesale hunt for black people.
On the evening of May 26, the cops and riot police began to systematically “cleanse” the town, neighborhood by neighborhood. Journalists Xavier-Marie Bonnot and Francois-Xavier Guillerm wrote in their book Le Sang des Nègres [The Blood of Negroes]: “From dusk to dawn, anyone who found himself in the streets became a potential target of the military.” Camille Tarret, a father of two, was chased by riot cops, cornered in a back alley and killed in cold blood. At the wake organized at his home that same evening, the “red képis” fired on the house and killed Gilles Landre, who had come to pay his respects to his childhood friend. On the night of Friday, May 26, the hospitals filled up with wounded.
The repression was also aimed at political activists who were in the crosshairs of the colonial power, like Paul Tomiche, a union leader recently expelled from the Communist Party. He turned himself in to the police on June 14 and was imprisoned for ten months.
On Saturday, May 27, a thousand high school students marched toward the sub-prefecture in Pointe-à-Pitre to protest against the previous night’s atrocities. They were violently pushed back by the riot police and another man, Olivier Tidas, was killed. The repression continued in the barracks and police stations.
Following the three-day events in May 1967, the bosses agreed to the demands of the construction workers, who won a 25 percent wage increase. But the government repression continued. Having drowned the Guadeloupe revolt in blood, the state went after the GONG and other anti-colonial militants such as Tomiche, who were accused of instigating the May upheaval, as well as the March upheaval in Basse-Terre.
Guadeloupe CP Justifies Witchhunt Against the GONG
For its part, the Guadeloupean Communist Party condemned the demonstrations against colonial oppression. In an internal letter addressed to the French Communist Party, it denounced “subversive action using violence and terrorism of the purest red guard kind” (see Bonnot and Guillerm’s Le Sang des Nègres). Two months later in France, the Communist Party published an interview with [prominent PCG member] Bangou, in which he said: “These events were an opportunity for some leftist politicians and groupings that simply wanted to create an anti-white movement, to take advantage of a crowd of unemployed youth in the streets.... Thus, leftist groupings used this politically in order to take aim at our party” (l’Humanité, 27 July 1967).
In France, in the decade that followed the split with the social-chauvinists [of the Socialist Party] at the Tours Congress in 1920, the Communist Party implemented the anti-colonial perspective of the eighth of the 21 Conditions. In particular, the French Communist Party (PCF) took up the cause of the Moroccans, who rose up against Spain and then against France during the Rif War.
But in 1935, at the time of the Laval-Stalin agreement [a bilateral treaty between France and the Soviet Union], the PCF rallied to the “national defense” of French imperialism. Having become reformist, the Stalinized PCF thus abandoned the fight for the liberation of the colonies of its “own” bourgeoisie. It began calling for “reforms” of the colonial system. And it opposed the national liberation struggles of peoples enslaved by “democratic France,” sometimes going so far as to actively support colonial repression. Thus, the PCF denounced the Algerians massacred by the French army in [the Algerian town of] Sétif on 8 May 1945, calling them “Hitlerite killers.” Meanwhile, the “Communist” ministers in de Gaulle’s government solidarized with the repression that left thousands dead.
At the end of World War II, the Guadeloupean federation of the PCF also had a line overtly favorable to “assimilation” with France. However, it had some roots in the working class and led some important struggles in the sugarcane fields and sugar processing plants. With the anti-colonial struggles that shook the Third World in the 1950s and ’60s and faced with the fact that the nature of colonial rule had not changed despite “departmentalization” [formal annexation to France](which the Stalinists had supported), the Guadeloupean federation separated from the PCF in 1958. It became the Guadeloupean Communist Party and began calling for “autonomy” for the Guadeloupean people—but always within the framework of the French republic, “one and indivisible.” Moreover, the PCG continued its class collaboration with the colonial state power, particularly at the municipal level. In 1967, there were PCG mayors in the island’s two main cities, Pointe-à-Pitre (Henri Bangou) and Basse-Terre (Gerty Archimède).
The Shadow of the
The 1960s marked a setback for French imperialism, with the collapse of its colonial empire. In 1960, virtually all the French colonies in Africa won their national independence (the Comoros Islands followed in 1975 and Djibouti in 1977). This decolonization culminated with the defeat of the French army in Algeria and Algeria’s independence in 1962. Coming eight years after the crushing of the elite parachutists at Dien Bien Phu by the soldiers of General Giap [in Vietnam], this was another humiliating defeat for French imperialism, which, even today, sticks in the French rulers’ craw. These defeats for French imperialism encouraged national liberation movements throughout the world.
