February 2020

Revolutionaries to Reactionaries: Marronage, Slave Revolt, and the Black Freedom Struggle

Just as the history of the Maroons in Jamaica demonstrate, the black freedom struggle can ill afford any more accommodation or compromise now any more than it did two centuries ago. Marronage is freedom, but only if we collectively understand its limits. Otherwise it is mired in class collaborationist politics which may profess a desire for black freedom, but in reality hamper it at every turn.

by Gordon R. Barnes, Jr.

When one speaks of slavery, the antithesis is often posited as freedom. However diffuse the meanings of these terms, the general formula that freedom negates slavery and vice versa is a truism for both academics and historically minded activists. One form of such freedom during the era of Atlantic slavery was that of marronage (maroonage, maronage, marronnage etc.). The history of the social phenomenon of marronage, then, has provided us in the present with a vision of the past wherein enslaved people mounted a challenge to the various rule of slavocracies throughout the Americas. Marronage is thus often framed as an intermediary form of resistance between quotidian acts of defiance to slave labor and open revolt (the slave revolt turned revolution in Saint Domingue being the only “successful” exemplar).

While maroon slaves did indeed challenge the status quo of Atlantic slave society and culture, there are examples of this type of freedom from slavery aligning with and supporting the regimes of chattel labor. This early form of class collaboration – that is former slaves and their descendants aligning politically with the master class and colonial elite – is what concerns me here. As we will see, the heroic histories of maroon struggles against slavery and empire are punctuated by a much more somber history of accommodation to slavery and outright betrayals of slave struggles for freedom. This history, no doubt, should give those invested in the black freedom struggle some level of pause.

In the crucible of New World chattel slavery, the bedrock upon which present-day capitalist social relations were built, marronage – or, running away – is often posited as one of the fundamental ways that slaves resisted the tyranny of their owners. Short of organized slave rebellion, marronage was seemingly the best option to subvert the master-slave dialectic.  And in many ways it was. Neil Robert’s 2015 book, Freedom as Marronage argues as much, going beyond the Eurocentric and liberal notions of “freedom” to provide a vision of freedom directly related to African enslavement, the black experience in the Americas, and marronage in particular.[1] For Roberts, marronage is not simply petit (small; short term absconding) or grand (large; with the aim of establishing permanent communities of runaways), but also sovereign and sociogenic.[2]

Central to Roberts’ theorization is the concept of “flight” as a constituent part of marronage. This includes: Flight from the plantation, from an abusive master, and indeed from the very social relations which force marronage as a strategy to counteract unfreedom in a slave society. Roberts’ interpretation is not so different from the triumphalist narratives about maroons that many social activists invoke, in particular black nationalists. And while Roberts’ book has been much acclaimed, though not without criticisms for some of his logical gaps, none of the criticisms tackle the central premise that marronage is the antithesis to unfreedom at the level of social relations.

While I agree with the basic formulation that marronage constitutes freedom, I do so only in certain contexts and also argue marronage is representative of compromise and accommodation. It is well known amongst scholars and some activists that certain maroon communities became slave catchers and helped to suppress slave revolts. This is particularly true in the context of Jamaica.[3] When digesting the full history of maroon agency in this context, it becomes readily apparent that the righteous maroons who opted for the travails of marronage as a response to enslavement did so, at certain times, which served the interest of the same slave holding society. In effect, the maroons were, in certain contexts, revolutionary. In others, they were quite reactionary. What the history of Jamaica’s Maroon communities demonstrate is an early form of class collaboration in the black freedom struggle.     

Painting of a battle at Palmares via notevenpast.org.

For activists and scholars committed to social struggle (and in particular, those invested in the overthrow of capitalism), the story of Jamaica’s Maroons is important for current organizing and the struggle for black freedom. One may very well look upon the maroon past in order to better understand the black freedom struggle in the Americas more generally or in regards to particular locales. The quilombos of Palmares, in Brazil, holding out for nearly a century against Dutch and Portuguese colonists, the Maroon Wars against the British Empire in Jamaica, the maintenance of semi-autonomous maroon communities in Suriname – highlighted in the recent documentary film Stones Have Laws – against the forces of Dutch colonization and imperialism all offer worthwhile lessons to those engaged in the struggle for black freedom. And while many more examples of such laudable articulations of marronage exist throughout the Americas, reckoning with marronage as an appendage of the colonial state is integral in not only understanding the broader history, but offers important lessons for the contemporary struggles for black freedom against capitalism and the pernicious issue of class collaboration which serves to mute or temper social unrest. 

A Brief History of Jamaican Maroons, 1740-1866

In framing maroons and marronage as simultaneously revolutionary or reactionary, contingent on context, is to historicize the social phenomenon dialectically. Taking the Jamaican Maroons as our case study further highlights the extreme manner in which this dialectical relationship was played out under the auspices of empire and chattel slavery.

