BLACK INTELLECTUALS COME TO POWER

CRITICAL COMMENTS

I want now to address myself to some of the points on which Oxaal might be brought to question.

Oxaal devises a model which he claims is adapted to combine the features of Crowley ‘s analysis of the Trinidad social structure and Brai1hwaite’s findings of social stratification. which ‘provides a highly differentia­ted portrait of the dominant Negro- European class system’ but which excluded the Indians in its purview. His “composite model” of the social structure of Trinidad m the early 1950’s posits a basically pluralist dichotomy between the two major social orders. There is a Negro social pyramid in which the chief means of mobility up the social ladder was through education which opened opportunities to enter the professions and the civil service. Mobility in the Indian social pyramid was enhanced through the accumulation of wealth. By dint of hard work in agriculture and by thrift the Indians were able to accumulate capital, which with other advantages acquired through land ownership, they channelled into mercantile and industrial undertakings thus climbing up the rungs of the social status ladder . In a smaller social pyramid whose apex rises above the two dominant ones for the Negro and Indians Oxaal jumbles together the rest which he labels the ‘middle minorities.’ This group comprises the top white colonial elite like Governor and other colonial officials at the apex, and below these a mixed group neither Negro nor i.e. the Portuguese, Chinese etc. whose marginal social positron as well as the,, knowledge of commerce made them “ideal brokers” and emissaries between the two major and sharply spilt social factions and whose perceived independence could also be used in dealing with the white elite. In my view the model as too simplistic a representation of the social’ structure of Trmidad and even Oxaal himself suggests that no simple model ‘can do justice to the degree of plural acculturation and racial permutations· which existed. The fact is that although there were some predominantly Indian sections where a high degree of East Indian culture was retained (and he used Morton Klass’s 1958 study of village “Amity” in Country Caroni in the sugar belt to support this) and that there were also predominantly Negro areas like those around the oil field, there were many areas where, as Oxaal himself observes, Negroes and Indians lived together cheek-by – jowl. Furthermore, he notes that “Trinidad’s high rate of urbanisation and sprawling quasi- suburbanisation encompass the majority of the population and have produced … some of the major ecological and cultural ingredients of an urban way of life. The lack of ethnic-based residential segregation has placed the Negro. East Indian and other minorities, side by side in many sections of Trinidad and has thus produced social conditions analogous to the early multi -cultural immigrant-filled, American metro polis.”

Oxaal is prepared to argue that the groups have simply learned to tolerate the differing customs and peculiarities by means of a sort of negative indifference and a “live and let live” outlook and that ‘each group has, to some extent, internalised, or learned to appreciate. the way of life of several other groups, and thus, through this process of “plural acculturation” a fluid yet stable system of inter-group ·elations is maintained but that this instead of eroding racial and cultural differences probably works to preserve the relatively rigid categories of the basic social structure.

In my view the low pitch of inter group or racial conflict cannot be adequately explained on these premises of tolerance, negative indifference or to use Oxaal’s more fashionable term “plural dissociation” which he claims 1s ‘characterised by the attitude • a cardinal tenet in the philosophy of the Trinrdadian that each should attend to his own affairs and not go “interfering” in the business of other groups.” It seems to me that there must either he some element of M.G. Smith’s “force hypothesis” or Despres’ sharing of common local institutions and ,in the Trinidad situation, the lime, the pocong, the bobol, the calypso or the cooling down of racial and cultural antsgonisms through broker institutions at a national level: the carnival etc. could well be very significant.

