The Grenada Revolution Online

Cyril Lionel Robert James,
better known as
C.L.R. James [1901-1989]


One can understand why Grenada's Deputy Prime Minister Coard was said to have admired CLR James. After studying political philosophies, CLR James eventually came to publish works linking an independent revolutionary position right back to the writings of Lenin. He was also a mentor of Maurice Bishop and of Michael Manley and George Weekes of the Trinidad & Tobago Oil Workers Union.

With his wife Constance Webb, James visited Theophilus A. Marryshow (1887-1958] at the Rosary in St. George's sometime in the late 1930's.

One of James' collaborators, Raya Dunayevskaya, wrote on the Grenada of 1983 in these publications:

"Grenada: Revolution and Counter-Revolution," a 21-page pamphlet from News & Letters Publishers of Detroit, Michigan, 1983

"Grenada, revolution, counterrevolution, imperialist invasion: two articles," a 16-page pamphlet from News & Letters Publishers of Detroit, Michigan, 1984


A brief outline below of this revolutionary visionary, CLR James, is hoped to inspire one to read first "Beyond A Boundary" for a first-hand account of this man's life. Many detailed and fine-tuned political tracts, including those written by CLR James, may tend to side-track the reader from the 'big view' of this outstanding renaissance man. "Beyond A Boundary" can give such a panorama of James' point-of-view. Other names and movements included below are take-off points for further study. The literary-biographical sketch below is inconclusive.


Often called 'Nello" and "CLR," Cyril Lionel Robert James was born 4 January 1901, in Tunapuna, Trinidad, son of parents who thrived on learning and teaching. The family home was close to a cricket field, and the young James watched practices and games. In 1910, he won a scholarship to Queens's Royal College (QRC0) where he later taught.

As a young man, James was a teacher, a journalist, author of short stories and a cricket fan. One of his pupils was Eric Williams who later became Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago. Those in his neighborhood included Sylvester Williams, some call the father of Pan-Africanism, and George Padmore [Malcolm Nurse], also a leader in the Pan-African Movement.

"La Divina Pastora" (1927), "Turner's Prosperity" (1929) and "Triumph" (1929) and "The Star That Would Not Shine" (1931) are stories taken from youthful observations during James' early years in Trinidad. In Trinidad's literary publication, The Beacon, James wrote short stories and book reviews. His literary fellow were Albert Gomes, Alfred Mendes and Ralph de Boissiere. In 1929, he started a full-length novel "Minty Alley" in Trinidad, and completed it in Britain, published in 1936, by London publisher M. Secker & Warburg.


CLR sailed to England in 1932 to remain there for six years. He settled in Nelson, Lancashire. James was keenly interested in becoming a published writer. He carried with him not only the fictional "Minty Alley", but a non-fiction manuscript written in 1929, "The Life of Captain Cipriani; An Account of British Government in the West Indies." Arthur Andrew Cipriani was the President of the Trinidad Workingmen's Association. The account of Cipriani's life was published in 1932 in Nelson, Lancashire, by Coulton, and parts of the account were published in the UK as "The Case for West-Indian Self Government, 1933." West Indian culture, self government, politics and federation were specific political themes for James; in fact, in 1933, he was published by the Hogarth Press of Leonard and Virginia Woolf in a pamphlet, "Case for West Indian Self-Government."

During this period, James was in transition from Trinidad to Britain. CLR James joined a circle of friends which included Eric Williams, Daniel Guerin, Edith Sitwell, Boris Souvarine, Jomo Kenyatta, Any Ashwood Garvey, T. Ras Makonnen, Duse Mohammad Ali, I.T.A. Wallace Johnson, Karl Korsch, Sylvia Parkhurst, and George & Dorothy Padmore. Some of these friends were members of James' organization, the International Friends of Abyssinia (Ethiopia). For the Manchester Guardian, James was the cricket correspondent from 1933-1935. An admirer of Shakespeare, James wrote a play in 1936, "Toussaint L'Ouverture," with material from a manuscript. Paul Robeson played the lead role in its London performance, and James gave himself a minor part.

The text of World Revolution 1917-1936: The Rise and Fall of the Communist International is found at this Marxist website. The 1937 study was originally published in London by Secker & Warburg, and later in New Yo0rk, Pioneer publishers.

James published his best known work in 1938, "The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L'Ouverture and the Saint-Dominique Revolution," an analysis of the Haitian Revolution. The "History of Negro Revolt" followed in 1938 as a companion study.


