Cyril Lional Robert James, the son of a schoolteacher, was born in Tunapuna, Trinidad, on 4th January, 1901. He was deeply influenced by his mother who was a avid reader. A very intelligent child, at the age of six he won won a scholarship to Queens Royal College. As a young man James met George Padmore and the two men became close friends.
After leaving college James worked as a school teacher and as a cricket reporter. He also wrote two novels, La Divina Pastora (1927) and Triumph (1929). He took a keen interest in politics and wrote a biography of the Trinidadian labour leader, Arthur Cipriani. The book, Life of Captain Cipriani was published in 1929.
The cricketer, Learie Constantine, suggested that James should emigrate to England. He arrived in 1932 and for a while lived with Constantine in Nelson, Lancashire. He also managed to get work reporting cricket matches for the Manchester Guardian. James was a strong supporter of West Indian independence. A pamphlet that he wrote, The Case for West Indian Self-Government, was published in 1933 by Leonard Woolf.
James moved to London and during this period he studied the work of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels and Leon Trotsky. He initially joined the Independent Labour Party (ILP) and after moving to London became chairman of its Finchley branch. He also wrote for left-wing journals such as the New Leader and Controversy. James became a Marxist and left the ILP to form the Revolutionary Socialist League. James, now a follower of Trotsky, was highly critical of the government of Joseph Stalin and the British Communist Party.
In 1936 James published Minty Alley. The novel was based on his childhood in Trinidad. He also wrote a play about Toussaint Louverture, the leader of the Haitian revolution, and in 1936 Paul Robeson played the leading role at its production at the Westminster Theatre.
James also published several books on politics including Abyssinia and the Imperialists (1936), World Revolution 1917-1936 (1937). This history of the Comintern was highly critical of Stalin's 1924 pronouncement, "Socialism in One Country" and provided support for the ideas of Leon Trotsky. His study of the Haitian revolution, The Black Jacobins, was published in 1938.
James moved to the United States in October 1938. He lectured on political issues and continued to published books about politics including Dialectical Materialism and the Fate of Humanity (1947), Notes on Dialectics (1948),The Revolutionary Answer to the Negro Problem in the USA (1948), State Capitalism and World Revolution (1950) and The Class Struggle (1950). James also wrote extensively about the work of Walt Whitman and Herman Melville.
The Marxist writings of James upset Joseph McCarthy and fellow right-wingers and he was eventually deported from the United States. James lived for a while in Africa but in 1958 returned to the West Indies. Influenced by the events of the Hungarian Rising in 1956, this book Facing Reality (1958) reveals a disillusionment with both Communism and Trotskyism. During this period he worked on a biography of George Padmore and parts of the book appeared in The Nation journal.
In 1963 James published Beyond a Boundary. The book is a combination of autobiography and a detailed analysis of sport and politics. Other books by James include Radical America (1970) and Nkrumah and the Ghana Revolution (1977) and Radical America (1970).
Cyril Lional Robert James moved back to London and died in Brixton in May, 1989.