Haitian revolutionary leader and statesman Toussaint Louverture was born 274 years ago today. You can read a number of books, essays, and articles by clicking on the links below.
- CLR James, The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the Haitian Revolution (1938)
- CLR James, Lectures on The Black Jacobins (1974)
- Laurent Dubois, Avengers of the New World: The Story of the Haitian Revolution (2004)
- Jeremy D. Popkin, Facing Racial Revolution: Eyewitness Accounts of the Haitian Insurrection (2008)
- Susan Buck-Morss, Hegel, Haiti, and Universal History (2009)
- Jeremy D. Popkin, A Concise History of the Haitian Revolution (2011)
Foremost among these, of course, is CLR James’ classic The Black Jacobins: Toussaint Louverture and the Haitian Revolution (1938). Against the naïve imperative that says “we must not censor works hailed by the subaltern as masterful pieces of our history, but instead celebrate them if the subaltern says we should” — which almost reads like a reductio ad absurdum of standpoint epistemology — we ought rather to uphold those works which pass critical and scholarly muster. James’ book, though not written by an academic, stands up brilliantly to this test.
Some of the others are also worth checking out. In particular, Susan Buck-Morss’ influential study of Hegel, Haiti, and Universal History (2009), which caused something of a stir when the first half was published as an essay back in 2001. “Decolonial dialectician” George Ciccariello-Maher criticized her for focusing too much on Toussaint, at the expense of his compatriot Jean-Jacques Dessalines. Nevertheless, out of these two, I greatly prefer Toussaint.
James repeatedly compared Toussaint to Robespierre, and in this analogy Dessalines could only be compared to Napoleon. After selling Toussaint out to Leclerc, and disposing of rivals such as Charles and Sanité Bélair, Dessalines crowned himself emperor and ruled with an iron fist over the ex-colonial island. Marx, as we know, had little patience for would-be New World Napoleons like Simon Bolivar, so it’s not hard to imagine what he would have thought of Dessalines.
But even beyond these monographs and histories, Toussaint’s life has inspired works by great literary figures as well. To honor and commemorate his birthday, then, I’m also including a poem dedicated to Toussaint by the poet William Wordsworth and a short story by the novelist Ralph Ellison. Enjoy!
The Morning Post
February 4, 1802
Toussaint, the most unhappy man of men!
…Whether the whistling Rustic tend his plough
Within thy hearing, or thy head be now
…Pillowed in some deep dungeon’s earless den; —
O miserable Chieftain! where and when
…Wilt thou find patience? Yet die not; do thou
Wear rather in thy bonds a cheerful brow:
…Though fallen thyself, never to rise again,
Live, and take comfort. Thou hast left behind
…Powers that will work for thee; air, earth, and skies;
There’s not a breathing of the common wind
…That will forget thee; thou hast great allies;
Thy friends are exultations, agonies,
…And love, and man’s unconquerable mind.