ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
The constitution is Toussaint L’Ouverture from the first
line to the last, and in it he enshrined his principals of
government. Slavery was forever abolished. Every man,
whatever his colour, was admissable to all employments,
and there was to exist no other distinction
Books By C.L.R. James
Minty Allen (a novel, 1936) / World Revolution, 1917-1936: The Rise and Fall of the Communist International (1937)
A Majestic Innings: Writings on Cricket (2006) / C.L.R.James: A Life (2001) / Beyond Boundaries: C.L.R. James: Theory and Practice (2006) /
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Toussaint & Lenin
The Haitian & Russian Revolutions
He set his face sternly against racial discrimination. He guarded his power and the rights of the labours by an army overwhelmingly black. But within that wall he encouraged all to come back, Mulattoes and whites. The policy was both wise and workable, and if his relations with France had been regularised he would have done all he hoped to do. But San Domingo did not know where it stood in relation to France. there were still fears for liberty, and the black labours did not approve of Toussaint’s policy. they felt he showed too much favour to their old enemies. [See Proclamation of Christophe I, 1814. Printed in Beard, Life of Toussaint L’Ouverture, p. 326].
These anti-white feelings of the blacks were no infringement of liberty and equality, but were in reality the soundest revolutionary policy. It was fear of counter-revolution. They had loved Sonthonax, called down blessings on his head, and made their children pray for him at night. Fifty years afterwards their old eyes would glow as they told travellers of this wonderful white man who had given them liberty and equality, not only in words but in deeds. But men like Sonthonax, Vincent, Laveaux, and Roume were few and with the decline of the revolution in France had come a man like Hédouville. The black labourers had their eyes fixed on the local whites and resented Toussaint’s policy.
It was not the whites at home whom Toussaint feared. It was the counter-revolution in France. But the blacks could see in the eyes of their former owners the regret for the old days and the hatred. Shortly after Toussaint issued one of his stern proclamations confining the blacks to the plantations, some of these whites issued a proclamation of their own to the labourers. “You say that you are free. yet you are going to be forced to come back to my house and there I shall treat you as before and shall show you are not free.”
This was the spirit which so constantly provoked massacres of the whites. Toussaint fined the culprits heavily, ordered that all who could not pay should be imprisoned, even women, and reduced such officers as were concerned tot he ranks. But he still continued to favour the whites. Every white woman was entitled to come to all “circles.” Only the wives of the highest black officials could come. A white woman was called madame, the black woman was citizen. losing sight of his mass support, taking it for granted, he sought only to conciliate the whites at home and abroad. . . .
Toussaint prepared for the inevitable war. that was one of the reasons which drove him to demand that his generals be mercilessly strict with the labourers.
He bought 30,000 guns from America. he armed the labourers. At reviews he would snatch a gun, wave it, and shout, “Here is your liberty!” He was not afraid to arm the masses. He trusted them for he had no interested apart from theirs. he hid stocks of ammunition and supplies in secret places in the interior. he called up the able-bodied for military training, and drilled the regular army. bold in innovation, he introduced a system of commands by whistles. in every conceivable way (except one) he prepared. The blacks would have to fight.
This war would devastate San Domingo as no war had ever devastated it before, ruin his work and let loose barbarism and savagery again, this time on unprecedented scale. But any large expedition could have no other aim than the restoration of slavery. in the cruel dilemma he worked feverishly, hoping against hope, writing to Bonaparte, begging for skilled workmen, teachers, administrators, to help him govern the colony.
Bonaparte would not answer, and Toussaint could guess why. If Bonaparte wrote a personal letter he would have either to accept or condemn. If he accepted, then Toussaint’s position would receive the final sanction. If he condemned, then Toussaint would openly declare independence and perhaps clinch a bargain with the British if one were not made already.
Toussaint, however, immediately after the victory in the South, had decided to regularise his own position and put an end to internal troubles for the future by giving San Domingo a Constitution. For this purpose he summoned an assembly of six men, one from each province, consisting of rich whites and Mulattoes: there was not one black. As always now, he was thinking of the effect in France, and not of the effect on his own masses, feeling too sure of them. The members of his assembly were merely figureheads.
The constitution is Toussaint L’Ouverture from the first line to the last, and in it he enshrined his principals of government. Slavery was forever abolished. Every man, whatever his colour, was admissable to all employments, and there was to exist no other distinction than that of virtues and talents, and no other superiority than that which the law gives in the exercise of a public function. He incorporated in the Constitution an article which preserved their rights to all proprietors absent from the colony “for whatever reason” except if they were on the list of émigrés proscribed in France. For the rest, Toussaint concentrated all power in his own hands.
