The Intellectual Under Neo-liberal Hegemony in the English-Speaking Caribbean.
Whilst the aspiration of attaining the best in any human endeavour appears unproblematic, the one obvious weakness of Chancellor Alleyne's assertion is its assumption of the intellectual as value neutral. His perspective suffers from the assumption that an elite, once created, will altruistically serve the interest of an unspecified general good. It also assumes the existence of a politically neutral environment in which this elite will function. Thus the question of the group, in whose name that elite would act, was never raised by Chancellor Alleyne. Indeed, given the damage that unscrupulous intellectual elites have wrought on societies globally, particularly in their roles as the thinking elements of the political class, the call for the academy to embrace the role of enabler of an intellectual elite requires deep and thoroughgoing analysis.
This question assumes even greater urgency given the emergence of neo-liberal ideology with its imperviousness to alternative world-views and its ideological assumption that "there is no alternative". (2) In such a context therefore, and given the ideological role of neo-liberalism as ruling class ideology in the wake of the collapse of European Communism, to claim a "neutral" role for the intellectual and the academy, is to unwittingly perpetuate ruling class interests. Thus, before any consensus on the role of the University as an enabler of elites can be reached, a number of critical questions need to be explored. These include: what is the nature and character of that elite, what is its relation to society and to power, and what is its mission in the context of present-day Caribbean reality?
One of the specific realities which problematizes the idea of the politically neutral Caribbean intellectual, is the fact that those who have attained higher levels of tertiary education constitute a natural elite solely by virtue of their numbers, as a result of both colonial policy and post-colonial neo-liberalism. This point has been well made by George Lamming (2011, 54) in an address to a UWI graduating class in 1980:
And here we encounter one of the sharpest contradictions of our inheritance. You are a minority: and you are a minority because education is scarce; and was intended to be a scarcity so that it might serve as an instrument of continuing social stratification, an index of privilege and status, a deformed habit of material self-improvement. This has created acute problems for all forms of leadership. The political leader is the educated one. He leads from above. It has also complicated the role of the intellectuals in their relation to the mass of the population. These are men and women who live and work in an orbit of privilege, and share in those material interests which bind them to the dominant ruling group. Their relation to the mass of the population is a dubious relation; it is a fragile relation; and in some circumstances it is an utterly fraudulent relation. This scarcity of education amidst the mass of our people has given the minority an easy access to comfort; it confers a superficial and sometimes tyrannical authority. It breeds a dangerous self-importance.
The sm all size of the educated group, coupled with the weak intellectual tradition and instinctive anti-intellectualism of the society, makes the issue of the role of the intellectual an important question in the era of neo-liberal hegemony in the Caribbean. This article is written normatively from an anti-neoliberal perspective and in opposition to the idea of the intellectual as an apolitical, depoliticised, neutral actor. It locates the current view of the detached, neutral intellectual in the context of the ideological hegemony of neo-liberalism and critiques the hidden inner logic of the neo-liberal world-view which treats these developments as normal and beyond political contestation.
This article therefore proposes to do the following. First, the problem of the intellectual in the post-colonial Caribbean will be discussed, indicating how the issue had been addressed among the leading Caribbean thinkers, such as W.A. Lewis, Frantz Fanon, C.L.R. James, Walter Rodney, and others in the early period of the formation of the first indigenous university and the pre- and early post-independence period. The section will locate the Caribbean experience within historical and global discussions, in order to provide the global context within which the Caribbean concerns were being framed. Direct emphasis in this discussion is placed on the manner in which the idea of the "neutral" intellectual is treated by the early post-colonial Caribbean intellectuals.
Following this, the article highlights the problem of the Caribbean intellectual in the wake of the reversal of radical, antisystemic, anti-colonial perspectives. This section therefore shifts the discussion to the post-1980s period and shows how much of the thinking on the role of the intellectual, since that moment, has borne the stamp of the ideological hegemony of neo-liberalism. Specifically highlighted, is the manner in which attendant notions of the "primacy of the market", the "end of politics" and the "end of ideology" have led to the emergence of an ethos of "managerialism" which has effectively denied a role for the radical intellectual or critical perspectives in general.
It is not the task of the article to present a review of contemporary radical thinking. Instead, the aim is to explore the specific debates around the politically engaged intellectual and to show how the model of the engaged intellectual has found expression in the ideas and practice of significant Caribbean thinkers over time. Despite this however, the article concludes on a summative and normative note, presenting the kinds of responses which have emerged to counter the dominant neo-liberal tendencies. The concluding section therefore highlights the specific tendencies, assumptions and "social types" being argued against, and provides indications of the past and present contributions of Caribbean thinkers which point to progressive responses to neoliberal thought and practice.
Post-Colonial Debates on the Politically Engaged Intellectual in National Liberation
One of the burning questions for newly emerging states in the 1950s and 1960s, was the question of the role of the intellectual elite in the national liberation struggle and post-colonial state construction. For the first time, a new class with responsibility for managing the affairs of the new states was coming into being, and, specifically problematic in the case of the English-speaking Caribbean, was that the future governing class was removed in tastes, manners, culture, and education, from the wider population which it was aspiring to lead. Moreover, this ruling group's participation in their respective national liberation movements in many cases was undertaken, not as the initiators, but as belated, and often opportunistic, entrants (Gittens 1982). The historical and class origins of the future post-colonial intellectual and political leadership therefore, brought into scrutiny the issue of the role of the intellectual in the process of decolonisation, with the various intellectual interventions framed within Platonic, Marxist, or Neutral perspectives, or defined by the more sociologically familiar categories of "class-in-itself", "class-bound" or "class-less".
