REVIEWS 147 The Black Jacobins Reader. Edited by CHARLES FORSDICK and CHRISTIAN HØGSBJERG.(C. L. R. James Archives.) Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2017. 438 pp., ill. 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. ThroughananalysisofJames’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 Moı¨se, 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 capac- ity of The Black Jacobins to provoke and inspire. Eighty years from now, what new readings might The Black Jacobins produce? KATE QUINN doi:10.1093/fs/knx263 UNIVERSITY COLLEGE LONDON Downloaded from https://academic.oup.com/fs/article-abstract/72/1/147/4732369 by Ed 'DeepDyve' Gillespie user on 16 March 2018
French Studies – Oxford University Press
Published: Jan 1, 2018
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