“To Exploit a Larger World to Conquer”
C. L. R. James’s Intellectual Conquest
of Imperial Britain
On November 30, 1938, C. L. R. James addressed a packed rally of the
American Socialist Workers’ Party in Irving Plaza, New York City, as part
of his lecture tour of the United States. James’s speech, entitled “Twilight of
the British Empire,” gives us a glimpse of his revolutionary outlook:
The British Empire with its 500 million colonial slaves and compara-
tively small white population is in mortal crisis. The movement for in-
dependence in India, the revolution that is surging in the Arab countries
and has continued for two years with undiminished vigour in Palestine,
the sullen hostility of the African masses, the movement for genuine
independence in Egypt, the troubles in the West Indies, all those are
symptoms of the increasing unrest which is certain to tear the Empire to
pieces under the strain of a world war. . . . The idea that anyone who sup-
ports Britain in a war would be supporting democracy, is either crimi-
nal hypocrisy or equally criminal stupidity. The British Empire is the
greatest instrument of tyranny and oppression known to History, and
its overthrow would be a great step forward in human progress. Side by
side with the struggle for colonial independence must go the struggle
for socialism in Britain. The British labour movement must awaken to
reality. Either socialism, with material progress, peace, and fraternal
relations between peoples, or empire- increasing racial hatred and im-
perialist wars.1
One of those fortunate to hear James speak after his arrival in America was
Martin Glaberman, who remembered thinking he was in the presence of
“one of the great orators of the twentieth century.” Glaberman recalled, “I
was entranced by this tall (six foot, four inch) dark man who kept an audi-
ence in his grasp for three hours speaking about the British Empire, strid-
Previous Page Next Page