C. L. R. James

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C.L.R. James

Cyril Lionel Robert James (4 January 1901 – 19 May 1989), best known as C. L. R. James, who sometimes wrote under the pen-name J. R. Johnson, was an Afro-Trinidadian historian, journalist, socialist theorist and essayist. His works are influential in various theoretical, social, and historiographical contexts. His work is a staple of subaltern studies, and he figures as a pioneering and influential voice in postcolonial literature.[1] A tireless political activist, James's writing on the Communist International stirred debate in Trotskyist circles, and his history of the Haitian Revolution, The Black Jacobins, is a seminal text in the literature of the African Diaspora.[2]

Characterized by one literary critic as an "anti-Stalinist dialectician",[3] James was known for his autodidactism, for his occasional playwriting and fiction, and as an avid sportsman. He is also famed as a writer on cricket.[4]

Biography[edit]

Early life in Trinidad[edit]

Born in Tunapuna, Trinidad, then a British Crown colony, James was the first child of Elizabeth James and Robert Alexander, a schoolteacher.[5] In 1910 he won a scholarship to Queen's Royal College, the island's oldest non-Catholic secondary school, in Port of Spain, and after graduating he worked there as a teacher; among those he taught was the young Eric Williams, who would become the first Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago. Together with Ralph de Boissière, Albert Gomes and Alfred Mendes, James was a member of the anti-colonialist "Beacon Group", a circle of writers associated with The Beacon magazine, in which he published a series of short stories.[6]

British years[edit]

In 1932, he left Trinidad for the small town of Nelson in Lancashire, England, at the invitation of his friend, West Indian cricketer Learie Constantine, who needed his help writing his autobiography Cricket and I (published in 1933).[7] During this time James took a job as cricket correspondent with the Manchester Guardian.[7]

In 1933 James moved to London. The following year he joined a Trotskyist group that met to talk for hours in his rented room. Louise Cripps, one of its members, recalled, "We felt our work could contribute to the time when we would see Socialism spreading."

James had begun to campaign for the independence of the West Indies while in Trinidad. His Life of Captain Cipriani, published with financial assistance of Constantine, and the pamphlet The Case for West-Indian Self Government, published by Leonard and Virginia Woolf's Hogarth Press, were his first important works. He became a champion of Pan-Africanism, and was named Chair of the International African Friends of Abyssinia – later renamed the International African Friends of Ethiopia (IAFE)[8] – a group formed in 1935 in response to the Italian fascist invasion of Ethiopia (the Second Italo-Abyssinian War). Leading members included Amy Ashwood Garvey, Jomo Kenyatta and Chris Braithwaite.

When the IAFE was transformed into the International African Service Bureau in 1937, James edited its newsletter Africa and the World and its journal, International African Opinion. The Bureau was led by his childhood friend George Padmore, who would be a driving force for socialist Pan-Africanism for several decades. Both Padmore and James wrote for the New Leader, published by the Independent Labour Party, which James had joined in 1934, finding its anti-Communist socialism compatible with his views.[9]

In 1934, James wrote a three-act play about the Haitian revolutionary Toussaint L'Ouverture, which was staged in London's West End in 1936 and starred Paul Robeson, Orlando Martins, Robert Adams and Harry Andrews.[10][11] That same year saw the publication in London of James's novel, Minty Alley, which he had brought with him in manuscript from Trinidad.[7] It was the first novel to be published by a black Caribbean author in the UK.[12]

Amid his frenetic political activity, James wrote what are perhaps his best-known works of non-fiction: World Revolution (1937), a history of the rise and fall of the Communist International, which was critically praised by Leon Trotsky, George Orwell and Fenner Brockway; [13] and The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution (1938), a widely acclaimed history of the Haitian Revolution, which would later be seen as a seminal text in the study of the African diaspora. He went to Paris to research this work, where he met Haitian military historian Alfred Auguste Nemours.

