Notes on Notes on Dialectics

Notes on Dialectics, probably the key work in the development of C.L.R. James’s thinking, was written in 1948, and though its influence has been deeply felt through privately circulated mimeographed editions, this is its first publication in book form

— C.L.R. James Notes on Dialectics: Hegel, Marx, Lenin, publisher details page

C.L.R. James’s The Black Jacobins came into my life as an offhand mention in an after class conversation with a Caribbean Studies professor about… I don’t remember what. After a lot1 of reading and re-reading I arrived at another of James’s book, Notes on Dialectics.

Unfortunately I couldn’t find a copy of Notes on Dialectics2. As best I can tell Notes was only in print for one paperback edition in 1980 and otherwise distributed as mimeographed copies3 or more recently as scanned PDFs or partial excerpts. I’ve found references to a 2006 Pluto Press edition on used book sites, but no confirmation that the edition was released.

In 2004, John H McClendon produced a critique, C.L.R. James’s Notes on Dialectics: Left Hegelianism or Marxism-Leninism?, that I highly recommend. If you try to buy the original Notes on Dialectics you will encounter approximately 1 billion copies of this critique.

Luckily in 2023 some amazing soul put a really good scan up on Right on time for me to get to work on an accessible edition of Notes for my own use and that now I can share.


As sources I used:

After OCR, I manually proofread and corrected for OCR errors.

I limited further edits to spelling errors that would hinder assistive technology use, then typographic markup and links for notes. I also expanded “ibid” entries in end notes to improve inline readability.

The cover is a simplified homage to the 1980 cover.

1980 Allison & Busby British cover featuring portraits of Hegel, Marx, and Lenin Updated cover with simple colored columns where the portraits were

I love this book and hope you read it

I’m glad to have a sincere but intermittently goofy take on Hegel.

There’s a great deal of polemic about how Trotsky couldn’t stop trying to put new wine in old wine skins.

You couldn’t ask for a better book to get you thinking about the labour movement of the early twentieth century and how we might adapt those lessons to our current era.

Available Formats

  1. In Cedric J. Robinsons’s Black Marxism the second act meditates in depth on The Black Jacobins and was my first encounter with Notes on Dialectics

  2. While I was working on this project, only one copy was available to purchase in any of the many places I looked/called and it was a listing on French Amazon for more than a thousand dollars and not much to confirm it was real. At the time of authoring this post, there is one copy on US Amazon for the much more reasonable price of $70, but the seller only has 5 reviews and all 5 describe ordering a book, a long delay, then cancellation. 

  3. John H McClendon’s C.L.R. James’s Notes on Dialectics: Left Hegelianism or Marxism-Leninism? mentions that the print edition is missing some content from the earlier mimeographs, including asides meant for Grace Lee Boggs