19 October 2010

C L R James

African Revolutionary Writers, Part 8

C L R James, 1901-1989

This section of our African Revolutionary Writers series is collected under the heading, “African Classicism”. These are African and Diaspora writers who have carried forward the mainstream of political theory at the top level.

Apart from C L R James, we have Martin Luther King and Angela Davis, and before the next time around with this course we would hope to have added some of Henry Winston’s, and some of Ruth First’s work.

C L R James was the author of “The Black Jacobins”, about the revolution, commencing in 1791, that created the world’s first independent black republic, in Haiti. James also wrote about cricket, and the social consequences of cricket. He was certainly a writer, and a revolutionary writer. He was also often in his long life a political actor, among others with George Padmore in the 1930s in London, then with the Socialist Workers’ Party in the USA from 1938 to 1953, and then back in London and his native Trinidad, West Indies. James died a famous and a well-respected man, though he had annoyed plenty of people along the way.

The linked downloadable text given below is from C L R James’s 1948 work on G W F Hegel called “Notes on Dialectics”.

James says in the second paragraph of this text that “The larger Logic is the most difficult book I know”. 

Lenin wrote that “It is impossible completely to understand Marx's Capital, and especially its first chapter, without having thoroughly studied and understood the whole of Hegel's Logic. Consequently, half a century later none of the Marxists understood Marx!!”

Fro most of us this is likely to be the last great frontier of Marxist study: Marx’s own master, Hegel. How well did James do with it? Raya Dunayevskaya, the former secretary to Leon Trotsky, writing in 1972 when James was still very much alive, did not think much of his work on Hegel. She accused him of “skipping”.

But for us, as absolute beginners, James is a great help with Hegel, and gives us just what we need. He gives us a way in (and so does Andy Blunden with his “Hegel by Hypertext”). He even gives an adequate answer to Dunayevskaya in this very text we are using today: “I am not giving a summary of the Logic. I am not expanding it as a doctrine. I am using it and showing how to begin to know it and use it.”

This is a good enough description of political education for most purposes.

Now, what does it mean to say “African Classicism”? What does it mean to say “African Revolutionary Writers” and to concentrate mainly on the black African ones among them, as we have done so far?

The point being made here is that African revolutionary theory and practice cannot be separated from the world’s general revolutionary history, neither chronologically, nor geographically, nor in relative sophistication. Nor can it be said that one is derivative of the other. It is precisely when the African revolutionary heritage is looked at, that this inseparability becomes apparent.

Please download and read the text via this link:

Further reading:


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