The phrase ‘founding fathers’ suggests the importance of leadership to the formation of new nations. The Caribbean’s founding fathers are the first generation of modern nationalists who laid the foundations for independence and new societies. The Jamaican, Norman Manley, was referred to as ‘Father of the Nation’. So too were Grantley Adams of Barbados and Eric Williams of Trinidad and Tobago.
The death of Vere Bird Sr. of Antigua/Barbuda in 1999 marked the end of the the era of those leaders. Bird was the last of those leaders that came to prominence from the 1930's. What set these leaders apart from succeeding generations of leaders were that:
- they formed the first and existing political parties; - they formed the first and existing trade unions; - they participated in the first elections under universal adult suffrage; - they negotiated political independence; - they were the first Chief Ministers and Prime Ministers.
In short, they created and consolidated those first and most important institutions that have become the foundations of modern Caribbean political systems - parties, unions, elections, constitutions, ministerial government.
Through them, the Caribbean saw the emergence of generally two kinds of leaders and leadership styles in the first half of the century.
One was the intellectual, thoughtful, statesman-like, middle or lower-middle class brown leader whose intellect and exposure to education and progressive ideas abroad combined with a sense of justice made him take the side of the oppressed and whose vision was for an entirely new and modern self-governing society. This describes persons like Norman Manley, Grantley Adams, Eric Williams.
The other type was the street agitator and organizer from the lower middle or lower class, of dark colour, who used a style of bravado and emotional appeal to engage directly with the mass and mobilize them in actual disputes with government or employer thus developing a reputation as a leader and gaining a mass following. This would include Alexander Bustamante (Jamaica), Robert Bradshaw (St.Kitts-Nevis), Eric Gairy (Grenada), Albert Gomes (Trinidad and Tobago).
These two types of leaders complemented each other’s style and approach. One had the intellect to negotiate and advocate with the colonial authorities and to understand legal and constitutional matters. The other had the ‘common touch’ to relate to the masses and speak in their language.
Caribbean Political Leadership.
To understand the role of these individuals and the kinds of societies that they helped to construct we need to understand:
Two circumstances were of particular importance in producing these Caribbean leaders: education and exposure to progressive ideas; and the labour riots of the 1930's.
Education and Ideas. In societies where jobs in government and the upper civil service were monopolized by white expatriates and the economy was controlled by white planters and ethnic minority traders, the only avenue open for upward mobility was education and a career in the professions like teaching, law, medicine and junior positions in the civil service. But because educational opportunities were so restricted, especially secondary education, only the brightest could go far. At the turn of the century, for instance, the colonial government of Trinidad provided only four free places to secondary schools and there were only three university scholarships per year to study in the United Kingdom.
Limited though it was, the opportunity was important. These prestigious Island Scholarships, as they were called, produced university graduates, many of whom became heads and ministers of governments in the Caribbean and Africa. These included Eric Williams, Grantley Adams, and Forbes Burnham (Guyana). Another distinguished ‘scholarship boy’ was C.L.R. James (of Trinidad). From Africa there were Kwame Nkrumah (Ghana) and Jomo Kenyatta (Kenya). Norman Manley had won Jamaica’s Rhodes Scholarship in 1914.
Their works and studies influenced each other and they in turn were influenced by the new ideas they were exposed to while studying in the United Kingdom and the United States. James’ study of the Haitian Revolution in, The Black Jacobins, and Williams’ work in, Capitalism and Slavery, helped to correct the colonial view of West Indian history. James argued that the Haitian Revolution was instrumental in ending slavery in the Caribbean and Williams showed that Caribbean sugar economies enriched Britain and allowed it to enter the industrial revolution but that later slavery was ended for economic rather than humanitarian reasons.
Their experiences and new ideas gathered from abroad were also important. Norman Manley’s exposure to racism while serving in the British army is a case in point. In fact, many West Indian servicemen fighting for Britain in World War One were exposed to the ideas of democracy and freedom and came home feeling they had a right to demand the same for the Caribbean.
These nationalists learned about nationalism in other countries as well. Eric Williams sometimes attended meetings of Indian nationalists in England and Cheddi Jagan (Guyana) was quite influenced by Indian nationalists in the United States. But they also learned about socialism. James in England and later Jagan in the United States became Marxists. The new classless society that Marx wrote about was an attractive idea to persons from rigid and oppressive class societies in the Caribbean. Burnham and Michael Manley were taught by a leading British socialist, Harold Laski, and they along with Norman Manley and Adams before them, became more familiar with the socialist thoughts of the British Labour Party. In fact, a leading British socialist, Stafford Cripps, was the People’s National Party (PNP’s) guest speaker at the first annual conference that launched the party in 1938.
Garvey’s ideas were influential too. Errol Barrow’s father was head of a branch of Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association and there was another branch in Guyana.
