World Sugar History Newsletter

Number 11, December 1987

In this issue:

  1. Research in Progress
  2. Book Reviews
  3. Papers Received
  4. Archive Report
  5. Sugar Museums
  6. Announcement

This version of the World Sugar History Newsletter, Number 11, December 1987, has been edited for the purpose of on-line display. The contents remain complete.


[In addition to the lists in issues nos.1-10]

Nicolas Rivero, Organization of American States.
"Strategy for vertical diversification of sugar cane, out of sugar into other products like ethanol, animal feeds, etc."

Peter Cochrane, University of Sydney.
"Australian economic and social history."

Shahid Amin, St. Stephen's College, Delhi.
"Indian agricultural history."

Anil Sookdeo, University of Indiana, Bloomington.
"Trinidad labour history in the nineteenth century."


John Alfred Heitmann, The Modernization of the Louisiana Sugar Industry, 1830-1910 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1987). Bibliog. Illus. 298 pp.

Heitmann's work is an outstanding example of putting local history into the larger context of the world history of sugar production in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. He has successfully combined the political and entrepreneurial history of Louisiana sugar production with the institutional development of scientific and technical education and research institutions.

The precarious nature of the Louisiana industry from its beginnings and throughout its development into its collapse in the early twentieth century, is told in clear and precise language. A high market price and the tariff of 1842, which placed a premium on white sugar, turned the attention of the Louisiana planters to their crude Jamaica-train systems. By 1859, steam pans, vacuum and multiple effect pans were coming into general use. The limiting factor, however, was the general fear of the impact of technology on slave labour, "the hazards of insurrection" which supposedly accompanied the use of technology. An evaporative system developed by a black -- Rillieux -- could not be operated by black labourers. The intellectual and political climate of antebellum Louisiana did not support scientific and technological efforts. European sugar developments combined with American changes in political economy turned this situation around.

The impact of European sugar beet competition on the world market is marked out in terms of the response of both the Louisiana Sugar Producers' Association and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's political concerns with American sugar dependency, the Republican party concern with the gold standard, and the producers' need to retain tariff protection.

Heitmann's chapters on the evolution of the politically powerful Louisiana Sugar Planters' Association and its alliance with the USDA and the resulting development of the Audubon Park Research Station under the direction of William Stubbs are outstanding for their clarity and the skill with which he ties together German research in organic chemistry and the adaptation and transfer of these skills to the American scene, with the establishment of chemical engineering curricula at such universities as Tulane and Louisiana State University.

Why then the failure and collapse of the Louisiana industry in the early years of the twentieth century? The changing fortunes of U.S. party politics, the poor climate of Louisiana and its persistent, high labour costs, and the monopoly tendencies of the American sugar industry in this period were beyond the scientific and technical solutions which held such promise before 1910.

The book is an important contribution to the political economy of world sugar history.

Ed Beechert
University of Hawaii at Manoa

J. R. Ward, Poverty and Progress in the Caribbean, 1800-1960 (London: Macmillan, 1985). Studies in Economic and Social History Series. 82 pp.

At first sight avid readers of the WSHN would welcome this short monograph if only because it seeks to place sugar at the forefront of the story. But therein lies a cautionary tale. One Caribbean reviewer, while conceding that there is some justification in the historiography for the book's approach, has already called it "dolefully diabetic". Nevertheless, the book is useful as a brief summary of the main arguments in the published literature, especially regarding adjustments both before and after emancipation. Less useful, perhaps, are Ward's own comments which seem to proceed from a conviction that, all things considered, sugar planting was the best use to which the land resources of the Caribbean could have been put. This leads him to suggest that the continuation of the sugar plantations was probably helpful to general economic development. This is unlikely to prove convincing to Caribbean scholars, especially since there are conceptual problems with Ward's notion of development, as indeed with his concept of poverty and progress. There are also problems with his tendency, when the developing Caribbean historiography does not fit his scheme, to complain either that the details of a local point are unsure or that the area-wide relevance of some argument has yet to be established. The real difficulty with literature surveys like these, particularly where the subject is the third world, is the gap between published work and the outpouring of local scholars which makes its way into print at a comparatively slower pace and to which any review based on published work is unlikely to give adequate weight.

