‘The very valley of the shadow of death’: C.L.R. James on capitalism and environmental destruction

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This essay will explore the black Trinidadian revolutionary historian C.L.R. James’s little theorised engagement with questions of the environment and natural world from the 1930s to the 1980s, situating this within his wider oeuvre as a Marxist who had experienced not only colonial domination in the Caribbean but also witnessed other catastrophes endemic to twentieth century capitalism, from the Great War, the Great Depression, the rise of fascism and the Holocaust, the Second World War and then the use of atomic weapons (Hiroshima and Nagasaki). The essay will firstly examine how James might be seen to have helped inspire contemporary theorising around the ‘plantationocene’ in his classic history of the Haitian Revolution, The Black Jacobins (1938). More generally, as early as 1951, James (and his co-thinkers) noted that ‘It is not the world of nature that confronts man as an alien power to be overcome. It is the alien power that he has himself created’. The choice ahead for James was one of socialism or barbarism, one of rebellion or extinction, and in 1958, evoking biblical language and imagery, he noted that we are already entering ‘the very valley of the shadow of death’.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages33
JournalRadical History Review
Issue number145
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 28 Apr 2022


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