POLEMIC: CHAGUARAMAS TO SLAVERY

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Contemporary interpretations are always influenced by the involvement of the Interpreter in the happenings of his own time. Accordingly, they should be regarded as provisional until they can be re-assessed in a longer perspective. This paper is no exception.

The purpose of the paper is to consider two events – the Chaguaramas Agreement and the Break-up of the West Indies Federation. The thesis is that the People’s National Movement (the governing party in Trinidad and Tobago since 1956) by its actions in relation to these two events, exercised a crucial choice in favour of one particular social and economic policy for the territory, and by that choice excluded other alternative policies which would have led the Party in a different direction. The choice exercised at that time has influenced the Party’s subsequent policy. Now that the effect of the choice are beginning to make themselves felt, it is of considerable importance to try to fit these events in the life of the regional people into a larger framework.

The interpretation runs as follows. From very early in their post-Columbus history, the ordinary people of the Caribbean have been trying to make their influence on the character of their society decisive. Yet in the middle of the 20th Century the social order remains largely a product of North Atlantic imperialism, of the sugar plantation and of slavery; the social processes in the Caribbean continue to be largely governed by alien will. Over the years the frontiers of the old system have been slowly forced back – a long and continuous struggle of attrition, marked by the occasional confrontation. The region-wide riots of 1933-38 was one such occasion. They cleared the way to self-government.

The Chaguaramas campaign of 1959/60 and the campaign for an independent West Indies Federation with which it was closely bound up marked another such occcasion. Then, the Government of Trinidad and Tobago placed a wedge in the door of economic independence’. By challenging the doctrine of imperial responsibility in the military field, this Government, whether it intended to or not, gave to many a perspective they had seldom had from leadership – and never from Government – before. It showed them that Independence meant the shifting of responsibility from outside and to the West Indian people.

If the American base had to go, or even merely to be re-located according to the dictates of West Indian interests, it could have meant a drying up of the largest single potential source of economic aid and a degree of dissociation from the most influential purveyor of North Atlantic ideas. For the Caribbean, such a development would have been revolutionary. The people of the West Indies would have been forced back onto their own resources for the first time. West Indians might have been led to discard the constitutional instruments which the Colonial Office is inclined to impose upon its Commonwealth partners-to-be and impelled to define institutions more appropriate to their own specific needs. This development would have brought the conservative, creole. outward-looking culture of the dominant groups into more open conflict with the natural aspirations of the population at large.

To resolve this conflict the rural sub-culture would have had, at last, to be integrated into the social system on equal terms. This would have required the establishment and consolidation of a mass political party not merely reflecting conventional racial and cultural differences. It would have required changes in the relations between Central and Local Governments within the larger territories. And the effect could well have been to demonstrate what arrangements between them and the smaller territories would be appropriate for cementing a West Indian Federal alliance.

As it turned out, the Chaguaramas Agreement of December 1960 has been followed by developments of quite a different character. The formal transfer of power has been (or is being) accomplished within a neo-Crown Colony framework of constitutional instruments and a frankly colonial set of economic institutions while the initiative in economic development has shifted further outside the society. In regional affairs, the Federation of the West Indies has collapsed and regional cannibalism bas never been more widespread. It is indeed “dog eat dog and survival of the fittest.” Paradoxically, Trinidad and Tobago has become the most isolated West Indian territory although both its Government and people are perhaps better disposed towards the Federal idea than most others in the Caribbean.

Moreover, at home, the University of Woodford Square, has become practically defunct. The PNM has failed in its attempt to become a modern mass political party. Indeed, this most unequivocally modernising of West Indian Movements has come into sharpest conflict with the people. So that in the Civil Service and among Trades Unions and ordinary citizens, the keynote is a disenchantment bordering on disaffection, met on – the other side by an odd mixture of Government exhortation, bribery and intimidation.

The thesis here is that there is a close connection between the polities which led to the Revised Agreement and the withdrawal of Trinidad and Tobago from the West Indian Federation on the one hand, and these developments which have followed, on the other. The two decisions, instead of effecting an acceleration of the process of decolonization promised by the campaign, have served, on the contrary, not only to retard the process but perhaps also to reverse it. In terms of the sloganry of the University of Woodford Square, Trinidad and Tobago – if only temporarily – have turned backward from Chaguaramas towards Slavery.

The argument is that a return to greater and increasing arbitrariness on the part of the government and the ruling class in Trinidad and Tobago and to a submissiveness to imperial power was in the logic of the way in which the campaign for Federation and Chaguaramas culminated. It followed naturally from the decision of the Party and its Leader to abandon the perspective which had been raised by the campaign, and to suppress popular forces which the campaign had unleashed. This represented, implicitly, an abandonment of the philosophy that had emerged from the campaign: that the future of Trinidad and Tobago and the West Indies must rest more on the collective moral and other resources of the whole Caribbean people and less on the material and military resources of the North Atlantic imperial system.