CLR JAMES & UJAMAA -- REPLY TO TROTTER

Ralph Dumain rdumain at igc.apc.org
Thu Oct 12 18:39:25 MDT 1995


Alex Trotter has needlessly provoked me thusly:

>I was wondering if Ralph could be coaxed into some commentary,
>as, given his simultaneous contempt for ujaama and his evident
>admiration for James, there seems to be a contradiction here.

What is the contradiction, my good man?  Are you a cultist?  Do
you believe everyone in the world is a cultist?  Do you believe my
interest in CLR James means I treat him as an infallible oracle
from a higher world?  Though I don't believe in professionals, I
urge you to get professional help, lacking a better alternative.

>Was the later James mistaken? I don't see him recommending
>workers' councils for postcolonial Africa in that essay.

I do not think James is going to go down in history as a political
genius for his laudatory remarks about a number of people, e.g.
Nyerere or Lech Walesa.  I think James was guilty of political
impressionism and abstract ultraleftist thinking in many of the
political judgments he made.  He did break with Eric Williams and
Kwame Nkrumah after their regimes turned sour.  I regret that he
never saw through Stokely Carmichael, but James was probably too
far removed from his late-60s antics and afterward to know
better.

I share some of these judgments with a number of Trotskyists who
have criticized James, but let me point out where the Trotskyists
and I part company.  All they care about is self-justification.
Not a one has ever devoted any attention to a careful analysis of
what motivated James's political judgments.  My opinion is that
his interest in leaders was predicated entirely on the mass
movements of which they were leaders.  James was deeply interested
in the relationship between leaders and their followers.  James
was not a leader in the usual sense at all, in my opinion, but he
was not against leaders when he felt they were in communion with
the mass movements of which they were a part.

I'm sorry I don't have time to do my homework regarding James and
the Arusha Declaration he thought was so wonderful.  But let me
venture some educated guesses and add a few things I do know
about.  I think James was impressed by Nyerere's expressed desire
to base himself on the masses and their institutions.  I cannot
believe James would ever go along with the notion that the class
struggle does not apply to Africa apart from European intrusions.
Nkrumah himself, though he exploited the legend of idyllic ancient
communalism in his silly book CONSCIENCISM, he later wised up by
the time he wrote CLASS STRUGGLE IN AFRICA, though I admit my
memory of all this is very hazy.  Now, James never believed in
returning to pre-modern forms of social organization.  I have an
interview with him somewhere that shows how little he takes such
nostalgia seriously.  James was a dyed-in-the-wool modernist.  So
I must surmise that James was impressed not with Nyerere's
reactionary ideology of an idyllic classless past (BTW, do they
practice clitoridectomy in East Africa?), but with his stated
intention to base social development on a popular indigenous base,
rather than on the schemes and ambitions of a new elite.

I have also gone on record here that I don't see workers councils
as the magic solution for advanced industrial societies and that I
think James was simplistic in his analysis.  I have written that
FACING REALITY was not realistic.  However, I would like to point
out in James's defense that James was looking at certain models as
examples of what other societies would have to do if the workers
were to seize control of production.  As I recall MODERN POLITICS,
he never says that the USA is going to achieve the revolution
through workers councils.  Rather, he points to workers councils
in the Hungarian Revolution as the highest stage which
self-government in industrial societies has reached in the present
scheme of things.  Also, James was wont to compare the West Indian
Islands to ancient Greek city-states, where direct democracy was a
real option.  I don't recall James prescribing a specific model
for all the advanced industrial countries.  I do think James was
often overly schematic.  But it is most productive to criticize a
person's shortcomings in terms of his overall methodology, on an
understanding of what that person was trying to accomplish.  This
has not yet been done for James, because only recently has James
scholarship been able to break out of the mold of brainless
hero-worship as well as brainless condemnation.


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