Translator’s Foreword (1949)
I believe that this work— written in 1938— will be a real revelation for many
French readers: that is because, in its under lying dynamics and even in its
specific details, the history of the Saint-Domingue Revolution heralds al-
most exactly the current drama that we have successively dubbed colonial
territory, Empire, Overseas France, and most recently the French Union.
I could undoubtedly be challenged with the observation that history never
repeats itself, that 150 years separate us from the contemporaries of Toussaint
Louverture, that living conditions both internationally and of Black socie ties
have altered significantly . . . That is to a large extent true, especially if the vari-
ous aspects of the two situations are considered separately, as free-standing
phenomena and as it were quantitatively. But if the general structure of the
events and the conflicts that served as a driver for them are taken into account,
the similarities quickly become apparent, as does the recurrence of such a huge
drama on an extended basis. Because this time, in repeating itself, history did
not go from tragedy to farce . . . On the contrary. There are in fact cases— and
this is one of those cases—in which, for a sufficiently brief period (at least on
a certain scale, as it can run to one or two centuries or more), history does not
simply repeat itself, but boils itself down terribly so that what was originally
experienced as tragedy recurs as inevitability. The pres ent crisis of the French
colonial system is not a caricature of its previous developments, upheavals
and disasters—it is, on the contrary, their exaggeration and logical conclu-
sion, and a form of being crushed by fate.
It is undoubtedly for this reason that the history of the Haitian Revolu-
tion, with its Black, colored and white actors, has been hardly at all evoked
in the French public consciousness over the past 150 years, and has in a way
Translator’s Foreword by Pierre Naville
to the 1949 / 1983 French Editions
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