I – The Movement


It is useful at the outset to get a view of the PNM in its early life, It is not a major concern here to give exhaustive scrutiny to the origins of the Movement and the composition of forces within it. Nor is there need for a full analysis of its internal functioning and growth, or of the content of its ideology and programme. These too, would require a comprehensive study not least because of the popular but erroneous view – encouraged by the inadequate treatment of the Movement’s antecedents in such influential works as Dr. Williams’ History of the People of Trinidad and Tobago and challenged (indirectly) only by Lennox Pierre in Quintin O’Connor (p. 7) – that the Movement arose out of a virtual political waste-land.

For the purpose in hand, it would be sufficient to state, admittedly at some length, the following characteristics of the party and to form a rough appreciation of their significance.

First of all, the PNM must be recognized as an attempt at creating a modern party, the first of its kind to be set up in Trinidad and Tobago. It sought to be a modern party in the sense that H attempted to offer to the population at large both n specific programme and a permanent apparatus through which popular influence – perhaps even control – could be exercised on national decisions in between elections. As is evident in The People’s Charter and the Constitution and is explicitly shown in Dr. Williams’ The Case for Party Politics in Trinidad and Tobago (p. 2-4 & p. 16), it was modelled on the paper structure of the Jamaican People’s National Party. It stood out in marked contrast to such traditionalistic and adventurist groupings as the POPPG; – their publication The Road Forward (Election Manifesto, 1956) is a typical example of the empty generalities which the population had learnt, in the period since the advent of Adult Suffrage in 1946, to take with a pinch of salt.

Secondly, although it was a modem party which departed from conventional political organisation, the PNM retained an important element of traditionalism in that the special gifts of the Leader were a decisive factor in sustaining the party as a going concern. Without this so-called charismatic leadership by a single individual it is unlikely that the forces which constituted the movement could have been harnessed within a single organisation and galvanised into political action. More than either the programme or the apparatus, and perhaps more than both together, the Leader was vital to the survival of the Movement.

As C. L. R. James has pointed out in Dr. Erie Williams, A Convention Appraisal, this Leader was perhaps a personality exceptionally well-fitted for the circumstances into which he came. “Admirably suited for leadership in his own territory”, he had been “shaped by the circumstances of his life” as an academic and historian; as a colonial at Oxford in the thirties, he had been prepared for politics by exposure during this period to James, Padmore, Lewis, and a whole class of other colonial intellectuals who, for one reason or another, had been thrown together at the centre of a passing Empire. Not least, Dr. Williams was a seasoned West Indian, who through years or work at the Caribbean Commission had gained an intimate knowledge not only of the regional economy and society but also of the character of the relations between the Caribbean territories and the imperial giants whose hand-maidens they had been since Columbus.

Much of the momentum of the Movement – too much as It was to prove – was derived from the particular relations which this Leader developed with his own zealous followers, with his opponents, with the (initially) uncommitted masses, and, not to be ignored, with the Imperial interests involved.

The third important characteristic of the Movement was that it was nationalist in orientation. A modern party which was aiming at prolonged existence needed to encompass large sections of the population and to straddle varied interest-groups. Hence the Movement naturally sought to emphasise its nationalist, all-inclusive character. Ideas which could find an easy consensus among the population were pushed to the forefront: political education, morality in public affairs and above all, constitutional reform leading to Independence within a larger West Indian Federation. And the universal appeal of the charismatic leader was exploited to the full.

The call for political education of the people and morality in public affairs was one to which the large majority of tax-paying citizens could rally without hesitation. The insistence upon constitutional reform leading to Independence within a West Indies Federation got a ready response from a population long accustomed to regarding social and constitutional change as virtually synomymous. And a charismatic leader well equipped and able to exploit the national worship of ‘brains’ could carry those broadly framed issues to the people by intellectualised demagoguey and with the assistance of a loose movement which, for all its efforts to be a modern party, was inevitably at the start, largely organised in the public squares.

These same features which gained the PNM wide support as a nationalist movement inhibited its development into a seasoned national party fortified by clear ideological commitment on the part of members and bolstered by working machinery in the constituencies. The over-emphasis on personality and slogan and the stressing of the less problematic issues allowed each interest group to interpret the ultimate objectives of the Movement in its own terms, and therefore, to join the movement tor different and sometimes conflicting reasons.

Certainly, the full commitment which the Movement got from the urban, creole, working-men far surpassed anything it gained from other groups. This urban support was different in kind from the very cautious sympathy it attracted from the majority of the rural people with whom communication was less effective, not only for racial and cultural reasons but also because they were less well serviced by the weekly newspaper and the University of Woodford Square (with its Constituent Colleges at Harris Promenade, the Arima Race Stand, Scarborough, Point Fortin, Princess Town, Sangre Grande etc.).

