The Class Basis of the Race Question in the United States


1. James is referring to his The Black Jacobins and Du Bois’ Black Reconstruction.

2. Constance Webb (1918-2005) was a socialist and a labor activist as well as an accomplished writer, actress, and biographer of Richard Wright. She was James’s second wife. She writes about her life with James as well as her interactions with Wright, Chester Himes, and the political milieu of the left in the 1950s in, Not Without Love: Memoirs (Dartmouth Press, 2003).

3. V.S. Naipaul was born in Chaguanas, Trinidad, in 1932. James and Naipaul were friends and correspondents for many years after Naipaul began his literary career. His first novels, foremost of which was A House for Mr. Biswas (1961), were set in Trinidad. Although political difference separated them, James retained a great respect for Naipaul and the latter depicted James in A Way in the World as the character Lebrun. Naipaul received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2001. See Rhonda Cobham-Sander, “Consuming the Self: V.S. Naipaul, CLR James, and A Way in the World,” Anthurium: A Caribbean Studies Journal (vol. 5, Issue 2, December 2007), 1-22. 

4. The full quote from Caste, Class, and Race is, “Hence to think of castes as we would of such institutions as labor unions, churches, or guilds is to begin with a false conception. One caste cannot exist in an otherwise casteless society, for castes are interdependent social phenomenon” (3). 

5. This was a critical point that Cedric Robinson in Black Marxism (University of North Carolina Press, 1983) applied to James’s own work and to the scholarship of activists working in the Black Radical Tradition. See Robin D.G. Kelley’s introduction to Robinson’s Black Marxism, xii

6. In The German Ideology, Marx and Engels argued, “By the mere fact that it is a class and no longer an estate, the bourgeoisie is forced to organize itself no longer locally, but nationally, and to give a general form to its mean average interests. Through the emancipation of private property from the community, the State has become a separate entity, beside and outside civil society; but it is nothing more than the form of organization which the bourgeois necessarily adopt both for internal and external purposes, for the mutual guarantee of their property and interest.” Karl Marx with Friedrich Engels, The German Ideology (1846; Prometheus Books, 1998), 99.

7. Harry Hopkins was an adviser of President Roosevelt’s and accompanied him to the Yalta Conference in 1945 where Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin met. C.L.R. James was an anti-Stalinist, and he will discuss his ideas on Stalin later in this lecture. 

8. Gunnar Myrdal was a prominent economist and a Swedish Social Democrat. He was hired by the Carnegie Corporation to conduct the study that eventually was published as An American Dilemma in 1944. Cox was highly critical of Myrdal for eschewing economic explanations in racial inequality. See: Gunnar Myrdal, An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy (Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1944). 

9. A popular phrase used in the United States and United Kingdom in the 1960s to refer to changing values in the society, particularly among youth. Mary Evans notes, “The ‘permissive’ society, as it was called with loathing and hatred by some and with enthusiasm by others, began to allow a greater degree of freedom in the public expression of those forms of personal behavior—for example, homosexuality—that had been publicly unacceptable.” Mary Evans, The Imagination: Detective Fiction and the Modern World (Continuum, 2009). See also Alan Petigny, The Permissive Society: America, 1941-1965 (Cambridge University Press, 2009).

10. C.L.R. James, Notes on Dialectics (1948; repr., Lawrence Hill & Co., 1981).

11. C.L.R. James, World Revolution, 1917-1936: The Rise and Fall of the Communist International (1937; Nendeln: Kraus Reprint, 1970).

12. Here, James is reading actual chapter headings and key themes of World Revolution.

13. C.L.R. James, Mariners, Renegades and Castaways: The Story of Herman Melville and the World We Live in. With a new introduction by Donald E. Pease. (1953; repr., Hanover: University Press of New England, 2001). 

14. Originally published in 1939, Césaire’s Notebook of a Return to My Native Land became a pivotal text in the burgeoning Pan-African and anti-colonial movements of the time; James frequently drew from Césaire to illustrate the forward motion of Caribbean and African struggles for freedom. In his essay, “From Toussaint L’Ouverture to Fidel Castro,” which appears in the revised, 1936, edition of Black Jacobins, James draws from Notebook to highlight the centrality of Africa to world revolution. See James, Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution, rev. ed. (1938; repr., Vintage Books, 1989), 399-400. 

15. Founded in 1902, Lycée Victor Schoelcher helped to produce generations of remarkable students including Césaire, Frantz Fanon (whom Césaire mentored), and Édouard Glissant, among others. 

16. The correspondence between Du Bois and Nkrumah, and Du Bois’s thoughts on the meaning of independence in Africa, is referenced in W.E.B. Du Bois, The Autobiography of W.E.B. Du Bois (International Publishers, 1968), 400-406. 

17. James is quoting from World Revolution, Chapter 15, “A Fourth International The Only Hope.” For a version accessible on the internet, see here  (Accessed October 13, 2015). See also: James, World Revolution: 1917-1936: The Rise and Fall of the Communist International (London: Martin Secker and Warburg Ltd, 1937) p. 419.

18. Cox begins this passage with the statement by Louis Wirth that, “[R]esearch in the social sciences will remain stunted and inadequate until it includes the search for knowledge on power relations among men and the means for generating the will and the capacity for action directed toward the achievement of a good society.” Cox traces the origins of this idea to “the colossal intellectual output of Karl Marx.” Caste, Class, and Race, xi.