GT22C - FOUNDATIONS OF CARIBBEAN POLITICS
POLITICAL HISTORYLecturer: Robert Buddan
September 21-22, 2000
An important foundation on which Caribbean politics rests is history. If geography establishes the place then history establishes the time. History describes the sequence and nature of events that have shaped the Caribbean over a long period of time. Historical forces, therefore, must be important in establishing the political, economic and social patterns of the structures and processes that help to explain the distinct character of Caribbean politics today.
The important aspects of history that do so are:
1. The nature of colonization, that is, the purposes of the colonial powers and the political organization of Caribbean territories to suit those purposes.
2. The role of Caribbean economies in fulfilling the trading needs of colonial empires.
3. The labour needs of those economies and the social structure of class and racial dominance that emerged along with certain social values.
4. Resistance, in all its forms, to these patterns of colonialism and post-colonial exploitation and the on-going dynamic between the modern-day manifestations of these struggles with history.
5. Creolization and new societies that emerged with their unique history, culture, socio-political and economic dynamics passing through different stages of national and regional development.
Central to Caribbean history are different struggles - ex-slave and black resistance to white domination; a struggle between Afrocentric and European value systems; the legacy of the plantation as the major social organising principle of Caribbean societies and the ongoing debate about the responsibility for the sins and failures of the past, particularly the failure to adjust post-slavery production to build successful economies and engineer systems of social and functional consensus in societies deeply divided by their past. (1)
It is important to study history, not only because of its current impact but also because of the value of the historical perspective.
Why Study History?
History is a form of social depth analysis. It goes behind and beyond the surface expression of social phenomena and current affairs to find the deeper, more persistent and embedded structures that shape and form current reality. It is a deeper layer of reality that sometimes unconsciously determines social behaviour, that is, who we are and how we came to be this way. Our language and beliefs are often reflexive of practices rooted in our historical experiences. Historical forces go deeper than life-memories or living experiences and in fact shape them. The past, present and future are a seamless or continuous dimension. The past cannot be erased as "dead" or irrelevant. History is alive.
A study of Caribbean political history, therefore, fills a void left by the bias of western political studies.
The Psychological Legacy of History.
Very often we look to what history has bequeathed us to understand what constitutes the present, how we feel or should feel about our past and who is responsible for the conditions of the past and the present state of things. Higman points to the many ambiguities in the ways that Caribbean peoples feel about their history. Of slavery in the more distant past, there is the recognition of its sheer brutality and inhumanity in the form of violence, force and racism. This has led to a feeling of anger over the injustice of slave and post-slavery conditions and even the suspicion that there is a historical conspiracy, underwritten by biological and cultural theories of racism and/or economic exploitation, in which Caribbean history becomes a story of white exploitation by the metropole continuing through to the present. History is cited as evidence of this. History is therefore a struggle to resist exploitation in all its forms and to realize true liberation of the historically oppressed.
Our relation to Caribbean history is also emotional. Higman says:
" Shame and guilt, pride and forgiveness, anger and revenge, retribution and atonement, regret and respect, have all been significant issues...these and other emotions have... been fundamental to the public commemoration of historic events and heroic individuals. Such commemoration is central to the popular representation of the past, offering opportunities for the apotheosizing of individuals, social and ethnic groups, corporations and states, and for the public expression of pride and apology, nostalgia and regret." (2)
The point really is that Caribbean peoples hold a complex of psychological and emotional feelings about their history. This creates such different attitudes as shame of one's colour or race, casting blame for the sins of the past, pride in racial or national achievements, suspicions of the motives of foreigners, attachment to foreign cultures and objects, and conflicting states of nationalism.
The Political Legacy: Patterns of Colonialism.
History has another significance. The pattern of colonialism has set the different Caribbean countries off on separate or distinct paths of development or underdevelopment. Usually the distinction is made between English-speaking and non English-speaking territories and there are significant differences in this sense. However, there are important differences between countries in each group as well and attention to the comparative development of individual countries brings this out.
Many would argue that contemporary development problems are traced back to political independence or after. But I have chosen what Courtney Blackman calls, 'the Barbados model' to show what arguments can be made that locates a country's current situation within its specific history and as a way of showing points of comparison to suggest where and when other countries took off on different points of development.
The Barbados Model of Political History.
While the Caribbean shares a general historical experience of colonialism, slavery and the plantation economy, within the Caribbean there are different national histories. Caribbean countries differ in economic performance, political type and culture. How does historical analysis explain these differences?
