Legacy of 1970 events: Revolution, what revolution?

By Dr. Kwame Nantambu
January 10, 2011

EmancipationFor many decades, the notion has been bandied about that a “Black Power Revolution” occurred in T&T between February – April 1970; however, the purpose of this article is neither to posit a definitive critique of the events of 1970 nor to question its historic legitimacy.

Instead, the purpose of this article is two-fold: to present a linkage analysis of the events of 1970 and to examine their legacy as of this writing (January 2011).

Indeed, there is general consensus that the genesis of these events was born in the computer lab at Sir. George Williams University, Canada and not in the body politic of the undergraduate student’s guild at the University of the West Indies, Trinidad.

There is also general consensus that the leaders of these events did not label them the “Black Power Revolution”; rather, this was a media-imposed label.

Moreover, it can be said that these were re-active events, not pro-active actions on the part of the leaders. Their actions do not represent a revolution in the true sense of the word. A true, de jure revolution represents complete/total destruction of the current State apparatus with State power now in the hands of the proletariat/revolutionary forces a la Cuban revolution under Comrade Fidel Castro (! January 1959) and the Grenadian revolution under Comrade Maurice Bishop (13 March 1979).

As Brian Meeks points out in “The 1970 Revolution : Chronology and Documentation” (1975):

“The Black Power revolt of February to April of 1970 in Trinidad and Tobago was a revolutionary struggle which was not carried through to completion, where state power, at the end of the upsurge, still lay in the hands of the old social forces-a broad alliance of merchants, landed and foreign interests and in the political sphere, state bureaucrats and the governing People’s National Movement (PNM).”

In 1970, the ‘Movement’ led by Geddes Granger (now Makandal Daagar),” the Chief Servant”, Dave Darbeau (now Khafra Kambon), Alyegoro Ome and several others, including Clive Nunez, sought to identify with and support their African brothers and sisters at Sir. George Williams.

In terms of linkage analysis, today, however, this genre of unified consciousness is reflected /manifested in the stark reality that individuals are referring to themselves and each other as “Negroes”, “Afro-Saxons” and/or “Afro-Trinbagonians” in calypsoes, professional/academic/public policy/government documents, newspaper articles, etc, 24-7-365.

It is this historic, unfortunate but real dilemma that this writer regards as the sad legacy of retrogressive, feeling-good consciousness resulting from the events of 1970-revolution, what revolution?

Put another way, these current labels speak volumes as to the ephemeral, fleeting, transitory nature of struggle in T&T. In other words, Africans and Indians co- existed along side each other in struggle in 1970; however, in 2011, their identities have been replaced by “Afro-Trinbagonians” and “Indo-Trinbagonians”—legacy of retrogressive consciousness.

Today, 99.9 per cent of Trinbagonians of African descent wear expensive dashikis only once a year every 1st August on Emancipation Day just as they wear expensive costumes twice a year only on Carnival Monday and Tuesday. In other words, they are One-ah-Day Africans on Emancipation Day just as they are “Red nose sailors” twice a year on Carnival days.

However, from 2nd August to 31st July, they are “Negroes” and/or “Afro-Trinbagonians” — revolution, what revolution? — sad legacy of retrogressive consciousness.

Nevertheless, in 1970, the leaders of the ‘Movement’ not only began to look inward to the reality of life in T&T but also demanded that the racial hue of tellers in commercial banks should change.

In 2011, when one enters any commercial bank in T&T, although the racial hue of the tellers do reflect the racial hue of the marchers/protestors in February-April 1970, however, the dynamics/interplay between the “forces of production” versus the “relations of production” has remained intact/entrenched/unchanged.

The stark reality is that the racial hue/ethnicity of the membership of the Downtown Owners and Merchants Association (DOMA) is not the same as the marchers/protestors in Port-of-Spain between February-April 1970—”the more things change, the more they remain the same”—revolution, what revolution?

A similar disconnect rears its ugly head when one compares the racial hue of current news anchors on local television to that of the marchers/protestors of 1970. The same disconnect is also very, very clear/obvious when one examines the news anchors on television programming under the rubric of “Government Information Services Limited” and “Let’s Talk Tobago.”