CLR James lived in the United States starting in October-November, 1938 with a speaking tour, often on "The Negro Question." According to Anna Grimshaw his entry visa was valid for six months, but had been extended due to treatment of a stomach ulcer. Consequently he went under the name of J.R. Johnson, and wrote under that name for "Labor Action" and the "New International." With his colleague Boris Souvarine, James published, in 1939, "Stalin, A Critical Survey of Bolshevism."


James met Charlotte Webb in 1939 while speaking in the Western states of the United States, prior to his meeting with Trotsky in Mexico. In May of 1946, CLR James and Constance Webb were married and living together in New York. Their inter-relationship is s story in itself, and the letters exchanged between them from 1939-1948 survey in detail the attempts at intertwining two lives. James was often away. At one point, he was working [1941 and 1942] with a southeast Missouri sharecropper trade union movement, plus writing and lecturing on the Pan-African Movement. The New York City literary circle of James and Webb included writers Ralph Ellison, Richard Wright, Carl Van Vechten, and James Farrell.

Webb left James in 1947. A complication of the legality of James' first marriage from his wife, Juanita, a Trinidadian, was ironed out. By this time Constance Webb was pregnant with their child and CLR and Constance remarried in November 1948. In April, 1948, marked the birth of their son, Nobbie.


During World War II (in 1940), "My Friends: A Fireside Chat on the War" was published by the Workers Party in New York. Collaborating with two women, James was part of a small group known as the Johnson Forest Tendency formed in 1941. The women included Grace Lee (Ria Stone), Ph.D. Philosophy and Raya (Rae) Dunayevskaya who extensively studied the Soviet Union, the land of her birth. Dunayevskaya's pseudonym was Freddie Forest; CLR James' was Johnson. Another member of this group was Lyman Paine, a descendent of Tom Paine.

In 1947. the Johnson Forest Tendency began to publish. Their first essay was "Dialectical Materialism and the Fate of Humanity." James wrote, in 1948, his Notes on Dialectics . "The Balance Sheet, and also "The Invading Socialist Society" were published in 1947. The next year, they published "The Revolutionary Answer to the Negro Problem in the USA." James and the Johnson Forest Tendency published State Capitalism and World Revolution, plus "The Class Struggle" in 1950. The rubbings of conflict between the political thought of Trotsky; the Socialist Workers Party, USA; Stalin; Marx and Lenin were part of the social dynamic of James' life and writings. In 1949, he began his draft of "American Civilization," a study never published during his lifetime.

In 1947 a book on Haitian Independence by James was published in France, "La Guerre d'Independance a Haiti." Also in 1947, James contributed to "Trotskyism in the United States, 1940-47: Balance Sheet: the Workers Party and the Johnson-Forest Tendency." James was in the United States working with a Trotskyite group under the pseudonym of J.R. Johnson. He used other pseudonyms such as J. Meter for the periodical Fourth International in an article titled Stalinism and Negro History. He wrote a book in 1953, on "The West Indians and the Vote." A series of literary lectures at Columbia University in New York City revealed his skills as a critic and orator.

In 1952-53, James was brought up for deportation action for overstaying his visa. It is said, while detained at Ellis Island, James wrote a 284 page book, "Mariners, Renegades, and Castaways: the Story of Herman Melville and the World We Live In." The book was hoped to serve as a means to avoid deportation from the United States. It was not effective.


He returned to Britain in 1953 where he worked with the African independence Movement. He also met again with Kwame Nkrumah whom he had first met in New York, as well as George Padmore. CLR James was a literary acquaintance of West Indian writers V.S. Naipaul, George Lamming and Wilson Harris. The events of October 1956 in Hungary with its 'worker's councils' drew James's attention in a co-authored book with Kimathi Mohammed "Facing Reality" published in 1958 by the Garvey Institute of East Lansing, Michigan. James' new 24-tear-old American wife, Selma, along with her six-year-old son, joined CLR in Parliament Hill, Hampstead. With his wife Selma James, CLR met with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King on the King trip to London March 1957.


James returned to his home of origin, Trinidad and Tobago in 1958, upon the invitation of another childhood friend, Eric Williams. Williams engaged James in 1956 to edit the Peoples National Party [PNP] newspaper 'Nation' for a couple of years. from 1958-1961. Extracts from a biography of James' friend George Padmore were published for several months in 'Nation,' beginning in late 1959. One of James' eloquent lectures was "Federation, we failed miserably, how and why'; 'The federal disaster was foreseen, a letter to Mr. Manley'; and, "Federation, What Now?," a lecture delivered to the Caribbean Society, Kingston, Jamaica in November, 1959. Williams and James had a falling out.

