CLR James, critical theory, and the dialectic

The writings of the Trinidadian Marxist and revolutionary Cyril Lionel Robert James contain some of the noblest reflections on human freedom ever put to page. Obviously the present author does not agree with all of James’ arguments, especially those concerning national self-determination as a step toward global emancipation. Eventually this mistaken belief led him to extend his “critical support” to Fidel Castro’s Cuba and Mao Tse-Tung’s China, as Matthew Quest has amply shown for Insurgent Notes. Nevertheless, there is much to be gained from reading the works of James.

Postcolonial theorists in particular would do well to learn from his appreciation of the universal achievements of capitalist modernity. “I denounce European colonialism,” he wrote in 1980. “But I respect the learning and profound discoveries of Western civilization.” Similarly, James always insisted that “the race question is subsidiary to the class question in politics.” He stressed in his landmark study of The Black Jacobins that “to think of imperialism in terms of race would be disastrous.” Whiteboy academic Chris Taylor, who blogs under the handle Of C.L.R. James, ought to take note.

James might well be denounced as a “class reductionist” these days for his 1960 speech before an audience in Trinidad. “The great problem of the United States,” he declared, “with all due respect to the color of the majority of my audience, is not the ‘negro question’… If the question of workers’ independent political organization were solved, the ‘negro question’ would be solved. As long as this is not solved the ‘negro question’ will never be solved.” From first to last, James remained a Marxist in his strict emphasis on the primacy of working-class autonomy.

Even as the yoke of colonial oppression was finally being lifted, in 1958, he maintained: “We are breaking the old connections, and have to establish new ones… Let us not repel [onlookers] by showing them that we are governed by the same narrow nationalist and particularist conceptions which have caused so much mischief in Europe and elsewhere… Help [from the rest of the world] is precious and, far from being a purely economic question, is a social and political necessity. Industrial expansion is not merely a question of material forces but of human relations.”

Zimbabwe is only the latest example of a failed postcolonial state. Apart from a few stray tankies like Caleb Maupin — who somehow still contends that Mugabe was not a dictator, despite having ruled the country for 37 years straight — not too many tears have been shed on account of the African leader’s sudden downfall. No one, except for brazen racists and white nationalists, longs for a return to colonial times or the restoration of Rhodesia. Yet Zimbabwe is proof that underdevelopment was not solely due to colonialism. The once-rich nation has plummeted into poverty over the past couple decades.

Moreover, I feel vindicated by James’ skepticism toward cultural studies programs. Jewish studies, to speak only of the discipline that’s grown up around my culture of origin, have always seemed to me a colossal waste of time. “I do not know, as a Marxist, black studies as such,” James told students in 1968, “but simply the struggle of people against tyranny and oppression in a certain social and political setting [capitalism]. During the last two hundred years, in particular, it’s impossible to separate black studies from white studies in any theoretical point of view.”

Regardless, enough from me already. You can download the following works by James by clicking on the links below:

  1. At the Rendezvous of Victory: Selected Writings, 1931-1981
  2. The Life of Captain Cipriani: An Account of British Government in the West Indies (1932)
  3. Toussaint Louverture: The Story of the Only Successful Slave Revolt in History; A Play in Three Acts (1934-1936)
  4. World Revolution, 1917-1936 (1937)
  5. The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the Haitian Revolution (1938)
  6. On the “Negro Question” (1939-1950)
  7. “Historical Retrogression or Socialist Revolution?” (1946)
  8. with Raya Dunayevskaya, A New Notion: The Invading Socialist Society and Every Cook Can Govern (1947, 1956)
  9. Notes on Dialectics: Hegel, Marx, Lenin (1948)
  10. with Grace Lee Boggs and Raya Dunayevskaya, State Capitalism and World Revolution (1950)
  11. Mariners, Renegades, and Castaways: The Story of Herman Melville and the World We Live In (1952)
  12. The Nobbie Stories for Children and Adults (1953-1956)
  13. Modern Politics (1960)
  14. Beyond a Boundary (1963)
  15. Marxism for Our Times: On Revolutionary Organization (1963-1981)
  16. “Wilson Harris andthe Existentialist Doctrine” (1965)
  17. Lectures on The Black Jacobins (1970)
  18. with Grace Lee and Cornelius Castoriadis, Facing Reality (1974)