In 1936, James and his Trotskyist Marxist Group left the Independent Labour Party to form an open party. In 1938, this new group took part in several mergers to form the Revolutionary Socialist League (RSL). The RSL was a highly factionalized organization. When James was invited to tour the United States by the leadership of the Socialist Workers' Party (SWP), then the US section of the Fourth International, to facilitate its work among black workers, one Trotskyist John Archer encouraged him to leave in the hope of removing a rival.[citation needed] James's relationship with Louise Cripps had broken up after her second abortion, so that intimate tie no longer bound him to England.[14]

James meets Trotsky[edit]

James travelled to the USA in late 1938. After a tour sponsored by the SWP, he visited Trotsky in Coyoacán, México. He stayed about a month and also met Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, before returning to the USA in May 1939.[15] A key topic that James and Trotsky discussed was the "Negro Question". Whereas Trotsky saw the Trotskyist Party as providing leadership to Black community – in the general manner the Bolsheviks provided guidance to ethnic minorities in Russia, James suggested that the self-organised struggle of African Americans would precipitate a much broader radical social movement.[16]

US career and the Johnson-Forest Tendency[edit]

He then stayed in the USA until he was deported in 1953. By 1940 he had begun to doubt Trotsky's view of the Soviet Union as a degenerated workers state. He left the SWP along with Max Shachtman, who formed the Workers' Party (WP). Within the WP, James formed the Johnson-Forest Tendency with Raya Dunayevskaya (his pseudonym was Johnson and Dunayevskaya's was Forest) and Grace Lee (later Grace Lee Boggs) to spread their views within the new party.

While within the WP, the views of the Johnson-Forest Tendency underwent considerable development. By the end of the Second World War, they had definitively rejected Trotsky's theory of Russia as a degenerated workers' state. Instead they classified it as state capitalist. This political evolution was shared by other Trotskyists of their generation, most notably Tony Cliff. Unlike Cliff, the Johnson-Forest Tendency was focusing increasingly on the liberation movements of oppressed minorities, a theoretical development already visible in James's thought in his 1939 discussions with Trotsky. Such liberation struggles came to take centre stage for the Johnson-Forest Tendency.

After World War II, the WP witnessed a downturn in revolutionary sentiment. The J-F Tendency, on the other hand, was encouraged by the prospects for revolutionary change for oppressed peoples. After a few short months as an independent group, during which time they published a great deal of material, in 1947 the Johnson-Forest Tendency joined the SWP, which it regarded as more proletarian than the WP.

James would still describe himself as a Leninist, despite his rejection of Vladimir Lenin's conception of the vanguard role of the revolutionary party. He argued for socialists to support the emerging black nationalist movements. By 1949, James rejected the idea of a vanguard party. This led the Johnson-Forest Tendency to leave the Trotskyist movement and rename itself the Correspondence Publishing Committee.

In 1955 after James had left for England, about half the membership of the Committee withdrew, under the leadership of Raya Dunayevskaya, to form a separate tendency of Marxist-humanism and found the organization News and Letters Committees. Whether Dunayevskaya's faction had constituted a majority or a minority in the Correspondence Publishing Committee remains a matter of dispute. Historian Kent Worcester claims that Dunayevskaya's supporters formed a majority, but Martin Glaberman claims in New Politics that the faction loyal to James had a majority.[17]

The Committee split again in 1962, as Grace Lee Boggs and James Boggs, two key activists, left to pursue a more Third Worldist approach. The remaining Johnsonites, including leading member Martin Glaberman, reconstituted themselves as Facing Reality. James advised the group from Great Britain until it dissolved in 1970, against his urging.[citation needed]

James's writings were also influential in the development of Autonomist Marxism as a current within Marxist thought. He himself saw his life's work as developing the theory and practice of Leninism.[citation needed]

Return to Britain[edit]

In 1953, James was forced to leave the USA under threat of deportation for having overstayed his visa. In his attempt to remain in America, James wrote a study of Herman Melville, Mariners, Renegades and Castaways: The Story of Herman Melville and the World We Live In, and had copies of the privately published work sent to every member of the Senate. He wrote the book while being detained on Ellis Island. In an impassioned letter to his old friend George Padmore, James said that in Mariners he was using Moby Dick as a parable for the anti-communism sweeping the United States—a consequence, he thought, of Americans' uncritical faith in capitalism.[18]

Returning to England, James appeared to Padmore and his partner Dorothy Pizer to be a man adrift. After James started reporting on cricket for the Manchester Guardian, Padmore wrote to American novelist Richard Wright, "That will take him out of his ivory tower and making his paper revolution...."'[19] Grace Lee Boggs, a colleague from the Detroit group, came to London in 1954 to work with him, but she, too, saw him "at loose ends, trying to find his way after fifteen years out of the country."[20]