Kusha Haraksingh
University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad.

Roger Plant, Sugar and Modern Slavery (London: Zed Press, 1987). Pp. 177. 24.95 pounds h.b., 37.95 pounds p.b.

The historical section at the beginning of this book tells how the island of Hispaniola became two states. Both Haiti and the Dominican Republic had complex colonial and post colonial histories which gave rise to social structures with great internal inequalities. Both witnessed initial attempts to build self-sufficient peasant societies. In both countries these experiments were curtailed and frustrated but with different results. In Haiti, the state became an instrument of surplus extraction, starting by paying reparations to the French, reaching its apogee, or should we say nadir, in the Duvalier regime. In the Dominican Republic, international capital, especially US capital, displayed a periodic interest in the apparent excess of land and the state responded to those shifts. Their roles in the international division of labour were confirmed in the outright military occupations by the U.S.A. in the early part of this century. Haiti eventually became a provider of cane cutting labour and the Dominican Republic a supplier of land for growing sugar, tied closely to economic and political U.S. interests.

The analyst of the political economy of sugar might wish for comparisons to be drawn with other situations in which the problem of land "surplus" has had to be resolved by politically restricting access to land for owner-cultivation. Conceptually the conditions for moving labour from Haiti to the Dominican Republic closely resemble nineteenth-century indenture -- and a relatively benign form of indenture at that -- rather than slavery. Another comparison which suggests itself is with the rice/sugar and root-crop/coffee economies described by Geertz in Dutch Indonesia. Looking beyond sugar, there are possible parallels with migrant labour systems elsewhere, for instance the recruitment of workers for South African mines and farms. But Plant's concerns in this book are more to combat an immediate injustice than to locate the experience of the sugar workers of Hispaniola in a wider analytical context.

Given the widespread similarities to other experiences, however, it is still surprising that Plant places so much responsibility for the oppressive experience of Haitian workers in the Dominican Republic on the Dominican state and the people of the Dominican Republic. It is as if the self-defined boundaries of his study force him to deal primarily in the legal categories of "Dominican" and "Haitian" as a primary classification, rather than the categories of cane-cutter and exploiter as classes, which cross those national boundaries. If the island of Hispaniola were under a single state, would the experience of those who cut sugar cane really be significantly different? For instance, are the lives of the landless on Negros in the Philippines politically and materially better than those in the Dominican Republic, whether formally Dominican or Haitian? Surely, if the intention is to lay blame for the conditions under which manual sugar cane cutters work, the dominant factor is selling sugar onto a world market at prices and in quantities which bear no relation to the needs of the producers?

Certainly, the fact merits recording that in the Dominican Republic thousands of workers have been indentured and that Haitian citizens resident in the Dominican Republic have been regularly, if temporarily, kidnapped to work on state and private sugar plantations whenever indenture becomes problematic. But the book loses credibility in that the author appears to be seeking to remove a limited anachronism while claiming to be concerned with much wider issues. The Dominican government is placed in the dock and found guilty of abuse against unenforceable international labour agreements. The Dominican poeple are found to show tendencies towards nationalism, racism, and labour elitism which limit the likelihood of internai reform improving the effective rights of Haitians in the Dominican Republic.

To seek to remedy an immediate wrong is understandable, but there is a danger of appearing to absolve the wider culprit because the case appears to lack immediate, obvious remedy. Plant himself shows how I.M.F. pressure for "structural adjustment" perpetuates dependence on export crops, though not sugar, and, the chaos caused by large reductions in U.S. quotas and E.E.C. dumping. And yet he is forced to the logical, if reluctant, conclusion that it might be possible to justify sanctions against the Dominicon Republic by the U.S.A. and the E.E.C. on human rights grounds!

