. . . It is of the West Indies West Indian.
C. L. R. James
What an education it would be— whether as to the God of yesterday or today—
were we able to hear the true prayers on the lips of the humble!
Marc Bloch
In the preface of the first 1938 edition of The Black Jacobins, C. L. R. James an-
nounces the first move in the argument to come in the book. “By a phenom-
enon often observed”— the phenomenon being the Haitian Revolution of
1791–1804— “the individual leadership responsible for this unique achieve-
ment was almost entirely the work of a single man— Toussaint L’Ouverture.”
The history of the Haitian Revolution, James explains, will therefore largely
be a rec ord of his achievements and his po litical personality.” He goes further
and confidently declares: “The writer believes, and is confident the narrative
will prove, that between 1789 and 1815, with the single exception of Bonaparte
himself, no single figure appeared on the historical stage more greatly gifted
than this Negro, a slave till he was 45.” No sooner are these broad claims
made than James seems to attenuate his argument with an impor tant pair of
The first of the pair is: “Yet Toussaint did not make the revolution. It was
the revolution that made Toussaint.” The second qualifier follows immedi-
ately: “And even that is not the whole truth.”1
The first qualifier is what propelled James’s interpretation of Toussaint and
the Haitian Revolution into becoming a historical classic and as such prove
foundational for all subsequent investigation of the revolution. It provides
evidence of James’s penetrating historical insight: the profoundly dialectical
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