Towards a New World: More now than ever

For Lloyd Best, George Beckford, Norman Girvan, David DeCaires and all the New World thinkers who have passed over.

In 2010, the late Norman Girvan and I edited the fourth volume in the Caribbean Reasonings series of edited collections featuring important Caribbean thinkers and streams of thought. It was entitled The Thought of New World: the Quest for Decolonization[1]. The chapters were largely drawn from papers that had been delivered five years earlier at the conference with similar title held at the University of the West Indies Mona Campus. The volume, closely echoing the spirit of the conference, featured retrospective chapters from those who had been involved in the hectic, Pan-Caribbean activities of the New World Movement, critical interventions from scholars somewhat temporally removed from the moment of its flourishing and featured, at its conclusion, a rolling autobiographical interview with New World founder Lloyd Best. Sometime during the preparation of the manuscript – I think it was close to completion – I remember Norman Girvan pulling me aside. He had been in discussions with Canadian economist and early New World member Kari Levitt and they were both very happy with the way the conference, and now the book had brought the conversation around the accomplishments and failures of the New World Group back to life. But there was still the urgent need, they felt, to publish the entire set of volumes of New World Quarterly out of Jamaica, and beyond that the full set of New World Fortnightly that had been published out of Georgetown Guyana.

New World still remains the most ambitious attempt to build a postcolonial, Pan Caribbean movement of radical intellectuals. At its apogee in the mid-late sixties, in addition to the two journals at either end of the region, New World had flourishing discussion groups throughout most of the territories of the archipelago, including Puerto Rico. There were also important chapters in the United States and Canada and wherever young, thinking Caribbean people met, the journal and its contents were bases for both discussion and organization. This was perhaps most advanced in Trinidad and Tobago, where the New World Group in that country had grown to what can only be described as a pre-Party organization. This however, failed to develop into a Party as due to internal differences and then the rise of the black power movement, New World was eclipsed[2]. Similar fates lay in store for the respective New World branches in Jamaica, Guyana and elsewhere across the region as the blossoming of the popular movement of the seventies, left little room for the seemingly more cerebral concerns of the journal and its supporters[3]. But the popular movement blossomed only briefly. One might argue that it encompassed the “long seventies”, from around the time of the Rodney events in Jamaica in 1968 until the collapse of the Grenada revolution in 1983, a decade and a half of tumultuous upheaval and change that ended, tragically, with the Grenada events and the stifling of radical initiatives in the Caribbean for at least a generation.

The New World volume and the eight others[4] that accompanied it in a series edited by Tony Bogues, Rupert Lewis and myself under the aegis of the Centre for Caribbean Thought, were self-consciously an attempt to resuscitate the work of the critical thinkers who questioned the nature of the political, economic and social relations of the Caribbean in the immediate post-colonial period and make their ideas available to a new generation, hungry for alternative perspectives, but born and educated in the fallow moment of the neo-liberal ascendancy.

Norman understood the urgent need to use their work to kick start a new round of thinking and from 2010 until his tragic and untimely passing in 2014, reminded me on every occasion we met and many in between, that it was essential to follow-up the success of Thought of New World with the release of the Collected Volumes of New World Quarterly. Progress was slow. Thanks to a grant facilitated by Judith Wedderburn, Director of the Kingston Office of the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES), we were able to transcribe all of the available copies of the journal. However, with its size well in excess of a thousand pages, the cost of printing the entire collection was prohibitive. Enter Jasmine Girvan who was determined to fulfill Norman’s wish and not allow the mere unavailability of adequate funds to stand in the way of this project. Working closely and heroically with Kari Levitt and Judith, every obstacle was moved to enable the on-line publication of the New World Quarterly for a new generation and posterity.

The timing of its appearance could not be more appropriate. Five years ago when this volume was first mooted, Barack Obama was still in his first term as President of the United States and the European Union seemed to be growing from strength to strength. Today, with the British referendum decision to leave the EU (Brexit) and far more alarmingly, the United States Presidential election won by a xenophobic right wing nationalist[5], the world is a frightening and far more dangerous place. What is the place of the small states of the Caribbean in an increasingly complex and uncompromising world, where the already fraught neo-liberal consensus seems to be losing to a new wave of authoritarian protectionism? What lessons have been learnt after more than half a century of independence at the social, political and economic levels that might teach us how and how not, to navigate the difficult currents ahead? What is to be the role of the rich and globally powerful Caribbean culture as source of spiritual sustenance as well as possibly economic generator in the years ahead? These and many other questions were asked under somewhat different circumstances by the editors and contributors to New World Quarterly over that short but intense and luminescent decade of its flourishing. Hopefully, their attempt to find answers will serve as both inspiration and guide for a generation that will have to engage with the dark and looming post-liberal world of the early to mid-twenty-first century.

Brian Meeks
Professor of Africana Studies
Brown University

[1] Brian Meeks and Norman Girvan (eds.) The Thought of New World: The Quest for Decolonisation, Ian Randle Publishers, Kingston and Miami, 2010.

[2] For various assessments of the effect of the Black Power Movement on the demise of New World, see Kate Quinn (ed.) Black Power in the Caribbean, University Press of Florida, Gainesville 2014.

[3] See, for a succinct critique of the New World Movement from one of its earliest members, Norman Girvan “New World and its Critics” in Meeks and Girvan (eds.), 2010, pp.3-29.

[4] Other volumes in the “Caribbean Reasonings” series were dedicated, to Sylvia Wynter, Stuart Hall, George Lamming, M.G. Smith, Richard Hart and Gordon K. Lewis. A volume on the work of George Padmore was also published in the series, but was not the product of the set of conferences held at Mona in the 2000s and also titled “Caribbean Reasonings”.

[5] Even as he is still only President–elect, it is not too early to appreciate the danger that is posed by Donald Trump who, in his long and vitriolic campaign against Hillary Clinton has clearly illustrated the extent of his own misogyny, racism and xenophobia. The American electoral majority that opposed him along with much of the rest of the world, braces for the worst in the months and years ahead.