Another very, very interesting, poignant and revealing corollary comes to the fore when one views commercials during local television programming; indeed, the racial hue of nine out of ten of the Trinbagonians in these commercials is totally different from that of the thousands of marchers/protestors in 1970.

Indeed, one can argue that basically nothing has changed in T&T because the events of 1970 do not represent a successful, complete revolution. Everything is back to square one in 2011— revolution, what revolution?

Another scary and frightening fallout of the events of 1970 is that consciousness has been taken to a new level; by way of elucidation, the label “African” was used in 1970, however, a societal label is in vogue, that is, “Redman” (male) and “Reds” (female)— sad legacy of retrogressive consciousness.

As Trinidad sociologist Prof. Lloyd Braithwaite opines in “The Problem of Cultural Integration in Trinidad” (1954):

“Every social system possesses some symbolic means by which the unity of the society is reaffirmed. In those societies which are highly stratified or in which there are several groups with sharply divergent cultures, there tend to be a variety of such means. In the case of Trinidad, we have a highly stratified society in which there is nonetheless a great deal of common cultural allegiance.”

This “common cultural allegiance” existed and was fermented in 1970; however, the transitory nature of struggle has relegated this phenomenon to the cultural ash heap of T&T’s history— revolution, what revolution?

In juxtaposing the nexus between race and revolution, C.L.R. James surmises as follows:

“The race question is subsidiary to the class question in politics and to think of (revolution) in terms of race is disastrous But to neglect the racial factor as merely incidental is an error only less grave than to make it fundamental”.

And as the late revolutionary-socialist Dr. Kwame Nkrumah once remarked: “In revolution, there is no room for sentimentality” or as deceased Bro. Bob Marley corroborates: “there is no room for impartiality”—translation: in true, de jure revolution, “total destruction, the only solution.”

Truth Be Told: The time is now to re-activate that unity of consciousness and solidarity among all Trinbagonians if the events of 1970 are to be afforded their just , historic accolades, creditability and legitimacy in the annals of T&T’s revolutionary history.

In sum, although the events of 1970 do not represent a “revolution of rising expectations,” nevertheless, they symbolize a bold attempt at a revolution of rising societal discontent ostensibly pioneered by the dispossessed, lumpen proletarian class in 1970 T&T.

“Forward Ever, Backward Never”.

Dr. Kwame Nantambu is a part-time lecturer at Cipriani College of labour and Co-operative Studies.

4 thoughts on “Legacy of 1970 events: Revolution, what revolution?”

  1. Sadly, Kwame is way off the mark on the events of 1970. Maybe he is too young to remember, or he has failed to do adequate research. There was a revolution. Whether it was successful, or the extent to which it was, can be questioned. But never its authenticity.
    1970 did not begin with the Sir George Williams university ‘sit in’ and arrests of participants in that event. It did trigger the first NJAC protest demonstration (Feb 26). I argue that the revolution has its roots in the neo-colonial Independence Accord, but really took flight after the Mbanefo Commission (1963) and more so the sugar strike of 1965. This latter saw the imposition of the ISA, and thereafter, a continuous struggle between radical labour on the one hand, and submissive labour and a neo-colonial government (including the reactionary opposition DLP) on the other.
    I cannot here enter into lengthy discourse on the subject. Kwame should read Kambon’s “Bread, Peace and Justice” for more elucidation, and snippets from Ryan’s “Black Power Revolution” by some of the principal players. Hopefully, when my book (on the mutiny) is published, it would add to a body of work on this watershed period. Hopefully, too, it would prompt others, particularly principal players in those events, to also write from their perspectives.
    Finally, if Kwame is prepared to write off 1970 in one short essay, I wonder how he would treat with the events of 1937, Butler and the birth of the labour movement.

    Raffique Shah

  2. The irony is that Trinidadian boys were thrown in jail with lashes for having in their possession Chairman Mao’s, Red Book, yet today, the Trinidad government is doing business with a Chineese government founded on the same Mao’s Red Book.

