Exactly one century after Emancipation Moyne brought fresh hope. The generation which was born in the subsequent decade of golden expectation has now come of age, its elders, thirty or there-abouts, stand on the threshold of a decade when, as a group, they will attain the height of their creative powers, its cadets, perhaps the largest single age-group yet to attain the suffrage, are coming to the political consciousness in a flood. These are the men who constitute the decisive cohort for the next round.
They would do well to study the history of then own age. Having escaped the time of troubles which were the thirties, they do not yet know despair. Their earliest consciousness was shaped in the forties when Hitler’s war relaxed the imperial strangle-hold and his torpedoes loosened the mercantilist strings. Fathers were everywhere going confidently forward to control the policy. And for the first time in nearly forty years, the economy was reacting to its own internal promptings. It was a time of hope, of rising employment as well as income, of increasing economic diversification and of continued progress, anchored in a wider political participation.
Munoz and the Partido Popular emerged as the major force in the election of 1940. Then four years later, Bustamante and the BITU virtually won popular control over Jamaica. The dyke had been breached in earnest and for twenty years after that, the Caribbean swept forward, only the French Speakers lagging. And spa generation grew to manhood informed by the idea of progress. There it arrived just in time to witness Castro’s heroic redemption of the pledge of Enriquillo (who, as literally a little Caribbean boy, in 1519 organised the first joint Maroon force of Africans and Caribs to confront the oppressive Spanaird).
The adolescent conscience was formed therefore, in an optimistic mould. As late as 1981, many still hoped, for instance, that in Georgetown there lay imagination and integrity behind the radical rhetoric and the fracture in the popular movement. Even in Kingston and San Juan many had faith enough to see in the suspect policies of “welcoming society” and “industrialization by invitation” then and still in vogue, a mere tactic in the cause of nobler goals. And in Port of Spain, though some challenged practically everything in the best tradition of the frontier, none dared challenge the general direction: From Slavery to Chaguaramas.
It is both the reason why Castro and Williams missed their first bus and the steady accumulation of costly consequences which have helped the movement to identify its reason for being and invested its work, with the utmost urgency. The reversal of 1960 stemmed from a political inexperience and an unpreparedness which from the standpoint of the regional intellectual classes mirrored three main deficiencies in prior performance. To study them could be salutary for the generation of the next round. Not only will it point the way to improvement, it may also impose a much-needed restraint on anticipations that are perhaps too sanguine.
First of all, the community of regional experience has remained largely a closed book. Over the four hundred rears, King sugar has shifted his domain from terrain to terrain in the Caribbean erecting similar institutions, enforcing kindred modes of living in its wake, and everywhere establishing similar terms for continuing under-development. From the North-east of Brazil it went first to Barbados, the Leewards, and the Virgins. Thence, it shunted to Jamaica and Hispaniola, Berbice and Demerara, and when its exploitative methods brought maturity and distress, to the new or newer lands of Trinidad, Cuba, Puerto Rico and Santo Domingo right up to the present transfer by Tate & Lyle to British Honduras.
Yet Castro is devoting his resources to Bolivian Campesinos. What price then the tens of thousands of Jamaicans and Haitians who were drawn to Oriente in the service of the King? The book of Caribbean history has, surely, to be opened up so as to bring the cultural kinship to the fore and define the possibilities of political action.
Nor does the systematic stud, of the present promise any lesser reward. It is, difficult to resist the speculation that Munoz’ policy of creating a welcoming society, for American manufacturing corporations is not substantially a ratooning of the Cuban experience, though it is all too easy to be deceived by the fact that the economy is still enjoying a Golden Age.
Second1y, the intellectual classes have not provided the society with any set of philosophical and theoretical principles derived from its own historical experience and therefore, instructive to political action. The most immediate and questionable consequence of this was Castro’s sudden and improbable conversion to Marrxism-Leninism. The July Movement had exposed the corrupt defeatism of the Communist Party in the Americas, including Havana; it had established the sublime irrelevance of received Marxist dogma and articulated specific laws of Caribbean social process; and it had demonstrated that in the wake of the plantation too there lay the moral and military potential for nine to carry the day even against Batista’s nine thousand Yet it was forced to buy legitimacy and philosophical respectability second-hand – from Marx’s powerful but highly specific model of 19th century Europe. And to fend the Yankees off not with the help of Jamaiquinos and Borincanos, but with ballistic hardware manipulated from metropolitan Moscow.
Thirdly, the Caribbean nation has not been provided any strategy of economic change save that of “free association” with one or another metropolis. In point of fact, the economics of Uncle Tom hos never enjoyed a greater vogue than in recent decades and is still very much the favourite of Editors in the daily Press. Dispensed in the West Indies by the Caribbean Commission and its agents, and in Cuba right after the Revolution by fly-by-night experts (equally at home in Ghana, Guyana or Kingston, In Conakry or Mali), these back–of-the-envelope prescriptions have everywhere yielded policies of industrialization and transformation which are compatible neither with the region’s resources nor its goals. In nearly every case, they have thrown the territories back on traditional activity and on traditional metropolitan dependence. Indeed, their only successes seem to lie in Munoz Marin’s extraordinary boast that his industrialisation policy could never threaten Puerto Rico with any such thing as independence; and lest we forget in the miracle of Black Friday.
Nowhere has the triumph of this economics been more spectacular than in the University of the West Indies in the years immediately following the mistakes of 1960. The Institute of Social and Economic Research which a man from Mars would have expected to be a centre of intellectual enterprise in that “age of independence” and “decade of development,” was converted, on Afro-Saxon advice. Into a transit camp never at any one time to be occupied by more than two men and a boy. The Department of Economics, as it is doing now, needed to make real diagnoses and to speak clearly to the nation about the possibilities. Instead, valuable time was lost in a delightfully abstract aberration into shuttering Oxbridge incompetence. It was in this context that the Movement began to take shape as the West Indian Society for the Study of Social Issues.
It was not too soon. The about-turn which the nation had made in 1960 did not take long to create an ugly situation, aggravated besides, by a decided slowing in the economic expansion of the early post-war period and by the sudden realization that industrial policy had shifted the burden to job creation into the governments.
In the uncertainty the West Indian Federation went by the boar. The ensuing scramble for power by princes is still resulting in the multiplication of miniscule “free ports”. On top of this, the alignments which Trinidad and Cuba had concluded with Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle Dee respectively, placed a premium on the kind of opportunism which could make capital out of the ideological irreconcilability inherent in assumed positions.
A sign of things to come could be discerned in Port-of-Spain in 1961 when a group of disgruntled professionals, were dismissed from public corporation on grounds of their “incompatibility” with the policy of the organization. But the real championships were not to open until November 1962 in Georgetown when two fair comrades in arms joined forces to protect the population against the higher taxation (admittedly on fly-by-night recommendation). Since then, we have had one Commission of Enquiry into Subversive Activities; men have been arbitrarily detained and states of emergency declared willy-nilly in St. John’s, Bassaterre, Kingston, Port-of-Spain, Georgetown and Kingstown; passports have been seized, work permits denied, and literature proscribed, and more and more Napoleoncitos are everywhere emerging. It does not require any exceptional sensitivity to appreciate that we are now on the road back from Chaguaramas to Slavery.