The C.L.R. James Institute

C.L.R. James on Marx's Capital and State Capitalism

While James wrote extensively on the political, social, and even philosophical dimensions of state capitalism, which characterizes the Stalinist state, his writings on political economy as the foundation of the state capitalist theory are quite rare. Within the Johnson-Forest Tendency Raya Dunayevskaya was the acknowledged expert on Capital. There is a huge body of literature on the various theories of the Soviet-type state--degenerated workers' state, bureaucratic collectivism, state capitalism, even Asiatic despotism. While the views of the Johnson-Forest Tendency and James in particular on state capitalism are sometimes covered, one rarely if ever finds a detailed analysis of James's nuts-and-bolts writing on political economy. I have been trying to stimulate such analysis for years. Perhaps one of our readers will take up this subject.

James's work on the specifically economic aspects of the state capitalist theory took place in the context of a debate in the Workers Party with Joseph Carter. James appears always under the pseudonym J.R. Johnson.

First, there was a debate in the party journal: "Aspects of Marxian Economics", The New International ", April 1942, pp. 77-80.

Then came James's major article on the subject: "Production for the Sake of Production--A Reply to Carter", Workers Party Bulletin, April 1943, pp. 198-209. This is James's major statement on the subject, ending with a very important programmatic statement that has sometimes been quoted:

We live our daily lives in the upper reaches and derivative superstructure of Marxism. We are not academicians and must perforce spend most of our time there. But the foundations and the lower floors are huge unexplored buildings which we enter if at all in solitude and leave in silence. They have been shrines too long. We need to throw them open, to ourselves and to our public.

This article is also very revealing in James's use of Hegel and his view of scientific method.

In this same internal bulletin there is a "Statement of the Secretariat" and James's "Letter of J.R. Johnson" (pp. 196-197), having to do with the refusal of publication of this essay in the party's public theoretical organ, The New International.

Next came Joseph Carter's rebuttal, under the amusing title "Johnson's Mystification of Marxism, or A Case of Unproductive Self-Expansion", also in the Workers Party Bulletin, October 1943 (25 pp.).

Finally, there is a long-lost intervention by Raya Dunayevskaya, under her pseudonym F. Forest, "A Restatement of Some Fundamentals of Marxism Against Carter's Vulgarization", said to be originally published as a Bulletin of the Workers Party in 1944, republished by News & Letters in January 1978 (23 pp.).

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Uploaded: 27 June 2001
Last updated: 11 July 2001