“Hands Off Haiti”: Self-Determination, Anti-Imperialism, and the Communist Movement in the United States, 1925-1929

Margaret Stevens. Black Scholar. Volume 37, Issue 4. Winter 2007.

By the time the policemen had broken up the protest in front of City Hall in New York City on December 14, 1929, over eighteen people—black, white, and Chinese—had been arrested. Five hundred people (according to a New York Times estimate) had been assembled at the protest, and the crowd of onlookers ranged from around 3,000. The recent onset of the Great Depression in October 1929 might suggest that this was an angry “bread and butter” protest for New York City’s unemployed residents, but it was not. Rather, the topic of the day was “Yankee imperialism”; in particular, “the sending of marines and warships to Haiti,” which was occupied by the U.S. from 1915 to 1934. Banners at the demonstration conjoined a defense of the Haitian uprising with a call for American workers to protect both the sovereignty of the Soviet Union and the Chinese liberation movement from Western aggression. But why did the demands at this protest link Haiti with China and the Soviet Union? Moreover, why did the crowd of arrested and beaten protesters, male and female, reflect an ethnic spectrum as diverse as the places in question?

The Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA) had organized this mass protest in support of the Haitian uprisings of December 1929 as a means of advancing its political commitment to constructing an international socialist society under the leadership of the Moscow-based Communist International (Comintern). This strategy was, according to the Leninist doctrine of self-determination, predicated upon the political solidarity of anti-capitalist movements led by workers in imperialist countries alongside anti-imperialist—though not necessarily anti-capitalist—movements led by oppressed people in the colonized world. According to this doctrine, the point of unity lay in the common struggle against a common foe: the ruling elites in imperialist nations. Here we trace the initial process from 1925 to 1929 whereby the CPUSA came to develop a political position on Haiti, how this position changed over time, and the political practice that paralleled this trajectory. This was all to culminate in the militant protests against “Yankee Imperialism” in December 1929, based in New York City and led by two of the CPUSA’s front organizations: the Anti-Imperialist League (AIL) and the American Negro Labor Congress (ANLC), in defense of the contemporaneous rebellion of Haitian workers and students against the U.S. Marines.

It was the political strategy of the Com intern to create a series of mass organizations that were seen as revolutionary tools to bring workers around the world toward Communism in stages. The AIL and the ANCL, under the direct leadership of the CPUSA, were the primary political bodies through which anti-imperialist and anti-racist politics were propagated by Reds in the U.S. during the years leading up to the Great Depression. A preliminary study of these two organizations between 1925 and 1929 displaces contemporary discourse on the African-American radical tradition which assumes that the memory of the Haitian Revolution, in regard to the contemporary struggles against neocolonial rule in Haiti, was evoked only for African Americans; rather, this study demonstrates the place of Haiti in the communist—black, Asian, and white—political praxis of the 1920s. The radicalism that emerged in both New York City and Haiti’s capitol, Port-au-Prince had the potential for forming an ongoing, reciprocal political relationship between the two countries. But this study focuses on the U.S. end of this axis, raising questions about the degree to which linguistic, cultural and geographical differences were barriers in the fight to advance the anti-imperialist and communist politics emanating from New York City.

Party Action

In the early years of the (communist) Workers Party of America (WP), ranging from 1920 to 1924, efforts to lead the political mobilization of American workers against colonialism and imperialism were relatively negligible, especially in relationship to Haiti.2A 1924 assessment by the Comintern Secretariat in Moscow of the anti-colonial work in the United States noted that “the American League has done practically nothing in this important phase of our activity despite great possibilities and despite definite directives sent you.” The Secretariat further directed that the Central Committee of the WP “must immediately make connections with the Leagues and Communist groups in the American Colonies and Latin America;” and further still, “work in closest contact with the Negro committee” because “the young Negro masses are the most important base for [the] general anti imperialist activity within the USA.”

At the same time as the WP was being commissioned to carry out this internationalist collaboration between the “young Negro masses” in the United States and communist cells in the colonies, it was also pushing its trade-union organization, the Trade Union Educational League, to “seek to destroy the [American] workers’ faith in the capitalist system and to turn their eyes towards the establishment of a communist society through the dictatorship of the proletariat.” But this two-pronged strategy of organizing, essentially, white American workers around communist politics, while politicizing the American “young Negro masses” along the lines of anti-imperialist solidarity, posed a problem for the overall program of the Workers Party.

