The C.L.R. James Institute

The C.L.R. James Institute--A New Model of Scholarship
in the Social Division of Labor

by Ralph Dumain

The rationalism of the bourgeoisie has ended in the Stalinist one-party bureaucratic-administrative state of the Plan. In their repulsion from this rationalism and from the proletarian revolution, the middle classes fall back upon the barbarism of Fascism. The anti-Stalinist, anti-capitalist petty-bourgeois intellectuals, themselves the victims of the absolute division between mental and physical labor, do not know where to go or what to do. Unable to base themselves completely upon the modern proletariat, they turn inward, pursueing a self-destructive, soul-searching analysis of their own isolation, alienation and indecision. They too appropriate the Hegelian dialectic, interpreting it as an unceasing conflict in the individual between affirmation and negation, between deciding for and deciding against.

These intellectuals are the most cultivated in the modern world, in the sense of knowing the whole past of human culture. Having achieved what the idealism of Hegel posed as the Absolute, they are undergoing a theoretical disintegration without parallel in human history. In France this disintegration has assumed the form of a literary movement, Existentialism. In America it takes the form of a mania for psychoanalysis, reaching in to all layers of society but nowhere more than among the most urbane, sensitive and cultivated intellectuals. In Germany the intellectuals cannot choose between Christian humanism and psychoanalysis, whether guilt or sickness is the root of the German catastrophe. This is total unreason, the disintegration of a society without values or perspective, the final climax to centuries of division of labor between the philosophers and the proletarians.

-- C.L.R. James, 1950

(from State Capitalism and World Revolution, in collaboration with Raya Dunayevskaya & Grace Lee, with a new introduction by Paul Buhle. Chicago: Charles H. Kerr Publishing Company, 1986; p. 128)

The Nature of Our Enterprise:
Intellectual Work and the Social Division of Labor

The Institute occupies a unique intellectual and social position, due to the character of James's own unique intellectual and social positioning, the social positioning of James supporters and scholars, and the intellectual and social functioning of the Institute itself. The unifying theme in all of these cases is a topic dearest to James but as yet little investigated by James scholars: intellectuals and the division of labor.

Who was James? For all intents and purposes, regardless of his formal schooling, James functioned in the manner of an autodidact. He drew from various cultural and intellectual resources to fashion his own working methods and theoretical resources, outside of the formal structures of the established intellectual world. James's own social existence was shadowy in that he never managed to institutionalize himself fully during his lifetime or hold any permanent academic or professional post. James located himself "institutionally" within organizations and legacies devoted to Trotskyism, Pan-Africanism, journalism, and literature, but neither his methods nor his ideas can be encapsulated within such rubrics. The unique combination of ingredients and themes which James synthesized in his work, and the unorthodox manner in which he functioned socially as a thinker, writer, and activist, bring into relief the fundamental existential crises, contradictions, and concerns of our time. Even placing James within intellectual traditions brings up the fundamental questions of intellectual life in relation to the division of labor.

James's "followers" and James scholars also defy the conventional categorizations of society. People interested in James come from the general public and circles of political activists, as well as from the academic world of students and professors. James's political influence does not merely adhere within the organizations in which he himself functioned, whether in socialist, pan-Africanist, labor, or Caribbean circles, but in a variety of scattered political activist formations, often locally based, in which James studies are correlated with political education and activism. One could say that James as an intellectual force, given the diversity of his interests and the diversity of his constituencies, has been highly scattered and decentralized around the globe.

James studies has been accelerated principally by people outside of formal academic structures. Even those with formal education and academic posts had to perform their James work outside the confines of their own academic specialties and institutions. Were it not for stubborn independent scholars and political activists, James studies could have never advanced.

How does the C.L.R. James Institute function? It is uniquely positioned as well, intellectually and socially. The Institute operates outside and independent of academia. It draws independent researchers, students, academics, and political activists interested in James. Not being invested in entrenched intellectual and institutional interests such as academic specialization and its accompanying jargon, the Institute provides not only a repository of research materials but creates an intellectual space for a different approach to intellectual work. The Institute reflects James's own concern with overcoming the stupefying effects of the social division of labor.

A New Model for Scholarship:
The C.L.R. James Resource Guide

Because neither James nor his supporters nor many of his most serious scholars nor the majority of people interested in James are academics, a traditional institutional approach to James scholarship does not meet our needs. To leave James scholarship to traditional institutional forms (including leftist political parties) would violate the whole history and nature of James's appeal. Merely to dump James's papers into a research library, to which only qualified scholars would normally have access, provided only with the road map of the traditional archival finding aid, would not be suitable for all those interested in the James corpus. How is scholarship usually done? The scholar consults the primary research materials, constructs his or her own narrative of their meaning, and buttresses his arguments by means of the proper bibliography and footnotes. The scholar's assertions could subsequently be tested against the original sources by those who have access to them. Our method is quite different.

