Black Jacobins Reading Group

Notice: Black Jacobins Reading Group

In Hilary Term we will be meeting to discuss C. L. R. James’ 1938 work The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution. The reading group is convened by Dr. William Booth at St. Catherine’s College, Oxford. It is open to all – students, staff, and the public – though space may be limited; thus, please express interest to Location: Room Quad 14.2, St. Catherine’s College, Manor Road, Oxford OX1 3UJ.

Dates (Hilary Term 2018 – all sessions 14.00-15.30):

Tuesday 16th January (First Week) – Chapters I-III

Tuesday 30th January (Third Week) – Chapters IV-VI

Tuesday 13th February (Fifth Week) – Chapters VII-IX

Tuesday 27th February (Seventh Week) – Chapters X-XII

Friday 9th March (Eighth Week) – Chapter XIII

In addition to The Black Jacobins, which is available in many of Oxford’s libraries, you may also be interested in the following secondary works, inter alia:

C. Hogsbjerg & C. Forsdick, The Black Jacobins Reader (2017)

L. Dubois, Avengers of the New World (2005)

G. Horne, Confronting Black Jacobins (2015)

P. Buhle, C. L. R. James: The Artist as Revolutionary (2017)

C. Hogsbjerg & C. Forsdick, Toussaint L’Ouverture: A Black Jacobin in the Age of Revolutions (2017)

D. Geggus, The Haitian Revolution: A Documentary History (2008)

J. Popkin, You Are All Free: The Haitian Revolution and the Abolition of Slavery (2011)

P. Girard, “Black Talleyrand: Toussaint Louverture’s Diplomacy, 1798-1802” in The William and Mary Quarterly, 66:1, and “Caribbean Genocide: Racial War in Haiti, 1802-1804,” in Patterns of Prejudice, 39:2

R. Blackburn, “Haiti, Slavery, and the Age of the Democratic Revolution” in The William and Mary Quarterly, 63:4

Marshall Non-Plans

From Clayton to Macron

On Saturday, a reporter from the Cote d’Ivoire asked Emmanuel Macron a perfectly reasonable question; drawing an analogy with the Marshall Plan, the reporter asked how much money Europe was willing to commit to Africa, and (as a secondary question) what France’s position would be. In answering the question – or, rather, challenging its logic – Macron rejected any idea of a Marshall Plan for Africa, effectively stating that had it been that simple, it would have happened already. This is a peculiarly teleological view of progress, particularly from someone who just faced a fascist in a two-way presidential run-off, but I’ll leave that to one side by noting that it fits fairly neatly with the idea of ‘sensible centrism’ which finds itself in vogue in particular circles in 2017.

I am no expert on France, but I have taught enough French history (and followed enough news stories) to get a sense of how successive French governments demonstrate a posture of enormous entitlement to ‘guide’ or ‘advise’ Africa (with a focus on its Francophone nations), an asymmetric a priori position which has led frequently to military intervention. This mentality crosses the ideological spectrum within the mainstream of French politics too – it pertains to Mitterand or Hollande as much as, say, Sarkozy. [Note in that Economist piece on Hollande, the insidious phrasing: ‘Africa has a way of intruding on French politics’. Good grief. How terribly inconvenient that must be.]

In some senses, La Françafrique seems to echo the relationship between the United States and Latin America. While most of the latter has avoided formal colonisation since independence, many countries – particularly in the circum-Caribbean region – have experienced threats, destabilisation, and/or military occupation by the US since 1898. Hearing Macron attempt to shift the conversation from one of aid and economic stimulus towards one of criticising African attitudes (to say nothing of his comment on family sizes) reminded me immediately of President Truman’s stern rebuke to Latin Americans demanding their own version of the Marshall Plan in the postwar period. On 15th August 1947, the New York Times reported that at a press conference the day before, Truman had stated bluntly: ‘there has been a Marshall Plan for the Western Hemisphere for a century and a half known as the Monroe Doctrine’.[1]


“¡Agua, Jabón y Estropajo… el Plan Clayton, abajo!”[2]

