One over-riding heritage of slavery and the colonial regime which followed it, is the habit of dependence upon authority or seeking for someone “high up” to undertake an urgent task. The Caribbean simply does not know the method of systematically creating a public opinion from below, and the patience and confidence to persist. We need to learn more of such people as Tom Paine and William Cobbett of England, Garrison, Wendell Phillips and Frederick Douglas of the United States, and George Padmore of the West Indies. In such studies and the scrupulous examination of our own history and our own affairs, the starkest truth of the West Indian reality will emerge: we have been historically prepared for extremes. The miracles we daily perform at home and abroad show that for us, there is no middle way. Either we go to the limit in any social effort and achievement or we shall be dragooned by brutality. It was Trujillo who in the Dominican Republic prepared a revolution that only the armed might of the USA could crush.
Over the next years, the only worthwhile future that 1 can envisage is struggle to release and consolidate the consciousness simmering among the people. Radio seems to me to be the most convenient key for unlocking the sense of a national Caribbean community that is bottled up (and ferociously corked down) among the peoples of the Caribbean. I go no further here with this. Lamming has made this subject his own. (N.W. vol. No. 2). All I have to contribute is a political incentive:
Make the need known.
Put the governments in the position where they have either to oppose or to agree, or as is not unusual, agree in principle and sabotage in fact.
As close and concentrated a study as I have been able to make over the years of historical forms of social organization and their essence, more than anything else has led me as a West Indian to live day and night with, the general and intimate history of the city states of ancient Greece and of the Middle Ages.
Today, I cannot think about the West Indies at all without their coming to mind. We cannot imitate them or learn from them what to do. Our circumstances are too different. But we learn what is of greater importance, what peoples lacking many of our advantages were able to do. We learn what Caribbean society, so often instructed by persons educated abroad, sadly lacks, confidence in ourselves.
Geographically and demographically, we are the closest of modern social entities to the city-states of ancient Greece and of the Middle Ages in Flanders and Northern Italy.
The Caribbean investigator is struck by his immediate psychological responses to features characteristic of each period. The city-states of ancient Greece were and are most notable for their theory and practice of democracy. It is my view that all or nearly all of their most dazzling achievements can be traced to this form of government.
Given our escape from the more drastic consequences of world conflict (and we have the better chance of this by refusing to commit ourselves), we can very rapidly be the most advanced parliamentary democracy in the modern world. In territory after territory, our possessing classes, with their present politics and economics; would find it hard to win one seat in a parliamentary election. This gives parliamentary democracy, backed by a population which understands its possibilities, the opportunity to perform social miracles.
The city-states of Flanders saw some of the fiercest struggles between capital and labour that the world has known. In the end, these colossal battles destroyed the city-states, thus giving rise to the national state. But the modern working class was born, tempered, and began its independent existence 500 years ago, not in 1937. Here is one authority on these workers of the Middle Ages.
“For the first time, the masses ceasing to be mere herds without rights or thoughts of their own, became associations of free men proud of their independence, conscious of the value and dignity of their labour, fitted by their intelligent activity to collaborate in all spheres, political, economic and social, in the tasks which the aristocracies believed themselves alone able to fulfil. Not only was the power of production multiplied a hundredfold by their efforts, but society was regenerated by the incessant influx of new and vigorous blood. Social selection was henceforth better assured. It was thanks to the devotion and spirit of those medieval masses that the nations became conscious of themselves, for it was they who brought about the triumph of national patriotism, just as their local patriotism had burned for town or village in the past. The martyrdom of a peasant girl from the marshes of Lorraine saved the first of the great nations, France, which had become the most brilliant home of civilization in the Middle Ages. They gave to the modern states their first armies, which were superior to those of feudal chivalry. Above all, it was they who prepared the advent of democracy and bequeathed to the labouring masses, the instruments of their power, the principles of freedom and of association. Labour, of old despised and depreciated, became a power of incomparable force in the world, and its social value became increasingly recognized. It is from the Middle Ages that this capital evolution takes its date, and it is this which makes this period, so often misunderstood, and so full of a confused but singularly powerful activity, the most important in the universal history of labour before the great changes witnessed by the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries”.
For years now, I cannot think of our West Indian masses without thinking of them in a similar role in the building of a Caribbean nation in the 20th century. I end my vision of the West Indian quest for national identity and the breakaway from the past that is simmering under the surface, with a few recommendations which our whole past falsely teaches us to think of as organically removed from the ordinary person.