Padmore and CLR James

Cyril Lionel Richard James and Malcolm Nurse were good friends and playmates as young boys in Trinidad. In London as an adult in the early 1930s, James emerged as a leading publicist for colonial independence, and prominent member of the Independent Labour Party. He began writing his most important and enduring work, "The Black Jacobins," and a more doctrinaire companion volume, "The History of Negro Revolt," to show "how the African revolution would develop." He also wrote a play, "Toussaint L'Ouverture," on the Black Jacobins subject, in which Paul Robeson performed the lead.

Meanwhile James's boyhood friend, now better known as George Padmore, had become the chief of the Communist International's African Bureau and author of "The Life and Struggle of Negro Toilers." Padmore quit the Comintern after being instructed to play down anti-imperialist agitation in deference to the requirements of the Popular Front. He joined James in London, where their circle included Amy Ashwood Garvey, Jomo Kenyatta, Karl Korsch, Daniel Guerin, Boris Souvarine, Sylvia Pankhurst, and another friend from their Trinidad childhood, Eric Williams.

In 1935, this group formed the International African Friends of Abyssinia. James volunteered to enlist in Haile Selassie's army to fight the Italian invasion. Although his offer was ignored, Black aviators from Harlem and Mississippi performed with valor in the war against the fascist invaders. Without the level of solidarity and volunteer support that arose two years later in defense of Spain, the Ethiopian forces were quickly crushed with barely a nod from Marxists. (Marxist historians of that war have written that it was the fascists' rehearsal for Spain, just as Spain was their rehearsal for World War II.) As has occurred so often in our history, an issue that drew huge rallies and protest marches in Black communities from New York to New Orleans failed to evoke significant interest among white radicals, delaying and enervating the inevitable battle against fascism.

Afterward, C.L.R. James and George and Dorothy Padmore reconstituted their organization as the International African Service Bureau, organizing public protests against British imperialism, and publishing a journal dedicated to colonial liberation, "International African Opinion." By then James had become a Trotskyist, had participated in the founding conference of the Fourth International, and had become the FI's orator on "The Twilight of the British Empire." He relocated to the United States (including a stint organizing sharecroppers in the BootHeel of Missouri) while the Padmores carried on the work in London.

James met Kwame Nkrumah in 1943, when Nkrumah was a student at Lincoln College in Pennsylvania. They met several times during the war to discuss politics and strategy. In his autobiography, Nkrumah credited James with having taught him the method of clandestine organization. James gave Nkrumah a letter of introduction to Padmore, and from that beginning Padmore's headquarters became the exile home of Ghana's Convention People's Party.

James and Padmore's group contin