There are very good reasons why “the majority are wary of self-styled “intellectual” movements. For one thing, these movements are quite often a cover for precisely the kind of elitism which is subsumed in the concept of a responsible minority. Ironically, many of those who claim to mistrust elite groupings can often be found to be themselves operating with elitist assumptions. Hence Mr. White assumes that New World has the point of view to which the population should be educated and won over; and that “only the said organization” has the skill and is capable of implementing the complex plans required by the situation.
Fortunately, it is not necessary to proceed from any elitist assumptions to be able first, to concede without ado that the demand for a movement with mass appeal is entirely legitimate; and then to establish that it is a demand to which New World qua New World cannot accede. To my mind Mr. Van Sertima has the clue when he insists that the task is one of doing genuine creative work and seeking to move the “masses” only “through a most sensitive filter which will eventually create a new kind of perception …. of the realities of the region”. Unless we have authentic types of contact with the population, New World can never accomplish this “shattering of our preconceptions about how to read reality” as Ramchand claims Wilson Harris too, interestingly, is trying to do.
Paradoxically, and contrary to what the activists believe, authentic contact between a Group which is operating out of the intellectual system and the rest of the population means staying “out of politics”.
To be politically effective, New World cannot conduct its business with an eye to what effect its words and deeds have on the structure of power in general and on its own support in particular.
We may not perceive this point too easily because we judge ourselves to be progressives and anticipate that the changes in the structure of power which may result from our intervention will be to the benefit of the society.
But we should be able to get our perspective straight by looking at the other side of the coin. Consider how critical we have been of the old Doctor/Lawyer class for using its intellectual resources not as instruments of constructive social action, but as credentials for political leadership.
Or, nearer home, let us reflect on how much we have opposed the tendency of the University of the West Indies to place its assets at the disposal of the society on the Governments’ terms. Instead of stating boldly what it believes, from careful observation, to be the needs and possibilities of the Caribbean community, it has tried to be “realistic” and to take as given the limits set by the uninspired policies of regimes which have long since lost contact with national aspirations.
The examples are legion: the approaches to the study of the Federal question and more recently of the issue of regional economic integration and, indeed, the whole curious history of policy of the Institute of Social and Economic Research; the handling of the passport and the work-permit issues; and again, the slavish reaction to Government initiative on the question of an appropriate system of Higher Education for the West Indies and Guyana.
I hasten to add that, to some extent at any rate, the old generation of intellectuals and the administrators of the UWI have had this inauthenticity forced upon them by a situation they did not create. So long as ultimate responsibility lay outside the society, intellectual work for the Doctor/ Lawyer class was near suicidal while constructive political work was virtually impossible.
As to the University, the fact that it was founded as “a parting gift” of the imperial power in the absence of an organized intellectual class has meant that it came into being without any of the institutional defences and supports it needed to be able to contend with the Governments which provide its finances. There has been no Press worth the name, no professional societies organized to deal in opinion, no effective Guilds of Graduates and not even much individual opinion willing to come out in public and defend reason against authority.