Available at the following locations: Bookstop 6406 N. 1-35 Austin Crossroads Market 3930 Cedar Springs Dallas FW Books and Video 400 Main, at Sundance Square Fort Worth Bookstop 2922 S. Shepherd Houston Guy’s News Stand 3700 Main Street Houston College News 1101 University Lubbock Daily News & Tobacco 309-A Andrews Highway Midland Sun Harvest No.2 4904 Fredericksburg Road San Antonio Student Center Midwestern State University 3400 Taft Boulevard Wichita Falls b T 0 HE TEXAS server culture and history of the region, painting a vivid picture of the turn-of-the-century Caribbean. Out of this backdrop, the figure of young C.L.R. James emerges. His father was a teacher and his mother a voracious reader. At an early age James discovered Vanity Fair, rereading it constantly up to the age of 14; he often said that Thackeray rather than Marx made him a radical. In school, he studied classical Greek and Roman literature, particularly the masterpieces of oratory; in the school library, he devoured Romantic poetry and the prose of Victorian novelists and essayists. Yet despite his precocity, James grew up without a sense of alienation and selfconsciousness. He enjoyed cricket as a player as well as a spectator, and was enthusiastic about calypso and the traditions of carnival. By the time he left Trinidad for England in 1932, James had become an active participant in Caribbean politics and culture, joining or helping to form various radical-nationalist groups and artistic associations. He edited and contributed to their periodicals, and wrote a number of short stories and the semi-autobiographical novel, Minty Alley, which marked the beginnings of modernist Caribbean literature. Settled in London, James supported himself by covering cricket for the Manchester Guardian. Someone gave him a copy of Leon Trotsky’s monumental History of the Russian Revolution, and in short order he had read everything available by Marx and Lenin, and thoroughly familiarized himself with the dispute between Stalin and Trotsky. His skills as a writer and orator soon put him in a leading position within Trotsky’s British following. He also met with a number of African students in Britain, with whom he founded the first panAfricanist group, the International African Service Bureau, in 1937. In addition to writing The Black Jacobins, James compiled A History of the Negro Revolt, translated Boris Souvarine’s biography of Stalin from the French, and produced a scathing historical account of the Communist International’s policies under Stalin. On a U.S. lecture tour in 1938, James found that American Trotskyists had paid little attention to African-American issues. To remedy this, James arranged a meeting with Trotsky, then in exile in Mexico, to work out a policy and course of action. The transcripts of this meeting show that James was hardly a fawning disciple. It is Trotsky who concurs with James more often than not. Within a year of this meeting, James and Trotsky parted ways in the last major dispute of the old Russian revolutionary’s life. Trotsky held that the Soviet Union should still be defended politically, albeit critically, despite the recent purges and other disasters of Stalin’s rule. James was among those in Trotsky’s American following who held that a new ruling class had emerged and the Soviet Union had become exploitative and reactionary. AMES spent most of his 15 years in the United States developing the political consequences of his theory that the Soviet Union was “state capitalist.” The two chapters in which Buhle surveys James’s work during this period are, it seems to me, the crucial portion of this biography. It was certainly a difficult period to research: “Writing under a half-dozen pseudonyms, living the somewhat shadowy life of the small Marxist group leader, he firmly abandoned the semi-celebrity status he had achieved in Britain as a cricket journalist and prominent Trotskyist spokes man . . . No part of his biography has remained so obscure.” Yet this was also one of his most creative periods. James wrote political essays which anticipated much of what the New Left later took up under the name of “participatory democracy.” He studied Hegel and produced a brilliant, if somewhat bizarre, analysis of the philosopher’s Science of Logic. He drafted a book, provisionally called “Notes on American Civilization,” which included a remarkable effort to treat popular culture \(detective fiction, comic condescension. Out of this manuscript came a much shorter book on Herman Melville, interpreting Moby Dick as a prophetic allegory of twentieth century totalitarianism. By the time the totalitarians did finally get to James expelling him in 1953, at the height of McCarthyism he clearly thought of the United States as home. Buhle does a good job covering the development of James’s thinking during this period in the United States. And yet there is something missing in these chapters. James’s life in the United States was filled with complex love affairs and inner turmoil, as well as intensive study and writing. But while James the theorist and writer is well represented, in concise and instructive paraphrases of his American-period writings, very little of James the man comes through. He seems to disappear entirely into the shadows, or behind accounts of his books and efforts to build a revolutionary party. In later life, James abandoned his activity as Marxist organization man. He became something of an elder statesman without a state an educator and a living link with the past for younger radicals. A chapter on James as “Pan African Eminence Grise” covers his role in the 50’s and 60’s as an advisor to various Third World revolutionaries and as an activist in Caribbean politics. The book’s conclusion shows James the octogenarian in his apartment in Brixton, England, surrounded by much younger black activists who looked after him. Buhle presents his picture of James in his last years in an account of a personal visit. Something of the old revolutionary optimism is gone. Like his friend, E.P. Thompson, James began to suspect that modern civilization, with its nuclear weapons and ecocide, might have outlived its potential for hopeful change. Yet to the end, James continued “to recognize in age-old resentments against privilege of every kind a glimmer of universality awaiting escape from confinement. ” Throughout the book, Buhle’s thesis is that James was chiefly a literary artist who became a revolutionary. More specifically, he argues that James’s aesthetics and his politics alike embody the spirit of Caribbean popular culture especially the vitality of carnival, with its joyous violations of class boundaries and morality and its rich, plebeian creativity. This argument seems to be supported by 20 NOVEMBER 10, 1989
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