Textbook: None. Selected writings found online will constitute the textbook.
Read the following information on CLR James. Relate the information to the following questions to the best of your ability.
(1) CLR James' brilliance enabled him to absorb a great deal of European society and values. Was this good or bad for CLR? Was it good or bad for the other Trinidadians who were able to do the same?
(2) Even though one of the educated, why do you think CLR James was so attracted to the everyday people?
(3) What is The Black Jacobins? What important points did James make in that work?
(4) Why was CLR James forced to leave Trinidad by Trinidad's leader? What potential did CLR see in the decolonization of the West Indies?
(5) What did CLR James do while he was in the United States? What was the response of the United States government to him?
CLR James was a brilliant young boy
growing up in Trinidad, so brilliant that he was able to absorb
everything about European society from afar. But CLR James was
also an independent thinker. His insistence on remaining an independent
thinker enabled him to fight the influence that the white, bourgeois
European construct held over him, a Black victim of colonization.
At the time CLR was growing up, the colonies in the Caribbean were cheap social imitations of the country in Europe that had colonized them. The people of Trinidad were overwhelmingly nonwhite, but every important element of Trinidadian society and government was white to the core. This became crystal clear to CLR as he attended and later taught at Queens Royal College in Trinidad. He observed that Trinidadian history and people were not discussed in the schools. Trini education projected Britain as the source of everything that mattered, and the role of Trinidadians was to admire, imitate and aspire to the British ideal. CLR knew it was impossible for Trinis to attain that ideal, and later wrote about the limitations this paradox placed on the Trinidadian people.
James recognized that a separation existed between the educated colonized and the uneducated colonized. Because he had absorbed European society so completely, he was tied to the educated, but because he maintained his ability to think independently, he was able to recognize and appreciate the genius and vitality of everyday people. He objectively assessed those Blacks who were educated, and admitted to their mediocrity, particularly those who held positions of power and wealth in colonial society.
James left Trinidad in 1932. He sailed
to England, intent on becoming a novelist. Instead, he studied
the works of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels and V. I. Lenin, and
became a leading figure in the Trotskyite Movement. However, by
considering the Black question, James identified serious problems
with Trotsky's ideas and left the Trotskyist movement. James began
to pay more attention to Africa, and advocated that Black and
colonial peoples were to be a decisive force in the shaping of
George Padmore, another West Indian, founded the International African Service Bureau and James acted as his associate. As such, James edited the organization's newspaper, the International African Opinion, and focussed more on Africa than ever. James acknowledged the importance of Africans and people of African descent in the struggle for freedom. In 1936 James formed the Socialist League and devoted himself to helping African nations prepare for revolution. 38 years later, in 1974, he still pushing that pursuit and was one of the major leaders of the Sixth Pan-African Congress.
The success of the San Domingo Revolution, of untrained Black slaves against white European masters and armies, fascinated James. In his masterful book, The Black Jacobins, James focussed on the central role of the Black masses, and expressed doubt about the elitist European assumption that world revolution would begin in Europe. Additionally, James questioned the role of a vanguard, so much the center of discussion among European intellectuals, since no such vanguard existed in San Domingo (Haiti).
In 1938 James came to the United States. He stressed the need for Blacks to create a brand of Marxism particularly tailored to their needs, and wrote frequently on the race question. As a result of his activities, James was interned on Ellis Island and deported as undesirable.
In 1938 James came to the United States.
He stressed the need for Blacks to create a brand of Marxism particularly
tailored to their needs, and wrote frequently on the race question.
As a result of his activities, James was interned on Ellis Island
and deported as undesirable.
In 1958, CLR returned to Trinidad. He became a leader in the People's National Movement (PNM), but Trinidad's leader, who once considered James an ally, asked James to leave the country because James called for a West Indian Federation and continually raised the question of democracy. James saw the West Indian people as being at the forefront of a move to form a new society. He thought independence offered colonial peoples a unique opportunity to chart their own future. Small minds, as those in Trinidad's leadership, would frustrate that opportunity if allowed to do so.
CLR James was socialized into being a European intellectual, but his independent thinking and philosophical instincts were those of a Black person who fought against injustice and inequality. CLR recognized that there was no conflict between socialism and democracy, and his solution to inequality was to call for the abolition of the state, abolition of the army, abolition of the police, free education for everyone and enfranchisement of everyone. Because of his recognition of the humanity of common people, his persistent struggle for justice and equality, and his refusal to allow anyone to convince him that he should not think independently, CLR James is a Profile In Black.