The price of progress – Pt II

By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
May 02, 2022


Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeThe general election of 1946 ushered in a new phase in Trinidad and Tobago’s political development, in that it was the year in which universal suffrage was introduced into the island. In that year, Patrick Solomon formed the West Indian National Party with Dr David Pitt, which later became the Caribbean Socialist Party.

Between 1950 and 1956, Albert Gomes, who considered himself “the logical successor to Captain Cipriani”, formed the Party of Political Progress Groups to contest the 1956 election. Owen Mathurin argues, “Gomes’s outstanding ambition was to outdo Cipriani and replace him as the hero in the hearts of the black working class.” Although the Colonial Office saw Gomes as their “blue-eyed boy”, he was not regarded as the champion of the working class, as he had seen himself.

In 1956, the People’s National Movement (PNM) came onto the political stage, with Dr Eric Williams as the political leader and Learie Nicholas Constantine as its chairman. The party offered a coherent programme that resembled the People’s National Party of Jamaica, which led in part to its electoral success in 1956. In 1962, in the aftermath of the collapse of the West Indian Federation, T&T became an independent country.

Besides outlining the political development of the island, I now wish to give five personal examples to demonstrate how ordinary people responded to these events.

My mother, who was born in 1908, always spoke of her grandfather’s alarm when he heard Cipriani had proposed to offer an old-age pension to the citizens. He said to his wife, “Rose, you ever hear such stupidness in your life? You ent working, but yet the government would give you money.” My great-grandfather couldn’t understand that Cipriani was proposing a new social concept in government.

The second example recounts an exchange between my former principal, Cecil Ifill, and Constantine, who ran against Pat Mathura for the Tunapuna seat in 1956. After Constantine offered an illuminating dissertation of how Williams and the PNM were bringing self-government to the island, Ifill insisted that we always had self-governmentsince our parents had to control their lives and do the best they could with the little finances they had, “PNM did not bring us self-government; it is something we had practised in our homes, in our village councils, and in our mothers’ unions long before PNM arrived.”

A third example revolves around my neighbour Victor Bailey, an employee of the Trinidad Sugar Estates, or “OG”, as we called it. It was owned initially by William Hardin Burnley, the largest slave owner in the island. Taking the initiative, Bailey was bold enough to introduce Williams when he spoke at the Tacarigua EC School. The meeting was a success and all ended well, or so Bailey thought.

When Bailey reported back to work the next morning, his boss, Mr Howard, the manager of the estate, called him into the office and told him that if he ever appeared on another PNM platform, he would be fired immediately. In those days, the OG Estate was one of the few places that provided villagers with jobs. We also rented land from that company on which we built our houses. Bailey only bowed his head and walked away, but he remained a dedicated member of the PNM and devoted himself to the party. Threat or not, he knew his political saviour had arrived.

I was also at Dinsley Junction in 1956 when Gomes sought to address us at a political meeting. He never got a word out, so stringent was the heckling. He was dismissed as “a big-belly man” who was simply a relic of the past. He was defeated by Ulric Lee, a 28-year-old young man, the most unlikely person to defeat Gomes. who had said at a regional meeting in Barbados, “I am the Government of Trinidad”.

My last example is an incident that took place in the early ’60s in Eddie Hart’s gallery. We were liming there when George Jordan, in an argument with the other guys, proclaimed vociferously: “There are three people ah could kill for—my mother, Eric Williams and Garfield Sobers.” This was his declaration of devotion to the new party.

Growing up in that little village, I was an integral part of the politics taking place there. I attended PNM meetings, marched in the rain from Chaguaramas to Woodford Square, and was one of the young delegates from my village who offered a short comment when Williams had his constitutional hearings at Queen’s Hall. It was such an honour to be in the presence of Williams and to say a few words to him.

My earliest education came under the tutelage of Williams, Constantine, James and the other PNM stalwarts in the various public spaces that they deemed colleges and universities. That’s why I include these personal experiences in this trajectory of events that was so instrumental in my personal formation and in that of so many other citizens. We are products of those who did the preparatory work for our political independence.

Romila Thapper, an Indian historian, says history is very important in building one’s identity, which is why she immersed herself in learning about the early years of India’s independence. “You have to get your history right, otherwise your nationalism doesn’t work.” (Financial Times, April 23.)

T&T’s independence has brought us many challenges, including fusing the many ethnic groups together, bridging the increasing gap between the rich and poor, and the spectre of corruption in our midst. This is why we need to pay attention to our past—there are lessons there that can teach us about our future.

6 thoughts on “The price of progress – Pt II”

  1. ” This is why we need to pay attention to our past—there are lessons there that can teach us about our future.”