As is fairly well known, both the Leeward (in the western part of Jamaica) and Windward (in the eastern quarters) Maroons signed three treaties between 1739 and 1740 after approximately 84 years of protracted and low-intensity armed conflict with the British. Since the 1655 British invasion and subsequent seizure of Jamaica from the Spanish, the Maroons, many who had absconded under Spanish rule and yet more who used the republican invasion to escape to the interior, presented a viable option for freedom and proved a thorny issue for the British.[4] Initially, the only coherent maroon polity was that of the Windward Maroons to the west of the island. Though, within twenty years of the British takeover, the Leeward Maroons formed after a series of semi-successful revolts during the final decades of the seventeenth century.[5]

Old Cudjoe Making Peace, 1803. Courtesy of the British Library.

Beginning in 1728, both maroon groupings increased their attacks on plantations and guerilla raids against British forces stationed on the island.[6] The cessation of the First Maroon War (1728-1740) came with the aforementioned treaties as the various maroon communities entered into a tense alliance with the plantocracy and British Colonial Office.[7] This alliance, while mutually beneficial – as it afforded the Maroons their own lands and the British a reprieve from attacks – was still an unequal relationship. The Maroons did not defeat the British, but merely forced them to a stalemate in a war of attrition. If the plantocracy could have expunged the Maroons from Jamaican society they would have.[8] However, having them operate as autonomous communities – though with British Superintendents – on their own (less arable) lands outside the purview of British law was more so in the interest of both the plantocracy and Colonial Office than was their extermination. A fundamental part of the agreement hammered out between the Maroons and the British colonial state was that the former, in exchange for freedom and an end to hostilities, would provide internal security for the colony.

Central to the Maroons’ role of providing internal security is the oft-cited question of whether their becoming slave catchers by legal mandate betrayed their previous role as freedom fighters.[9] Though the provision of the treaties stipulated that both the Leeward and Windward communities were to operate as slave-catchers, recent scholarship has questioned both the efficacy and willingness of the Maroons to engage in such activity, at least in the initial decades after the First Maroon War.[10] To be clear, the fact that they did hunt down runaway slaves is not in dispute, and the most recent research suggests that after 1760 they did so in earnest as remuneration from the British colonial state increased for such endeavors. Regardless of the efficacy or willingness of Maroons to become slave catchers, their capitulation to the slavocracy and British Empire is quite apparent when one examines their role during slave and labor revolts.

It is through the Maroons’ involvement with the suppression of armed slave revolt rather than through the ebb and flow of hunting runaways that the kernel of their class collaboration is evinced. In 1745, the Windward Maroons quashed a small slave rebellion in the southeastern parish of St. David.[11] This was one of their first tests, albeit small, as direct collaborators of the British slave regime. Prior to this, and indeed in the immediate aftermath, the relationship between the Maroons and the plantocracy as well as the Colonial Office was one of alliance but, as mentioned before, was characterized as a tense alliance. This would come to change by 1760.

As Britain reeled from its involvement in the Seven Year’s War against the French and Spanish Empires, provisioning of the colonies declined and exports of the principal crop produced by slaves, sugar, were halved.[12] As these deprivations also affected the slave population, a plot was hatched amongst Coramantee slaves to overthrow the British and establish an Akan-style confederated polity on the island. What came to be known as Tacky’s Revolt tested not only the resolve of the British plantocracy, but was arguably the most significant challenge to chattel slavery prior to the Haitian Revolution. Interestingly enough, the initial plan for the revolt, which centered in St. Mary’s parish, was “marronage on an unprecedented scale,” as one historian put it.[13] Once they had the numbers, the escaped slaves planned to move against the British and expel them from the island, maintain links with Jewish merchants who they would allow to remain, and govern the island themselves. The plot was so organized that leaders aside from Tacky had been elected, including a woman slave dubbed “queen of Kingston.”[14]

As for the Maroons, three communities were ordered to mobilize and march on the rebellious slave within three days of the rebellion kicking off.[15] Joining militia and regular military forces of the British, the Maroons committed to their end of the treaty. They helped suppress the rebellion with ruthless proficiency. The epicenter of the revolt was pacified within a few days, though revolts continued to crop up over a four month period. After an engagement between the initial rebellious slaves and a mixed force of Maroons and British military, Tacky and his main lieutenants fled. Tacky, separated from his forces, was tracked by the Maroons of Scott’s Hall. A Maroon sniper named Davy shot Tacky in the head – allegedly while they were both running full speed, a feat which he was later lauded for by the British – and then severed the head from Tacky’s corpse. The head was brought to the capital, Spanish Town, where it was displayed on a pike along a main thoroughfare.[16]

A New Map of the Island of Jamaica, 1740. Courtesy of the British Library.

