Federation and Fragmentation:
Similar developments were taking place in the other British Caribbean colonies and in 1945 moves openly began towards the creation of a self-governing Federation of the West Indies. The British Government supported the idea of federation. They had long done so, chiefly for reasons of administrative tidiness, efficiency, and economy. In the Caribbean, large agricultural producers had for some time recognised the advantages of co-operation in bargaining for export prices and quotas and various producers’ associations were already in existence. In addition, the intellectual middle classes stirred by the events of the late 1930’s and the early 1940’s, had begun to feel a national fervour for the first time, Caribbean writers and artists were producing works using the idiom and the imagery of their islands. By no means all the artists were of middle-class origin; but their Caribbean readers were, and their influence on this limited readership was increased when it was learned that the London critics had bestowed their praise.
The move towards federation had some local administrative, economic, and intellectual support; but it did not have mass support. The people were not administrators, or large-scale producers, or readers of books and frequenters of art-galleries. Of course, federations do not have to be built on popular support. But if they are not they must be imposed, and the imposition must be determined.
The Federal Government of the West Indies was created in April 1st 1958. It was neither popularly supported, in the wide sense, nor forcibly imposed. Moreover, in writing the federal constitution our draftsmen had spent long hours studying the constitutions of the Canadian, the American, and the Australian federations. They had not given much time to creative thinking based on Caribbean circumstances and needs. And, in any case, if they had turned up with some strange constitutional scheme how would the Mother of Parliaments have received it? Yet, it seems a pity that so little attention was given to the writings of some who, like Simon Bolivar, were nearer home and had also said some very relevant things.
The. Federal Government began to disintegrate in 1961, when Jamaica, and then Trinidad early in 1962, withdrew from it. Clearly, we held less in common than we thought. We had all been plantation colonies; but as such we had each looked separately to Britain. Inter-colonial communication was small. We had each corresponded with London, rather than with one another. In addition, our people’s politicians recently come to office, were nervous of deserting their home-grounds and close contact with their constituents in favour of election to a distant federal Parliament. The fact that the federal Government had little control over revenue and small power increased their reluctance. That was no place for the ambitious, nor did it tempt the able. Very few of our politicians or administrators of recognised ability went willingly to the federal capital.