Revisiting the Heritage of New World

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Note: Revised January 2017

On my last visit to Norman Girvan, I repeated a promise that the New World Quarterly (NWQ) would be made available to a younger generation of Caribbean intellectuals and activists, together with the introduction he had earlier prepared. We extend our sincerest thanks and appreciation to Norman’s family, Jasmine, Alexander and Alatashe, for making it possible for us to fulfill his wish. They have undertaken the republication of the NWQ as an open-source Pan Caribbean intellectual resource. I am joined in passing the heritage of the New World movement from our older generation to the youth of the Caribbean region by a few old friends and colleagues whose names conclude this brief note.
As I reflect on our hope and aspirations in the early promising years of Caribbean political independence, following the failed federation of the West Indies, I am struck by the important role played by West Indian economists in laying the foundation for policies of economic decolonization. As explained by Norman in his excellent introduction, the first NWQ was published in Guyana, by Lloyd Best in 1963. It contained the outline of an alternative development plan for Guyana, based on Caribbean experience and institutions. In a visit to St. Augustine in 1964, Lloyd discovered a soul mate in George Beckford, a lecturer in the Faculty of Agriculture. They shared a conviction that the common origin of economic dependence and under-development in all Caribbean territories lay in the plantation legacy. Lloyd insisted we find Beckford, but unfortunately he was not on campus. Alister McIntyre was at that time Director of the Faculty of Social Sciences at St. Augustine, and joined us in discussions which gave birth to the theory of plantation economy.
When Beckford was transferred to the Mona campus in Jamaica, he joined Lloyd in the management of the New World Quarterlies. The Mona campus was well-described as the crucible of West Indian intellectual life in the 1960s. The New World groups were essentially independent open forums, not affiliated with any academic institution. All involvement was voluntary; contributors were not paid; revenue came from sales of the journal and advertisements. The most important NW groups were in Jamaica and Trinidad, but the NW group in Montreal, largely composed of West Indian graduate students at McGill, also played a significant role. The McGill Center for Developing Areas Studies (CDAS), established in 1963, invited William Demas as an early Visiting Fellow. His series of lectures were published as The Economics of Development in Small Countries with Special Reference to the Caribbean (1965). Lloyd and I co-directed a CDAS project on externally-propelled growth and industrialization in the Caribbean from 1966-68, and Norman Girvan joined us for a year at McGill. Beckford, who obtained his undergraduate degree from the McGill Faculty of Agriculture, was a frequent visitor, as was James Millette of the Trinidad NW group. When George Lamming came from London to participate in a West Indian conference in Montreal, I introduced him to Lloyd, who invited him to re-locate to the Caribbean as editor of the special independence issues of NWQ for Guyana and Barbados in 1966.
The counter-revolution in economics that banished Keynes and elevated the Chicago school of market-fundamentalism to doctrinal dominance in the 1980s, together with the self-destruction of the Grenada revolution in 1983, contributed to the abandonment of policies of self-reliance and economic diversification, as governments and the economics profession yielded to pressures to conform to the Washington Consensus of liberalization of trade and capital. All the countries of the Caribbean are today much richer, but it is a common observation that the quality of life in many respects has deteriorated. Criminality and corruption on a scale never before known is everywhere.

On a recent visit to Trinidad, I was appalled at the volume of imported goods of poor quality in the shopping malls, and the excessive variety of imported fruits and vegetables in the supermarkets. The contrast with previous policies which limited unnecessary luxury imports, and granted incentives to local manufacturers of high quality garments, made me very sad. I remember the exquisite men’s cotton shirts once made in Guyana with embroidered collars, and I am still wearing a locally-made shirt I purchased on Frederick Street in the 1970s.

It is our hope that this republication of the NWQ in digital format may serve as a Forum for the discussion of economic and social issues, but it seems to me that we must now look to the creative arts and crafts to light the way to a better future. As Lloyd once said, the Caribbean is the crucible where Africa and India meet Europe in the New World. With all its linguistic and political divisions, the Caribbean is unique in the wealth of its common cultural heritage.

As mentioned earlier, in this note of thanks I am joined by an older generation of friends, including Mervyn Alleyne, Noel Anthony Boissiere, Havelock Brewster, Edwin Carrington, Steve de Castro, Ainsworth Harewood, Owen Jefferson, George Lamming, Ivan Laughlin, Vaughn Lewis, Alister McIntyre, Orlando Patterson, and Eric St-Cyr.

Kari Polanyi Levitt
Emerita Professor, McGill University
Montreal, December 2016