These leaders gained experience from the anti-colonial nationalists and socialists that they met and studied with during their educative years. At the same time, many of them understood politics within an essentially British parliamentary tradition and developed a respect for parliamentary practice and constitutionalism.
Labour Riots. In a real sense, the modern Caribbean period began with the labour riots starting in 1935 but culminating in 1937/38. The labour riots brought the mass of the Caribbean into political life for the first time and with them, their organisations - the trade unions and affiliate political parties. If Manley was the leading political figure in the Caribbean, Bustamante became the leading labour figure.
The riots were undertaken by workers, peasants and the unemployed over working and other conditions that had revealed the absolute failure of social improvement in he 100 years since emancipation. The riots produced a set of labour leaders who became involved in different ways.
Bustamante began by writing letters to the editor of the Daily Gleaner in 1935. He called for the right of workers to air their complaints, for a national campaign to provide employment and blamed the Governor of Jamaica for the “uncivilized” conditions. In 1936 he joined, The Jamaica Workers’ Tradesman’s Union. When rioting first broke out in May 1938, Bustamante rushed to identify himself with it. From there he quickly became Jamaica”s labour leader and formed the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union in 1939.
Eric Gairy of Grenada had lived on an estate where his father was an overseer and he saw estate conditions at first hand. He also learnt something about union organisation while working in Aruba and was deported because of his organising activities there. Back in Grenada he began writing petitions in 1950/51 on behalf of workers and when they had disputes they would come to him. In 1950 he formed the Grenada Manual and Mental Workers’ Union. By 1951 at the age of 29, Gairy had become the undisputed leader of the Grenadian labour movement.
Robert Bradshaw of St. Kitts-Nevis came from a very poor family. He also grew up on an estate where he witnessed cruel, inhuman and unjust treatment of workers. As a boy he once accidentally came upon an estate document that showed the large profits that were being made while employers were telling workers they couldn’t afford to grant wage increases. That developed his interest in unionism. As a young worker he later joined a union strike for seven weeks and was fired after. By 1944, at the age of 28, he became president of a union.
What set these leaders apart from other workers was that they were literate, did some travelling and gained knowledge about working conditions in other countries, and had personalities that made them courageous enough to speak out.
They also encouraged each other. After leading strikes in Grenada in 1951, Robert Bradshaw addressed meetings in Grenada in support of Gairy. Uriah Butler of Trinidad and Bustamante of Jamaica sent messages to support Gairy.
Kinds of Leadership.
These middle class educated and labour leaders were men of different personalities, social-psychological profiles, intellects and experiences. In different ways they reflected the social-psychological conditions of the colonial impact on their societies and their time. While they were all pro-labour and anti-colonial nationalists, their individual differences of style and perceptions were later exposed when they attempted to work together under a West Indian Federation.
The kinds of leadership they provided can be explained by their ideology, vision, style and values.
Grantley Adams was really a conservative nationalist. He was against the ideas of Marcus Garvey and even against workers’ strikes. This might be explained by his background. His mother was near-white and his father was dark-skinned. He himself married a white woman to which her family and white Barbadian society had objected. A mixed heritage can produce a duality of values in an individual and an ambiguity about one’s true identity. The result is that in some ways the person is forward-looking and in other ways he is back-ward looking.
In contrast the other Barbadian leader, Errol Barrow, was black, pro-Garvey, a unionist and held socialistic ideas.
At the other ideological end of the spectrum, the East Indian Guyanese Cheddi Jagan was a Marxist. But he also married a white woman - an American who was a Marxist as well but whose father had threatened to shoot Jagan if he married his daughter. His own parents did not approve of the marriage. The Marxist ideology of Jagan was one factor that made Guyana decide not to join the West Indian Federation because of the incompatible ideas and the British were keen to avoid Jagan’s influence on other Caribbean leaders.
Norman Manley was influenced by moderate British socialism but Bustamante was an ideological conservative who was anti-socialist and later resorted to the ‘communist scare’ in his election campaigns against the PNP. Incidentally, the American FBI reported in the 1940's that Norman Manley’s wife, Edna Manley, was a communist although she was far from being one. Bustamante too, showed signs of a complex about his identity. His past travels and early life remain very mysterious but he tried to cultivate the idea that he was of Spanish or Hispanic background, hence his change of name from Clarke to Bustamante.
Eric Williams was more a nationalist scholar of history while his Trinidadian contemporary, C.L.R James was a revolutionary Marxist and party activist. Williams was not as involved with socialist ideological groups in Britain as some others were and himself and James were to split in 1960. Williams too reflected the colonial impact on his society. He was driven by the need to succeed to prove to himself and the colonials that had ability. Even Marxists like James had admiration for certain British values. On the one hand he admired Marx and on the other, he admired Sheakespare’s literary brillaince.
