The Black Jacobins, first published in , changed the way colonial history was written. Its author, C L R James, would later recall his. A classic and impassioned account of the first revolution in the Third World. This powerful, intensely dramatic book is the definitive account of. The Black Jacobins has ratings and reviews. by Amy Wilentz The Big Truck That Went By by Jonathan M. Katz The Black Jacobins by C.L.R. James.

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An interesting historical account, The Black Jacobinsby C. James, examines the Haitian San Domingo Revolution of Throughout the book, James takes an original look at revolution by analyzing revolutionary potential and progress according to economic and class distinctions, rather than racial distinctions note1.

James intriguingly interweaves the goings on of the French Revolution with the Haitian Revolution, and relates the events and influences of each to one another. San Domingo is the ultimate French colony, and also the focal point of the African slave trade for the French empire. Because of this, France’s struggles with the United States, Britain, and within its own varying social classes, invariably affect the progress of the revolution in San Domingo.

Because, for James, class distinctions are stressed over those of race, he sees the French Revolution as not only a background, but a heavy influence on the Haitian Revolution as well. Events such as the proletariat uprisings and the taking of the Bastille have heavy impacts on the Slaves of San Domingo.

The Black Jacobins also focuses on Toussaint L’Ouverture as the revolutionary spearhead and organizational leader. L’Ouverture’s life and his leadership of the revolution are examined as well as the revolution itself. He is credited with uniting the revolutionary forces, as well as leading many of the most important battles. His influence, as well as that of the French Revolution, is a main propellant of the book. He spearheads the revolution nearly to the end when he is captured, and then some of his most powerful generals, Moise and Dessalines, complete the revolution.

Over the course of the text, L’Ouverture comes to act almost as a tragic hero, and this is where the fine line between accurate history and historical literature is blurred, because although The Black Jacobins is probably the best account of the revolution that exists, it can seem idealistic at times.

This idealism might be one reason it has become such an influential book. It has become a touch stone for thinking about the decolonization struggle. Class and Economic Distinctions vs. Undeniably, yet not blindly Marxist, James follows an interesting path through the book. James shows in detail how colonialism creates many separate and distinct social classes in San Domingo.

These social classes then become the basis for personal alliance to one group or another throughout the revolution. His examination of this social structure espouses a similar theory to that of W. Obviously, blacks were brought to San Domingo as slaves, but James explores the complex class divisions on San Domingo. The classes were divided up into “big whites,” “small whites,” “mulattoes,” “free blacks,” and “slaves.

One example of this is the leaning of the mulattos towards whoever presently holds the power. The mulattos were typically free and land owners, and, therefore, they wanted to maintain their social standing and, thus, their power. They would support the French if it looked like they were going to succeed in putting down the revolts because they already had a favorable standing amongst the white ruling class.

If the slaves started doing well though, they would shift their support to them so that they would be able to benefit in the reorganized social structure.

The alignment with power was important throughout the revolution.

In April”the white Patriots in Port-au-Prince were being besieged by a composite army of royalist commandants, white planters, brown-skinned Mulattoes, and black slaves, none of them constrained but all for the time being free and equal partners.

In May”the white were all tumbling over each jacobinw to give rights to the Mulattoes” for assistance against the uprising slaves, but it was too late to quell the slave revolution.

As this implies, James believed economic forces to be more influential than racial boundaries. This does not dismiss the presence of hacobins though–it simply shows that greed for economic and class status are often more important than race distinctions, and can also influence the implementation of race prejudice. By the end of the revolution, racism is prevalent, and it basically janes in jacobjns devastation of all whites and many mulattos on the island.


This x because of an elite that continually tries to re-implement the old order and establish their elite class again. As James says, “Those in power never give way, and admit defeat only to plot and scheme to regain their lost power and privilege.

He is the perfect man for the job, jamds he has benefited from his position in slave society more than most slaves. James refers to a book that L’Ouverture was reading prior to becoming a revolutionary leader; he kept going over a passage that read, “A courageous chief only is wanted. Because he can hlack, this means he lives a privileged life–as far as life in slavery can be privileged. James examines the small privileged class of slaves.

He distinguishes the house-servants who “gave themselves airs and despised the slaves in the fields” as the “upper servants. Thus, having been brought up with all the advantages of the society, they can later lend their services to serve cause of oppressed people. According to James, “the leaders of a revolution are usually those who have been able to profit by the cultural advantages of the system they are attacking, and the San Domingo revolution was no exception to this rule.

She benefits from a good Jamaican education, her and her father’s light-skinned benefits in the U. There is a difference too. Clare does not become a leader of the Jamaican troop she joins; she actually seems to have difficulty becoming jamees part of it because of her educational history.

How much a postcolonial subject assimilates to the colonial culture is always blaci confusing subject. It is impossible for a colonized person to preserve only his culture. It is also jacobinw for him to jacboins assimilate into the colonizer’s society. How much Toussaint L’Ouverture became French is an interesting question to try to answer. L’Ouverture had the privilege to be raised as a house servant whose workload was much less than, and whose “benefits” were much more than, those of the field servants.