In lieu of being able to provide everyone with copies of the entire James archive, we decided to invert the usual process. For the research guide, we have reversed the concept of text and footnotes. The footnotes have become the text, and the text the footnotes. We want the researcher to have some idea, as far as humanly possible given our limited resources, of all of the primary and secondary material that exists, and we attach our own valuations, interpretations, contextualizing information, or insider commentary to the relevant documents. We also supply a large variety of indexes that allow the researcher to access the information in various ways. As for the design of the main part of the catalogue, we had to invent our own format to present the bibliographical information in the most effective manner. Our Resource Guide is neither a traditional library catalogue, nor a traditional archival finding aid, nor even a standard bibliography. We began with a preponderance of unpublished manuscripts. Many of our documents lacked a title; some had unknown authorship; hundreds of the published articles were published under pseudonyms. We needed to create a simple yet readable form to handle these parameters without hiring a staff of professional library catalogers.

The end result is that we have created our own form. We have produced a resource, a guide, a catalogue, for the researcher, rather than a unified narrative of our own, though we do indeed have distinctive viewpoints that shape our commentary. The basis for our catalogue is a computerized database of the holdings of the archive. Our goal is to get this catalogue into the hands of as many researchers as want it: not only libraries, academics, and other credentialed researchers, but also to those members of the general public who crave this kind of information. Not everyone can travel to a research library, even one open to the general public, but an inexpensively priced catalogue can begin to bring the information within everyone's reach.

A New Model for Scholarship:
The Research and Documentation Process

In the process of organizing and extending the archives, we have engaged in a variety of traditional activities. Tracking down obscure primary and secondary publications in various corners of the world is an interminable process. We are collecting everything we can by James and his circle, even from the most obscure reports, bulletins, and pamphlets. We are also collecting unpublished material, such as manuscripts, correspondence, transcripts, interviews, and so on. Aside from contacting known institutions, there is considerable material in the hands of private individuals, whom we must seek out and persuade to provide us copies of their materials. The great frontiers in this work are personal caches of audio and video tapes of interviews with James. An extension of the work with private individuals is to solicit oral histories and memoirs of their experiences with James and his circle. We have corresponded, talked on the phone, or have met in person with various people who knew James, both in recent times and several decades past.

However, we are not content with the consolidation and centralization of all this material scattered over the globe. We have to get this information out to the public as well. This process involves our own research and scholarship, publication, support of others' research, and outreach. We have an extensive mailing list compiled from prior contacts relating to activism and James scholarship. We have networks of people -- scholars, editors, publishers, reviewers, teachers -- through whom we can work to make our plans effective. The Institute has supported the research and publications of several people and has produced some pamphlets of its own. Our own director has personally typeset four books by and about James for Blackwell Publishers. The contents of these books were drawn largely from the Institute's own archive. In addition to supplying documents to researchers, we supply photos to publications printing articles about James, and we encourage the efforts of authors, editors, publishers, teachers, and activists to bring James into public view. Some outstanding tangible instances of support for research must be mentioned. We have had research fellows here to study with us, seeking information they could not find in their own academic institutions. Our latest Fellow is one of only sixteen people subsidized by the British government to pursue a doctorate in Sociology, and he will study here for most of 1997. Also, the Institute has developed a formal association with the African Studies Centre at the University of Cambridge. Note that this was undertaken at the request of the Centre, itself seeking the prestige of being affiliated with the C.L.R. James Institute.

Another aspect of outreach is our ongoing effort to spread interest in James among a variety of people with different specialties and occupations via the Internet. We have succeeded in bringing many people into the James orbit and engaging in intellectual interchange with many of them, as well as establishing contact with people already interested in James. We have used this method and Internet resources in general to gather information and extend our mailing list.

There are intangible aspects of our support of the research process as well. There is also the question of intellectual content and methodology. We are not only socially positioned outside academia, but just as important, we are intellectually outside of it as well. That means we are not beholden to the intellectual trends, style, jargon, or career demands of the university. Since we ourselves have traversed intellectual trajectories outside of the confines, if not entirely divorced from, formal institutional learning, and since we have developed our own intellectual methodologies in part inspired by our James work, we have our own frameworks and points of departure which are not beholden to the institutionalized division of labor as it molds the development of the human mind and socializes its recruits to function within it.

