Marxism for Our Times: C.L.R. James on Revolutionary Organization

Marxism for Our Times: C.L.R. James on Revolutionary Organization

Marxism for Our Times: C.L.R. James on Revolutionary Organization

Marxism for Our Times: C.L.R. James on Revolutionary Organization

Excerpt

I first saw C. L. R. James when he came to the United States in 1938. He was a leader of the British Trotskyist group and a prominent figure in the international Trotskyist movement. He had already published Minty Alley, a novel; The Black Jacobins, the classic history of the Haitian revolution; The Life of Captain Cipriani: an Account of British Government in the West Indies; World Revolution, a history of the Comintern; History of Negro Revolt; the English translation of Boris Souvarine's biography of Stalin; and Cricket and I, the autobiography of the great cricketer, Learie Constantine, which James had substantially ghost-written.

In New York he lectured in the old Webster Hall to a packed auditorium on the British Empire. It was a remarkable experience, this tall dark man speaking for three hours without a note or the slightest hesitation and keeping the audience enthralled. He was an imposing orator and left a first impression on me that I never forgot.

After the New York lecture James left on a lecture tour that took him across the United States to the West Coast. After the tour he went to Mexico to spend time with Leon Trotsky who resided there in exile. It was in discussions with Trotsky on the Negro Question that he began to make his first major impact on American Marxism.

Lenin had once noted that the Negro question in the United States was a "national question." American Communists took that literally to mean that it involved controlling land and developed the demand for independence for the black belt, those areas in the South in which African Americans constituted a majority. The small and young Trotskyist movement had no significant contact with the black community, and while the Trotskyists accepted the demand for black independence, this acceptance had no serious effect on the group's activity. The discussions between Trotsky and James began to change that. James introduced the idea of the independent validity of black struggles. He found the demand for independence for the black belt acceptable if it came from the black population, although he saw no particular sign of that. But crucial to his point of view was that black struggles should not be . . .

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