James, C.L.R.

Date of Birth:
4 Jan 1901
Date of Death:
19 May 1989

Cyril Lionel Robert James was a social activist, sports writer and dramatist from Trinidad. He worked as a teacher and campaigned for the Pan-African movement before travelling to England in 1932 to work as a cricket correspondent for the Manchester Guardian. In 1933 he moved to London and, following his campaign work in Trinidad, he began to mobilise support in Britain for the independence of the West Indies.

He quickly established himself as a left-wing Trotskyite activist, joining the Independent Labour Party and publishing several Marxist texts including a monograph entitled A History of Negro Revolt (1937) and World Revolution (1937), charting the history of the Communist International. He also wrote a play about the revolution in Haiti, called Toussaint L'Overture and the San Domingo Revolution (1938), which was staged in the West End and starred Paul Robeson.

Later in 1938, James was invited to tour America by the leadership of the United States Socialist Workers' Party (S.W.P.) and the American branch of the Fourth International organisation, which wanted him to facilitate its work amongst the Black workforce there.

When he arrived in the States, James met Leon Trotsky to discuss the future of oppressed minorities around the world. During his stay in the United States he began to distance himself from Trotsky's ideas and broke away from the S.W.P. to form the Workers' Party, campaigning in support of emerging Black nationalist movements.

After 15 years of activism and writing about Marxist theory and philosophy, James was expelled from the United States in 1952, having overstayed his visa by ten years. He spent six years in England before travelling to Trinidad where he edited The Nation newspaper for the People's National Movement Party. Inspired by the people's revolution in Ghana, he rejoined the Pan-African movement, encouraging international revolutionaries to look towards Africa.

After a period spent teaching at the University of the District of Columbia in America, James returned to London to live in Brixton. In 1963, a year after Trinidad and Tobago achieved independence, he published Beyond a Boundary, a highly acclaimed novel about the strong influence of cricket on his political beliefs and ideas about race and class.

C. L. R. James died in 1989. He had received the Trinity Cross from the Trinidad and Tobago government and was honoured by English Heritage, who placed a blue plaque at his former home in Brixton.

Alternate Names

  • James, Cyril Lionel Robert

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