The “Not so Bright” Protégés and the Comrades that “Never Quarreled”: C.L.R. James’s Disputes on Labor’s Self-Emancipation and the Political Economy of Colonial Freedom

Surveying C.L.R. James’s shifting and evolving views on the making of national liberation struggles, whether in Kwame Nkrumah’s Ghana, Eric Williams’s Trinidad, or Toussaint L’Ouverture’s Haiti, which he was associated as anti-colonial activist and independent socialist historian, may lead observers to conclude he was either inconsistent in defending his most cherished ideals or, alternatively, strategically minded in specific historical moments. Most affirmations or rejections of James’s capacity for posing valid terms for evaluation of the qualities of political leadership, and tasks for colonial freedom movements, still neglect crucial evidence for this assessment. Deep archival research reveals James’s hidden quarrels, but also evidence James himself contributed to suppressing within the historical record of his life and work. We will examine some of these disputes here.

Aspects of direct democracy and labor’s self-emancipation, if not always as programmatic perspectives then as historical methodology and political criticism, were part of how James saw the making of colonial freedom. At some of his earliest junctures in the 1940s and 1950s, James tended to imply that direct democracy and workers’ self-management were synonymous with true national liberation, but in his later years beginning in the late 1960s and early 1970s he began to suggest, with a strain of racial vindication, that the postcolonial Third World countries, whatever those society’s shortcomings, were as free as any other. By this he meant their nation-states and the relative merits of their authoritarian rulers. James, unlike subtly at times in some of his historical writing, which strived to capture the changing forms of spontaneity and organization in social movements, rarely held these conflicting perspectives at the same moment in time in political assessment of current events.

As a result, particularly in the last clashes during the Black Power movement, where there was mass interest in the Third World, there has been misunderstanding due to public silences, when both his intellectual legacies of workers’ self-emancipation and advising statesmen on national liberation could not be sustained together in public later and deeper into the post-colonial moment. We shall make these clashes visible by unearthing some of the many private debates James carried out over the years with a variety of interlocutors, including James Cannon and Max Shachtman of the American Trotskyist Movement; Eric Williams and Kwame Nkrumah before they achieved state power in Trinidad and Ghana respectively; George Padmore, the Pan-African activist and a childhood friend of James in Trinidad; Martin Glaberman, the chairman of the Facing Reality group, and a comrade of James for more than fifty years; and Walter Rodney, the outstanding Pan-African activist of the Caribbean New Left. These controversies are missing from the historical record and reveal contours of the political economic foundations of James’s understanding of the search for national identity.

The revelations regarding these disputes reflect, their relative hidden qualities, reflect James’s emerging desire to establish a representative canon of heroic men whose anti-colonial socialist thought appeared to complement each other in shaping a very particular radical tradition. Yet most scholars of James’s life and work have minimized the mastery of the disagreements within this framework is essential. In Party Politics in the West Indies James explained while there is a radical tradition of anti-colonial political thought, we cannot understand the heritage unless we understand the antagonisms within the tradition. Further, we must be able to compare the ideas and methods of creative individuals historically and politically.[1] This requires restoration of these conflicts beyond rumor, hearsay or legend that, while there may have been difficult times, these internal battles within freedom movements were never grave or fundamental. Choosing sides in these debates is at the very intersection of post-colonial liberation and its suppression.

George Rawick’s Defense of James’s Third Worldism

In a February 25, 1968, letter to Marty Glaberman labeled “private and personal,” George Rawick disagreed that James’s political thought on the proletariat and peasantry was changing radically. Rawick felt that James’s public position on Cuba “follows out to the letter” analyses he had made elsewhere. He claimed that there was a continuity to be found in James’s speech to the Convention People’s Party in Accra, Ghana in 1960, the second edition of The Black Jacobins (with epilogue and new footnotes, 1938, 1963), Party Politics in the West Indies (1962), his “Nkrumah: Then and Now” manuscript (1964), which would later be published as Nkrumah and the Ghana Revolution (1977), and “a dozen public speeches.” Rawick explained:

In these speeches and places he makes the following point: the mass political party cannot be dispensed with in the underdeveloped countries. The question is therefore how to tie these parties through devices like the workers and peasants inspection to the mass of the people so that the ever present pressure of bureaucratic distortions and worse are avoided.[2]

Rawick summed up James’s unique optics on the Third World somewhat uncritically. He appeared to agree with James that the fight against bureaucratic distortion in colonized nations cannot be left solely in the hands of ordinary people. Sympathetic middle-class parties and leaders must facilitate opportunities for workers’ and farmers’ criticism of their regimes. The reference to a workers’ and peasants’ inspection by Rawick is consistent with James’s affirmation of Lenin’s last writings, which acknowledge projecting proposals in the context of a conclusion—that capitalism will not be defeated. This premise is central to James’s later anti-colonialism. Yet this stance is incompatible with a “merciless” disposition against the postcolonial national bourgeoisie. In fact, this stance suggests collaboration between insurgents and the aspiring administrative class, potentially to the detriment of popular self-management.

The very nature of this letter labeled “private and personal” reflects tensions in James’s small political organization, where, we can assume, the intricacies of these political questions could only be grappled with by the highest leadership. It also reveals silences in the history of James’s life and work. To disclose them publicly, as Rawick suggests in the letter, is to undercut and call into question the political reputation not just of James, but of the entire organization. Nevertheless, quarrels over the meaning of direct democracy and national liberation were central to every split in James’s small political organizations, including Martin Glaberman’s final dissolution of the Facing Reality group in 1970. Efforts were made even after the final dissolution to not have political differences undercut personal affinity. Similarly, these issues shaped James’s mature political thought as a break with American Trotskyism.

It is a mistake to view those quarrels as irrelevant to evaluating national liberation struggles on their own terms if, for most observers, self-determination of oppressed nations means the evaluation of peripheral nation-states’ approaches to governing from above society. As we will show, James broke with the Trotskyist movement not as a result of its overwhelming or unique “Eurocentric” disposition toward peripheral nations, but as a result of the movement’s inability to defend popular self-management as a prism for the entire world.

Trotskyism: The Balance Sheet for Direct Democracy and National Liberation

C.L.R. James’s quarrels within American Trotskyism (in particular 1947–1951) show us precisely how he came to the conclusion that direct democracy and workers’ self-management were “the way out.” James contested that Trotskyism, as a body of political ideas over time, had consistently been unable to hold an independent socialist position distinct from Stalinism and social democracy in practice. This seems so counter-intuitive for this was the major purpose and premise of the Leon Trotsky movement. Yet when one considers that the American and global minority tendencies that advocated various types of direct democracy and workers’ self-management within World Trotskyism, never became the majority of any party, and that the dominant trends tended to evaluate Russia as a deformed or degenerated workers’ state worthy of defense, while supporting an enhanced welfare state domestically, the claim to a type of “independent socialism” could become dubious.

Though James’s Balance Sheet (1947) and Balance Sheet Completed (1951) argued that the Trotskyists did not elevate the independent validity of movements and instincts toward Black autonomy and women’s autonomy in the United States to his satisfaction, for our purposes, we must underscore his quarrels with that movement over the status of national liberation struggles. Keeping in mind the dual nature of James’s state capitalist analysis we must carefully consider James’s grievances with American Trotskyism. James wields his vision of state capitalism in these debates as a one-world system that defies the easy bifurcation of First and Third worlds and stands in defense of the direct democratic capacities of peripheral nations. At the time he was writing, the theory of “three worlds” or global sectors of nation-states had barely emerged in world politics.

Though often characterized as a Eurocentric, sectarian, and marginally dissident world movement in its rigorous intellectual debates, Trotskyism actually anticipated many contemporary outlooks deemed social democratic, Stalinist, revolutionary nationalist, Third World, and “progressive.”[3] The fact is that, without a pretense to a type of identity politics, the mistakes of most Trotskyist ideas up to 1951, that James and his colleagues examined critically, were quite similar to the ideals of most subsequent Maoist and Third World Marxist party politics.

James often criticized the inadequacy and dangerous qualities of these perspectives. In certain respects, these debates contributed to the sharp quality of his analysis of both imperial and peripheral nations both during and after his years in the Trotskyist movement. Yet we can also read these differences with the standard-bearers of American and international Trotskyism as an archive of possible avenues of retreat from what had formerly been James’s most cherished ideals. Such a reading would have disturbed close comrades like Martin Glaberman, who stayed loyal to James through the Facing Reality group, and Raya Dunayevskaya, who split with him to found the News & Letters group in 1955. Glaberman and Dunayevskaya were the co-authors of these balance-sheet documents with James, which summed up their experience together within American Trotskyism.

As an intellectual and political minority within James Cannon’s Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and Max Shachtman’s Workers Party (WP), James’s and Dunayevkaya’s Johnson-Forest Tendency witnessed the emergence of perspectives that began to shape the confidence in their own unique libertarian socialist outlook. First, certain SWP thinkers and activists began to sense that a “workers’ state without proletarian revolution” in peripheral nations was possible. The WP majority believed, however, that workers’ self-management in the United States was not “a realistic possibility,” and began to throw their lot in with the leadership of the trade union bureaucracy, especially Walter Reuther’s United Auto Workers, as representing something progressive.

These party politics, due to their incapacity to pose the socialist revolution from below at home and abroad and their inherent skepticism toward direct democracy and workers’ self-management, came to be content with being critical of one form of state bureaucracy only to advocate another form of political hierarchy in the interest of working people. Whether as cultural workers for trade union staffs (who were not rank and file workers) or aspiring to similar roles for radical nationalist and state capitalist regimes abroad, many Trotskyists wanted to constitute a loyal opposition to hierarchal regimes in the name of progress.[4]

In the WP, James witnessed some thinkers emerge with a “blatant counter revolutionary pro-imperialist position,” with the “labor advisors to the State Department” being the only “international left” they could imagine aligning with. Not proposing military intervention by the United States abroad, they proposed economic “recovery” or “aid” to peripheral nation-states by imperialists as a key to strengthening democracy and the labor movement abroad.

The SWP’s defense of nationalized property as the “gains” of the Russian and other purported workers’ states in Eastern Europe was the mystification of another more crucial matter: they defended police states that had crushed forces of independent labor and libertarian socialism. With the SWP’s transition toward critical support of Tito’s Yugoslavia and Maoist China, though it was not a direct path over the years, it anticipated its future stance as loyal supporters of Third World one-party states in Cuba, Grenada, and Nicaragua.[5]

Notably, James, upon permanently leaving the Trotskyist movement, proclaimed his disgust with those who speculated about the “personalities” of the “rulers of state and administrators of the proletariat.” His opponents within Trotskyism suggested that his theory of state capitalism was “a literary theory.” James’s feisty response was that “nothing can be further from the truth, and the final proof is the bankruptcy and degeneracy of those who think so.”

Personalities in bureaucratic positions, in the Johnson-Forest Tendency’s Marxist analysis, did not represent the destiny of the ordinary people.[6] Rather, the shifting strategies of bureaucratic political leaders represented social tensions where the desires of ordinary people “pushed [ruling elites] from behind.”[7] However, this nuance was difficult to implement in practicing solidarity with mass movements. In a populist fashion, one could easily defend a bureaucracy as facilitating the popular will or as consistent with ordinary people’s self-governing desires.

James was convinced that the American Trotskyist movement could not see the true potential of the working people’s capacity for self-governance. The SWP leadership spoke of “the coming American Revolution” while at the same time James noticed they needed to discourage its ranks from the instinct to support Henry Wallace’s presidential campaign of 1948. Wallace was the former Vice President of Franklin Roosevelt and a progressive very close to the Communist Party affiliated with Moscow.

The WP, on the other hand, promised a social democratic vision of “plenty for all” in economic terms through a larger welfare state for a future socialist United States. However, for James, something was wrong with these vistas. There was no evidence that socialism was a product of the common people’s self-emancipation. The WP majority did not present any proposals that allowed everyday people to take up matters of economic planning, foreign policy, judicial decisions, and educational affairs through their own popular councils and associations.

