POLEMIC: CHAGUARAMAS TO SLAVERY

II – The Campaign

It is not intended at this point to make more than an assertion of the effects of the campaign conducted by the PNM for Chaguaramas and Federation. An attempt to substantiate these assertions with a detailed analysis of the campaign will be made in an article to appear in the next (Croptime) Issue of this journal.

First of all, the campaign sharpened the contradictions within the party. It opposed those who wished a modern party popularly controlled and based upon universalistic ideology to those who were content with a nationalist party controlled by a charismatic personality and a supporting creole oligarchy which relied on the manipulation of traditionalistic symbols and slogans.

By extension this conflict within the PNM mirrored larger antagonisms. Within Trinidad and Tobago it brought a confrontation between different Internal groups, between the broad masses and the aspiring, largely professional class who, by means of the manipulation of traditional slogans and symbols, would have achieved an easy succession to the departing British; between the more Afro-Saxon, principally Negro, sections of the population and the not-so-creolised Indians; between town and country.

It posed too, a choice of policy for the Government between, on the one hand. “industrialisation by invitation” on the Puerto Rican or Pioneer Legislation model with its agrarian concomitants in a Venezuelan-type policy of Crown-land distribution, and on the other, a more complete re-organisation of the plantation system on the Cuban model with its counterpart of an industrialisation programme with its pace and scope dictated by domestic agrarian development and the possibilities opened by regional collaboration.

On the wider West Indian plane, the campaign ranged the regionalists against the territorial nationalists. As such it brought into the lists those who disavowed the imperialist balkanisation of the Caribbean and assigned the heaviest weights to regional collaboration, against those who accepted the Papal Donation and placed the highest premium on the metropolitan connection.

The effect of the campaign for Chaguaramas and Federation was also to expose how severely the inherited colonial social structure and the dominant creole culture limit the possibility of change in the Caribbean and how fundamentally ambivalent towards change was the political leadership in Trinidad and Tobago and indeed, in the West Indies as a whole.

On both issues the PNM was challenging traditional imperial doctrine. On Chaguaramas the Party argued that the Base was not to be an external responsibility without the collaboration of the people of Trinidad and Tobago. Indeed, if the West Indian people wanted the North-West Peninsular for their capital, the Base would have to move! On Federation, the Federal Constitution was to be devised not for the administrative convenience of the Colonial office but in the service of the economics of West Indian nationhood.

Here was a powerful challenge to the old order But there were two- requirements for success: a broadly-based modern territorial party and an integrated regional movement both strong enough to cope with the imperial tactics of divide and rule, amply demonstrated once again in present day Cuba, San Domingo and B.G. In concrete terms, both the PNM and the WIFLP needed to transform themselves into genuine popular parties.

As for the PNP in Jamaica and the PPP (of 1953) in B.G. in their different ways, so for the PNM in Trinidad: the fulfilment of these requirements presented formidable difficulties. In all three cases, the creole culture affected the society in opposing ways. On the one hand, it was a unifying force. It gave the West Indians their case for independence and drove them towards it in the assurance that by metropolitan criteria they were better schooled in the prerequisites of Western democracy – fitter to rule, as one distinguished Jamaican barrister used to put it – than any other non-North Atlantic society. On the other band, this same creole culture carved great chasms through the social order. It opened a virtual gulf between urban people and rural, between Negro and Indian, between the more “advanced democracies” like Jamaica and Barbados and the reputedly inexperienced crown colonies like Trinidad and Guiana and generally between island and island. So that taken together, the dominant Afro-Saxon culture, with its tendency to differentiate and rank groups by their degree of conformity to metropolitan standards, and the colonial social structure, with its coincidence of racial, cultural, occupational and geographical boundaries, could unite the island and regional populations on the single issue of the formal transfer of power. Yet at the same time they posed almost insuperable obstacles to the establishment even of a mass territorial political party – let alone a regional one. It was ridiculously easy to play on communal sentiment and insular jealousy to divide popular forces.

Thus, to succeed, the PNM needed a political issue which could force the different social groups at home to abandon sectional perspectives and the various West Indian movements to rise above traditional insular sentiment It needed an issue with universalistic potential. In the context there could logically be only one issue: the demolition of the plantation system, the regionalisation, reorganisation and partial closure of the open Caribbean economies and with that, the introduction of fundamental changes m the traditional relations of property at home and in the conventional terms of collaboration between the island-unit, its neighbours and the wider world.

