Understanding the 1979 Grenada revolution requires an examination of the island’s past within then Caribbean circumstances, and the knowledge gained would give persons a grasp of present regional conditions along with perceptions of the future.
This is but one of the many takeaways from a presentation by Chair of Africana Studies at Brown University, Rhode Island, USA, Professor Brian Meeks, who last night told an audience gathered for the 34th Elsa Goveia Memorial Lecture that not only was the four-and-a-half years revolution the first for the English-speaking Caribbean, but something not likely to re-occur though lessons from it are aplenty.
“My argument is straight-forward. It is that lost in the detritus of the 1983 tragedy there were initiatives taken that went beyond any experiment tried anywhere in the anglophone Caribbean. And that if in the future we are to rethink and rebuild a Caribbean that is in the interest if the people, if indeed we are to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery then we must not only learn from what the Grenada revolution did wrong, but also what it did right,” Meeks posited in the 3Ws Pavilion, University of the West Indies, Cave Hill.
Led by charismatic Maurice Bishop, the New Jewel Movement political party took reins of control of the Grenada government while its elected prime minister Eric Gairy was attending a United Nations meeting in 1979.
There followed, until 1983, an unusual voyage for a Caribbean nation into a people-oriented form of governance with a strong Leninist influence that eventually broke up through leadership disputes, execution of Bishop and a number of associates on October 19, and an invasion by mainly US forces six days later.
Meeks, a former director of the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies, UWI, Mona, said that in the aftermath much attention was focused on events of this tragedy but thankfully a number of academics now “appear to be moving beyond the boundaries of focusing on those dark days in October to gaze more purposefully on the historical tributaries that led to revolutionary period, as well as the estuaries that emerged from it and can still be traced in the social and political life of Grenada in the decades that have accumulated since those heady times”.
The author of a number of books on Caribbean politics made clear that, though he has written about the tragic event, his interest last night lay in those “tributaries” and “estuaries”.
“There is of course nothing inherently wrong in trying to understand the origin and course of the 1983 crisis,” he said, but offered that, “this exercise inevitably obscures the day to day reality of some four-and-a-half years, more than 1,670 days of the most remarkable social experiment in Anglophone Caribbean since emancipation in 1838.”The man who lecturer in history, Dr Rodney Worrell, described as a leading Marxist and black radical intellectual, explained the uniqueness of the revolution.
“We may never ever see an upheaval and a rupture in the way it took place in Grenada in 1979 because these things are rare. But also, the world we live in today is a completely different world, far more inter-linked.
“It doesn’t mean that we can’t look at what was achieved and what was not achieved, on a scale of good and bad.”
In his just under one hour presentation, Meeks examined some of the “good and bad” of the period before and during the years of the revolution.
Barbados TODAY will in later publications report on the Professor’s analysis of those elements. But in this edition will look briefly at one contributory factor to the fall of this unique Caribbean experiment.
There was the issue of form of governance and attitude of those governing after moving from a protest orientation of pre-1979.
“In Grenada the realisation of a need for an entirely new model came too little and too late.
“The party for much of the four and a half years was required to not only run itself, as before the revolution, but rule a country with all its complexities, and was entirely unprepared for this.”
He said overburdened cadres got tired and got sick. Duties were often unfulfilled. Others left the party.
Meeks zoomed in on “the continued traditions of patriarchy, which were another major flaw of the revolutionary period”.
He spoke of female cadres protesting the lack of time available for them to spend with their children and families.
“How, they argued, could they be expected to recruit other men and women into the party when they were increasingly perceived in their communities as being irresponsible in their own homes by virtue of their pre-occupation with party duties?”
Here tradition and stubbornness stepped in as the men in the party met the women’s pleas with scorn and contempt.
This he said paved the way for self-destruction.
“It was women’s protests along with other signs of flagging efforts in the overburdened vanguard that led not to a rethinking of the entire utility of Leninist vanguardism but rather a doubling down on the very principles that had brought the party into the point of disintegration in 1983.”
He added: “It was therefore this flawed decision to re-assert the unyielding rightness of Leninism that was the background to the party meetings of mid-1983 to the highly flawed joint leadership proposals that led – at least retrospectively – in lock-step fashion to house arrests, the fort, the murders and the invasion.” (GA)