Despite quarrels with the Popular Front of American Communism over what type of culture should be promoted amongst the masses, James found that the American Trotskyists’ increasing preoccupation with what they imagined to be good books, art, and music, as well as social criticism of them in the party press, suggested a conceptual problem. They believed that working people needed exposure to more “culture” as a prelude to being fit for self-government. James was irate politically, if composed, austere, and detached in his personal argumentation.[8]

Socialist visions promising ordinary people economic gains through welfare-state measures, electoral politics, trade union bureaucracy, alignment with one-party states abroad, or the State Department at home all conveyed the idea that the self-emancipation of everyday people had become beyond the ken of the Trotskyist movement, or a mere symbolic cultural adornment. As a result, James saw party politics become “cliquism,” where a small group of leaders decided on perspectives that seemed remarkably disposable and unstable. Behind the democratic appearance of endless discussion over ideological differences and the “willingness to agree to disagree” within party life, one finds a lack of confidence in any shared definition of the way forward. For James, this lack of assurance was bound to lead to nothing but retrogression or a complete disavowal of the anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist vision.[9]

The Max Shachtman–led Workers Party viewed the Johnson-Forest Tendency’s position that everyday people should be presented with the ideas and methods of their own self-emancipation through popular committees at the workplace, school, and neighborhood level as “sectarianism.”[10] In contrast, James Cannon, the leader of the Socialist Workers Party, could not understand why James’s group collectively resigned without “provoking.” James, however, was never a sectarian, nor did he aspire to be disruptive or intend to grab power. Sectarianism implies a senseless and disruptive quarrel over a so-called absolute truth embodied in a proper political program. James, on the other hand, agreed with Grandizo Munis, a libertarian socialist active in the Spanish Revolution, who believed that “a lull in the offensive of the proletariat does not alter the validity” of a program of popular self-management:

There is not an ounce of sectarianism in this and people who in one place preach the approaching downfall of civilization and then reject as sectarian a program for the international mobilization of the proletariat are playing with revolution.[11]

Yet while agreeing with Munis that the immediate objective of everyday people should be to establish a government of popular committees wherever possible, James also felt that Munis was sectarian in one particular way: perhaps as a result of his experience in the Spanish Civil War, Munis did not respect the slogan “the Communist Party to power.” It is surprising that James did not appreciate this since he was supportive of the same tendency in the Spanish Civil War with which Munis organized, but he insisted that until “we have the committees,” it was necessary to support political parties, which, on a certain level, “represent a profound mass mobilization.” Grandizo Munis anticipated James’s final break with the notion of the vanguard party. However, as we shall see, James’s outlook had implications for his advocacy of a mass party for peripheral nations.

One reason a factional dispute in radical party politics is provoked at times has to do with the idea that power and influence in the world is a function of a bureaucracy or a cultural apparatus above society. At this juncture, we could not imagine James as holding such a disposition during his years in the American Trotskyist movement. However, cultivating a cultural front for a mass party subsequently becomes an aspect of his Third World politics. Under the premise of guardianship and the development of ordinary people, what if it was possible to transform the meaning of national liberation and socialist revolution into no revolution at all? As peculiar as that sounds, the leadership of International Trotskyism began to do just that, a move that James staunchly opposed. Paradoxically, however, the Trotskyists who thought in this fashion actually anticipated the emergence of the symbolic meaning of non-aligned or Third World bloc of peripheral nation-states, which subsequently became a common staple of analysis by most political parties of aspiring international socialists.

The “Third World” Congress of International Trotskyism

The Third World Congress of International Trotskyism in 1951 was not named as such because it intended to deal with the “Third World” of colonized nations alone; it was, rather, the third international conference of the Trotskyist movement, intended to explore the philosophical trends that had emerged in the context of Trotskyist groups around the world over the course of the preceding few years. During the course of the meeting, though, the proceedings raised some ideas with profound consequences for the future of the leadership of International Trotskyism, which James vociferously opposed. This meeting’s majority positions critically anticipated how many socialists would read the national liberation epoch, or what was later termed “the Third World,” or non-aligned nations, as inaugurated by the Afro-Asian Conference of 1955 at Bandung, Indonesia four years later.

The discussion of countries as “non-aligned,” as a political concept, was pioneered to assess Tito’s Yugoslavia, as well as early Maoist China.[12] The Trotskyist movement anticipated these concerns when American Communists were still overwhelmingly Moscow-centered and hostile to the possibility that another regime could provide socialist leadership in a global sector not in their own orbit.

Losing faith in the possibility of workers’ self-emancipation and the possibility of establishing “workers’ states,” International Trotskyist leaders, especially Michel “Pablo” Raptis, and to a lesser extent Ernest “Germain” Mandel, began to argue that nation-states could be defined as “workers’ states,” where no mass movement for socialist revolution ever took place.[13] Not to be misread as mere Cold War propaganda by the United States, in fact, many nations in Eastern Europe had been militarily occupied and colonized by the Russian Red Army, yet these nations were termed “socialist” not merely by the leaders of those regimes or Stalinists abroad, but even by most Trotskyist analysis. This was paralleled by the desire to support future African, Asian, and Latin American police states as “progressive.”

“Deformed” worker states, Pablo explained, could be created without the participation of labor and even against their will. Capitalism, he imagined, could be overthrown without the masses’ revolutionary action. Stalinist forces could, in theory, overthrow capitalism and create “workers states” if these forces were treated as though they headed mass movements with insurgent aspirations. They could also be evaluated in this manner if Western capitalist nations launched a war against the Eastern European “workers states” and China.[14]

In State Capitalism & World Revolution, James took issue with this type of “Pabloism.” He believed Pablo saw his unique critique of state capitalism as “the enemy” and was trying to minimize the Jamesian interpretation of Engels’s “invading socialist society.” Pablo didn’t see the direct democratic implications in Engels’s view of the contradictions of state ownership or nationalized property.[15] After discrediting workers’s self-management of nationalized property, Pablo theorized about a transitional period, where bureaucratic regimes (nationalist, social democratic, and Stalinist) would act as keepers of the flame for workers during a period of “retrogression,” as a result of their having experienced fascism and colonial wars. This retrogression had been theorized a few years earlier by the IKD tendency of German exiles[16] within American Trotskyism with which James quarreled, and as far back as the debate amongst American intellectuals over Leon Trotsky, who was fingered for his role in repressing the Kronstadt sailors, but was nevertheless upheld for his morals by a commission led by John Dewey.

In an odd turn for a Trotskyist, Pablo decided that Stalinism was “progressive,” adopting a political self-conception similar to the Popular Front, which James opposed as a non-radical framework. Further, for Pablo, anti-colonial revolutions led by middle-class nationalists and their one-party states could be part of a new reality termed “the anti-capitalist camp.” Subsequently, nationalist-led regimes were embraced as inherently “socialist” in their quarrels with Western imperialism. It helped that, on one level, white supremacy and capitalism were seen by many as one, which obscured the state-capitalist nature of people of color–led “socialist” states.[17]

Pablo advocated liquidating Trotskyist parties and boring from within Stalinist and social democratic parties. The goal would not be to build explicit revolutionary factions, as with the SWP’s “French Turn” into the Socialist Party in the United States, in order to break away larger and more influential after a time. Rather, he suggested one should build the “centrist” tendencies and give organizational advice to the leadership of these parties.[18] Pablo later functioned in this fashion for Ahmed Ben Bella’s Algeria, a society where a dependent form of participation was presented as “self-management.”

Pablo contended that the class struggle, as Marx understood it, had been replaced by struggles among nation-states or blocs, and that the “interests” of workers and oppressed nations were represented by a certain type of state—one not controlled by the workers. Instead of workers organized as “the dictatorship of the proletariat,” which James at his best considered a direct democracy, Pablo projected the notion that the state, contra Marx, existed neutrally above classes.[19]

It is important to clarify that while Leon Trotsky thought nationalized property was a gain, and served as evidence that a working-class revolution had existed in a nation (an idea of which James was critical), Pablo claimed that the mere presence of nationalized property was enough to create a workers’ state, however deformed, even if there had never been a social revolution in that nation. Where some of Trotsky’s thinking could imply that history was determined by certain material laws—and, on some matters, he suggested that socialism could be created separately from the struggles of the working class—Pablo’s entire outlook at this juncture appeared to be based on those conceptions. This position was also entrenched among the majority of American Trotskyists.[20]

Under the pressure of Western imperialism, state capitalist regimes were equivalent to social revolution for the Trotskyists. Ernest Mandel, agreeing with much of Pablo’s argument, merely wanted to reserve the right to speculate on the terms of critical support, based on the quality of the political economy of such regimes and the Stalinist, nationalist, or middle-class social democratic parties’ ability to actually lead rebellion against empire.

James rejected Pablo’s and Mandel’s political economy on the grounds that the end goal of revolutionary societies and the criteria for judging regimes that claim to be socialist were their actual social relations—not merely what the Western imperialists thought of them. Were direct democracy and workers’ self-management present, or did the capitalist law of value, even under state planning, dominate society? Centralized capital in a one-party state or in a welfare state was not progress, but was, rather, a form of institutionalized oppression. James emphasized this fact, saying “it was something entirely new in our movement to call the bourgeois police state the defender of the proletariat and its ‘gains’ ” [James’s emphasis].[21] While these debates within Trotskyism were not couched in concern for the Pan African movement, and James never publicly placed such perspectives forward within anti-colonial solidarity circles, one must wonder why they were not, and how these perspectives may have informed private discussion.

In leaving American Trotskyism alongside his associates, James had definitively cast direct democracy and workers’ self-management as synonymous with the socialist society of the future; he would never again discipline and mute this vision within a centralized aspiring vanguard party. Though in the United States James was still the political leader of the Correspondence group and later the Facing Reality group, he began to attempt to project his personality more broadly as a public citizen in London and in the Caribbean, and later as a Black Studies professor in the United States, as these other groups dissolved. He would eventually become a public intellectual as a defender of national liberation struggles.[22]

In the second half of the twentieth century, James began to theorize and practice a politics of direct democracy and national liberation that at times speculated about the representative meaning of the personality of Third World political leaders and their nation-states for broader social development. James still insisted that these representative men were being pushed by the self-mobilization of everyday people. However, he would also take up the difficult and dual stance of projecting political perspectives from above and below, through “a mass party” striving to tutor ordinary people about their capacities and responsibilities, and their governments who aspired to rule above them as well.

In James’s optics, there was, in the peripheral nations, a lack of cultural literacy among the masses, who he otherwise described as extremely creative. This lack of literacy was an obstacle to self-government. James practiced a certain type of “centrism” where he advised middle-class political leaders whose radical commitments were always dubious regardless of what Western imperialism’s level of opposition was to their regimes. At his most enchanting, James imagined the postcolonial masses as proposing programs and perspectives of their own, and transcending mere electoral and party politics, though he also equated everyday people’s destiny with their states and ruling elites.

James, as mass party impresario, political and economic advisor, or sympathetic international critic of national liberation leaders and movements, had to strategically subordinate his most cherished ideals to nation-states and ruling elites, in order to position his more critical principles against them when an opportunity presented itself. At times, through intrigue or popular demand, he even began to partially foment a type of insurgency, but the directly democratic character of this revolt had elusive contours that were not always clear. At other times, his vision of popular self-management disappeared entirely.

When discussions of “politics as an activity” did appear within his analysis of national liberation struggles, they seemed calculated not to topple the national bourgeoisie, despite the accompanying captivating rhetoric. However much this class and the public misunderstood, James strategized—in certain respects, guided by his Leninism—to help them retain state power at the expense of smoldering insurgent instincts of ordinary people.

In a climate of Third World politics, where the peculiar veneration of a peasantry (still viewed as inadequate by most middle class managerial vistas for self-reliance) was becoming so pervasive and perennial critiques of white chauvinism thought to be inherent in metropolitan workers was becoming bolder, James, as elder public mentor, could occasionally be silent. “Revolution” became a cultural discourse not rooted in popular self-management, but an enterprise to define political terms and identities to serve ultimately new hierarchal regimes. Still, he knew that in this period, Stalinist interpretations of socialism were finding a renewed popularity. James saw his authority as mentor of Black Power-era youth emerge, based on a body of work that was written years before their arrival on the political stage. The youth seemed satisfied because they perceived his views as uncompromising and crafted without any intention of pleasing or co-opting their own conceptions of Black freedom or anti-colonial revolt. Still, in the national liberation epoch, an intellectual trend began to emerge that disturbed James greatly. The relevant distinctions between Stalinism, Trotskyism, social democracy, direct democracy, workers’ self-management, and anarchism didn’t seem to matter for most radical youthful activists.[23]

James’s early debates with Eric Williams, Kwame Nkrumah, and George Padmore on the transition to the Third World national liberation epoch revealed that these pillars of the Black radical tradition anticipated this trend of having little regard for the content of socialism, save for its opposition to racism and colonialism as a paradigm.

The Protégés Who Were “Not So Bright”: Kwame Nkrumah and Eric Williams

James’s mentoring relationships with Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah and Trinidad’s Eric Williams, both as young anti-colonial intellectuals and later as postcolonial statesmen, have often come under scrutiny in the midst of gossip and hearsay. Rarely have scholars established succinctly where James disagreed with the early Nkrumah and Williams. Was James informally arrogant and tactless at times? The answer is most likely yes; James could take on a tone, in interacting with his protégées, which suggested that he regarded them as less than intelligent or even stupid on some political matters.

James was also prone to forgetting that those he mentored as a youth were not the same people once they arrived in state power on the terms of their own authority. James’s forgetfulness or lack of tact was present even as he most often praised them in private correspondence and in public life before, not just after, they were prominent people. In the early 1940s, James was a far more accomplished public intellectual and political activist. Even as an underground man in the American Trotskyist movement, writing under pen names as an illegal immigrant, James was still the author of the acclaimed The Black Jacobins and World Revolution. It is true that later James criticized their regimes at the postcolonial moment, but he was also asked in various manners to loyally advise for crucial periods even when his intellectual and political differences, he maintained, were always clear.