While the killing of Tacky put a break on the initial plan to oust the British, many of the rebels persisted in their military efforts to maintain their recently won freedom.[17] Again, the Maroons were instrumental in assisting a return to order in the colony. In the months after Davy killed Tacky, the Maroons were mobilized across the island to suppress the remnants of the revolt and any new outcropping of slave resistance inspired by the initial plot. It is telling that the infamous Thomas Thistlewood, an overseer-turned-planter, serial rapist of slave women, and torturer of his and other slaves (most notably with “derby’s dose” wherein a slave would be forced to defecate into the mouth of another and the latter gagged for hours), extolled the Maroons for their “great bravery” in the suppressing the aftershocks of Tacky’s Revolt.[18]

It was after the Maroons’ exemplary performance in 1760, as viewed by elements within the British plantocracy and Atlantic ruling class, that they began to more actively hunt down slaves. They would kill or capture the runaways and with significantly greater remuneration from the British colonial state prior to 1760. Fundamentally operating as a police force, the Maroons in the years after the revolt also provided intelligence to planters and colonial bureaucrats on potential plots devised by slaves.[19]

Though there was a brief fracture of the relationship between the colonists and the Maroons during the Second Maroon War (1795-1796), this was anomalous to the trend of class collaboration forged thirty odd-years previous. In the shadow of the revolution in Saint Domingue some 500 kilometers away – a slave revolution which was, in part, started by a slave named Dutty Boukman who had previously been held in Jamaica but was deported to the French colony, likely due to his being rebellious[20] – the second Maroon uprising was shrewdly isolated and crushed within eight months.[21] And importantly, during the Second Maroon war, a single Leeward community (Trelawney Town) rose up against the British due to a series of laws curtailing freedoms and subsequently the whipping of two Maroons by slaves on order of a magistrate.[22] And interestingly enough, it was the rest of the Leeward Maroons (the Windward Maroons remaining neutral) who effectively crushed the rebellion.[23] Also, in the aftermath of the Second Maroon War, most who had rebelled were deported, leaving only those communities which had remained loyal since the 1740 pact with the British.

Between the end of the Second Maroon War and 1831, there were no significant challenges to the slavocracy in Jamaica. However, the specter of Haiti loomed large, as did significant revolts in Barbados (1816) and Demerara (present day Guyana, in 1823).[24] The Maroons, while suppressing minor disturbances and catching the odd runaway, largely sought to renegotiate the terms of their alliance with the British as land disputes between the Maroon communities and planters become more pronounced.[25] This nominally idle period was ruptured by the outbreak of a rebellion which saw more slaves rise up than in 1760.

In April of 1831, members of the West India Body (a lobbying organization for the interest of slave owners and merchant capitalists) were anxious about abolitionist impulses on the rise in England. Members of the organization opined that an end to slavery would financially devastate their class and would invariably “lead to the destruction of the colonies and perhaps to the murder or extermination of the white population.”[26] While an extermanative war never occurred, a significant slave uprising did some months later.

Now known as the Baptist War, the uprising galvanized between 20,000 and 60,000, or up to 20% of the enslaved population. Beginning with the leadership of Samuel Sharpe, an enslaved Baptist preacher, the revolt was initially a peaceful sit-down strike for emancipation and wages, as the slaves were under the erroneous impression that the Crown had granted emancipation.[27] When the planters and colonial government refused to acquiesce to the demands of the slaves, they soon mobilized to secure their own freedom. The insurrectionary slaves took up armaments and laid waste to plantation property, though making sure to preserve the sugar cane, which they intended to cultivate and sell after the expulsion of both the slave owners and free coloreds.[28]

The Destruction of the Roehampton Estate in the Parish of St. James in January 1832, 1833. Via Wikimedia.

During this phase of Jamaican slave resistance, the planters were not targeted so much as their plantation homes (only 14 being killed as compared to the 60 killed during Tacky’s Revolt). Yet the damage to property was prodigious, and the reaction of the plantocracy swift. Beginning on Christmas Day in 1831, the rebellion was contained to Trelawny and St. James and ultimately quelled by 4 January the next year. As was the case with the 1760 revolt, the Maroons were called out once again. Within two weeks both the Windward and Leeward Maroons had dispatched fighters against the rebels and were able to quickly rout the numerically and technologically inferior slave forces.[29] The Maroons were integral in the suppression of the revolt, killing or capturing a series of Sharpe’s lieutenants, effectively expunging the leadership of the revolt in short order. Sharpe himself was later captured by the British and summarily executed along with 300+ captured rebels (this excludes the 207 rebels killed by Maroons and British forces). As with the aftermath of Tacky’s Revolt, the Maroons were tasked with capturing those slaves who had fled either as a rebel or owning to the disorder caused by the revolt. Maroons captured, at a minimum, 327 runaways between the immediate aftermath of the Baptist War and formal abolition in 1834.[30]

In the aftermath of slavery and during the period of apprenticeship, the Maroons largely reverted inward as a changing labor system absolved them from their duties in policing the labor force in the colony. This brief hiatus would again turn a corner three decades after the abolition of slavery. And though some Maroons – operating as individuals rather than as a singular group or series of groups – did evidently participate in a series of tax revolts in 1842,[31] the primary relationship of class collaboration with those invested in maintaining the status quo in British colonial society persisted in the aftermath of slavery. 

