C. L. R. James

Trinidadian historian, journalist and Marxist

Cyril Lionel Robert James (4 January 1901 – 19 May 1989) was a Trinidadian-born anti-colonial Marxist activist and writer.

The cruelties of property and privilege are always more ferocious than the revenges of poverty and oppression. For the one aims at perpetuating resented injustice, the other is merely a momentary passion soon appeased.

Quotes edit

State Capitalism and World Revolution (1950) edit

State Capitalism and World Revolution (1950), Marxists Internet Archive.
  • All previous distinctions, politics and economics, war and peace, agitation and propaganda, party and mass, the individual and society, national, civil and imperialist war, single country and one world, immediate needs and ultimate solutions – all these it is impossible to keep separate any longer. Total planning is inseparable from permanent crisis, the world struggle for the minds of men from the world tendency to the complete mechanization of men. State-capitalism is in itself the total contradiction, absolute antagonism. In it are concentrated all the contradictions of revolution and counter-revolution. The proletariat, never so revolutionary as it is today, is over half the world in the stranglehold of Stalinism, the form of the counter-revolution in our day, the absolute opposite of the proletarian revolution. It is the totality of these contradictions that today compels philosophy, a total conception. Hence the propaganda ministry of Hitler, the omnipresent orthodoxy of Stalinism, the Voice of America. The war over productivity is fought in terms of philosophy, a way of life. When men question not the fruits of toil but the toil itself, then philosophy in Marx’s sense of human activity has become actual.
  • The crisis of production today is the crisis of the antagonism between manual and intellectual labor. The problem of modern philosophy from Descartes in the sixteenth century to Stalinism in 1950 is the problem of the division of labor between the intellectuals and the workers.
  • Rationalism is the philosophy of bourgeois political economy. It is materialist and not idealist in so far as it combats superstition, seeks to expand the productive forces and increase the sum total of goods. But there is no such thing as a classless materialism. Rationalism conceives this expansion as a division of labor between the passive masses and the active elite. Thereby it reinstates idealism. Because it does not and cannot doubt that harmonious progress is inevitable by this path, the essence of rationalism is uncritical or vulgar materialism, and uncritical or vulgar idealism. In the springtime of capitalism this rationalistic division of labor was the basis of a common attempt of individual men associated in a natural environment to achieve control over nature. Today this division of labor is the control in social production of the administrative elite over the masses. Rationalism has reached its end in the complete divorce and absolute disharmony between manual and intellectual labor, between the socialized proletariat and the monster of centralized capital. The specific political ideology developed by rationalism was democracy – equality of opportunity for all men to rise to the top, and hence equality in all spheres outside of production, before the law, at the polls and in the market.
  • Today, from end to end of the world, men know that democracy is bankrupt. What is to take its place they do not know. The alternative seems to be planned economy and one-party state. This is the philosophical question. But the philosophy of planned economy and one-party state is distinguishable from that of the bourgeoisie only by its more complete rationalism. The labor bureaucracy in power or out of it sees the solution to the crisis of production in scientific progress, greater output. It consciously seeks to plan and organize the division of labor as the means to further accumulation of capital. In ideology it is ready to expropriate those representatives of private property who stand in the way of this complete rationalization. But didn’t this bureaucracy develop out of the working class? It did and it could only have developed out of the working class. It is a product of the modern mass movement, created by the centralization of capital, and holds its position only because of this movement. At the same time it cannot conceive the necessity for abolishing the division of labor in production, the only solution to the crisis in production. By a remorseless logic, therefore, representation of the proletariat turns into its opposite, administration over the proletariat. The end of bourgeois rationalism is this crisis of the revolution and counter-revolution in production.
  • So that in the end, the greatest of all the bourgeois philosophers, the most encyclopedic mind that Europe had produced, the founder of the dialectic, in Engels’ words, the maker of an epoch, could not transcend his historic barrier and was recaptured in the rationalist trap from which he had sought so profoundly to extricate European thought. Hegel destroyed all dogmatisms but one – the dogmatism of the backwardness of the masses. Once the revolutionary solution of the contradiction escaped him, he clung to the bureaucracy. The intellectual elite would rescue society and discipline the revolting masses. Reinstated were uncritical materialism, a purely material existence for the masses, and uncritical idealism, the solution of social crisis by the intellectual bureaucracy. We today who have seen Stalinism and the labor bureaucracy the world over can first fully comprehend this, Marx’s essential critique of Hegel. Only the revolutionary proletariat, said Marx, can appropriate the dialectical logic of Hegel. Hegel himself, because he held fast to the intellectual elite, ended up, despite his thoroughgoing analysis of contradiction and negativity, in the crass materialism and crass idealism of the state bureaucracy.