One of the earliest writers who utilised a Marxist perspective to critique the role of the emerging post-colonial leadership was the Martinique-born psychiatrist and Algerian revolutionary Frantz Fanon. Given Fanon's utilisation of the Marxist perspective, he argued firmly that the colonially educated elite would betray the anti-colonial struggle because of its subservience to Europe and because of its failure to transform itself into the genuine organic intellectual class of the anti-colonial movement. According to Fanon (1963, 119):
It so happens that the unpreparedness of the educated classes, the lack of practical links between them and the mass of the people, their laziness, and let it be said, their cowardice at the decisive moment of the struggle will give rise to tragic mishaps. National consciousness, instead of being the all-embracing crystallisation of the innermost hopes of the whole people, instead of being the immediate and most obvious result of the mobilization of the people, will be in any case only an empty shell, a crude and fragile travesty of what it might have been.
This need for the educated class to serve as the organically revolutionary and conscious leadership of the workers and anti-colonial struggle has been a central feature of the various shades of Marxism when applied to the post-colonial project. The Marxist perspective is diametrically opposed to the idea of a "neutral" intellectual serving society as a whole. To Marx, all ideas are class ideas. That is, ideas are not class neutral but are always geared to the advantage of the economically dominant group. Following from this, Marx also insisted on the need for revolutionary action. It was not enough for the intellectual or the philosopher to merely interpret the world, the real task was to change it (Korsch 1970). From the Marxist perspective therefore, the true intellectual should aim to become the thinking agent of the working class and the thinking agent behind radical change.
Given this Marxist linking of thought to practice, an important contribution to theorising on the role of the intellectual, emerged from the work of V.I. Lenin. Lenin was confronted with the practical question of outlining the role of the intellectual in response to the revolutionary organisations which had emerged in Russia between 1902 and 1917, and his answer to this question has been famously captured in his iconic work (Lenin 1969), in which he proposed the creation of an elite vanguard party, led by intellectuals and professional revolutionaries, with very precise prescriptions of the working of the new revolutionary party and state organisations.
A central factor motivating Lenin's democratic-centralist, vanguard Party prescription was the need to overcome the "opportunism" of the leading sections of the intellectual and political class, a concern shared by Fanon in his rejection of the Westernised post-colonial educated elites.
It is significant that the Polish-German Communist leader, Rosa Luxembourg, did not share Lenin's optimism in the Vanguard Party as a safety-check against opportunism. Defining opportunism as "the absence of principle", Luxemburg argued that such a tendency could emerge in any organisation, whatever its form (see Le Blanc 1999). Indeed, Luxemburg's questioning of Lenin's optimism in the vanguard party as a safeguard against opportunism is borne out by the close similarities between Lenin's "democratic centralism" and the liberal-democratic system which has facilitated opportunistic political behaviour in the Caribbean.
In both systems, the lower organs, the electorate or the mass base of the party, elect the parliament, out of the parliament comes the Cabinet or executive and one person in the cabinet emerges as prime minister or maximum leader. In addition, once selected, decisions flow from the top to the bottom. Therefore, both Lenin's system and the liberal democratic system are based on the assumptions of the rule of a select political class, whose leadership is based on special skill or knowledge which separate them from the mass of the population. The rule of a special intellectual elite is assured in both systems. (See Toffler 1970, for an argument which identifies the similarities of "second wave industrialism" which joins Lenin's model with liberal democracy).
In short therefore, whilst both systems are built on the assumption of the rule of the brightest and the best, the reality has proven to be quite different, and has indeed validated the fear expressed by Luxemburg that Lenin's system would provide no guarantee against opportunism. In this sense therefore, Lenin's attempt to link intellectual leadership through political organisation, similar to that attempted by Plato's notion of the "Philosopher King" has not proven successful.
One of the more insightful reflections on the role of the intellectual from the Marxist perspective, is that of the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci. Gramsci's main concern was to determine whether intellectuals constitute an autonomous social group and therefore a class in themselves or whether every social class "has its own specialised category of intellectuals" (Gramsci 2005, 49). Gramsci's reflections, led him to the conclusion that "the intellectuals are not independent but, rather, products of the class into which they are born". He therefore developed the concept of the "organic intellectual", to emphasise the link "between the intellectuals and the class of which they are part". Gramsci was of the view that all classes produce their own intellectuals, so in the modern capitalist period for example, the ruling class produces its own array of technicians whose function is to organise "social hegemony and state domination" (ibid. 49). However, just as the capitalist class produces its organic intellectuals whose role is to organise state domination, then so does the working class seek to create its own intellectual strata, with its own goals, aims and objectives. What is significant is the task to which the goals of the intellectual are directed. Gramsci's perspective therefore further advanced the Marxist insistence on the intellectual as "class-bound" and deepened the rejection of the neutral intellectual (ibid. 52).
