We are confident that Caribbean problems can in time, be solved by our own initiatives and with our own resources even if we have had to begin with half-baked ideas, untidy formulations, inefficient organization, and permissive standards. It is important that we do believe in the possibility of engineering development and progress. That “excellence” will come in due course. That we cannot start at the top by borrowing other people’s work and by setting standards through association with other Universities. We certainly never could have designed a journal in order that it might be confused in the libraries with more famous competitors. Nor could we have placed on its Advisory Board a whole range of famous names who neither know nor care anything about the West Indies.
The second reason why I would not wish New World to become an ‘action’ Group in the sense that Mr. Reckard and Mr. White are advocating is that we have not yet acquired within the organization any great appreciation of what democracy is about and how power is to be used. Nothing is more horrifying than the thought that we could be assigned responsibility in organizations with any considerable number of people and in which person-to-person conversation is no longer an effective substitute for a scrupulous adherence to democratic procedures. There is among us, much unwitting intolerance, little cool formulation, hardly any attentive listening and even less effective communication.
The tension which exists within New World and between the Group and others has shown itself more in accusations than in attempts at establishing what people are trying to put across and then arguing a reasoned case against it. In this connection, we might note that differences in approach, so far from being a matter of “bourgeois villainy” as against “true radicalism” can be largely explained in terms of a simple sociology.
There is a marked difference between the preoccupations of Groups and Associates inside the region as against those abroad. Those who travel regularly between the centres see quite different possibilities from those who are stationary. Conflicts between the Associates who produced New World Fortnightly and those who produce New World Quarterly sprang largely from the difference in production cycle. Georgetown could not wait three months for copy and revenue but Mona never quite understood this impatience. Perhaps the most important difference is between Jamaicans and Trinidadians. The populist obsession of the Mona contingent has its grounding, it seems, in the sharp class boundaries which exist in Jamaica and of which one is constantly being reminded by the organization of the University as a kind of Modified Great House with its gates bolted at night, besides, against the Maroons from beyond the pale.
In contrast, the feudal history of St. Augustine does not count for much in a culture that is urban, immigrant, open, and dominated from top to bottom by the psychology of the College Exhibition and its political expression, the PNM. Reservations on race notwithstanding, people take it for granted that there are few barriers between “we the people”; mobilization is largely a question of circulating bright ideas. Derek Walcott once complained that he could not understand why there is so much pamphleteering in Trinidad.
It is in being able to appreciate the circumstances of the other man that we find the trick of building a democratic movement which is able to commit people not only to take power – which we could probably do now if we wanted – but to put their shoulders to the wheel and reconstruct the country after. The movements which come into office by trumpeting the excellence of the new men of destiny (“with the plan”) soon find themselves confronted by Napoleoncitos, who, too impressed by their importance to identify and work to remove the causes of other men’s opposition, become “damn vexed”, and anxious to chase opponents “to hell out”.
Although the nation is clearly “ready”, we will do well to continue our work and put our own house in order. But even after we become a more settled Group with some store of wisdom, a fund of needed skills, and some sense (acquired from our own experience) of how democratically to treat with conflicting points of view, there would still be a third and probably decisive reason why New World may be well advised to hold to its chosen task. The reason is not the one advanced in Mr. Van Sertima’s otherwise sensitive interpretation of the issue before us. It is not that we are addressing a “responsible” minority.
I suspect that Mr. Van Sertima has slipped here into the trap of a borrowed construct. (Much of the arrogance of the “left” is institutional in the sense that it is built into an inherited rhetoric – from Marxism in particular. New World has tried to avoid these pitfalls and has gotten for its pains, a reputation for being written in “non-English” and hard to read). On reflection, Mr. Van Sertima will probably admit that the ruffians who are eager to ride to power on the backs of the masses are really very few, and thus, it is not really a question of those who are responsible and those who are not.