The Black Jacobins

1. What perspective does C. L. R. James’ The Black Jacobins present on the history of black struggle for freedom? To what extent does it help you better understand the history of African Americans? C. L. R James in The Black Jacobins had gone beyond the recount of an historical event. His work did not only depict the black struggle for freedom but it gives us the opportunity to encounter with various slaves responsible for the fall of the French rule. C. L. R James also offers us the perspective of the empowerment of the black community. Contrary to others authors, James gives us a detailed account of the rebellion of those slaves.

He shows us that the slaves (both men and women) were not passive ‘object’ and that they “constantly rebelled and resisted their fate, whether through organized rebellion, individual violence, or still more subtle means” (Baptist, nd). The Black Jacobins is therefore more that an historical account, it is a heritage that one should take into example and should be proud of. C. L. R James enables us as readers to visualize and participate in the struggle of the black for freedom. He gives us new perspectives and prospects to consider. For example: he shows the rebellious side of the slaves and pay tribute for it.

Unlike others authors, James denounces the atrocities endure by the Haitian slaves. In chapter One of The Black Jacobins, he makes a clear account of the punishments that the white owners imposed on the black which he clearly defined as The Property. The various punishments were mutilations, whipping, tortures and death. The author shows that both male and female slaves were tortured and both resisted tortures. They culminated a deep-rooted sense of anguish which lead to resistance. In James’ views, they did not only resist but they struggle too.

They attacked their defendless masters, killed them, poisoned them and their wives and made use of Vodou to hurt them. As C. L. R James (1938) states the slaves “remained, despite their black skins and curly hair, quite invincibly human beings”, whom instinct of survival was to defend themselves by any means available. Another perspective that the author demonstrated in The Black Jacobins is the loyalty and the faithfulness that the Haitian slaves had in their culture and religious beliefs. Even, if they were converted into Catholicism, they remain faithful to their cults and beliefs and continued to practice it into secrecy.

Many authors had debated on the role of Catholicism in slavery and many had argued that slaves became submissive and respected the ‘paroles’ of the bible. For example Rodriguez (1997, p165) stated that “The Roman Catholic Church was firmly established as an expression…. Slaves were baptized and instructed to Catholicism, and all subjects were ordered to observe Sundays end church holidays”. However James depicts us another picture of those slaves. Instead of portraying submissive slaves going to the church, he talks about their secret celebrations of vodou which inspired fear to the masters.

Vodou was a mean for them to “cherish a dream of freedom” (James, 1938) and also to some point have a control on their masters who feared the vodou cults. Through those vodou cults, the slaves were able to regroup themselves and thus prepare their revolution. C. L. R James also stresses on the obstacles that the slaves had to face when struggling for their freedoms. He carefully portrays the life and struggle of some particular slaves. One of those slaves is Makandal, an African maroon who attempted a revolution, without success. He also talked about mulattos and their implication in the revolution of the Haitian slaves.

Without C. L. R James, those slaves would have remained in anonymity. The author of The Black Jacobins also put forward the perspective that somehow the French were in a way responsible for the revolution of the Haitian Slaves. The French revolution played a significant role in awakening the consciousness of the black. As C. L. R James (1938) stated: “they had heard of the revolution and had constructed it in their own image: The white slaves in French had risen, and killed their masters, and were now enjoying the fruits of the earth. It was gravely inaccurate in fact, but they had caught the spirit of the thing.

Liberty. Equality. Fraternity” This notion of liberty makes them struggle alongside to gain their freedom. C. L. R James also makes a worthy account of Toussaint L’Ouverture’s life, stressing on his contribution in the revolution of the Haitian slaves. In his article C. L. R James and the Black Jacobins, Hogsbjerg (2010) stated that: James demolished the foundations on which over a century of British scholarship on abolition had rested. The Black Jacobins is a book which did not see from the upper class/oppressors perspectives like almost all slavery books.

It is a book which enables us to see the revolution through the oppressed one. On reading The Black Jacobins, my visions about slavery changed. Almost every book I read before described slaves as submissive, however The Black Jacobins did the contrary. It helped me understand the courageous and rebellious character that the slaves had. I also acquired a lot of knowledge about the Haitian population, whom in some way resemble the Mauritian population in their struggle. The First chapter of the book, entitled The property is the most touching and also revolting thing I read in my life.

Touching, in the fact that, as readers, we penetrated the book and become one of the slaves but on seeing all those atrocities done to slaves, we felt revolted. The Black Jacobins is a heritage which should be forwarded from generation to generation. It did not only talk about struggling in a slave society but it talks about struggling in every day’s life and situation. C. L. R James did not only make an account of the slaves’ tortures and struggle for freedom, he had also make us penetrated in the owners world. Those who dominated society for their own interest.

After reading the book, I also become more aware of the humanitarian character of the slaves. Many authors described slaves as objects. But however in The Black Jacobins, we see that those slaves do have feeling. They were in fact jealous, anguish, happy, sad, revolted, etc. To conclude I will say that C. R. L James The Black Jacobins is a chef-d’oeuvre. It revealed the revolt and the true struggle that the slaves had to face in order to obtain their freedom. It is also a tribute to all those who resisted and helped in making the Haitian revolution possible.

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