Errol Walton Barrow and the Postwar Transformation of Barbados (Vol. 1)
The Late Colonial Period
- Published: July 2019
Britain freed the colonies in ways that reflected its own subordination to US hegemony under the rubric of the Cold War, which served as the geopolitical strategy for liberal internationalism. Watson’s analysis concentrates on the roles played by the labour movement, political parties, capitalist interests, and working-class and other popular organizations in Barbados and the British Caribbean, with support from Caribbean-American groups in New York that forged alliances with those black American organizations which saw their freedom struggles in an international context. Practically all the decolonizing (nationalist) elites in Barbados and other British Caribbean territories endorsed a British and American prescription for decolonization and self-government based on territorial primacy and at the expense of a strong West Indian federation that prioritized the working class. This move sidelined the working class and its interests also set back the struggle for self-determination, liberty and sovereignty.
Watson situates the role Errol Barrow played in the transformation of Barbados in the wider Caribbean and international context. His study draws on archival records from Britain and Barbados, interviews and other sources, and he pays close attention to how the racialization of social life around nature, culture, history, the state, class, gender, politics, poverty and other factors conditioned the colonial experience.
List of Abbreviations
Mapping the Study, Framing the Argument
Family Matters: From Charles Duncan O’Neal to Errol Barrow
The Self-Government Trajectory in the British Caribbean: The Politics of Decolonization and Sovereignty
The Contradictions of Self-Determination: Decolonization, the Cold War and Class Struggles
Historic Compromise and Political Consensus in Barbados
THE STUDY WAS ORIGINALLY CONCEIVED APPROXIMATELY fifteen years ago as a volume on the contributions that Errol Walton Barrow made to the postwar transformation of Barbados, a former British Caribbean colony. Transformation is here understood to be an open-ended, dialectical process of social change, in which social classes, groups and individuals, some with largely contradictory interests, compete and contend to influence or control the state and the exercise of state power, and the political economy. In this sense transformation remains open-ended, consistent with the fact that the process of historical change is inherently non-to-talizable. The absence of any full-length study about Errol Barrow’s role in postwar change in Barbados made the undertaking more challenging than originally imagined. It became a matter of concern, in the process of conducting the investigation, that it might prove difficult to compress the material into a single volume. When the manuscript was submitted it was recommended (among other options) to prepare it as two volumes. The first volume covers the period from the 1920s to 1966, the year Barbados became a sovereign monarchy within the Commonwealth. The second volume will cover mainly the first two decades of independence from 1966 to 1987, the year Prime Minister Barrow died in office.
The study is not a political biography of the life of Errol Walton Barrow; rather, the emphasis is on Barrow’s contributions to the transformation of Barbados, seen through the lens of political economy, which is a social science discipline that studies change from the angle of the social relations of production that humans enter in the process of reproducing themselves in the larger societal and world context.
The postwar transformation of Barbados unfolded within the context of the bourgeois (democratic) revolution, which was designed to canalize the energies of the society, and especially the working-class population, to produce outcomes that would benefit foremost the forces that owned and controlled the means of production and wealth and the political leadership strata, regardless of which groups exercise state power.
The three great crises of the first half of the twentieth century – World War I, the Great Depression and World War II – combined in ways that accelerated the decline of Britain’s position in an international environment that was marked by competition from Germany, which tried unsuccessfully to retrace the trajectory of British imperialism (Arrighi 1982), from the United States and from the worldwide, anti-colonial and anti-imperialist struggles for self-determination. The bourgeois (democratic) revolution in the British West Indies (hereafter “West Indies”) came to rest on parliamentary democracy (representative government), political party and labour and trade union politics, and juridical freedom or formal equality under the law, all of which are components of the “capitalist social control formation” (Perry 2010, 1).
The struggle for self-determination and the establishment of sovereign states in the West Indies was an integral part of larger world historical struggles that bore the imprint of capitalist modernity, of which liberalism serves as the core philosophical doctrine. The fact that nations and sovereign states are historical institutions rather than naturally evolved entities necessitates parting with the nationalist illusion according to which British imperialism in the Caribbean was a foreign imposition on colonial and postcolonial societies, and the achievement of sovereignty erased imperialism’s burdensome imposition as part of the ultimate battle to secure the autonomy of the organic, national body politic. Nationalists imagine the nation as aboriginal – antecedent, immortal and therefore unencumbered by history; hence they tend to read history backward through “retrospective illusions” (Balibar 1991) and imagine that the achievement of sovereignty serves to authenticate the nation-state’s place in history. This way sovereignty is made to bear a burden that not even Atlas could shoulder (Agnew 2009; Elden 2009; Gullí 2010; Watson 2015b).
Richard Koenigsberg argues that the “disease of nationalism – of neurosis – grows out of the fantasy of an omnipotent, indestructible part of the self that will never die. A self that can never die cannot mourn;
there is no possibility of intrapsychic change or growth. The object inside the self symbiotically clings or sticks to the self, constituting a burden or encrustation” (2017, 1). The decolonizing elites in Barbados and other West Indian territories were socialized into British cultural norms and institutions and they idealized the British nation-state and fought for change on terms that were fundamentally acceptable to the British. They collaborated with the United Kingdom and the United States to target, isolate and root out the progressive and revolutionary blue- and white-collar working-class forces from leadership in the political parties and the labour movement, to deny them any role in shaping the process and outcome of the decolonization and independence struggles.