It is on the basis of these Marxist perspectives therefore, that writers like Fanon and CLR James were sceptical of the possibility that the Western educated elite could play a progressive and revolutionary role in the post-colonial national liberation movement. James, like Fanon, was aware that the intellectual instinct of the British educated political class was one of uncritical acceptance of British-European values. As a result, the British-educated elite would be unable to perform the role of a genuine revolutionary nationalist political class. This self-identification with British political norms meant that the educated sections of the political class were very reluctant to pursue ideas and courses of action, deemed "irresponsible" by the British. This weakness was seen particularly clearly in the acceptance by the West Indian intellectual elite of the British process of graduated stages of constitutional change. As James (1968, 17) put it:
By delaying the achievement of self-government ... and by the mean and grudging granting so many the vote, so many to become ministers and all the palaver and so-called education by which the British Government claimed that it trained the West Indian population for self-government, a terrible damage was inflicted on us. In reality, our people were mis-educated, our political consciousness was twisted and broken. Far from being guided to Independence by the 1960s ... the imperialist government poisoned and corrupted that sense of self-confidence and political dynamic needed for any people about to embark on the uncharted seas of independence and nationhood.
To overcome the dangers inherent in the cultivation of an alien educated ruling class, therefore, Fanon (1963, 120) proposed the "class suicide" of the educated elite and the intellectuals:
In an underdeveloped country an authentic national middle class ought to consider as its bounden duty to betray the calling fate has marked out for it, and to put itself to school with the people: in other words to put at the people's disposal the intellectual and technical capital that it has snatched when going through the colonial universities.
The strong normative recommendation of Fanon here, is that the genuinely revolutionary anti-colonial must become "become class- bound" and identify with the struggles of the revolutionary workers and peasants.
A similar conclusion was reached by the anti-colonial revolutionary from Guinea Bissau, Amilcar Cabral (1974). However, Cabral, unlike Fanon, could not ignore the value of the local educated class as an important force in post-colonial development. He suggests that the only class capable of leading the anti-colonial struggle is the native petty-bourgeoisie, by virtue of its higher standard of living, more contact with colonialism, (more chances to be humiliated) and its higher level of education and political awareness. However, Cabral (1974, 89) was convinced that the local elite could only fulfil this role by committing "class suicide in order to be reborn as revolutionary workers." Fanon (1963, 120-21) in contrast, remained sceptical that the local intelligentsia could perform this task. He laments that this,
national middle class does not follow this heroic, positive and fruitful and just path; rather, it disappears with its soul set at peace into the shocking, anti-national ways of a traditional bourgeoisie, of a bourgeoisie which is stupidly, contemptibly, cynically bourgeois.
The University of the West Indies and the Role of the Intellectual
These largely Marxist-type reflections on the engaged intellectual in the post-colonial setting, were to assume direct relevance to the English-speaking Caribbean, when in the mid-1940s, the establishment of a West Indian University was being proposed. An examination of the debates in and around the purpose of the University of the West Indies (UWI) provides useful insights into the notions of the role of the intellectual which were dominant at the time, and offer deeper understanding of the later influence of neo-liberal thinking on the question.
Given the establishment of the university as an institution of colonial withdrawal with an emphasis on "technical development" of the region, and given the management of the process of establishing the university by the established colonial power, there were deep notions of "neutrality" or classlessness embedded in the earliest explanations of the need for a West Indian university and in the expectations of the roles to be performed by its academics. Despite the general acceptance of the UWI within the neutral and class-less perspective, there were a few differences about how the UWI could perform its role.
The first word in the debate on the intellectual role that UWI academics were expected to play, came from the Irvine Commission which was formed to ascertain views on what the UWI should be. The Irvine Commission saw the UWI emerging as a carbon copy of the Medieval English Oxbridge universities. Thus, emphasis was placed on the need for a resident student population, cut off from the rest of society (a class-less intelligentsia) and engaging in full time academic study. This was justified by the need to bring the future civil service of the Caribbean together, to breed familiarity, since they were the ones expected to administer the coming West Indian Federation.
From the earliest, therefore, a neutral class-less intellectual was being considered. This can be construed as both positive and negative. On the positive side, the need for a resident student population suggested a preference for the West Indian intellectual as a Platonic priestly class which was not necessarily tied to the marketplace. On the negative side, however, the link between UWI and the political needs of Federation was planting a seed which linked learning to service to the state apparatus, as a facilitating administrative class, rather than as a critical thinking group. Far more negative though, was the Irvine Commission's insistence on the need for a period of colonial tutelage before UWI could become a full-fledged University in its own right. Hence its recommendation that the UWI be born as the University College of the West Indies with, the University of London in the UK, serving as the parent body (British Colonial Office 1945; McCollin 2012, 62-5). This recommendation denied an anti-colonial role for the UWI.
The loudest voice raised in opposition to the Irvine Commission proposals was that of Eric Williams (1994), who had two main objections. First, he opposed UWI's birth as a child of the University of London. This, he felt, was the very anti-thesis of the independence consciousness which the UWI was supposed to nurture. Secondly, Williams, for reasons of cost, was opposed to the idea of the University as an autonomous society, with its separate territory and full-time resident population, removed from everyday society. Instead, he felt that the university should be located near the commercial and administrative centre, from which it would get its student population and which would feed the needs of state and capital. In other words, Williams retained a "market-driven" and functional view of the intellectual. His perspective betrayed a very narrow economistic view of the role of education, one which was opposed to the idea of knowledge for its own sake, as highlighted in Julien Benda's Treason of Intellectuals (in Bogues 2003, 8) in which real intellectuals are "those whose activity is essentially not the pursuit of practical aims" and whose "kingdom is not of this world". Williams (1994) was therefore motivated largely by Caribbean national development considerations.