Barbados is being used by many as the model of political and economic success in the Caribbean. Barbados has achieved sustained economic growth and scores highly on both human rights and human development in the context of political stability. Former Barbadian Governor of the Central Bank and Ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS), Courtney Blackman echoes the questions now being asked: "How is it that so small and island, with so few natural resources, can provide so high a standard of living for its citizens?"; or, "Why has the Barbadian economic performance so far outstripped the Jamaican in spite of Jamaica's larger population and superior natural resource base?"
Barbados is an upper middle income country according to the World Bank; it is the highest ranked developing country according to the United Nations Development Program's (UNDP) human development index; and the most free developing country according to Freedom House. Courtney Blackman describes Barbados as the world's most successful predominantly Black nation.
Why is Barbados so successful? Successful political-economic models are often explained as resulting from the 'right' economic policies, the nature and role of ideology, the role of the state, the kind of culture, the nature of social relations like class and race relations, size, economic resources, political relationships, world conditions, a country's history, enlightened leadership, or sheer luck.
To Courtney Blackman, the Barbados model has evolved by a series of fortunate historical events, that is, accidents of history or simply luck. His general point is that Barbados differs from the rest of the Caribbean in having the longest, unbroken tradition of political and economic development under a nationally oriented elite which was able to forge a social and political consensus with the Barbados mass population and which has resulted in a stable political system. How has this come about?
1. The accident of geography allowed Barbados to experience the longest period of uninterrupted development among Caribbean countries. Its location as the eastern gateway to the Americas made it the prime and initial platform for the British to extend their trade to the region and North America. It is fortunate to have existed on a very important trade route and to benefit from the gains of early international trade. Also, its location is such that it was difficult to attack by sea. It was protected by coral barriers and strong winds. Barbados is the only Commonwealth Caribbean island never to have changed hands between European powers and so especially benefitted from its fortuitous commercial location.
Most other Caribbean territories experienced interrupted development and discontinuous or broken patterns of evolution.
2. The nature of colonization was such that Barbados was mainly a British settler colony rather than a colony of conquest and exploitation. (3) It was really with the advent of Cromwell's Western Design of 1655 that colonial policy changed to one of conquer followed by exploitative plantation slave economies. Jamaica's capture by the British in 1655 brought her into the British imperial network on a different basis than had Barbados.
The British settled Barbados with the same intent as they did North America - to make it a new home in the New World. In this sense, although Barbados is a Caribbean country, its colonization resembled the American pattern more than the typical Caribbean one. The coral barriers made it virtually inaccessible to Arawaks and Caribs. This settler form of colonization in Barbados had important consequences.
Because the English went as settlers they settled, meaning they did not practice absentee ownership to the extent they did elsewhere in the Caribbean and their presence on the island gave them a stake in its development. They built institutions around which a society could evolve - the second oldest parliament in the world, English common law, religion and education for poor whites and slaves.
The Spanish colonies remained essentially settler colonies. Most of the other Caribbean countries were colonies of exploitation. But in both cases the ruling classes identified more with the metropolitan powers than with the interests of the territory.
Hart noted that, "Of all these colonies, Barbados was topographically the most unsuitable for rebellion." A report in 1816 explained why: there were no mountains, no fastnesses, no forest. European foot and even horse, can traverse it in all directions. (4)
3. The tradition of representative government, that is, of Barbadian parliamentarism, goes back to 1639 and survived the spread of Crown Colony government or direct rule from England that befell other British Caribbean colonies after 1865. Crown Colony government stunted political development in the rest of the Caribbean for some 100 years between the 1860's and 1950's. Barbados not only has the longest serving parliament next to Britain but the longest unbroken period of representative government next to Britain. The fact that Barbados avoided Crown Colony government says something about the Barbadian planter class. (5) The social crisis in Jamaica that led to the Morant Bay rebellion and the imposition of Crown Colony government did not occur in Barbados. (6) A rebellion in 1876 did occur but the Barbadian planters resisted Crown Colony government.
In fact, in Barbados the House of Assembly became more not less representative after slavery. By 1820, all civil rights were granted to the Barbadian Free Coloured for assisting the white oligarchy to put down a slave rebellion.
In the Anglophone Caribbean, Crown Colony government, in Jamaica in 1866 and then applied elsewhere, marked a regression from representative government.
A member of the Barbados House of Assembly spoke against any suggestion that Barbados be put under Crown Colony rule: "We are not, like other colonies, afflicted with absenteeism...The leading men in this country are persons whose ancestors for generations have lived and died here...all classes of the country have the utmost confidence in its institutions." (7)
The Spanish and French Caribbean have had a weaker tradition of representative government because the home governments of Spain and France were authoritarian and centralist compared to that of Britain.
