My assignment is to present “a view of Caribbean Society” as part of a general survey of the prospects ahead. The only way I can see it is as a vision, a personal vision. If not, it could only be the routine economic basis, ideological superstructure, political perspectives, which I and others have done so often that it would be here quite superfluous, if not an imposition.
Quite often a personal vision symbolizes the experience and instinctive desires of a substantial or at least an important section of a population. In this vision, however, my own experiences are vital to any appreciation of what I see. The great school of German philosophy, theoretically, and modern scientific experiences have definitively established that any estimate of an investigation, however rigidly it may have been done, with whatever breadth of vision, and however scrupulous in detail, cannot be accepted, even adequately judged, unless the architect’s premises, observable and instinctive, are examined, probed and never out of mind. My relevant premises are as follows:
I am one of the few remaining, there were never all told more than a dozen of us, who banded ourselves together in 1935 to propagate and organize for the emancipation of Africa. For years, we seemed, to the official and the learned world, to be at best, political illiterates. Yet we were part of the New World pregnant in their old decay. Within four years, one of our members had mobilised what was apparently a stagnant population which catapulted him from jail to the head of a new African government. To the surprise of no one more than ourselves, this victory in a single country precipitated a continental movement, and the incredibly rapid winning of national independence by the majority of the people of Africa. That, then, is the personal experience without which my personal vision of a West Indian future is a mere fantasy, a mere jeu d’esprit. In a world increasingly unpredictable, one must begin from what one knows.
My first premise of the West Indian society, in any consideration, is that of all originally colonial peoples, West Indians are the most advanced, the most prepared and the most ready for achievements and creativity in contemporary civilization, more spectacular than any the modern world has seen. My past experiences impel me to envision our future in this way.
About politics and economics, I have here little to say. What we have to see taking place within the next few years in every Caribbean territory is the complete rejection, abolition, destruction of the traditional bandits feeding from the governmental trough, the feeders disguised as Government and Opposition. Politically, philosophically, there is no difference between these insular oppositions. Many of them have the illusion that they are taking part in the exercise of parliamentary democracy. They do not know that they are no more than rival gangs for possession, and possession not of an estate, but of the age-old West Indian function of representing absentee owners. There is scope in the West Indies for a two-party system, on the one side, a party of workers and farmers, a democratic party, a people’s party (any name you like) consisting essentially of a unified body of the great mass of the local population, and another party representing the great industrial, commercial and financial interests, and those whose status depends on these.
I have here no economic programmes, or political perspectives to give. Not only do I consider these outside my assignment, they are not necessary. I expect to see such parties as I have described coming into existence, or groups establishing in principle the necessity for such parties. In building themselves and in opposition to rivals. these parties will find their way What they must do is not difficult to know. How to do it is a question of political strategy and tactics, to be worked out by theory and experience. Once the effort begins, there is no insoluble problem here. Their leaders will be elected by trial and error. During the last twenty years, the West Indies have accumulated an immense political and social experience. If for the most part, it has been an experience of political fast talkers, turncoats, and similar unmentionable views. that experience, properly recounted and analyzed, can prove of immense value in the rapid evaluation and expulsion of old fakers and new ones.
The Caribbean territories today, I repeat, are pregnant with a form of parliamentary democracy which could easily and rapidly be the highest reached by that political form.
But any such birth is, from its very nature, always threatened by catastrophes affecting not only the birth but the whole organism. (That we shall come to).
Democracy presses on us from the very physical environment in which we live. Hegel says of, perhaps, the most famous democracy the world has ever known:
“Democracy in Greece was bound up with the small size of the states. Speech, living speech, united the citizens creating (energy, enthusiasm, passion)*.
*The original word used is German (Erwarmung).
More than any other modern people, we in the British Caribbean share that geographical value with the city states of ancient Greece. Contrary to all other formerly colonial peoples, we, in our small states, are masters of a very highly developed means of communication. A modern language, certainly one of the most highly developed the world has known, is spoken by all, understood by all. With community of language, instead of potpourri, Nigeria and Ghana would have been quite other than they have been. In addition, we enjoy one immense advantage which the ancient Greeks did not have, and which none of the advanced countries enjoyed in the critical periods when their national consciousness was born We have begun the walk on the tight-rope of maturity having at our disposal, radio and television, not to ignore the aeroplane and the movies. Our common history, the advanced languages, and the mass media of communication are the basis of Caribbean unity. Not a flock of politicians running around and bleating about federation, West Indian economic unity, a West Indian Common market.
That is one perspective of which one can see only broad outlines in a world more uncertain and unpredictable than ever. But the alternative is easier to envisage. There has been so much of it in the Caribbean and it is making greater strides than it ever did under the old colonialism. Foreign investments pullulate not under the critical eye of local politicians, but with their adulation and thanks for favours rendered. The benefactors come periodically to enjoy some of the profits where they are made. They take benevolent notice of attractive women of a wide variety of hues and shapes, unemployed and anxious. Mothers and daughters follow the example of their governments in seeking convenient ways and means to possess themselves of the Yankee dollar. (Caribbean rum and Yankee coca-cola, bring our two peoples closer.) In the face of this stench, it is salutary to remember that the West Indian masses are the most rebellious history has known. Some West Indians love the mess and acquire remarkable competence in sweeping up not only the crumbs on the table, but those on the floor. But they have no independent future.
These are the social forces which constitute the elements in dual motion of Caribbean society.
Politics, parties, and political programmes apart, here are a few of the more immediate social currents which are ripe for social impulses. They advance the self-consciousness of the population and need not wait upon (though they would not ignore) governmental intervention.