In a 1945 letter to George Padmore, unfortunately and boastfully made public often by James, he asked Padmore to mentor Nkrumah, famously saying that Nkrumah was “not so bright.”[24] Counter-productive for understanding James’s intellectual legacies, this statement has become legend. Scholars who have criticized James for his arrogance have never tried to piece together why James made this assessment, even as he recommended Nkrumah to Padmore and praised his talents and his sincerity in wishing to “throw the imperialists out of Africa.” In later years, James realized that his early evaluation of Nkrumah was being misunderstood and began to clarify that he “didn’t mean [Nkrumah] was a fool.” “An ordinary person wouldn’t understand,” in contrast to Padmore, that overall he believed Nkrumah “sophisticated.”[25] Similarly, James could speak about Eric Williams both lovingly, almost as a son, but also in a manner suggesting that James felt some sense of ownership over his younger colleague.[26] For all Williams’ss and Nkrumah’s insights, James insisted they could be blind to crucial matters which would eventually obstruct their major contributions as anti-colonial thinkers.

James was, as history shows us, not always nice. It is as tiring to focus on this element of his interactions with others as it is to constantly read portraits impressed with his dynamic and affable personality and offering little else. At the same time, however, we must begin to reveal where James disagreed with Williams and Nkrumah, especially in the early years before they were approaching state power. A Black radical tradition or anti-colonial framework which sees them in a unitary paradigm, as merely opposed to capitalism and empire, misses the crucial mark. After the race factor is partially removed, and people of color ascend to state power in a peripheral nation at the postcolonial moment, a political thinker can be critical of the empire of capital and not be against subordinate social relations between labor and capital.

It has been widely acknowledged that James’s ideas helped shape the thesis of Eric Williams’s seminal Capitalism & Slavery. Sometimes the figure of James as mentor is used by scholars to discredit Williams for a lack of original initiative, but James thought the book made a great contribution to historiography, despite his criticisms of its limitations. James had a similar nuanced reaction to Williams’s The Negro in the Caribbean which appeared two years earlier. Less well known is James’s critical dialogue with Nkrumah on the draft that became Toward Colonial Freedom, the future Ghana premier’s first major political text, which James later praised when it was finally published.[27] This Nkrumah text is, in formation, a crucial link to the “not so bright” story. Williams and Nkrumah together shaped much of how scholars now understand dilemmas of state and political economy for peripheral or colonized nations. What did James think they were leaving out?

James affirmed Williams’s Capitalism & Slavery as clarifying that the British and other Europeans did not civilize the Caribbean. The British did not create the foundation of modern capitalism all alone and abolish slavery out of the goodness of their hearts, only for people of color to reveal themselves underdeveloped and unfit to govern. Instead, slavery was abolished in the transition from mercantilism (a form of state capitalism) to a greater free-market capitalism, when it was no longer profitable for the Europeans.[28] This core idea of Williams appears in James’s The Black Jacobins, where James speaks of French mercantilism, Haiti’s economic dependence on Paris as “the exclusive,” and the British shift from Caribbean slavery to cheap labor in India. Williams makes this central to what is essentially a narrower economic history of the Anglophone Atlantic World when contrasted with James’s Haitian narrative of global implications .[29]

James, in a critical review of Capitalism & Slavery, argued Williams was more concerned with what the slaves did for British capitalism—the production of wealth and profits extracted from the Caribbean—than with the liberating activity of the slaves themselves. Williams’s framework can contribute to the more contemporary idea of reparations. That is one could glean from his historical methodology a way to imagine calculating the debt owed the descendants of ex-slaves. However, an oddity has been overlooked in Williams’s discussion of British mercantilism, how the outlawing of free trade among colonized entrepreneurs was the major insult of empire. Is it not peculiar that one would rigorously critique the empire of capital only to defend the aspirations of one’s own national capitalists? The James of the 1940s would appear to find this strange but the James of the 1960s placed this notion surprisingly central to his anti-colonial thought—even as he increasingly became critical of Williams after rupturing with him politically.[30]

Another idea in Capitalism & Slavery appears isolated and is severely restricted. Thus, Williams added a notion never central to his own thought, which, as James later recalled, “he probably told” him, as he advised him on the Oxford doctoral thesis that became Capitalism & Slavery. James insisted the abolition of slavery came from above, from the British government, because otherwise it would have been done from below. James underscores the idea that the slaves in British colonies, if one read their self-governing potential and liberating qualities in their historical self-activity closely, would have emancipated themselves, just as they had in the French colony of Haiti.[31] Williams presented the premise in this manner:

In 1833, therefore, the alternatives were clear: emancipation from above, or emancipation from below. But emancipation. Economic change, the decline of the monopolists, the development of capitalism, the humanitarian agitation in British churches, contending perorations in the halls of Parliament, had now reached their completion in the determination of the slaves themselves to be free. The Negroes had been stimulated to freedom by the development of the very wealth which their labor created.[32]

Williams peculiarly suggested at the end of his book that in fact Black labor instinctively was arriving at self-emancipation though his study was overwhelmingly about economic strategies and parliamentary debates among elites. James was also not pleased that Williams did not appear to sufficiently appreciate abolitionism in Britain as a profound social movement.[33] Yet James does make fun of the British Abolitionist movement in certain respects in The Black Jacobins.[34]

James’s analysis revealed a larger problem in most radical anti-colonial thought, which appears on one level to be socialist. In a sense it diagnosed critically how capitalism worked but not from the perspective of self-emancipating labor. Williams pioneered this contradictory premise as part of a radical tradition in historiography which later would carry over into politics. James recalled trying to explain historical methods to Williams around the time both were in England while Williams attended Oxford University:

Some time about 1933 Williams came down to my apartment and was talking about the French Revolution, and he told me, now if Louis had at the time done that and he had listened to Mirabeau or something of the kind, then the revolution would not have taken place. I told him—we were walking along the street—I said Bill, when we get home I am going to talk to you. Don’t interrupt me please but listen and then afterwards you can do what you like. When we got home we had a little time and I put him to sit down and I told him [how] the French Revolution was and how it developed. I used the Marxist method—the feudal regime, the bourgeois regime, the attempt of the king, the constitution, the legislative assembly, the convention, and how stage by stage from 1789–1792 the tenth of August and so forth, and how the revolution mounted and how it declined, the full Marxist view. Williams listened to me very carefully. He never interrupted once and he said nothing afterwards. But the next morning, when we were talking together with some friends, he said to me James, you mean if so and so would have happened, it only happened because of so and so and there was no alternative? I say, that is it. He had been thinking about it the whole night and the next morning he had been thinking about it too, and he had grasped the historical materialist method. There was something that he didn’t grasp: he never grasped the intervention of the masses as a constituent part of history…[35]

Williams believed the colonial insult of racism and capitalism to be one: Europeans extract wealth from African and Caribbean toilers, and this extraction has racial implications because African and Caribbean people do not control their own national wealth. Consequently, arguments are made by colonizers that suggest a cultural inferiority of the colonized for their technical incapacity to manage their own affairs. Yet Williams’s emphasis elides the distinction of social classes and obscures the fact that capital is extracted from labor, not, properly speaking, from nations, no matter whether the imperialist or the colonized middle classes manage it. James argued that those anti-colonial thinkers who thought like Williams, who believed in a thin conception of “democracy” where Black people would rule above society, had no proposals for true independence, and would never be able to successfully govern if they failed to understand the value of independent labor in opposing the empire of capital.[36] James’s anti-colonialism, at its best, is simultaneously an anti-capitalist vision, and not merely a lamentation about, or rejection of, dependence on Europe’s empire of capital. James would evolve to be inconsistent on this matter but, in the 1940s, he was quite strident in his opposition to the national bourgeoisie and its blindness toward the self-directed liberating power of toilers.

James’s central criticism of The Negro in the Caribbean was that Williams failed to understand the idea of combined and uneven development in peripheral political economies. The growing and disciplined unity of toilers, who experienced a type of modern factory life through the plantation order and thus could instinctively arrive at the need for socialism, was absent in his work. This lack of attention to toilers’ self-activity is true even as Williams, a sincere nationalist, copiously documented the economic misery and exploitation of Caribbean workers and farmers. James took Williams to task for suggesting that what was needed in the Caribbean was a change in the methods of economic production and a greater sympathy toward the Caribbean by international law and social democratic politicians in imperial nations. As James suggested, “On that rock humanitarianism has broken its head for a century, and Williams breaks his also,” even as he valued Williams’s analysis of the Caribbean wage earner on its own narrower economic terms. We could interpret this as James being rude again, except that here an important distinction is being made. James argued that the idea of socialist revolution was “not remote” in the Caribbean, but rather “it is nearer than in other places,” if one observed the lives of these toilers properly.[37]

While James agreed with Williams that social change was partially dependent upon the world market, and Caribbean wage earners and displaced ex-slaves and landless peasants were exploited, the epic general strikes across the Caribbean in 1934–39 (in Trinidad, Jamaica, Barbados, and elsewhere) mirrored the independent labor action of the early alternative unionism of the Age of the CIO. Williams saw these events only as evidence of the need for a welfare state after colonial independence. Williams’s focus on labor as an exploited commodity, like other uneven exchanges in the world market under racial capitalism, revealed that he had no eye for independent workers’ self-activity as synonymous with a higher purpose for Black autonomy.[38]

From 1942 to 1955 Williams was a civil servant of the Anglo-American Caribbean Commission (AACC). This informs us of one reason why Williams’s The Negro in the Caribbean, as nationalist text, has a restricted vision of labor. At the same time, Williams’s employment at that juncture, tells us something about the contours and silences of James’s criticisms of the book that can seem harsh on the surface but which in fact are muted. Tony Martin has made a complex argument that Williams both strenuously made an effort to enter the AACC, which in affect was central to global coordination of subordinate Caribbean colonial government and economic planning, while at the same time he was not a stooge of imperialism. It is plausible that Williams fought within it to be heard and be compensated as an equal scholar and professional among white racist elites. Part of the degradation of a colonized nation is those who wish to participate in their own nation’s government must do so in institutions which are structurally subordinate. Yet every colonized person doesn’t define politics, which transcends state power, in such a constrained manner. It would seem radicals would work to overthrow colonial government not work within it. Perhaps, as opposition politicians, some attempted to speak for labor. But it was the pressure of radical labor in the Caribbean general strikes of 1934–39 which gave Williams this administrative opportunity.[39] This dilemma, entering into a coalition with the colonizer with a transitional strategy in mind, would later face Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah.

James made his first critical evaluations of The Negro in the Caribbean and Capitalism & Slavery during the same period (1943–1945) he met and socialized with Nkrumah, whom he then knew as Francis, in the United States. If we read closely the many places James speaks boastfully about, and sometimes moderates and clarifies the controversy about his letter to Padmore about Nkrumah, one finds in these fragments a similar pattern to his criticism of Williams’s political economy. James believed Nkrumah talked a lot about the unequal exchange of capital and commodities, imports and exports on a world scale, in an awkward fashion. James suggested that Nkrumah misunderstood Marxism generally and Lenin’s Imperialism specifically at that early juncture. A marked typescript of what became Nkrumah’s Toward Colonial Freedom, from the period leading up the Pan African Congress of 1945 at Manchester, which Nkrumah carried with him from the United States, suggests these are the disputes in question.[40]

How did Nkrumah’s early anti-imperialism misunderstand the meaning of unequal exchange of commodities on a world scale which makes peripheral nations’ economies dependent? James believed that Nkrumah was uncritically repeating the conclusions of Lenin’s Imperialism, without updating the analysis to account for the latest stage of global capitalism. James accused the Trotskyists of the same narrow economic view of empire, a view that was also the basis for his early criticism of Williams.

For James, the main goal of revolutionary anti-colonial politics, especially during the 1940s when he mentored Nkrumah and Williams, was not to strive to defend national capital from the imperialists. Such a focus searches for a national bourgeoisie in state power to take responsibility for defending a peripheral nation’s capital in the world system. James also argued that this focus would lead to fear of attacking state bureaucracy as the guardian of national independence, placing a greater responsibility for national independence in that class above society instead of within the reach of the insurgent toilers. Ever since George Padmore expressed his annoyance with James’s “Trotskyist” influence on Nkrumah for distorting what Padmore believed should be the proper balance between nationalism and socialism in a revolutionary anti-colonial perspective, a historical misunderstanding has marred this entire debate.

James’s internationalism during the Age of the CIO was in direct conflict with both Trotskyism and Stalinism as it related to colonial revolt. James believed that Nkrumah misunderstood the stage of world political economy just as Williams misunderstood the Caribbean slaves’ and wage earners’ essential modern proletarian experience in the global plantation order. In contrast to the early Nkrumah, James believed that the imperialists were not primarily seeking to export surplus capital to the colonies after World War II, but wished instead to centralize it.

They no longer were primarily concerned with “re-division of colonies,” but of “world mastery.” The imperialists did not always invade on the basis of a desire to control commodities like land, minerals, or oil. For example, imperialists did not seek to subvert Cuba for their cigars, or Grenada for their nutmeg, or Nkrumah’s Ghana for their cocoa, but rather to break up their perceived political example to the world.

