C.L.R. James

West Indians of East Indian Descent


From West Indians of East Indian Descent IBIS Pamphlet No. 1,
C.L.R. James
Printed by Enterprise Electric Printer, 52 Park Street for IBIS Publications, c/o 52 Park Street, Port-of-Spain. 1965 10 pp.
Transcribed and Marked up by Damon Maxwell for the Marxist Internet Archive in September, 2009.

Part I.

A newspaper article, a pamphlet, cannot say everything. All you can do is to say certain essential things: you can begin the discussion. You can draw froth under the bed what has been hidden there for well over a hundred years.

I intend here to begin just three things.

(1) The question of racial prejudice between West Indians of East Indian descent and West Indians of African descent. I intend to give a few of the innumerable facts, and some pretty dirty facts, some of them are.
(2) I intend to sketch briefly the history of the question, how it came and where it is going.
(3) I shall then indicate what I think the West Indians of East Indian descent in Trinidad must do.

(1) Racial Prejudice

Prejudice – Prejudice is of many kinds. Brenda is a regular contributor to our paper. She writes an article about how some East Indian middle-class women try to pretend that they know nothing about East Indian food and East Indian early life. The article is an attack on East Indian pretentiousness.

I ask a young Creole: what do you think of it? She distastefully replied “A lot about Indians.” Her attitude was unfriendly. She has I am sure, no conscious prejudice. She is above that. She would, I am sure, marry an Indian boy whom she liked. But an article dealing with Indians almost exclusively and not announcing itself as such. That is too much.

Something a little more serious. A very sober man tells me: “You don’t know what Trinidad people are afraid of. Look .here: An Indian got a job at the Base. Next thing every job in that department was held by an Indian. That is the way they are. They are all for each other, they think of Indians first.”

P.N.M. And Indians

This man is without prejudice. I am certain of that. He Was discussing objectively the attitude of the general public.

Another man told me: “P.N. M. middle class are holding on tight to their positions. They say that in ten years the Indians will own everything in the place. And these P.N.M. are going to see to it that in addition to all this money they will not have political power. That will be the end of everything for the black people.

“Already, although the Indian population is smaller they have more professional people than the blacks. The Indians can handle money. The blacks cannot. P.N.M is holding on to politics.”

I had heard part of this before. I had shrugged my shoulders. Money is there to be made. Who makes it, makes it.

There were also I heard, some juicy scandals in P.N.M. over their attitude to East Indians. But scandals in P.N.M. flow thick and fast. The Indians say: “If we are a racial party, P.N.M. is one too.” They give proofs.

I can go on with this catalogue indefinitely. Everybody knows some, some know a lot. Everybody in public life pretends that they do not exist, they talk about them only to one another and in Whispers. The thing goes far. A creole girl told me she, lives near to some Indians. They invited her and her two sisters to a wedding. The three of them sat together all, the time. Nobody spoke to them. They spoke to nobody. That is a sickness, a social sickness. Its proper name in backwardness or social inexperience.

A Negro taxi driver from Couva told me that an Indian passenger always waits to take an Indian taxi-driver. He says that an Indian will take an Indian taxi-driver. He says that an Indian will take you: (a) If he is in a hurry; (b) If he knows you personally. Otherwise it is Indians for Indians all the time. “The Negroes” he says “are not like that.” He was not angry. He just took it for a fact of life. I take it much the same, but only in personal terms.

Personal Experience

You see I have much experience of this sort of thing abroad and at here. I daresay it is all true. 1 wish now to give a few recent observations and experiences of my own in Trinidad. First of all 15,000 (chiefly East Indian) sugar workers have made it quite clear that they wish to form an alliance with the predominantly African O.W. T.U., and chase into limbo their Indian leaders. No amount of gossip or complaints or facts can remove that from the front of my mind. That is a tremendous event. It is history, social movement, on the grand scale. That is a mighty, a knockout blow against racial differentiation. (And look where it comes from—from below.) That is what interests me. After five years of that the whole racial situation in the South will be altered. See Personal Problems in that context. Otherwise keep out of politics.