It is likely that the mass of people living on Hispaniola wish to be independent peasants and active trades unionists. The present structure frustrates both those desires in both the present states on the island as Plant clearly shows. Why he should be so concerned about the conditions under which one state transfers a relatively small number of workers to the other is less clear and runs the risk of diverting attention from the greater cause of frustrated aspirations. It would be wrong to suggest that Roger Plant is not aware of the deeper frustrations. In effect, the book consists of three essays: first, a historical overview showing the continuing domination of external forces over the Dominican sugar industry and how limits have been set to its development; second, an account of recent repression of sugar industry trades unions in the Dominican Republic; and third, a technical case-study of abuse of migrant workers' rights. It is odd that the last should be given first priority in a book which is an interesting, readable introduction to the political economy of sugar on Hispaniola.

John Cameron
University of East Anglia

Geoff Burrows and Clive Morton, The Cane Cutters (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1986). Bibliog., illus., 288 pp. Available from HB Sales, Littleton House, Littleton Road, Ashford, Middlesex, TWI5 IUQ. Price 25 pounds.

It is astonishing that the vast Australian cane sugar industry lacks a systematic and comprehensive history of its working class. Hitherto, most scholarly work has concentrated on the notorious labour trade which serviced the industry in its era of plantation production in the late nineteenth century. While making brief reference to that period, The Cane Cutters especially addresses the social history of the gangs of men (and women) who harvested cane under the central milling system. While by no means unique, the Australian system of cane cutting on the "butty" gang principle is distinctive and has an extraordinarily rich industrial and social history worthy of close examination.

Neither Burrows nor Morton are trained historians and the book has an antiquarian, rather than a disciplined, analytical approach. The work is composed of 20 largely independent essays, which cover in more or less chronological form, various aspects of the history of cane cutters from the 1860s through to the current day, including valuable accounts of technological innovation in the industry. There is no real attempt, however, to locate the work within the broader context of conflicts and changes associated with the economic development and politics of the industry and the world sugar economy, or to pursue a reasoned historical argument.

At the same time, there is a great deal to attract the attention of the sugar scholar in this book. The authors are very aware of the conflict between labour and technology and some of the most fascinating chapters address the many attempts in Australia to develop cane harvesters, culminating in the invention of the world's first successful commercial cane harvester by the Riverina grazier, R. S. Falkiner. The authors also trace the introduction of mechanical loaders in the field and on the wharf, the development both of the MF515 chopper harvester, which transformed the Australian industry in the 1950s, and subsequent harvesting machinery which contributed to the enormous expansion of the Australian industry in the 1960s. This is required reading for those interested in the yet under-researched history of cane sugar technologies.

Rapidly transforming technology was only one of the problems which the labour force in the Australian sugar industry had to face. The book presents a compelling story of labour struggles, including the perennial battle to maintain wage rates and working conditions, and the dramatic strikes over Weil's disease in the 1930s. The tensions and conflicts which arose over the introduction of immigrant workers from southern Europe and the Baltic countries at different stages of the industry's history, are also outlined. Equally fascinating, is the account of the working practices and daily life of the cane cutters based largely on oral sources, which imbue the work with a vivid richness not usually evident in published sources. This aspect of the book will be of special interest to those interested in the social or labour history of cane sugar.

The merits and general interest in this book were recognized recently in the award of prestigious local history prize by the Australian Writers Fellowship.

Adrian Graves
University of Edinburgh.

Oscar Zanetti Lecuona and Alejandro Garcia Alvarez, Caminos para el Azucar (Havana: Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, 1987). Pp. 417.

This is a splendidly produced and generously illustrated study of the history of the railways in Cuba from the early 19th century up until the Revolution. It is based on rich collections of primary documentation in Cuba and was carried out in the mid-1970s by the authors with the help of groups of students from the Department of Cuban History at the University of Havana.

The authors begin by offering the political and economic background to the construction of the country's first railway in the 1830s. This section is characteristic of the remainder of the book in that the details of finance, construction, and economic demand are successfully combined with a sensitive account of the socio-political struggle for and impact of the railway. A much more extensive review would be necessary to do justice to this excellent work, but it is clearly far more than simply a history of the railways in Cuba. The development and operation of the Cuban rail network is considered in detail, but sensibly eschewing the narrow neo-classical approach adopted by new economic history scholars such as Fogel, Garcia and Zanetti have used the history of the country's railways to present a broad and perceptive economic and social analysis of Cuban history. Of particular interest is their argument, pursued throughout the book, about the close connection between sugar and railway growth and how this tended to limit the wider transforming power of the railways within the Cuban economy. This may seem a fairly straightforward issue, but the strength of this particular account is that it proceeds from a closely argued class analysis of the nature of railway expansion. This book is essential reading not only for those interested in Cuba but for anyone concerned with the history of sugar and/or the relationship between economic development and technical change in imperialist dominated penpheral capitalist economies.