Beyond, the Williams-Irvine Commission debate however, there were other challenges facing the UWI, in its early genesis, which influenced the perspectives on UWI academics' role in the society. The UWI's student numbers were small, and this constituted a natural basis for elitism. Moreover, and more importantly, by the 1960s, the UWI found itself in the middle of radical political ferment spearheaded by a new generation of political activists and thinkers who aimed to shape a new Caribbean which in economic, political, and cultural terms would reflect the image and needs of the black majority population. It was in this context, that the Caribbean's most decorated academic, W.A. Lewis, expressed his perspective on the role of the Caribbean intellectual, in his capacity as the first West Indian Principal of the University College of the West Indies. Lewis can be categorised among those holding a "neutral", "class-less" view of the intellectual. His perspectives allow for an examination of both the positive and negative aspects of the neutral perspective.
As an economist, one of Lewis' earliest struggles was with members of his own West Indian teaching staff, who he felt, were not sufficiently sensitive to the "third world" nature of the institution in which they were employed. For example, Lewis was always disturbed by the fact that, the West Indian staff (whose homes were in the Caribbean) would make demands for "home leave" in protest against the English expatriate teaching staff who were entitled to paid "home leave" (which meant a return trip to England). Since, economists are instinctively guided by questions of cost and efficiency, Lewis was disappointed in the failure of the West Indian teaching staff to demonstrate the nationalistic consciousness recommended by Cabral and Fanon, and in their insensitivity to the need for cost reduction. That was, however, Lewis as an economist and UWI principal.
On the other hand, as a "black Englishman", or more disparagingly as an "Afro-saxon", Lewis was very hostile to the West Indian modes of cultural expression on the part of students, their insistence on black power, and he was particularly hostile to the political activism of the teaching staff. It is in this context, that Lewis was moved to elaborate a "neutral" view of the intellectual, devoid of any political commitment to class, party and indigenous culture. In an article entitled The University in Less Developed Countries, Lewis (1983, 550) proposed a role for the UWI intellectual which advocated "class-less" neutrality and which stripped the UWI lecturer of an organic political function:
Performance of functions for the whole community financed from the public treasury, involves some element of political neutrality. It is inappropriate for your one and only heart surgeon to be a prominent member of some political party, since members of other political parties may fear that his knife may inadvertently slip when he performs for them. It is equally inappropriate for your one and only professor of economics whose salary is paid by all, so to conduct himself that he has only the confidence of and is consulted only by the chamber of commerce, or the trade unions, or the government or the opposition. Such conduct does not matter in a developed country where professors are two a penny and available in every hue. But in our countries with one university only ... the political professor fails in his duty as a public servant.
Ironically, the Trinidadian intellectual Lloyd Best was to arrive at a position very similar to that of W.A. Lewis. Ironically, because it is widely accepted that Lloyd Best and his New World Group had undertaken the most advanced work to produce a home-grown Caribbean economic perspective, that was particularly critical of the work of W.A. Lewis. Despite their early differences in economic perspective however, Best (2003) shared whole heartedly Lewis' demand for a neutral UWI intellectual. Best (2003, 25) complained:
One half of our intellectual class is a-political. They are engrossed in technical exercises or they are busy dissipating their energies in administration and public relations--running the public service, running the Universities, running this, running that, running in effect, away from the issues. The other half is clamouring to lead the people. Like so many brave Bustamantes, their burning ambition is to march before the masses. Confronted with the questions as to how, where and when, their answer is a stony silence. They too, one fears are merely idling their resources away in impractical rhetoric.
Best was of the view, that since the Caribbean was a new society, the energies of its intellectuals would have been better spent, researching and studying the society and developing new theories and categories for understanding the novel condition. As he put it, for the intellectual "thought is action".
It is significant that Best's insistence on political neutrality has been heavily criticised due to his own penchant for political activism as leader and founder of his own political organisation, the Tapia House Group in Trinidad and Tobago. Indeed, one former New World Group member, James Millette (2003; 2010), insists that Best was a cynical petty bourgeois, contemptuous of the political aspirations of ordinary people. Similarly, the Jamaican Marxist Trevor Munroe, described Best as engaging in bourgeois idealism. He accused Best of trying to confine the West Indian intellectual to the seminar room, and to cut him off from the activity of the working people (Munroe 1990).
However, despite W.A. Lewis's call for a neutral academic, and despite Lloyd's Best's insistence that thought is action, there were a number of Caribbean and UWI academics, who saw thought as thought and action as action, and were moved towards political activism. Among these was Trevor Munroe himself, who had formed his own study circle the Worker's Liberation League and later his own Marxist Party, the Workers Party of Jamaica (WPJ), and had established links with other Marxist parties in the region, including the New Jewel Movement in Grenada. Another was Rex Nettleford (1993), who engaged in cultural activism, lent his energies to the elevation of the folk, insisted on the valorisation of the Creole, and placed the indigenous at the centre of his consciousness.
