Monday, 27 June 2022

On C.L.James

I am working on a review of C.L.R James' A Life Beyond The Boundaries by John. .L. Williams. James was an extraordinary individual whose books and essays are well worth reading. Present at the founding of the Fourth International and met with Leon Trotsky and formulated some interesting work on the Negro question. From a political standpoint, James was finished as a Trotskyist in the early 1940s when he agreed with the Shachtmanite opposition repudiation of Leon Trotsky's definition of the Soviet Union as a degenerated workers' state and of its bureaucracy as a caste and not a social class.

C.L.R James(Johnson) went to form (Johnson-Forrest tendency) alongside Raya Dunayevskaya (Forrest). This tendency put the Soviet Union as a new form of "state capitalism" with imperialist tendencies.

James completed his break with Trotskyism by stating, "Orthodox Trotskyism can find no objective necessity for an imperialist war between Stalinist Russia and American imperialism. It is the only political tendency in the world which cannot recognize that the conflict is a struggle between two powers for world mastery." [1]

Although C.L.R. James (Johnson) broke with the Shachtmanites to join the SWP, both James and Dunayevskaya left the SWP over its position on the Korean War. The war exposed the bankruptcy of James's position and that of other State Capitalists, which exposed them as apologists for imperialism within the workers' movement. While my review concentrates on this period, James's break from Marxism should not put off readers from looking at some of his other work. Books like the Black Jacobin and Beyond the Boundary are well worth reading, and his work on the English Revolution published today is well worth a look.

[1] [State Capitalism and World Revolution, 1950]