Before the Age of the Third World, James believed, because elites of colonized nations had no perspective of self-reliance, the imperialists were ready to increasingly support them in taking on government administration. Whether the national bourgeoisie played a relatively intermediary or progressive role was not a crucial question for James in this earlier period when he mentored Williams and Nkrumah. For James, the only national capital the post-colonial middle classes in state power would manage would be the intensified exploitation of their own toilers.[41]

A careful consideration of Toward Colonial Freedom, with Nkrumah’s muted intense discussions with James and Padmore in mind, is a rewarding endeavor. Nkrumah condemns both the UN and Paul Robeson’s and WEB Du Bois’ belief that African colonies cannot be self-governing right away. Yet Nkrumah, reveals the shifting influence of Padmore in the final draft when he says that while he rejects blind nationalism as a kindred spirit of empire building and “cut-throat competition,” Nkrumah disagrees with those who advocate no nationalism or more specifically no nation-state. Padmore perceived, even in James’s post-colonial vision in the 1940s, that he was an enemy of the state. Nkrumah speaks of the need to build a workers movement in the African colonies side by side with a movement for national liberation but this idea is underdeveloped. He desires to link up labor movements within imperial countries with movements for colonial freedom.[42]

Consistent with James’s concerns, Nkrumah does seem to muddle the matter that, in an era that he distinguishes by “national aggressive self-consciousness,” how it is that increasingly multi-national monopolies are building up the strictly national power of singular mother countries and the enterprise of egotistical individual interests. Nkrumah does seem to over-emphasize imperialist desire to flood colonies with cheap consumer goods. As James suggests, the colonizers are not so much seeking to export surplus capital as they are investing in the infrastructure to extract raw materials to centralize capital in Europe.[43]

Nkrumah, like Williams, believes mercantilism was “the basis of colonial economics,” restricting trade only with the “mother country,” even though Nkrumah acknowledged he was writing in the age of finance capital. He was concerned with the unfair balance of trade (between exports and imports) for colonized nations. From the high taxes imperial nations placed on imports, to their export of European manufactured goods, to their desire only to receive raw materials from other countries, their governments and Big Business interests make the colonized countries dependent. Dependency means something specific to Nkrumah: the prevention of colonized nations developing their own manufacturing bourgeoisie with mastery of the latest technology. This would become a conservative intellectual thread later in Walter Rodney’s How Europe Underdeveloped Africa—where peculiarly it was African capitalism which was underdeveloped under the pretense of socialist criticism. Rodney was unevenly critical of Nkrumah. For Nkrumah, colonialism killed the potential of African artisans to become capitalists as a result of free competition not existing—for Africans were not able to sell competitive products in Europe. Finance capitalists extend mercantilism by avoiding investment in African industries in peripheral nations, which would raise the wages of colonized workers and compete with industries in the imperial metropoles. Monopoly capitalists also make it impossible for African entrepreneurs to purchase European goods at wholesale prices to be successful salesmen on the continent.[44]

Nkrumah shared a similar diagnostic analysis of racial capitalism with Williams. However, Nkrumah, explicitly in the name of Marxist-Leninism defines socialist development and national liberation to be one—the evolving capacity for Black people to be capitalists. This was never a central preoccupation of James’s anti-colonialism in the 1940s. We can imagine why James in this period thought extensive discussion of trade imbalances of exports and imports was a ludicrous discussion for someone interested in world revolution. Nkrumah insisted in Toward Colonial Freedom this inequality of global capitalism would never be resolved until Africa was self-governing and independent and thus he emphasized the immorality of the European capitalists. Nkrumah proposes “economic plans and social legislation” after building a mass movement for colonial emancipation.[45] In the 1940s, James probably thought the emphasis on the immorality of European capitalists, while seeking to prioritize theorizing how Black capitalists were held back and could prosper, was not a worthy preoccupation of an aspiring radical youth.

Nkrumah’s later book Neo-Colonialism, while discarding the insurgent rhetoric, was in some ways a re-organization with more data of the economic thought in Toward Colonial Freedom that elides these historical problems which James was concerned. For the later Nkrumah, the neo-colonial state (he called his regime “non-aligned” though its economic plans arguably were not much different) had all the trappings of independence and sovereignty, but was politically and economically determined from the outside by monopoly capitalism and its multi-lateral planning institutions. That Nkrumah emphasized in his definition of neo-colonialism—the state, and not ordinary people’s or the toiling classes’ capacities—reveals that James in the 1940s had been correct to caution against emphasis on unequal exchange of commodities as central to an anti-imperialist analysis.

Nkrumah’s diagnosis of how global capitalism works, with its subtle emphasis on inequality among capitalists in imperial and peripheral sectors and without a perspective of workers’ self-management in the post-colonial nation, leads to a justification of a bureaucratic state plan for the Third World. Nkrumah makes clear that his critique of “neo-colonialism” is not against capitalism or even foreign capital—as the theory has generally been misperceived in social movement usage:

The result of neo-colonialism is that foreign capital is used for the exploitation rather than the development of the less developed parts of the world. Investment under capitalism increases rather than decreases the gap between rich and poor countries of the world. The struggle against neo-colonialism is not aimed at excluding capital of the developing world from operating in less developed countries. It is aimed at preventing the financial power of the developing countries being used in such a way to impoverish the less developed.

Non-alignment, as practiced by Ghana and many other countries, is based on co-operation with all States whether they be capitalist, socialist or have a mixed economy. Such a policy therefore involves foreign investment from capitalist countries, but it must be invested in accordance with a national plan drawn up by the government of the non-aligned State with its own interests in mind. The issue is not what return the foreign investor receives on his investments. He may, in fact, do better for himself if he invests in a non-aligned country than if he invests in a neo-colonial one. The question is one of power.[46]

Nkrumah’s formulations may be emotionally satisfying to some. However, a close look reveals that despite the luster of his moral philosophy, the “question of power” as he frames it does not have an alternative conception of economic progress to capitalist development. Nkrumah will allow for workers in his country to be compensated less and foreign capitalists more than in other countries with governments he deems more oppressive. He also sees the question of capitalism or socialism as the policy or identity of peripheral nation-states not what African workers may be doing to emancipate themselves.

While Williams’s approach to political economy in state power was more Fabian and free-enterprise oriented, the more authoritarian path of the one party state is what Nkrumah ultimately took. Both Williams and Nkrumah saw Black laborers as so degraded they could not emancipate themselves once they played a role in bringing themselves to state power.

James is widely lauded for his public challenges to Williams’s Trinidad in Party Politics in the West Indies (1962) and in his Workers and Farmers Party campaign of 1965–1966, and for his criticism of Nkrumah’s Ghana before its overthrow in 1966. However, as we will show, James retreated on some of his earlier principles of anti-colonial analysis when it had been one with his revolutionary socialist perspectives.

C.L.R. James’s George Padmore

George Padmore (1903–1959), C.L.R. James’s childhood friend from Trinidad, was the Moscow coordinator of international solidarity efforts with Black workers (1928–1935) for the Communist International, and editor of The Negro Worker, before working with James in the International African Service Bureau in London before World War II. James’s Notes on the Life of George Padmore, an unpublished manuscript, is the basis for many published essays and public lectures. Padmore, among the canon of heroic representative men which James began to manufacture, holds his place in historiography largely as a result of James’s singular effort to place narratives of his life as central to a Black radical tradition.[47]

James often tried, with his Padmore narratives, to teach his audience lessons about problems of thin conceptions of democracy and national liberation, though his audiences frequently failed to understand all the facets of James’s Padmore stories. Though this shouldn’t be taken as a small matter, when James is misunderstood, he is generally assumed to be simply imparting lessons about Black autonomy in political organization.

Though James and Padmore became independent Marxists of a different variety, James constantly repeated a message of unity to younger Pan-African audiences. Despite the fact that he was initially a Trotskyist and Padmore had begun his political career as an adherent to Stalin’s Russia, they never “quarreled” or had “friction” between them in their dedication to African solidarity against empire. This silence in James’s public career is proven false by historical research.

In the original manuscript, these silences are slightly less muted: “Though there were difficult moments we never had any serious disagreements.”[48] James and Padmore argued about the value of direct democracy and workers’ self-management for evaluating and building socialism, the very possibility of social revolution in modern industrial nations, and the terms for shaping national liberation struggles.

James presented Padmore as the embodiment of the selfless and disciplined cadre organizer of Pan-African solidarity, linking struggles in Mombasa, Lagos, Dakar, Fyzabad, and Port-au-Prince.[49] Padmore pursued underground work in the Sudan, Congo, and, in 1930, organized a global conference of Black workers in Hamburg, Germany, where he would later be held as a political prisoner. Padmore wrote letters to editors of newspapers, lobbied government officials, provided hospitality and mentoring for anti-colonial activists, published books, and gave public lectures based on original material from his sojourns and extensive library. He educated Africans in the dynamics of modern party politics, trade unionism, and the art of crafting demands and programs for action.[50]

James repeatedly shared this basic outline of Padmore’s life and work, while omitting details of Padmore’s actual politics, emphasizing his belief that Padmore provided critical ideological continuity for global Pan African and labor revolt.[51] In pioneering this narrative of George Padmore’s life, James believed he was placing a crucial pillar in the framework of the Black radical tradition. With this cornerstone, James wished his audience to understand that one need not become a statesman to be considered a successful revolutionary, but merely a disciplined organizer with skills in education, agitation, and propaganda. Further, the terms of Black autonomy, socialism, and resistance to empire were more complicated than they first appeared.

It is clear James’s Padmore was an implacable foe of white supremacy and empire and an independent Marxist, but it was rarely apparent what this meant for Padmore’s actual practice of political teaching and advising. We know that James did not believe Padmore to be an exceptional orator; we also know that he felt that Padmore’s published works were often distinguished by dry economic details instead of epic ruptures in party politics or struggles of social classes. For Padmore, poor wages and the condition of Black working people revealed that the institutions of white supremacy and the empire of capital were synonymous on a global scale—this was essentially Williams’s and Nkrumah’s view.

Padmore propagandized against oppressive acts and institutions: the stealing of colonized peoples’ land, subordination of Africans through Pass Laws and other racial and anti-labor legislation in Africa, lynching, segregation, and mass unemployment in the USA. In 1959, James reflected, “Everybody says these things nowadays”; they are even “commonly heard, and play a role,” in elections in the United States and in Britain. In the early 1930s, James argued, “George was giving them currency.”

Padmore, however, beyond challenges to racism and empire, rarely offered vistas of self-emancipating labor in his writings—not even for people of color. Padmore’s Life and Struggles of Negro Toilers (1931), despite the title’s emphasis on resistance, can only partially be seen as an exception to this rule. For Padmore, socialism and democracy meant a type of economic radicalism, where social equality and material welfare were asserted through a constitutional republic. Labor mobilized to achieve these “rights” and then was loyal and subordinate to a post-colonial guardian state. This dependence on a progressive guardianship was consistent with Padmore’s reading of Leninism.

James’s Padmore, on the other hand, whether in Moscow or London, was single-minded in pursuit of his work. He made friends easily with people of many ideologies, but allowed no sectarian allegiances of party to stand in the way of coordinating African solidarity. Padmore, much more than James himself, embodied the “Black Marxist,” the radical of African descent who experimented with the inventory of European political traditions to arrive at his own authority for crafting vistas for Black freedom.

James’s Padmore was presented as global-minded, not merely “an Africa specialist” who concerned himself only with “colonial or African affairs.” This presentation is partially true. Padmore was concerned, as James indicated, with the plight of British workers, China, Latin America, and the Middle East as well.[52] However, unlike James, who proposed to lead and theorize “a world revolution” and make contributions in many spheres, Padmore wrote and organized overwhelmingly on matters of race and colonialism, and sought to maintain a Black International or a Pan African Federation, of which he would be the chairperson. In contrast, James had a greater audacity. As a perpetual founder of small multi-racial revolutionary organizations, James was an aspiring leader on historical and political questions on many continents crucial to the destiny of imperial and peripheral nations.

Padmore’s and James’s attitude toward political organization for anti-colonial work were compatible. In fact, James gave credit to Padmore for teaching him about how the small radical political organization should and could function. However, their approaches to the multi-faceted dynamics of world politics were very different. This is obscured if we don’t comprehend the difference between an anti-colonial coalition and a revolutionary organization.

Padmore was received by many of James’s readers as someone who would not allow the chauvinism of the white Left and the intrigue of their party politics to undermine his organizing efforts for Black freedom. Some wondered why James appeared to allow the debates within the overwhelmingly white Trotskyist movement to preoccupy him—though many forget James was a leader and founder of that movement. Further, James was the leader of his own multi-racial collectives where American socialists, many of European descent, looked up to him as their teacher for insight on European, African, and Caribbean developments equally.

James did not intend Black autonomy to be the sole emphasis in his Padmore stories. He also tried to explain why the problems of Stalinism were relevant both to colonial independence and a socialist future. Padmore, formerly aligned with Moscow, became an independent Marxist as a result of Russia’s shift to the Popular Front strategy (which many people of color all over the world, not merely whites, accepted). By redefining the United States, Britain, and France as allies, and “democratic capitalists” or “democratic imperialists” on the eve of World War II, Stalinism revealed that for them, socialism and internationalism primarily meant defending their own nation, and really their own regime, above promoting independent workers’ power at home or abroad.