Perhaps however, the Caribbean intellectual who most consciously encapsulated the ideal of Gramsci's organic intellectual, was the Guyanese scholar-activist, Walter Rodney. His perspective was the diametrical opposite to that proposed by W.A. Lewis and Lloyd Best. Almost immediately upon his assumption of duties as lecturer in African History at the Mona Campus, Rodney felt himself unable to confine himself to the eight-to-four job of educating the children of the West Indian middle class. Instead, he felt, that the persons most in need of knowledge of African History, and those most receptive to it, were the non-university masses in the under-privileged sections of Kingston, Jamaica. It is on this basis that Rodney engaged in his "groundings" to bring education to the educationally disempowered. Indeed, Rodney (1969) presents a clear and direct answer to the question of the role of the intellectual in the post-colonial Caribbean in a statement delivered on the night of October 17th, 1968, following his ban from re-entering Jamaica by the Hugh Shearer administration:
Now what is my position? What is the position of all of us because we fall in the category of the black West Indian Intellectual, a privilege in our society? What do we do with that privilege? The traditional pattern is that we join the establishment, the black educated man in the West Indies is as much part of the system of oppression as the bank managers and the plantation overseers (Rodney 1969, 62).
To overcome these tendencies, Rodney proposed a number of responses, among which were first, "that the West Indian academic, within his own discipline, has to attack the distortions of imperialism". And the second is that "the black intellectual must attach himself to the activity of the black masses" (Rodney 1969, 62-63).
Rodney's life story however, ironically symbolises the shifting fortunes of the assumptions of radical intellectualism in the Caribbean between the 1960s and the early 1980s. After having been expelled from Jamaica in 1968, he spent much time engaging in internationalism which took him to Africa where he lectured at the University of Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania, eventually returning to his native Guyana where he helped found the Working Peoples Alliance and continued his activism until he was eventually assassinated on 13th June 1980. Indeed it can be said, that the last period of active political engagement by the West Indian intellectual in radical activity opened with the expulsion of Rodney from Jamaica in 1968 and ended with two assassinations in the 1980s. The first was the assassination of Rodney himself in 1980, and the second was the assassination of Maurice Bishop in 1983. With these two assassinations the period of radical engagement by the West Indian intellectual came to a close, and the English-speaking Caribbean witnessed a shift to neo-liberal domination, which has had a profoundly negative effect on the assumptions of the role of the intellectual and the university in the Caribbean.
The Era of Neoliberal Domination
The preceding historical exploration of contending perspectives on the role of the intellectual in the Caribbean allows for one initial observation about the impact of neo-liberalism on this important question. That is, that a huge gulf exists between the generation of the early twenty-first century and the generation of Rodney's period in the value attached to the engaged radical intellectual. Any reflection on the present role of the intellectual must take into account the damage and reversal which the victory of neo-liberal ideology has inflicted upon the West Indian national consciousness since the mid-1980s. A new value system has taken hold, which is marked by the valorisation of the market and in which knowledge is valued primarily as a saleable commodity. There are several features of neo-liberal ideology which have had the effect of reversing the practice of active political engagement by intellectuals which was seen at early stages of the post-colonial experience of the Caribbean.
First, a central claim of neo-liberalism is that the market is the
true and most rationally efficient determinant of social relations. As such, states are expected to reduce their social interventionist policies in areas like health and education. Today, Caribbean governments, having bought into neo-liberal discourse, are busy terminating historical traditions of state-funded education, and are now insisting that education is a business. In such a context, therefore, the model of the radical, selfless, intellectual attaching himself to the activity of the masses and grounding in the Rodneyite sense, has been replaced by the market-based technical consultant whose main pre-occupation is the sale of his expertise.
Within the academy, the insistence that programmes "pay for themselves" has therefore meant that academic priorities are now being determined by commercial considerations, and the intellectual mercenary has now risen to the fore. This does not mean that all academics are compromised and are calculating and individualistic, and, as will be shown in the final section, a number of Caribbean intellectuals have been constructing counter-narratives to neo-liberalism around questions of race. However, what this points to is an ideational-structural shift, which has reduced the context in which radical intellectualism was impacting directly upon the political process and which has also conversely legitimised the individualistic, politically detached academic, and transformed that social type into the dominant model.
Linked to this is a shift in what is considered "relevant knowledge" within the academy itself. Writers such as Don Marshall and Jason McCollin have been tracing the content of the subject matter taught particularly within Economics Departments in the three campuses of the University of the West Indies and have identified a number of developments which can be attributed to the impact of neo-liberalism upon the academy (Marshall 2000; McCollin 2012, 153-66). One of these is the new emphasis on econometric modelling as distinct from theory building. Another is the growing role of academics as government consultants as distinct from independent critical thinkers. Thus in reflecting on these tendencies Marshall (2000, 72-73) has noted that:
An entire generation of our brightest students has since been and still are taught how to master these techniques and solve imaginary problems. We no longer train our economics undergraduates in the substantive logic and 'art' of economics. The language of mathematics is largely taught, where it is commonplace to witness students and graduates valuing the grammar of the discipline, rather than its substance. Mastery of technique has supplanted mastery of the kind of intuitive economic analysis of the Lewis strain or New World type.