In 1957, James traveled to Ghana for the celebration of its independence from British rule. He had met Ghana's new head of state, Kwame Nkrumah, in the United States when Nkrumah was studying there and sent him on to work with George Padmore in London after World War II; Padmore was by this point a close Nkrumah advisor and had written The Gold Coast Revolution (1953). Writing from Ghana in 1957, James told American friends that Nkrumah thought he, too, ought to write a book on the Convention People's Party, which under Nkrumah's leadership had brought the country to independence. The book would show how the party's strategies could be used to build a new African future. James invited Grace Lee Boggs, his colleague from Detroit, to join in the work, though in the end, James wrote Nkrumah and the Ghana Revolution on his own. It was not published until 1977, after Nkrumah's overthrow, exile and subsequent death.[21]

Trinidad and after[edit]

In 1958 James went back to Trinidad, where he edited The Nation newspaper for the pro-independence People's National Movement (PNM) party. He also became active again in the Pan-African movement. He believed that the Ghana revolution greatly encouraged anti-colonialist revolutionary struggle.

James also advocated the West Indies Federation. It was over this issue that he fell out with the PNM leadership. He returned to Great Britain. Here he joined Calvin Hernton and Obi Egbuna at the Antiuniversity of London[22] In 1968 he was invited to the USA, where he taught at the University of the District of Columbia.

Ultimately returning to Britain, he spent his last years in Brixton, London. In the 1980s, he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from South Bank Polytechnic (later to become University of the South Bank, in London) for his body of socio-political work, including that relating to race and sport.

James died in London on 19 May 1989. His funeral took place on Monday 12 June in Trinidad, where he was buried at Tunapuna.[23] A state memorial service was held for him at the National Stadium, Port of Spain, on 28 June 1989.[24]

Personal life[edit]

James married his first wife, Juanita Young, in Trinidad in 1929, but his move three years later to Britain led to their estrangement. He met his second wife, Constance Webb (1918–2005), an American model, actor and author, after he moved to the USA in 1938; she wrote of having first heard him speak in the spring of 1939 at a meeting in California.[25] They married in 1946 and were divorced in 1953, when James was deported to England. He and Webb had a son, C. L. R. James, Jr, familiarly known as Nobbie.[26] In 1956 James married Selma Weinstein (née Deitch), who had been a young member of the Johnson-Forest Tendency;[27] they remained close political colleagues for more than 25 years. She is best known as the founder of the International Wages for Housework Campaign.

Legacy and recognition[edit]

  • In the 1970s and 1980s, a number of titles by James were published by Allison & Busby, including four volumes of selected writings: The Future In the Present (1977), Spheres of Existence (1980), At the Rendezvous of Victory (1984), and Cricket (1986).
  • In 1983, a 60-minute film, Talking History, featuring James in dialogue with the historian E. P. Thompson, was made by Penumbra Productions.[30] This British company also filmed a series of six of his lectures, shown on Channel 4. The topics were: Shakespeare; cricket; American society; Solidarity in Poland; the Caribbean; and Africa.[31]
  • The C.L.R. James Institute was founded with James's blessing by Jim Murray in 1983. Based in New York, and affiliated to the Centre for African Studies at Cambridge University, it has been run by Ralph Dumain since Murray's death in 2003.[32]
  • A public library in the London Borough of Hackney is named in his honour. He attended the naming ceremony in March 1985,[33] and his widow, Selma James, attended a reception there to mark its 20th anniversary. Hackney Council had intended to drop the name of the library as part of a new development in Dalston Square in the spring of 2011, but after protests from Selma James and local and international campaigners, the council promised that the library would after all retain the name of C. L. R. James. A council statement said: "As part of the new library, there will be a permanent exhibition to chronicle his life and works and an annual event in his memory, and we are pleased to report the state-of-the-art education room will also be named after this influential figure."[34][35] The new Dalston C. L. R. James Library was officially opened on 28 February 2012.[36][37] At the launch there on 2 March 2012 of a permanent exhibition dedicated to James's life and legacy, Selma James spoke.[38]
  • A conference to mark the 50th anniversary of the publication of Beyond a Boundary was held at the University of Glasgow in May 2013.[39][40]

Writings on cricket[edit]

C. L. R. James is widely known as a writer on cricket, especially for his autobiographical 1963 book, Beyond a Boundary, which he himself described as "neither cricket reminiscences nor autobiography".[41] It is considered the seminal work on the game, and is often named as the best single book on cricket (or even the best book on any sport) ever written.[4] A conference to mark the 50th anniversary of its first publication was held 10–11 May 2013.[42][39]

The book's key question, frequently quoted by modern journalists and essayists, is inspired by a line in Rudyard Kipling's poem 'English Flag' – "What do they know of England who only England know?". James asks in the Preface: "What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?" Acknowledging that "To answer involves ideas as well as facts", James uses this challenge as the basis for describing cricket in an historical and social context, the strong influence cricket had on his life, and how it meshed with his role in politics and his understanding of issues of class and race. The literary quality of the writing attracts cricketers of all political views.