    Isn’t this the perpetual dilemma that were have been in since independence?. In order for those lessons to be taught with credible insights, we must first establish credible national norms
    without the fissions that are so eminent in our society today. There is also need to have leaders in both factions (Indian and African) whose insights are ‘national’ in nature and not the racial tint that is so profound in our national politics. Our country is too small to be split in two, too divided to establish national unity and too opinionated to settle on what our goals should be. So, where does that leave us??? People like you Dr. Cudjoe advocate changing government. But is that a CREDIBLE ANSWER? If anything, our politics are so poisonous that looking only at changing who leads the government can only lead to more national disasters. And looking forward at the current political climate and the ever growing animosity, change can and will be more disastrous to us as a nation.

    Currently, it seems like we choose leaders by who makes the most amount of noises and complains about every single thing.
    That seems to be the qualification. Real leaders are not selfish and seekers of fame and fortune. Real leaders establish qualifying norms and practices that are good for all citizens, not just partisans citizens. Real leaders have the nation’s interest at heart and NOT ‘my three hundred thousand voters’ only. Real leaders understand not just where our standings are in the world but also how we find our niche in the complicated geography of trade and empowerment. Real leaders understand that there are not easy answers to complicated situations (and ours is complicated). Real leaders understand the world in which we aspire to be included in. Real leaders understand the challenges we face in order to be a united force as a nation. Real leaders understand that to overly emphasize racial narrative is not a component to a structure of unity.

    Real leaders shine as we are seeing in the case of Zelensky of Ukraine. Here is a man who in his personal life established himself as a comedian, but when called upon to lead, he has shown gumption, strength, bravery, commitment , selflessness and unbinding loyalty to his people. He is what the world needs at this time and anyone seeking our vote or support should use him as an inspiration to nation building.

    1. Brother Kian, three hundred thousand is a lot of people. Are you suggesting that they continue to be excluded as they were during the 1962 Independence Day Celebrations? It is said that in the early days Ford Motor Company advertised their cars with the following slogan ” You can have any color as long as it is black” I guess the same applies to Governments in T & T.
      Stalin summed it up nicely. ” It doesn’t matter who votes, what matters is who counts the votes”. PNM has been counting votes since 1962 so expect more of the same.

  2. As much as I respect Dr Cudjoe and Dr Williams for their research and publications, one man’s history may be another man’s misery. Two comments I would like me to make: 1. The History of the PNM is not the History of Trinidad and Tobago. A second comment covering the entire span of our post-Independence existence is that the PNM is and always has been a Black Supremacist Movement cleverly masquerading as a political party. Anyone who has any doubts should take some time to view some of the official films of T&T Independence Day Celebrations in 1962 and you would think that the events were occurring in Africa and not in Trinidad where the majority of the population are not ethnic Africans.

    Dr Cudjoe in his comment on killing for Dr Williams displays the same reckless arrogance that consumed PNM party members during the 1961 Elections as they roamed the country in convoys assualting defenceless people. It was a time of great fear, uncertainty, and insecurity for those who were not PNM.

    That is our history and our past. Let us be optimistic and look to our future. We know where that path has lead us. Maybe if we choose to be more inclusive and utilize the skills and talents of all our citizens our future will be better.

    1. No argument with the comment “Let us be optimistic and look to our future. We know where that path has lead us. Maybe if we choose to be more inclusive and utilize the skills and talents of all our citizens our future will be better.”

      But your argument presupposes that I’m saying to ignore the ‘three hundred’ thousand. If you were so suggest that the meaning to that is to include those outside the ‘three hundred thousand’ to form a better union, you would be closer to my argument of ‘unity’. No way in my argument I have suggested or intimated ‘exclusivity’. IN fact, that is exactly where we are at this time.

      the dictionary describes the word ‘compromise’ as
      “• a middle state between conflicting opinions or actions reached by mutual concession or modification: a compromise between commercial appeal and historical interest.” In other words, if you continue to stick to your ‘three hundred thousand’ without regard to the other ‘majority’ , you would haver missed the point of ‘compromise’ and therefore cannot be legitimately defined by the citizenry label you wish to be called.

      Culture is NOT exclusive nor is it stagnant – it evolves. At the time of our independence the prevailing culture was displayed.
      But in order to contextualize reality you MUST take into consideration how each group participated in the process that led to ‘freedom’. One group (the Africans) wanted it because after being subjugated to colonialism for over four hundred years, it represented a path towards an end to our experience with slavery. The Indians, were not that much enthusiastic about independence, because they felt it represented a removal of the cloak of protection they felt the masters provided for them.
      So, their participation in the cultural activities reflected that reality. As far as the PNM is concerned, they were the ones who negotiated our independence. The UNC or DLP faction were not of the mind set. We now have the opportunity to ‘compromise’ a moderating reality that is inclusive of all factions
      (irrespective of fractional numbers) and we should take advantage of it. What is wrong with that? . The alternative is to continue to be at each other’s throat endlessly.

      Peace my brother!