Every municipal administration was composed of a mayor and four administrators. They were nominated by the Governor for two years from a list of 16 submitted to him.
The Church was strictly subordinate to the State. the Governor apportioned to each minister of religion the extent of his administration, and the clergy were not allowed under any pretext whatever to form an association in the colony. Laws were to be preceded by this formula: “The Central Assembly of San Domingo, on the proposal of the Governor. . . .” Every department of administration, finance, police, army, was confided to him, and he corresponded directly with France on everything relating to the colony. He had the censorship of all printed matter.
The central Assembly could accept or reject laws, but the assembly was in the hands of the Governor, being elected by the principal administrators, whom he nominated. The Constitution appointed Toussaint Governor for life, with power to name his successor.
Constitutions are what they turn out to be. France in 1802 could have no quarrel with Toussaint over this Constitution on the score of despotism. What would strike any Frenchman, however, was that the Constitution, though swearing allegiance to French, left no room for any French official. Toussaint wanted them to come out and help govern, but under the local government. It was virtual independence, with France as elder brother, guide and mentor. he had no precedents to guide him, but he knew what he wanted.
When remonstrated with as to where was the place of France in such a government, he replied, “The French Government will send Commissioners to speak with me.”
Absolute local independence on the one hand, but on the other French capital and French administrators, helping to develop and educate the country, and a high official from France as a link between both Governments. The local power was too well safeguarded for us to call the scheme a protectorate in the political context of that dishonest word. All the evidence shows that Toussaint, working alone, had reached forward to that form of political allegiance which we know to-day as Dominion Status. . . .
Criticism is not enough. What should Toussaint have done? A hundred and fifty years of history and the scientific study of revolution begun by Marx and Engels, and amplified by Lenin and Trotsky, justify us in pointing to an alternative course.
Lenin and the Bolsheviks after the October Revolution faced much the same problem as Toussaint. Russian bourgeois culture was a relatively poor thing, but Lenin admitted frankly that it was superiors to that of the proletariat and would have to be used until the proletariat had developed itself. He rigidly excluded the bourgeoise from political, but he proposed that they should be given important posts and good salaries, higher than those of Communist Party members.
Even some Communists who had suffered and fought under Tsarism were after a time dismissed and replaced by competent bourgeois. We can measure Toussaint’s gigantic intellect by the fact that, untrained as he was, he attempted to do the same, his black army and generals filling the political role of the Bolshevik party. If he kept whites in his army, it was for the same reason that the Bolsheviks also kept Tsarist officers. neither revolution had enough trained and educated officers of its own, and the black Jacobins, relatively speaking, were far worse off culturally than the Russian Bolsheviks.
The whole theory of the Bolshevik policy was that the victories of the new régime would gradually win over those who had been constrained to accept it by force. Toussaint hoped for the same. If he failed, it is for the same reason that the Russian socialist revolution failed, even after all its achievements–the defeat of the revolution in Europe. Had the Jacobins been able to consolidate the democratic republic in 1794, Haiti would have remained a French colony, but an attempt to restore slavery would have been most unlikely.
It was in method, and not in principle, that Toussaint failed. The race question is subsidiary to the class question in politics, and to think of imperialism in terms of race is disastrous. But to neglect the racial factor as merely incidental is an error only less grave than to make it fundamental. There were Jacobin workmen in Paris who would have fought for the blacks against Bonaparte’s troops. But the international movement was not then what it is to-day, and there were none in San Domingo. The black labourers saw only the old-owning whites.
These would accept the new régime, but never to the extent of fighting for it against a French army, and the masses knew this. Toussaint of course knew this also. he never trusted Agé, his Chief of Staff who was a Frenchman, and asked Agé’s junior Lamartinière, to keep an eye on him. But whereas Lenin kept the party and the masses thoroughly aware of every step, and explained carefully the exact position of the bourgeois servants of the Workers’ State, Toussaint explained nothing, and allowed the masses to think that their old enemies were being favoured at their expense.
In allowing himself to be looked upon as taking the side of the whites against the blacks, Toussaint committed the unpardonable crime in the eyes of a community where the whites stood for so much evil. That they should get back their property was bad enough. That they should be privileged was intolerable. And to shoot Moïse, the black, for the sake of the whites was more than an error, it was a crime. It was almost as if Lenin had had Trotsky shot for taking the side of the proletariat against the bourgeoise.