In 1865, the Morant Bay Rebellion[32] shook not only the eastern quarters of Jamaica, but the entire imperial system and was only trumped, according to colonial officials, by the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny in India.[33] The Jamaican revolt struck fear within the broader region as inter-imperialist rival Spain, upon hearing of the insurrection, directed that the Governor-General of Cuba dispatch two Man-of-War ships to Jamaica.[34]

On 7 October of 1865, when a black laborer was arrested for trespassing on a derelict plantation, other laborers protested and a fracas ensued. Due to the resulting violence, arrest warrants were issued for the leaders of the protest, and when the police attempted to serve them, they were physically repulsed by the townsfolk. Over the next couple of days, the Custos, Baron von Ketelhodt attempted to restore order and on 11 October read the Riot Act from the courthouse balcony in Morant Bay to dissuade a growing tide of unrest. This was to no avail as those gathered there, including those wanted for arrest, stormed the courthouse and killed Ketelhodt along with other proprietors and members of the elite. The governor, John Eyre, quickly imposed martial law on the island (with the exception of Kingston for commercial reasons).[35]

“Victims” of the Jamaica Rebellion of 1865. Courtesy of Princeton University Library Special Collections.

In part motivated by the “Underhill Letter” (a pamphlet detailing the abuses of black laborers in post-emancipation Jamaica) and in part by the horrid material conditions that such laborers faced,[36] the revolt was aimed at pushing back against the plantocratic elite who had taken “mean advantage” of the black workers and peasants in and around Morant Bay.[37] For the Anglo-Jamaican ruling class, the rebellion was in many ways worse than the slave revolts of the preceding decades as those in revolt in 1865 were ostensibly free subjects of the British Crown. For Eyre, what was occurring in Morant Bay was tantamount to the race war hyperbolically invoked by the West India Body thirty-odd years prior. For him, the white population of Jamaica would only find salvation from the “evil passions” of marauding gangs of black laborers if they banded together with the Maroons.[38]

And as occurred in 1760 and 1831-32, the Maroons were called to muster by the British colonials in order to suppress an uprising. The principal difference as it concerned Morant Bay, however, was the fact that in 1865 the Maroons mobilized against “free” peoples. In what mushroomed into an incipient anti-colonial revolt, the Maroons were decidedly on the side of the imperialists. And as they had been so important in the previous conflagrations with Jamaica’s black laboring classes, so too were they in the autumn of 1865.

Led by Colonel Alexander Fyfe, the Maroons joined with special constables and colonial troops to crush the rebellion. In a post-slavery context, the Maroons were deployed specifically to “demoralize the Negro population.”[39] Fyfe had a quite positive view of the Maroons he commanded having fought with them in 1831-32 during the last slave uprising.[40] He nicknamed them “children of the mist” for their skills in guerrilla warfare and camouflage techniques. Though Fyfe received the credit for capturing Paul Bogle, the central leader of the revolt, it was a group of Maroon snipers who eventually cornered and captured Bogle on 24 October, taking him into custody.[41] Bogle had gone as far as parlaying with the Maroons at Hayfield during the early days of the revolt. He expected them to back him against the landlords and colonial government and in addition he wanted them to teach those black laborers in revolt military skills so as to be more effective.[42] Bogle soon received his answer.

Colonel Fyfe with Maroon Snipers & Maroons, 1865. Courtesy of Princeton University Library Special Collections.

The day after his capture, Bogle was brought back to the Morant Bay courthouse and summarily executed with seventeen other black laborers. Many more executions would follow, including the following day that of George William Gordon, a member of the Jamaica assembly with ties to Bogle and the black working class and peasantry in Morant Bay. He was spirited away from Kingston so as to be tried under martial, rather than civil law.

The capture of Bogle was not the end of the Maroons’ involvement with the suppression of the rebellion, however. According to Fyfe, any and all black persons were “by act or connivance” a part of the rebellion.[43] Fyfe and the Maroons acted accordingly, partaking in the rape and pillage of various settlements and villages as well as participating in extrajudicial killings. They of course were not the only ones; the entire colony witnessed crackdowns. Despite being localized to the east, the revolt inspired dissent amongst black laborers, so much so that some were drilling with arms and many more wrote anonymous letters to proprietors and British military personnel threatening them with death “like the Morant Bay People.[44]

As Fyfe and his Maroons participated in the extreme clamp down, anxious property owners urged the government to send more arms and more troops to help suppress any aftershocks of the rebellion. Key to this, they clamored for the colonial government to arm “backwoods” negros (Maroons who had yet to be mobilized) to assist in any further repressive measures against the black laboring population.[45]

Drawing of execution of rebels at courthouse, 1865. Courtesy of Princeton University Library Special Collections.

