Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Lukács

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Black Jacobins Conference

The banner of the Haitian revolutionary armies in 1803

In autumn 1938, the late great Trinidadian Marxist historian Cyril Lionel Robert James (1901-1989) published his magnum opus The Black Jacobins - which has become the classic history of the Haitian Revolution of 1791-1804, and stands as one of the great works of revolutionary history. As James wrote in his preface:

The revolt is the only successful slave revolt in history, and the odds it had to overcome is evidence of the magnitude of the interests that were involved. The transformation of slaves, trembling in hundreds before a single white man, into a people able to organise themselves and defeat the most powerful European nations of their day, is one of the great epics of revolutionary struggle and achievement. Why and how this happened is the theme of this book.

The Haitian revolt was not just of local relevance to the Caribbean - it was one of the great world-historical revolutions, and indeed it was intrinsically intertwined with the Great French Revolution. Not only did the revolt lead to the establishment of the world’s first independent black republic outside of Africa but it was central to the destruction of the entire Atlantic slave trade. The heroic enslaved black Africans - led by Toussaint Louverture - were central to the revolt and the people of Haiti have never been forgiven by the great imperialist powers for their part in the dismantling of this highly profitable enterprise - the fact that Haiti today is one of the world's poorest places on earth gives you some idea of the revenge that has been taken since then. All the more reason then to remember this great anti-imperialist liberation struggle and, to mark the seventieth anniversary of the publication of James's epic work, on 2 February 2008, the London Socialist Historians Group have organised a conference to try and do just that. The provisional programme is here, and keynote speakers include Darcus Howe, Selma James, Bill Schwarz, Marika Sherwood and Weyman Bennett. Highly recommended.

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