While editor of The Nation, he led the successful campaign in 1960 to have Frank Worrell appointed the first black captain of the West Indies cricket team. James believed that the relationship between players and the public was a prominent reason behind the West Indies' achieving so much with so little.

Selected bibliography[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Said, Edward. Culture and Imperialism, London: Chatto & Windus, 1993, p. 54.
  2. ^ Segal, Ronald. The Black Diaspora, London: Faber, 1996, p. 275.
  3. ^ Said, Edward. Culture and Imperialism. p. 253.
  4. ^ a b Rosengarten: Urbane Revolutionary, p. 134.
  5. ^ "Celebrating C.L.R. James", C.L.R. James Legacy Project.
  6. ^ Reinhard W. Sander (ed.), From Trinidad: An Anthology of Early West Indian Writing, Hodder & Stoughton, 1978.
  7. ^ a b c Anna Grimshaw, "Notes on the Life and Work of C. L. R. James", in Paul Buhle (ed.), C. L. R. James: His Life and Work, London: Allison & Busby, 1986, pp. 9–21.
  8. ^ Excerpts from pamphlet on C. L. R. James produced by Hackney Library Service 2012. C. L. R. James Legacy Project.
  9. ^ Polsgrove, Ending British Rule, pp. 27, 35.
  10. ^ C. L. R. James, Toussaint Louverture: The Story of the Only Successful Slave Revolt in History – A Play in Three Acts (edited and with an introduction by Christian Høgsbjerg), Duke University Press, 2013.
  11. ^ Gaverne Bennett, "Book Review: Toussaint Louverture by C.L.R. James", LSHG Newsletter # 49 (May 2013).
  12. ^ D. Elliott Paris, "Minty Alley", in Paul Buhle (ed.), C. L. R. James: His Life and Work, London: Allison & Busby, 1986, p. 200.
  13. ^ Fenner Brockway, The New Leader, 16 April 1937.
  14. ^ Polsgrove, Ending British Rule, p. 34.
  15. ^ Jelly-Schapiro, Joshua. "C. L. R. James in America". bspace, University of California. 
  16. ^ James, C. L.R. (1986). Paul Buhle, ed. State Capitalism and World Revolution. Charles H. Kerr. p. xiii. 
  17. ^ Glaberman, Martin, "C. L. R. James: A Recollection", New Politics #8 (Winter 1990), pp. 78–84.
  18. ^ Polsgrove, Ending British Rule, p. 129.
  19. ^ Polsgrove, Ending British Rule, p. 130.
  20. ^ Grace Lee Boggs, Living for Change (1998), p. 69.
  21. ^ Polsgrove, Ending British Rule, pp. 155–6.
  22. ^ Jakobsen, Jakob (2012), Anti-University of Londin–Antihistory Tabloid, London: MayDay Rooms. 
  23. ^ Selwyn R. Cudjoe, "CLR James Misbound", Transition, No. 58 (1992), p. 124.
  24. ^ C.L.R. James: A Tribute: Eulogies Delivered at the State Memorial Service Held for the Late C.L.R. James, National Stadium, Port-of-Spain, June 28, 1989, 1990, 20pp.
  25. ^ Constance Webb, "C. L. R. James, the Speaker and his Charisma", in Paul Buhle (ed.), C. L. R. James: His Life and Work, London: Allison & Busby, 1986, p. 168.
  26. ^ Caryl Phillips, "Obituary: Constance Webb, Writer wife of CLR James", The Guardian, 15 April 2005.
  27. ^ Becky Gardiner, "A life in writing: Selma James", The Guardian, 8 June 2012.
  28. ^ "Beyond a Boundary" on YouTube.
  29. ^ "In Conversation with Stuart Hall".
  30. ^ "E.P. Thompson and C.L.R. James" on YouTube
  31. ^ BFI Film & TV Database
  32. ^ The C.L.R. James Institute
  33. ^ CLR James Library
  34. ^ "Black Hero Dropped by Hackney", Loving Dalston, 19 February 2010.
  35. ^ Eloise Horsfield, "Hackney Council signals U-turn in CLR James library row", Hackney Citizen, 8 October 2010.
  36. ^ "Celebrations for the New Dalston C.L.R James Library Reach Fever Pitch", Hackney Council, 1 March 2012.
  37. ^ Ændrew Rininsland, "New Dalston CLR James library opens", Hackney Citizen, 1 March 2012.
  38. ^ BEMA Network. Retrieved 16 March 2012.
  39. ^ a b "C.L.R. James’ Beyond a Boundary 50th Anniversary Conference", University of Glasgow.
  40. ^ "Mike Brearley: CLR James & Socrates". Keynote speech at 2013 Beyond a Boundary 50th anniversary conference.
  41. ^ James, Beyond a Boundary (1963), Preface.
  42. ^ "C.L.R. James's Beyond a Boundary: 50th anniversary conference", London Socialist Historians Group, 18 May 2012.