Grantley Adams viewed British colonialism and the British Empire as preferable to other variants of European imperialism, and he boasted about the superior standing of Barbados among all British colonies. Alexander Bustamante (Jamaica) declared in London in 1952 that democracy could not be guaranteed in the postwar world without the survival of the British Empire. Eric Williams (Trinidad and Tobago) and Norman Manley (Jamaica) reminded West Indian critics of the “Westminster model” of representative government that it represented the authentic form of democracy they considered fitting for the West Indies. Errol Barrow plumbed the depth of England’s pre-modern, absolutist institutions in search of what he saw as the original sources of Barbados’s autochthonous constitution. Barrow traced Barbados’s political stability, representative government, the rule of law and respect of the rights of colonial citizens to institutions of the ancien régime that undergirded English tyranny during the time of the Stuart dynasty, largely ignoring the role of the resistance and struggles the toiling masses waged, from slavery to decolonization, for political relief and freedom.
In his discussion of the “decolonization that might have been”, Gary Wilder (2015, xii, xiii) focused on those “transformative possibilities that may have been sedimented within existing arrangements . . . through decolonization, to remake the world so that humanity could more fully realize itself on a planetary scale”. Wilder notes that we are still without a robust critical language with which to speak about “postnational democracy, translocal solidarity, and cosmopolitan politics in ways that have not already been instrumentalized by human rights, humanitarianism, and liberal internationalism” (xiii).
In fact, cosmopolitan politics is part of the dominant state-centrist discourse and practice that treat liberal internationalism as the definitive universality, which subsumes struggles for self-determination and freedom under the right to exploit that complicates the struggle for our full humanity.
The proponents and defenders of the liberal, nationalist project of self- determination under capitalism tend to naturalize and thereby privilege the domination that comes with class rule, and subordinate justice under the state’s security (Gullí 2010). Liberal discourse also separates economics (capital and the market) from politics (state), the economy from the state and civil society, the individual from society and the nation from world humanity (the international). This approach, which privileges individualism and alienation, intentionally fragments and externalizes the social, makes it difficult to appreciate that all forms of freedom, justice, human rights, equality and democracy under capitalism presuppose the right of private capital to exploit labour for the ends of private capital accumulation and thereby makes inequality seem natural.
The late colonial and postcolonial nationalist project in Barbados has been portrayed as an “empowering” response, with advocates in the state and civil society deflecting appropriate attention away from the way the exercise of state power shelters private economic power and wealth and domination from necessary scrutiny and critique in an ostensibly social democratic polity. Nationalists make what they imagine and desire to be the realization of the national unity of the body politic the high point of the achievement of state sovereignty. The experience of Barbados and the West Indies with decolonization and independence confirms that the nationalist elites embraced the bourgeois (democratic) revolution on terms the British largely framed and ordered (Mawby 2012) for them to manage.
The US strategy for boosting its hegemony included a demand for its European allies to free their colonial possessions in a responsible manner. Britain proceeded with attention to American expectations and even oversight. The reality that Gerald Horne (2007) aptly refers to as a “cold war in a hot zone” found Britain playing a subordinate role under American hegemony with reference to shaping the outcome of the contradictory process of decolonization in the Caribbean. Britain was forced to rely on the United States to protect the far-flung economic, commercial, military and financial interests of the UK state and its ruling class in the world. The real motive of the United States in demanding decolonization was to deepen the integration of the region into the postwar international capitalist order it was crafting. Washington refused to accept competing geopolitical centres of military power within the Atlantic Alliance, a development that reflected the weakness of the European powers and helped to shape the outcome of decolonization and independence in Barbados and the West Indies. The United States succeeded in seeing to it that working-class interests did not prevail in shaping the outcome of the decolonization struggles. It does not mean, however, that the working class did not play any role in shaping the outcomes, as such an assertion would be tantamount to denying agency to the oppressed and exploited in the freedom struggles.
In the course of conducting research and preparing the manuscript I incurred debts to a number of organizations and individuals. Bucknell University provided important support in the form of travel and research grants over several years to conduct the investigation in the United Kingdom and in Barbados and deliver presentations at several conferences. The British National Archives (Kew, London), Barbados National Archives, University of the West Indies Federal Archives (Cave Hill, University of the West Indies), and the West Indies Collection (University of the West Indies Library, Cave Hill) were the main sites where I did the research. Professor Sir Hilary Beckles listened attentively and keenly, offered suggestions and provided office space in the CARICOM Research Building during my 2008–9 sabbatical year. Several colleagues and friends – Linden Lewis, Dave Ramsaran, Alex Dupuy, Don Marshall, Andrew Downes, Harold Codrington, DeLisle Worrell, George Belle and Nigel Bolland – offered suggestions at different points. Several individuals granted me interviews for which I am truly thankful: Sir Courtney Blackman, Sir Shridath Ramphal, Sir Erskine Sandiford, George Lamming, Dr Peter Laurie, the Hon David Thompson, Maurice King, QC, Freundel Stuart, George Belle, David Commissiong, Peter Morgan, Carlisle Carter, Horace King, Michael King, Maizie Barker-Welch, John Connell, Mitchell Codrington, Woodville Marshall, Astor B. Watts, Tennyson Beckles, Yvonne Walkes, Marjorie Lashley, Antoinette Thompson, Norma Jackman, Carlton Brathwaite and Gwen Hurst, among others. Conversations with Cedric Licorish, Jeb Sprague and others proved valuable especially during the writing phase. Thanks to the two anonymous reviewers and to the editorial and production team from the University of the West Indies Press.