  • The philosophy of Stalinism is the philosophy of the elite, the bureaucracy, the organizers, the leaders, clothed in Marxist terminology. It is the extreme, the historical limit of the rationalism of the bourgeoisie, carefully organized to look like a new revolutionary doctrine. Stalinism, the ideology of state-capitalism, is the reinstatement of uncritical materialism and uncritical idealism. The materialism is in the accumulation theory: the kernel of all Stalinist-Titoist philosophy is that the worker must work harder than he ever did before. The idealism is in the theory of the party: the leaders, the elite, must lead as they never did before. No one is more conscious of this than the Stalinist bureaucracy itself. At the center of all ideological campaigns in Stalinist Russia is the attitude of the workers toward their work.
  • For the Stalinist bureaucracy, state-property converts labor "from the drab burden it was under capitalism into a matter of honor and glory, a matter of prowess and heroism.” The intelligentsia tells the workers: You work. The workers, on the other hand, continue to resist speed up and the discipline of accumulated capital, statified or otherwise. This is called by the Stalinists "the old outlook on labor,” a "capitalist survival in the popular consciousness.” This is no longer a question of Soviet youth and textbooks in political economy. It is now the workers counterposing to the bureaucracy another "ideology” which the Stalinists admit "may spread to alarming dimensions."
  • On the surface it appeared that the Stalinist intervention was to defend the materialism of Marx against the idealism of Hegel. In reality the theoretical threat came from the revolutionary dialectical logic. In political economy the Stalinists seek to defend the classless nature of state-property and planning. The theoretical enemy is the theory of state-capitalism. In philosophy they seek to propagate the fiction of the classless nature of rationalism and materialism. The enemy is the proletariat resisting labor discipline by the bureaucracy. Again and again Zhdanov attacked Alexandrov for "objectivism.” The Stalinists are terrified by the obviously growing conviction that there is in Stalinist Russia an "objective” basis for the "struggle of opposites, the struggle between the old and the new, between the dying and the rising, between the decaying and the developing.” Such an objective basis could only be the class struggle. Hence they must purge Marxism of the Hegelian concept of the objectivity of contradiction.
  • The steps of Hegel’s decline are here undeviatingly retraced. Hegel, who did not know the socialized proletariat, began by regarding all history as the history of the philosopher, of consciousness and self-consciousness, and ended with the state bureaucracy. The Stalinists use almost the identical phrases. The proletariat’s role in the struggle for socialism is to work harder and harder, while the leadership and organization are left to the "criticism and self-criticism” of the elite, the bureaucracy, the party. Everything depends on the party, on the bureaucracy’s consciousness and self-consciousness of correctness and incorrectness, its direction, its control, its foresight. The masses are merely at the disposal of the party as they are at the disposal of capital. This is the Stalinist philosophy in every sphere, political economy, politics, history, education, literature, art.
  • To believe that this vigorous offensive in every sphere is a question of nationalism is a mistake as crippling as the belief that Stalinism betrays the revolution by social-patriotic support of the national state. In every country the Stalinists represent bureaucratic manipulation of the proletariat by the elite, the bureaucracy, the party. They are the extreme limit of the rationalism of the bourgeoisie, uncritical materialism and uncritical idealism. Never before has so gigantic a state mobilized itself with such murderous vigilance to keep the proletariat at work while the leaders and organizers plan. This is the most deadly enemy the proletariat has ever had. Rationalism and counter-revolution have become one.
  • Since the end of World War II, and particularly with the philosophic systematization of the new idealism in 1947, the ideological mobilization of the bureaucracy has been total. The Stalinist bureaucracy unambiguously proclaims the one-party State of the Plan as the vital foundation of the Soviet system. To believe that this vigorous offensive in every sphere is a question of nationalism is a mistake as crippling as the belief that Stalinism betrays the revolution by social-patriotic support of the national state. In every country the Stalinists represent bureaucratic manipulation of the proletariat by the elite, the bureaucracy, the party. They are the extreme limit of the rationalism of the bourgeoisie, uncritical materialism and uncritical idealism. Never before has so gigantic a state mobilized itself with such murderous vigilance to keep the proletariat at work while the leaders and organizers plan. This is the most deadly enemy the proletariat has ever had. Rationalism and counter-revolution have become one.