Further reading[edit]

  • Boggs, Grace Lee. Living for Change: An Autobiography. Minneapolis, London: University of Minnesota Press, 1998.
  • Bogues, Anthony, Caliban's Freedom: The Early Political Thought of C. L. R. James. London: Pluto Press, 1997.
  • Buhle, Paul, C. L. R. James. The Artist as Revolutionary. London: Verso, 1988.
  • Buhle, Paul (ed.), C. L. R. James: His Life and Work. London: Allison & Busby, 1986.
  • Cripps, Louise. C. L. R. James: Memories and Commentaries. London: Cornwall Books, 1997.
  • Dhondy, Farrukh, C. L. R. James: Cricket, the Caribbean and World Revolution. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2001.
  • Flood, Anthony, "C. L. R. James: Herbert Aptheker's Invisible Man," The C. L. R. James Journal, vol. 19, nos. 1 & 2, Fall 2013.
  • Glaberman, Martin, Marxism for our Times: C. L. R. James on Revolutionary Organization, University Press of Mississippi, 1999.
  • Høgsbjerg, Christian, C. L. R. James in Imperial Britain. Durham: Duke University Press, 2014.
  • McClendon III, John H., C. L. R. James's Notes on Dialectics: Left Hegelianism or Marxism-Leninism?. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2004.
  • McLemee, Scott & Paul LeBlanc (eds), C. L. R. James and Revolutionary Marxism: Selected Writings of C. L. R. James 1939–1949. Prometheus Books, 1994.
  • Polsgrove, Carol. Ending British Rule in Africa: Writers in a Common Cause. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2009.
  • Quest, Matthew. "C.L.R. James's Conflicted Legacies on Mao Tse Tung's China." Insurgent Notes, Issue 8, March 2013.
  • Quest, Matthew. "'Every Cook Can Govern:' Direct Democracy, Workers' Self-Management, and the Creative Foundations of CLR James' Political Thought." The CLR James Journal, 19.1 & 2, Fall 2013.
  • Quest, Matthew. "George Padmore's and C.L.R. James's International African Opinion." In Fitzroy Baptiste and Rupert C. Lewis (eds), George Padmore: Pan African Revolutionary. Kingston, Jamaica: Ian Randle, 2009. 105–132.
  • Quest, Matthew. "Silences on the Suppression of Workers Self-Emancipation: Historical Problems With CLR James's Interpretation of V.I Lenin." Insurgent Notes, Issue 7, October 2012.
  • Renton, David, C. L. R. James: Cricket's Philosopher King, Haus Publishers, 2008.
  • Rosengarten, Frank, Urbane Revolutionary: C. L. R. James and the Struggle for a New Society, University Press of Mississippi, 2007. ISBN 87-7289-096-7
  • Scott, David. Conscripts of Modernity: The Tragedy of Colonial Enlightenment. Durham: Duke University Press, 2004.
  • Webb, Constance, Not Without Love: Memoirs. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 2003.
  • Worcester, Kent, C. L. R. James. A Political Biography. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1996.
  • Young, James D., The World of C. L. R. James. The Unfragmented Vision. Glasgow: Clydeside Press, 1999.

External links[edit]