Bill Albert
University of East Anglia


Please send us news of your latest papers or publications for inclusion here.

Papers of the Conference on the Historical and Cultural Relations between France and India in the XVIIth and XXth Centuries, held at St. Denis, Reunion, 21-28 July, 1986, obtainable from the Association Historique Internationale de L'Ocean Indien, c/o Archives Departementales de la Reunion le Chaudron - 97490 Sainte Clotilde, La Reunion.

Carl Henry Feuer, "The performance of the Cuban Sugar Industry, 1981-5," World Development (1987), Vol.15:l, pp. 67-81.

Rebecca J. Scott, "Comparing Emancipations: A review essay," Journal of Social History (Spring, 1987), Vol. 20:3.

Rebecca J. Scott, "Slavery, Population and Progress," Latin American Research Review (1987), Vol. 22:2. (A substantial review article of books by Davis, Higman, Cox, and Scarano.)

Richard Drayton, "Colonialism and Cultural Dependency in the Caribbean: The Case of the Sugar Cane Breeding in Barbados." Paper presented to the IXth Meeting of the Association of Caribbean Studies, London, 29th July, 1987. (Richard Drayton is a PhD student in the department of History at Yale and this paper is based upon his BA thesis, "Sugar Cane Breeding in Barbados: Knowledge and Power in the Colonial Context," submitted to the Committee of History and Science, Harvard University in March 1987.)

Dena Markoff Sabin, How Sweet It Was! The Beet Sugar Industry in Microcosm: The National Sugar Manufacturing Company, 1899-1967 (New York: Garland Publishing Company, American Business History Series). ISBN 0-8240-8360-1.

David Denslow, Sugar Production in Northeastern Brazil and Cuba (New York: Garland Publishing Company, South American and Latin American Economic History Series). ISBN 0-8240-1357-3.

Felix Goizueta-Mimo, Bitter Cuban Sugar: Monoculture and Economic Dependence from 1825-1899 (New York: Garland Publishing Company, South American and Latin American Economic History Series). ISBN 0-8240-1362-X.


Sugar In Hawaii: A Guide to Historical Sources (An update to the Archive Report submitted by Ed Beechert on Hawaii Archival Resources for World Sugar History Newsletter, No.8, June 1986)

1. Sugar in Hawaii: A Guide to Historical Resources (The Humanities Program of the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts in cooperation with The Hawaiian Historical Society, Honolulu, 1986). Compiled and annotated by Susan M. Campbell and edited by Linda K. Menton, PhD.
This is a 76-page guide to historical resources in the state of Hawaii on the subject of the sugar industry in Hawaii, resources in collections that are generally open to the public. Resources included in the guide are indexes, bibliographies, books, periodicals, newspapers, government publications, theses, manuscripts, documents, annual reports, business records, photographs, videotapes, slides, films, oral histories, historic sites, artifacts, maps, and blue-prints. The guide is available in all public libraries and institutional repositories in the state of Hawaii. A copy is also at the Library of Congress. For further information regarding the guide write: Marie D. Strazar, Humanities Program, State Foundation on Culture and the Arts, 335 Merchant Street, Room 202, Honolulu, Hawaii 96813, U.S.A.

2. The Kauai Historical Society is now physically separated from the Kauai Museum and is located in Hanalei, Kauai, and not in Lihue. The materials referred to in the Beechert summary of No. 8 of the Newsletter are basically materials belonging to the Kauai Historical Society. Refer to notations on page 57 of Sugar in Hawaii, referred to above, for clearer notes on the Kauai Museum collection. Note also on page 57 of Sugar in Hawaii the notation on the Kauai Regional Library's collection in Lihue.

