C. L. R. James

CLR James was a Trinidadian political activist, who was a leader of the Pan-African movement. He wrote extensively, both as a philosopher and as a cricket reporter. James was born on January 4, 1901, and died on May 31, 1989. In 1918, he completed his studies at Queen's Royal College in Port of Spain, Trinidad. He was certified as a teacher. In 1932, after moving to England, James published his first book, The Life of Captain Cipriani. Lord Constantine, a West Indian politician, financially supported the publication.

During the 1930s, James worked as a cricket correspondent for The Guardian, a Manchester, England, newspaper. At that time, he became interested in Marxist politics. He translated his interest into activism on behalf of the African and West Indian independence movements. His Marxist study of the 1790s Haitian slave revolution, The Black Jacobins, won critical and popular acclaim.

In 1936, James wrote a novel, Minty Alley, and in 1937, World Revolution, a history of the Communist International.

From 1939–53, James lived in the United States. In 1953, he was expelled for political reasons. While interred at Ellis Island, he wrote Mariners, Renegades, and Castaways. The book was an analysis of Herman Melville's Moby Dick.

James commuted between London and Trinidad for the rest of his life. His 1963 book, Beyond a Boundary, focused on the importance of cricket to the development of the West Indies. In 1971, he further expressed his philosophies in Notes on Dialetics. He published another book, Nkrumah and the Ghana Revolution, in 1977. His final publication, Cricket, was published in 1986.

James' writings about cricket reflect the most formative political event in his life. When he was a young man in Trinidad, he was plunged into a moral crisis while trying to choose a cricket club. In Trinidad, the cricket sporting clubs reflected society at large. The various clubs stood for different social classes, each of which was clearly defined.

James' choice was between the Maple and Shannon cricket clubs. The Shannon club was considered working class. Teachers, law clerks and department store clerks belonged to Shannon. In contrast, the Maple club accepted brown-skinned middle-class members. They clearly rejected darker-skinned people as members.

As a budding intellectual who had already begun to give lectures to literary societies on Wordsworth and Longfellow, James felt he belonged with the Maple members. On the other hand, his image as a spokesperson for working-class Trinidadians had started to bud. By ultimately choosing Maple, James made a political gesture that favored one constituency over the other.

The tension James felt about his decision led him to design a philosophy about cricket and racial tensions. He found that Trinidadian social history and the political underpinnings of cricket were embedded into the sport itself.

James' attempt to straddle the working-class and middle-class worlds gave him the status of an outsider. He lived a middle-class life but despised Trinidad's color prejudices. As much as he identified with the working class, he could not bring himself to join its club. This marginality formed his image as a postcolonial intellectual. His changing relationship with Trinidad through time and distance and his constant movement between big cities and peripheries are manifested in his philosophies.

James considered the great dilemma of humanity to be the struggle between socialism and barbarism. He had three separate philosophical stages throughout his life. The first stage was fiction and cricket writing. His writings depicted character and societal structures. His second stage was politically focused. He was actively engaged with revolutionary Marxism. Later in life, he approached the complexity of today's world through a unifying theme.

Because James had three distinct stages, his lasting legacy is difficult to formulate. There are critics who call him a lesser philosopher because his ideas changed often. Other say that uniqueness is due to his ability to adjust and change his worldview.

Within each field of expertise, James attracted many admirers. Some have called Beyond A Boundary one of the greatest books ever written about sport. His ability to place the evolution of cricket into a social and political context shows how sports can reflect life at large. Many authors use sporting metaphors to describe business attempts and achievements. James was able to use his love of the game to explain his views of Caribbean independence.

Posthumously, he is acknowledged for having made recognizable contributions to the fields of sport criticism, Caribbean history, literary criticism, Marxist theory and Pan-African politics.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

C. L. R. James: A Critical Introduction
Aldon Lynn Nielsen.
University Press of Mississippi, 1997
C.L.R. James and Creolization: Circles of Influence
Nicole King.
University Press of Mississippi, 2001
Marxism for Our Times: C.L.R. James on Revolutionary Organization
C. L. R. James; Martin Glaberman.
University Press of Mississippi, 1999
Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings
Charles Lemert.
Westview Press, 1999 (2nd edition)
Librarian’s tip: Includes "Black Power and Stokely" by C. L. R. James
The Routledge Reader in Caribbean Literature
Alison Donnell; Sarah Lawson Welsh.
Routledge, 1996
Librarian’s tip: "Triumph" by C.L.R. James begins on p. 84 and "Discovering Literature in Trinidad" by C.L.R. James begins on p. 163
Radical Caribbean: From Black Power to Abu Bakr
Brian Meeks.
University of the West Indies Press, 1996
Librarian’s tip: Chap. Seven "Rereading The Black Jacobins: James, the Dialectic and the Revolutionary Conjuncture"
What's My Name? Black Vernacular Intellectuals
Grant Farred.
University of Minnesota Press, 2003
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 2 "C. L. R. James, Marginal Intellectual"
Dual Legacies in the Contemporary Caribbean: Continuing Aspects of British and French Dominion
Paul Sutton.
F. Cass, 1986
Librarian’s tip: "The Social and Political Thought of Aimé Césaire and C.L.R. James: Some Comparisons" begins on p. 201
Thinking and Acting Dialectically: C.L.R. James, the American Years
Boggs, Grace Lee.
Monthly Review, Vol. 45, No. 5, October 1993
Professional Revolutionary C.L.R. James
McLemee, Scott.
American Visions, Vol. 11, No. 2, April 1996
Fifty Caribbean Writers: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook
Daryl Cumber Dance.
Greenwood Press, 1986
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