Sunday, January 31, 2010

C.L.R. James, The Black Jacobins: Chapter 2: "The Owners"

Class analysis of the free population

big whites -- planters, merchants, and shipping agents

small whites -- overseers in the countryside; tradesmen, clerks, and the white rabble in the towns -- racial distinction was key to their status

bureaucrats -- representatives of the French crown and, effectively, the interests of the mainland bourgeoisie -- their arbitrary power was resented by the big whites, and so the bureaucrats increasingly aligned themselves with the small whites for support

mulattoes -- increasing prosperous and resented -- many were significant landowners -- the local government steadily increased restrictions on them in the years up to the revolution -- even extermination was mooted, but the mulatto population was too large and potentially powerful for that risk to be taken.

The French government imposed a mercantilist policy -- the Exclusive -- which compelled the San Domingo colony to carry out its trade through France. This provided an immensely lucrative stream of business for metropolitan French manufacturers and merchants, accounting for 11 million pounds out of France's total export trade of 17 million by 1789. (By comparison, Britain's total colonial exports were just 5 million pounds.) It was not just the bourgeoisie that benefited: employment from the trade also supported as many as 6 million Frenchmen. It limited the profits of the islanders, however, and this, together with their debts with French lenders, put them at odds with the mainland bourgeoisie.

British leaders feared the power that France stood to gain from all this wealth, particularly since the island's production was expanding so rapidly (nearly doubling in the six years up to 1789). The British policy for abolition of the slave trade gained its initial impetus from a desire to choke off further expansion of San Domingo's economy. British action included covert support for French abolition activists -- many of whom later became prominent in the revolutionary government.

The rapid growth of San Domingo's output also destabilized the colony, particularly because it required the integration of large numbers of newly imported native African slaves.

Only the big whites initially took part in the political events leading up to the revolution, with a segment seeking representation in the estates. James contends this was a minority, and that many planters (including the expatriates of the Club Massiac) preferred to avoid drawing attention to the colony. In any case, representation was secured when this faction of San Domingo nobility threw their support behind the third estate at the tennis court oath.

C.L.R. James, The Black Jacobins: Chapter 1, "The Property"

The focus here is on the qualitative aspects of slavery in Domingo, and especially the exceptionally brutal treatment of slaves in the colony. The point of this brutality was not just to maximize the output of labor, but even more to forestall revolt by keeping the slaves in a state of terror.

Some notable divisions within slave society:
  • servant caste and laborers -- the servant caste had a greater tendency to identify with their masters, but it was also members of this group who had the experience and even education that would enable them to provide leadership
  • creole and African -- native African slaves were a greater threat to revolt
  • maroons -- slaves who ran away to the hills and lived by banditry
James frequently draws comparisons to or refers to more recent colonial enterprises (especially in the British Empire), either in the text or notes. At times this is confusing, as it's not clear if the reference is intended to fill in gaps in the sources by reference to an analogous situation, or is there simply to provide contemporary relevance. See the footnote on page 16, for example.

The usage of the term creole is somewhat obscure. It is used to refer to both blacks and whites(see pages 17 and 57, respectively, for examples). I gather that it is used to distinguish members of both groups who were natives of the San Domingo colony from newcomers or outsiders (Africans or metropolitan French).

Le Jeune case in 1788 -- a planter killed four of his slaves and tortured two others in pursuit of an imagined poisoning conspiracy. His other slaves brought charges, but these were ultimately dismissed. Demonstrated that, despite the restrictions on the treatment of slaves that existed in law, the slaveowners in fact had total impunity.