The Black Jacobins : Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution, Paperback

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

5 out of 5 (1 rating)


In 1789 the West Indian colony of San Domingo supplied two-thirds of the overseas trade of France.

The entire structure of what was arguably the most profitable colony in the world rested on the labour of half a million slaves.

In 1791 the waves of unrest inspired by the French Revolution reached across the Atlantic dividing the loyalties of the white population of the island.

The brutally treated slaves of Saint Domingo seized at this confusion and rose up in rebellion against masters.

In thisclassic work, CLR James chronicles the only successful slave revolt in history and provides a critical portrait of their leader, Toussaint L'Ouverture, 'one of the most remarkable men of a period rich in remarkable men'.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 384 pages, map
  • Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: General & world history
  • ISBN: 9780140299816



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Regardless if one is as sensitive as this author with the struggle of the masses seen with a marxist perspective on history or not, James wrote one of the most important books of the XXth Century describing, in 1938, how a concentrationary society operated, economically thrived to later implode in chaos - pre-revolutionary slave based San-Domingo - with its northern plain composed of 500+ sugar cane plantations and 1200+ plantations of Indigo.This book gives remarkably documented clues on the French Revolution and should be mandatory reading to each school girl/boy learning about the factions which from 1791 through 1798, fought to have Equality and Liberty prevail over economic or privileged interests. As always with this period, the American, French and Haitian revolution have many paths which cross one another often seeing the same participants like Donatien-Marie-Joseph de Vimeur, vicomte de Rochambeau, the son of Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, the Rochambeau of the American Revolution. It is impossible to comprehend the French Revolution of 1789 through only a nationalist prism as the interests of the maritime bourgeoisie were central to how it evolved and was ultimately put in the hands of the sugar lobby strong man: Napoleon. Like a detective, C.L.R. James connects the dots of history and is in communion with the key figure of his story, Toussaint L'Ouverture, who had the same intuitive mind helping him to predict accurately -most of the time - what the future may bring, because he had one aim, avoid the restoration of slavery in San Domingo. He also villifies the Imperialists: the scheming Pitt and Dundas of the United Kingdom eyeing possible contagion in Jamaica from the winds of liberty; and the reactions from the Spanish and the French in favor of the planters. He dislikes the Girondins faction because they represent the maritime bourgeoisie of Bordeaux or Nantes and the clubs like Marsiac which favored white planters, placing during Thermidor one of their men as President of the Council of Elders. C.L.R. James shows how Politics is played; how Leclerc - the First Consul's brother in law and husband of Pauline - plays successfully at times the racial card to create dissent among the Black and Mulattos generals.From a 1938 perspective, C.L.R. James reminds his reader of how Napoleon's intervention in San Domingo can be compared to the threats of Mussolini and Hitler leading some of the most democrats of the leaders including Toussaint, to compromise at the peril of their own liberty because they just could not believe that Napoleon's and Leclerc's intrigues, as representatives of the French Republic which had given them their liberty, aimed at restoring slavery. His works is a warning that democracy is never a given and that reaction can spend 22 years trying to reassert itself by restoring the planters to their former white supremacy. He even makes a parallel with Franco in Spain 1936.If C.L.R. James acknowledges the historic role of Dessalines in Haiti's 1803 independence, his heart clearly goes with Toussaint which death he recalls in captivity with great emotion.Less remembered is how pre-revolutionary San Domingo sugar based economy created jobs in France; its trade giving directly or indirectly work to 2,000,000.00 French while creating a proletariat -albeit an unpaid and involuntary one - before the term was popularized by Karl Marx.C.L.R. James a native of the West Indies from Trinidad & Tobago sees when he revisits his 1938 writing around 1961, a continuum between Toussaint, Fidel Castro and the colonies from Africa which had not yet reached their independence. He remains cautious on his appreciation of Fidel Castro as this revolution had just taken place then. C.L. R. James also quotes in his conclusion the "Negritude" of Aimee Cesaire as the poetic narration of a different model of development.His narration of the period is epic throughout and if it was a film, 2/3 of the book are one long action sequence.