The communist leaders of the mass organization that was designed precisely to deal with the “Negro Question” of organizing black workers, the American Negro Labor Congress (ANLC)—founded in 1925 and based on Chicago’s South Side “Black Belt”—had decided by May 1925 that the congress “must be made a broad mass organization and must not be narrowed down by incorrect tactics merely to communists and their class sympathizers.” In this critical evaluation of their organization’s lack of mass support, the ANLC leadership concluded that they were failing to build a mass influence among black workers in the United States because the pro-communist political thrust of the ANLC did not appeal to black workers. They believed that though black workers had a “trade union consciousness” that was open to engaging in economic and political struggles that might gain them more financial and political security, they remained averse to moving beyond the realm of reform into a transformative politics advocating the overthrow of capitalism and creation of a workers’ state.

AT THE SAME TIME, however, the WP, including leading members of the ANLC, did at this juncture make the first substantial headway into building an internationalist movement against imperialism among black workers in the US; invoking Haiti was an important aspect of this internationalism. In July of 1925, the WP distributed 8,000 flyers to invite black workers on the South Side to a mass meeting advocating “Africa for the Africans, China for the Chinese and Haiti for Haitians” as the key slogans. With the goal of trying to politically unite black workers in Chicago with exploited workers of color abroad, communists Robert Minor and Lovett Fort-Whiteman, both leading members of the ANLC, placed Haiti and Africa at the center of their political critique of capitalism.

In turn, at the first annual conference of the ANLC in October 1925 in Chicago, the constitution and program advocated the need for international solidarity of the black and white workers in the U.S. with workers of the Philippines, Haiti and Santo Domingo. Too, in its November 1925 “Special Supplement” on “Imperialism and the Negro,” the ANLC passed a resolution indicting imperialism, or “the enslavement of the entire world by capitalist nations,” effectively “bringing under their oppressive rule the 1,100,000,000 darker colored peoples in Asia, Africa, the Philippines, Mexico, Haiti, Porto Rico, Central and North America.” If still largely rhetorical, the ANLC in particular, and the WP in general, were making modest attempts to unite American workers, particularly black workers, with workers around the world. And yet, as the ANLC looked increasingly toward the African diaspora—including Haiti—they remained clear that their political lines would be drawn short of advocating for communist revolution.

Another important entrée into Haiti was through the Anti-Imperialist League (AIL). As early as 1925, the AIL had begun the process of building solidarity between Red movements in the U.S. and the Caribbean, primarily because of its ties to the Communist Party of Mexico, founded in 1922. This All-American Anti-Imperialist League (AAAIL), a subsidiary of the Comintern-led League Against Imperialism, placed the fight against imperialism at the center of its political strategy to unite workers around the world under Communist leadership. It was decided at the third annual conference of the Communist Party of Mexico that the Pan American Anti-Imperialist League, precursor to the AAAIL, could help other regions in the Caribbean, such as Santo Domingo, to build communist parties. But when “the Mexico City delegates brought in a proposal to the effect that. ….the central headquarters of the Pan American Anti-Imperialist League” be established in Mexico City:

[This] proposal was turned down unanimously, it being expressed that the prestige of the American Party as against the Mexican Party, its maturity and experience, and its position in the home country of American imperialism made it necessary that the effective direction of the Pan American Anti-Imperialist League should be in the United States.

On one hand, the decision to base the AIL out of the United States—at first Chicago and toward the end of the 1920s in New York City—reflected a US-centered and chauvinistic bias toward the supposed “prestige” and “influence” of the U.S. Reds, disregarding the possibility that Mexican comrades might lead more effectively the struggle against U.S. domination in the Western hemisphere. On the other hand, maintaining the headquarters in the U.S. laid the basis for an imminent collaboration of the political forces drawn from the AIL, ANLC and later the International Labor Defense-all of whom would play historically significant roles in championing the causes of black workers in Port-au-Prince from their respective headquarters in New York City.

