EDITORIAL: Round and Round

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As this Number of the Quarterly goes to press the New World Group in Trinidad passes through a mild crisis. Members and non-members, sympathisers and activists are discussing certain criticisms of the structure of the group and the direction of its activities which have appeared in the local papers.

The criticisms have come from Mr. Lloyd Best a prominent member of the New World Group and one of its founders. He charges the Group in Trinidad with fraud. By this he means that we have failed to work for the accomplishment of the original idea behind the New World movement and that our failures have not been errors of judgement, or of omission, but of intent.

Those who are members of New World and take pains to inform themselves would know that the original aim of the organisation is to “transform the mode of living and thinking” of the Caribbean people by engaging in two “complementary forms of activity.” The one: the “formulation of ideas” about the social, political and economic conditions of our societies. The other: the making of “personal contact” with the community in the form of discussion meetings and talks with the hope that such “interaction will broaden and expand the process of self-education both of the Group and the community.”

Best does not deny that the activities of the Trinidad Group seek to achieve those aims. But, he insists, our activities have been undirected, un-organised and have been used to mask an obsessive preoccupation with the idea of the Group’s winning political power “behind a new Doctor.”

We of New World make no concession to fraud. The real give-away, however, in the indictment – and the reason why it has produced discord rather than agreement – lies partly in the manner in which it was presented; partly in what it omitted altogether and partly in the intellectual position discernible in the measures it suggests, especially in its recommendations on political change.

Regrettable, too, is the over-simplification into which Best has allowed himself to stray by presenting the ‘conflict’ as expressing two basic differences on the question of political change. In New World there are hardly only two views on anything. Usually there are several and the question of political change is no exception.

This over-simplification has led to the erroneous belief that the conflict is somewhat like that between a ‘fox’ and a ‘hedgehog’, the former knowing many things and the latter knowing one big thing. This is hardly constructive, but it is very dangerous. For the survival of the Group is thereby deliberately imperilled by the demonstration of differences which have always existed and which, on Best’s own admission, are of the essence of the Group itself. To desert that logic for the logic of emotion could only serve to handicap the Group’s efforts at reconstructing West Indian society.

In publicising his apparent disgust with the Trinidad Group and, by inference, with other New World Groups (he considers making the publication of the New World Quarterly an exclusively Trinidadian affair) Best sought hard as an intellectual to avoid theatrics as well as to avoid giving the impression that he was blowing up a view point into a grotesque caricature. He demanded that his programme be given serious attention. Unless, however, potentialities are realistically appraised (he offers nothing in this respect) Best stands in danger of that famous Spanish vice of arbitrismo: the concocting of projects – the most theatrical intellectual position of all. In addition we do not see in his programme any clear objectives. Even caricatures often drive below their appearances in such a way as to give us a hint of their true character. That is something in their favour. When, however, what they over-emphasize is a misrepresentation they become the worst of their kind – the caricature of distortion.

It seems to us that like all intellectuals who live in societies made uncomfortable by alien politics, racism, bodily and spiritual violence and strewn with fallen idols, Best is caught between an emotional commitment and an intellectual commitment. He cannot reject his social experience without rejecting a part of himself; and, if in order to retain his self-regard he must needs scorn his kind he must, by implication, scorn himself. This is the essential meaning behind his condemnatory phrase “Doctor politics”. It underestimates not so much the leadership of the intellectual in West Indian society but the force of the political experience of its peoples. It betrays an essentially reactionary turn of mind in a situation that is essentially revolutionary. It fails to distinguish one kind of political change from another. We can have a political change that is no more than a change in the political aspects of social, economic and cultural relations – a tinkering with the political system. Therein lies “Doctor politics.” Or we can have a change that works towards establishment of a new social order.

This means acquiring legitimate social power to make decisions authoritative for and considered authoritative by the whole society. It is a supremely political change. And what we shall need is not one thing at a time – political education then politics – but a rhythmic movement of all things at the same time. If New World rejects this kind of understanding of its work it will run the risk of fixing its grasp below the fullness of its reach.