And you can download the following pieces of secondary literature:

  1. Louise Cripps, C.L.R. James: Memories and Commentaries (1997)
  2. Aldon Lynn Nielsen, C.L.R. James: A Critical Introduction (1997)
  3. Frank Rosengarten, Urbane Revolutionary: C.L.R. James and the Struggle for a New Society (2008)
  4. Ornette D. Clennon, The Polemics of C.L.R. James and Contemporary Black Activism (2017)
  5. Beyond Boundaries: C.L.R. James and Postnational Studies (2006)
  6. C.L.R. James’ Caribbean (1992)
  7. The Black Jacobins Reader (2017)
  8. Christian Høgsbjerg, C.L.R. James in Imperial Britain (2014)

What follows is an exploration of the affinities between James and the Frankfurt School critical theorist Theodor Adorno, written by the Italian Marxist Enzo Traverso as part of his new book Left-Wing Melancholia: Marxism, History, and Memory (2016). It adopts the speculative form of a “missed encounter,” or desencuentro, which Bruno Bosteels has theorized as obeying a logic of “structural-historical antagonism or constitutive discontent.” Oddly, however, the two men actually met on more than one occasion, as Traverso begins by pointing out.

Traverso is more than a bit unfair to Adorno in characterizing, really caricaturing, him as “an aristocratic Marxist ‘mandarin’ affected by an incurable phobia of images and popular music.” Colonial racism was never the focus of Adorno’s thought, to be sure, but neither was metropolitan antisemitism the focus of James’ thought. Still, the former made clear in a late work that “even the old theories of imperialism have not been rendered obsolete by the great powers’ withdrawal from their colonies. The process they described survives today in the conflicts between the two monstrous power blocs.”

James and Adorno do indeed share many similarities, as Traverso otherwise skillfully elaborates.

A missed dialogue

Enzo Traverso
New York: 2016

Let us go ahead… and compare two thinkers who embody the legacy of Marx. Adorno depicted the “dialectic of Enlightenment,” abandoning the idea of progress and extracting from Marx’s theory of reification a critique of instrumental reason. His melancholy, analytical gaze focused on Western totalitarianism and completely ignored the colonial world. C.L.R. James, on the other hand, scrutinized modernity as imperial domination, shifting its core from the West to the South and emphasizing the emancipatory potentialities of the colonized subjects. Both of them developed and enriched some premises of Marx’s theory. Western Marxism and anticolonial Marxism, nevertheless, remained two separate intellectual continents.

The name of C.L.R. James never appears in the Gesammelte Schriften of Theodor W. Adorno, or the name of the Frankfurt philosopher in the impressive work of the author of Black Jacobins. Thus, it is quite surprising to discover that they met a couple of times during the 1940s.1 They met for lunch in New York, near the New School for Social Research — probably thanks to their common friend Herbert Marcuse — when Manhattan was a crossroads between the trajectories of German-Jewish exiles and the Black Atlantic.2 There is no doubt that it was a failed encounter, and we can legitimately suppose that they met only to acknowledge their mutual dislike and incomprehension. We should try to explain why a dialogue between them did not take place — why it was, perhaps, impossible — adding that nevertheless this wasted opportunity was damaging for both of them. We are compelled to think in terms of counterfactual intellectual history in order to imagine the possible results of a dialogue that did not take place.

In Representations of the Intellectual, Edward Said highlighted affinities between Adorno and James,3 presenting them as two examples of exiled intellectuals who shared a similar approach to history and society. Both of them, Said explained, were “contrapuntal” thinkers who rejected conformism and escaped canonical views: they immigrated to New York in 1938, at the edge of the war, and lived in America until the advent of McCarthyism. Adorno returned to Frankfurt in 1949, where the Institute for Social Research was resettled after the creation of the German Federal Republic, and James was expelled to London in 1952 after having been deported to Ellis Island for several months. We could speak of two reversed exiles: one exiled to the United States, the other from. In fact, they shared more than a common outsider status and a similar style of thought. In spite of many crucial discrepancies — from their vision of communism to their analysis of mass culture — they separately but symmetrically elaborated a similar diagnostic of Western civilization, depicting it as a process of the “self-destruction of reason.”