The decision to move the ANLC headquarters to New York City from Chicago was largely a result of the mass Caribbean population in the former city; indeed, several of the leading members of the ANLC—Richard B. Moore, Otto Huiswoud, Cyril Briggs and Grace Campbell—were all children of the West Indies themselves. Although the leadership’s decision unfairly implied that African Americans on the South Side were politically less diasporic in their outlook than the more cosmopolitan blacks—both West Indian and non—in New York City, it was also based on the calculations of leading ANLC members that black communists in New York City had a political base in the black population that would be more open to anti-imperialist, internationalist politics than black workers in Chicago. By the beginning of 1927, the ANLC was headquartered in Harlem, and its leadership was instrumental in strengthening ties between communists in the city and anti-colonialists from all over the world, including Haiti.

In particular, as an immigrant from Barbados and leading member of both the ANLC and the Negro Committee in the WP, Richard Moore attended two landmark congresses in 1927 that allowed the organization to make important progress in building anti imperialist solidarity with the workers of Haiti. First, at an April 1927 congress of the League Against Imperialism in Brussels, Moore met with delegates from the French Caribbean and Africa. Second, at the Fourth Pan-African Congress at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem led by the prominent black American leader W.E.B. Du Bois, Moore attended as a representative of the ANLC along with delegates from thirteen countries. Resolutions from the congress concerned the following: the American Marines’ withdrawal from Haiti along with banning imperialist rule over China and Egypt; criticism of U.S.-owned Firestone rubber companies for maltreatment of black workers in Liberia; the need for black workers in the U.S. to join trade unions.

While these resolutions demonstrate the appeal of anti-imperialist, internationalist politics for a broad political spectrum within the black intelligentsia, Moore was instrumental in pushing further the notion that the power to enforce them lay in the hands of everyday people rather than an elite few. The communist press reported that despite Du Bois’s efforts to prevent the “session from acting on resolutions proposing to place the congress on a broader mass basis,” Moore “had made a motion that all resolutions be reported back at the end of the conference so that delegates could decide whether it expressed their views or not.” The motion passed. With an eye toward mobilizing people from the ground up, the ANLC by the close of 1927 was in the process of strengthening its ability to lead an anti-imperialist movement based in New York City in support for oppressed black people of the Diaspora in general and Haiti in particular.

Haiti, too, was becoming increasingly important in the anti-imperialist work of the AIL. On December 21, 1927, the central organizing body of the WP reported that motions had been passed regarding the anti-imperialist work of the AIL, under the leadership of Mexico’s Manuel Gomez, such that at the upcoming conference of the Pan American Union in Havana, Cuba, the “central feature” in the AIL’s propaganda “in connection with the Havana Conference” was:

insistence upon the position that withdrawal of all U.S. naval and military forces from Nicaragua, Haiti, etc constitutes a prerequisite for any co operation between Latin America and the U.S. government, and that this must be put at the Conference as a dilemma.

The goal of the AIL in attending this Havana conference was to foment conflict between the U.S. and pro-U.S, nations in Latin American on one end and more “progressive” regimes on the other end. In this way, the AIL was attempting to implement the Leninist strategy of building independent, self-determined regimes united in a common struggle against an imperialist foe—in this case the U.S.—and “call upon the Latin-Americans to withdraw from the Pan-American Union and form their own federation.”

Apparently the AIL was beginning to make some headway since, by the end of 1927, it had established chapters throughout the Latin Caribbean, namely in Cuba, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Colombia and Venezuela. But Haiti and other islands in the “Black” Caribbean did not yet have chapters. Therefore, this Havana conference statement in opposition to U.S. military aggression in Haiti and Nicaragua was a progressive step forward in intertwining the fight against imperialism and anti-black racism; on the other hand, it remained merely a statement, nonetheless. The practical manifestations of this commitment to internationalist solidarity from Red organizations in New York City had yet to emerge at the dawn of 1928.

