Cyril Lionel Robert James (4 January 1901-19 May 1989) was a journalist, and a prominent socialist theorist and writer.
Born in Trinidad, he attended the Queen's Royal College on the island before becoming a cricket journalist and also wrote fiction. In 1932, he moved to Nelson in Lancashire, England in the hope of furthering his literary career. There, he worked for the Manchester Guardian and wrote a biography of the cricketer Learie Constantine.
James began to campaign for the independence of the West Indies. He was a leading figure in the International African Service Bureau. He also joined the Independent Labour Party, in which he became convinced by Trotskyism and joined the entrist Marxist League.
In 1933, James moved to London and wrote a play about Toussaint L'Ouverture, which was staged in the West End and starred Paul Robeson. During this period, he wrote what are perhaps his best-known works of non-fiction: World Revolution (1937), a study of the Communist International, and Black Jacobins (1938) about the Haitian revolution.
In 1937, James split from the Marxist League to form the Marxist Group. Unlike the Marxist League, it had an open party orientation. In 1938, this new group took part in several mergers to form the Revolutionary Socialist League. By this point, James had come to the attention of Trotsky who criticised some of the formulations in James book World Revolution but broadly praised the work.
The RSL was a highly factionalised organisation and when James was invited to tour the United States by the leadership of the Socialist Workers' Party, then the US section of the Fourth International, in order to facilitate its work among black workers, he was encouraged to leave by one such factional opponent, John Archer, in the hope of removing a rival.
James moved to the US in late 1938 and after a tour sponsored by the SWP stayed on for over twenty years. But by 1940 he had developed severe doubts about Trotsky's analysis of the Soviet Union as a degenerated workers state and left the SWP along with Max Shachtman, who formed the Workers' Party. Within the WP he formed the Johnson Forest Tendency with Raya Dunayevskaya (his pseudonym being Johnson and Dunayevskaja's Forest), in order to spread their views within the new party.
While within the WP the views of the J-F tendency underwent considerable development and by the end of the Second World War they had defintively rejected Trotsky's theory of Russia as a degenerated workers state, instead analysing it as being state capitalist. They were increasingly looking towards the autonomous movements of oppressed minorities, a theoretical development already visible in James' thought in his discussions with Leon Trotsky which took place in 1939. An interest in such autonomous struggles came to take centre stage for the tendency.
After 1945 the WP saw the prospects for a revolutionary upsurge as receding. The J-F Tendency, by contrast, were more enthused by prospects for mass struggles and came to the conclusion that the SWP, which they considered more proletarian than the WP, thought similarly to themselves about such prospects. Therefore, after a short few months as an independent group when they published a great deal of material for a small group, the J-F tendency joined the SWP in 1947.
James came to describe himself as a Leninist and argue for socialists to support the emerging black nationalist movements. By 1949, he came to reject the idea of a vanguard party. This led his tendency to leave the Trotskyist movement and rename itself the Correspondence Publishing Committee.
In 1952, James was deported from the US to England for having overstayed his visa by over ten years. In 1958, he returned to Trinidad, where he edited The Nation newspaper for the pro-independence People's National Movement (PNM) party. He also became involved in the Pan-African movement, believing that the Ghana revolution showed that Africa was the most important inspiration for international revolutionaries.
James also advocated West Indian Federation, and it was over this that he fell out with the PNM leadership. He returned to Britain, then to the US in 1968, where he taught at the University of the District of Columbia. Ultimately, he returned to Britain and spent his last years in Brixton, London.
The Life of Captain Cipriani: An Account of the British Government in the West Indies (1932)
Minty Alley (1936)
World Revolution 1917-1936: The Rise and Fall of the Communist International (1937)
The Black Jacobins: Touissant L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution (1938)
Notes on Dialectics: Hegel, Marx and Lenin (1948)
State Capitalism and World Revolution (1950)
Mariners, Renegades and Castaways: The Story of Herman Melville and the World We Live In (1952)
Facing Reality (1958)
Modern Politics (1960)
Party Politics in the West Indies (1962)
Beyond a Boundary (1963)
Kwame Nkrumah and the Ghana Revolution (1977)
Cricket (selected writings) (1986)