“Decolonizing revolution with C.L.R. James” by Matthieu Renault | Radical Philosophy

“Decolonizing revolution with C.L.R. James” by Matthieu Renault | Radical Philosophy – The main concern of James’s theoretical and political practice is the movement of the masses and the movement of history, which for him are one and the same. The great revolutionary episodes (English Revolution, French Revolution, Russian Revolution), as the climax of class struggle, make history move. In this respect, the history of unremitting pan-African struggles, which James began to excavate in his seminal work on the Haitian Revolution, The Black Jacobins (1938), [3] [ ]is an integral part of world-universal history, by no means something that stands apart from it. James, however, was always very careful not to subordinate these alleged ‘minor-minority’ struggles to the ‘major-majority’ struggles of the proletarian masses of Western countries. What he did was to rethink radically the relations between socialist ‘world revolution’ and the liberation of ‘oppressed nations’; the convergences and divergences, past and present, between struggles for emancipation ‘at the centre’ and anti-colonial/anti-racist revolts ‘at the margins’; and the complex connections and disconnections between the history of the West and the history of non-European societies in a global imperialist context.

Understanding James thus involves breaking with the double spontaneous assumption according to which his main theoretical intervention in the field of the theory and historiography of revolutions consisted in, on the one hand, importing ‘from outside’ anti-colonial/anti-racist issues into Marxist thought, conceived of as inherently confined within the borders of the Western-white world, and, on the other hand, grafting Marxist-socialist perspectives onto pan-African claims and struggles, deemed to tend naturally towards black nationalist particularism. Positively, understanding James implies analysing the variations he introduced into Marxist thought, ‘from within’, in order to incorporate the neglected histories and present battles black peoples were engaged in. James did not intend, as postcolonial scholars would put it, to provincialize Marxism, but rather, in Frantz Fanon’s terms in The Wretched of the Earth, to ‘stretch’ it in order to deprovincialize the non-European world. He strove to redraw the geography of struggles for emancipation, or, put another way, to decolonize revolution as a concept and an object of historical inquiry.

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