The 1959 Cuban Revolution was another factor. With the expropriation of the Cuban bourgeoisie and the imperialist companies [in 1960-61], it led to the consolidation of a deformed workers state. This social revolution brought gains to the Cuban people, particularly in health and education, that even today remain unmatched in the rest of the Caribbean. As Trotskyists, we are for the unconditional military defense of the Cuban deformed workers state against any attempt at capitalist counterrevolution, whether coming from outside or from within. At the same time, we fight for a proletarian political revolution against the Castroite Stalinist bureaucracy.
In the 1960s, this social revolution in the very heart of the Caribbean inspired the creation of the GONG. It had an enormous impact on the Guadeloupean left, including the PCG, which triggered even more colonial repression by the government. In 1966, the PCG delegates to the Tricontinental Conference, organized by the Castro regime, voted for a resolution that included Guadeloupe in the list of “peoples fighting to free themselves from the traditional colonial yoke.” They were very quickly disavowed by their leadership.
However, the GONG—which was founded in 1963 in opposition to the PCG program of assimilation and, later, “autonomy”—adopted the same Menshevik-Stalinist program as the PCG of revolution by stages based on class collaboration. It declared its historic role to be “to lead the Guadeloupean people to the national democratic revolution in the first stage, and to socialism in the second stage” (GONG Information, special issue, January-February 1967). But history has invariably shown, particularly in the 1925-27 Chinese Revolution, what this schema means: In the first stage the national bourgeoisie takes power, and in the second stage it massacres the workers who were subordinated to it and who brought it to powe
Repression of Trade Unions and Fighters for Independence
Slavery was abolished in 1848, but Guadeloupean society remained divided by class and race with, at its two poles, the two main classes: on one side the békés and “blancs pays”—the landowners, sugar factory owners and merchants—and on the other side the overwhelmingly black agricultural workers bound to the land and the workers in the sugar factories. Strikes always took place in January or February, at the outset of the sugar harvest. Notably, there was a general strike in February 1910, which was bloodily repressed. Repression also took many lives in February 1925 and February 1952.
Today the island’s economy is based primarily on services (tourism, civil service). The working class is small but still capable of paralyzing the island, as happened during the 2009 general strike, which lasted 44 days. The capitalists have never accepted the fact that they had to retreat under the pressure of this powerful strike, which, if not for the chauvinism of the French trade-union leaders, had the potential to spread to France. Gerard Bauvert, secretary of the International Committee Against Repression, calculated that “since 2009 and the great strikes of the LKP [an umbrella group of unionists and other organizations]...more than 100 unionists, mostly from the UGTG [General Union of Workers of Guadeloupe], face criminal charges.” He noted that, given the same proportion of the population, the comparable figure in France would be “15,000 unionists facing prosecution” (l’Humanité, 31 May 2017). Racist colonial French state, hands off Elie Domota and all the other French Caribbean trade unionists! Drop all charges immediately!
Today, Elie Domota is once again facing charges of “gang violence.” In fact, he is being prosecuted for being one of the main leaders of the 2009 strike, as general secretary of the UGTG and leader of the LKP (Liyannaj kont pwofitasyon or Alliance Against Profiteering). In addition, he is known as a fighter for independence who has struggled for years to fully expose the 1967 massacre.
While the independence movement represents a minority in Guadeloupe, the French colonial state has always fiercely repressed anyone who calls its colonial empire into question, whether they are the pro-independence members of the GONG after May 1967 or more recently LKP members like Domota. Domota was brought to court in Pointe-à-Pitre in May and then in July 2017. The hearing was postponed twice, the second time to March 2018 [he was ordered to pay a 300 euro fine, which he is appealing]. Pushing the prosecution is the current president of the local bosses’ organization, Bruno Blandin, a white capitalist. Behind class conflicts in the French Caribbean, the question of racial oppression looms. As for the békés, the point is to expropriate them, and that requires the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism.
For Permanent Revolution!
For a Leninist-Trotskyist Party
Our perspective for Guadeloupe is that of Trotsky’s permanent revolution, which is summarized in the Transitional Program (1938):
“Colonial and semi-colonial countries are backward countries by their very essence. But backward countries are part of a world dominated by imperialism. Their development, therefore, has a combined character: the most primitive economic forms are combined with the last word in capitalist technique and culture. In like manner are defined the political strivings of the proletariat of backward countries: the struggle for the most elementary achievements of national independence and bourgeois democracy is combined with the socialist struggle against world imperialism. Democratic slogans, transitional demands and the problems of the socialist revolution are not divided into separate historical epochs in this struggle, but stem directly from one another.”
This is why we as Marxists support struggles against colonial power and for independence, including when these struggles are led by petty-bourgeois and bourgeois nationalist forces, while we fight for a proletarian leadership.
In Guadeloupe and Martinique, as in the other French colonies, it is necessary to build Leninist-Trotskyist parties, tribunes of the people and the oppressed, with a proletarian internationalist program. Our perspective is the establishment of workers power. For a reforged Fourth International!