Ewart Layne no longer has a “glazy eye” view of the March 13, 1979 revolution in Grenada that overthrew Prime Minister Eric Gairy’s administration.
As the former member of the People’s Revolutionary Government (PRG) looks back on the uprising that ushered in the PRG’s Maurice Bishop as prime minister, he no longer refers to it as “the glorious revolution”.
Speaking recently at the launch of his book,We Move Tonight, Layne somberly reflected on that time.
“To say it was the glorious revolution is to negate the humanity of those who suffered. I recognize, generally, it was a progressive process. We were trying to transform the country to assist the poor. [But] we have to recognize that the imprisonment of some people was a denial of their rights. I do not have a glazy eye view of the revolution anymore,” he told those gathered in Lecture Theatre 2 of the Roy Marshall Teaching Complex, at the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies last Friday.
Layne acknowledged that during the Bishop administration, several members and supporters of Gairy’s party, and even members of the revolutionary government, were held for extended periods without trial.
“Even persons who had struggled together with us to help overthrow Gairy were jailed or killed. They were not exempted. Strachan Phillip was killed in an armed assault on his house. Ralph Thompson, who was renowned as one of the most selfless, courageous, and hard-working members of the New Jewel Movement during the period of the anti-Gairy struggle, had become disillusioned by the end of the first year of the revolution. Following the attempt on the lives of the leadership on June 19, 1980, he was detained as a counter-revolutionary and held without charge or trial.
“He subsequently died in hospital, as much from cancer as from a broken heart.”
Layne, who was one of the major players in the removal of Gairy from office, stressed that, in spite of the shortcomings, the revolution recorded major achievements in social and economic spheres.
”The revolution opened up many opportunities for social and economic advancement of poor people and their children. The revolution also made progress in involving thousands of Grenadians in the day-to-day tasks of running the country. This was in pursuance of the policy of the revolution to broaden the process of democracy,” he said.
“Thousands of Grenadians who previously sat back and, at best, waited to cast their votes every five years were involved in day-to-day activities of the state and in governance.”
Giving the background to the execution of Bishop and several members of his Cabinet on October 19, 1983, Layne, who was seen as a hardliner in the PRG, said: “There was always that tension between those who subscribed to vanguardism and those to populism. There was that tendency towards vanguardism which showed up itself, in terms of elitism on the one hand and populism on the other hand. However, the reality is, those tendencies were in many of us. It was not a situation of one group having these tendencies and another group not having them.”
Layne lamented the fact that, in the end, members had turned on each other in a bloody confrontation.
He attributed that development to years of training in settling disputes with violence, instead of negotiations, and the youthfulness of several actors in the revolution.
He regretted the fact that Bishop and other leaders of the revolution had died at the hands of people they knew.
Much of this slaughter of fellow comrades has not been included in We Move Tonight. Layne acknowledged that the publication was incomplete without it and promised to include it in a revised version of the book.