He was allowed a fairly well rounded European education. As discussed above, he was able to learn military tactics, leadership qualities, and how to act “civilized,” or “sophisticated. He did not lead the slave armies so much as guerrilla bands, as he led them as European armies. James even claims that “Toussaint made himself into a jwcobins cabinet like a fascist dictator, except that he actually did the work.

Indeed, “Toussaint always addressed the blacks as French citizens,” and would ask his people, “what would France think if she learns that your conduct was not worthy of true republicans? In drawing up a new constitution, he intended to authorize the slave trade, “because the island needed people to cultivate it.

The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution

He also longed to sail to Africa “with arms, ammunition, and a thousand of his best soldiers” to put an end to the slave trade, and “make millions of blacks ‘free and French. So, L’Ouverture attempts to stay true to France through the end, and jmaes eventually tricked, imprisoned in Europe, and killed, leaving the revolution to be finished by other leaders, such as Moise and Dessalines. As an account of a revolution, The Black Jacobins recounts the process of emancipation in Haiti.

Emancipation in other countries has happened both in similar ways and different ways. Abolitionists influenced the lawful ending of slavery in Britain and the United States, while revolutions happened in many other former colonies of empires.

Obviously, since this book is an account of a revolution, it is a revolutionary d. Since James claims that one purpose of the book is to “stimulate the coming emancipation of Africa,” and since the story itself follows the pattern of a typical tragedy, the question of how historical, and how literary the book are come into play. Jacboins undoubtedly uses historical sources and documents everything properly, jacobns the structure of the book and the fact that it reads like a story lead one to question its authenticity note3.

The idea of whether texts are historical or literary is explored in depth on the Literary Style versus Historical Accuracy page. Also integral to the idea of the intent of an author is the Audience to which he is writing. Interestingly, this further clouds the question of an author’s or a person’s assimilation. Postcolonial subjects have no choice but to communicate with the colonizers with the language and blaxk of the colonizer.


This makes it hard to discern between exactly how much an author has appropriated the dominant culture, and how necessary it is that he write in the dominant way.

The Black Jacobins by C.L.R. James | : Books

Of course, race came to play a quite important role in the revolution, but James stressed the economic and class divisions that led to this particular racism.

This is further explored in the dialogues section of this page. Equiano’s attempts to bring literacy to the people of Sierre Leone are examined in Tropicopolitansby Srinivas Aravamudan. A chapter of this book is dedicated to “Equiano and the Politics of Literacy. The chapter doesn’t claim that Equiano is either a revolutionary or a sell out, but tries to illuminate the effects that nationalization had on him and on society by looking back on his life.

It looks at both Equiano’s use of literature to instigate emancipation, as well as his attempts to bring literacy to the people of Sierre Leone.

By examining Equiano’s intertwining with Christianity, capitalism, and colonialism, Aravamudan shows the reader just how complicated Equiano’s position was. Th e Black Jacobins as a story: James originally intended to write fiction.

Even when in novel or historical essay form though, it still exhibits many traits of a tragedy. Toussaint L’Ouverture, the “hero” of the Haitian Revolution, meets tragic ends.

James utilizes literary techniques in his telling of a true story. This is, again, similar to Olaudah Equiano, and his narrative is examined on the Literary Style versus Historical Accuracy page.

This comparison between historical accuracy and literary style are not meant in any way to demean the importance of the books, but it is necessary to examine these two facets of writing in concert to understand how they intertwine and affect the impact of the work.

James is an extremely important thinker, writer, and historian. The Black Jacobins is thought by many to be the definitive account of the Haitian Revolution, and James has influenced infinite theories of Marxism, history, and political activism. Many books have been written about him, and I thought I would tell you about just a few.

The Artist as Revolutionaryby Paul Buhle, is an interesting “intellectual biography, strictly speaking, but also by necessity a political and cultural portrait.

James Readeredited by Anna Grimshaw, is an excellent collection of works by James. This book includes the original play, The Black Jacobins.

It draws on work James did in and about Trinidad, Britain, America, and the African Diaspora, spanning his entire career.

Grimshaw actually began this book with James near the end of his life, so it has input from him about some of what it should encompass and include. James’s Caribbeanedited by Paget Henry and Jmaes Buhle, includes “Portraits and Self-Portraits,” textual explorations, and intertwines many writings by and about James and his ideas. It’s pretty long, but very inclusive. The Black Jacobins is more of an historical text than a literary text; however, as evinced by the dialogues it is involved in, it leads to numerous discussions between literature and history.

Vicki examines more about teaching history through literature on her teaching page designated for that idea. If you choose to use it as a historical background to another text like Oroonoko or Olaudah Equiano’s Interesting Narrative you vlack also have students gain a little knowledge of the French Revolution, here’s a link to the French Revolution homepagewhere you can link to a good brief history of the revolution because there are many references to and correlations with it throughout the book.

Just a quick summary should do them well enough. Also, The Latin American Resource Review has a list of excellent texts that would be helpful for teaching about literature and history together. Vintage Books, ,