Moscow asked Padmore to refocus anti-colonial work on Italy, Japan, and Germany, although Italy had only one colony in Africa, Ethiopia, and the others had none. Padmore refused, in defense of Black autonomy, and was purged from the Communist International. He found it an “unspeakable betrayal.” James used this example to explain a further political lesson, which he felt could be gleaned from Padmore’s life.[53] In contrast to Harold Cruse’s Crisis of the Negro Intellectual, which suggested that Jews and West Indians controlled African American politics through the Communist Party in the United States, James explained that in China, Latin America, the Middle East, Europe, and Africa, the top-down approach and political philosophy affiliated with Moscow was the same.[54] For James, though he recognized the Communist Party was permeated with racism despite genuine struggles to root it out, Russia’s affiliates in the United States were not behaving in “a white chauvinist” fashion. Instead, Russia, the standard bearer of socialism for many, collaborated with the empire of capital.[55] For James, this revealed another dilemma. The working class did not directly govern in the Soviet Union, and Popular Front-style politics in the United States didn’t seek to promote workers’ self-management either.

Notes on the Life contains two other George Padmore stories rarely told in public by James. In one, Padmore has tea with a Russian friend in his Kremlin apartment in Moscow in 1933, the same year as the great famine in the Ukraine. His friend stopped Padmore from cleaning the table of “small crumbs” of bread which he was about to throw away. Her family hadn’t seen white bread for months. Padmore began to “sneak” food to his friend to take to her family. He would occasionally courageously speak to ordinary Russians in the repressive environment, inquiring whether they knew of the privileged life of the Party hierarchy. This narrative, while plausible, suggests James’s own particular gloss.

Padmore had the privileges of the Kremlin bureaucracy and could purchase fine foods from the Torgsin, the Kremlin-subsidized shop, at the cheapest prices. Many told him they were aware and disturbed by the inequalities as represented by the Kremlin hierarchy, but feared German and Japanese imperialism more. James used this example to illustrate the fact that the Stalinists, who claimed to serve working people, lived like an aristocracy in the midst of severe poverty.[56] Yet even in James rendering of this Padmore story, one can see through Padmore’s eyes, that Russians under Stalinism saw themselves in the midst of a national liberation struggle not a fight for workers self-management. More crucial to James was the cavalier negation of direct democracy, the erasure of the soviets (workers and popular councils) in Russia.

In another of James’s stories, Padmore, while working one day in the Kremlin, before the purges and show trials of the late 1930s, was asked by Dimitriy Manuilsky, a functionary of the Communist International, if he would like to stand for election with Stalin to the Moscow Soviet. Equivalent roughly to a city municipality, the Soviet was once a popular council, a directly democratic form of freedom, which had, by this point, long been suppressed by the Bolshevik State. Padmore, as described by James, was careful to not get caught up in “political intrigue.” He “knows nothing about the Moscow Soviet, does not speak Russian, and has enough work to do.” Manuilsky insisted he should run for this position, that it was not necessary to campaign, and that somehow Padmore was sure to attain this office. Should he win, Padmore would have no tasks to perform.

Sometime later, Padmore was informed that he had been elected to be a representative of the Moscow Ballbearing Factory (where he was surely not a worker) to the Moscow Soviet with Stalin and Lazar Kaganovich. James wrote that Padmore “does not care, attends no meetings,” and continued in his work for Black workers and anti-colonial revolt. Undoubtedly, on more than one level, Padmore was uninterested.

George Bernard Shaw later led a British delegation to the Soviet Union and Manuilsky introduced Padmore as an elected member of the Moscow Soviet. Padmore was held up before this British audience as an example of the anti-racism of the Russian regime. The British delegation was astounded. For James, their pleasure reveals a thin conception of socialism. People of color or immigrants, Manuilsky boasted, could never be elected to the British parliament or American Congress. The British social democratic-minded delegation and the USSR’s Stalinist bureaucracy believed socialism meant affirmative action. This dilemma foreshadowed the global Popular Front politics of the future.[57]

Socialism or national liberation came to be synonymous for many, not with workers’ sovereignty or defeat of capitalist nation-states or ruling elites, with equal opportunity to enter the ranks of hierarchy. James recognized that Padmore was always careful to see that Bolshevism not be discredited in the world. For James, this recognition largely meant the need to defend the legacy of Lenin. For Padmore, the legacy of Bolshevism was the idea, even after he was purged from Moscow, that the Soviet Union was a progressive nation-state. In 1946, Padmore began to conclude that the defense of the Soviet Union was crucial to defending the viability of national liberation struggles as a whole.

In 1946, Padmore and his wife Dorothy co-authored How Russia Transformed Its Colonial Empire. They argued that whatever criticism could be made of Stalinist Russia from the point of view of the limits of “socialism in one country” or “world revolution,” Russia had still, in their minds, facilitated the self-determination of oppressed nationalities. James’s earlier volume World Revolution was not cited in this work, but the Padmores’ criticism was an allusion to his ideas which they disagreed. The Padmores recognized that the workers’ councils no longer had any meaningful sovereignty within Russia. But they blamed this on the failure of the revolutions abroad not suppression of the soviets by the state in Russia. They went on to emphasize, however, that any person in Russia, regardless of nationality or property qualifications, could be elected to office.[58] James would have been disturbed by such an argument. If someone from Poland, Czechoslovakia, or Hungary were elected to representative office in Stalinist Russia, or within their own national borders colonized by the Red Army, this would not have meant for James that their countries were autonomous from the Soviet Union. Strictly on the basis of national liberation without a concern for socialism this was wrongheaded. Further, James argued in this same period, in The Invading Socialist Society, there was no dual or progressive character of government bureaucracy. We must remember that both James and Padmore were silent about what Lenin’s concession of the Ukraine to Germany meant for the self-determination of oppressed nations.

In 1953, James and Padmore had a dispute triggered by the former’s study of Herman Melville, Mariners, Renegades, and Castaways. James presented the multi-racial, multi-national motley crew of the whaling vessel as the site of global solidarity seeking unity and self-government at the point of industrial production against the tyranny of capitalist management. For James, this perspective was synonymous with the potential of the United States. Padmore was neither enthusiastic nor concerned with the potential of American workers as represented in James’s literary criticism.[59]

However, the last chapter of the book, devoted to a recounting of James’s detention on Ellis Island as an independent radical immigrant who overstayed his visa, somewhat inexplicably touched off this dispute with Padmore. As James explains in the book, in the prison on Ellis Island, he encountered a genuinely friendly Communist Party member, who offered solidarity to all his fellow prisoners and even to James himself. The Communist likely knew that James had a Trotskyist background. However, James’s counterpart—and this is James’s emphasis—simply did not understand the perils of affiliation with Moscow. James wrote this in a book he circulated to many members of the United States government as part of his campaign to legally appeal his immigration status during the McCarthy era.[60]

Increasingly, the politics of solidarity in American and world politics had little to do with working for the direct self-government of toilers. Rather, the Popular Front pursued an enhanced welfare state in Europe and the United States and peace with the Russian one-party state. James, instead, wished to see both types of regimes toppled, though he tactically, like Moscow affiliated Communists in this era, argued for his own peculiar brand of popular democratic politics in the United States.

In a letter of June 22, 1953, James responded to Padmore’s irritation, firmly insisting that, despite accusations, he had not changed. James emphasized that, unlike Padmore, he had never seen anything progressive in the Moscow regime and never would.[61] On the lower frequencies, the 1950s correspondence between Richard and Ellen Wright and George and Dorothy Padmore revealed disputes the Padmores had with James over the years that are corroborated by muted aspects of Notes on the Life.

Padmore came to believe that James had been working for “a paper revolution,” that his political faction was irrelevant, and that James had been an abstract “ivory tower” elitist in his talk of the potential of Detroit’s industrial workers, whether black or white. James was “a dreamer” in his plans for an American Revolution.[62] Dorothy Padmore believed James was partially seen as an “interloper,” “poseur,” and “carpet bagger” at Ghana’s independence celebrations for doing little to propagate anti-colonial revolt during his first American years, still feeling he was “instrumental” in bringing Ghana’s independence about, and seeing in Ghana “the permanent revolution.”[63] This perspective is remarkable, as James referred Kwame Nkrumah to the Padmores and actually did have an impact as Nkrumah’s mentor. On some level, the Padmores detested Facing Reality, which James shared with them in draft form at Ghana’s independence celebrations. They saw no direct democracy or instinctive proletarian revolution in the Hungarian Revolt of 1956, nor in the shop stewards movement in Britain.[64]

The Padmores sensed that James had wasted much of his political career theorizing about social revolutions in the United States and Europe. They could not understand why he was writing a book on American civilization and on the prospects for social revolution there. They also felt James spent too much time theorizing about the exact nature of the Soviet Union.[65] Why had he not written more books like The Black Jacobins in the service of colonized nations? James was aware of this criticism and found it absurd. By 1959, James had written more on anti-colonial revolt (separate from his writings on revolution in other sectors of the world) than the entire London Pan-African circle. In discipline and productivity, he regarded only George Padmore as his peer, yet the Padmores, in their correspondence with Richard Wright, found James’s references to “world revolution” and “permanent revolution” as ridiculous. They believed they were working more concretely for Black revolution.

George Padmore confided in Richard Wright that James’s mentoring of Kwame Nkrumah in the United States was more influential than most realize, and from his point of view, very disruptive. The young Nkrumah, it appeared to Padmore, was too internationalist and not nationalist enough. Padmore attributed Nkrumah’s lack of primary preoccupation with the future of Ghana’s state to the influence of James’s “Trotskyism.”[66] However, as we have shown, James did not view the followers of Trotsky as internationalist enough. They wanted to see nation-states as the embodiment of socialism, even where the working class did not govern. Frankly, the Trotskyists and Padmore saw the socialist state and political economy in very similar terms.

James and Padmore, who had previously exchanged marked-up political literature across the Atlantic, were growing apart, even as they celebrated independence in Kwame Nkrumah’s Ghana. While James viewed the Hungarian Revolution as the culmination of the instinctive struggle against state power, Padmore was increasingly captivated by the wisdom of Mao Tse Tung. Mao viewed the Hungarian Revolt as a contradiction that had to be resolved on behalf of the supremacy of the one party state.[67]

Interestingly, Padmore’s criticism of James did not reveal an excessive idealism on James’s part. It was more stratospheric for American Communists to view Britain, where the sun never set on their empire, and the United States, distinguished by Jim Crow and Japanese internment, as “democratic,” and the Soviet Union as a workers’ republic (with no soviets) that had abolished property relations and liberated Eastern Europe. Revolutionary socialists, one would think, should be genuinely concerned with the destiny of the working people all over the world, not merely as a cultural banner.

James did not believe it was internationalist to subordinate the destiny of one nation, or one working class, to another; this was a stance he never took, regardless of how this worker behaved or that government executed a deformed policy in one global sector or another. Yet the Padmores, partially as a result of an increasing disbelief that white working people in Europe or the United States would be part of making a social revolution, anticipated a type of Third World Marxist perspective that equated toilers of color with progressive nation-states and ruling elites. Concerns with white supremacy and empire increasingly collapsed the distinction between toilers and rulers in both imperial and colonized nations. Crucial for understanding the Padmore’s postcolonial vision is recognition, regardless of the blind spots of white workers in imperial centers, of its lack of content for Black labor’s self-emancipation.

At their best, James’s politics appear to have continuity. Was he not engaging the frustration and anger of the masses, and the new leaders they installed, so as to clarify the purpose of national liberation and socialism as he attempted to facilitate the popular will toward self-government? At the same time, James had to position himself strategically in order to minimize chances of his being perceived as an out-of-touch “old man” from another generation, even as Black Power activists and Third World regimes craved his mentoring. James was not always able to rigorously explain, save to the most attentive, where he came from politically. He began to recognize the fact that, for youth who wanted him to tell stories about the Black radical tradition, chronicles which included George Padmore, the distinctions of ideological and party affiliation among the Red and Black were irrelevant—it was all “communism” because the white racists and capitalists said so, and because conservatives appeared to be threatened by such ideas. They did not understand that many of the Old Left had also come to this conclusion, to the qualitative detriment of how one viewed white workers, imperial nations, and national liberation in colonized nations. This conflict between workers’ self-management (increasingly seen as a “white” idea) in metropolitan centers and national liberation struggles tore apart the last manifestation of James’s small revolutionary organization, as represented by the muted quarrel with his oldest and most loyal colleague, Marty Glaberman.

The Disputes with Martin Glaberman

Marty Glaberman was a partisan of a type of Jamesian state capitalist analysis whose “one world” outlook especially defended the direct democratic potential of workers in industrial nations. Such ideas, to the extent they were properly understood, were under attack in the epoch of Third World national liberation. In a drafted letter to James dated April 3, 1972, Glaberman reflected on one of the first conferences on James’s life and work at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, calling it “a most successful and impressive event.” Yet Glaberman’s archived letter is marked with a bold handwritten note just above the type: “Private: Not Sent.” He details his “disturbed” personal interactions with James, and his deep concern with the perspectives he expressed publicly at that gathering. Among those present were Walter Rodney, Trevor Munroe, Robert Hill, Archie Singham, Paul Buhle, Sylvia Wynter, Modibo Kadalie, and Ernie Allen, but Glaberman “felt there was a tremendous gap in the proceedings—the industrial proletariat was almost totally absent.” Remarkably this was so with former Detroit based League of Revolutionary Black Workers’ members Kadalie and Allen present. Both were purged just before the League imploded in 1971 in disputes about internal democracy and the League’s aspirations to be a vanguard party.[68]

After Robert Hill inquired why Glaberman had not participated much in the three-day gathering, and did not want to be perceived as disruptive of Sylvia Wynter’s presentation on culture or James’s final speech where it might not be relevant, Glaberman courteously asked Archie Singham to make a brief comment. James apparently suggested publicly that he feared Glaberman might make an argumentative “statement” and wish to debate him. As “time elapsed,” Glaberman did not raise his perspective. In this unsent letter, he is livid.