A central notion of neo-liberal discourse, is that with the collapse of actually-existing socialism, there is little alternative to the existing pro-market policies being pursued. This has led to perceptions of the closure of possible spaces for practical action. Arising out of this is the severing of the intellectual from radical political activity. Since the mid-1980s therefore, there has been a marked reduction in the deliberate and perceptible contribution from within Caribbean academia, either at a theoretical or practical level, aimed at formulating and clarifying programs of revolutionary action relevant to the current moment. Certainly there has been a perceptible decline of Caribbean intellectuals with practical radical projects.
With neo-liberalism too, has come the valorisation of wealth accumulation as the highest human endeavour. This has been internalised by Caribbean academics, and, arising out of this development, the intellectual as moral guardian appears to have lost his voice. Many now aspire to roles of political consultants to governments with little concern about the policy or ideological orientations of these governments. The consequence of this is seen in the ethical gaps that exist in every layer of Caribbean society, in which, according to Nettleford (1993, 21) "venality and greed [now] feed the hankering after quick opulence in both the public and private sectors". Opportunist, and Machiavellian readings of the role of the intellectual have now grown in significance.
Given the close link between globalisation and neo-liberalism, and their accompanying notions of the death of sovereignty, there are tremendous pressures pulling Caribbean intellectuals away from the idea of the nation, the folk and the indigenous which was championed by Nettleford. The organic intellectual of the nation has been replaced by a new cadre of technocrats, who see their roles as leading the adjustment to existing global realities as opposed to creating new thought and new ideas in defence of the nation and in defence of the folk. IMF consultations now constitute the central organising framework around which begins much thinking on public policy.
The impact of these developments can be seen clearly in the Caribbean's loss of its previous intellectual leadership role on questions of international political economy. In contrast to the early post-colonial period, the region is now a passive recipient of ideas coming from the North, many of which are detrimental to the region's self-interest but which a young cadre of "technocrats" are eager to implement. For example, whilst forty years ago the Caribbean under the leadership of persons like Allister Mclntyre, Shridath Ramphal, and Havelock Brewster played leading roles in the Lome Conventions, and led Africa and the Pacific into new trade and economic arrangements designed to give the Caribbean breathing space as they fashioned their new sovereign spaces, today, in the Twenty-first century, when Africa could largely reject the European Partnership Agreement, the Caribbean offered little resistance, and meekly capitulated to the EU proposals. (4)
Similarly, whilst thirty years ago, the dominant Caribbean stance towards the International Monetary Fund was instinctively shaped by intellectual notions of resistance to imperialism, currently there is near wholesale adoption of IMF prescriptions by Western-trained technocrats on the grounds that there is no alternative. Finally, whilst forty years ago, UWI founders like W.A. Lewis and the father of Barbadian Independence, Errol Barrow, valued and conceptualised the university as a developmental enterprise and as a necessary facet of Caribbean sovereignty, today the university is understood in narrow technocratic managerial economic terms, devoid of political and philosophical content, with student intake in particular, driven by market considerations.
Significantly, this new ideology of technocratic management, has been roundly condemned by Rex Nettleford, as being specifically pernicious, and hazardous to Caribbean sovereignty, growth and development. Nettleford (1993, 21), in his lifetime, had therefore railed against the fact that, "so many of us wish to do things right as the manager does, rather than do the right things as good leaders always do".
Caribbean Engaged Anti-neo-liberal Intellectual Responses: A Contemporary Survey
Given the above reflections on the impact of neo-liberal ideology in narrowing the space for radical intellectual activism, it is useful to conclude with a survey of the existing possibilities of a re-emergence of radical activism as gleaned through the kinds of intellectual interventions being made by Caribbean intellectuals into the early twenty-first century.
Rhoda Reddock (2014, 1) has provided an important review of radical Caribbean thought from the early-to-mid twentieth century. Her review was conceptualised in support of Paget Henry's claim that Caribbean sociology is "experiencing an unmistakeable crisis of normal knowledge production." Henry's argument, similar to the concerns raised in this article, was based on the claim that the current phase "varies greatly from earlier stages of intellectual rigour, creativity, and critique characterized by the work of eminent Caribbean sociological and economic thinkers across the first seventy years of the 20th century"(Reddock 2014, 2). In confirmation of Henry's charge, Reddock presents a comprehensive review of "radical scholar-activists that emerged over the early-to-mid 20th Century as a counter-weight to the colonial realities of white supremacy, class warfare and the coloniality of power" (ibid.).
These include the pan-Africanists, radical pan-Africanists, and feminists such as Marcus Garvey, Amy Ashwood Garvey, Claudia Jones, and Marxist anti-capitalist and anti-imperialists such as CLR James, Oliver Cromwell Cox, and George Padmore (Reddock 2014, 5-12). Significantly however, Reddock (2014, 14-15) concludes her review by supporting a call from Michael Burawoy, that the sociologist be, "not located in the lofty heights of academia, but as an organic public intellectual who 'directly engages with publics in the trenches of society/ The closing section seeks to identify the radical activist intellectuals in the early twenty-first century, who are actively building upon the legacy identified in the thinkers highlighted by Reddock.
