The following is the text of an address at the launch of the Thought Of New World at the Institute of International Relations, UWI St Augustine on October 14, 2010.
The Thought of New World: The Quest for Decolonisation Edited by Brian Meeks and Norman Girvan (Kingston: Ian Randle Publications, 2010)
I wish to start by remembering three individuals with contributions in this book who are no longer with us: Lloyd Best, David De Caires and Dennis Pantin.
New World was about Independent Thought. Lloyd Best asserted that Independent Thought held the key to Caribbean Freedom. He famously declared “You can’t lead your country to Independence wearing a waistcoat”. He was talking not only about Norman Manley of course, but also about an entire political class.
George Beckford, another intellectual leader of the New World Group, said “too often we see ourselves through the eyes of metropolitan man”.
New World put forward a theory of Caribbean economy, a theory of Caribbean society, and a theory of Caribbean politics. New World took root and New World ideas spread. In the 1970s the waistcoat gave way to the shirt-jac and the kariba suit. Metropolitan man gave way to Caribbean man. Euro-centredness gave way to Caribbean-centredness. Looking outside-in gave way to looking inside-out. Lloyd Best said “I don’t accept all this foolishness about the Third World. We are at the centre of our world. We are First.”
New World was sustained entirely by voluntary effort. We wrote, we sold advertisements-only to local companies, never to foreign corporations-we went to the printers, oversaw the linotype setting-word processing and computer-assisted printing were unheard of-we stored the printed copies in our offices and homes, shipped them abroad, took them with us when we travelled to university meetings through the region, kept circulation lists, accounts and all the rest.
What sustained this was the belief in a new Caribbean world-a free united and independent Caribbean. That dream will never die.
In the 1980s the European suit came back in the wake of the Washington Consensus. It is the dress code for entry to the globalisation club. And so we dress up, get hot and sweaty, and then spend more money and energy on air conditioning.
Consciousness is globalised through CNN, BBC, Fox News, Reuters and API; dutifully parroted by the local media. We are programmed to be more fixated on the rescue of people trapped underground in a distant place than on the fate of those trapped right next to us in an underground of social exclusion. We judge ourselves by the global competitiveness index, the global corruption perception index, the global human development index. A fall in credit ratings by international financial markets occasions more panic than a fall in citizens’ ratings of the quality of life.
We can’t even get rid of the British Privy Council, for God’s sake! And in two years’ time, we will be celebrating a half-century of Independence! Some of us still have Governors General that swear allegiance to the Queen of England.
Naipaul’s Mimic Men never died, they- we- just reinvented ourselves. Whatever happened to New World? Is this book just an exercise in intellectual archaeology, an indulgence in nostalgia, a dutiful homage to icons, past and passing? Or is it an opportunity to learn from the past and derive lessons, insights and inspiration for the future?
Those of us who were parts of the New World experience have a responsibility to render an accounting to those who are coming after us. The papers in this book are part of such a rendering. In my own paper, I have set out my reflections on the contribution and shortcomings of New World. So do, in different ways, the papers by James Millette, Kari Levitt, and David De Caries.
More than anything else, the long interview with Lloyd Best is an invaluable document in the history of Caribbean thought and Caribbean politics. We are indebted to Brian Meeks, Tony Bogues and their colleagues in the Centre for Caribbean Thought for having conducted the interview, organised the Conference, and organised the publication of this book. Indebted beyond more than words can tell or money can measure. And we are delighted to know that they have arranged for the re-publication of the entire series of issues of New World Quarterly that appeared from 1963 to 1971, by the UWI Press.
Whatever happened to New World? Here we must distinguish between the New World Group and its journal and New World as an intellectual movement.
The New World Group died as a result of internal divisions over ideology, strategy and tactics; of personal egos and power struggles; of the radicalisation of politics in the 1970s; of the appeal of Black Power and of orthodox Marxism; of decisions by some to enter electoral politics and by others like me to join forces with elected governments.
New World gave birth to Tapia and Moko in Trinidad and helped to do so for Abeng in Jamaica and myriad other similar movements throughout the Caribbean. The controversy over who was to blame for its demise continues to this very day.
But the over-arching fact is that, with the departure of much of its intellectual leadership in 1968-1969, there was not a remaining critical mass sufficient to sustain the movement. And so the mother died, giving birth to multiple offspring. The intellectual fashions of the 1980s discredited meta-theories in the name of post-modernism and delegitimized the tradition of indigenous thought by means of spurious assertions of the universal validity of the neo-liberal globalist paradigm. Local context-the specificity of history, time and place–was now of interest only as raw material to be marketised, liberalised, privatised, deregulated and structurally adjusted in an absurd attempt to make over societies into a caricature of a world of perfectly functioning markets and purposefully self-seeking individuals intent on maximising their own satisfaction.