In 1938, Adorno devoted a seminal essay to Spengler in which he analyzed The Decline of the West (1918) in the light of Nazism. Against the dominant interpretation that reduced this book to a monument of “cultural despair” oriented toward the romantic idealization of a premodern golden age of culture, Adorno considered it as a fruitful contribution to the explanation of the present crisis of Europe: “Spengler is one of the theoreticians of extreme reaction,” he wrote in his essay, “whose critique of liberalism proved itself superior in many respects to the progressive one.”4 Beyond his morphological and naturalistic vision of the exhaustion of a vital cycle of Western civilization, finally dying as a sick, old body, Spengler announced the advent of a totalitarian order. He understood the dialectic relating technological and industrial progress to social reification and the dehumanization of the world. Of course, Adorno rejected Spengler’s nationalism and conservatism but shared some elements of his diagnostic and suggested a “progressive” use of Kulturkritik. In his eyes, Spengler’s book proved that all complaints about decadence and all denunciations of approaching barbarism were useless and sterile if they did not put into question civilization itself, not only its latest stage of decay: “To escape the charmed circle of Spengler’s morphology it is not enough to defame barbarism and rely on the health of culture. Rather, it is the barbaric element in culture itself which must be recognized.”5

In 1980, in an interview with the Radical History Review, James said that he became a Marxist at the beginnings of the 1930s through the influence of two books: Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution (1932) and The Decline of the West. What he found in Spengler’s book, he added, was precisely the need for a criticism of civilization as a whole: “It took me away from the individual and the battles, and the concern with the kind of things that I had learned in conventional history.”6 In 1940, writing on the great historians of the twentieth century, James hoped that “the fog of mysticism” pervading Spengler’s book would not obscure its “colossal learning, capacity for synthesis, and insight.”7 Of course, James was not fascinated by the political ideas of Spengler; he was attracted by his radical criticism of Western civilization. For a young intellectual who had been educated in the positivistic and pragmatic cultural atmosphere of the British Empire, the discovery of German Kulturpessimismus could bring new and fresh ideas.

In 1935, James became one of the outstanding figures of Pan-Africanism and the British movement against the Ethiopian War. Whereas Adorno reviewed the Spenglerstreit under the impact of Hitler’s rise to power, James could not read it without relating its concept of civilization to the history of imperialism. On the one hand, Adorno concluded his essay with the evocation of a vague, abstract hope: “What can oppose the decline of the west is not a resurrected culture but the utopia that is silently contained in the image of its decline.”8 On the other hand, the alternative that James opposed to the collapse of civilization was neither abstract nor silent. He simply highlighted that Spengler’s “tremendous volume” was completed in 1917, the year of the Russian Revolution.9 Adorno’s essay on Spengler was published in 1938, the same year in which James’ The Black Jacobins came out. As he explained almost forty years later, he conceived this book on the Haitian Revolution in order to show the colonized people of Africa and the Caribbean as historical subjects: “instead of being constantly the object of other peoples’ exploitation and ferocity, [they] would themselves be taking action on a grand scale and shaping other people to their own needs.”10

As we know, the concept of “self-destruction of the reason” [Selbstzerstörung der Vernunft] is the core of Horkheimer and Adorno’s Dialectic of Enlightenment (1947).11 In this book written during the Second World War, they described the “regression” of bourgeois, civilized society into barbarism, but explained that such a process should not be interpreted as the result of the attack on civilization by the external forces of barbarism; it was rather the product of the dialectic of reason itself, reason interpreted as an instrumental rationality that had transformed progress into social regression and could only display itself as a form of domination. “Reason is totalitarian,” they wrote, thus suggesting that Nazism — the totalitarian epilogue of the West — was a coherent and authentic product of civilization. In a fragment of Minima Moralia (1951), Adorno had also formulated this concept of the “self-destruction” of reason in teleological terms: the primitive and rough violence of the most ancient past, he explained, already implied the “scientifically organized violence” of Nazism.12

