“Race talk” has become so muddled that our very comprehension of race is reduced to theoretical caricature, replete with memes and pithy one-liners, all with the complicity of the chattering class who tend to read the nonsensical as legitimate “news.” It is no wonder then that our best thinkers are not widely known or dismissed as relics of an old age. And it’s likely by design that our movements suffer from a historical amnesia that limits Black resistance to an image of the 1960s (not its reality), conducive to not only liberal ideas and positions, but conservative ones. Above all, this image of Black resistance does not threaten the direct conditions of its emergence: racial capitalism.
Enter: the life and works of C.L.R. James and their relative absence in many considerations of Black struggle in U.S. contexts. Rupturing the logics of liberal hegemony that define what Black resistance has come to mean and how it must manifest now, requires us to resist the tendency to reduce James—and others like him—to an academic project. For James offered more than a historical reflection on the Haitian Revolution and a disquisition on cricket; these were parts of his larger project: a contribution to the conceptualization and enactment of the Black radical tradition. We ignore such accretions of “collective intelligence” at our own peril.
How might James organize a project for resistance in these times? A possible answer lies in one of James’s analyses of the “Negro Question,” an address he called “The Revolutionary Answer to the Negro Problem in the United States” (1948). Moving to the United States from London in 1938, the Trinidadian native organized within the Socialist Worker’s Party, before leaving it and then rejoining in 1947. As a Trotskyite and member of the “Johnson-Forest Tendency,” James came to evince a healthy skepticism toward state-centered permutations of socialism then apparent in the Soviet Union. James’s anti-Stalinism, however, was neither the stuff of the Truman Doctrine nor a response to the politics of the Cold War, and his racial politics were a clear repudiation of the Myrdal-influenced liberalism of the era.
Shortly after James’s return to the Socialist Worker’s Party, he offered “The Revolutionary Answer to the Negro Problem” as an outline for comprehending the role of the American Negro in the “struggle for socialism.” But James, like many socialists before him, does not repeat the folly of reducing the plight of Black Americans to the question of class. His analysis of Black struggle is premised on its independence. He offers three points which buttress this argument: 1) “the independent Negro struggle, has a vitality and a validity of its own; that it has deep historic roots in the past of America and in present struggles; it has an organic political perspective, along which it is traveling, to one degree or another…”; 2) “…this independent Negro movement is able to intervene with terrific force upon the general and social and political life of the nation…”; and 3) “…it is able to exercise a powerful influence upon the revolutionary proletariat…” It is not ironic that in Trotskyism, James found a revolutionary alternative to the “state capitalist” Soviet Union, and in the historical and contemporary “Negro struggle,” he found a revolutionary alternative to the capitalist-aligned organized labor movement. In the Black radical tradition as it manifested in the United States, he found a mass of people whose direct experiences gave them reason to “reject this shibboleth of (American) bourgeois democracy.” For James, and clearly for those struggling to imagine and create a “new society” today, the unique and enduring conceptions of freedom produced by Black experiences must be acknowledged and understood as central to the larger questions of human freedom (found, for James, through the creation of a socialist society). This is the promise of the Black radical tradition, as elucidated by Cedric Robinson: the projection of a new order of things. Let it be the promise of our Black lives mattering.
“The Revolutionary Answer to the Negro Problem in the United States” was republished, along with the Socialist Worker’s Party resolution on the question, by the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party as The Independence of the Black Struggle in 1975. This is significant for a couple of reasons. First, it occurred during what Anthony Bogues calls C.L.R. James’s “second sojourn” to the United States. Secondly, James’s approval of the publication came as a result of his collaboration with many Pan-Africanist and Marxist formations in the United States during this period, namely the Centre for Black Education in DC. The “Negro struggle” he theorized about in 1948 saw in James a veritable intellectual presence as an elder. James’s Pan-African vision resulted in his participation for the call for the Sixth Pan-African Congress in 1974. (Always the iconoclast, James’s disagreement with the organizers on the question of opposition movement participation prevented his attendance at the Congress). The Pan-African struggle for James was neither a contradiction nor a diversion from his larger quest for a new society, even as his “radical” colleagues dismissed his “nationalist” activities. Like others who represented Robinson’s “Black radical intelligentsia,” these kinds of projects and initiatives, issuing from the political and cultural “independence” of Black thought, were perhaps more necessary to eradicating racial capitalism than even the best Western traditions—something they each had to confront. “Marxism” had to be given life by the Black radical tradition in order to have any validity.