Barbados had more decentralised government along the British pattern than the non English-speaking colonies had, but unlike its British counterparts and more like the others, it had a stronger settler ruling class and less problems of absenteeism.
4. The early provision of education, according to Blackman, was probably the most important factor that has made Barbados different from the rest of the Caribbean. As early as 1710, a sum of money was bequeathed for the education and Christianization of slaves. By the end of the 1700's many slaves had become literate. This experience instilled in the minds of Barbadians the notion that education was the most important means towards upward social mobility and political freedom. Of course certain schools were reserved for whites only and education for the ex-slaves was limited mainly to elementary education but by the end of slavery some ex-slaves were more educated than some poor whites.
Barbados' relatively stronger investment in education was continued later by the nationalist leaders. Barbados now has a literacy rate of close to 100%.
The general attitude taken by the colonial state towards education elsewhere was not a progressive one. After slavery the proportion of the budget spent on the repressive police forces was usually about 500% higher than that spent on education. It was a struggle to get the Assemblies to reduce this gap and to take education seriously. Professor Errol Miller remarks that the colonial state was notorious for its neglect of education. Public education came late, in 1834 when an elementary school system was established, was meagerly supported by the Negro Education Grant, and emphasized the superiority of British culture. (8) The inadequacy of provisions for education is reflected in the fact that in Jamaica, in 1944 only 4 per cent of the age group, 15-19 was enrolled in secondary school (9) and fewer than 2.5 per cent of the blacks in Kingston had received or were receiving secondary education. (10)
5. Small size was another factor that distinguished Barbadian development. It helped to create a relatively homogenous society and avoided the need to import large numbers of Asian indentured labourers after Emancipation. Sugar plantations dominated the society and little land was available for ex-slaves to develop an independent peasantry as they did in the larger territories. The Barbadian plantations therefore did not have a labour shortage and so there was no need to import new labour. The ex-slaves remained on the plantations where they were forced to accommodate to the ways, values and culture of the white ruling class.
Because of this they were also able to benefit from education unlike the Jamaican peasantry which developed Free Villages in remote mountain areas but which were beyond the reach of the schools and hospitals such as they existed. In mountain villages where a majority of the people had settled in Jamaica, access to schools was difficult and schools were few and far between anyway. (11)
The absence of the need to import indentured labour allowed Barbados to avoid the more complex and divisive race relations which spilled over into politics in countries like Trinidad and Guyana. More Chinese and Indians went to Guyana and Trinidad than to any other territory because they were late acquisitions by Britain and never had a long period of slavery and a large influx of African slave labour. Of the Indian indentured labourers, 240,000 went to Guyana, 134,000 to Trinidad and 36,000 to Jamaica. The Leeward and Windward Islands (except Barbados) received between 300 and 4,000 each. (12) Barbados has a definite but less complicated black/white racial structure than the larger Caribbean islands and thus, it is able to more easily achieve a social consensus in politics.
Gordon Lewis makes the links between geography/size and labour/social dynamics this way: "The Barbadian working class remained...a permanently displaced population, tied to the estate economy and denied, by reason of geography, the escape to the mountains or the 'back lands' that occurred in the post-emancipation period in Jamaica. Trinidad, to make another comparison, was an economy of sparse labour and cheap land, while Barbados was an economy of dear land and overabundant labour. This did not absolutely prevent the growth of a small proprietary class. But it made it infinitely more difficult, and the economic and social subserviency of the black majority remained intact to a degree unknown elsewhere." (13)
6. Economic luck was also a feature of Barbadian development. Blackman points to a series of lucky developments for Barbadian agriculture that kept its sugar and cash crop economy viable. Changes in crops, technology and prices occurred at the right times as demand on the world market changed. Barbados thus avoided any major economic crises that disrupted the social order and any major violence or revolution in its history. Barbados could follow a pragmatic course of politics rather than one defined by ideologies that might have generated social conflicts and economic instability.
However, Barbados was able to make these adjustments because of the presence of its planter class in the country to provide on-the-spot management of crises and experiment with new technology. In Jamaica in contrast, where absenteeism was a major problem, the number of sugar plantations began to steadily decline from emancipation to only a few today. Jamaican sugar estates fell into bankruptcy and many were abandoned. The number fell from 316 estates in 1867 to 122 in 1900. Sugar's contribution to total agricultural exports in Jamaica fell from 44.5 per cent in 1870 to 10.8 per cent in 1900. (14) The situation was so bad that Jamaicans began to talk of annexation with the United States or a confederation with Canada. (15)
The role of the planter class has been a contentious one among historians and the failure of the post-emancipation plantation economy throughout most of the Caribbean has been laid squarely at their feet. Green recognizes that blame has been cast on the planter elite for their mismanagement of labour relations, obstinate attachment to King Sugar, stubborn resistance to new techniques, new technology and alternative cash crops. The Caribbean missed important developmental opportunities because the planters had not been reformist, farsighted and innovative. They could have won the trust of the labouring classes had they built successful economic enterprises and cultivated consensus between the classes. (16)
(7) The tutelary role of Barbados' Black and Brown nationalist leaders, according to Blackman was important in siding with the poor Barbadian and entering into a pragmatic compromise with the white elite to build class compromise around education, welfare and economic development. In effect, the Barbadian nationalist leadership was not revolutionary nor particularly ideological, thus it was able to concentrate on maintaining the essential conservatism of the society and win the trust both of the people and the white oligarchy. The role of enlightened nationalist leadership is the factor of importance here.