After the dust settled in Morant Bay, only 18 members of the Anglo-Jamaican ruling class (and their police) had perished in the revolt, over 400 black laborers and peasants were dead, many executed without trial.[46] Hundreds more had been flogged as they and their parents before them under the regime of slavery. And thousands more still were displaced due to the wanton burning of homes both in and outside of the districts in revolt.[47] Eyre and others were twice indicted for the brutal reprisals carried out against the black population, though no trials ever took place. Jamaica, and the black working class and peasantry in particular according to the planters and colonial office, had failed in the experiment of freedom. In the aftermath of the rebellion, the colony lost the paltry democratic rights held by the proprietary minority – which included blacks and mixed race people – and was ruled directly from London as a Crown Colony for the proceeding two decades. While another wave of civil unrest would wrack Jamaica (and the entire anglophone Caribbean between 1934 and 1938) in the coming decades, the Maroons’ role as direct class collaborators with the British largely subsided.

Representation of Paul Bogle by artist Ottis Porritt. Courtesy of author, Gordon R. Barnes Jr.

 What is clear from this brief history of the Jamaican Maroons is that “marronage as freedom” doesn’t always hold. The situations in 1760 and 1831-1832 were potentially revolutionary ones in which slavery could have been abolished, not through parliamentarianism as it was in the end (which resulted in an effective extension of the conditions of chattel slavery), but through social revolution. Likewise, the Morant Bay Rebellion, while much smaller, possessed within it the potential to challenge the Anglo-Jamaican ruling class for power, though it resulted in the would-be counter-revolutionaries of the former slavocracy reasserting their social power. Much of the success of the British in this period can be directly linked to the involvement of the Maroons as allies of the imperialists during these crucial flashpoints. The Jamaican Maroons are indelibly linked, at least in crucial parts of their history from 1760-1865, to the maxim relative to the British Empire. An empire upon which “the sun never sets, and the blood never dries.”

Towards Theories of Marronage as Compromise, Marronage as Accommodation

In his afterward, “Why Marronage Still Matters,” Neil Roberts posits the following:

“We are able to decipher freedom’s meaning when we acknowledge a basic precept of the theory of freedom as marronage: freedom materializes in the liminal and interstitial social space between our imaginings of absolute unfreedom and the zone of its opposite.”[48] 

As has been demonstrated, marronage is not simply about freedom. When we consider the long role of Jamaican Maroons in particular, this neatly packaged notion is easily disrupted. Marronage also operated as a form of class collaboration. No matter how contentious the relationship between the planters and Maroons, the black slaves and laborers were not generally incorporated into their version of marronage. So then, marronage can also be compromise. And I use this word in a dual fashion: compromise in terms of liaising and working with the ruling elite, as well as a compromise of a collective commitment to freedom. While the Maroons themselves never professed to maintain such a view, popular culture (particularly amongst activists) typically  does – as evinced in the 2015 film Queen Nanny: Legendary Maroon Chieftainess by Roy T. Andrews. We can also begin to understand marronage, during the aforementioned period, as a form of accommodation to the both slavery and the British rule of Jamaica, their semi-autonomy notwithstanding. With these new framings in mind, it is instructive for those committed to black liberation to both grapple with these histories and to see how certain trends evinced by maroon history, namely the issue of class collaboration, still plague the black freedom struggle.

The Black Freedom Struggle in America in Light of Marronage

Before delving into the black freedom struggle vis-à-vis marronage, some caveats are in order. I do not see “social justice,” not just for black people but indeed any oppressed social group, as possible within a capitalist framework. Be it the neoliberal manifestation capitalism of today or Bernie Sanders-style “capitalism lite.” From my point of view, black liberation and the liberation of all oppressed peoples will only come to fruition with the overthrow of the dictatorship of capital. Only revolution will bring justice, and as it relates to black liberation in particular, no reparations under the aegis of a capitalist social order will hamper the oppression of black people as a race-color caste. All this is not to say that I am pessimistic, but simply that I find the only viable solution for the issue of black oppression to be within a communist framework. This is the viewpoint from which I approach the more contemporary issues of the black freedom struggle in light of marronage. 

In light of the history of marronage in Jamaica relative to slave revolts, how do we extrapolate a liberatory politics of the present from the past? Given that Roberts’ definition in addition to the dictionary definition of marronage centers on “flight” from the centers of social power to the margins in order to attain autonomy or some modicum of independence, Marcus Garvey and the United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) is an apt place to begin to investigate more modern forms of marronage as compromise and accommodation.

