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

First Published: October 1938 (Secker & Warburg)

Written by C.L.R. James in 1938, it is hard to sum up James’ seminal and perhaps best known work as there is so much to say and it is so rich in inspiration both for its historical research and for the amazing history of the successful slave revolt it tells. We will leave it to a jacket cover and provide some choice reviews (there are many), but in short the book itself must be read.

From the Allison & Busby 1980 Edition:

This classic study of the only successful slave revolt in history is a masterpiece of historical scholarship, astute political analysis and narrative excitement. In 1791 the Caribbean Island of San Domingo, France’s most profitable colony and the greatest single market for the European slave trade, found itself in the grip of revolution. The island’s slaves rebelled, embarking on a twelve year struggle against their white masters and successive invading armies of French, Spanish and British troops. The final defeat of Bonaparte’s 1803 expedition resulted in the establishment of the black state of Haiti. The leader of this achievement was himself a slave until the age of forty-five – Toussaint L’Ouverture. Why and how the revolution happened, how it created this brilliant leader and how he in turn brought it to its’ triumphant conclusion are the themes of this remarkable book.

“His detailed, richly documented and dramatically written book holds a deep and lasting interest” New York Times

“Contains some of the finest and most deeply felt polemical writing against slavery and racism ever to be published, and it locates the Caribbean and Caribbean society firmly on the world stage” – Time Out.

“He is, quite simply, the outstanding West Indian of the century” – Caryl Phillips, The Guardian.

James’ political conviction and purpose infuse his narrative: in his preface to a 1962 edition of the book, he says that, when written in 1938, it was “intended to stimulate the coming emancipation of Africa.”  And James notes that, “Toussaint did not make the revolution. It was the revolution that made Toussaint.”

Clearly written then with one eye on stirrings of discontent in colonial Africa at the time, The Black Jacobins can also be read as a blueprint for how to create a successful revolution. James shows that by taking the ideals of the French Revolution to their logical conclusion, the Haitian slaves, under the inspiring leadership of Toussaint L’Ouverture, had grasped the moment. They had freed themselves from servitude and, in the process, had propelled civilisation forward, opening up new possibilities for all mankind. 

The book is available to purchase here.

Reviews

Celebrating the Black Jacobins by Rob Harris

CLR James and the Black Jacobins by Christian Høgsbjerg

Review of the Black Jacobins by The Lakefront Historian

A review of C. L. R. James’s classic account of Haiti’s slave revolt by Ashley Smith

C.L.R. James The Black Jacobins by Kenan Malik