In 1949, two years after the publication of their Dialectic of Enlightenment, Adorno and Horkheimer came back to Frankfurt. In 1952, James was deported to Ellis Island as an “undesirable alien” and after six months of internment he was expelled toward the United Kingdom. “I was an alien. I had no human rights,” he wrote in terms strikingly reminiscent of Hannah Arendt’s concept of “pariah”: somebody who “has no right to have rights.”13 During this period of detention, James wrote Mariners, Renegades, and Castaways (1953), an original, provocatively “anachronistic”— we could say with Ernst Bloch “noncontemporaneous”14 — interpretation of Moby Dick in light of the twentieth century. According to James, this novel prefigured the social conflicts generated by industrial capitalism. He presented the Pequod, the ship in which Melville’s story takes place, as an allegory of modern capitalist society. The Pequod’s mariners symbolized the proletariat — a multinational working class mostly comprising colonial, nonwhite subjects (notably Queequeg, Tashtego, and Daggoo, the three “savage” harpooners) — whereas Captain Ahab embodied the bourgeoisie, obsessed by its desire to rule the world, even at the risk of their mutual destruction. In his struggle against the whale, Ahab was ready to sacrifice his ship and the crew, just as the dominant classes had driven the world toward totalitarianism. The mariners had a harmonious relationship with nature; they knew and respected nature instead of approaching it as “something to be conquered and used”; they were themselves the “very forces of Nature” and spontaneously considered man as part of nature, “physically, intellectually, and emotionally.”15 Ahab, on the contrary, wished to control and master nature. James described him as the embodiment of a modern rationality that does not develop knowledge and technology with an emancipatory purpose but instead only with an instrumental goal. In the eyes of Ahab, the mariners were not human beings but an anonymous mass, a reified matter he called “manufactured men.”16 The brutal and ferocious armed guard that protected him irresistibly evoked the SS. According to Melville’s careful description of the process of labor on the ship — the mariners dismembered and stocked the whales in a very rational way, applying simultaneously multiple fragmented tasks — the Pequod appeared as a modern factory. As James observed:

This world is our world — the world we live in, the world of the Ruhr, of Pittsburgh, of the Black County in England. In its symbolism of men turned into devils, of an industrial civilization on fire and plunging into darkness, it is the world of mass bombers, of cities in flames, of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the world in which we live, the world of Ahab, which he hates and which he will organize or destroy.17

In short, read in the middle of the twentieth century, the message of Melville’s novel was the transformation of liberal society into totalitarianism: “Melville’s theme is totalitarianism, its rise and fall, its power and its weakness.”18 The third chapter of Mariners, Renegades, and Castaways is titled “Catastrophe” and describes the final destruction of the whaleboat: a self-destruction, we could say, because it results from Ahab’s obsession with power that is simultaneously Promethean (he believes in science and technology) and totalitarian (he does not know anything but domination). “The voyage of the Pequod,” James writes, “is the voyage of modern civilization seeking its destiny.”19

In a famous fragment from Minima Moralia (1951), Adorno depicted his idea of “negative dialectic” as those robot-bombs that combined “the utmost technical perfection with complete blindness,” adding that such destructive weapons were the real image of the “world-soul [Weltgeist], not on horseback like Napoleon in Jena but on wings and without a head.”20 Hegel had seen the “world spirit” as progress, Adorno as catastrophe. He contemplated this spectacle of decadence with resignation and stoicism, adopting the posture of the meditating damned in Michelangelo’s Universal Judgment.21 In Moby-Dick, James suggests, this is the posture of Ishmael, the “intellectual” observing the self-destruction of reason. Contrary to Adorno, however, who replaced Hegel (and Weber) in the position of the observer, James did not identify with Ishmael, “the intellectual”; he identified with the crew. Ishmael, in James’ interpretation, embodies the instability and hesitation of the intellectuals. He permanently swings between Ahab and the crew, attracted by both, but finally succumbing to Ahab: “his submission to the totalitarian madness was complete.”22 In Mariners, Renegades, and Castaways, the cataclysm leading to totalitarianism is described from the point of view of the crew, the “anonymous crew,” whose members like Queequeg, thanks to their “nobility of spirit” and harmonious relation with both nature and other human beings, “embodied the mystery of the universe and the attainment of truth.”23