While the preceding evidence suggests a one-way political relationship, in which U.S.-based Red organizations positioned themselves as champions of the cause for Haitian self-determination, developments in 1928 demonstrate that Haitians, too, gave support to these Red organizations. At the same Pan American Congress in Havana, a delegation under the leadership of Haitian nationalist Pierre Hudicourt, representing the Union Patriotique (Patriotic Union), “was arrested by the Wall Street-owned Cuban government and sent home, without being allowed to go near the conference hall,” reported Manuel Gomez of the AIL at a meeting in New York City. Back in New York the Union Patriotique was reported to have read a message at a conference on the Nicaraguan situation called by the AIL. The AAAIL returned the gesture several months later with a cable to the White House and President Coolidge demanding an end to the occupation of Haiti and aggression in Nicaragua, while declaring that Latin American countries too, were opposed to U.S. intervention in the region.

The manner in which Haiti and Nicaragua were brought together in a single campaign against U.S. intervention in the Caribbean region reflects the fact that traditional racial and linguistic barriers dividing the Latin Caribbean—i.e., non-black—and West Indies—i.e., black—had been challenged by both the AIL and the Haitian Patriotic Union. Indeed, Haiti was, to some degree, considered part of Latin America, although its inhabitants spoke French and Haitian Creole, rather than Spanish. It was the common struggle against U.S. imperial aggression that laid the political basis for these progressive forces to overcome such historically constructed social distinctions for a common cause: self-determination. The degree to which this cause intersected with that of deepening an ideological commitment to establishing a global socialist order did not, however, have an equally strong foundation. Though a large aspect of the burden to guarantee the growth of this political consciousness lay in the work of the WP and its mass organizations in the U.S., it was precisely that very political distinction between communist and mass organizations that seems to have impeded the eventual hegemony of the Red process.

In May of 1928 the AIL featured Senator William H. King, Democrat from Utah, as the keynote speaker at a meeting in the New Harlem Casino on 116th St where he spoke on the need for “full and complete freedom” from U.S. Marine control in both Nicaragua and Haiti. Also there was William Pickens of the NAACP, Manuel Gomez of the AIL, Robert Minor of the WP and its paper, the Daily Worker, and Henry C. Rosemund of the Haiti Patriotic League. King argued that despite the genuine efforts on the part of the U.S. government to democratize and improve the political and social institutions in Haiti, it was now time for the U.S. to remove itself from the island and give Haitians free reign over their own development. But rather than challenging King’s paternalistic notion of humanitarian U.S. imperialism, the AIL, along with Haitian residents in New York City who attended the meeting, backed King’s resolution for U.S. withdrawal because of their agreement regarding the question of Haitian self-determination. Although they represented different mass organizations, Gomez, Minor and Rosemund were all members of the WP—i.e., they were communists—yet all were backing the resolution of King, a “progressive” representative of the very government apparatus the WP sought to eventually overthrow.

Therefore, as the Workers Party and the Anti-imperialist League expanded their political base of support from within the Haitian community in New York City, they did so through the active collusion of their forces with representatives from the U.S. ruling elite. At this meeting, no attempts were apparently made to put forward more radical—much less communist—ideas. Defense of the right to self-determination for Haiti lay at the core of this class collaboration between King and these Red leaders. All the same, the AIL maintained its grassroots approach to building an anti-imperialist movement among workers in the U.S. workers since, in August 1928, it held a demonstration that included hundreds of people outside of the WP headquarters in which protesters were beaten and attacked for their opposition to U.S. aggression in Haiti, the Philippines and Nicaragua.

Black Dissension

As of August 1928, the American Negro Labor Congress leadership, too, continued to grapple with its relationship to both the Workers Party and the black working masses, though its leading members were also prominent in the ranks of the Negro Committee for the WP. The minutes of the first meeting of the re-organized national Negro Committee revealed that the leadership—namely Gomez, Rosemund, Minor and Moore, along with Huiswoud, Padmore and Mary King—all felt that the Committee, and by association the ANLC and the WP’s anti-racist work in general, was disconnected from the general WP apparatus and the political campaigns that lay therein. Rosemund expounded that “speakers at negro street meetings,” did not “explain the negro planks in the platform or appeal to those things in which negroes” were “especially interested as for instance: lynching; discrimination; segregation,” such that the “negro plank in the platform” was “the last in the whole party platform.”