This issue the PNM and West Indian leadership would not entertain. Unwilling to risk a struggle over (and a possible delay of) Independence they sought to find some not-too-risky intersplucy. They considered their own succession to the British so important that they shilly-shallied in an attempt to find a respectable middle-road that would threaten the old order and yet not endanger the transfer of formal power. Hence the Socialist PNP in Jamaica had long since trimmed its socialist sails while both wings of the PPP in British Guiana had, each in its own way, been seeking to accommodate imperial demands.

Now in Trinidad the same contradictions appeared – and more sharply than elsewhere. More than any other West Indian political party or Leader, the PNM and its Leader were modernising agents, vigorously promoting both internal and regional integration and development. And as Dr. Williams and his followers swung into the campaign over Federation and Chaguaramas, many radical possibilities were opened up for them. From an initial position in which they were prepared to honour all treat; obligations passed on by the British, they arrived at a position where they were very nearly saying that the U.S. Base should go altogether. Or at least, it should be moved to make room for the West Indian capital. Yet it was this same Trinidad Movement which sought to hedge: having perceived most clearly the dangers of the radical road, it was all the more concerned not to do anything which would roughen the road to Independence. So that right up to the end of 1960 when the Chaguaramas Agreement was concluded, contradiction continued to be a major feature of the political behaviour of the Movement.

Those who were impressed by the radical, if often unexpressed sentiments engendered by the campaign, were later to claim the Revised Agreement to have been a “sellout”. To the refutation that the Leader had more than once admitted that the Movement had “no objection to the Base as such” (Slavery to Chaguaramas p. 15), their counter-argument was to be that, from a political standpoint, the Leaders cannot escape responsibility for what was popularly read into their declarations. And it was indeed significant for the developments to come that the campaign, without ever openly declaring a radical position, did convey a fresh vision to many. So much so that they were prepared enthusiastically to march on the Base on April 22nd 1960 and were equally disenchanted when in December the campaign fell flat.

While the campaign lasted there was no more ambivalent figure than the Leader himself. A leading antagonist of North Atlantic imperialism, he had come to power with the radical perspectives of Capitalism and Slavery, his youthful contribution to the study of the historical dynamics of the plantation system. But already the responsibility of employment with the establishment – at the Caribbean Commission – had been leading him perhaps unwittingly, to adjust the logic of that study and to align himself with practitioners of the modified traditional model. So that according to C. L. R. James:

“Williams, Manley and Munoz Marin had long discussions together on the conditions and developments of the West Indies”. (A Convention Appraisal p. 12).

Thus it was not altogether surprising that shortly before coming to offoce and no doubt already seeing the difficulties ahead, Dr. Williams had actually expressed approval of a model which manifestly sought to convert traditional dependence to economic advantage:

“, . . if Puerto Rico can do all this, am I wrong in my view that Trinidad can do it too?” (Economic Problems of Trinidad and Tobago p. 21).

In office one year later, he moved further towards becoming a practitioner of the model when he invited Arthur Lewis and Teodoro Moscoso, its most celebrated technical expositors, to help his Government draw up the first Development Plan. But indirectly, the conduct of the campaign for Chaguaramas and Federation brought this Puerto Rican experience into question. For the exposure of the imperial record in the Caribbean which the campaign involved augured ill for a policy which set so high a value on the metropolitan connection. And the response which it evoked from “those invincible divisions that parliamentary democracy gives to us, massed in their thousands in the University of Woodford Square … ” (Eric Williams, The Approach of Independence P. 8) opened up possibilities of popular participation in the building of the country on a scale never dreamt of before.

As it turned out, these possibilities were not to be explored. A major reason for this must have been that the Movement’s failure to correct basic weaknesses in the social structure had limited its chances of successfully incorporating the rural Indians into its fold at an early stage; while later, the Leaders were disinclined to risk the struggle over the sugar industry which alone could conceivably have retrieved the position. And even it they had been so bent, they might well have been discouraged by the failure of the West Indian leadership in general (and o! Mr. Manley in particular) to rally popular support – for such a confrontation – and by the difficulties which Castro who had chosen that path, was experiencing in Cuba during those critical first nine months of 1960.

In the context, there was a strong temptation to take the line of least resistance and bow to the traditional system.