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Maurice Bishop speaks, the Grenada revolution, 1979-83.

It is not the least tragedy of Grenada that, as Patrick Solomon has pointed out, the history of the revolution will be written by the United States Information Services, since the U.S. invading forces sequestered all of the People's Revolutionary Government (PRG) regime's accumulated documentation, including Prime Minister Bishop's private papers, notes, and diaries. Much of that documentation, including the minutes of the Central Committee meetings held during the crucial summer period of 1983, has already been leaked to "friendly"journalists. It is immediately suspect, for everybody knows the record of the U.S. security and psychological warfare agencies, and their capacity to use deceit, espionage, character assassination, and even planned murder in their global anti-communist destabilization exercises. As much as the vaunted Hitler diaries, much of this leaked documentation, if not indeed all, could be plain forgeries. Even if they are not--which can only be proved once independent informational sources appear--it is still the dismal truth that the Caribbean has beenthrown back yet once again into the old colonial condition, where its history is composed from the archival centers of the dominant metropolitan powers.

It is therefore altogether fitting and proper that American friends of Maurice Bishop have put together in this volume a selection of his public addresses as prime minister and political leader. Since like everybody else, he is entitled to his day in court, he must be heard in his own words, not just through the mouths of enemies or apologists; justs as Paul Sutton has allowed us to hear Dr. Eric Williams in his own words in his recently published anthology, Forged from the Love of Liberty: Selected Speeches of dr. Eric Williams. Too much of the post-October commentary on Grenada has come, first, from all of the so-called liberals who have written their "I told you so" articles and, second, from the Johnnies-come-lately who have suddenly discovered that all along they were friends of the revolution, although they were never to be seen in St. George's during those years. For those of us who were there, and knew the main actors of the drama, it was not a simplistic morality play with Coard the Macbeth-villain and Bishop the "moderate" hero, but rather a complicated interplay of personal ambition and ideological confusion which take on the truly heroic dimensions of a classical Greek tragedy.

Be that as it may, we have here in this volume the literary report of the leading actor. There is a variety of themes. We hear Bishop acclaiming, with justifiable pride, the social and economic achievements of the revolution. There is the public health record: free milk distribution, a new eye hospital, a new maternity clinic, with dental clinics increasing from one in 1979 to seven in 1982. There is the educational record: the school-day program, the inservice teacher training program, the literacy campaign (assisted by the famous educator Paulo Freire), free secondary education, and an enlarged higher education program (in 1979 only three persons had obtained university scholarships, for study abroad, while in just one year's time that had risen to a total of 109). To this there must be added the serious effort to build up the economic infrastructure, including fish-selling centers with deep-freeze facilities, 67 new feeder roads to help the small farmer-producer, the production of local jellies and jams to offset the colonial taste for imported foods, a much improved water supply system, and the planned dredging of the St. George's harbor to accommodate larger ships for the newly planned tourist sector.

The PRG regime has been throughout attacked as a Cuban-Soviet satellite pursuing communistic policies. The record is different. Despite the radical rhetoric of the revolution, its social programs were no more radical than those of Roosevelt's New Deal or of the British Labour government after 1945. It was a planned "mixed economy," supported as much by Coard (who was always a responsible and hard-headed finance minister) as by Bishop. It is true that it sought out new friends in the world market and trade structure, including the Eastern European economies. But all Caribbean governments have done that, for they have all been trapped in the "enforced bilateralism" or a global structure dominated by the advanced capitalist economies, and have all attempted to replace it with a viable multilateralism.

It is true, too, that in the foreign policy area the revolution adopted a pronounced Marxist-Leninist anti-imperialist stand, as many of these speeches show. But there are two things to be said about that. First, every new regime, simply out of prudence, separates its domestic policy from its foreign policy. It has been said of Elizabeth Tudor that she was Protestant at home and Catholic abroad, simply to ward off the hostile Spanish attack, which finally came with the Armada of 1588. In a somewhat different way, the Grenada regime was moderate at home and revolutionary abroad. Second, every new regime, again out of prudence, must seek out new friends. From the very beginning, the Grenada regime was under siege, and so naturally it developed a siege mentality. This was not paranoia, for we now know from the record that the U.S. administration was determined to destroy it: the 1981 U.S. naval operation on the Puerto Rican island of Viegues was a dress rehearsal for October 1983.