Class, Culture and the Barbados Model.
While Barbados has much to admire, it is often criticized as a rigid class society and culturally conservative. The social varieties and multicultural mix that is usually expected in a Caribbean society are not very strong in Barbados. A culture which challenges the standards of European values brings a certain vitality and meaning to being Caribbean and being different.
Because of the long and deeply entrenched British values Barbados has sometimes been ridiculed as a conservative society and Barbadians as Black Englishmen. Barbados has been referred to as 'Little England'. Barbadians are thought to be more submissive than Blacks elsewhere and especially in comparison to their Jamaican counterparts who were groomed in a history of resistance and rebelliousness. Jamaicans have the independent spirit of the peasantry that established Free Villages after emancipation.
Jamaica probably has had the harshest history of slavery and colonialism than any other in the Anglophone Caribbean. That has produced a culture of resistance to and distrust of authority. Jamaica's social and cultural movements typically express this resistance around themes of injustice and racism using the metaphor of 'Babylon'.
It is this that has produced the outspoken Jamaican and the bold attempts to create new values in its lively artistic culture and the forms of religion, music and literature that comes out so distinctly and which makes Jamaican culture such an easily recognisable product around the world.
Recent events illustrate the contrast between the two societies through their attitudes to the Rastafarian counter-culture. Barbados rejects the idea of legalizing marijuana for religious and ceremonial use as well as the anti-establishment lyrics of Jamaican Dance Hall musicians. A leading newspaper objected to "rebel music" which "promote illegal substances while urging citizens to rise up against the forces of law and order, against Government and Church." (17) Another newspaper attacked the 'Africanist lobby' during the celebration of African Liberation Week as 'usurpers who had declared the need for social revolution and who are conditioning the people's minds to believe that somehow they are victims of injustice.' (18)
Jamaican society does not share the philosophy of the Rastafarian culture but tolerates it and has learned to live with it. It strikes more of a resonance among Jamaica's disadvantaged and governments would hardly take the position that is officially taken in Barbados against the rebellious culture.
Indeed, out of Jamaica's history one can probably speak of a Jamaican model of cultural distinctiveness and it is only for the country to channel its cultural energies into economic activity to be an economic success. The ultimate lesson of the Barbados model is that each territory has within its given history the cultural and other material on which to work the fabric of its future. A Jamaican or a Cuban or a Trinidadian might not want to exchange his culture for the Barbadian culture. History leads countries along different paths to their future.
Barbadian society is still dominated by whites more than any other English-speaking Caribbean country and its racial divisions are acute although tolerated. That is possibly a legacy of history that has to be worked out. A minister of the Barbadian government has said that less than 30% of Barbadians own land. Many prefer to spend money on cars and consumption items than on land. Land prices are high because of the high population density, squatting is increasing and there is a need for government to acquire more land for low income earners. (19) This is an aspect of Barbadian history that still needs working out - the property question.
Jamaica has a more ideological tradition and thus there have been greater shifts in politics between conservative and reformist policies. This is because it is located more strongly within the American sphere along with Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Haiti, all proximate to the Panama Canal and America's strategic interests. It has been sensitive to the pro and anti-American ideological currents and has often taken leading world positions on ideological issues. It has moved between socialist and capitalist policies unlike Barbados which has had a more pragmatic and moderate set of policies. This has had differing effects on the respective economies.
The racial complexities in Trinidad and Guyana and the class divisions in Jamaica make it more difficult to achieve a national consensus in politics in comparison to Barbados. For example, Barbadians were more easily able to unite and reject a possible IMF programme in the mid-1980's while that issue deeply divided Jamaica and Guyana.
The greater length of British colonialism in Barbados and Jamaica have left stronger legacies of black/white social structures. In Guyana and Trinidad, slavery was relatively brief and the social structure is less reflective of slavery and more of the post-emancipation racial tension between African and Indian immigrants.