Glaberman, as perhaps James’s most loyal disciple, should take pride of place in raising principled criticism of James. Nevertheless, out of loyalty and personal anguish, Glaberman could not bring himself to send this critical letter, in which he confessed:

That comment was totally unjustifiable politically, and extremely painful personally. What right had you to assume that I came to the conference to get into a debate with you? What I wanted to say was decided well before you made your speech. If Walter Rodney saying that the American proletariat was counter-revolutionary, and Trevor Munroe’s neo-Stalinism, and Archie Singham’s confusion did not move you to debate them, what did you think I might say about the proletariat that you would have to [see] as a hostile intervention? Let me say first, that I have studiously avoided taking issue with you in public. We have had enough differences over the years (Czechoslovakia, China, some organizational questions, etc.) But when [Paul] Buhle proposed that I make the main contribution to a proposed symposium evaluating the [early] work of James I declined on the grounds that I was a long way from making final evaluations of a body of ideas that was still current and viable and that I was not going to raise points of difference between us publicly. I was prepared to introduce, or explain, perhaps, but not to settle accounts with a body of ideas as if it was all over and done with.[69]

In his letter, Glaberman makes clear that his contribution would have been to explicate the “basic theme” that “informs a major body of James’s work.” Beginning with World Revolution (1937), and continuing with The Invading Socialist Society (1947), Notes on Dialectics (1948), State Capitalism & World Revolution (1950), Facing Reality (1958), and Marxism & The Intellectuals (1962), “there is put forward the conception of the revolutionary capacity of the proletariat, without which it is impossible to understand Marx or James.” In later years, Glaberman would go on to make a major contribution to solidifying James’s intellectual legacies by maintaining his archive and reinforcing the legacy of this specific body of work.

In the letter, Glaberman continued: “I would have indicated awareness of the racism of American white workers and rejected the idea that they will rally to the support of blacks so long as capitalism existed. But there was plenty of evidence of their hostility to capitalism.” As the most recent evidence at hand, Glaberman cited articles in Paul Buhle’s magazine Radical America documenting revolts against automation at Pontiac and Chevrolet automobile factories in Michigan. Uncharacteristically, James had suggested in his speech at the conference at Ann Arbor that automation was slowing down the revolutionary instincts of industrial workers.

Glaberman contested James’s claim that in his speech the views he placed forward on the working class were “new.” He suggested that James was “taking the first tentative steps (at least I hope they are tentative) toward the views of Jim and Grace Boggs and [Herbert] Marcuse.”[70] In 1962, Glaberman and James had broken with the Boggses over their analysis of automation, racism, and imperial consumption patterns in the American working class as an obstacle to workers’ self-management. They also had a deep disagreement over what James and Glaberman saw as the Boggses’s uncritical embrace of many national liberation regimes, such as those of Nkrumah’s Ghana and Mao’s China. James himself had just been transitioning toward a greater criticism of Nkrumah’s Ghana and later a silent ambivalence about Mao’s China where previously his criticism was more strident.

James always proposed that the basis of unity in his small political organizations in the United States should not be the nature of societies abroad such as Russia or China (or debates over them), but rather the revolutionary capacity of the proletariat as the basis of an American revolution. Yet in the Black Power era and the emergence of the Third World, such divisions became increasingly untenable, if they were ever consistent, logical, and practical in the first place.

It is interesting that George Rawick and Marty Glaberman, comrades in James’s Facing Reality group, suggest a distinction between Jamesian political texts that addressed imperial and peripheral nations differently. James did view Facing Reality (1958) and Party Politics in the West Indies (1962) as his definitive statements on political policy for modern and peripheral political economies respectively. Yet Facing Reality is a peculiar book as it is distinguished for its homage to the self-managing workers of Hungary and the claim that “the whole world lives in the shadow of state power.” Yet Facing Reality, marked by the most libertarian and anarchist sounding propositions James ever placed forward, was also characterized by an evaluation of Afro-Asian hierarchal regimes as facilitating “a new society.” As the Balance Sheet documents show James and Glaberman ruptured with the Trotskyists who claimed to be internationalists, for this essentially nationalist (if deformed and bureaucratic collectivist) politics that are still present in Facing Reality. These fatally flawed political frameworks under the guise of nationalism (even with James’s later criticism) became an acceptable standard for Trinidad and Ghana. Facing Reality perhaps presented a gathering of forces of the material reality of movements on the ground at that historical moment. But a discerning reader would have to see not just libertarian socialist ideals but a conflicted political philosophy by James which accepts less liberty and questions the potential self-emancipation for the working people of colonized nations.

Simultaneously, James—and this is often Marty Glaberman’s emphasis—explained that politics could only be understood as the pursuit of self-emancipation in “one world,” and that state capitalism, as an oppressive regime, was a world phenomenon. Glaberman repeatedly underscored his belief that James’s The Invading Socialist Society (1947) and State Capitalism & World Revolution (1950) spoke sharply to matters of workers’ self-emancipation in imperial and colonized nations. With these politics, James stood up to Padmore and challenged the early Williams and Nkrumah. Without them James entered historical narratives initially as a fragment of a man, merely a famous Pan African activist and historian who opposed colonialism, with little discussion of strategic or tactical nuance of his political thought. This is also how Walter Rodney has entered history. Glaberman suggested that James did not challenge Rodney, but should have, at the conference on his life and work in 1972. Did Rodney, the outstanding Pan African of the Caribbean New Left generation, have any major disputes with C.L.R. James?

The Arguments between C.L.R. James and Walter Rodney

Part of a link in a radical tradition, Walter Rodney (1942–1980) is generally understood as the most distinguished class struggle Pan African activist of his generation. Following C.L.R. James, George Padmore, Frantz Fanon, Amilcar Cabral, and A.M. Babu, he is the last link in a chain of representative men. Historical evidence suggests that James admired Rodney as the personification of struggle against the inadequacies of post-colonial regimes and “the brightest spark” of the post-World War II generation. Only after Rodney’s assassination in 1980, in the fight “for people’s power and no dictator” against Forbes Burnham’s regime in Guyana, did it appear that publicly James raised political criticism of him. Whether Rodney properly understood the strategies involved in the seizure of state power, or a dual power scenario, or comprehended the role of political leadership in an insurrectionary situation better than James, or not, will continue to be explored by future generations.[71]

Re-examining such differences must be part of understanding the antagonisms within radical traditions, which university discourse tends to neglect, and that make such an archive a living heritage. It cannot be explored with rigor outside a radical political practice where the overthrow, seizure, or abolition of state power—not academic meditations—is central not only to the discourse but the practical ambitions and experiences of those who participate in the discussion. Certainly how we understand “Marxism” would have to be part of that dialogue.

James and Rodney had fundamental differences in how they understood Marxism. These are made obscure if we focus on what tends to bring their legacies together on a superficial level—their affinity for popular democracy and the need for revolutionary intellectuals to dialogue with ordinary people, and recognize their creativity and capacities.[72] This does not clarify for revolutionary politics what are actually the terms of everyday people’s empowerment—whether it will come from an external authority which is imagined as progressive or whether it is conceived that they will arrive on their own authority through their own self-directed liberating activity.

In 1975, Rodney recalled that, during the famous London study group with C.L.R. and Selma James of 1964–1965, that included Richard Small, Wally Look Lai, Adolphe Edwards, Norman Girvan and others, C.L.R. and Selma contributed to Rodney having a more precise understanding of “Marxism, the Russian Revolution, and of historical formulation.” Rodney felt James was a master of historical situations, that one could not simply quote texts of Lenin or Trotsky, but one had to know the social movement context, the dilemmas of state and political economy they were grappling with when they wrote down certain positions. Many often pulled from radical texts and forged debates out of proper historical context and James was trying to warn against that.[73] This is a good first principle. But this could lead to the assumption that James’ interpretation was always an accurate and portrayal of historical circumstances.

Rodney remembered that C.L.R. and Selma James had the habit of really “decisively dismissing bourgeois foolishness” but they could also equally tear to pieces perspectives of a serious Marxist or progressive that otherwise seemed credible.[74] Rodney developed a reputation of being an independent socialist. His perspectives were not so much self-reliant as an innovator within fields of Marxist theory, for he developed no original perspectives on state power, political economy or the role of labor in their own emancipation. Rather, Rodney was someone who located himself in debates between Black Nationalists and Black Marxists, where, by the standards of his generation, he had credibility with both at a time where there were great ideological disputes between each grouping. He at once rejected the Euro-centrism of Marxism, and still defended that heritage as producing relevant paradigms for examination of the African world. While he rejected the latent racism of the Anglo-American Left, his criticism of Moscow oriented Communist Parties was very thin otherwise—he had no critique of Stalinist political economy. In How Europe Underdeveloped Africa his analysis suggested the Soviet Union and Eastern European socialist regimes were progressive political and economic developments that the African world could learn from. In contrast, he found that Trotskyists tended to be sectarian in the maintenance of their line. Rodney laughed at the notion that a handful of dissidents from the Leon Trotsky movement could maintain continuity of revolutionary ideas all by themselves.[75] But where did James’s political thought come from that he claimed to value so much? These differences between James and Rodney had to come into conflict at some point.

In the 1964–65 London study group, in fact James and Rodney did come into conflict.

The standard narrative of Rodney’s contribution to the study group was that he produced a piece on the Atlantic slave trade he would later publish as a pamphlet. James recalled: “I was immensely struck by it. I was struck though I knew nothing about the subject.” James remembered after Rodney’s death that he “interested me particularly” and that Rodney “was socially a very quiet” young man.[76] Yet James, at another juncture, asked Rodney to review Facing Reality for critical discussion. Rodney inquired whether the Hungarian workers had their consciousness raised by living under a progressive regime. James was irate. The Soviet Union, and its satellite one party state regime in Hungary, for James, was not a progressive regime. Hungary was militarily occupied and a regime claiming to be socialist attacked one of the greatest spontaneous expressions of self-managing workers the world had ever seen. This was not a minor disagreement but an emotional one for James. James raised his voice and his yelling embarrassed everyone present, causing everyone to step outside the apartment. Selma James told Norman Girvan, while she disagreed with Rodney, “Nello should not have treated that young man in that way.”[77]

Harry Golbourne has suggested that the Walter Rodney, who emerged after being banned from returning to Jamaica after the 1968 Black Writers Conference in Montreal with the publication of Groundings with My Brothers (1969), while a charismatic young teacher and activist, had his historical identity and political platform partially invented for him subsequently. That is Groundings was edited by a committee, which included Ewart Thomas and Richard Small, in London from outlines of talks Rodney gave in Jamaica, transcripts of talks he gave in Montreal, and subsequent statements he made after the banning, which he left with Eric and Jessica Huntley’s Bogle-L’Ouverture Press as Rodney was leaving to go to Tanzania.[78] While Rodney did ground with the ordinary people of Jamaica about African History, and his banning did allow for the lower working classes and unemployed to rise up in the famous ‘Rodney Riots,’ there is nothing in his perspectives in Groundings, from his speeches in Jamaica, which speak directly to working class self-emancipation in a people of color majority nation—unless we underscore the importance of Black people reconfiguring themselves in terms of identity and culture out from under white supremacy.

It is only with his “Statement on the Jamaica Situation,” co-written with Robert Hill and an introduction by Richard Small, both close associates of C.L.R. James, that he framed the Rodney Riots as revealing a vision in process which was exploding across the whole Caribbean—the self mobilization of Black working people and unemployed against the bankruptcy of Black “official society.” Richard Small’s essay in particular was a touchstone for the Caribbean New Left which inserted the humble persona of Walter Rodney as the spokesman for this self-mobilization. Small alluded to the methodology in James’ Facing Reality related to, but independent of, the Hungarian workers that Rodney never could embrace. It was here applied for the first time to a peripheral nation by the Caribbean New Left generation. Rodney’s personal conception of people’s power, despite his charisma, was always ambiguous, certainly in How Europe Underdeveloped Africa written after The Groundings, and even in his last Guyana years. Whatever spontaneous rebellions Rodney had the capacity to spark were not seen as having any direct democratic self-governing content by him which would call into question state power itself—though he would object to this or that statesmen. In 1974, Rodney was not someone open to a rejection of vanguard parties for Black or anti-colonial freedom movements.[79]

In Groundings we find a charismatic speech he gave in Montreal, “African History in the Service of Black Revolution.” David Austin, in outstanding archival scholarship, has shown in another transcript of the same speech labeled “African History in the Service of Black Liberation” important material was left out of its original publication. Among the items missing was evidence of a dispute with James about the importance of the classical Greek city-state. Rodney disagreed with James, consistent with the Black Power era audience in a previous session, and claimed that there was something wrong with calling Greece the greatest civilization the world had ever known.[80]

Rodney questioned if historians of the African world, given the slavery found in Greece could continue to accept Europe’s various historical claims to embody civilization given its centrality in enslaving people of color. Rodney also questioned if civilization, as a historical concept, had outlived its usefulness even for African history, given the exclusions the idea perennially papered over. James recalled Rodney’s facilitation of the meetings they shared at the Montreal Black Writers Congress after his death in this manner. “Rodney was often chairman of the meeting. He handled the post with the necessary firmness, but with genuine understanding of the requirements of people, all of whom wanted to speak whether they could speak or not.”[81] This recollection, cryptic like many of James’ references to Rodney, could suggest there was in fact a comfortable unity between them at the conference and Rodney was merely mediating between James’s comments on Greece and less experienced scholars’ and activists’ discontented objections. But this would seem to clash with the editorial judgment of the original editors, who chose to take this implied reference to a dispute between Rodney and James out of the original printed speech.