Like Macron, Truman’s view was – broadly – ‘our way is best’. And the prescriptions which flowed from that attitude strongly favoured trade and investment over aid or loans. On 3rd September 1947, he opined: ‘Here [in Latin America] the need is for long-term economic collaboration. This is a type of collaboration in which a much greater role falls to private citizens and groups than is the case in a program designed to aid European countries to recover from the destruction of war’.[3] The effects of occupation in Nicaragua, Puerto Rico and elsewhere were passed over. And here, for comparison, is Macron: “It’s by a more rigorous governance, a fight against corruption, a fight for good governance, a successful demographic transition… As of today, spending billions of dollars outright would stabilize nothing”. He warns that any ‘plan’ must use “public private partnerships, and must be conducted on a regional and sometimes even national basis.” Markets, and self-improvement. Macron also raised security cooperation; it is notable that in 1947, US negotiators were successful in their attempts to de-couple security from economic cooperation, and deal comprehensively with the former first (at the 1947 Rio de Janeiro Conference for the Maintenance of Continental Peace and Security). Thus, Latin American governments lost a bargaining chip ahead of any economic settlement.

Truman having ruled out the extension of Marshall Aid, Latin America was included in what became known locally as ‘Plan Clayton’, part of the haphazard confection of what William Cromwell has called “the Marshall Non-Plan”.[4] It was Assistant Secretary of State William Clayton who lent his name to the Latin American part of the post-war trade-and-aid policy. He was already a target for populist denunciation in Mexico since he had “issued the first warning that Latin America should not count on postwar economic aid” at the Chapultepec Conference in 1945.[5] Two years later, when – in place of aid – Clayton suggested a relaxation of intra-hemisphere trade restrictions and tariffs, his propositions were denounced as “aggression on the part of imperialist forces”.[6] La Voz de México – the newspaper of the Mexican Communist Party – urged the formation of a “National Democratic Front to Oppose Plan Clayton.”


That was then, this is now

Speaking at the weekend, Macron set out the following interpretation of the Marshall Plan: “a reconstruction plan, a material plan in a region that already had its equilibria, its borders and its stability”. Quite striking given that many of those equilibria were maintained by enormous occupying forces, and that borders or stability could be talked of as constants when just a year and a half had passed since the war formally ended. This was followed by Macron’s suggestion that “the problems Africa face are completely different and… are ‘civilizational.’” Yet how does the description Macron decides to give Africa – particularly that of “failed states, complex democratic transitions and extremely difficult demographic transitions” – sound fundamentally different to Europe in the immediate post-war years? [The most glaring difference is the postcolonial relationship, something which the US is essentially trying to define in Iraq and Afghanistan today, but was not directly relevant in postwar Europe. If anything, the postcolonial obligation is surely greater.]

My research on Plan Clayton (which I will work up into an article next year) has focused on the reaction from the Mexican left. In brief, the PCM (Mexican Communist Party), PP (Popular Party) and ASU (Unified Socialist Action) opposed Plan Clayton from broadly similar positions, emphasising the threat to “we, the Mexicans” as a whole. The manner in which the story was reported by La Voz de México or addressed in public pronouncements from labour leader Vicente Lombardo Toledano and PCM head Dionisio Encina implies coalescence of interest between the constituencies of the Marxist left (i.e. the urban proletariat, urban intellectuals and, to a lesser extent, campesinos) and the government, the embodiment of the ‘national bourgeoisie’. In the public discourse of the left it remained inconceivable that, first, the ruling PRI did not serve the national interest and second, that the national interest of the ‘national bourgeoisie’ was not consonant with that of the Mexican working classes.[7] The degree of subordination of class-based interest to nationalism here is highly significant, and something I have written about at length elsewhere. Only the ASU augmented this approach with a substantial appeal to class-specific concerns, yet they remained careful to cloak their pronouncements in broad, nationalist rhetoric.

I am therefore interested to see what sort of reactions emerge – particularly from African lefts – to Macron’s intervention. Because it was a set of comments during a question and answer session, there may be more leeway, less formal scrutiny. The implication, though, is clear. Any idea of responsibility for centuries of colonial (and decades of post-colonial) oppression, interference, or exploitation is shelved. Instead, two things emerge: first, a sense that Europe’s idealised economic mode – open, dynamic, neoliberal – must be embraced by external partners, Europe’s technocratic, asymmetrical and stultified inner-workings notwithstanding (some of these contradictions are noted in Perry Anderson’s recent piece on Macron’s meteoric rise); and second, that a degree of mass personal transformation must go hand in hand with this economic change. While the first fits very neatly with Truman and Clayton’s ideas of how best to ‘help’ Latin America (in practice, through fairly untrammelled extraction of surplus, one way or another, by the US), the second echoes broader civilising discourses which cross from formal imperial relationships (the ‘White Man’s Burden’) into informal empire and neo-colonial notions of ‘underdevelopment’. It is no surprise the most striking initial reactions to Macron’s statement came from those attuned to anti-colonial discourses; it will be fascinating to see if the current hero of liberalism loses any of his sheen with the broader polis.