Garvey, born in Jamaica in 1887, was a pioneer of black nationalist and pan-Africanist thought. With the UNIA, founded in 1914, Garvey and his co-thinkers sought to arouse racial consciousness amongst diasporic blacks with the eventual goal of leaving the West and “returning” to Africa. This flight from the racial animus of the West, and the United States in particular, where the UNIA was most active in its heyday, is reminiscent of a “modern marronage.” But as the Jamaican Maroons accommodated and compromised with British slavery and colonialism, so did Garvey and the UNIA. The crux of Garveyism and the UNIA program was that of black capitalism – for the UNIA anyone who “unreasonably or wantonly struggled against [capitalism were] enemies to human advancement”[49] – and in turn a quasi-black imperialism in relation to the African continent. C.L.R. James hit the proverbial nail on the head when discussing Garvey and the prospects for black liberation, that while aspects of the movement were progressive (specifically solidarity amongst Africans and the Diaspora), it was “in many respects absurd and in others thoroughly dishonest.”[50]

Marcus Garvey at New York City UNIA Parade 1922. Via history.com.

Garvey’s vision of salvation for black people did not include challenging the racism in the United States insofar as it was “a white man’s country” and that blacks should “cede to the white man the right of doing as he pleases.”[51] And the UNIA vision of a united Africa (of which Garvey was voted “Provisional President” by the membership) sought to uphold stricter racial purity laws than existed in Jim Crow America.[52]

Garvey was also explicitly anti-communist as both the Socialist Party and later the Communist Party[53] pushed a policy of revolutionary integrationism throughout the 1920s. He explicitly aligned the UNIA with the League of Nations, an inter-imperialist bloc rather than the Comintern, which at the time was the only organization dedicated to bringing about national liberation in Africa (as well as in the Middle East and Asia).[54] His anti-communism was such that, in regards to integrated labor struggles, he and the UNIA advocated separatism and for black workers to “keep [their] scale of wages a little lower than the whites…so doing he will keep the good will of the white employer.”[55]

This abject capitulation to both capitalism and white supremacy has even been recognized by some more left-leaning black nationalists in more recent times. And this more “modern marronage,” as articulated by Garvey, saw him and the UNIA make a point of tactical unity with the Ku Klux Klan in 1924, while being at odds with the communist aligned African Blood Brotherhood, which advocated for multi-racial working class unity and armed self-defense against the KKK.[56] In fact, Garveyism stressed that the KKK were better friends to blacks than either the communists or the social democratic NAACP.[57] This was the UNIA position at the height of racist lynch mob violence across the USA. Garvey also worked with Earnest Sevier Cox, an avowed white supremacist and eugenicist, with UNIA membership encouraged to purchase his 1923 racist tract White America.[58] It should come as no surprise then, when other black nationalist later on in the struggle for black freedom in the USA courted fascists, principally as the Nation of Islam did with the American Nazi Party in 1961.

George Lincoln Rockwell, flanked by members of the American Nazi Party, listening to Malcolm X’s speech at a Black Muslims meeting held at the International Amphitheater. Photograph by Eve Arnold. Courtesy of http://www.blvckvrchives.com/.

Garvey and the UNIA merely represent the beginning trends of more modern forms of class collaboration during the ongoing black freedom struggle. For Garvey, the UNIA and the black nationalists which sprung from this movement, the oppression of blacks by white capitalists in America was to be supplanted by black capitalists. And European colonialism torn up not in the name of national liberation, but in order to usher in a black colonial project centered on the dominance of “Western Negros,” offering “proper education” to the African masses.[59]

The history of Garvey and the UNIA evince one of the more grotesque form of class collaboration with capitalist interests similarly to those Maroons who suppressed slave revolts as they supported the machinations of British colonialists. This method of politics – modern marronage – for black liberation, however, continues. It would not be possible to delve into the manifold ways in which the black freedom struggle both in the USA and outside it is fettered by class collaboration and led towards a political blind alley. And it must be noted that such collaboration needn’t be with the most repugnant political elements of a given society. In the specific context of the United States, this “modern marronage” comes in the form of identarian politics which, while righteous in anger, lead black dissent and furor at the ravages of this racist society back into the oldest, most experienced capitalist organization in the world, the Democratic Party.

