A BIRTH OF FREEDOM

MAROONS IN JAMAICA

African slaves in Jamaica, under Cudgoe’s leader­ship, had withdrawn from the shadow of the European citadel and then vexed the fortress with spasmodic attack. The first Maroon War that produced the phenomenon of Cudgoe came about because the pre­datory English had treacherously begun to penetrate the sacred preserves of the Maroons, in order to conscribe a liberty which had been the reward for alliance against the Spanish. The English launched against the Maroons a predatory war in which West Indian scholars have found a parallel with the theft of terri­tory in various parts of Africa. The Maroons dis­tinguished themselves as a military power but accepted a settlement less than independence, a settlement that left open the door of capitalistic penetration and subtle subversion. The chiefs were autonomous but “responsible directly to the Governor of Jamaica.” They were allowed into the white domain only on sufferance. Moreover the Maroons undertook to cap­ture and return to the European authorities runaway African slaves from the plantations. The Maroons therefore seemed to lack a total conception of liberty which could rally all the oppressed in the island for an assault on the slave holder’s power. They were willing to buy a limited freedom by pledging in advance the liberty of their fellows. We can be excused for thinking of them at this level as a little aristocratic, as a material interest. Nevertheless, the Maroon Movement was a mighty contribution to the West Indian and to world freedom, but it lacked the indispensable guarantee of national sovereignty. The Maroons were a people, a remarkable people, but not a nation; and they did not set up a State. Yet without them, Berbice could not have taken place.

BUSH NEGRO MOVEMENT OF SURINAM

The Bush Negro Movement of Surinam is closer to the Maroon Movement than to the Berbice Move­ment of ‘63. In Surinam large numbers of African slaves withdrew from the plantations and they were joined by considerable numbers who had just dis­embarked from a slave ship and had never known plantation slavery. The Bush Negro Movement was once again a significant episode in the Caribbean revolution and in the universal movement against man’s oppression of man. Like the Maroon Move­ment it was an example of colonisation by blacks over a large territory outside of the active scope of the European authority. The Djuka found freedom not by frontally attacking the fortress of the enemy, but by withdrawing to uncontrolled territory and tak­ing possession of it. Having established a base, they began to raid the coastal plantations for all sorts of supplies, including wives. Their attacks on these Dutch settlements were very telling. The Dutch, mobilised to the full, but could not follow the Ashanti warriors into the jungles, and the plantations reeled under their blows to such a degree that the Dutch begged for peace, which was projected in 1749 between Adoe, the African leader, and Governor Mauricus on the Dutch side. The terms of the Peace included a gift of arms to the rebels, a provision that does credit to the statemanship of Adoe and his advisers. In the negotiations in 1757, the Dutch had Araby, a first generation Surinamer, to contend with. His speech to the Dutch envoys who had come to the jungle explains the position of the Djuka. He said:

“We desire you to tell your Governor, no war gangs of rebels, they ought to take at your court, that in case they want to raise care that the planters keep a more watchful eye over their own property, and do not trust them so frequently to the hands of drunken managers and overseers, who by wrongfully and severely chastising the Negroes, debauching their wives and child­ren, neglecting the sick etc. are the pain of the colony and wilfully drive to the woods such members of stout active people who by their sweat earn your subsistence, and without whose hands your colony must drop to nothing, and to whom now at last in this disgraceful manner, you are glad to sue for friendship.” (Djuka, p. 16 by M. C. Khan).

There can be no doubt that the Djuka preferred self-government to European rule, however benevolent, and Araby’s speech must be taken as the sally of a very skilled propagandist. Some of the Djuka had never spent even a single day on the plantations.

The Maroon and Bush Negro Movements, which both predated Berbice were pre-nationalistic in their scope. They were freedom movements differing slightly in origin and form, but establishing the same principle of negotiated autonomy. Both of these movements also applied the tactic or rather the strategy of the liberated area within the boundaries of the Slave State, recognised by the ruling power through the Governor. In both cases, military division took place in the African population of the slave state, and there was failure to rally the whole colony, no doubt because of the limited aims of the action. In each case there was failure to create a black State, a mistake which Berbice did not make. To put Ber­bice in its proper light we must first examine the world around it.

The economic basis of the slave trade was the practice of capitalism in general and the mercantilist ideology in particular. The system of Negro slavery developed with the rise of mercantilist ideas, and the decay of the system coincided with the decline of mer­cantilist ideas and the rise of Free Trade.

In 1763, when the Bcrbice slaves revolted, mer­cantilism was not dead, but dying. It was still strong enough to crush rebellion. Berbice was the first effective challenge foreshadowing that which was to shake mercantilism to its very foundations, the revolt of the thirteen colonies in North America. A Euro­pean idea expressed in economic policy was being challenged in precisely those places where it had been justifying itself. This is one aspect of the historical significance of the Berbice Rising.

Before drawing the next conclusion, it is neces­sary to define the West Indian slave as an economic factor of production in his given historical context. He was a slave in so far as he was the property of another, in so far as he utterly lacked rights and surfeited in wrongs, in so far as he worked without wages, there being no element of contract or consent in the subsistence rations which his master shovelled into him in order to keep up production. But in so far as he constituted the labour force of a capitalist enterprise sustained by shareholders of private capital, or the capital of some Company-State, and in which money was invested for profits, in so far as he was a toiler without property of his own, the West Indian slave was a proletarian. He was the infant son of the modern industrial proletariat in one sense, and in another sense he was its father. The rebellion against his owners was not only a rebellion of property against property, it was a rebellion of proletarians against property owners.

There were present many of the essential pre­requisites of a proletarian revolution, eighty years be­fore the publication of the Communist Manifesto. It was perhaps the first proletarian revolution in the his­tory of growing capitalism and certainly the first in the Western Hemisphere. Again, it is because they were true proletarians that they revolted.