This epistemological discrepancy explains the different conclusions that Adorno and James drew from a similar diagnostic of modernity. It could eventually be related to a different reading of Hegel and Marx, their common intellectual background. The Frankfurt philosopher had virtually abandoned any hope of a possible sublation of the conflicts of modern civilization: the contradiction between productive forces and property relations could only result in a reinforcement of domination. The “revolt of nature” against instrumental reason — a theme further elaborated by Horkheimer24 — could not break the boundaries of domination and became the ground for totalitarianism.25 Not departing from a classical Marxist interpretation of Hegel, James believed in the role of the proletariat as the redeemer of history. Like Lukács, he stressed the “negation of the negation” in the dialectical historical process but also enlarged the definition of proletariat, including the colonized peoples.26 Of course, this entailed a change in the historical perspective.

The German-Jewish exiles of the Frankfurt School very soon transformed Auschwitz into a metaphor of totalitarianism and the unveiled epilogue of civilization. James considered the violence of fascism and Nazism as the result of a transfer into Europe of a wave of systematic destruction and oppression that had already been experimented with in the colonial world. In the “Prologue” to the first edition of Black Jacobins (1938), he clearly alluded to fascism and Nazism in describing the colonization of Haiti:

The Spaniards, the most advanced Europeans of their day, annexed the island, called it Hispaniola, and took the backward natives under their protection. They introduced Christianity, forced labor in mines, murder, rape, bloodhounds, strange diseases, and the artificial famine (by the destruction of cultivation to starve the rebellious). These and other requirements of the higher civilization reduced the native population from an estimated half-a-million, perhaps a million, to 60,000 in fifteen years.27

There is no doubt that he would have shared Fanon’s description of Nazism as “the whole of Europe transformed into a veritable colony.”28 But the process of colonization and extermination ultimately resulted in revolution, and James clearly admitted that his book had been written with a retrospective gaze in which the revolutions of the present enlightened those of the past. He wished to describe the Haitian Revolution as a grandiose, artistic painting, but his own time did not allow him to escape from politics: “The violent conflicts of our age enable our practiced vision to see into the very bones of previous revolutions more easily than heretofore. Yet for that very reason it is impossible to recollect historical emotions in the tranquility which a great English writer, too narrowly, associated with poetry alone.”29 In such conditions, tranquility would have been a form of philistinism.

It would be a simplification to describe the discrepancy between Adorno and James in terms of political pessimism versus political optimism. We could find in many pages of Mariners, Renegades, and Castaways the equivalent of Adorno’s almost teleological vision of Auschwitz as the achievement of the dialectic of Enlightenment. James was not a naïve defender of the idea of “progress” and he never thought of socialism or liberation as the ineluctable outcome of history. He shared Adorno’s conception of a “negative universal history,”30 as well as his attempt to save — through the critique of instrumental reason — the emancipatory potentialities of Enlightenment itself. Differently from Adorno, nevertheless, he did not conceive the dialectic of Enlightenment only as unfolded domination but also as a process of conflicts and struggles. Confronted with the reality of fascist counterenlightenment, he defended a form of radical Enlightenment and radical cosmopolitanism or, to put it in Marxian-Hegelian terms, of “universalism from below.”31 We cannot ignore the different positions of Adorno and James at the moment of their missed dialogue, a difference that could be related to the crossroad of the opposed paths of the Jewish-German exile and the Black Atlantic. It was more than a political or a cultural difference; it was a mental, psychological, and existential difference: the Holocaust entered the historical consciousness of the West when the end of the Second World War announced a new wave of colonial revolutions. Paul Buhle elegantly synthetized the reasons for such a discrepancy: listening to the Frankfurt philosophers, James “found them interesting, but by no means compelling. They dwelt upon the collapse of the West. James sought the fragments of redemption.”32

