The Black Jacobins Reader – analysis of classic history of the Haitian Revolution

Duke University Press, Publication date: 2017

Black Jacobins ReaderContaining a wealth of new scholarship and rare primary documents, The Black Jacobins Reader provides a comprehensive analysis of C. L. R. James’s classic history of the Haitian Revolution. In addition to considering the book’s literary qualities and its role in James’s emergence as a writer and thinker, the contributors discuss its production, context, and enduring importance in relation to debates about decolonization, globalization, postcolonialism, and the emergence of neocolonial modernity. The Reader also includes the reflections of activists and novelists on the book’s influence and a transcript of James’s 1970 interview with Studs Terkel.


Foreword by Robert A. Hill
Haiti by David M. Rudder

Introduction: Rethinking The Black Jacobins by Charles Forsdick and Christian Høgsbjerg

Part I. Personal Reflections

1 The Black Jacobins in Detroit: 1963 by Dan Georgakas
2 The Impact of C. L. R. James’s The Black Jacobins by Mumia Abu-Jamal
3 C. L. R. James, The Black Jacobins, and The Making of Haiti by Carolyn E. Fick
4 The Black Jacobins, Education, and Redemption by Russell Maroon Shoatz
5 The Black Jacobins, Past and Present by Selma James
Part II. The Haitian Revolution: Histories and Philosophies
6 Reading The Black Jacobins: Historical Perspectives by Laurent Dubois
7 Haiti and Historical Time by Bill Schwarz
8 The Theory of Haiti: The Black Jacobins and the Poetics of Universal History by David Scott
9 Fragments of a Universal History: Global Capital, Mass Revolution, and the Idea of Equality in The Black Jacobins by Nick Nesbitt
10 “We Are Slaves and Slaves Believe in Freedom”: The Problematizing of Revolutionary Emancipationism in The Black Jacobins by Claudius Fergus
11 “To Place Ourselves in History”: The Haitian Revolution in British West Indian Thought before The Black Jacobins by Matthew J. Smith

Part III. The Black Jacobins: Texts and Contexts

12 The Black Jacobins and the Long Haitian Revolution: Archives, History, and the Writing of Revolution by Anthony Bogues
13 Refiguring Resistance: Historiography, Fiction, and the Afterlives of Toussaint Louverture by Charles Forsdick
14 On “Both Sides” of the Haitian Revolution? Rethinking Direct Democracy and National Liberation in The Black Jacobins by Matthew Quest
15 The Black Jacobins: A Revolutionary Study of Revolution, and of a Caribbean Revolution by David Austin
16 Making Drama out of the Haitian Revolution from Below: C. L. R. James’s The Black Jacobins Play by Rachel Douglas
17 “On the Wings of Atalanta” by Aldon Lynn Nielsen

Part IV. Final Reflections

18 Afterword to The Black Jacobins’s Italian Edition by Madison Smartt Bell
19 Introduction to the Cuban Edition of The Black Jacobins by John H. Bracey
Appendix 1. C. L. R. James and Studs Terkel Discuss The Black Jacobins on WFMT Radio (Chicago), 1970
Appendix 2. The Revolution in Theory by C. L. R. James
Appendix 3. Translator’s Foreword by Pierre Naville to the 1949 / 1983 French Editions

About The Author(s)

Charles Forsdick is James Barrow Professor of French at the University of Liverpool.
Christian Høgsbjerg is Teaching Fellow in Caribbean History at University College London’s Institute of the Americas.
Robert A. Hill is Research Professor of History at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Summaries / Reviews

“This is the most authoritative confirmation to date of the intellectual stature of C. L. R. James and the prophetic grandeur of his great classic, The Black Jacobins. Some eighty years after its first publication, readers of different generations and across a diversity of national origins document their admiration of the depth and spontaneity of James’s analytical interpretation of the Haitian Revolution. It was the first and only example in modern history of a successful slave revolt when a population of enslaved Africans defeated three European armies and converted a slave plantation into the Independent Republic of Haiti. The nineteenth century had judged it inconceivable; and ever since it has survived a universal silence.” — George Lamming