Tensions in the meeting arose when Rosemund motioned that Padmore, a young communist from Trinidad who would soon become a leading figure in the Hamburg-based International Trade Union Committee of Negro Workers, lead the ANLC while another motion suggested that Padmore replace Whiteman as a black editor for the Daily Worker. Finally, in the first September meeting of the Committee, it was decided that Padmore would become assistant editor to the ANLC’s Negro Champion; Rosemund abstained. When in this same meeting a motion was made that the Negro Champion “does not make as its official policy the publication of party statements and propaganda, yet such statement of the party should continue to be published as from a friendly and sympathetic organization,” Padmore and Moore were among the members who agreed, but Rosemund, again, abstained. These political tensions notwithstanding, a flyer for an August 24, 1928 meeting of the ANLC in Brooklyn announced that Moore, Padmore and Rosemund were among the speakers.

Although the ANLC leadership did not all agree on the question of openly defending communist politics and the WP, they did form a consensus on the need to ensure the anti-imperialist platform of the WP. Moore, Huiswoud, Padmore, and Rosemund were all black people from the Caribbean whose political activity never strayed too far from advocating on behalf of the oppressed workers of the region. The potential for the ANLC, therefore, to lead a movement in support of the Haitian workers based in New York was continuing to grow as the ANLC’s grassroots credibility intensified. At the same time, the WP had “recently reorganized its anti-imperialist department” with the goal that “each district and sub-district committee shall, immediately upon receipt of this letter, put the question of anti-imperialist work on its agenda.” In fact, far away from New York City, in the sprawling impoverished communities of Cleveland, Ohio, a WP flyer called for all unemployed workers to attend a mass demonstration “on the public square to demand full wages for the unemployed, work or food” and “protest against American marines strikebreaking against workers in Haiti.” Clearly, then, efforts to build an anti-imperialist movement within the US, particularly in defense of Haitian workers, were not relegated to the AIL and ANLC in New York, though it was there that the movement was strongest.

Readying for Revolution

In the closing weeks of 1928, Rosemund featured an editorial in the Negro Champion criticizing the Republican Party in New York City and endorsing instead the Workers Party, “the only party that the workers of America and Negro workers should support and help because it has been militantly fighting for their improvement and will protect their interests in each and every point of view.” As Haiti would take center stage in the anti-imperialist work of the WP in the ensuing months—culminating in the December 1929 mass protests—Rosemund’s activities as a Haitian worker in the United States openly advocating for Communism were invaluable to this process. Not only was Rosemund a leading member of Haitian workers in Brooklyn through both the ANLC and the Haiti Patriotic League, but he was also the single most important political figure to emerge from the tremendous strike of the Needle Trade Workers Industrial Union in New York in the early months of 1929.

As a member of the General Executive Board of the Needle Trade Workers Industrial Union, Rosemund called upon black workers in the garment industry, “one of the industries in which a great number of [his] people” were involved, to join white workers in the planned strike for February 6. He declared himself to be “taking the initiative to make an appeal to all of [the black workers] to support this strike which will be the first attack upon the needle trades bosses to obtain human condition,” except that “[t]his time it will not be a strike, I hope, merely of white workers for white workers,” but rather, “a blow against the bosses to secure the same advances for all workers regardless of color, creed and race.…” To make such an uncompromisingly anti-racist position in regard to multiracial trade union solidarity, and to do so as a Haitian immigrant in New York, showed a commitment to internationalist, class-based unity on the part of Rosemund that reflected ideals shared across the communist spectrum.

But the repercussions on the part of the local government and business leaders toward Rosemund’s militant stand for were fast approaching. Moreover, the WP’s potential to combat the ensuing repression against Rosemund was hampered by its own political weaknesses regarding the fight against racism; some of these obstacles were overcome but others were not. The Daily Worker reported on February 7, that while 12,000 workers participated in the first day of the general strike, “[the police] showed their true form when, together with a number of thugs, they beat unconscious Henry Rosemund, Negro fur worker.… while he was calling out the workers of one of the shops.” Though he regained consciousness and was arrested and taken to court, so “serious were Rosemund’s injuries that he collapsed while in the courtroom and had to be taken to Bellevue Hospital.” Within weeks of the strike the Daily Worker hailed it a tremendous success and reported that the strike committee had arranged for scholarships for both black and white strikers to attend courses at the WCP Workers School on the “History and Problems of the American Negro.” Rosemund went even further to claim, months later, that “[u]nder the leadership of the left wingers, race prejudice [had been] completely abolished in the Needle Trades Industrial Union which includes in its membership hundreds of colored workers of various nationalities.” In the private meetings of the National Negro Department, however, the assessment of the union’s and the WP’s ability to combat racism and defend Rosemund was much less flattering.

