Revolutionaries, Artists
and Wicket- Keepers”
C. L. R. James’s Place in History
What is now happening to Marx’s doctrine has occurred time after time in history
to the doctrine of revolutionary thinkers and leaders of oppressed classes strug-
gling for liberation. . . . Attempts are made after their death to convert them into
harmless icons, to canonize them, so to speak, and to confer a certain prestige on
their names so as to “console” the oppressed classes by emasculating the essence
of the revolutionary teaching, blunting its revolutionary edge and vulgarizing it.
—Vladimir I. Lenin, The State and Revolution (1918)
Idiots and bourgeois scoundrels always emphasise Trotsky’s personal brilliance
whereby they seek to disparage Trotsky’s method. The two are inseparable. His
natural gifts were trained and developed by Marxism and he could probe these
depths of understanding and ascend to these peaks of foresight because he based
himself on the Marxian theory of the class struggle and the revolutionary and pre-
dominant role of the proletariat in the crisis of bourgeois society.
—C. L. R. James, “Trotsky’s Place in History” (1940)
“One of the abiding ironies of Cyril Lionel Robert James’s intellectual
career,” Grant Farred noted in 1996, is that “since his death in London in
1989, and for perhaps half a decade before that, the Caribbean thinker has
already been able to secure a status denied to him during most of his life.”1
One might wonder just how much of an “abiding irony” it is for a revolu-
tionary socialist, who felt toward the end of his life that one of his “great-
est contributions” had been “to clarify and extend the heritage of Marx
and Lenin,” not to have secured more of a status in late capitalist society.2
Nevertheless, the belated “discovery” of C. L. R. James since the 1980s has
been quite remarkable. Every year it seems a new biography or collection
of his writings or speeches adds to what we already know, and as Farred
Previous Page Next Page