CLR James’ The Black Jacobins, first published in 1938, was a forbidden book in South Africa until the recent dismantling of apartheid. It’s not hard to see why.
Scott McLemmee, “CLR James: A Biographical Introduction,” American Visions (April/May 1996)
First of all, James cast doubt on the assumption that the revolution would take place first in Europe, in the advanced capitalist countries, and that this would act as a model and a catalyst for the later upheavals in the underdeveloped world. Secondly, there were clear indications that the lack of specially-trained leaders, a vanguard, did not hold back the movement of the San Domingo revolution.
Anna Grimshaw, CLR James: A Revolutionary Vision for the Twentieth Century (April 1991)
An extraordinary synthesis of novelistic narrative and factual reconstruction … The Black Jacobins is a book that helped transform both the writing of history and history itself. Three decades before historians such as Christopher Hill, Eric Hobsbawm and EP Thompson began producing ‘history from below’, James told of how the slaves of Haiti had not simply been passive victims of their oppression but active agents in their own emancipation. And in telling that story, he created a work that was to become indispensable to a new generation of Toussaint L’Ouvertures that, over the next three decades, helped lead the anti-colonial struggles in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean.
Kenan Malik, Review of The Black Jacobins (17 August 2010)
Tranquility to-day is either innate (the philistine) or to be acquired only by a deliberate doping of the personality. It was in the stillness of a seaside suburb that could be heard most clearly and insistently the bombing of Franco’s heavy artillery, the rattle of Stalin’s firing squads and the fierce shrill turmoil of the revolutionary movement striving for clarity and influence. Such is our age and this book is of it, with something of the fever and the fret. Nor does the writer regret it. The book is the history of a revolution and written under different circumstances it would have been a different but not necessarily a better book.
CLR James, “Preface to the first edition,” The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution (Secker & Warburg, 1938)