As individuals functioning within our own Institute, we can contribute to the intellectual world in two ways: by pursuing our own research, which we are uniquely positioned to do via our immediate access to the James corpus, and by providing an intellectual space for others not content to be ground by professional training and career demands down into an intellectual rut, imitating the trendiness and insufferable jargon of their academic specialties. In sum, the Institute, not only by studying James, but in its total conception of intellectual work in social motion, is itself an instantiation of the Jamesian project. By the diversity of people it brings together in the study and application of Jamesian ideas, conscious of the painful divisions within society, most of all of the division between formal intellectual work and the world of everyday life, the Institute's mission is to direct its modest means towards the overcoming of the crippling social division of mental and manual labor, using James studies as an inspiration.

Problems, Prospects, and Future Projects

We have demonstrated a long-term commitment to the cause, having made the personal and financial sacrifices necessary to get our work done. The project of producing The C.L.R. James Resource Guide began to take shape in 1991, following the completion of Anna Grimshaw's pathbreaking The C.L.R. James Archive: A Reader's Guide, published by the Institute. It was at this point that I first became involved with the Institute. Since then we have expanded the scope of our activities, beginning with the unrelenting acquisition of documents which has accompanied the organization and documentation of the existing archive. We are on the verge of completing and publishing our comprehensive research guide. We will make the necessary sacrifices to accomplish this end. However, to continue and expand our efforts, we require outside funding.

There is a logical progression in our work and its expansion. Our present work is the foundation for future work. The build-up of the archive and the research base and the publication of the research guide form the pre-requisites for future publication, research, and outreach activities.

PERSONNEL: First, we require salaries for ourselves, i.e. Institute Director Jim Murray and myself as Librarian/Archivist, to maintain ourselves beyond bare subsistence. In the past we have hired outside temporary help and we may continue to do so. Our staff will ultimately depend upon the range and extent of our activities.

RESOURCES: Possible expenses include the purchase or upgrade of computer equipment, software, Internet accounts, etc. Office equipment, postage, and other normal office operating requirements should be considered as well.

ACQUISITIONS: We wish to continue in pursuit of primary and secondary documentation. This may require contacting, ordering documents from, or even visiting libraries and archives as well as private collections. We are especially interested in acquiring audio and video tapes from private collections as well as archives. This will require funds for the conversion of video formats into the VHS format used in the USA.

RESEARCH AND DOCUMENTATION: Travel funds may be required, e.g. for the purpose of visiting other archives and research libraries that have James and James-related materials we do not have. We would also like to work on some oral history projects. An especially exciting project we have in mind is to locate certain surviving and unjustly neglected members of James's circle and engage them in intensive interviews for the historical record. This project could incur telephone and travel expenses. We also need to do our own research, and we would like to continue to provide for visiting scholars and research fellows to study with us.

PUBLICATIONS: We aim first and foremost at the publication and distribution of the Resource Guide at an affordable price for individuals, so as to promote the Institute's mission and independent research and to gain a wide enough circulation to enhance the value of the archive collection itself. The profit margin cannot be the overriding consideration for this publication, though we do intend to recoup our investment and use the catalogue as a basis for future generation of revenue.

Following the publication of the catalogue, we would like to issue periodic updates -- supplemental bulletins -- which would contain corrections and additions to the archive. We also have plans for publishing specialized pamphlets -- lectures, essays, library talks, research guides, teaching materials -- on specific aspects of James studies, which we plan to write ourselves, though we may well publish other people's work, too.

OUTREACH: We intend to expand our activities on the Internet. We already have a place to build a Web site, which we have yet to construct. We wish to conduct formal seminars on James and James-related topics at the Institute itself. This endeavor could include the training of researchers, speakers, and teachers. We could assist teachers in the preparation of teaching materials for their classes. We already have a network, consisting not only of students and professors, but of high school teachers and community activists whom we could tap in order to get the teaching of James into schools and community organizations. This would be the ultimate outcome of all the preparatory work that is going into documentation, research, and publication.

To sum up, we have a comprehensive vision and long-range plan for James studies and its integration into social life, to which we have already devoted years of self-sacrifice and will continue to do so, bolstered by adequate material means of realizing our vision.

(16-17 January 1997)

Postscript: There is much to add to my programmatic statement of four years ago. Our activities, projects, plans, and even philosophy have expanded in the interim, but this summation of our work still retains interest.

11 February 2001

(c) 1997, 2001 Ralph Dumain & The C.L.R. James Institute

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(c) 2001 The C.L.R. James Institute

Uploaded 25 March 2001