It would certainly seem that among its legacies, Barbados has developed a conservative and class divided society. Lewis speaks of Barbados as intractably English, and at least up to independence, as an almost pure plantation economy preserved more completely than any other with a white plantocracy that is reactionary and conceited. It shares more in common with the Bahamas and Bermuda, in its entrenched racial prejudices. Its class system is rigid and its educational system produced an obedient and honest working class aimed at developing the privileged individual rather than an enlightened community. Unlike Jamaica, Trinidad or Guyana, Barbados seems to have less tolerance for social variety and is more interested in a predictable social order. (20)
Jamaica's more revolutionary culture stands in sharp contrast. The historical explanation for this remains popular. Ritch argues that Barbados, being the first stop from Africa had the advantage of obtaining first selection of the slaves from that continent. Slave masters would select the most docile and healthiest of the lot. Jamaica was the second stop before slave ships went on to the North American colonies. The slaves left in Jamaica were the ones that slave traders were afraid to transport further and who were the strongest and able to survive the first leg of the voyage. These were the Africans who were bred for leadership and fierce warfare. (21) In their own ways, Jamaican ex-slaves are still fighting their wars against 'Babylon.'
It is interesting to add that Jamaica received a much larger slave population than Barbados or any other English-speaking territory (surpassed only by Haiti and Cuba) and a high rate of African-born slaves as well. The population density in Barbados made it less necessary to replenish the population with new imports and so after a while most of the Barbadian slaves were local born. Barbados was one of the few territories to have shown any natural rate of population increase. The point is that Barbadian-born slaves were more easily socialized into the local Anglicized culture while the Jamaican slaves were not. New arrivals continuously had to adapt and for that reason, adaptation was never really complete. The strong Jamaican dialect is a consequence of this and so too the stronger African spirit evidenced in its Rastafarian and Garveyite 'back to Africa' consciousness.
The Barbados Model allows one to understand and explain the contrasting ways that history has affected Caribbean societies and provides insights into their different characters today. One might obtain better insights into the pattern of development in Haiti, Cuba, the Dominican Republic or any French, Dutch or English-speaking territory by making points of contrast with the Barbados model.
It suggests that we must be careful not to over-generalise about the similarities between these countries; and it suggests that the present differences are more deeply rooted and cannot simply be explained away as a function of recent or current social and economic policies. History does not explain everything but it provides a background to the things we must consider in explaining anything.
1. See William Green, "The Creolization of Caribbean History: The Emancipation Era and a Critique of Dialectical Analysis," in H. Beckles, V. Shepherd (eds.),Caribbean Freedom: Economy and Society from Emancipation to the Present,1996, for a fuller account of the meaning and debates about creolization and history.
2. Higman, op.cit., p.203.
3. Knight, op.cit., pp.74-87, discusses in some detail the distinctions between settler and exploitation colonies. My contention is that even when Barbados later took on the features of the exploitative colony it retained a settler culture.
4. Ibid. p.36.
5. The Bahamas and Bermuda also avoided Crown Colony government.
6. Trinidad and St. Lucia had been Crown Colonies long before this, by 1810, because of the nature of their acquisition.
7. Philip Sherlock and Hazel Bennett, The Story of the Jamaican People,1998,p.264.
8. Errol Miller, "Educational Development in Independent Jamaica," in R. Nettleford (ed.), Jamaica in Independence:
Essays on the Early Years,1989,p.207.
9. Carl Stone, "Power, Policy and Politics in Independent Jamaica," in R. Nettleford, op.cit., p.24.
10. Cited in Sherlock and Bennet, op.cit., p.352.
11. Sherlock and Bennett, op.cit., p.271.
12. Hart, op.cit., pp.52-53.
9. Carl Stone, "Power, Policy and Politics in Independent Jamaica," in R. Nettleford, op.cit., p.24.
10. Cited in Sherlock and Bennet, op.cit., p.352.
11. Sherlock and Bennett, op.cit., p.271.
12. Hart, op.cit., pp.52-53.
13. Gordon Lewis, The Growth of the Modern West Indies,1968,pp.227-228.
14. Patrick Bryan, The Jamaican People, 1880-1902, 1991, p.2.
15. Ibid., pp.3-4.
16. Green, op.cit.,p.31.
15. Ibid., pp.3-4.
16. Green, op.cit.,p.31.
17. The Barbados Advocate,May 25,2000.
19. The New Nation,May 25, 2000.
20. Gordon Lewis, op.cit., pp.226-233.
20. Gordon Lewis, op.cit., pp.226-233.
21. Dawn Ritch, The Sunday Gleaner, June 4, 2000, p.9A.