These men were therefore products of their time and their society.
Vision and Mission.
The more educated leaders had a clearer, long-term vision of a new, national society that they wished to create while the labour leaders were more limited to improving working conditions at the time. The very names of their parties suggest this. Names like People’s National Party (Jamaica) and People’s National Movement (Trinidad) indicate a desire to build nationalism and national societies. The labour parties not only grew out of labour movements but were essentially a part of those labour movements and their more restricted visions.
The intellectual leaders envisioned self-governing and independent societies with education and equal opportunities for all, a national and creative culture, a democratic political system, reforms of colonial social and economic structures, multiracial tolerance and greater class equality. They also supported Caribbean-wide political and economic cooperation and the need for political parties to bring political education to the people.
These were radical and ambitious ideas at the time. Indeed, one of the reasons for the formation of the PNP in 1938 was its disappointment with the Moyne Commission’s recommendations for improvement in the lives of people after the 1938 riots. It merely called for a bit more education, land, jobs and welfare for the people and ultimately for self-government. The PNP believed that the very foundations of the plantation society had to be radically changed.
Eric Williams saw his party, the People’s National Movement (PNM), as necessary to build a new society. He had a view of ‘ a democratic party of men and women of honesty and incorruptibility, of all races, colours, classes and creeds, with a coherent and sensible programme of economic, social and political reform aimed at the development of the country as a whole, dedicated to its service, appealing to the intelligence rather than the emotions of the electorate whose political education it places in the forefront of its activities.’ (Lewis, p.212).
In contrast to having long-term developmental visions, many labour leaders were more focussed on ‘bread and butter’ issues. Bustamante came to accept the necessity for political independence only later, was against a West Indian Federation, and appealed to immediate economic needs.
In Antigua, Vere Bird had not intended to form a political party after he entered unionism. His mission extended only to winning better working conditions. In St. Kitts, it was only after realizing that power in the legislative Council was necessary to change labour legislation that Robert Bradshaw became interested in politics. In Trinidad before Williams’ ‘revolution of intelligence’, individual politicians would only campaign around local issues like, better carnivals, reduction in dog licenses, more taxi licenses, more scholarships for civil servants, increased old age pensions. They had no coherent programme and no coherent vision.
The educated leaders then had a vision of the future and immediately formed parties as vehicles to win power to change the foundations of the societies in which they lived. The labour leaders were focussed on the present conditions of labour and formed unions. They only came to found new societies by the process of evolution in their thinking.
Archie Singham in his study, The Hero and the Crowd in a Colonial Polity, concentrates mostly on style to explain the Caribbean leader as ‘hero’ in the eyes of ‘the crowd’. He also identified two types of heroes - the middle class scholar and the trade unionist of humble origins. His focus is on the latter, espcially Eric Gairy of Grenada.
Lacking the revered qualities of the time - high education, social prestige, Oxfordian speech - labour leaders more than their intellectual counterparts relied heavily on personality as the basis of their leadership. The most powerful personality of the period was Alexander Bustamante. Gordon Lewis describes this ‘Busta personality’:
...that personality, with its raucous and bogus radicalism, its tremendous braggadocio, its personification of the Jamaican folk-hero, the spiderman Anansi who survives in a hostile world by cunningly exploiting the weaknesses of his enemies, symbolizes the profound change that took place in Jamaican inter-class relations after 1938...He has never understood the democratic ideal. He has always been against the idea of shared collective leadership in party life...for all his terrorizing of colonial Governors, he has had his full share of the colonial mentality. His temperament is messianic, living on mass emotion...His appeal to the unlettered crowd, like Gairy’s, was that they glorified in him the poses ( and perquisites) they felt they could never obtain for themselves...’Busta’ seemed more than his arch rival, to embody the self-image of the Jamaican populace.”
This description brings out two particular qualities of leaders like Busta and Eric Gairy - charisma and authoritarianism. Charisma refers to personal qualities that enlarge or magnify one’s presence and impact and make him appear a hero, saviour or messiah. His flamboyance and bravado create a strong emotional bond by his followers and feelings of trust and faith on their part in the power of the charismatic leader to conquer the perceived enemies of the people.
The charismatic leader often comes to believe in his own infallibility, importance and superior abilities. The result is that he entertains no challenge to his leadership and has a weak appreciation of democracy and for sharing decisions. Bustamante and Gairy ruled their respective unions and parties like as personal organisations. There organisations functioned as extentions of their personality rather than as independent organisations whose laws and processes they were subject to. Bustamante was called “the Chief” and Gairy, “Uncle Gairy” which testified to the father-children and king-subject relationship they had with their supporters.
The middle class leaders were heroes in another sense. They were respected more than adored. Grantley Adams was somewhat aloof. Norman Manley could not at first speak in the language of the crowd and even lost his first constituency election. Eric Williams’ speeches were more like scholarly public lectures. They did not have the natural and instinctive crowd appeal that the labour leaders had to have.