Erasing evidence of conflict with James in Rodney’s publications happened more than once. Out of the same conference at the University of Michigan on James’s life and work, where Martin Glaberman was displeased with James unwillingness to challenge Rodney’s assessment of the American working class in one discussion, Rodney gave a conference paper subsequently published as “The African Revolution,” an analysis of James’s scholarly contributions in A History of Pan African Revolt.[82] A tape recording of the actual speech revealed a significant part of this speech, the introduction, was edited out. Here can be found Rodney popularizing for the first time a new moniker for James, “Mzee,” which in Swahili meant revered elder.

Rodney introduced his speech by saying he once studied at the feet of Mzee James, that it was an African tradition for the youth to study at the feet of the elders. After a brief but awkward pause Rodney reminded it was also a tradition of Classical Athens to do so. Another brief pause followed which allowed for the recording to retain some uneasy breaths by perhaps knowing insiders in the audience. Rodney continued by saying in his distinctive voice he once had the “gumption” to disagree with James in one of his study groups. He reminded it is not an easy thing to try to stand up to such a learned revolutionary intellectual as James, who had mastered broad fields of knowledge, and that it was a humbling experience. As the years had gone by, seven had passed since the London study circle, Rodney admitted he was still learning to properly comprehend all the ramifications of James’s intellectual heritage and political thought and that he hoped his survey of James’s approach to Africa would be satisfactory.[83]

Rodney’s disagreements with James on Hungary and Classical Athens represented two historical problems James faced as mentor of Black Power era activists. There was a declining capacity to appreciate in the era of Third World Marxism that there was an anti-Stalinist heritage which importantly contributed at times to a deeper understanding of workers self-management in contrast to state power. Further, the bold critique of white supremacy in this historical period made it increasingly difficult to draw on the heritage of flawed democratic experiments within Western civilization which nevertheless could provide insight for framing an enhanced or direct democracy. Almost all who dismiss James’s Eurocentric blind spots as periodically undermining creative analysis with something stale have not distinguished themselves in scholarship of either Hungary or Athens but accept confidently that these are nothing more than useless “white” signifiers. This is an unacceptable approach to the breadth of James’s intellectual legacies.

After all we have uncovered about some of the debates James participated in within Pan-African, anti-colonial, and socialist circles (and crucially their overlapping spaces), we must inquire not just about his role in these disputes and the different political viewpoints in contestation. We must become impatient with unitary paradigms which codify radical traditions that weave together purported irreconcilable threads, with James’s workers’ self-management and national liberation politics in mind. James’s intellectual legacies, as an aspiring “founder” of a polity distinguished by direct democracy and as part of an “illustrious” group of Third World radical intellectuals who had made significant contributions to “world politics,” have occasionally existed side by side but rarely in conversation. James becomes a constituent element of an anti-colonial tradition distinguished by talent that he partially theorized in a limited manner. Periodic silence about the direct democratic thread of his own intellectual legacy, as the Glaberman dispute discussed during the Black Power and Third World era reveals, is a significant reason why, as James’s concern elsewhere made clear, colonized people’s radical traditions are not “properly understood even by their own people.” There could be many reasons for such misunderstanding.

Those whom James thought “not so bright” (but did not think were “fools”), with whom he “never quarreled” (for the initial historical record but in fact did so), often disagreed with his most radical ideals. James, and his debate partners, were both comrades and offended each other, respected each other and alternatively saw unethical changes of perspective among themselves. There were blind spots, flawed egos, and opportunism distinguished by an unprincipled path to compromise. A radical tradition of political thought, however emotionally painful at times, without this internal contestation over principles, and only distinguished by institutionalized oppressions as external opponents, would be historically unrecognizable and further far less edifying.

Political ideals, once cherished, might be discarded tomorrow or two sets of politics might be maintained in public historical narratives, in private conversations, or for different audiences to maintain authority or craft a prestige. James and his colleagues not only debated and made each other angry but inspired each other, shared minimal financial resources, wrote recommendations for each other for various formal and informal endeavors, wrote each other into history, and underpinned each other’s authority.

On some level, a radical tradition, as scholarly framework or canon, must appear initially through a more narrow and reductive outline form. “One of the tasks” James “set [for him]self was to make people understand…” “the tradition of national talent” which made colonial freedom.[84] While future scholars, if they do proper archival work, may find other case studies that may help clarify the making of national liberation and its intersection or tension with direct democratic possibilities and labor’s self-emancipation in peripheral nations, James’s own silences about his hidden quarrels and inconsistencies in his later life as a public intellectual, contributed to the ignorance of important debates within the radical anti-colonial tradition and how national liberation struggles came to be understood.