Adorno probably remained skeptical as well in front of his Caribbean interlocutor. Almost nothing in the cultural background of the German philosopher predisposed him to express the slimmest curiosity about a defender of popular culture such as James. As an aristocratic Marxist “mandarin” affected by an incurable phobia of images and popular music, which he always reduced to manifestations of the culture industry, if he did not interpret them — as he did with jazz — as the aesthetic dimension of the authoritarian personality, Adorno could not understand the cultural concerns of an internationally recognized specialist of cricket like C.L.R. James. James did not ignore the reified form of modern culture and warned against the alienating, dehumanizing tendencies of the culture industry, but could not accept an elitist retreat into the boundaries of the aesthetic avant-garde. As he wrote in American Civilization (1950), “In modern popular art, film, radio, television, comic strip, we are headed for some such artistic comprehensive integration of modern life, that the spiritual, intellectual, ideological life of modern peoples will express itself in the closest and most rapid, most complex, absolutely free relation to the actual life of the citizens tomorrow.”33 We don’t know if he had read Kracauer’s Theory of Film (1960), but he certainly approved of the idea — radically rejected by Adorno — at the core of this book, that “many a commercial film or television production is a genuine achievement besides being a commodity,” and that, consequently, “germs of new beginnings may develop through a completely alienated environment.”34

In James’ view, this dialectical tension between alienation and liberation also concerned the realm of sport. In Beyond a Boundary (1963), he opposed the cricket practiced as an entertainment for the British elite to the cricket played by the blacks of Trinidad, which reflected their search for freedom. Two great cricket players — the Australian batsman Sir Donald Bradman and the Caribbean star Matthew Bondman, a white and a black man — embodied these different cultures. The first one had achieved his records by applying to the game the codes of a “bourgeois rationality” — we could say an “instrumental rationality” — whereas the second one played cricket as a sport expressing a moral as well as an aesthetic behavior. His way of practicing cricket revealed a different rationality related to an African culture.35


