Friday, April 2, 2010

C.L.R. James, The Black Jacobins: Chapter 10, "Toussaint Seizes the Power"

This is a disappointing chapter. James fails to satisfy me on a significant point, the nature of the conflict between the the mulatto-ruled South and the the North ruled by Toussaint. James makes this out to hang upon the personal conflict between Rigaud, who was unfailingly loyal to France, and Toussaint, who was sought to unify the island under his own control in preparation for independence. James even suggests that if Beauvais had been allowed to succeed Rigaud -- a succession which was stymied by the new French governor, Roume, in order to sow division -- unification could have taken place without conflict. But the vigor of the Southern defence belies any such expectation. I think we must understand this level of commitment as rooted in social and economic differences which could hardly have failed to produce an insurrection, no matter how peaceful the initial unification had been.

In any case, here are the main narrative points. (1) Toussaint cut a trade deal with the British. Given the British control of the seas, he could hardly have done otherwise, whatever his intentions towards France. (2) Toussaint conquered the South and dealt unusually harshly with the defeated mulattoes. (3) Toussaint then Spanish San Domingo to bring the entire island under his rule. (4) Toussaint kept the purpose of these actions largely to himself and failed to engage the people on the conflict with France for which he was preparing them.

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