  • The totality of the crisis has given manifold forms to the counter-revolution. The most deadly, the most insidious, the most dangerous is the Stalinist counter-revolution because it springs from the proletariat and cloaks itself in Marxist terminology.
  • The rationalism of the bourgeoisie has ended in the Stalinist one-party bureaucratic-administrative state of the Plan. In their repulsion from this rationalism and from the proletarian revolution, the middle classes fall back upon the barbarism of Fascism. The anti-Stalinist, anti-capitalist petty-bourgeois intellectuals, themselves the victims of the absolute division between mental and physical labor, do not know where to go or what to do. Unable to base themselves completely upon the modern proletariat, they turn inward, pursuing a self-destructive, soul-searching analysis of their own isolation, alienation and indecision. They too appropriate the Hegelian dialectic, interpreting it as an unceasing conflict in the individual between affirmation and negation, between deciding for and deciding against.
  • There is no longer any purely philosophical answer to all this. These philosophical questions, and very profound they are, Marxism says can be solved only by the revolutionary action of the proletariat and the masses. There is and can be no other answer. As we have said, we do not propose to do right what the Stalinists have failed to do or do wrong.
  • In France, philosophers, historians, scientists, and writers are active protagonists in heated debates over humanism (is it the total rationalism of Stalinism, or Christian Humanism, or Existentialism?); which of the three is the heir to Hegel? Often intellectuals turn toward Marx and Lenin and Hegel. They meet Stalinism which spends incredible time, care, energy and vigilance in holding Marx and Lenin within the bounds of their private-property state-property philosophy. The Stalinists repeat interminably that dialectics is the transformation of quantity into quality, leaps, breaks in continuity, opposition of capitalism and socialism. It is part and parcel of their determination to represent state-property as revolutionary. In 1917, when the struggle in the working class movement was between reform and revolution, these conceptions may have been debatable. Today all arguments fade into insignificance in face of the actuality. The critical question today, which the Stalinists must avoid like the revolution, is how was the October Revolution transformed into its opposite, the Stalinist counter-revolution, and how is this counter-revolution in turn to be transformed into its opposite. This is the dialectical law which Lenin mastered between 1914 and 1917, the negation of the negation, the self-mobilization of the proletariat as the economics and politics of socialism. The Stalinist bureaucracy is determined that not a hint of the revolutionary doctrines of Hegel, Marx, Lenin should ever go out without its imprint, its interpretation. The social cooperativeness and unity of modern labor does not allow it any laxity from its cruel and merciless state-capitalist need to make the workers work harder and harder. No hint of the revolutionary struggle against bureaucracy must come to workers or to questing intellectuals. Yet every strand of Marx’s and Lenin’s methodology, philosophy, political economy, lead today directly to the destruction of bureaucracy as such.
  • Some petty-bourgeois professors and students, theoretically, in history, philosophy and literature, are struggling through to a Marxist solution. The proletariat constantly tries to create itself as the state, i.e., no state at all. But Stalinism is the deadly enemy of both. It is the armed conscious active counter-revolution.
  • The proletariat, like every organism, must from itself and its conditions develop its own antagonisms and its own means of overcoming them. Stalinism is the decay of world capitalism, a state-capitalism within the proletariat itself and is in essence no more than an expression within the proletariat of the violent and insoluble tensions of capitalism at the stage of state-capitalism. One of the most urgent tasks is to trace the evolution of the counter-revolution within the revolution, from liberalism through anarchism, Social-Democracy, Noske, counter-revolutionary Menshevism, to Stalinism, its economic and social roots at each stage, its political manifestations, its contradictions and antagonisms. Unless Stalinism is attacked as the most potent mode of the counter-revolution, the counter­revolution of our epoch, it cannot be seriously attacked. But once this conception is grasped in all its implications, philosophical and methodological, then Stalinism and its methods, its principles, its aims, can be dealt a series of expanding blows against which it has no defense except slander and assassination. Our document gives only a faint outline of the tremendous scope of the revolutionary attack on Stalinism which the theory of state-capitalism opens up. It is the very nature of our age which brings philosophy from Lenin’s study in 1914 to the very forefront of the struggle for the remaking of the world.
  • In 1950 the universal is as far beyond 1917 as 1917 was beyond the Paris Commune. A serious analysis of Stalinism will show that it is precisely the advanced objective relations of society which compel the counter­revolution to assume this form and dress itself in Marxism, fake action committees and all. We have to draw a new universal, more concrete and embracing more creative freedom of the masses than even State and Revolution.