In 1960, James published "Modern Politics" being a series of lectures on the subject given at the Trinidad Public Library, in its adult education programme" printed by P.N.M. Pub. Co. His biographical sketch of Dr. Eric Williams was also printed by P.N.M. Pub. Co. in 1960. These writings, along with others, were followed by "Kwame Nkrumah and the West Indies, 1962," and "Party Politics in the West Indies".


On the eve of Trinidadian independence on 31 August 1962, James returned to London where "Beyond A Boundary" was published in 1963. James had been working on it for over five years. "Beyond a Boundary: (an autobiography)" garnered the observation from Anna Grimshaw is that the book's originality is "as a study of the game of cricket--and yet "Beyond A Boundary" was neither a cricket book nor an autobiography--symbolised a new and expanded conception of humanity as the black and formerly colored peoples burst onto the stage of world history."


James was placed under house arrest following a re-entry to Trinidad. By this time in his life, James was visiting countries for specific conferences and lectures. One lecture by writer Wilson Harris on 15 May 1964 was delivered to the London West Indian Students' Union on the subject "Tradition and the West Indian Novel." C.L.R. James wrote the introduction to the print version of the lecture.

One might imagine that James introduced his friend Wilson Harris and that law student Maurice Bishop, leader of the West Indian Students Society at London University might have attended that London lecture.

James wrote "West Indians of East Indian Descent" in 1965 which was printed in Port-of-Spain. James founded, with Stephen Maharaji in October 1965, the Workers' and Farmers's Party in Trinidad to contest the 1966 elections. The lack of success in Trinidadian politics was followed by James exiting himself from any direct role.


James was a guest lecturer at the second conference on West Indian Affairs, held in Montreal, Canada, the summer of 1966 where he talked about "The Making of the Caribbean Peoples." After his return to Washington, D.C. in the United States in 1967, CLR James taught for ten years, giving lectures and commenting on contemporary world movements. He spoke on Black Power in 1967 and 1970; also Black Studies in 1969. For example, he wrote "From DuBois to Fanon" in 1967; "Black Studies and the Contemporary Student" in 1969 He wrote an essay on West Indian cricketer Gary Sobers in 1969, and published tracts on arts and literature.

An introduction to a 1969 New Beacon edition of "Froudacity: West Indian Fables," by John Jacob Thomas found James writing on "The West Indian Intellectual." J.J. Thomas authored 'Froudacity' in 1888, and his "Theory and Practice of Creole Grammar' of 1869 was a product of Thomas' as a schoolmaster and one influential person in James' youth.

By 1970 a complete and special issue of Radical America from Madison, Wisconsin was devoted to CLR James. In 1972, James' wife, Selma, wrote a pamphlet, and founded the International Wages for Housework Campaign. Homemaking takes up approximately 45 hours per week, and this figure does not include childcare. Also that year, James was interviewed in "Kas-kas: Interviews with Three Caribbean Writers in Texas, George Lamming, C.L.R. James [and] Wilson Harris", published by the African and Afro-American Research Institute, University of Texas at Austin. On 21 April 1972, James took part in a Caribbean Unity Conference in Washington, D.C. where he spoke on "The Caribbean Revolution." For the All African Peoples Revolutionary Party in 1975, James published "The Independence of the Black Struggle." The sixth Pan African Congress in 1974 was supported by James, as well as black liberation movements. "Nkrumah and the Ghana Revolution" was published in 1977, along with the selected writings of "The Future in the Present."

Additional selected writings of CLR James appeared in "Spheres of Existence" in 1980. For Pathfinder Books in 1980, James wrote in collaboration with George Breitman, Ed Keemer and others, a title, "Fighting Racism in World War II." In 1982-1983, his "Walter Rodney on the Question of Power" was issued in London by Race Today Publications, as was "80th Birthday Lectures" in 1984. Another collection of selected writing, "At the Rendezvous of Victory" was published in London in 1984.


James had returned to Britain in 1985. James published a book on "Cricket", written with Anna Grimshaw, in 1986 which can also be found under the title "A Majestic Innings: Writings on Cricket." He was part of a project for Socialist Platform in 1987 titled "C.L.R. James and British Trotskyism: an interview [given to Al Richardson, Clarence Chrysostom & Anna Grimshaw." CLR James died in Brixton, London in 31 May 1989.


His fame came after his death. One of his more currently available books is "The C.L.R. James Reader" first issued in 1992. The letters of C.L.R. James to Constance Webb, 1939-1948, titled "Special Delivery" was published in Britain and the US in 1995. "The Nobbie Stories for Children and Adults" by James and Constance Webb was published in 2006 by the University of Nebraska Press.

Much more at CLR James Archives

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