James’s pamphlet, along with, of course A History of Pan-African Revolt (also republished in DC in the 1970s), The Black Jacobins, and the 1939 New International essay “Revolution and the Negro,” represents his most salient works in this particular idiom. In these interventions James better frames “structural racism” than those who use the term without ever elucidating the nature of that structure. In resisting these fallacious commonplaces resonant in the industry of “race talk” we offer better foundations for meaningful resistance—ancestral voices lead the way.
Josh Myers teaches Africana Studies in the Department of Afro-American Studies at Howard University and is a member of the Association for the Study of Classical African Civilizations and Positive Black Folks in Action. His research examines Black intellectual traditions and the conditions of its existence in the Western academy.
 This is not simply a “U.S. problem.” And neither should struggle in the U.S. be assumed to adhere to a U.S. national context. Rather, it should be understood in the ways that James, and thinkers from W.E.B. Du Bois to Angela Davis to Gerald Horne have understood it; in the words of Du Bois, “as a local phase of a world problem.” See W.E.B. Du Bois, “The Color Line Belts the World,” in W.E.B. Du Bois: A Reader, ed. Andrew Paschal (Collier Books, 1971), 263.
 Cedric Robinson, Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition (UNC Press, 2000), xxx.
 This work is included in the recent collection, “The Black Radical Tradition,” compiled by the Communist Research Cluster and Viewpoint Magazine, https://libcom.org/library/black-radical-tradition. It has appeared in Anna Grimshaw’s C.L.R. James Reader (Blackwell, 1992) and Scott McLemee’s C.L.R. James on the Negro Question (University Press of Mississippi, 1996). A reproduction of the address with commentary by McLemee can be found in the International Socialist Review 85 (September 2012), http://isreview.org/issue/85/revolutionary-answer-negro-problem-united-states. I will be citing the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party edition, which includes the both address and the Socialist Worker’s Party resolution, appearing as, The Independence of the Black The Struggle (A-APRP, 1975).
 James, The Independence of Black Struggle, 3.
 Ibid, 2-3.
 In the address, James repeatedly discusses the potential of the Negro for radicalizing organized labor.
 Ibid, 3. James also perceptively pointed to the potential of the Negro to break up the Democratic coalition. He could not see however, that this would fail to radicalize the party (See Ibid, 5).
 “New society” is from Frank Rosengarten, Urbane Revolutionary: C.L.R. James and the Struggle for a New Society (University Press of Mississippi, 2008).
 Robinson, Black Marxism, 177.
 Anthony Bogues, “C.L.R. James, Pan-Africanism and the Black Radical Tradition,” Critical Arts 25 (2011): 492.
 Ibid, 495.
 See Rosengarten, Urbane Revolutionary, 117-135.
 See Robinson, Black Marxism, 182-184.
 Representative of this trend is Jamil Smith, “Structural Racism Needs to be a Presidential Campaign Issue,” The New Republic, July 17, 2015, http://www.newrepublic.com/article/122321/fighting-structural-racism-needs-be-presidential-campaign-issue.
Subscribers to The Black Scholar: Journal of Black Studies and Research have access to the following related essays:
Imamu Amiri Baraka, “Some Questions about the Sixth Pan-African Congress,” Volume 6, Issue 2 (1974) (Special Issue: Black Politics 1974)
Seth Markle, “Book Publishers for a Pan-African World’: Drum and Spear Press and Tanzania’s Ujamaa Ideology,” Volume 37, Issue 4 (2008) (Special Issue: Rethinking Pan-Africanism for the 21st Century)
Walter Rucker, “A Negro Nation Within the Nation”: W.E.B. Du Bois and the Creation of a Revolutionary Pan-Africanist Tradition, 1903–1947,” Volume 32, Issue 3-4 (2002) (Special Issue: Black and the United Nations)