These speeches, finally, tell us much about the real Maurice Bishop. They contain little of the scientific class analysis of conventional Marxism; there is more ephasis on the youth, women, and small farmers than on the working class as such. There is little talk of subordinating the native energy of the man in the street to a party cadre-elite. As distinct from the vocabulary--so alien as it sounds to the concrete realities of daily Grenadian life--of the ultra-left faction of the PRG Central Committee, there is little reference to the "working class," the "bourgeoisie," or "petty-bourgeois reformism." There is considerable emphasis on Cuba. But it is more an emphasis on the Cuban record in health, education, in providing jobs, ending poverty, and eliminating prostitution. It is true that the speeches became more radicalized, more ideological, as time went by. But essentially they reveal Bishop not so much as a "scientific" socialist but rather as a West Indian populist, emotionally close to the folk-people, passionately concerned to raise them to the status of new, responsible citizens in a new social order.

Bishop, as here revealed, is a complex devoted man, champion of many causes. His speech of November 18, 1981, invokes the memory of Uriah Butler as yet another Grenadian in the history of anticolonial resistance. He is a loyal and convinced regionalist, as his speech of June 29, 1981, shows; it was, after all, the three leading CARICOM countries that unleashed the trade war of 1983 not revolutionary Grenada. In his June 5, 1983, speech at Hunter Collge in New York City, reprinted in this volume, he made an American audience laugh with the story of his own personal encounters with the idiocies of British colonial education; this places him in a goodly company, including Eric Williams. Above all else, he is concerned with the victims of the general West Indian system; every West Indian man should be compelled to read the speech of June 15, 1979, which is almost a public confessional Bishop's part of the way in which West Indian machismo has trapped the West Indian woman, of every class level, in a shameful system of prejudice, discrimination, and sexual abuse.

It is clear, not only from these speeches but also from personal encounters, that Bishop was a man of feeling. He had passion. He genuinely liked people. He could treat everybody as a natural equal. He had about him none of the arrogance and vanity that marred Norman Manley (Michael Manley's father), and none of the bitter, anguished "inward hunger" that makes the reading of Eric Williams' autobiography so painful. He was, basically, a decent man entrapped in an indecent situation. Because he was decent, and at bottom trusted people, he was doomed to lose the Stalinist power struggle of the summer and fall of 1983 to men like Coard who, as Don Rojas has said, was a man with a brilliant mind and no heart. These collected speeches tell us that Bishop had both mind and heart.

Above all else, Bishop is here concerned with the revolution as a new social contract rooted in a new conceptualization of "democracy." Democracy is not just conventional elections in which, in Rousseau's gibe, the English people are only free once in every five years. It means, much more, daily popular participation in the decision-making process at all levels. It means new institutional forms of discussion and representation, from parish level to national level. To those who see this as simply verbal disguise for the making of a one-party state it is worth reminding them that it is a theme, attacking the conventional Westminster model, long advanced by non-revolutionary groups like Tapia in the Trinidad debate. Even more: it has its roots also in the English democratic debate itself, going back at least to the remarkable book published in 1920 by the Fabians Sidney and Beatrice Webb, entitled A New Constitution for the Socialist Commonwealth of Great Britain. Recognizing that the individual member of the modern democratic state is not only a citizen, but also a producer and a consumer, it daringly advocated a whole new representational system of national professional, industrial, and vocational parliaments to complement the political parliament; and it thus challenged the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty. Bishop's populism was in that tradition. It is only the poverty-stricken mentality of the Caribbean neocolonial bourgeoisie that can see in this simply an argument for communism.
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Author:Lewis, Gordon
Publication:Monthly Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 1, 1984
Words:1619
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