These men of straw…

By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
March 28, 2024

Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeIn Inward Hunger, Eric Williams revealed that on the very day he left the Anglo-America Caribbean Commission on June 21, 1955, he began discussions with members of the Teachers’ Economic and Cultural Association about the formation of a new party in Trinidad and Tobago (T&T)— the People’s National Movement. “The basic strategy,” he said, “pending the discussion and organisation, was to reach the public.”

The working people were always uppermost in Williams’ mind. He needed to connect with them if he wished to be successful politically. His first lecture, “My Relations with the Caribbean Commission”, was 51 printed pages long. It told “the whole sordid story of my relations with the Commission, the pressures on me, the efforts to remove me from my job or prevent my appointment to it”. Williams followed with six more lectures on related themes.

Williams was convinced that “education is politics” and that politics is education viewed from another angle. On October 11, 1955, Sir Edward Beetham, governor of the island, reported to his boss at the Colonial Office, Alan Lennox-Boyd, that Williams’ aim was “the education of the masses with the object of achieving a politically educated electorate”.

In December 1955, while Williams was in Brussels on an assignment for the International Conference of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU). He noted: “I proceeded to London, where my principal concern, apart from my routine work for the ICFTU, was to discuss our draft party programme and constitution with George Padmore, CLR James and Arthur Lewis.”

In London, he continued to widen his political contacts. He said: “I also had the privilege of an interview with Madame [Vijaya Lakshmi] Pandit, India’s high commissioner in London; we discussed the possibility of a West Indian edition of Nehru’s autobiography, with a foreword specially written by [Jawaharlal] Nehru,” the prime minister of India (1947-64). One should note the respect that Williams paid to Nehru and his sister.

These people laid the intellectual and ideological foundations of the PNM. James, author of The Black Jacobins, was a major intellectual of the 20th century and editor of The Nation, a PNM weekly. Lewis, one of the earliest black professors at a major British university, received the Nobel Prize in Economics (jointly) in 1979 for his work in developing economies while Padmore published The Life and Struggles of Negro Toilers in 1931. Madam Pandit served as the eighth president of the United Nations General Assembly, the first woman appointed to that post.

Dr Williams was not a wealthy man when he died in 1981. His younger daughter, Erica, remains an administrative assistant working in Miami. George Chambers, a ­relatively modest man, followed Williams as prime minister. He served in that capacity from 1981 to 1986. He lived modestly in Santa Margarita. His daughter, Andrea, who worked at the T&T Consulate in New York, was kicked out of her job when the People’s Partnership came into power in 2010.

Patrick Manning was prime minister from 1991-1995 and 2001-2010. He was a decent man who devoted his life to the nation. A man of modest financial means, he lived in Gopaul Lands in Marabella and his townhouse in Vistabella, San Fernando, when he became prime minister. There was not a whiff of dishonesty around Manning’s tenure as prime minister.

The PNM would never have been a successful party if it did not embed itself within the hearts and minds of the ordinary men and women. Necessarily, the women were the engine upon which the PNM thrived. In those early years it was truly a nationalist movement that strove to reflect the best interests of the society.

Today, things have changed within the PNM hierarchy. Money rules the roost and the devil takes the hindmost. Straw men are now in charge of the party. This is particularly evident at the level of those who make up the present Cabinet. Many of them are financially strong but intellectually weak. The party has no discernible policies at the levels of crime, energy or community affairs.

Today, it has become fashionable for the PNM hierarchy to insult those with whom they disagree. The political leader asked me, Cudjoe, to “haul…” my you know what, while Stuart Young, the chairman of the party, berated Ronald Harford. He suggested that “whenever somebody becomes ‘former’, their mouths get big”. Minister of National Security Fitzgerald Hinds refers to Kamla Persad-Bissessar, the Leader of the Opposition, as “that evil woman from Siparia”.

As insolence and money suffocate the PNM, it is well to remember James’ wisdom: “Times would pass, old empires would fall and new ones would take their place, the relations of countries and the relations of class had to change, before I discovered that it is not the quality of goods and utility which matter, but movement; not where you are or what you have, but where you have come from, where you are going and the rate at which you are getting there.”

James died in a small one-bedroom in Brixton, London, in 1989. He was buried in the Tunapuna Cemetery in the village where he was born. He had no worldly goods, but like our Lord and Saviour, he understood that men and women cannot live by bread alone but by the words and wisdom of their elders.

Shouldn’t PNM get back to its roots?

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