Toussaint’s position was extraordinarily difficult. San Domingo was, after all, a French colony. Granted that, before the expedition was a certainty, plain speech was impossible; once he understood that it was coming, there should have been no hesitation. he should have declared that a powerful expedition could have no other aim than the restoration of slavery, summoned the population to resist, declared independence, confiscated the property of all who refused to accept and distributed it among his supporters.
Agé and the other white officers should have been given a plain choice: accept or leave. If they had accepted, intending to be traitors, the black officers would have been on guard against them, the men would have known where they stood and would have shot them at the slightest vacillation before the enemy. The whites should have been offered the same choice: accept the black régime which has guaranteed and will guarantee your property, or leave; traitors in war-time would be dealt with as all traitors in war.
Many of the planters favoured independence. They would have stayed and contributed their knowledge, such as it was, to the new State. Not only former slaves had followed Toussaint. Lamartinière was a Mulatto so white that only those who knew his origins could tell that he had Negro ancestry, but he was absolutely and completely devoted to the cause of Toussaint. So was Maurepas, an old free black. With Dessalines, Belair, Moïse and the hundreds of other officers, ex-slave and formerly, it would have been easy for Toussaint to get the mass of the population behind him.
Having the army, some of the better educated blacks and Mulattoes and the labourers who had supported him so staunchly in everything, he would have been invincible. With the issue unobscure and his power clear, many who might otherwise have hesitated would have come down on the side that was taking decisive action. With a decisive victory won it was not impossible to re-open negotiations with a chastened French government to establish the hoped-for relations.
It was the ex-slave labourers and the ex-slave army which would decide the issue, and Toussaint’s policy crippled both.
He left the army with a divided allegiance. There were Frenchmen in it whose duty would be o fight for France. They, the Mulattoes and the old free blacks had no fears about their liberty.
Instead of bringing the black labourers nearer he drove them away from him. Even after the revolt it was not too late. Lenin crushed the Kronstadt revolt with a relentless hand, but, in a manner so abrupt as to call forth protests from sticklers for party discipline, he proposed the New economic Policy immediately afterwards. It was this quick recognition of danger that saved the Russian Revolution. Toussaint crushed the revolt as he was bound to do.
But instead of recognising the origin of the revolt as springing from the fear of the same enemy that he was arming against, he was sterner with the revolutionaries than he had ever been before. It happened that the day on which Moïse was executed, November 21st, was the very day fixed by Bonaparte for the departure of the expedition.
Instead of reprisals Toussaint should have covered the country, and in the homely way that he understood so well, mobilised the masses, talked to the people, explained the situation to them and told them what he wanted them to do. As it was, the policy he persisted in reduced the masses to a state of stupor. It has been said that he was thinking of the effect in France.
His severity and his proclamation reassuring the whites aimed at showing Bonaparte that all classes were safe in San Domingo, and that he could be trusted to govern the colony with justice. It is probably true, and is his greatest condemnation.
Bonaparte was not going to be convinced by Toussaint’s justice and fairness and capacity to govern. Where imperialists do not find disorder they create it deliberately, as Hèdouville did. They want an excuse for going in. But they can find that easily and will go in even without any. It is force that counts, and chiefly the organised force of the masses.
Always, but particularly at the moment of struggle, a leader must think of his own masses. It is what they think that matters, not what the imperialists think. And if to make matters clear to them Toussaint had to condone a massacre of the whites, so much the worse for the whites. He had done everything possible for them, and if the race question occupied the place that it did in San Domingo, it was not the fault of the blacks.
But Toussaint, like Robespierre, destroyed his own left-wing, and with it sealed his own doom. The tragedy was that there was no need for it. Robespierre struck at the masses because he was bourgeois and they were communist. That clash was inevitable, and regrets over it are vain. But between Toussaint and his people there was no fundamental difference of outlook or of aim. Knowing the race question for the political and social question that it was, he tried to deal with it in a purely political and social way. It was a grave error.
Lenin in his thesis to the Second Congress of the Communist International warned the white revolutionaries–a warning they badly need–that such has been the effect of the policy of imperialism on the relationship between advanced and backward peoples that European Communists will have to make wide concessions to natives of colonial countries in order to overcome the justified prejudice which these feel toward all classes in the oppressing countries.
