C.L.R. James

Fighting for the Abyssinian Emperor

(5 June 1936)

Source: New Leader, 5 June 1936.
Transcribed: Christian Høgsbjerg.
Marked up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.


May I make my position in regard to fighting for Abyssinia clear?

Early last year I offered myself through the Abyssinian Embassy here to take service under the Emperor, military or otherwise.

My reasons for this were simple. International Socialists in Britain fight British imperialism because obviously it is more convenient to do so than to fight, for instance, German imperialism. But Italian capitalism is the same enemy, only a little further removed.

My hope was to get into the army. It would have given me an opportunity to make contact not only with the masses of the Abyssinians and other Africans, but in the ranks with them I would have had the best possible opportunity of putting across the International Socialist case. I believed also that I could have been useful in helping to organise anti-Fascist propaganda among the Italian troops.

Actual Experience

And finally, I would have had an invaluable opportunity of gaining actual military experience on the African field where one of the most savage battles between capitalism and its opponents is going to be fought before very many years. As long as the Emperor was fighting imperialism I would have done the best I could. The moment, however, any arrangement had been come to which brought the country within the control of European imperialism a new situation would have arisen, and I would have identified myself with those bands, hundreds of thousands of them, who are still fighting, and for years are going to carry on the fight against imperialistic domination of any kind.

I did not intend to spend the rest of my life in Abyssinia, but, all things considered, I thought, and still think, that two or three years there, given the fact that I am a Negro and am especially interested in the African revolution, was well worth the attempt.

Unfortunately, Dr Martin, the Minister, told me that he thought my work with the International Friends of Ethiopia would better serve the struggle against Italy. When, however, that body decided to support League Sanctions and possibly lead British workers to what Marxists knew from the start would be an imperialist war, I broke at once with the society.


Faithfully yours,
C.L.R. James

Last updated on 29 June 2020