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International Socialism, Spring 1964


Letter to Readers

From International Socialism, No.16, Spring 1964, pp.14, 29.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

A Latin-American correspondent was asked to explain the unwonted militancy shown briefly by the Panamanian government last Winter. In a note headed Algerians of the Western World he writes:

In Panama a relatively large local US population (46000) has played an active role in the recent developments (rather like the role played in Algeria by the French colons), a fact which points up a large difference between the situation in Panama and that in other Latin-American countries. Panama represents old-style colonialism: a relatively numerous and privileged American population, extra-territoriality, blatant discrimination in wages and salaries, and so on. In the rest of Latin America, US capital operates in a much more modern capitalist way, that is, more as a faceless and impersonal exploiter that cannot be so easily seen and felt.

‘Polycentrism’, East and West, also played an important role in allowing the Panamanian government to go as far as it did. It is no coincidence that Panamanian businessmen have asked de Gaulle to visit their country and to trade with them. The current relaxation of the Cold War allows weak bourgeois governments to make more use of the traditional politics of national rivalry. In this context, Eastern ‘polycentrism’ plays a different but complementary role. The logic of Mao’s and to some extent Castro’s relationship with Kruschev’s regime also reassures bourgeois national governments that the diversity of sources of international political support makes possible a certain political leeway. Finally, elections are approaching in Panama, a factor that should not be underestimated. After the results are in, the government will certainly relax what are already very limited demands, especially since Washington does not appear ready to grant any substantial revisions of the 1903 treaty.

The government of Panama has tried to lead the popular movement in order to control it in its own interests. As soon as violence had diminished, the government adopted a more “moderate” stance towards the US. It has, for example, accepted as a sort of arbiter the Organisation of American States, a body that has on the whole been under complete domination by Washington. Nor has the government used its excellent bargaining position to press really hard for the cancellation of the 1903 treaty, demanding only guarantees that the treaty will be ‘revised’.

There are good reasons for reprinting C.L.R. James’ critique of Trotsky’s Revolution Betrayed. One is that it is good. It restates the premises of socialist analysis while attacking a view of Russia that is still held by a surprising number of people (even beyond the collective autism of the ‘Trotskyists’). Another is that we take a perverse, archivist delight in introducing our ‘precursers’ to readers. While people associated with this journal have carried the class analysis of Russia beyond the point reached by C.L.R. in this article, he was among the first to explore this particular blind spot in modern revolutionary socialist thought. Finally, we want simply to give younger readers a taste of C.L.R.’s writings which are sometimes difficult to obtain (but which can be found out about from Seli James, 20 Staverton Road, London NW2).

C.L.R. James was born in Trinidad in 1901 of school-teacher father. After receiving a secondary education by scholarship, he taught, reported cricket and did free-lance journalism for the local press. He came to England in 1932 intending to become a creative writer. He was soon involved in Trotskyism and the colonial question. The latter took the form of an association with George Padmore, Jomo Kenyatta and one or two others who spoke, wrote and generally agitated for independence for the colonies, particularly Africa. This was at a time when freedom for Africa seemed no more than a dream and those who advocated it fanatics and the ‘lunatic fringe’. He wrote the first pamphlet advocating independence for the British Caribbean islands: The Life of Captain Cipriani, The Case for West Indian Self-Government. During this period he published World Revolution, The Rise and Fall of the Communist International, Black Jacobins (soon to be published here in paperback), a novel, Minty Alley, and various pamphlets including The History of Negro Revolt. In 1938 he went on a speaking tour of the United States and stayed for 15 years. He continued his involvement in revolutionary politics there and from 1941 was a member of a minority in the Trotskyist movement opposing Russia as a Workers’ State and the theory of the Vanguard Party. This minority published a great many documents and pamphlets based on its theoretical work in the American working class, the Negro question in the United States, etc. James broke organisationally with Trotskyism in 1951 and a summation of his views and those of his associates can be found in Facing Reality and State Capitalism and World Revolution. During this period until his return to England in 1953 he lectured extensively in American universities and to public audiences on Herman Melville, Shakespeare and various aspects of British, West Indian, American and colonial politics. He published Mariners Renegades and Castaways, The Story of Herman Melville and the World We Live In and articles and pamphlets on politics. He is considered an authority on Melville. In 1958 the Governor General of the new West Indies Federation invited him to attend its inauguration. He was asked to stay and edit a local Trinidad weekly paper of the People’s National Movement and to be Secretary of the West Indian Federal Labour Party. He held these posts until the break-up of the short-lived federation. Before he returned to England in 1962 he published Party Politics in the West Indies. He is now living in London, is a freelance journalist, a public speaker and broadcaster. He has published a book on cricket in the context of British and West Indian social history, Beyond a Boundary, and is working on a book on Shakespeare and a Memoir of the life of George Padmore. He is married and has two sons.

Both of our other contributors are new to our pages. Colin Barker, 24, sub-edits this journal. He is currently studying industrial sociology at Manchester University. George P. Rawick is an American Marxist historian who has taught at the University of Chicago and Wayne State University. He has written for Labor Action, New International and Dissent, and was editor of the Socialist student magazine Anvil and Student Partisan from 1955 to 1957. He has been associated with New Politics. At present he is in England and is working on a history of the Negro in the United States.

Solidarity have undertaken an ambitious project in producing Hungary 56 by Andy Anderson. They write that the 60,000-word book will contain material hitherto unpublished in English.

It describes the struggles in factories, mines, and on the land, in Hungary between 1945 and 1956. It analyses the ideological ferment among students and intellectuals immediately preceding and during the Revolution. It fully documents the programme of the Workers’ Councils, both in relation to production and in relation to politics. It finally tackles one of the key problems of our day: a redefinition of the old socialist programme. Is socialism just the expropriation of the old ruling class, the nationalisation of the means of production and the rule of the Party? Or is it the abolition of all privileged strata based on the exercise of managerial functions, workers’ management of production and popular self-administration based on the rule of workers’ councils?’

Most members of the IS Editorial Board agree with most of the views expressed in its editorial notes; a lot of readers don’t. And yet we seem to get away with it almost unharried. Why? Space is there for the taking. Articles, polemics, letters are invited. And if you’re not a great hand at writing, a few sentences can easily explain the point of disagreement. No writing need accompany money, however. Two extra-large issues in a row have drained us and, although a generous response to a limited whip-round has brought us within aiming distance of our debts, we can neither sustain the 40-pagers nor improve our production without more help. Help.

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