C. L. R. James and His Times
Every Cook Can Govern: The Life, Impact and the Works of C.L.R. James
Publisher: Against the Current
Date Written: 01/05/2017
Year Published: 2017
Resource Type: Article
Cx Number: CX21595
Review of the Worldwrite documentary film Every Cook Can Govern: The Life, Impact and the Works of C.L.R. James.
[A]s in many such documentaries that treat complex lives there are gaps. So are the gaps critical enough? Would they add substance to the narrative? From my perspective I think so.
For example, a great deal of attention is accurately paid to the conditions that produced James' book Mariners, Renegades and Castaways (1953), his study of Herman Melville written while he was detained on Ellis Island. Yet little attention is paid to the James' pathbreaking work "The Revolutionary Answer to the Negro Problem " and his political and theoretical work around what was called in the 1940s "The Negro Question."
I wondered a bit at this because I would argue that it is his consideration of this question along with that of culture which creates the grounds for him to rework Marxist theory, developing an independent Marxism.
Other Marxists in this period developed a theory of state capitalism, or to put it more accurately there were debates in the 1940s around the nature of the then Soviet Union which would produce such a theory. However, it is James' work on the African-American struggle and his work on culture, best understood by reading American Civilization, that opens up a new terrain for radical theory.