In so far as these rural people shared the dominant creole way of thinking, with the status it accorded to educated men, they were certainly impressed by the charismatic symbolism of the Leader. But for them to have made a primary and lasting commitment to the Movement would have required more than a loosely organised party or movement and more than a nationalist programme. It would have required the PNM to transform itself into an efficient party apparatus in the constituencies and to forge an ideology which placed the cultural, social and economic interests of the rural people on a par with those of the urban and creole and which effectively disavowed the colonial patterns of succession by which rural people – in the Trinidad case, mainly Indians – were automatically assigned the lowest social status.

To some extent, and in an oblique way, the programme did sometimes bring to therefore Ideological considerations germane to the part the rural people would play in the new society after independence. So that, for example, the Leader, speaking as Minister of Finance in the Legislature and quoting from Dr. Arthur Lewis, recognized how closely related are the problems of racial harmony, political stability and reform of the plantation-dominated rural economy.

“A community which is mixed racially needs, even more than other communities, to create for itself social and economic institutions which are broadly accepted. New forms must be created which will take the West Indian Sugar Industry ‘out of politics’, in the sense of earning general acceptance, or the West Indian community will sooner or later tear itself in pieces and destroy the sugar industry in the process.” <Budget Speech, Hansard, Dec. 30th, 1956, p. 635).

But the full significance of this idea was never explored and so no programme ever emerged which could stir enough interest among the rural people to bring them fully into the party.

The question of agrarian reform of the sugar economy which was central to their lives, was taken up only in passing, as it were. And by the Government, not by the party. For the most part, the party steered clear of any policy of radically transforming the old economic structure which underpinned the urban/rural and Negro Indian division of the society. It confined its appeals to the rural sub-culture to declarations of goodwill, to calls for solidarity and to such references to the spirit of Bandung as the following:

“It is we of the PNM who from our inception stated emphatically that the interracial solidarity of the nationalist movement for independence must be substituted for the racial discrimination of colonialism. We called, and I call again, for the introduction into Trinidad, and particularly in our sugar plantation economy, of the spirit of Bandung, the practice of Afro-Asian solidarity.”

(Eric Williams, Perspectives for the West Indies, p. 10).

Moreover, the PNM, probably in part because of its unimpressive showing in the rural constituencies at the Federal elections of 1958, failed to implement the proposals made in The People’s Charter (p. 7) for Local Government based on:

“(i) a comprehensive review of the fiscal relationships between the Central Government and the municipalities in order that the latter may be operated more efficiently.

(ii) the grant of wider powers to all local government bodies to enable them to exercise greater initiative and responsibility, to encourage the active participation of tile greatest number in the management of their country’s affairs, and to provide the training ground for the future Legislators of Trinidad and Tobago and the British Caribbean Federation”.

Hence, the PNM manifestly remained a coalition of the more urbanised working-men; lower and middle range bureaucrats; teachers; a sizeable proportion of the coloured professionals and a sprinkling of the commercial class, all markedly creole in culture and impressed by the gifts which their new-found Leader could bring to the final phase of the Independence struggle.

The Movement was clearly a transitional organisation. It was marked by many contradictions: while unquestionably committed to a programme and a permanent party apparatus, it retained simultaneously a reliance on personality, slogan and the mass meeting rather Ulan the Constituency Association of tile Party Group. Although it was motivated by a keen desire to achieve urban/rural and racial solidarity, it attempted to achieve this goal by means of a nationalist programme which, because it avoided clear ideological redefinition of the traditional social system, failed to rally many of those on the lowest rungs of the social ladder, and therefore inhibited the entry of rural Indians into the party. Certainly, the nationalist programme could gain wide support from a national movement but only at the cost of preventing many latent ideological conflicts from coming to the surface. Intellectual demagoguey and charismatic leadership did help for a time to rally a following but they also served to disguise real deficiencies in the Movement in its role as an agent of social and economic transformation.

What the campaign for Chaguaramas and Federation did was to bring the PNM, its Leaders and their colleagues in the WIFLP face to face with these requirements and also, to some extent, to create conditions for their fulfilment. As the transfer of power approached, it became more necessary to give the notion of Independence content. Radical changes had to take place. In a modern party equipped to initiate changes, the traditional elemen1s of leadership based on personality and charisma needed to be replaced by an apparatus controlled from below. The nationalist programme had to be incorporated into some broader ideological scheme and translated into a series of projects by means of which the majority of the population could begin to share a common frame of reference (which did not divide them as did their creole culture with its emphasis on race, colour and the possibilities of succession). to tackle a common set of tasks, and to commit themselves to a single political organisation.