[Marxism] Review of The Black Jacobins by CLR James

Jurriaan Bendien bendien at tomaatnet.nl
Mon Mar 1 03:58:36 MST 2004

In 1789 the French colony of Saint Domingue was the most profitable real
estate in the world. These profits came at a price: while its sugar
plantations supplied two-thirds of France's overseas trade, they also
stimulated the greatest individual market for the slave trade. The slaves
were brutally treated and died in great numbers, prompting a never-ending
influx of new slaves.
The French Revolution sent waves all the way across the Atlantic, dividing
the colony's white population in 1791. The elites remained royalist, while
the bourgeoisie embraced the revolutionary ideals. The slaves seized the
moment and in the confusion rebelled en masse against their owners. The
Haitian Slave Revolt had begun. When it ended in 1803, Saint Domingue had
become Haiti, the first independent nation in the Caribbean.

C.L.R. James tells the story of the revolt and the events leading up to it
in his masterpiece, The Black Jacobins. James's personal beliefs infuse his
narrative: in his preface to a 1962 edition of the book, he asserts that ,
when written in 1938, it was "intended to stimulate the coming emancipation
of Africa." James writes passionately about the horrific lives of the slaves
and of the man who rose up and led them--a semiliterate slave named
François-Dominique Toussaint L'Ouverture. As James notes, however,
"Toussaint did not make the revolution. It was the revolution that made

With its appendix, "From Toussaint L'Ouverture to Fidel Castro," The Black
Jacobins provides an excellent window into the Haitian Revolution and the
worldwide repercussions it caused. --Sunny Delaney


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