A cartoon from La Voz de México, 23rd February 1947, urging President Alemán to stand up to President Truman, even if he must necessarily be courteous; Truman’s feet are muddied by his eponymous plan, that of Clayton, and imperialism generally.


[1] The New York Times, 15th August 1947, p.8. This ‘quote’ – reproduced in many books on the period – is not presented as direct speech by the Times. Instead it is reported as what Truman said, delivered without quotation marks. As such, there is a question as to whether it is in fact paraphrased.

[2] “Water, soap and scourer… down with Plan Clayton!” – a slogan from the campaign.

[3] Quoted by R. Trask, in “The Impact of the Cold War on United States-Latin American Relations, 1945-1949”, Diplomatic History, Vol. 1, No. 3, 1977, p.278

[4] W. Cromwell, “The Marshall Non-Plan, Congress and the Soviet Union” in The Western Political Quarterly, Vol.42, No.4 (1979)

[5] L. Bethell & I. Roxborough, “Latin America between the Second World War and the Cold War: Some Reflections on the 1945-8 Conjuncture” in Journal of Latin American Studies, Vol.20, No.1 (1988), p.181

[6] Plans for hemispheric defence cooperation were denounced just as furiously by the PCM. See, for example, “El Imperialismo Yanqui es Propiciador del Plan de Truman para la ‘Defensa Continental’”, La Voz de México, 9/6/1946, p.2.

[7] Tangentially, I think Mexico provides a good counter-example to Bresser-Pereira’s portrayal of Latin American ‘national bourgeoisies’ more generally. See Luiz Carlos Bresser-Pereira, ‘From the National-Bourgeoisie to the Dependency Interpretation of Latin America’ in Latin American Perspectives, 38:3 (2011)

Book Review: The Fall of the US Empire – Global Fault-Lines and the Shifting Imperial Order

A review I wrote of Vassilis Fouskas and Bülent Gökay’s 2012 book. N.B. This review has appeared elsewhere.

The study of empire, hegemony and long-term power structures has attracted many prominent and respected authors. On the left these have included Giovanni Arrighi, Eric Hobsbawm, Hardt and Negri, and of course Lenin and Trotsky. Vassilis Fouskas and Bülent Gökay, two professors of international relations of socialist sympathy, are among the latest to attempt a reframing of the debate for the contemporary period.

‘Global fault-lines’ is the way Fouskas and Gökay explain the decline of US power, an approach to international relations which uses the geological metaphor of ‘tectonic plates’. Inspired by Andre Gunder Frank, and specifically his post-Marxist works, Fouskas and Gökay sketch out various fault-lines which mark the points at which the ‘tectonic plates’ collide and crumble: the ‘failure of financial statecraft’, ‘the power shift to the Global East’ and ‘depletion and degradation’, the latter referring to both the impending scarcity of oil, water and food but also to climate change and its associated problems. The main thrust of the book is that the US is in serious decline, and that even if it manages to recover, it will only be one power among many: Russia, Brazil, South Africa, Indonesia, China and India, referred to (in somewhat puzzling fashion) as the ‘Global East’. This is contrary to the assertions of Leo Panitch (for whom US hegemony is not declining, merely ‘restructuring’) and Ray Kiely (who sees a ‘clash of globalisations’).

Fouskas and Gökay make a historical comparison between contemporary China and India on the one hand, and the United States in the nineteenth century on the other: ‘a huge continental economy with a young population, providing the driving force that enabled it to grab the lead in agriculture, apparel and the high technologies of the era’ (Fouskas and Gökay, p.115). In this way they follow several of the other authors referred to above in seeing both a generalized leeching of global power from the US to China, and the specific possibility that China will emerge as the new global hegemon.

This is in contrast to the work of Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin, who claim that China has no imperial ambition beyond its own borders. This sort of political-culture argument is, however, undermined by the economic reality. [1] In their recent book The Making of Global Capitalism (2012), Panitch and Gindin refer to the American crisis of the 1970s as ‘neither decline nor moderation but restructuring’ (Panitch and Gindin, p.183). That restructuring, they claim, was borne out of necessity: the necessity of expanding markets to a global scale but on American terms. They argue that hegemonic power is not shifting eastwards, instead suggesting that the world is entering a multipolar phase. Fouskas and Gökay seem to see the multipolar near-future as a transitional stage before the hegemonic rise of the ‘Global East’.