  3. While Mr. Raffique Shah is correct in his response I think that Mr. Nantambu has made some key points. There is no doubt that the mood was revolutionary. Having been moved by the events of the time I would say that the revolution was successful psychologically while not militarily.

    Complacency is normally the downfall of most military revolutions, after success. And the revolutionaries become the new hierarchy, sometimes needing a new revolution. However with psychological revolutions the people become complacent and it is more difficult to have a psychological revolution.

    Trinidad and Tobago grew tremendously after the 1970 revolution. While the military revolution was not a traditional victory the psychological victory was remarkable. The question is how do we create a new psychological revolution to move us forward?? The mini-revolution of May 2010 was too small.

  4. I remain a global progressive humanist, and agnostic Buddhist, who also hopes that one day the concept of patriotism , and post tribalism ,would become a mainstay in the social psyche of all mankind wheresoever they exist on the planet,but especially,within the beautiful twin Republic T&T, as it is evident , that the consequences for doing otherwise can be devastating.
    This country is essentially ,a place , I still, and will, forever call home, irrespective of the sterling efforts of some self serving nationals ,and misguided foreigners , to tarnish it’s name.
    Join with me , in salute of my country , as we plod along another decade of this new millennium ,by shouting to the top of our lungs, ‘Long live the Republic of T&T, and may peace continue to reign, as we aspire ,to achieve economic prosperity for all, and continual political stability across it’s length and breath , via sound, transparent leadership ,where in keeping with our rich tradition , as a multicultural nation, respect for diversity, and prudent aid , as well as support for the weak , troubled ,historically maligned ,and socially powerless, becomes the norm. “This in turn , will be the first step in ensuring that the elusive security goals we aim for , becomes a reality , then serve as a catalyst to an ideal , of sustainable developmental growth, and more importantly, regional, or much wider international supremacy.

    Good and refreshingly honest perspective, by social conscious activist Doctor, on an important , yet misunderstood , and often overlooked subject. It is fair to say that many of the prevailing social issues that confronted our society during the dreadful 70’s , are existing presently, and likewise, took place during the lead up to former Horse police ,football goalkeeper Abu Bakr’s pro Islamist, prospective revolution ,when post PNM NAR existed .
    As a socio -political animal myself , I am however more intrigued by two major factors ,and the inevitable consequential fall outs that occurred , or likely so to do, moving forward.
    The first was that on both occasions ,African folks ,were at the helm of the political roost. Exhibit A ,via strong willed intellectual com politician Dr Eric, and eventually , Exhibit B, through ‘Awe we bouy ANR,’ de seemingly insignificant Gonian ,Island Ward ,Castaria kid, in possession of his two paltry seats.
    The second deals with the fact that no serious punishments occurred on both occasions, as folks far and wise choose instead to conveniently gloss over our laws, then sweep the political and social rubble under the carpet for obvious expediency.
    Therefore ,as we cower in despair today, and continue to sink further into the political morass of obvious clueless policy wonks , and desperate regurgitation of failed 15th century neo feudal Massa England policies,as more of our frustrated citizens remains fixated below the poverty line , can we likewise expect to see similar militaristic collisions ,with politically agitated Labor Movement power brokers, as occurred during youthful Uncle Shah/ Rex’s Tethron stewardship, or as in the case of the 90’s, enjoy the activities of yet another religious force ,who might be encouraged to jump into action, to defend the interest of the people , whether they require such interventions or not?
    Should any of the unmentionable non-repentant lofty players, mealy willing ,to portray themselves as nationalistic heroes ,and or, victims , continue to prey on our goodwill sensibilities ,as forgiving folks , now hold themselves somewhat responsible , when runaway crimes and lawlessness appear to be the norm in our country, as opposed to using every means at their disposal , to repeatedly point fingers, at pie in the sky criminal justice/ social psychological theories as explanations and solutions?
    Not too certain I can expect an answer from a fellow driver on dis her information highway, but I am hopeful, that if I do, it would exclude any common revisionist ,pranksters, and self serving opportunists, for too much is at stake in our country in this critical moment.

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