In addition to this Oxaal’s model does not take into account the possibility of a class stratification which cuts across cultural boundaries not of the likelihood of a status ranking based on phenotypical or skin colour characteristics in which the top white, usually expatriate, rank at the top, those of a light skinned or fair complexion, or a close-to-Caucasian resemblance, rank in the middle and those of negroid complexion tend to be ranked as the lowest group. One would admit, of course, that it is close to impossible to include all these variables in a model of a society’s social structure. However, as Oxaal’s model presents deep cultural cleavages and he holds that the Crown colony system in Trinidad did not appear to be oppressive but was a laissez faire and benignly inefficient authoritarianism, one must enquire whether it was not the threat of force lurking m the background rather than the force itself that created submissive and easy going culturally differentiated groups, or whether it was because there was a high degree of “creolisation” of the cultural groups or whether, in fact, it was because no one had sought to make the groups clash in order to gain an advantage political or otherwise in such a situation of racial cleavage. Oxaal fails to consider these as possible reasons why there have been no violent clashes of the nature of those experienced in Guyana.

The case is put by Oxaal that since the era of Cipriani and Butler (the latter especially failing to establish a unified party which he had a great opportunity to do) and more particularly after the achievement of national independence by India, which precipitated a renaissance of enthusiasm for Indian culture, the cultural pluralist social structure has tended to be more pronounced, and that since the emergence of Bhadase Maraj, who has given the Indians a new sense of unity, it is difficult to establish a political party with a multi· racial mass support. Even Williams with all his intellectual flair and charisma has failed to establish the P N M as a multi-rac1dl mass part y. In the case of the PNM, Oxaal argues that the reason why this nationalist party failed to gain Indian suport was because of its recruitment policy.

In my opinion one can seriously question whether Butler or any other Negro leader who had the necessary organising capacity could have held a cohesive political party of both Negoes and Indians together even 1f this was based on, or had its roots in, trade unionism. It must be noted that sectionalism would still have been very significant as the Negroes were mainly organised in trade unions as industrial oilfield workers and the Indians as sugar workers. This fairly rigid occupational differentiation which coincided with cultural differentiation would in my opinion have been an obstacle to continued unification. It is also difficult to see how in a world strongly differentiated along racial and colour lines and whose discriminating and unequal treatment of different racial stocks had been strongly marked in colonial society, Trinidad could have stood out as a ‘model nation’ where the people really felt ‘all o’we is one’. The point I am making here is t hat.it seems to me that any coalition under Butler could not have been more than a tenuous and superficial marriage of convenience until one of these sections saw a chance to improve itself at the expense of the other and thus become dominant. In my view even a common ideology based on a sense of common status deprivation could not sustain a united front once such basic ethnic, colour, religious, occupational differences had not first been more significantly eroded. I contend that fear and psychological wariness of each other would therefore have continued to exist and that as a consequence fee lings of inferiority and superiority of submission and dominance would have persisted thus preventing a healing of the socioultural cleavages.

One could see this perhaps as a partial answer to a question like: why did not the Cipriani-Rienzi movement grow from strength to strength? Is the answer to this satisfied on a ” personality cult” hypothesis? Or one may look at the failure of David Pitt and Patrick Solomon to create a united movement with an acceptable and common ideological base, or perhaps the disastrous defeat of C. L.R. James’s Workers and Farmers party, though in the case of C. L. R. James it could be argued that the two dominant sections were already committed to their ‘Doctor’ leaders.

Another question one could pose is: how is it that some one of the ” broker politicians ” like Albert Gomes and Ulric Lee, who incidentally were also trade union organisers, did not emerge with a combined mass following? Perhaps we should take account also of the fact that the constitutional arrangements acted as very severe constraint on the development of political parties as a whole and remained a brake on their efficiency when they eventually emerged. Further, in the case of the P N M, while it is conceded that the recruitment Policy may have worked towards the exclusion of Indians in the ruling circles and hence failed to amass Indian support, this cannot I believe, be given such over­ whelming significance. Whether Bhadase Maraj ,with his strong hold and influence over the Indian section and his experience in the political field would have allowed himself to be recruited into a subordinate position in PNM under a Negro leader is open to question If he would have accepted this, the question would still arise as to whether the party would have really been a culturally unified one. The recruitment policy which Oxaal sees as so outstandingly significant in its discriminating effort against Indian participation and involvement in, as well as identity with, P N M was based on the following premises: first, the working rule which stipulated that the admission to membership was contingent upon obtaining personal endorsement and sponsorship of an already trusted member;

