C. L. R. James On The ‘Negro Question’

Edited by Scott McLemee. Published by the University Press of Mississippi 1996

From the Preface: “Between The Black Jacobins (1938) and Beyond a Boundary (1963), a shadow falls. These books have been established—through an informal yet powerful consensus—as the landmark works of C. L R. James’ career. The Black Jacobins recounts “the only successful slave revolt in history,” the San Domingo uprising. Beyond a Boundary almost defies categorization: it is an autobiographical, sociological, and historical meditation on the fine art of cricket, particularly as that game is played in the West Indies. (It is a book about cricket in much the same way Moby Dick is “about” deep-sea fishing.) These are luminous books, artful works of narrative prose, from the pen of an author unusually sensitive to the interaction between historical processes and the historian’s craft. Had C. L R. James written nothing else, these pioneering studies Of African-diasporic political and cultural analysis would secure his reputation.

“…among James’s interim writings there are a number of documents which, once rescued from oblivion, still seem interesting and alive. Such is the ease, I think, with the texts collected here: fragments of his effort to work out a Marxist analysis of African-American life.

“Published between 1939 and 1950, at the height of James’s involvement in the Trotskyist movement, they form a distinct set of writings within the much larger body of his work. The earliest text included here, “Preliminary Notes on the Negro Question,” was prepared for Trotsky himself, while the latest pieces were composed as James was writing American Civilization and State Capitalism and World Revolution, the two works through which, in 1950, he broke entirely with the Russian’s ideas.”