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Sex and the subversive alien: The moral life of C. L. R. James

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Abstract:

This article explores the importance of morality, gender, and desire for C. L. R. James's self-representation as a revolutionary intellectual. Social scientific theories that depict radicalism as a one-way Caribbean export to the United Kingdom and the United States have obscured shared traditions across the modern Atlantic world. Throughout his transatlantic migrations from 1932 to 1952, James trafficked in moral frameworks grounded in heterosexist lessons of discipline, loyalty and self-denial. As a public intellectual, he championed the Puritan ethics of his protestant middle-class family in colonial Trinidad. In his private life, James had an unsteady orientation to their moral compass. The historiography of the Black Radical Tradition has erased women and gender from the horizons of revolutionary action. The intimacies of radical political organizing in the United Kingdom and the United States led James to revise, reject, and reproduce patriarchal values of his colonial upbringing. During the 1940s and 1950s he co-founded the Johnson-Forest Tendency, an interracial, intergenerational organization that theorized and organized for the liberation of women, youth and workers. Despite the Tendency's intersectional agenda, James concentrated political power within himself through the sexual domination of women. Confronting a cold war government intent on deporting him, James staked his claim for US citizenship on the body of his second wife Constance Webb. An absent husband and authoritarian political leader, James denied his political affiliations and marketed himself to immigration officials as a moral patriarch. In crafting his intellectual legacies, he censored women from his revolutionary biography.

Keywords: Constance Webb; Grace Lee Boggs; Johnson-Forest Tendency; Raya Dunayevskaya; Selma James; black-radical tradition

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1386/ijfs.14.1-2.185_1

Affiliations: Yale University.

Publication date: 2011-05-01

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  • The International Journal of Francophone Studies offers a critical preview for a new development in the understanding of 'France outside France', with a thorough insight into the network of disciplinary issues affiliated with this study. The journal complements the thriving area of scholarly interest in the French-speaking regions of the world, bringing a location of linguistic, cultural, historical and social dynamics within a single academic arena.
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