  1. [1] C.L.R. James, Party Politics in the West Indies, San Juan, Trinidad: Vedic (1962), pp. 117–118.
  2. [2] George Rawick. Letter to Martin Glaberman. February 25, 1968. George P. Rawick Papers. Western Manuscript Archive. University of Missouri at St. Louis.
  3. [3] The claim, often heard from those sympathetic to Maoism, that suggests their adherents’ focus on people of color–led bureaucratic regimes, who would be guardians of the peasantry, meant that they were thus qualitatively less Eurocentric and more revolutionary, is a false one. Neither is it consistently accurate that most Trotskyists were more critical of bureaucracy as such than perspectives which could be found within Maoism. Both Maoism and Trotskyism were incomplete enemies of the state. Another way to think about these ideologies is they are enemies of the state, advocates of a new authoritarian state.
  4. [4] C.L.R. James with Raya Dunayevksaya, The Balance Sheet Completed (1951), pp. 4–5, Raya Dunayevskaya Collection, Walter Reuther Archive, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI.
  5. [5] Ibid., pp. 6–7; C.L.R. James with Raya Dunayevskaya and Martin Glaberman, The Balance Sheet (1947), p. 8.
  6. [6] Balance Sheet Completed, pp. 8, 13.
  7. [7] Balance Sheet, p. 15.
  8. [8] Balance Sheet Completed, p. 16.
  9. [9] Ibid., p. 4.
  10. [10] Balance Sheet, p. 11.
  11. [11] C.L.R. James with Raya Dunayevskaya and Grace Lee, The Invading Socialist Society, Detroit: Bewick (1947, 1972), p. 41.
  12. [12] In political discourse on peripheral nations, often without a loss of meaning, “non-aligned” and “Third World” are often conflated. Properly speaking, the first has its origins for the assessment of Eastern Europe, especially Tito’s Yugoslavia. In contrast, the latter first comes into the lexicon as a Francophone Pan-African cultural concept among Negritude intellectuals. Thanks to Anthony Bogues, professor of Africana Studies at Brown University, for discussion leading to clarification of this matter.
  13. [13] Christopher Z. Hobson and Ronald D. Tabor, Trotskyism and the Dilemma of Socialism, Westport, CT: Greenwood (1988), p. 350.
  14. [14] Hobson and Tabor, pp. 350–351.
  15. [15] C.L.R. James with Raya Dunayevskaya and Grace Lee, State Capitalism & World Revolution, Chicago: Charles H. Kerr (1950, 1986), p. 23.
  16. [16] The International Communists of Germany (IKD), a tendency led by Josef Weber, argued that the German labor movement was barely breathing as a result of fascist suppression and that there would be a historical period of “retrogression” where revolutionary socialism would not be attractive to the working class. Instead coming out of the dark, German toilers would go through a period of affirming bourgeois civil liberties. In response, Weber advocated a vision of national liberation of Germany which proposed a coalition without regard to social class to take up the demands of all the oppressed. At times, the Trotskyist press suppressed publication of the IKD’s views, and at others reminded their perspective was wrong because workers organizations were in the forefront of anti-fascism in Germany. After breaking with the Trotskyist movement the IKD published a journal called Contemporary Issues which was innovative in taking up questions most socialists in the United States rarely explored. Ecology was among these issues. Emblematic of this creativity was one member of the IKD group, who was not from Germany, but was an American. Murray Bookchin went on to become a pioneer of social ecology and the most original anarchist theorist of the second half of the twentieth century. Bookchin evolved toward a creative methodology similar to C.L.R. James. He had an affinity for the direct democratic legacy of Classical Athens and the expressions of workers self-management in the French and Russian Revolutions and Spanish Civil War. These politics were not apparent in the retrogression thesis by the IKD that James’s circle opposed in 1947 but would emerge stronger later, just as it would become enlarged in James’s own work subsequently in the 1950s. See Janet Biehl, “Bookchin’s Trotskyist Decade: 1939–1948,” Platypus Review 52 (December 2012–January 2013); Marcel Van Der Linden, “The Pre-History of Post-Scarcity Anarchism: Josef Weber and the Movement of a Democracy of Content (1947–1964),” Anarchist Studies 9.2 (September 2001), pp. 127–145.
  17. [17] Hobson and Tabor, p. 353.
  18. [18] Ibid., p. 354.
  19. [19] Ibid., p. 355.
  20. [20] Ibid., pp. 356–357.
  21. [21] C.L.R. James with Raya Dunayevskaya and Grace Lee, The Invading Socialist Society, Detroit: Bewick (1947, 1972), p. 36.
  22. [22] Some may object that James never defined his public life narrowly as a defender of national liberation movements, and that he was always a defender of the proletariat in later years. While his public statements on Hungary 1956, France 1968, and Poland 1981 are evidence of this perspective’s validity, we must recall something crucial. First, James never made statements in defense of independent labor at the post-colonial moment in his African and Caribbean politics from a perspective of direct democracy and workers self-management. Second, at the height of his direct democratic theorizing, James did not lead a public life. James was a public intellectual in London from 1932–1938, where he wrote both The Black Jacobins and World Revolution. He disappeared from public life in his first American years (1938–1953). James was essentially, except for a brief period at the beginning, when he was on his lecture tour against World War II, and at the end when he lectured on Herman Melville, writing as an underground man using pen names while evading immigration authorities. There is no doubt he produced an extensive archive, some of which we have drawn on here. When he returns to London from 1953–1958 he is very poor and in frail health and has little opportunity to give public presentations or publish. Facing Reality (1958), is published between the splits from Raya Dunayevskaya’s News & Letters Group (1955 split) and James and Grace Lee Boggs, who kept the name of the Correspondence Group (1961–1962 split). The Boggses grew to be unfond of the interpretation of the Hungarian Revolution and ideas of workers’ self-management more generally. Facing Reality ‘s reception, especially its bold anti-state content, was also not helped by James immediately appearing doing political work in public as the editor of Eric Williams’s People’s National Movement’s publication The Nation from 1958–1962. A careful reading of Facing Reality shows something new not found explicitly in The Invading Socialist Society (1947) and State Capitalism & World Revolution (1950)—two separate political orientations for the First and Third Worlds. 1958 is twenty years after he went underground in the United States during the Age of the CIO. He also becomes public advisor and then critic of Kwame Nkrumah’s Ghana from 1957–1966. 1966 is essentially the first year of the Black Power movement—though historians in recent years, not unpersuasively, have argued for an earlier chronology. The interest in James’s direct democratic ideas, as interpreted from Notes on Dialectics (which was never printed and shared outside his political circle until 1966) and Facing Reality, by aspects of the American and Caribbean New Left in 1971—often took on a life of their own. That is while James was not adverse to others re-publishing the works like in Paul Buhle’s Radical America, where these ideas were found animating organizational initiatives, he often was lukewarm to political cadre of the 1970s who wished to build anti-vanguard factions based on his direct democratic thought. Particularly among peoples of African descent was this so. This did not stop that generation from running with these ideas against the emerging post–civil rights, post-colonial order. But it is a story largely yet to be told. For some indication of this tension in James’s intellectual legacies see the introduction by Modibo Kadalie and the afterword by Matthew Quest to Kimathi Mohamed, Organization & Spontaneity, updated edition, Atlanta: On Our Own Authority! (2013). Besides these historical essays, this edition has a never before published essay by Kimathi on C.L.R. James’s influence on Detroit’s League of Revolutionary Black Workers. Also see Matthew Quest, “Legislating the Caribbean General Will: The Later Political Thought of Tim Hector, 1979–2002,” C.L.R. James Journal 13.1 (Spring 2007), pp. 211–232; Walton Look Lai, “C.L.R. James and Trinidad Nationalism,” in C.L.R. James’s Caribbean, Paget Henry and Paul Buhle, eds., Durham, NC: Duke UP (1992), pp. 174–209.
  23. [23] C.L.R. James, Letter to Frederick Warburg, January 10, 1969, Martin Glaberman Collection, Walter Reuther Library, Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan; see also C.L.R. James with Al Richardson, et.al., “C.L.R. James and British Trotskyism: An Interview,” London, Socialist Platform (1987).
  24. [24] C.L.R. James, “The Rise and Fall of Nkrumah,” (1966), in The C.L.R. James Reader, Anna Grimshaw, ed., Cambridge, MA: Blackwell (1992), p. 355; C.L.R. James, “The Old World and The New,” (1971), in At the Rendezvous of Victory, London: Allison and Busby (1984), pp. 208–209.
  25. [25] C.L.R. James, “George Padmore: Black Marxist Revolutionary,” (1976), in At the Rendezvous of Victory, p. 258.
  26. [26] C.L.R. James, Letter to Constance Webb, May 5, 1939, in C.L.R. James, Special Delivery: The Letters of C.L.R. James to Constance Webb, 1939–1948, Anna Grimshaw, ed., Cambridge, MA: Blackwell (1996), pp. 50–51, 124–125; Farrukh Dhondy, C.L.R. James: A Life, New York: Pantheon (2001), pp. 143–160.
  27. [27] Eric Williams, Capitalism & Slavery, Chapel Hill, NC: UNC Press (1944, 1994); Eric Williams, The Negro in the Caribbean, New York: A & B Books (1994); Eric Williams, From Columbus to Castro, New York: Vintage (1970); Kwame Nkrumah, Toward Colonial Freedom, London: Panaf (1973).
  28. [28] C.L.R. James,“Marx’s Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte and the Caribbean,” (1967), in You Don’t Play With Revolution: The Montreal Lectures of C.L.R. James, David Austin, ed., Oakland: AK Press (2009), p. 123. Williams’s thesis, about the declining profitability of the Atlantic slave trade, became the subject of long dispute among scholars. For a seminal text which has shaped the other side of the debate see Seymour Drescher, Econocide: British Slavery in the Era of Abolition, Chapel Hill: UNC Press (1977, 2010).
  29. [29] C.L.R. James, The Black Jacobins, New York: Vintage (1938, 1963), pp. 46–54.
  30. [30] This is made even more complicated by an unexplored proposition. Whereas James is given credit for helping Williams write the thesis that became Capitalism & Slavery, Williams, though he was younger and more politically inexperienced at the time, helped in certain respects in the research for James’s The Black Jacobins. It is possible that before the 1940s their understanding of peripheral nations’ political economy was quite similar, though Williams was mentored by James in the implications of revolutionary perspectives on history as the latter understood them at the time. Both freely wrote edits and suggested additions to each other’s drafts.
  31. [31] C.L.R. James, “Marx’s Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte and the Caribbean,” p. 123.
  32. [32] Capitalism & Slavery, p. 208.
  33. [33] C.L.R. James, interview, Struggle (The newspaper of the National Association of Black Students), February 27, 1971, tape recording. Thanks to Ken Lawrence for providing me a copy of this interview.
  34. [34] The Black Jacobins, pp. 52–54.
  35. [35] C.L.R. James, “Eric Williams 1919–1957,” pp. 1–9, unpublished autobiographical manuscript, C.L.R. James Collection, West Indiana Collection, Alma Jordan Library, University of the West Indies Trinidad and Tobago.
  36. [36] C.L.R. James, “Marx’s Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte and the Caribbean,” pp. 124–125.
  37. [37] C.L.R. James, “On The Negro in the Caribbean by Eric Williams” (June 1943), in C.L.R. James, C.L.R. James On ‘The Negro Question’, Scott McLemee, ed., Jackson, MS: University of Mississippi Press (1996), pp. 117–124.
  38. [38] Ibid.
  39. [39] See Tony Martin, “Introduction: Eric Williams and the Anglo-American Commission, 1942–1944,” E. Franklin Frazier and Eric Williams, eds., The Economic Future of the Caribbean, Dover, MA: The Majority Press (1944, 2004), pp. ix-xxxvii. One of the dilemmas of Martin’s interpretation of Williams in this manner sixty years later is the following. If we diagnose the global economy as “racial capitalism,” where “national capital” is permanently exploited by imperial nations, then African and Caribbean ruling classes who collaborate with empire yet display populist lamentations and regrets, can be permanently deemed as heroic.
  40. [40] Kwame Nkrumah, “Towards Colonial Freedom,” 1945 manuscript, Michel Fabre Papers, MARBL, Emory University, Atlanta, GA; Kwame Nkrumah, Towards Colonial Freedom, London: Panaf Books (1947, 1973). This manuscript is likely a copy of the one Nkrumah carried with him to London from the United States. It has markings by C.L.R. James. On page 5, Nkrumah wrote: “Under the influence of national aggressive self-consciousness and the belief that in trade and commerce one nation should gain at the expense of the other, and the further belief that exports must exceed imports in value, each colonial power pursues policy of strict monopoly of colonial trade, and the building up of a national power.” James marks this passage with the notation “The same thing!” next to Nkrumah’s redundant discussion of unequal exchange of commodities on a world scale and a “?” next to “national” which seeks to describe multi-national trust activity. On page 6, Imperialism is described as seeking colonies for the investment of surplus capital. James believes this is primarily an anachronism from Lenin’s time in a period where capital is increasingly being centralized in the metropolitan center. There in fact was no subsequent re-division of colonies, as Nkrumah suggested was coming, in the Cold War world though the United States increasingly played a more dominant if indirect role in Africa.
  41. [41] State Capitalism & World Revolution, pp. 67–73.
  42. [42] Kwame Nkrumah, “Toward Colonial Freedom” (1947), in Kwame Nkrumah, Revolutionary Path, London: Panaf (1980), pp. 18–19.
  43. [43] Ibid., p. 35.
  44. [44] Ibid., pp. 22–27.
  45. [45] Ibid., p. 40.
  46. [46] See “Introduction to Neo-Colonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism,” in Kwame Nkrumah, Revolutionary Path, pp. 314–315.
  47. [47] See a recent collection of essays on his life and work, Fitzroy Baptiste and Rupert C. Lewis, eds., George Padmore: Pan-African Revolutionary, Kingston, Jamaica: Ian Randle (2009).
  48. [48] C.L.R. James, Notes on the Life of George Padmore (1959), p. 18, unpublished manuscript, Melville Herskovits Africana Library, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL.
  49. [49] Ibid.
  50. [50] Ibid. 9-12.
  51. [51] Ibid., p. 16.
  52. [52] Ibid., p. 29.
  53. [53] Ibid., pp. 20–21.
  54. [54] See Harold Cruse, The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual, New York: Quill (1967, 1984); Winston James, “Postscript: Harold Cruse and the West Indians, Critical Remarks on The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual,” in Holding Aloft the Banner of Ethiopia, New York: Verso (1998), pp. 262–290.
  55. [55] C.L.R. James, “Black Studies and the Contemporary Student” (1969), in The C.L.R. James Reader; C.L.R. James, “Toward the Seventh Pan-African Congress” (1974), in At the Rendezvous of Victory, pp. 197, 241.
  56. [56] C.L.R. James, “Notes on the Life of George Padmore,” pp. 19–20.
  57. [57] Ibid., pp. 14–16.
  58. [58] See George Padmore with Dorothy Pizer, How Russia Transformed Her Colonial Empire, London: Dennis Dobson (1946), pp. xii, 133.
  59. [59] See C.L.R. James, Mariners, Renegades, and Castaways: The Story of Herman Melville and the World We Live In, introduction by Donald Pease, Hanover, NH: University of New England Press (1953, 2001). For many years, when the book was published in small underground printings, the last controversial chapter was left off beginning with the 1978 edition.
  60. [60] Paul Buhle, Gerald Horne, and Joel Kovel have raised particular concern about James “anticommunism” in this maneuver. Though aware of it, they have not registered the same disdain for many Moscow-affiliated Communists joining the American government during World War II, including the OSS (the forerunner of the CIA), and calling for the repression of Trotskyists under the Smith Act. This is not understandable, as they are preoccupied with McCarthyism as repression of free speech and further they seem to identify inconsistently with enemies of the state. James’s tactic was an attempt, to get himself the same public platform before the state as Paul Robeson to speak about democracy in America. Further, the United States government was no less white supremacist, capitalist or imperialist during the Cold War as during World War II. See Paul Buhle, C.L.R. James: The Artist as Revolutionary, 110-114, New York: Verson (1988); Gerald Horne, Communist Front?: The Civil Rights Congress, 63-64, 1946–1956, New Jersey: Farleigh Dickinson University Press (1988), pp. 63–64; Joel Kovel, Red Hunting in the Promised Land: Anti-Communism and the Making of America, New York: Basic Books (1994), p. 224; Joel Kovel, “C.L.R. James: An Episode in Anti-Communism,” undated, unpublished paper, Paul Buhle Papers, Tamiment Archive, Wagner Library, New York University.
  61. [61] C.L.R. James, Letter to George Padmore, June 22, 1953, Richard Wright Papers, Bienecke Archive, Yale University, New Haven, CT.
  62. [62] George Padmore, Letters to Richard Wright, May 24, 1954, and February 5, 1955, Richard Wright Papers, Bienecke Archive.
  63. [63] Dorothy Padmore, Letter to Ellen Wright, April 9, 1957, Richard Wright Papers. Bienecke Archive.
  64. [64] Ibid.
  65. [65] Dorothy Padmore, Letters to Richard and Ellen Wright, November 2, 1953, and July 28, 1959, Richard Wright Papers.
  66. [66] George Padmore, Letter to Richard Wright, October 19, 1955, Richard Wright Papers.
  67. [67] C.L.R. James, “Notes on The Life of George Padmore” (1959), p. 47, unpublished manuscript, Melville Herskovits Africana Library; See Matthew Quest, “C.L.R. James’s Conflicted Intellectual Legacies on Mao Tse Tung’s China,” Insurgent Notes, issue 8 (March 2013).
  68. [68] For a new perspective on the rise and fall of Detroit’s League of Revolutionary Black Workers see Modibo Kadalie’s introduction to the updated edition of Kimathi Mohammed, Organization & Spontaneity. Kadalie, inspired by James, was opposed to the LRBW aspiration to become a vanguard party. Ernie “Mkalimoto” Allen, essentially a Maoist, was not opposed to building a vanguard party. But in internal debate, he used some of James’s direct democratic ideas to argue for more democracy within the LRBW.
  69. [69] Martin Glaberman, Letter to “Dear Nello,” April 3, 1972 (Private: Not Sent), James and Grace Lee Boggs Collection, Walter Reuther Archive, Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan.
  70. [70] Ibid., p. 2.
  71. [71] C.L.R. James, “Walter Rodney and the Question of Power,” in Pierre-Michel Fontaine and Edward A. Alpers, eds., Walter Rodney: Revolutionary and Scholar, Los Angeles: University of California (1982).
  72. [72] See Horace Campbell, “C.L.R. James, Walter Rodney, and the Caribbean Intellectual,” in Selwyn R. Cudjoe and William E. Cain, eds., C.L.R. James: His Intellectual Legacies, Amhert, MA: U. of Massachusetts (1995), pp. 405–434.
  73. [73] Walter Rodney, Walter Rodney Speaks, Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press (1990), pp. 28–29.
  74. [74] Ibid.
  75. [75] Ibid., pp. 30–31.
  76. [76] “C.L.R. James on Walter Rodney,” Race Today 12.4 (November 1980), p. 28.
  77. [77] Norman Girvan, interview with author, summer 2012.
  78. [78] Harry Golbourne, Caribbean Transnational Experience, London: Pluto Press (2002), pp. 140–148.
  79. [79] In 1974 in Atlanta, Georgia, Walter Rodney discussed with Modibo Kadalie and Kimathi Mohammed, author of Organization & Spontaneity. Mohammed’s booklet originally published that same year was a basis of discussion with Rodney, as was Mohammed’s critique of elitist aspects within How Europe Underdeveloped Africa—a challenge Rodney partially conceded. Yet Rodney was unrepentant about the need for a vanguard party to cohere Black freedom struggles. I thank Modibo Kadalie for sharing a copy of this privately held recording.
  80. [80] Walter Rodney, “African History In The Service of Black Liberation,” introduced by David Austin, Small Axe 5.2 (September 2001), pp. 66–80.
  81. [81] “C.L.R. James on Walter Rodney,” Race Today 12.4 (November 1980), p. 28.
  82. [82] Walter Rodney, “The African Revolution,” in Paul Buhle, ed., C.L.R. James: His Life and Work, London: Alison & Busby (1986), pp. 30–48.
  83. [83] Walter Rodney, “The African Revolution,” tape recording of a symposium at University of Michigan Ann Arbor.
  84. [84] Martin Glaberman, ed., Marxism for Our Times: C.L.R. James On Revolutionary Organization, Jackson, MS: UP of Mississippi (1999), p. 78; C.L.R. James, “Black Power,” in The C.L.R. James Reader, p. 363.

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