Saturday, February 6, 2010

C.L.R. James, The Black Jacobins: Chapter 3, " Parliament and Property"

The big whites were initially the main supporters of the revolution, with the most intransigent leaders coming from the indebted planters, but small whites joined them as news of the events in France reached San Domingo. With white creoles unified in support of revolution, the colonial administration began cultivating ties to mulattoes, who were already facing attacks from the revolutionaries. In response, the small whites redoubled their repression based on a frankly eliminationist ideology. The large whites, alarmed by the the growing political dominance of of the small whites, began to edge away from the revolution and towards closer ties with mulattoes and the administration.

Three provincial assemblies in North, West, and South Provinces; Colonial assembly in St. Marc. Small whites dominated the St. Marc assembly; large planters from the densely populated north plain and Le Cap merchants increasingly withdrew from it and consolidated their power in the assembly of the North Province.

Meanwhile, in France, the Constituent Assembly stalled the issue of mulatto rights throughout 1789 and into 1790. Planters, the maritime bourgeoisie , and conservatives under their influence led by Barnave, resisted action. Even when the assembly issued a decree on the colonies on March 8th, they temporized on the issue of mulatto rights, declining to specify whether mulattoes otherwise qualified by age and property were to be included in the franchise. Abolition of slavery itself was not even on the table, although the fear of it was at the core of the tenacious resistance of the colonists and their advocates to the slightest concession on mulatto rights.

Events in San Domingo: suppression of St. Marc Assembly by royalist colonial administration, abortive mulatto revolt led by Oge, a mulatto who had risen to political prominence in France.

In the midst of growing popular agitation about the king and queen's attempts to flee Paris and the news of Oge's death, the assembly took up the debate on mulatto rights again. After several days' debate, a compromise resolution was agreed on May 15th to grant the franchise to those whose parents were both free and who were otherwise qualified. The appointed colonial commission and the bureaucrats refused to implement the decree, however. In July, the conservatives under Barnave used the flight of the king and queen to seize executive power. They suppressed a subsequent popular revolt in the streets (the massacre of the Champ de Mars) and successfully pushed a cowed assembly to rescind the decree on September 24th.

Amid the to-and-fro of the struggle in France, the struggle between the big and small whites intensified in San Domingo. Moreover, whether inspired by the fighting between the whites or the news about mulatto rights, the black slaves themselves were ready to revolt.

Although James constantly refers conflicts and programs back to class interests, he insists on the capacity of individual actors to shape political outcomes. See, for example, 75: "If the king and queen had been political abstractions and not flesh and blood, they would have lived and died as constitutional monarchs with immense power. But they looked upon all their concessions as merely temporary, and plotted ceaselessly with foreign powers for armed intervention."

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