The Black Jacobins: Liberation, Political Theory, and the Haitian Revolution
The Haitian Revolution marked not only the liberation of Haiti from French colonial rule, but also, in Cedric Robinson’s words, “the first slave society to achieve the permanent destruction of the slave system.” As with the Paris Commune later in the 19th century and the Bolshevik Revolution in the early 20th, the Haitian Revolution was met with particularly acute repression. A cohort of great powers—including the French, Spanish, and British Empires—put rivalry aside to ally to crush the Revolution. What “the Black Jacobins,” as CLR James famously dubbed the Haitian revolutionaries, threatened was nothing less than the overthrow of an already global colonial and imperial project, both in its political forms and at its economic roots. And yet the Haitian Revolution—despite James’ pioneering work and many subsequent analyses—remains relatively neglected, often an afterthought to the great Age of Revolution or a blip between the French and Russian Revolutions. How can we understand the Haitian Revolution today? How did it shape questions of emancipation and freedom both in political thought and in political struggle? What does a close examination of the Haitian Revolution contribute to contemporary discussions of race, capitalism, abolition, national liberation, and freedom?
In this class, we will read James’s classic The Black Jacobins, alongside historical documents like the many Haitian constitutions of the early 19th century, and later work from Caribbean scholars and others, in order to grapple with the tremendous meaning and legacy of the Haitian Revolution. We’ll consider Cedric Robinson’s account of James as part of the “black radical tradition,” examine James’s dialogue and disputes with other Marxists, and think about varied receptions of the Haitian Revolution, from philosophical and critical theoretical analysis, such as Susan Buck-Morss’s Hegel, Haiti, and Universal History, to contemporary reflections on racial capitalism. As we excavate the history of the Haitian Revolution, we’ll simultaneously bear in mind a fundamental question: What’s at stake in reflecting on Haiti as a paradigmatic case — of revolution, of political transformation, and of politics itself?
Course ScheduleTuesday, 6:30-9:30pm EST
September 15 — October 06, 2020