Charles Moskos and Wendell Bell did surveys of about 100 top West Indian leaders of government, the economy, the civil service and educational institutions in 1961-62 to assess their attitudes to such values as egalitarianism and democracy. They found that there were important differences among them which suggest that these nationalist movements were comprised of conflicting values. Bear in mind that these leaders represented the different social classes, age groups, educational levels and races of the society.
The study found that only 39% of these sectoral leaders could be regarded as highly egalitarian, believing in full equality of opportunties and classless societies. The rest were highly inegalitarian or mildly inegalitarian. The more egalitarian leaders were 49 years or younger, dark brown or black, not wealthy and were career politicians or trade unionists. It is this set that had suffered most from inequality and would desire more egalitarian societies.
The authors also tested their subjects on attitudes towards democracy. They found that 22% were “true democrats”. Another 28% were “cynical parliamentarians” believing that while parliamentary government was good, the average voter was incompetent. As many as 44% held athoritarian attitudes because they did not have a high regard for the parliamentary form of government nor did they believe that voters were competent.
Again, the younger, darker, less wealthy, political and union leaders had more democratic attitudes because they were more interested in opening up the political system and were closer to the electorate.
Leaders were also asked what kind of international alignments they preferred. Some 77% favoured alignment with the “West” while 19% favoured closest relations with the non-aligned Third World countries and 4% wanted alignment with communist countries. Once again, younger, darker, political and union leaders were least favourable to alignment with the West and identified more with ex-colonial or colonial countries that suffered a similar history of European domination.
These differences of values within the nationalist movement show that social location in the society was important. One’s class, level of education, race and colour, profession and age group conditioned his values and made him see the objectives of nationalism and independence in a different way. There were varying commitments to democracy and equality such that the winning of political independence did not automatically mean that the different sectors of Caribbean leadership were equally interested in social equality and democracy for the poor. This was particularly true for the wealthier, white and light brown, older, economic elites. In this sense, Caribbean leadership was contradictory and so their movements and organisations reflected these contradictions in their goals.
Movements and Organisations formed.
The movements and organisations formed by Caribbean leaders reflected their social compositions and the strategies of these leaders to aggregate power and win independence. These organisations of course are political parties and trade unions.
There are two particular aspects of these organisations that became important: their class and ethnic characteristics and the close relationship between parties and unions.
Class and Ethnicity.
Caribbean leaders attempted to build parties on the basis of a multiclass and multiracial solidarity. They underestimated the strength of social cleavages which were almost immediately to identify these parties in terms of one class or race or another.
In Jamaica, Norman Manley’s PNP came to be thought of as a middle class party although the upper class had great disagreement with his socialism, whereas Bustamante’s party was that of the working man but ironically his conservatism made him tolerable to the upper class. Later on this upper class was to enter his party making it the party of big business. Eric William’s PNM became identified with the more urbanised Afro-Trinidadians, as did Forbes Burnham’s PNC in Guyana. Jagan’s party - the PPP - developed strong support from the rural-based East Indians and became known as ‘the Indian party’.
Class, race, ideology and demography inevitably came to complicate the identities of these parties. Their appeals and support remained national rather than sectional but some social and demographic groups came to support one or the other party in greater proportion.
Furthermore, a tendency developed towards ‘political unionism’. This refers to the strong connection between respective parties and ‘their’ unions because of the way the organisation of workers and voters developed, moreso in the earlier period than at present. Parties found themselves tied to union mandates and national mandates at the same time further reflecting in contradictory policies that tried to serve employer and employee at the same time.
Caribbean leaders left legacies that raise questions about their relevance to the present. Charismatic and authoritarian personalities have given way to a new generation of more pragmatic and technocratic leadership in a post-ideological age where political management of more complex and informed societies call for a different kind of leadership. The roles of the street agitator and party mass mobilizer have become less relevant at a time when party and union processes are now more institutionalized and routinized. Union bargaining, for example, depends less on open threats and the raw strength of the ‘crowd’ and more upon established bargaining procedures and labour contracts.
Yet, the legacy of cultivating multiculural and multiracial societies remains positive. Countries like trinidad and Guyana remain beset by racial politics. However, they have been able to sustain their democratic systems, sometimes more imperfectly than at other times. The history of colonialism makes race, colour and class sensitive and potentially volatile issues in Caribbean politics and the mission of multiracial parties requires the conviction of the founding leaders.
Caribbean nationalist leaders must be understood in the context of the colonial history of the region and the periods of their emergence. Self-government, racial pride, nationalism, freedom, justice, social equality and economic opportunities were the natural sounding call of their movements. Their organisational approaches and their styles of leadership often differed according to personality, class background, educational levels and visions.