Secondly , the recruitment principles which called for:

  • Men and women of sincerity and integrity in broad agreement with our views.
  • They must in general have no affiliation or political past. The Executive Committee is empowered to make necessary exceptions to this rule.
  • They must be opposed and be prepared actively to oppose racial discrimination or bias.
  • They must be persons regarded as likely and willing to accept the discipline of the party.
  • They must be willing to work, make sacrifices, do the necessary study and organise.
  • Ceteris paribus, priority will at this stage be given to persons with a following and influence in the community.
  • Selection would be made with a view to achieving, in so far as possible a balanced racial representation, so long as this does not involve compromise with basic aims, principles and objectives of the party.

I would argue that it is difficult to see how these rules as operating principles per se or eve n in con junction with the friendly-touch-personal-contact approach, which Oxaal contends was also relevant , could alone lead to such a pronounced absence of Indian member· ship unless the whole idea of establishing these principles was a de liber ate effort to ‘man aging’ a-. the Trinidadians say. Th is in itself was not necessary especially from the standpoint that the Negro and coloured section forms the largest percentage of the population. It would seem to me that at this formative stage in the party’s life the core of leaders would , from a practical political pc int of vie, have made genuine attempts to get a good / racial mix. These men were not oblivious of the historical and social complexity of the country it seems to me then that Oxaal should have looked into factors such as political apathy or blunt refusal to link up on the part of the Indians who could not be totally unaware of the formation of the P N M Oxaal also accepts the “doctor politics” concept and showed how the restricted system of colonial education and church domination led to the emergence in the society of an embryo of meritocracy in the idealisation of the “scholarship boys”. He argues that this was crystallised when the programme of “political education” was earned to the masses in the University of Woodford Square. For him then, education was the crucial ingredient of the charisma of Eric Williams.. While this seems to be largely true it is also a fact that Wert Indian societies have been so socialised to look for a Messiah on whom they could cast their burdens and on whom they could depend, that regardless of the level of education anyone who filled the political void and articulated the feelings of the people would be welcomed as a hero Trinidad suffered at the time of Williams from political fragmentation caused by many splinter parties and the middle class groups longed for a hero to fulfil their aspirations. Williams was also lionised on racial grounds. For the Negro masses he was a racial Messiah who spoke principally for them. So while not trying to undermine the significance of the “philosopher king idea” which is strengthened by the fact that the Indians too sought out their ” counter Doctor”, ‘Trinidad’s most highly educated man” Rudranath Capildeo, race did play its part in this hero worship, It will be noted too that the Negroe1 tried to denigrate the “Indian Doctor” by dubbing him the “Mad Scientist.”

When Oxaal turns to dealing with the strains in the PNM he focuses especially on the ideological differences between Willams and C.L.R. James He takes the position that both these men had different ideas of how change should come about as he interpreted their ideas through William’s book “Capitalism and Slavery” and C.L.R. James’ Black Joacobins. I Believe this is not valid. It seems to me that whereas James was projecting his ideology and a theory of action and was engaged in an advocacy of the best road to meaningful change Eric Williams was analysing the historical facts with a basic view of de-emphasising the long held ideas of humanitarianism of certain groups in the metropole and heightening the overriding self interest of metropolitan capitalists. Of course it is easy to equate this with the Lenninist notion of hwo capitalism changes, adopts and accommodates itself to the pressures of its own antagonisms and to tie this in with the fact that the P N M operated in essence as an intellectual vanguard party but I think to hold this up as a contrast against the Trotskyist view of change held by James and hence as the source of the internal tensions within the party organisation is somewhat unwarranted. It is in a sense making Williams a Lennist which I think he is not and causing him to see James perhaps as a renegade .” In fact I think Williams can hardly be classed as a socialist. He is at best an anti-imperialist or anti-colonialist and one trying to be a pragmatist.