Despite the dominance of neo-liberal ideology between the 1980s and 2000s, (or perhaps because of it), since the beginning of the Twenty-first century, and most markedly since the 2008 financial crisis, the early outlines of an emerging response to neo-liberalism can be identified. This shift has much to do with the rapid and shocking reversals in the economic self-confidence of neo-liberalism post-2008, as a result of which the ideology has suffered a loss of global legitimacy. As a consequence, a moment of "space" has now been afforded to a new generation of Caribbean intellectuals to fashion a response that reconnects with the radical intellectual tradition, and which is unapologetically bound with the defence of the nation, and which answers the questions which Nettleford (1993, 21) asked: "what do we want of our Caribbean?" and "what kind of human being we wish our social and economic order to facilitate?"
Many of these contemporary contributors to radical Caribbean thought can claim past lives as radical political activists. Writers such as Brian Meeks, Anthony Bogues, Paget Henry, Charles Mill, Eudine Barriteau, Obika Gray, Hilbourne Watson, Anton Allahar, and others, all engaged in varying degrees of activism in the sense of their direct participation in political projects of the Caribbean between the 1970s and the late 1990s. In many ways therefore, their current work reflects their attempts at reconciling the perceived shortcomings of the earlier projects, while at the same time developing new thought relevant to the current moment, but building upon the radical ideas around issues of race, pan-Africanism, class, anti-imperialism, gender and identity.
In addition to his important work of compiling and categorising Caribbean ideas through his efforts at the Centre of Caribbean Thought and the Caribbean Reasonings publication series (an effort also undertaken by David Scott and the Small Axe collective) an important aspect of Brian Meek's contribution has been his work on examining Caribbean revolutions, examining the conditions which make for their successes and failures and, in particular, critiquing the relevance of vanguardism to the Caribbean context (Meeks 1993) and his more general task examining of revolutionary moments and possibilities in the Caribbean (Meeks 2014). The significance of Meek's specific contribution for the overcoming of neo-liberalism, resides in his re-examination of revolutionary possibilities themselves and his bold re-opening of questions which had been considered closed, given the manner in which neo-liberalism was premised on the disavowal of revolutionary possibilities and its hegemonic presence as the only game in town. Equally significant is Meek's (2014, 71) deliberate insistence on examining the role of the university in the period which he describes as the "Thermidor" 1983 to the present. Meek's work therefore builds upon the Marxist and anti-imperialist class discourse in the Caribbean and contributes to radical Caribbean thought following several decades of reversal.
In a similar way, the work of Anthony Bogues (2003), builds upon the race discourse by clarifying the basis upon which the independence and autonomy of radical Caribbean ideas can be identified. His identification of a tradition of prophets and heretics, establishes Caribbean thought as having its own internal logic and purpose, and is not bound by and "constructed around a hierarchical order wherein Africana thinkers are located on the margins" (Bogues 2003, 2). Indeed, if one considers that the very hegemony of neo-liberalism is being bound in its claims to universal applicability, then Bogues's work in detailing the example of Caribbean thinkers like the runaway slave Quobna Cugoana, Marxists and pan-Africanists like CLR James, Walter Rodney, and W.E.B. Dubois (Haitian ancestry) and ideas of Rastafari demonstrate concretely that alternatives to neo-liberalism exist in the thinking and practice of radical Caribbean thinkers.
Importantly, the work of Charles Mills (1997; 1998), as developed in his Racial Contract and Blackness Visible, make significant advances in assisting in overcoming the questions about the relevance of radical Caribbean thought arising out of the instinctive assumption that it is only European ideas which enjoy the status of universality and, as a consequence, constitute true philosophy. His work debunks the universalising claims to advancing freedom and liberty made by European Enlightenment philosophy, given the exclusion of blacks from the discourse and the inherent racism of the Enlightenment philosophers themselves. Mill's assertion that "that seemingly universal view from nowhere may well be a view from somewhere" and that the "magisterial voice from the heavens turns out to be broadcast from the earth", is a classic statement in rejecting European universalism and establishing the equal validity of a Caribbean counter-hegemonic response. Indeed, as asserted by Mills (1998, i-ii), "sometimes it is only through the emergence of alternative views and voices that one begins to appreciate how much of what seemed genuinely universalistic was really particular". Other writers such as Paget Henry (2000) have also insisted on seeing the value of Caribbean political thought as residing in its capacity to overcome European hegemonic projects.
Also significant as indications of Caribbean writers' counter-hegemonic interventions against neo-liberal assumptions are those who have built upon the gender discourse of earlier radical intellectuals. Of critical importance in this regard, is the work of Barriteau (2003, 5), who, in theorising gender, does so out of the recognition of the manner in which "our collective reluctance or reservations about naming and examining how oppressive power is inscribed in the rituals and practices of gendered relations have increasingly forced a shift from feminist engagements with patriarchal practices to theoretical skirmishes at the borders of women's subjectivity." By closing an important gap in earlier radical theorizing, and by focussing on the disparities in power emergent from gendered relationships the work of feminist scholars create new sites of radical engagement beyond the concerns of pre-neo-liberal Caribbean radicalism.