3. The Alexander and Baldwin Sugar Museum is now open to the public. Museum hours are Monday through Friday from 9.30 a.m. to 4.00 p.m. The museum's archives contain Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company records and the records of its predecessors and competitors, now owned by Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company. Records date from the 1860s to the 1950s and are composed of financial, payroll, labour, field, and crop records. The records are only in the preliminary stages of processmg and access to them is therefore very restricted and will remain so for some time.

4. The Hawaiian Sugar Planters' Association has established the Plantation Archives. The Archives are open to serious researchers, university or college staff members, and graduate students. Contact Archivist Deborah Saito, HSPA, P.O. Box 1()57, Aiea, Hawaii 96701, U.S.A, for an application form and appointment. HSPA has just recently received a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission to support continued processing of its collections. Many of the over 1000 cubic feet of records in HSPA's collections will therefore become accessible over the coming two to five years.

Marie D. Strazar
State Foundation on Culture and the Arts, Hawaii.



If you are ever in Vancouver, you will enjoy a visit to the B.C. Sugar Museum at the B.C. Sugar Refinery, foot of Rogers Street, Vancouver. While the development of the refinery since 1891 is the main focus, the well set-out displays in this richly stocked Museum include sugar making equipment dating back to 1715, beet and cane production on the prairies, and past company operation in Fiji and the Dominican Republic. There is no admission charge and the museum is open from 9.00 a.m. to 4.00 p.m., Monday to Friday.

If readers know of any other museums featuring sugar which are worth a visit, let us know about them!


The edited papers of the Conference on the International Sugar Economy, 1914 1939, are scheduled for publication by Croom Helm in April 1988. The title of the Book is The International Sugar Economy in War and Depression, 1914-1939. The contents are as follows:

Chapter Title and Author

  1. "Introduction" by Bill Albert and Adrian Graves
  2. "The German Beet-Sugar Industry and the Nazi Machtergreifung of 1933" by John Perkins
  3. "The Crisis of the Beet Sugar Industry in Czechoslovakia" by Frantisek Dudek
  4. "The Spanish Sugar Industry, 1914-1936" by Manuel Martin Rodrigues
  5. "Growth and Crisis of the Brazilian Sugar Industry" by Tamas Szmrecsanyi
  6. "The Peruvian Sugar Industry 1918-1939: Response to the World Crisis" bv Bill Albert
  7. "The Cartelization of the Mexican Sugar Industry, 1924-1940" by Horacio Crespo
  8. "The Cuban Sugar Economy in the 1930s" by Brian Pollitt
  9. "The Uneasy Relationship:Peasants, Plantocrats and the Trinidad Sugar Industry, 1919-1938" by Kusha Haraksinzh
  10. "The Frustrated Development of the Haitian Sugar Industry between 1915/18 and 1938/9: International Financial Rivalries" by Guy Pierre
  11. "Technology and the Plantation Labour Supply: The Case of Queensland, Hawaii, Louisiana, and Cuba" by Edward D. Beechert
  12. "Crisis and Change in the Australian Sugar Industry, 1914-1939" by Adrian Graves
  13. "Treacherous Cane: The Java Sugar Industry Between 1914 and 1940" by Peter Boomgaard
  14. "The Oligopolistic Structure of the Philippine Sugar Industry dunng the Great Depression" by Yoshiko Nazano
  15. "Sugar Mills and Peasants in Northern India, 1914-40" by Shahid Amin
  16. "Struggles in the Canefields: Small Growers in Mauritius, 1921-1937" by Daniel North-Coombes
  17. "Protectionism and Sugar Production in Central and Equatorial Africa 1910-1945" by Gervaise Clarence-Smith
  18. "Employment Practices, Sugar Technology, and Sugar Mill Labour: Crisis and Change in the South African Sugar Industry, 1914-1939" by David Lincoln

Introduction, 27 Tables, 8 Graphs, Index, 240 pp.

The book will be available to readers of World Sugar History Newsletter at a concessionary price. Full Details soon.

World Sugar History Newsletter compiled by: Bill Albert, School of Economic & Social Studies, UEA, Norwich. Adrian Graves, Department of Economic & Social History, University of Edinburgh. All correspondence to Bill Albert, School of Economic & Social Studies, UEA, Norwich NR4 7TJ, U. K.