The extent to which the WP was able to come to the aid of Rosemund was an important litmus test for its commitment to fighting for black and white class unity, but Moore and Rosemund were both convinced that the Party had failed on several counts. Moore made two motions relative to Rosemund that were critical of both the dressmakers union and the Party: first, that Rosemund had a fighting record in the union and ought to be defended in the face of intrigue from union leadership; second, that the Party had been insensitive to Rosemund’s physical and financial needs during his period of recovery from the police beating. Rosemund intervened with a motion that all Party groups be instructed to mobilize for Toussaint L’Ouverture memorial meetings, since the overall commitment to placing the fight against racism at the center of Party work seemed wanting in his estimation.

Hands Off Haiti

In the coming weeks the Negro Champion did successfully carry out propaganda campaigns for groups to hold Toussaint L’Ouverture meetings, and the results indicated that over sixty meetings were under way in various locales under the leadership of the ANLC. Certainly the decision to push for these Toussaint L’Ouverture meetings, coupled with the fact that they were named in honor of the esteemed Haitian revolutionary leader, indicates that the ANLC was convinced that Haiti—past and present—was pivotal to the fight against racism in both the United States and around the world. At the same time, however, the ANLC was more prominent in carrying out this campaign than the WP, now renamed the Communist Party of the United States, or CPUSA. Therefore, the struggle to integrate the fight against racism—much less the international fight against imperialism—into the overall strategy of building the Communist Party remained uneven.

These weaknesses notwithstanding, the CPUSA continued to push forward in its anti-imperialist campaign, climaxing in December 1929 to take the broadest, most militant stand in its short history. In an act of solidarity with workers overseas suffering from U.S. imperialist aggression, the CPUSA—led by its mass organizations of the ANLC and AIL—had chosen Haiti as its point of unity. An August 1929 directive from the national office of the CPUSA in New York City to all Department Heads asked that they coordinate their work to support the upcoming tour of the AIL across the country.” Several months later, when Haiti’s President Louis Borno announced that he would not run for office again, the Daily Worker seized the opportunity to declare “that U.S. imperialism is thinking of changing its agent there” and that “[i]t now appears that American imperialism has some new lackey that would serve the same purpose while not being burdened by the public odium Borno’s long term of servility to the Yankee” had fostered. This editorial analysis was meant to deal a direct attack against the U.S. insofar as it asserted not only the instability of the Haitian ruling elite but also its precarious relationship to the U.S. Protests led by Haitian workers, peasants and students against the U.S. Marines would ensue only days later.

What began as a militant strike of Haitian workers stoning the Marines out side of the U.S. customs office, led to a bloody, multi-day battle in which five peas ants were shot and killed by U.S. forces. The Daily Worker quickly rushed to the defense of the Haitian strikers, calling upon its reading audience in the U.S. to “Stand by the Haitian Revolution!” Not only did the article’s reference to this rebellion as the “Haitian Revolution” evoke memories of the revolutionary history of Toussaint’s and the slaves’ overthrow of the French in the eighteenth century, but it also placed support for the Haitian workers on a par with defending both the Soviet Union and the Chinese nationalist movement against British imperialism. The association of Haiti with China and the Soviet Union was significant precisely because this formed a basis for the multiracial collaboration that defended the Haitian workers in December 1929. As Reds in New York City began to organize meetings and protests focusing on the Haiti affair, the cohort that gave leadership to this movement included many Chinese and European immigrants since “Hands off China” and defense of the Soviet Union were demands alongside “Hands off Haiti.”