Black Lives Matter (BLM), for its part, is geared towards turning black anger at the endemic racism of capitalism towards certain wings within the Democratic Party. Though unstated, it is clear that the so-called “progressive Democrats” will be courted in 2020 as they have been since BLM’s founding. No matter the wing, the Sanders’ and Ocasio-Cortez’ et. al. are capitalists. Those who are leftists and struggle for social justice cannot do so within the Democratic Party. Black liberation (and indeed all other forms of social liberation) will come not with retrenchment with the party of chattel slavery, but with a fundamental break with them towards a multiracial and revolutionary working class party. The “moralsuasion”[60] of extant identity politics is counter-posed to the actual emancipation of black people under capitalism. As Fred Hampton noted during the struggles against racial oppression in the 1960s, we cannot fight capitalism with capitalism. And just as the history of the Maroons in Jamaica demonstrate, the black freedom struggle can ill afford any more accommodation or compromise now than it could two centuries ago. Marronage is freedom, but only if we collectively understand its limits. Otherwise it is mired in class collaborationist politics which may profess a desire for black freedom, but in reality hamper it at every turn.

Gordon R. Barnes Jr. is a PhD Candidate at the Graduate Center, CUNY and an Adjunct Lecturer in the History Departments at Queens College and the College of Staten Island, CUNY, where he teaches a variety of classes on Latin America, the Caribbean, the Indian Ocean, slavery, and revolutions. His dissertation “The Slaveholders’ Gambit: Abolition and the Origins of White Supremacy in Jamaica and Mauritius, 1825-1866” examines elite ideology in the British Empire during the transitions from slavery to apprenticeship to nominal forms of freedom and the ways in which intra-elite social and political contestations produced new formulations of racialized thinking and labor regimentation. His broader research interests center on political ideology, comparative slavery and emancipation, histories of social revolution, political violence, and the revolutionary left. Barnes is active in his faculty union, the Professional Staff Congress, and in working class struggles in the NYC area. He can be reached on Twitter (which he seldom uses) at @grb_jr or emailed at gbarnes@gradcenter.cuny.edu.

Further Reading

[1] Neil Roberts, Freedom as Marronage. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2015.

[2] Ibid., pp. 89-137.

[3] See, for example: Mavis C. Campbell, The Maroons of Jamaica, 1655-1796: A History of Resistance, Collaboration and Betrayal. South Hadley: Bergin and Garvey, 1988.

[4] See, for example: S.A.G. Taylor, The Western Design: An Account of Cromwell’s Expedition to the Caribbean. Kingston: Institute of Jamaica, 1965, pp. 98-102.

[5] Orlando Patterson, “Slavery and Slave Revolts: A Sociohistorical Analysis of the First Maroon War, 1665-1740,” Social and Economic Studies Vol. 19, 1970, pp. 289-325.

[6] For a concise examination of the Maroon resistance in Jamaica see: Michal Craton, Testing the Chains: Resistance to Slavery in the British West Indies. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1982, pp. 67-98.

[7] Helen McKee, “From Violence to Alliance: Maroon and White Settlers in Jamaica, 1739-1795,” Slavery and Abolition, Vol. 39 Iss. 1, pp. 27-52.

[8] Ibid., p. 32.

[9] See, for example: Mavis C. Campbell, The Maroons of Jamaica, 1655-1796: A History of Resistance, Collaboration and Betrayal. South Hadley: Bergin and Garvey, 1988.

[10] Michael Sivapragasm, After the Treaties: A Social, Economic, and Demographic History of Maroon Society in Jamaica, 1739-1842. University of Southampton, History Department, 2018, pp. 100-119.

[11] Ibid., p. 92.

[12] Craton, p. 127.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid., pp. 132-133.

[15] The National Archives (of the United Kingdom), London, England, hereafter TNA(UK), CO 137/32, Minutes of Meeting Held at Spanish Town, 10 April 1760.

[16] Craton, p. 136.

[17] Ibid., p. 137.

[18] Trevor Burnard, Mastery, Tyranny, and Desire: Thomas Thistlewood and his Slaves in the Anglo-Jamaican World. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2004, pp. 170-172

[19] McKee, pp. 38-39

[20] Laurent Dubois, Avengers of the New World: The Story of the Haitian Revolution. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004, p. 33.

[21] Julius S. Scott, The Common Wind: Afro-American Currents in the Age of the Haitian Revolution. London: Verso, 2018, p. 9.

[22] McKee, pp. 39-40.

[23] Sivapragasm, p. 156.

[24] See for example: Craton, pp. 254-290 and Emelia Viotti da Costa, Crowns of Glory, Tears of Blood: The Demerara Slave Rebellion of 1823. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994.

[25] Sivapragasm, pp. 255-257.

[26] National Library of Jamaica, Kingston, Jamaica, hereafter NLJ, MS 758d, ‘Note from the West Indian agents to Viscount Goderich regarding proposed measures for the welfare of the enslaved’. 22 Apr. 1831.

[27] NLJ, Great Britain Government, House of Commons, ‘Jamaica: Slave insurrection: returns to two addresses to His Majesty, dated 10 & 18 April, 1832.’

