All staying out demanded was the reiteration of certain basic flaws in the Federation – the refusal of the West Indian leaders to ‘consult the people’, its colonial conception, the jobs for the boys at the top and nothing for the people at the bottom, and so on. Going in demanded much more – an emotional commitment to the West Indian future. a deep understanding of the ways in which balkanisation struck at the roots of any radical movement in the individual territories (Marxist or otherwise) in other words the sheer impossibility of going it alone in any but the barest constitutional way (new flag, new name, Prime Minister instead of Premier).
Jagan himself was not without experience of action at the regional level. He writes:
“In (1945) I made my first trip to Trinidad to meet the militants and leaders there. I travelled to San Fernando in the South to meet the heads of the various unions – Mentore, the president of the Trade Union Council, McDonald Moses, the head of the Sugar Workers’ Union, and John Rojas, the head of the Oilfield Workers’ Union. There I met also Jack Kelshall, the head of the youth movement. In Port-of-Spain, I was able to see Albert Gomes only after literally searching for him for several days. On the political front, there were Patrick Solomon and Victor Bryan who were openly advocating the cause of socialism. These were some of the ‘gods’ I then worshipped.”
In 1952 he took part in a meeting which history will probably regard as one of the high points of his political career. At that time the Caribbean Labour Congress formed by the leaders of the West Indian fight for Independence, as the main union wing of the movement was about to break on the rock of the cold war.
“When I first heard the announcement that the C.L.C. was likely to be disbanded, I was greatly perturbed. Hart and I therefore took the initiative to get as many as possible to meet in Barbados to try to influence Grantley Adams to prevent this break. The meeting took place in October, 1952. From Trinidad came John Rojas, president of the Oil Field Workers’ Union; Quintin O’Connor, secretary of the Federal Workers’ Union; John La Rose, president of the West Indian Independent Party. From St. Vincent came Ebenezer Joshua, now Chief Minister, and from Jamaica came Richard Hart.
We interviewed Grantley Adams and his chief lieutenant, Frank Walcott, who had held the posts of president and secretary of the Barbados Workers’ Union and of O.R.I.T. the regional organisation of I.C.F.T.U. We pleaded in the interests of West Indian unity and the cause of West Indies Federation that everything should be done to prevent the disbanding of the C.L.C. The C.L.C., we argued, had been the repository of all progressive thought in the Caribbean. We said that if affiliations to the W.F.T.U. and I.C.F.T.U. of trade union affiliates of the C.L.C. had led to disruption, then two separate organisations should be established. These would be the Caribbean Labour Congress and Caribbean Federation of Labour. The C.L.C. should affiliate only political parties and should become the political arm of the West Indian movement. The Caribbean Federation of Labour should embrace trade unions in the area and must be affiliated neither to the I.C.F.T.U. nor the W.F.T.U. but must approach for aid and guidance both of these world organisations. It had been disclosed to Grantley Adams by Richard Hart that Ferdinand Smith, representative of the W.F.T.U. in Jamaica, would be prepared to recommend support to such a Caribbean Federation of Labour. Adams was asked to make the same request of the I.C.F.T.U.”
The mission failed but its significance cannot be overestimated. The West Indian ‘Right’ (Manley, Adams) were as committed to the West in the cold war as the ‘left’ (Jagan, Hart, La Rose) were to the Eastern Bloc. And yet, out of the turmoil into which the new Imperial contest threw the West Indies, came a proposal of neutrality. This proposal, it is true, seemed to be based more on tactical expediency (geo-political weakness no doubt being a decisive factor) than on any deep-seated policy or conviction. And no doubt the same expediency that dictated the proposal underlay the refusal of Adams and company to consider it. After all THEY were in the right Hemisphere! But in 1952 in spite of India, the very idea of neutrality and non-alignment was still new in the world, more so in the Western Hemisphere. It was not the first time that West Indians helped to pioneer a concept which they themselves were unable to practice.