The Life of Captain Cipriani

An Account of British Government in the West Indies, with the pamphlet The Case for West-Indian Self Government

The Life of Captain Cipriani

The C. L. R. James Archives

More about this series

Book Pages: 200 Illustrations: Published: August 2014

Author: C. L. R. James

Contributor: Bridget Brereton

Caribbean Studies, Postcolonial and Colonial Studies

The Life of Captain Cipriani (1932) is the earliest full-length work of nonfiction by the Trinidadian writer C. L. R. James, one of the most significant historians and Marxist theorists of the twentieth century. It is partly based on James's interviews with Arthur Andrew Cipriani (1875–1945). As a captain with the British West Indies Regiment during the First World War, Cipriani was greatly impressed by the service of black West Indian troops and appalled at their treatment during and after the war. After his return to the West Indies, he became a Trinidadian political leader and advocate for West Indian self-government. James's book is as much polemic as biography. Written in Trinidad and published in England, it is an early and powerful statement of West Indian nationalism. An excerpt, The Case for West-Indian Self Government, was issued by Leonard and Virginia Woolf's Hogarth Press in 1933. This volume includes the biography, the pamphlet, and a new introduction in which Bridget Brereton considers both texts and the young C. L. R. James in relation to Trinidadian and West Indian intellectual and social history. She discusses how James came to write his biography of Cipriani, how the book was received in the West Indies and Trinidad, and how, throughout his career, James would use biography to explore the dynamics of politics and history.


“[I]n The Life of Captain Cipriani, James passionately and with his characteristic devastating wit exposed the lie behind the dictatorial British colonial authorities’ line of ‘self government when fit for it’, showing how the growth of the TWA demonstrated beyond doubt that Trinidadians were manifestly ready for ‘self government’. Indeed on re-reading the work without the off-putting miniscule print of the original publication I was struck by James’s radical daring democratic spirit, and it is not surprising it proved such a revelation and such an inspiration to many who came across it back in the 1930s.”  — Christian Høgsbjerg, Review 31

"[A] fascinating piece of work. It presents a snapshot into a period in Trinidadian history, and a perspective that is both new and ordinary, via an episodic study of its subject." — Trinidad and Tobago Guardian

"[A]n indispensable work for fully understanding James’ trajectory of development as a historian and theoretician."
  — Anuja Bose, Journal of Colonialism & Colonial History

"Having these previously difficult-to-obtain texts available in this form, and with Brereton’s valuable introduction, is . . . to be warmly welcomed." — Andrew Smith, Cultural Critique

"The Life of Captain Cipriani and the excerpted pamphlet, 'The Case for West Indian Self-Government,' are two of C. L. R. James's most significant contributions to the anticolonial cause. These early works played a crucial part in the development of his career as a writer and political thinker. They helped articulate the case for independence for Trinidad and the West Indies, and they effectively launched James's career as a public figure." — Kent Worcester, author of C. L. R. James: A Political Biography

"This volume is an indispensable introduction to the dialectical synthesis of biography, sports, race, politics, and poetics that the early James brought to his encounter with Marxism. It was the later merging of the codes of these two already complex and synthetic discourses that made possible classic works like The Black Jacobins and Beyond a Boundary."
  — Paget Henry, coeditor of C. L. R. James's Caribbean


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

C. L. R. James (1901–1989), a Trinidadian historian, political activist, and writer, is the author of The Black Jacobins, an influential study of the Haitian Revolution. His play Toussaint Louverture: The Story of the Only Successful Slave Revolt in History and his now-classic book on sport and culture, Beyond a Boundary, are both published by Duke University Press.

Bridget Brereton is Emerita Professor of History at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Introduction / Bridget Brereton 1

The Life of Captain Cipriani: An Account of British Government in the West Indies

Foreword 37

1. The People Concerned 39

2. Early Days 61

3. With the B.W.I.R. 69

4. Captain Cipriani and the Labour Movement 85

5. Captain Cipriani and the Legislative Council 97

6. The Municipality and the Trinidad Electricity Company 121

7. The Divorce Legislation 133

8. Personal 155

The Case for West Indian Self Government

1. The English in the West Indies 169

 2. The Governor-in-Executive Council 177

3. The Legislative Council 181

Index 195
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5651-6 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5639-4
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