The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution By C.L.R. James (Toronto: Random House Canada, 1989), 418pp.
Michelle LD Fairba...moreThe Black Jacobins: Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution By C.L.R. James (Toronto: Random House Canada, 1989), 418pp.
Michelle LD Fairbanks University of New Brunswick
Revolutions have found their way into history textbooks, yet none written with the critical story-telling of C.L.R. James on the Haitian Revolution (San Domingo, 1794-1803). Chronicling the tragic events as they unfold, from the capture of slaves in Africa to work the sugar plantations in the Caribbean to the onset of the French Revolution, this book plays out like a Hollywood movie. Unsung heroes rise from the bondage of slavery to become worthy leaders. Even Napoleon Bonaparte, with his mighty French regime, can't conquer the island of revolting slaves. Toussaint L'Ouverture is the self-appointed charismatic leader whose strategically plots empire against empire and still manages to have the stronghold on the colony. The Black Jacobins spares no detail on eighteenth century slavery in San Domingo, now present day Haiti and the Dominican Republic, and has the reader cheering on the oppressed Negroes. Written in 1930s, coinciding with the abolishment of slavery in Africa, James emphasizes that this is his attempt to write in relation to their own history rather than many books before, written from the Western civilizations perspective. C.L.R. James, political activist, philosopher, and one of the most influential scholars in the twentieth century writes a poignant story of the uprising of the oppressed African slaves the Caribbean. As an intellectual black radical born in Trinidad, James is able to integrate a view of possibilities of the human struggle. The fracturing of the human psyche is woven throughout the Black Jacobins. The man himself, looked outside the realms of politics writing previously on subjects of art, pop culture and sports, specifically the game of cricket. He helped shape a literary movement in the Caribbean, inspiring other writers to explore ideas and a way of life that emerges from the underclass voice. James raises an awareness of the importance of Caribbean history; a nationalism is created, self government implemented. A strong supporter of Marxism and Soviet political leader Leon Trotsky, they influenced James during the early twentieth century and shaped his political leanings. His world view is to move beyond boundaries and to transcend time and space and to move forward. This is a grand movement of humanity towards a unitary state in which he envisioned. As a student he rebelled against the Victorian educational system; the structure at the time, and liberated his mind moving beyond it, which can be read running parallel to the liberation movement in The Black Jacobins. Building upon the Victoria education in which he was educated in, he was able to absorb it and deconstruct it; to critique the boundaries it held on Western thought. On the other side he criticized Stalin and his bureaucratic tyrant style of leadership. Both ideologies formed the human experience, searching for the aesthetic mind to bring out the best of us. Much unrest was surrounding C.L.R. James when he wrote The Black Jacobins with small referrals commented though out in the story. He appreciated what Fidel Castro was doing for Cuba and the revolution that was ensuing. It is a theme he carries out throughout his novel, one on leadership the other on the middle class. The latter in the novel are the mulattoes and creoles or in current society the people of colour. Toussaint, a mulatto himself, returned from France and tried to join forces with the white colonist; only when he was rejected, did he turn to the blacks. The free black man Dussalines, L'Overture's general, and Moise are the leaders that see the revolution to the end when Toussaint is captured. It is in his work that he deconstructs the black civilization. The book's emphasis is not on race division but on class division: the big whites (plantation owners); the small whites (artisans); free blacks; mulattoes; and slaves. The economic benefits of the classes, each having a bit more power than the other, gives rise to the mulattoes, especially benefiting from the French Revolution. Depending who is in power the mulattoes would be in favour of. This happened many times as the conflicts of island leadership changed in the colony. If there were to be a criticism, it would be trying to keep track of which empire was in charge of the colony, and who Toussaint's loyalties were to. Only when the return to slavery was to be reinstated did the mulattoes chose the side of the whites, and when this did not occur, they switched to supporting the black slaves and joined forces to capture the island from the whites. There was no sense of imperialist loyalty for these people of newly founded freedom. With Toussaint as their leader they would put “death before slavery.” James added an appendix which expands on his thoughts in later years. It was here that he provides the encouragement of Toussaint triumphs to be the model for the Third World liberation movements. Most importantly his commentary is directed to Fidel Castro and the Cuba revolution. “The writer has sought not only to analyze, but to demonstrate the economic and social forces of the mass and of individual men; the powerful effect of these forces on their environment at a rare moment when society is at its boiling point, and therefore fluid.” (The Black Jacobins, Pg x) For any under-graduate who pursues the understanding of human struggle, it need not be your major of political science, history or philosophy to appreciate this book. A must read for any person who wishes to understand human beings placement in the world, and the oppressions one must overcome and conquer. The Black Jacobins is truly an inspirational story of triumph for freedom at any cost.(less)
Quick read for our book club. Met the author at a creative writing workshop and thought she was great! Lots of great tips and comical incidents she sh...moreQuick read for our book club. Met the author at a creative writing workshop and thought she was great! Lots of great tips and comical incidents she shared with our group.(less)