State Capitalism in the Social Imagination of C. L. R. James

By:
Christopher Phelps
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This paper will explore the theory of state capitalism in the writings of C. L. R. James during his American sojourn, lasting from the late 1930s through the early 1950s. It will demonstrate that James thought his insights into state capitalism as a worldwide stage of productive history were his most important intellectual accomplishment, though in the explosion of James studies his political economy is neglected. Scholarship on James has dwelt almost exclusively on his cultural, racial, and literary contributions. After exploring the intellectual context and roots of James's theory of state capitalism in debates among Marxists and others about the nature of advanced capitalism and the class character of the Soviet Union, and after assessing the limitations and strengths of James's particular state capitalist ruminations, the paper will demonstrate that in James's thought, even his cultural writings — such as his analysis of the American novelist Herman Melville — can only be understood by apprehending his theory of state capitalism.


Keywords: Class, Capital, Globalization, Capitalism, Race
Stream: History, Historiography, Political Science, Politics, Immigration, Refugees, Race, Nation
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
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Christopher Phelps

Associate Professor, Department of History, The Ohio State University
USA

Christopher Phelps is a graduate of Reed College (B.A., 1988), the University of Oregon (M.A., 1992) and the University of Rochester (Ph.D., 1995). He has taught at Simon Fraser University in Canada, the University of Oregon, and the Ohio State University at Mansfield. He has twice received a Fulbright award, to teach the history of American philosophy at the University of Pecs in Hungary in 2000, and to serve as Distinguished Chair in American Studies and Literature at the University of Lodz in Poland in 2004-2005. A specialist in twentieth-century American intellectual and political history, he is the author of Young Sidney Hook: Marxist and Pragmatist (Cornell University Press, 1997; reissued with a new preface by the University of Michigan Press, 2005). He has written introductions to the following books: Upton Sinclair, The Jungle (Bedford / St. Martin's, 2005); Max Shachtman, Race and Revolution (Verso, 2003); Sidney Hook, Towards the Understanding of Karl Marx (Prometheus, 2001); and Sidney Hook, From Hegel to Marx (Columbia University Press, 1994). His articles and reviews have appeared in The Journal of American History, The American Historical Review, American Quarterly, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Nation, New Politics, and other periodicals.

Ref: H05P0617