In addition to the multiracial anti-imperialist work in New York City, meetings were called for December 12 and 13 by the ANLC at St. Marks Hall in Harlem where Moore of the Harlem Tenants League, Albert Moreau of the AIL, Otto Huiswoud of the ANLC, and Jean Lamonthe of the Haiti Patriotic League were all speaking on the need for black workers to support the Haitian movement. Ultimately, the dynamic group of people assembled outside of City Hall that was described at the outset of this essay was the result of a conscious program on the part of the CPUSA and its mass organizations based in New York City to garner support for an anti-imperialist movement in the United States. Therefore, the aggression visited upon them by the local police force was not a simple act of repression in response to anti-government politics. These American police were protecting American political officials with ties to American capital—based on Wall Street, only blocks away from the protest site—in a moment when American military intervention in Haiti was under attack by the Haitian masses.

But the movement in support of the Haitian rebellion was hardly confined to New York. In Chicago a mass meeting was called “in support of the Haitian revolution” several days after the New York City demonstration. In addition, Japanese workers in San Francisco defied a police order and held a mass meeting in the Japanese section of town against imperialist war plans and for the defense of the Soviet Union and the Haitian movement; six of these workers were arrested and three were threatened with deportation back to Japan. And in perhaps the most astonishing victory of anti-racist internationalism, white workers from the Southern “Jim Crow” state of North Carolina, organized under the CPUSA-backed groups the International Labor Defense and the Trade Union Unity League, held a convention in which they demanded U.S. forces to be removed from both Haiti and Nicaragua.

This impressive nationwide show of support for the Haitian workers under the leadership of the CPUSA indicates that workers in the United States could and did make efforts to take inspiration from the militant movement in Haiti to sharpen their own struggles against the U.S. ruling elite. Further still, the CPUSA’s own membership was boosted in both Chicago and Detroit when black and white workers, drawn into CPUSA circles because of the campaign to support the movement in Haiti, joined the Party. But this movement did not only impress U.S. workers; the Negro Champion reported in early January that as a result of the ANLC-led movement in defense of Haiti throughout 1929, over a hundred Haitians in Manhattan and Brooklyn had joined the organization.

International Impact of Organized Black Labor

Communist-led, support for the “Haitian revolution had reverberations far beyond New York City and the U.S. in general. In the midst of this militant “Hands off Haiti” movement which continued throughout December 1929, the Daily Worker announced that an international conference of “Negro Toilers” was to be held in London on July 1, 1930, under the auspices of the International Negro Unionist Committee-later named the International Trade Union Committee of Negro Workers (ITUCNW)-which was largely organized by black communists. The purpose of the meeting was to “unite the race on a working class basis” given the “revolt of oppressed Negroes in Haiti, Africa and other lands.” The ITUCNW would soon become the leading Anglophone, communist-led organization through which black workers in the Caribbean and Africa were introduced to class-based ideas, and, at times, openly pro-communist politics. Indeed, one of the most prominent PanAfricanists in the world to emerge post-World War II, George Padmore, was briefly in charge of this organization, and much of his later political training emerged as a result of his earlier involvement in the US-in New York City’s ANLC and in Washington DC’s AIL chapter—and later Hamburg, Germany, where he edited the ITUCNW’s journal the Negro Worker and organized black mariners who were docked in Germany.

This London conference, therefore, appeared in the pages of the Daily Worker precisely at the moment when defense of the Haitian revolt was sharpest, thus demonstrating how an international movement for black labor solidarity was at least partially propelled forward through support for the militant struggles of black workers in Haiti. Moreover, communist defense of Haiti was part and parcel of an anti-imperialist movement that, under the leadership of the AIL and ANLC, brought together a multiracial group of American workers who challenged imperial aggression in not only Haiti but the world over. Haiti served as a “motherland” in its own right. From a hemispheric perspective, there emerged a Pan-Africanism that looked to Haiti as a landmass that represented the struggle for black liberation from global imperialism and racism. The communist movement was integral to this process. Discussions of black liberation, Pan-Africanism, and internationalism, therefore, would be remiss not to consider the ways in which a multiracial group of Reds in New York City contributed to building—albeit unevenly—a mass movement that was anti-racist and anti-imperialist; Haiti was central to this process.