Feb. 25: CLR James and hope for the struggle for social justice

Listen to the entire program here:

Music on the program featured John Brown’s Body: Pressure Points

The following is an edited version of the comments I made at the beginning of the program:

The uprisings in the Middle East and the worker occupation of the State capitol building in Wisconsin show that working people are willing to resist oppression. The global capitalist order is being further exposed as a force for the accumulation of wealth for the few, while the majority of people around the world see their standards of living shrink.

In our part of the world, the media has been put to good use by power elites to gloss over class contradictions. The middle class has replaced the working class and in so doing has been  labeled, or re-branded if you will, as consumers and/or taxpayers with little opportunity for free expression except in carefully prescribed ways as consumers of goods produced by someone else.

Today, we’ll talk with Abayomi Azikiwe about the life and work of CLR James: prolific writer, philosopher, and Marxist cultural critic. In summing up his life, Anna Grimshaw wrote that James’ “…vision of humanity … was animated by the simple but profound belief in the creative capacities of ordinary men and women, [and that] [t]hey were the force for civilization”. If I have it right, James, when he lived in the U.S., saw the struggle of Black Americans as being connected with the nationalistic anti-colonial struggles of Africa and the Caribbean; a struggle against the same colonial masters – an international struggle.

The past 30 years of neoliberal global capitalism has suppressed the struggle but never extinguished it. From our conversation today, I hope we’ll be able to see for ourselves that the rebellions taking place were inevitable and a logical outcome of the suppression of working people, regardless of location, ethnicity or religion, around the world at home.

James traveled the world and moved from bureaucratic socialism to a proponent of world citizenship. Author and historian Noel Ignatiev quotes James from his 1956 work Negroes and American Democracy: “ the defense of their full citizenship rights by Negroes is creating a new concept of citizenship and community. When, for months, 50,000 Negroes in Montgomery, Alabama do not ride buses and overnight organize their own system of transportation, welfare, and political discussion and decision that is the end of representative democracy. The community as the centre of full and free association and as the bulwark of the people against the bureaucratic state … the freedom of movement and of association as the expansion rather than the limitation of human personality, the American as a citizen not just of one country but of the world – all this is the New World into which the Negro struggle is giving everybody a glimpse.” (p. 8, A New Notion: Two Works by C.L.R. James) (my emphasis).

The predominantly white middle class has been insulated from the struggles that never ended for marginalized people. Insulated by consumerism, the media, and politicians global capitalism consists of opaque layers. It is a system of lies and denial – a system CLR James saw through and exposed.

For more information about CLR James please check these sources:

You Don’t Play With Revolution: The Montreal Lectures of C.L.R. James

Facing Reality

Rare Book & Manuscript Library Acquires Papers of
C. L. R. James

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