The Black Jacobins, with its unforgettable story of Toussaint Louverture and the Haitian Revolution, is one of the great books of the twentieth century. The Black Jacobins Reader provides us with a rich selection of reflections on C. L. R. James’s achievement and his own rethinkings over time. Whether understood as a cultural history of revolution before cultural history; a classic text for revolutionaries; a meditation on universal history; a pioneering Marxist analysis of the slave trade, slavery, and modern capitalism; an inspiration for generations of historians; an exploration of what it means to be ‘West Indian’; a disruption of orthodox notions of historical temporality or a provocation to think about the relation between the past and the present; or indeed any combination of these; it is undoubtedly a book that continues to inspire many. Black activists in U.S. prisons, writers, and historians are amongst those who remind us, in different ways, of the power of a text such as this—one that wrote the history of a people supposedly without history.” — Catherine Hall

Given the status of C. L. R. James’s The Black Jacobins (London: Secker & Warburg, 1938), it is surprising that a volume dedicated to its analysis has not appeared before. Charles Forsdick and Christian Høgsbjerg’s excellent edited collection provides the most thorough and wide-ranging study of James’s seminal text to date. Bringing together an impressive array of contributions by scholars as well as by political activists connected to or influenced by James, the book comprises nineteen chapters, bookended by the editors’ superb Introduction and appendices including primary source materials by James. Analysing the contexts, content, and significance of The Black Jacobins (and James’s various revisions of the text since its first publication nearly eighty years ago), the book provides a richly textured analysis of the intellectual and political universe that shaped James’s masterful narrative of the slave revolution in San Domingue, and the multiple interpretations to which this protean text gives rise. Through an analysis of James’s text, the volume contributes to current debates in the historiography of the Haitian Revolution, including such themes as the relationship between events in France and the unfolding revolution in its most prized colonial territory; the relative weight that should be attached to the influence of Enlightenment thought on the formerly enslaved; the role of the revolutionary leadership, in particular Toussaint Louverture, and his relationship to the mass movement; and the dynamics of race and class within the various phases of the revolutionary struggle. Embodying many of these concerns, one emblematic episode stands out as a particular preoccupation of the present volume: the clash between Toussaint, then enforcing a harsh labour regime on the formerly enslaved, and his nephew Moïse, leader of the revolutionary forces in the north and viewed by the majority in this volume as the ‘authentic’ representative of the revolutionary masses. James’s interpretation of this episode is scrutinized for what it says not only about Toussaint (the extent to which he had become detached from the people), but also for what it says about James, and whether he had made a historical ‘error’ in overlooking the forces that were the true wellspring of the revolution. Here, the chapter by Matthew Quest is most critical: James stands accused of defending ‘a degenerate regime’ (p. 246); most other contributors defer to James’s own self-criticism, citing his subsequent claims that he would rewrite The Black Jacobins as a history from below. The Reader reminds us of the audacity of James’s text in its time and the inspiration it provided to generations of readers (evidenced in the inclusion of a range of personal reflections, including those of incarcerated activist Mumia Abu-Jamal). The capacity of James’s book to acquire new meanings in new political contexts is no less apparent in the contributions to this volume. Hence The Black Jacobins can be read as a ‘Caribbean’ text (Matthew J. Smith; David Austin) or for its ‘lessons’ on black liberation (Claudius K. Fergus), self-organization (Quest), revolutionary coalitions (Nick Nesbitt), the failures of Marxism (Madison Smartt Bell), subaltern history (Anthony Bogues), or the crisis of French imperialism (Pierre Naville). These varied reflections capture the enduring capacity of The Black Jacobins to provoke and inspire. Eighty years from now, what new readings might The Black Jacobins produce? [End Page 147] – Kate Quinn

To read the analysis “reader” book (click here) – Published 2017

To read The Black Jacobins book (click here) – Originally published: 1938


Categories Education, Haiti News | Tags: | Posted on April 6, 2018

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