[28] Thomas C. Holt, The Problem of Freedom: Race Labor, and Politics in Jamaica, 1832-1938. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992, pp. 13-18.

[29] British Newspaper Archive, The Examiner, 26 Feb. 1832.

[30] Sivapragasm, p. 206.

[31] Holt, p. 205.

[32] For a concise history of the Morant Bay Rebellion see: Gad Heuman, ‘The Killing Time:’ The Morant Bay Rebellion in Jamaica. Knoxville, The University of Texas Press, 1994. 

[33] TNA(UK) CO 137/393, Jamaica 1865, vol. 7 Sept. and Oct. Governor Eyre, Nos. 220 to 260 – ‘John Eyre to Edward Cardwell, Jamaica Despatch No. 257’ fo. 324, 20 Oct. 1865.  TNA(UK) CO 137/394, Jamaica 1865, vol. 8 1st to 8th Nov. Governor Eyre, Nos. 261 to 285 – ‘John Eyre address to Legislative Session’ fo. 354, 27 Oct. 1865.

For a concise examination of the 1857 Indian rebellion see: Clare Anderson, The Indian Uprising of 1857-8: Prisons, Prisoners, and Rebellion. London: Anthem Press, 2007.

[34] TNA(UK), CO 137/393, Eyre to Caldwell, 24 Oct. 1865.

[35] TNA(UK), CO 137/394, Jamaica 1865, vol. 8 1st to 8th Nov. Governor Eyre, Nos. 261-285 – ‘John Eyre to General O’Connor, Jamaica Despatch No. 180’, 5 Nov. 1865.

[36] For a comprehensive overview of labor regimentation and punishment during the transition from freedom to slavery in Jamaica see: Diana Patton, No Bond but the Law: Punishment, Race, and Gender in Jamaican State Formation, 1780-1870. Durham: Duke University Press, 2004.

[37] TNA(UK), CO 137/394, Jamaica 1865, vol. 8 1st to 8th Nov. Governor Eyre, Nos. 261-285 – ‘John Eyre to Edward Cardwell, Jamaica Despatch No. 278’, fos. 484-5, 8 Nov. 1865.

[38] Catherine Hall, Civilising Subjects: Metropole and Colony in the English Imagination, 1830-1867. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2002, p. 61.

[39] TNA(UK), CO 137/394, Jamaica 1865, vol. 8 1st to 8th Nov. Governor Eyre, Nos. 261-285 – ‘John Eyre to General O’Connor, Jamaica Despatch No. 180’, 5 Nov. 1865.

[40] Heuman, p. 131.

[41] TNA(UK), CO 137/393, Eyre to Caldwell, No. 262, 2 Nov. 1865.

[42] Holt, pp. 301-302.

[43] Heuman, p. 133.

[44] TNA (UK) CO 137/394, Jamaica 1865, vol. 8 1st to 8th Nov. Governor Eyre, Nos. 261 to 285 – ‘Anonymous Letter to the Gentlemen of Vere’, fo. 323, Undated. & TNA(UK) CO 137/394, Jamaica 1865, vol. 8 1st to 8th Nov. Governor Eyre, Nos. 261 to 285 – ‘Benjamin Vickers to Edward Jordan’, 19 Oct. 1865.

[45] Most of the planters that received arms were German settlers, though additional Maroons were also armed. Quoted in TNA(UK) CO 137/394, Jamaica 1865, vol. 8 1st to 8th Nov. Governor Eyre, Nos. 261 to 285 – ‘Benjamin Vickers to Edward Jordan’, fos. 304-9, 30 Oct. 1865.

[46] Heuman, pp. 142-143.

[47] British Newspaper Archive, Dublin Evening Mail, 15 Dec. 1865.

[48] Roberts, pp. 173-174.

[49] Marcus Garvey, The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey Or, Africa for the Africans. Dover: The Majority Press, 1986, Vol. 2, p. 72.

[50] CLR James, A History of Pan-African Revolt. Oakland: PM Press, 2012, p. 94.

[51] Marcus Garvey, Vol. 2, p. 46.

[52] Ibid., pp. 46-47.

[53] Note that the CPUSA was called the Workers Party of America from 1921-1929.

[54] Margaret Stevens, Red International and Black Caribbean: Communists in New York, Mexico and the West Indies, 1919-1939. London: Pluto Press, 2017, p. 44.

[55] Garvey, Vol. 2, p. 70.

[56] Stevens, pp. 30-37.

[57] Garvey, Vol. 2, p. 71.

[58] Ibid., Vol. 2, p. 414.

[59] Ibid., Vol. 2, p. 68.

[60] For an excellent examination of the origins of “moralsuasion” versus revolutionary political praxis in the black freedom struggle within the United States see: Kellie Carter Jackson, Force and Freedom: Black Abolitionists and the Politics of Violence. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2019.

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