The Black Jacobins (1938) edit

Page numbers refer to Second Edition from Vintage Books (1963)
  • Christopher Columbus landed first in the New World at the island of San Salvador, and after praising God enquired urgently for gold.
    • p. 3.
  • There are and always will be some who, ashamed of the behavior of their ancestors, try to prove that slavery wasn't so bad after all, that its evils and its cruelty were the exaggerations of propagandists and not the habitual lot of the slaves. Men will say (and accept) anything in order to foster national pride or soothe a troubled conscience.
    • p. 13.
  • The rich are only defeated when running for their lives.
    • p. 77.
  • From their French masters, [the slaves] had known rape, torture, degradation, and, at the slightest provocation, death. They returned in kind. For two centuries the higher civilization had shown them that power was used for wreaking your will on those whom you controlled. Now that they held power they did as they had been taught.
    • p. 88.
  • The cruelties of property and privilege are always more ferocious than the revenges of poverty and oppression. For the one aims at perpetuating resented injustice, the other is merely a momentary passion soon appeased.
    • pp. 88-89.
  • Compared with what their masters had done to them in cold blood, what [the slaves] did was negligible, and they were spurred on by the ferocity with which the whites in Le Cap treated all slave prisoners who fell into their hands.
    • p. 89
  • The race question is subsidiary to the class question in politics, and to think of imperialism in terms of race is disastrous. But to neglect the racial factor as merely incidental is an error only less grave than to make it fundamental.
    • p. 283.
  • If you are not their slaves, you are rebels.
    • James is quoting Toussaint Louverture's speech to his troops--most of whom, like Toussaint himself, were former slaves. The "their" refers to the French imperialists, p. 307
  • Dissimulation is the refuge of the slave.
    • p. 334

Beyond a Boundary (1963) edit

Page numbers from Duke University Press reprint, 2013
  • It seemed like a classic ploy by the conquerors: games, particularly so restrained and ritualistic a game as cricket, could be imposed upon the colonies to tame them, to herd them into the psychic boundaries where they would learn the values and ethics of the colonist. But once given the opportunity to play the master's game, to excel at it, the colonials gained a self-esteem that would eventually free them.
    • Introduction by Robert Lipsyte (p. XIX)
  • That James could not accept automatically that these athletes were the greedy spawn of an exploitative system is the positive proof of his own liberation and oppression through sports. He was ennobled and crippled by cricket; he reached beyond his boundary but would always have a blind spot.
    • Introduction by Robert Lipsyte (p. XX)
  • Respectability was not an ideal, it was an armour.
    • p. 8
  • Before very long I acquired a discipline for which the only name is Puritan. I never cheated, I never appealed for a decision unless I thought the batsman was out.
    • p. 26
  • These are no random reminiscences. ... The Negroid population of the West Indies is composed of a large percentage of actually black people. ... Then there are the browns, intermediates, who cannot by any stretch of imagination pass as white, but who will not go one inch towards mixing with people darker than themselves.
    • p. 51
  • The people most affected by this are people of the middle class who, lacking the hard contact with realities of the masses and unable to attain to the freedoms of a leisured class, are more than all types of people given to trivial divisions and subdivisions of social rank and precedence.
    • p. 52
  • So it was that I became one of those dark men whose 'surest sign of ... having arrived is the fact that he keeps company with people lighter in complexion than himself'.
    • p. 53
  • Here, on the cricket field if nowhere else, all men in the island are equal, and we are the best men in the island.
    • p. 55
  • I do not want to get liberated from them [memories of racialism]. I would consider liberation from them a grievous loss, irreparable.
    • p. 59
  • Trotsky had said that the workers were deflected from politics by sports. With my past I simply could not accept that. I was British and the history of those decades in Britain was very familiar to me, both the politics and the sport. The organisational drive for sport had come from Britain.
    • p. 153
  • I could, of course, wait for the Conservative Party or the Labour Party to organise a sample poll. A poll on art. A sample poll! A sample poll can investigate only what the pollsters know, and it cannot do even that properly.
    • p. 153-154
  • The first recorded date in European history is 776 B.C., the date of the first Olympic Games.
    • p. 154
  • The Greeks believed that an athlete who had represented his community at a national competition, and won, had thereby conferred a notable distinction on his city. His victory was a testament to the quality of the citizens. All the magnates of the city welcomed him home in civic procession. They broke down a part of the wall for him to enter: a city which could produce such citizens had no need of walls to defend it. For the rest of his life he ate at the public expense.
    • p. 156
  • Dickens saw Victorian England always with the eyres of a pre-Victorian. His ideal England was the England of Hazlitt and of Pickwick.
    • p. 161
  • Cricket is an art, not a bastard or a poor relation, but a full member of the community. (...) Cricket is first and foremost a dramatic spectacle. It belong with the theatre, ballet, opera and dance.
    • p. 196
  • It is an historical commonplace that social explosions take place when most of the fundamental causes of dissatisfaction have been removed and only a few remain. This is the result of a feeling of power.
    • p. 229
  • When I confessed I was angry, even sympathizers balked at this.According to the code, anger should not intrude into cricket. I understood them well, I had been as foolish in my time. According to the colonial version of the code, you were to show yourself a 'true sport' by not making a fuss about the most barefaced discrimination because it was't cricket. Not me any longer. To that I had said, was saying, my final good-bye.
    • p. 241
  • There can be raw pain and bleeding where so many thousands see the inevitable ups and downs of only a game.
  • Cricket is first and foremost a dramatic spectacle. It belongs with theatre, ballet, opera and the dance.

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