Such a perfectly functioning market society, of course, has never existed anywhere in the real world, certainly not in England at the time of Adam Smith.
The global project was already in crisis when the pyramid of financial paper created by Wall Street and the City of London came crashing down in 2008. But in the meantime, a large part of our societies has been socialised into its ways of thinking and of being and is being forced to make a living according to its rules as we suffer the consequences of the economic fall-out.
Among other things, university budgets are being slashed all over the region and academics are scrambling to sell their services in a globalised knowledge marketplace.
But did the spirit of New World ever die? I think not. It continued to be sustained in the work of Tapia, in the Trinidad and Tobago Review, in the intellectual sovereignty movement centred on George Lamming and George Beckford in the 1980s, in the Association of Caribbean Economists; in several encounters sponsored by the Economics Departments at Mona and St Augustine and by SALISES and, more recently, the Centre for Caribbean Thought.
As happened with the protests of the enslaved and indentured persons that were suppressed, the spirit simply went underground, finding other ways and other opportunities to express itself.
There is not a single problem area of Caribbean life today where the imperative of home-grown solutions is not in continuous contradiction with the institutions and thinking of the colonial experience, compounded by the drive for international legitimation and respectability.
It is so for politics, governance and constitutions- the Westminster system is not working. For economic integration- the model of the CSME, a poor imitation of the EU model, is not working. In economic development- we can’t even say if the model is not working, because we don’t even know what the model is.
By what philosophy, ideology or strategy of development are Caribbean governments today motivated? Does anybody know? It seems to me that ad hocism, euphemistically known as pragmatism, rules supreme.
I have very mixed feelings about the recent fashion of aiming to achieve “developed country status” embraced by some of our countries. On the one hand, the exercises in consultation with a wide variety of stakeholders that took place in Trinidad and Tobago and in Jamaica elicited a rich harvest of information, ideas and consensus-building. On the other hand, I do not understand why it was necessary to define our objective by using a term that evokes an image of an ecologically unsustainable consumer society which would be utterly impossible for the rest of the world’s population to reach and which itself exhibits all kinds of social pathologies and manifestations of economic crisis.
Don’t people know that the United States, supposedly the most developed country in the world, also has one of the highest- if not the highest- rate of incarceration of its citizens in relation to its population?
There is virtually no area of our national and regional life in which our citizens, professionals and scholars have not come up with detailed ideas and proposals for reform and solutions. We have had excellent reports produced by our citizens on reforming crime and the justice system, on reforming our governance and constitutions, our economy, our education system, our health care system, our environment.
The Trinidad and Tobago 20/20 Vision, Jamaica’s 2030 Vision, and the CARICOM Single Development Vision also attest to our collective ability as a people to generate solutions.
Yet no sooner than these reports are produced than they are shelved and forgotten and we buy into the latest fads from away. I cannot for the life of me understand why our governments and decision-makers continue to reproduce this kind of dependency syndrome. What is the problem? It all seems to boil down to a debilitating lack of collective self-confidence.
Lloyd Best and George Beckford and others in the New World Group said it all starts in the mind. Psychological decolonisation is the basis of all other forms of decolonisation. This was their insight, an insight which they shared with Garvey, James, Marley, Nettleford, Rodney, Lamming and many others.
In closing, let me leave with you the concluding thoughts of my paper presented at the 2005 Conference, one of those that appear in this book.
“The fact that the world has changed since the 1960s doesn’t mean that it hasn’t also remained the same. We have a different world from the world of New World but it is in many respects the old world that New World opposed. The fact that New World made mistakes and had contradictions certainly doesn’t make what is now on offer inherently superior.
“Economic globalisation doesn’t have to mean a globalisation of the mind that detaches one from the specificity of local history and time and place and experience.
“It doesn?t change the fact that Columbus lied when he said that he had discovered the West Indies, because, as the Calypsonian Shadow pointed out, he had only discovered some Indians who had discovered him. Columbus was the purveyor of his own truth; we have to discover and purvey ours. “It doesn’t mean that Bob Marley wasn’t right in his call to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery, for none but ourselves can free our minds. Bob was singing a Song of Freedom; New World was a Song of Freedom and long may we continue to sing it.”