Toussaint, as his power grew, forgot that. He ignored the black labourers, bewildered them at the very moment that he needed them most, and to bewilder the masses is to strike the deadliest of all blows at the revolution.
His personal weakness, the obverse side of his strength, played its part also. He left even his generals in the dark. A naturally silent and reserved man, he had been formed by military discipline. he gave orders and expected them to be obeyed. Nobody ever knew what he was doing. He said suddenly that Sonthonax must go and invited his generals to sign the letter or not, as they pleased. When Vincent spoke to Christophe and Moïse about he Constitution, they knew nothing about it. Moïse’s bitter complaint about Toussaint and the whites came obviously from a man to whom Toussaint had never explained the motives of his policy.
They would not have needed much persuasion to follow a bold lead. Moïse was feeling his way towards it, and we can point out Toussaint’s weakness all the more clearly because Dessalines had actually found the correct method. His speech to the army was famous, and another version–he probably made it more than once–ran this way: “If France wishes to try any nonsense here, everybody must rise together, men and women.” Loud acclamations greeted this bold pronouncement, worth a thousand of Toussaint’s equivocal proclamations reassuring the whites. Dessalines had not the slightest desire to reassure whites.
The whites were whites of the old régime. Dessalines did not care what they said or thought. the black labourers had to do the fighting–and it was they who needed reassurance. It was not that Toussaint had any illusions about the whites. He had none whatever. When the war had actually begun, he sent a curt message to his commanders: “Leave nothing white behind you.” But the mischief had been done.
Yet Toussaint’s error sprang from the very qualities that made him what he was. It is easy to see to-day, as his generals saw after he was dead, where he had erred. it does not mean that they or any of us would have done better in his place. If Dessalines could see so clearly and simply, it was because the ties that bound this uneducated soldier to French civilisation were of slenderest. He saw what was under his nose so well because he saw no further. Toussaint’s failure was the failure of enlightenment, not of darkness. . . .
Source: The Black Jacobins: A Study of Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution (1938; 1963)
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Cyril Lionel Robert JamesBorn in 1901 in Trinidad. Died 1989 in south London (Brixton). Educated Queen’s royal College, Trinidad. Publications included The Life of Captain Cipriani (1933), The Case for West Indian Self-Government (1933), Minty Allen (a novel, 1936), World Revolution, 1917-1936: The Rise and Fall of the Communist International (1937), A History of Negro Revolt (1938), The Black Jacobins: A Study of Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution (1938; 1963), Mariners, Renegades, and Castaways: Herman Melville and the World We Live In (1953), Party Politics in the West Indies (1962), and Beyond a Boundary (1963)
As historians, agitator, Marxist theorist and nationalist politician, James helped to further the independence of British-controlled countries in Africa and the Caribbean and to develop Black Power and New left ideas in the USA and Britain. He also ahs been a literary critic, a dramatist, an art critic, a philosopher and an expert cricketeer and a professional cricket correspondent. His influence has been compared to that of Sartre or Bertrand Russell.
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#10 – Covenant: A Thriller by Brandon Massey
#11 – Diary Of A Street Diva by Ashley and JaQuavis
#12 – Don’t Ever Tell by Brandon Massey
#13 – For colored girls who have considered suicide by Ntozake Shange
#14 – For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree
#15 – Homemade Loves by J. California Cooper
#16 – The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper
#17 – Player Haters by Carl Weber
#18 – Purple Panties: An Eroticanoir.com Anthology by Sidney Molare
#19 – Stackin’ Paper by Joy King
#20 – Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey
#21 – The Upper Room by Mary Monroe
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#23 – Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark
#24 – Married Men by Carl Weber
#25 – I Dreamt I Was in Heaven – The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter
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#25 – Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class by Lisa B. Thompson
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By George Lamming
Natives of My Person focuses on slave traders of the sixteenth century. The novel reconstructs the voyage of the ship Reconnaissance, which is led by a character known as the Commandant. To atone for his past cruelties and barbarism, the Commandant plans to establish a Utopian society on the island of San Cristobal. The enterprise fails for many reasons: fighting amongst the crew, loss of interest, greed, and an inability to erase the past. The novel argues that an ideal society cannot be built by those who have committed moral atrocities and unnecessary bloodshed in their past. . . . Although
has a historical setting and deals with the voyage of the Reconnaissance, a vessel ostensibly engaged in the slave trade, a specific historical phenomenon, it is only partly accurate to describe it as a work of historical realism. Its realist component is not to be found in its fidelity to period costume, living conditions, or similar revealing detail. Instead of the veneer of verisimilitude that such usages provide, the novel locates its realism in the way in which it elaborately recapitulates an outlook.
