CLR James today
I wonder what CLR James would make of the West Indies cricket team's woeful performances in the World Cup they are hosting this month. James, who was born in Trinidad but lived for many years in the United States and Britain, wrote Beyond a Boundary, which is still regarded - let's face it, there isn't a lot of competition - as the greatest Marxist study of the noble game of cricket. Here's a taste of the book, which is still in print:
I haven't the slightest doubt that the clash of race, caste and class did not retard but stimulated West Indian cricket. I am equally certain that in those years social and political passions, denied normal outlets, expressed themselves so fiercely in cricket (and other games) precisely because they were games. Here began my personal calvary. The British tradition soaked deep into me was that when you entered the sporting arena you left behind you the sordid compromises of everyday existence. Yet for us to do that we would have had to divest ourselves of our skins. From the moment I had to decide which club I would join the constrast between the ideal and the real fascinated me and tore at my insides. Nor could the local population see it otherwise. The class and racial rivalries were too intense. They could be fought out without violence or much lost except pride and honor. Thus the cricket field was a stage on which selected individuals played representative roles which were charged with social significance.
James' most famous work, though, was The Black Jacobins, his history of the thirteen year revolution and anti-imperialist war that made Haiti the first independent black republic. Along with EP Thompson's The Making of the Working Class, James' epic helped to usher in a new type of history that gave a voice to groups previously excluded from most narratives of the past. The London Socialist Historians group is holding a conference on The Black Jacobins to mark the seventieth anniversary of its publication. Wish I could go.
Conference to be held at the Institute of Historical Research, London,
Saturday 2 February 2008.
Throughout many of the events organised in Britain to commemorate the bicentenary of the British abolition of the slave trade, one voice has been missing: that of the rebellious slaves themselves, in particular those of St. Domingue/Haiti, the authors of the only successful slave revolt in history, and the people who did more than Wilberforce or anyone else to bring the slave system to an end.
2008 will mark the seventieth anniversary of the publication of The Black Jacobins, CLR James's classic history of the Haitian Revolution. The London Socialist Historians Group and the Institute of Historical Research will commemorate this anniversary with a one day conference.
Keynote speakers confirmed so far include Darcus Howe, Bill Schwarz, editor of West Indian Intellectuals in Britain and Marika Sherwood, author of After Abolition: Britain and the Slave Trade Since 1807.
Papers will be considered on any aspect relating to The Black Jacobins and its legacy, but suggested topics that might be addressed include:
i) The making of The Black Jacobins: CLR James's life: his personal biography, the impact of his time in Trinidad, in Nelson, London and Paris on the writing of the work.
ii) The Black Jacobins itself as a masterpiece of historical writing and the intellectual influences on James which made the work not only a Marxist classic but an epic 'grand narrative' which overthrew the existing interpretations of slavery and its abolition.
iii) The intellectual inspiration of The Black Jacobins for historians, and the impact of the work on historical literature in Europe, America, Africa and the Caribbean.
iv) The intellectual inspiration of The Black Jacobins for activists and the impact of the work on those involved in liberation struggles in Europe, America, Africa and the Caribbean.
v) The Haitian Revolution itself; its impact on the wider struggle against colonial slavery and in particular its impact on the anti-slavery campaign in Britain.
vi) The legacy of Toussaint L'Ouverture as a revolutionary leader.
For further information or to send abstracts of papers (up to 1,000 words) until 1 October 2007: Christian Hogsbjerg (firstname.lastname@example.org) or David Renton