1 Paul Buhle, C.L.R. James: The Artist as Revolutionary (London: Verso, 1988), 106; Andrew J. Douglas, In the Spirit of Critique: Thinking Politically in the Dialectical Tradition (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2013), 160.
2 Enzo Traverso, “To Brush Against the Grain: The Holocaust and the German-Jewish Culture in Exile,” Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions 5, no. 2 (2004): 243-270; Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (London: Verso, 1993).
3 Edward Said, Representations of the Intellectual (New York: Vintage, 1994), 63.
4 Theodor W. Adorno, “Spengler After the Decline,” in Prisms (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1982), 65. See Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991).
5 Adorno, “Spengler After the Decline,” 71.
6 Alan J. MacKenzie, “Radical Pan-Africanism in the 1930s: A Discussion with C.L.R. James,” Radical History Review 4 (1980), 74.
7 J. R. Johnson (C.L.R. James), “Trotsky’s Place in History,” in C.L.R. James and Revolutionary Marxism: Selected Writings, 1939-1949, ed. Scott McLemee and Paul Le Blanc (Atlantic Highlands: Humanities Books, 1993).
8 Adorno, “Spengler After the Decline,” 72.
9 James, “Trotsky’s Place in History.”
10 C.L.R. James, “Foreword” (1980), in The Black Jacobins (London: Allison and Busby, 1980), v.
11 Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002), xvi.
12 Theodor W. Adorno, Minima Moralia: Reflections on a Damaged Life (London: Verso, 2005), 233.
13 C.L.R. James, Mariners, Renegades, and Castaways: The Story of Herman Melville and the World We Live In (Hanover: University Press of New England, 2001), 141.
14 Ernst Bloch, “Non-Contemporaneity and Obligation to Its Dialectics” (1932), in Heritage of Our Time (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991), 104-116.
15 James, Mariners, Renegades, and Castaways, 30.
16 Ibid., 16.
17 Ibid., 45.
18 Ibid., 54. In 1952, James had probably read Hannah Arendt’s book on totalitarianism, published in New York one year earlier, perhaps even Franz Neumann’s interpretation of National Socialism — a book to which he could have been introduced by Herbert Marcuse — but these are only speculations. Written in prison, James’ essay on Melville does not include a bibliography. See Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1951); and Franz Neumann, Behemoth: The Structure and Practice of National Socialism, 1933-1944 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1944).
19 James, Mariners, Renegades, and Castaways, 19. On James and Arendt, see Richard King, “The Odd Couple: C.L.R. James, Hannah Arendt, and the Return of Politics in the Cold War,” in Beyond Boundaries: C.L.R. James and Postnational Studies, ed. Christopher Gair (London: Pluto, 2006), 108-127.
20 Adorno, Minima Moralia, 55. See Hegel’s famous letter to Niethammer of October 13, 1806: Hegel, The Letters, ed. Clark Butler and Christiane Seiler (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984), 114.
21 Detlev Peukert evoked this allegory to describe the attitude of Weber in front of modernity: Peukert, Max Webers Diagnose der Moderne (Göttingen: Vabdenhoeck und Ruprecht, 1989), 27.
22 James, Mariners, Renegades, and Castaways, 40.
23 Ibid., 33.
24 Max Horkheimer, “The Revolt of Nature,” in Eclipse of Reason (New York: Continuum, 2004), 92-127.
25 Theodor W. Adorno, Negative Dialectics (London: Routledge, 2003).
26 C.L.R. James, Notes on Dialectic: Hegel, Marx, Lenin (1948; London: Pluto, 2005). See Georg Lukács, History and Class Consciousness (London: Merlin, 1971); According to Raya Dunayevskaya, a close intellectual partner of James in the 1940s, the “real tragedy of Adorno (and the Frankfurt School)” was that of a “one-dimensionality of thought which results when you give up the Subject, when one does not listen to the voices from below.” Dunayevskaya, Philosophy and Revolution (New York: Columbia University Press, 1989), 187.
27 C.L.R. James, The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution (New York: Vintage, 1989), 3-4.
28 Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (New York: Grove, 1963), 101.
29 Ibid., xi.
30 I borrow this definition to Antonio y Vazquez Arroyo, “Universal History Disavowed: On Critical Theory and Postcolonialism,” Postcolonial Studies 11, no. 4 (2008): 464.
31 See Susan Buck-Morss, Hegel, Haiti, and Universal History (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2009), 106.
32 Buhle, C.L.R. James, 106.
33 C.L.R. James, American Civilization (Cambridge: Blackwell, 1993), 151. On this topics, see Bill Schwarz, “C.L.R. James’ American Civilization,” in Gair, Beyond Boundaries, 128-156; and Brian W. Alleyne, “Cultural Politics and Globalized Infomedia: C.L.R. James, Theodor W. Adorno and Mass Culture Criticism,” Interventions 1, no. 3 (1999): 361-372.
34 Siegfried Kracauer, Theory of Film: The Redemption of Physical Reality, ed. Miriam Bratu Hansen (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997), 217-218.
35 C.L.R. James, Beyond a Boundary (London: Stanley Paul, 1968).

2 thoughts on “CLR James, critical theory, and the dialectic

  1. Looks like you have some sort of compulsion that makes you dive repeatedly into that philosophical quagmire, Hermetic Mysticism (aka ‘dialectics’), Ross. Why else publish this? That wouldn’t be quite so bad if you (or anyone else on this planet) displayed a minimum capacity to explain this obscure ‘theory’/’method’ in words that don’t also require a PhD in Advanced Gobbledygook to understand. CLR James’s dogmatic pronouncements in this area perhaps serving as Exhibit A for the prosecution, with Adorno’s work maybe on the subs bench.

    • I have a “compulsion”? You’re the one who’s made an entire website, a sort of TimeCube for anti-Hegelians, and comment on every single blogpost you can find (by me or by others) that so much as mention the word “dialectics.”

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