Oxaal emphasises ‘ the dominating rot” of the U.S. While this is largely true he fails to give enough weight to the fact that, once in office, there is a tendency for professed radical Caribbean politicians on the whole to become overconsumed with ideas of constitutionalism and the conservation and consolidation of their power which means the perpetuation of themselves in office. So that they fail to assume the risks of the radical changes in both domestic and external affairs that they stubbornly and even vigorously articulated on their way to power and independence. It seems that on the attainment of independence they often suddenly realise, or they convince themselves that they were really too poor after all to be independent and hence timidly pursue policies which indirectly if not directly invite the continuation of metropolitan U.S. dominance in the economy and even in defence arrangement at times to ensure security against subversion and the ‘communist enemy’. In the event independence become, only a formal transfer of power and a change in the colour of faces in office and a hollow complex of flags, national anthems, national mottos, national heroes and a host of other national symbols.

 

It has been argued by some political that the capture of power by means of the colon1al-c:harisma tic process leads to the end of ideology and ideological irrelevance since charisma then becomes routinised and ideas transformed into legal domination whose legitimacy derives from the electoral process. But it seems too that structural transformation is also inhibited by the com puls1on to adopt due-process legal procedures in con in fronting entrenched economic interests. In the case of Williams whose “knowtedgism” and ideology was based on a radical interpretation of history, as Best argues, we must bear in mmd that a radical historian is not necessarily a radical political actor especially when faced with a racially divided population and a satellitic and dualistic “sugar and oil” economy. It is argued that in these Caribbean-type economies the decisions are made for the politicians by external interests. Caribbean politicians are “decision-takers” not ” decision makers ” This ,s William’s dilemma. This I think would fit into Oxaal’s framework of the position as it stands on the attainment of formal independence but on this very note on the situation at independence Oxaal falls victim to the “Cutteridge phenomenon” and the all’s-well-that ends-well fairy tale picture of ‘ they all lived happily together after’ .

Oxaal conveys the idea that the shaking of hands and speeches of compromise and agreement between the leaders at the constitutional conference on independence would sweep away many of the problems of this pluralist society, that the “negro doctor” and the “Indian doctor” had by this display brought political and racial unity to their ‘model nation’ at least by a large measure. While I do not intend to exaggerate his assessment of the degree of “good feeling” I think he could more realistically have pointed out that at this stage both these leaders had been experiencing a declining charismatic appeal and that the masses, both Negro and Indian, were becoming increasingly estranged and alienated from both The ditching of Capildeo from leadership of his party and the recent Black Power demonstrations and the resignation of the Deputy Prime Minister, A.N. Robinson, are all indications of the unrest. Though latent for some time this seething dis­ content had been indicated in the election statistics as was pointed out in Tapia. That it has now become manifest with some elements of violence may have been due to the type of complacency that seemed to charac­terise Trinidad since independence. This condition seems to have affected the ‘involved observer’. “Discipline, Production and Tolerance” had not worked the wonders for a society caught up in the revolution of rising expectations.

In the practical political sphere Oxaal hardly questions the usefulness of the multiparty system or examines the relevance of a one-party system or a “national government” involving a cross sectional repre­sentation of the people. He does not give due prominence to the many existing trade unions and other pressure groups operating on the contemporary political arena. His concentration on personalities at the expense of groups in political activity beclouds the underlying currents of social and political movements in the society. Functional community and regional groups, even those from which the Senate is drawn, do not find much place in the study.

On a final note one would have liked Oxaal to delve into the question whether in the rise of the “creole nationalism” the black intellectuals in Trinidad attempt to identify with the black masses in a meaningful way or whether they are simply a black intellectual bourgeoisie trying by devious methods, like the Industrial Stabilisation Act, to inhibit effectively the rise of challenging leaders and champions of the proletariat from the grass roots of the trade unions and thus ensuring and enhancing the circulation of the intellectual elite . The crucial issue to consider then is whether the races would come into their own as rulers of their society or whether they would, in the words of Walter Rodney, “turn the West Indian intellectuals into the servants of the blade masses.”