In other ways, The Fall of the US Empire is similar to The Making of Global Capitalism, arguing that US imperialism contains within itself the seeds of its own destruction. In this respect, there is some crossover with the political ‘realism’ of Chalmers Johnson (Dismantling the Empire) and David P. Calleo (Follies of Power) who argue that the US state ought to recognise its own (overreached) limits before the costs of running an empire become prohibitive. Fouskas and Gökay do not necessarily see such ‘overstretch’ in military terms though: their critique is rooted in political economy, and they identify ‘Open Door Imperialism’, the imposition of free market ideology (and eventually financialization) through coercion and without reciprocation, as the destabilising factor.

In fact, one of their main objections to Giovanni Arrighi’s work is his apparent underplaying of the weakness inherent in America’s imposition of economy policy throughout large swathes of the world. The other objection cuts to the heart of the debate on empire, hegemony and power: does the rise and fall of imperial nations constitute a cyclical pattern or are should we be thinking about a series of related but ultimately separate phases of capitalism? On this matter, the authors of The Fall of the US Empire are somewhat unfair to Arrighi, as indeed are Panitch and Gindin. They present a caricature of his work which does not, as they suggest, equate early modern city states with contemporary global empires. Arrighi made it perfectly clear that he considered the concentration of power in the financial sector, over-commitment to foreign wars, and increasing government debt, to be signs of American decline.

Hardt and Negri (in EmpireCommonwealth and Multitude) argue that the globalisation of both ‘empire’ – broadly, the state, military and financial elites and their power structures – and the ‘multitude’ (the rest of us) has set up the world for a generalised conflict between the two. They are optimistic about the prospects for a revolution of the multitude against the empire. Fouskas and Gökay do not go into much detail about broad (transnational) class solidarity in this way, instead concentrating on the relative positions of nation-states, though they are also optimistic about opportunities for ‘socialism and green politics … [and] new radical forces’. Against this optimism, though, they (rightly) emphasise the emergence of what they call the ‘increasingly predatory state’ whose functions – ‘police, surveillance, violence’ – are intended to suppress the ‘multitude’. Care must, of course, be taken with the entire concept of ‘multitude’: in its broad nature and inherently vague definition, it tends to obscure crucial class dynamics.

Finally, how does the theory of ‘global fault-lines’ relate to Trotsky’s thesis of uneven and combined development? Trotsky argued that despite an inherent interconnection between national economies and societies, development could advance along various paths and at strikingly different speeds. Fouskas and Gökay characterise their work as a challenge to Trotsky’s position, an attack on not only Trotsky’s supposed Eurocentrism but also on his privileging of economic factors. Yet within uneven and combined development we can find many of the factors (or ‘fault-lines’) they identify. As with their objections to Arrighi, there is a tendency towards the construction of a straw man. Trotsky always claimed that the Russian Revolution could only be understood in a global context, as the expression of many long-term historical processes; where Europe takes centre-stage, it is often simply as a reflection of concrete realities.

Though the book is partly conceived of as a challenge to Trotsky, the authors concede that uneven and combined development in conjunction with the imminent environmental and resource crises will undermine the current dominance of the US and its allies. Finally, Fouskas and Gökay do (despite their claims to the contrary) return to economic determinants in the final analysis: as capital ‘gains mastery’ over global markets’ ‘inherited unevenness’, it exerts pressures in contradictory ways, and this accounts for the counterproductive nature of ‘Open Door Imperialism’ (Trotsky, The Third International after Lenin, Part One, Section Four).

This is a compelling, interesting book. It is punchy, has a clear line of argument and is written in an engaging style and with some fascinating data. In short, it has much to add to the discussion of the future of the US as an imperial power, including some very strong sections dealing with trends and predictions. However, it does have two significant flaws: one, its claims to originality are a little overstated, since many of the battles it picks with existing left-wing theories of empire turn out to be minor quibbles or changes of emphasis, or based on apparent mischaracterisations of other authors’ work; and the other, a tendency to give the concept of ‘global fault-lines’ a much more profound and revolutionary explanatory power than it perhaps merits.


  1. A different political-culture argument can be found in Walter Nugent’s Habits of Empire, which sees a longstanding and inertial culture of imperialism as determining the US’ foreign policy.