      1. Brother Kian, I thank you for your comments and I believe we are on the same page in that we want what is best for our country and people however we may differ and how best to achieve this. My view is very simple. We have had enough of the PNM. They have failed enough times. Right now in T&T, crime is rampant and has been so for at least the past 10 plus years, unemployment an all time high, public infrastructure in a state of permanent disrepair. It appears that T&T engineers are incapable of building a proper road. What was acceptable in 1962 is not acceptable in 2022. We need a real Govt that actually works, not one that parties between elections and pulls the magic race card every five years to be re-elected. It is time for a change. We need a Government that actually works, and for the country not only for an elite few.
        I entirely agree with you that we need visionary leadership which seems to be lacking in the current crop of politicians who all seem to be interested in promoting themselves.

        2025 is a long time from now. Hopefully someone will emerge whom we can rely on to bring the country on a path of prosperity that was within our grasp at our Independence in 1962 but never delivered.

  3. Mitra my friend, everybody, regardless of race, color and creed
    want ‘change’. BUT WHAT DOES THAT MEAN???.
    There is an over simplification of what we want, what we need and the desire to make it reality. Most feel politics is the means but is it really so? When we over-simplify those desires we get into trouble. You know why?. Getting what you want without careful consideration, means stepping on sore toes and reviving deep seated animosities, resulting in catastrophic proportions. We need to look no further than what is happening in the Russia/Ukraine debacle. Its a quick glimpse at what national/regional/religious/racial desires can do
    to destroy by otherwise rational means. In an earlier post, I used the word ‘compromise’ (which you ignored) as a means to achieving rational progress. It still is and will always be the ONLY means to peaceful progress.

    When ‘change’ is enabled to achieve perceived ‘wrongs’ , there is no telling how far reaching and dangerous the outcome can be.
    The United States today is a prime example of how instability can result in ‘change’. It is a far cry from what it was just six years ago (2016). The people opted for change and they got it. BUT that change has come at a possibly dangerous price. The desire for MAGA have left the country at odds with itself.
    1. The judiciary no longer abides by the constitution, ideology (conservative/liberal/egalitarian) has replaced has replaced judicial construction of legality; 2. The one-man-one-vote idiom which is the hallmark of democracy no longer applies to the democratic process in many states; 3. Constitutional changes and rulings emanates more from religious, regional and racial doctrines than the original meaning of democratic progress. The makeup of the Court (6 to 3) leaves outcomes a forgone conclusion; 4. Gerrymandering, passing of laws (to suit one desires) has become commonplace in many states and regions of the country. Makeup issues such as election security, composition of school boards and teaching of so-called crt have divided the country along educational, religious, constitutional, political and social lines; 5. States can pass laws to nullify votes that they don’t want counted; 6. Legislators can defy court orders as they please depending on their ideology; 7. The moral and ethical standing of the U.S in the world is questionable because MAGA has changed its reliability; 8. The politics of division has become the norm rather than the exception. 9. Families living in the same homes have become increasingly divided on political and social issues; 10. The ballots in many states are filled with candidates who have legal, moral, ethical, religious and questionable issues. In other words the United Sates today is viewed as more volatile than any other time in its history because of what happened on January 6, 2021. There is no telling where that will lead in future elections. It is not known whether it will become less democratic and more autocratic. At this stage it can be questionable if it can remain as the ‘Leader of the free world’.

    The divisions we face in Trinidad and Tobago is no less problematic than what I pointed out in my earlier paragraphs.
    Here we have clashes with values that have roots in Eastern and Western values. The biggest issue is racial. Almost all the issues discussed emanates from the racial and ethnic divide and NOT from the constitutional process. Almost all the issues emblazoned emanates from the racial, ethnic and religious divide period.

    We have come a long way since Independence. I make no apologies for the progress we have made since then. At independence, we had only two Phd’s – Dr. Eric Williams and Dr. Rudranath Capildeo. Today, it is commonplace. The colonials left the oil industry hoping that the locals could not run it. We did and even went further to be amongst the first to commercialize natural gas. Point Lisas was amongst the first industrial complex to be established in the country. Our country is foremost in the world of music with the establishment of the steel pan. It is the twentieth century’s only musical instrument discovered. The music is taught in universities around the world. We supply the world with Urea, natural gas and oil. What we lack is a formula for how we deal with social, religious and racial issues. What emanates from those divisions are the sore points that ignites the expressed anxieties that we face today. Change has to be tempered by the complexities of what divides us and what we have in common. And this is where the only solution is compromise. At some point, our cultural reality MUST decide that ‘who we are’ must take into consideration ‘where we are’.

    In closing ‘change’ is consequential. If the piloting of that change ignores the terrain it must navigate, then disaster could be the only outcome. There is no magic wand to successful progress.
    The countries that’s being touted as ‘successful’ all have drawbacks that can and may be easily destabilized. And thats why the most thoughtful requirement for any country today is the requirement of ‘leadership’ qualities.

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