The Black Jacobins: A review of C. L. R. James’s classic account of Haiti’s slave revolt — Ashley Smith | International Socialist Review



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Note: A .pdf version of C.L.R. James’s The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution can be obtained here: “CLR_James_The_Black_Jacobins.”

Source of all that follows: International Socialist Review / (2009) 

The Black Jacobins: A review of C. L. R. James’s classic account of Haiti’s slave revolt


THE HAITIAN Revolution was the first and only successful slave revolution in human history. The slaves’ struggle produced heroic leaders, especially Toussaint L’Ouverture. He and his revolutionary army of self-emancipated slaves defeated the three great empires of the eighteenth century—Spain, England, and France—and finally won independence after a decade of struggle in 1804.

While historians have written tomes on the eighteenth century’s other great revolutions—the American, and French—the Haitian Revolution has been buried under calumny or simply suppressed. Why? Our rulers of course minimize the role of revolution in history, even the ones that brought them to power, for fear of highlighting the fact that fundamental change comes from social revolution. But they hold a particular animus toward the Haitian Revolution. In its time it directly threatened the slave empires in the new world. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, it offered hope of insurrection for independence to the colonies subject to the European empires. It has always been a challenge to liberals and their counsel of piecemeal reform and gradualism, which rarely if ever delivers change, and instead promises a counter-model of class struggle and revolution.

Even on the left, the Haitian Revolution does not get the recognition it merits. For example, most left-wing histories of the French Revolution, often marred by a Stalinist French nationalism, fail to understand the centrality of the Haitian colony and slavery in the development of French capitalism and the consequent strength of the bourgeoisie to overthrow the absolutist monarchy.1

C. L. R. James’s brilliant book, The Black Jacobins, rescues the Haitian Revolution from repression. James wrote it in 1938, making this year the seventieth anniversary of its publication. As he composed it, fascism swept Europe, Stalin imposed slave labor in his gulag, and Europe held the peoples of Africa and Asia in colonial bondage.2 James’s history both celebrates the triumph of Toussaint and the slaves and also uses it as a beacon call for national liberation and international proletarian solidarity against imperialism.

Like Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution, on which James modeled his book, The Black Jacobins is not academic history, but one written by a proletarian revolutionist using theory and history as a guide to revolutionary struggle. Throughout his book he highlights the dialectical interaction between the revolutions in France and Haiti, particularly the interaction between the Parisian masses, the sansculottes, and the slaves. For James that international solidarity is the secret of both revolutions’ success, and necessary for human emancipation.

Capitalism, colonialism, and primitive accumulation
James opens The Black Jacobins by surveying the European conquest of the New World and their occupation of the island that would become Haiti:

The Spaniards, the most advanced Europeans of their day, annexed the island, called it Hispaniola, and took the backward natives under their protection. They introduced forced labor in mines, murder, rape, bloodhounds, strange diseases, and artificial famine (by the destruction of cultivation to starve the rebellious). These and other requirements of the higher civilization reduced the native population from an estimated half-a-million, perhaps a million, to 60,000 in 15 years (4).3

This plunder of the New World was part of what Marx called the “primitive accumulation” that fertilized European capitalism within the womb of feudalism. In Europe, the process was marked by the expropriation of peasants from their land, creating a “free” population that would form the basis of a wage working class. Meanwhile in the early colonies, merchant capitalists turned to chattel slavery to work the plantations that produced commodities and surplus for the system back in Europe. The emerging capitalist classes amassed fantastic fortunes and power that brought them into conflict with the feudal regimes, triggering the great bourgeois revolutions of the eighteenth century.

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Seymour Hersh conclusively debunks “Trump’s Red Line” – the gas attack was no such thing


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wall of controversy

Seymour Hersh is perhaps most highly respected investigative journalist alive today. He earned his reputation as the first to bring the world’s attention to the My Lai massacre in Vietnam.

During the Syrian War, Hersh has twice investigated claims that Assad crossed chemical “red lines”, first in Ghouta in August 2013, and more recently in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun last April. The evidence he has uncovered disproves the official narrative of both incidents. Faced with such inconvenient truth, however, the mainstream media simply ignores him.

Here are extracts from his latest piece on the alleged sarin atrocity at Khan Sheikhoun, although I very much encourage all readers to follow the links to read the full article published in yesterday’s Sunday edition of Die Welt:

Within hours of the April 4 bombing [and alleged chemical attack], the world’s media was saturated with photographs and videos from Khan…

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