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By George Lamming
First published in 1960, Season of Adventure details the story of Fola, a light-skinned middle-class girl who has been tipped out of her easy hammock of social privilege into the complex political and cultural world of her recently independent homeland, the Caribbean island of San Cristobal. After attending a ceremony of the souls to raise the dead, she is carried off by the unrelenting accompaniment of steel drums onto a mysterious journey in search of her past and of her identity. Gradually, she is caught in the crossfire of a struggle between people who have “pawned their future to possessions” and those “condemned by lack of learning to a deeper truth.” The music of the drums sounds throughout the novel, “loud as gospel to a believer’s ears,” and at the end stands alone as witness to the tradition which is slowly being destroyed in the name of European values. Whether through literary production or public pronouncements, George Lamming has explored the phenomena of colonialism and imperialism and their impact on the psyche of Caribbean people.
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By Gil Scott Heron
Shortly after we republished The Vulture and The Nigger Factory, Gil started to tell me about The Last Holiday, an account he was writing of a multi-city tour that he ended up doing with Stevie Wonder in late 1980 and early 1981. Originally Bob Marley was meant to be playing the tour that Stevie Wonder had conceived as a way of trying to force legislation to make Martin Luther King’s birthday a national holiday. At the time, Marley was dying of cancer, so Gil was asked to do the first six dates. He ended up doing all 41. And Dr King’s birthday ended up becoming a national holiday (“The Last Holiday because America can’t afford to have another national holiday”), but Gil always felt that Stevie never got the recognition he deserved and that his story needed to be told. The first chapters of this book were given to me in New York when Gil was living in the Chelsea Hotel.
Among the pages was a chapter called Deadline that recounts the night they played Oakland, California, 8 December; it was also the night that John Lennon was murdered. Gil uses Lennon’s violent end as a brilliant parallel to Dr King’s assassination and as a biting commentary on the constraints that sometimes lead to newspapers getting things wrong.
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By Jan R. Carew
Carew, an activist, scholar, and journalist, met Malcolm X during his last trip abroad only a few weeks before he was killed in 1965. It made such an impression on Carew that he felt compelled to search out Malcolm’s family and friends in order to flesh out the family history. He interviewed Wilfred (Malcolm’s older brother) and a Grenadian friend of Malcolm’s mother named Tanta Bess. Comparing his family’s experiences with that of Malcolm X, he gives the most complete picture yet of Malcolm’s mother. Carew also offers a tantalizing glimpse of Malcolm X’s transforming himself into El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, a man less blinded by his own racial prejudices yet as committed to the betterment of his race as ever. Just before his death, Malcolm X became convinced that a U.S. agency was involved with those trying to kill him, and Carew here reveals the evidence Malcolm X gave him to support these beliefs. The mystery of Malcolm’s death remains unresolved, and we are once again filled with regret that he was cut down before he could fulfill the promise of his later days. While this book will not replace The Autobiography of Malcolm X (LJ 1/1/66), it is an important supplement. All libraries that own the autobiography should also purchase this one.Library Journal
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By Manning Marable
Years in the making-the definitive biography of the legendary black activist. Of the great figure in twentieth-century American history perhaps none is more complex and controversial than Malcolm X. Constantly rewriting his own story, he became a criminal, a minister, a leader, and an icon, all before being felled by assassins’ bullets at age thirty-nine. Through his tireless work and countless speeches he empowered hundreds of thousands of black Americans to create better lives and stronger communities while establishing the template for the self-actualized, independent African American man. In death he became a broad symbol of both resistance and reconciliation for millions around the world.
Manning Marable’s new biography of Malcolm is a stunning achievement. Filled with new information and shocking revelations that go beyond the Autobiography, Malcolm X unfolds a sweeping story of race and class in America, from the rise of Marcus Garvey and the Ku Klux Klan to the struggles of the civil rights movement in the fifties and sixties.
Reaching into Malcolm’s troubled youth, it traces a path from his parents’ activism through his own engagement with the Nation of Islam, charting his astronomical rise in the world of Black Nationalism and culminating in the never-before-told true story of his assassination. Malcolm X will stand as the definitive work on one of the most singular forces for social change, capturing with revelatory clarity a man who constantly strove, in the great American tradition, to remake himself anew.
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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update 1 August 2012