Further still, scholars such as Ledgister (2010) and Nettleford (1993) present the idea of "creolisation" as an appropriate site of Caribbean radicalism. Nettleford (1993, 80-92) in his "Battle for space", has identified the Creole as a critical element of the psychic sphere, which is the site of freedom of the oppressed and which is clearly distinguished from the formal institutional materialist sphere, the site of colonial oppression. Similarly, Ledgister (2010,14) has insisted that a genuine Creole society, "had begun to come into existence long before the abolition of slavery", and cites favourably the following comment from Eric Williams which implied the self-sufficiency of Creole ideas in creating Caribbean society independent of European influence:
The independence of Trinidad and Tobago cannot be developed on the basis of intellectual concepts and attitudes worked out by metropolitan scholars in the age of colonialism. The old intellectual world is dead, strangled by the noose that it put around its own neck. The new world of the intellect open to the emerging countries has nothing to do lose but the chains that tie it to a world that has departed never to return (in Ledgister 2010, 14)
Finally, though not exhaustively, the work of various Caribbean philosophy collectives and publication and discussions groups particularly amongst the diaspora, such as the Small Axe group and the Caribbean Philosophical Association, have made significant contributions to the development of critical thought as anti-systemic responses to the dominant hegemonic discourses.
The Small Axe journal (2017), under the editorial directorship of David Scott, has continued the critical tradition existent in Caribbean literature, art, culture and thought of being a "subaltern agency of criticism", which "can have disproportionate critical effects at least insofar as they remain responsive and attuned to the changing contexts of our Caribbean life in a changing world" (ibid.). The work of the Small Axe journal has largely advanced this Caribbean tradition. The political utility of the Small Axe journal resides in its existence as a clearing house and repository of input and processing of contemporary concerns and ideas as they emerge, as well as offering a space for reflecting on the contemporary utility of earlier ideas. By providing a platform for criticism and discussion of Caribbean ideas the Small Axe journal has continued the tradition of autonomy of Caribbean thought, established by earlier platforms such as the New World publications. Nearly every relevant Caribbean thinker and idea from the Haitian revolutionaries through JJ Thomas, to Rastafari to gender analysis and post-modernism have been explored in the Small Axe journal by leading Caribbean diaspora and resident thinkers and Caribbeanists in general. Editorials by David Scott (2014, vii-x; 2012, vii-x) reflecting on the legacy of Nelson Mandela and the intellectual treatment of his post-prison political and intellectual stances, as well as more recent reflections on the Caribbean reparations movement and the idea of reparations itself, provide clear indications of the manner in which the critical reflections of the Small Axe collective have been inserted into political developments with implications for Caribbean political and intellectual life over separate moments in time.
A similar objective and purpose is achieved by the Caribbean Philosophical Association, founded in 2003 by leading Caribbean intellectuals such as Charles Mills and Paget Henry and whose website describes the organisation as existing to "support the free exchange of ideas and foster an intellectual community that is truly representative of the diversity of voices and perspectives that is paradigmatic of, but not limited to, the Caribbean" (Caribbean Philosophical Association n.d.).
All of these interventions provide a clear indication of a new wave of Caribbean thought recovering from twenty years of retreat to re-engage with pre-1970 radical traditions and able to confront neo-liberalism.
However, what is lacking, and what perhaps needs to be rebuilt, are the traditions of more direct engagement by intellectuals with concrete radical social movements. One only has to contrast the engagement of Caribbean intellectuals with the Grenadian revolution and contrast this with the more hands-off approach to the ongoing Bolivarian revolution in Venezueala to appreciate the distances between thought and action which now exist.
In addition, any return in the Caribbean to the ideal of the radical, organic, anti-neo-liberal intellectual, will require a renewed understanding of the role of the academy, and will call for a significant debate within the academy to overcome its current challenge of the "crisis of mission" (Marshall 2000). At an individual level, it will also call for tremendous sacrifice on the part of the intellectual, given the political interests bound with the furtherance of neo-liberalism both within and outside the academy.
It will also require the re-learning of humility on the part of the intellectual, given the "elite" nature of his existence in the context of small, resource-poor societies. Indeed, the call by Fanon, Cabral, and others for the need for "class suicide" provides an excellent model of the intellectual in response to neo-liberalism. As the Caribbean moves into a new phase of overcoming the narrow, anti-political understanding of the intellectual, a reconnection with the engaged, organic politicised activist model of the early twentieth century provides a firm basis for a renewed role of the Caribbean intellectual, in providing answers to the challenges of neo-liberalism in the early Twenty-first century.
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(1) An earlier version of this article was first presented as a lecture to the History and Political Science Students' Associations at the Cave Hill (Barbados) Campus of the University of the West Indies on March 11th 2010, and later as an (unread) paper to a Conference in Havana Cuba, Universidad 2014, held between February 10th and 15th, 2014.
(2) This statement is largely attributed to the late Prime Minister of Great Britain, Margaret Thatcher.
(3) This is not intended to suggest that Lewis was a "neutral" intellectual. Indeed, not only did his early association with Fabianism and Pan-African politics indicate his political orientation, but his later arguments in favour of capitalist industrialisation further illustrate his political biases. However, what is being argued here is that Lewis', in his role of shaping the new UWI, was advocating a role of neutrality for the academic, and one which was decidedly anti-political or "class-less".
(4) It is significant that resistance to the EPA was led by Norman Girvan, Havelock Brewster, and Vaughan Lewis, persons who had close affinity to the West Indian radical intellectual tradition of the New World Group.
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|Author:||Joseph, Tennyson S.D.|
|Publication:||Social and Economic Studies|
|Date:||Sep 1, 2017|
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