Secondly. I see and have found on enquiry that Indian girls are going out with black boys. Some are marrying. I am told that some Indian young men want their wives to be as their mothers were — household, attendants on them. The Indian girls of today will not have it – marriage they see as a companionship. The creole boys also say that an Indian wife takes better care of you. I have no statistics. I wish I had. But I see it all around, and all whom I ask agree that that is what is happening. This I have not been able personally to investigate but integration is making rapid strides. In any place where they meet, in a cricket game, in a hospital ward, where the houses are closely mixed, where people talk to each other as “neighbours”; where the Indian men are al work. East Indian women are incorporating themselves and being incorporated into West Indian family and social life. The reason is obvious: there is no other life: above all, the language is common. A social inquiry should be made. It will not be. This getting together of the two races is death to the two political factions masquerading as political parties in this country.

Towards One People.

Finally my recent personal experiences. I meet some Indian families today 1965. In household arrangements, in food, clothes, in speech, in books, in that indefinable communication which takes place when people like each other and speak freely and intimately, I cannot for the life of me discover whether they are Indian or creole. I think of this after I leave them. While I am there I am at home as if I am in London. It was not so thirty years ago. That I know for certain. It means that in the actual lives lived by the population, an integration is taking place, a steady fusing of the community into one whole — a West Indian whole. Vidia Naipaul, that brilliant writer, on page after page of his books denounces and derides those East Indians who will not face the fact that integration and not the nursing of forgotten customs is the only way to community in Trinidad. As always in a mixed and changing community the old outmode is vociferous especially when reactionaries in charge of the mass media of communication want ,the old. The new goes on below and in its own time bursts out. If we had publications of our own all this I am saying would be common talk. But in another thirty years, given political wisdom and political integrity Trinidad will be an amazing community, unique in the world. But we have hitter opponents. Sugar and oil workers together can make a new Trinidad. But some will fight to the end to keep them divided. They will make it in the end. Nothing can stop it. But blood can flow and hold it back. Blood Must Not Flow. Politics, generous but firm, can prevent it. History can help.

Part II.

The Historical Development

How has all this happened? And what is its future? Nobody writes or talks publicly about it – a sure sign of political corruption. I shall here do no more than introduce the history of the subject. Unfortunately I start from zero — I have nothing to base myself on. What passes for our history today is pure unadulterated rubbish.

The African slaves who came here had no common language, (the Tribes were broken up) no common religion, nothing to live by except imitation of their masters. This accounts for their social habits and characteristics up to today. Obviously they had (and politicians want to MISUSE: not use these vital habits they still have). African ways and customs. But from the start they were forced primarily to learn and to imitate. They have learnt with remarkable speed and success: language, science, games, religion, and alas the social prejudices of the masters. The aim of the able and energetic African was to get a superior job like one of his masters.

In this inevitable competition he lost what he never had much of: social solidarity and communal spirit. The Indian was totally different. He brought with him language, religion, food, social habits, moral practices. He too, set out to learn, but he had a social solidarity and a background of common civilisation which the West Indian African : never had. These are the things which to a substantial degree determine and shape social character.

It was so in all the islands. In Trinidad it was worse than, elsewhere. In Trinidad at abolition the African population was small: it grew from all the different islands – no solidarity. There was no solidarity above!. The whites were divided into France and English, Chinese came, Indians came, all nationally and racially united. The blacks remained a job-lot, educating themselves, learning, fighting for the jobs which their society honoured, but unlike the other racially not knit. In my view that is one reason why the have never been able to do much in business. It is not a racial defect. In Africa there are African tribes who are masters of business organization, for one the Ibo and the Yoruba. The blacks were never that social conscious and distinctive unity with communal ideas, upon which the individual could build and depend. He could learn and by himself. When he went abroad he was magnificent. But home he could do little which depended on a sense of communal feeling — business above all needs that. Am I wrong? At least the discussion begins.

Unity At Last

Now to make a big leap. The old days are going. Foreign I capital has created a powerful social unit – The O.W.T.U. It has also created the Sugar-Workers Union. And for the first time a social unification, island-wide, is about to take place. For if Oil and Sugar Unions join, people like Sutton are doomed. The people who govern us ought to be put in short pants and sent back to school. They understand nothing. There will be in no long time, under the leadership of the O.W.T.U., a united labour movement, a social force ignoring race, and united by social association and social need.

A new life begins for the islands. Stephen is leading politically with a calm certainty that is most impressive. At the centre of the labour movement is George Weekes. You can fight against the consolidation only by splitting the labour movement, putting yourselves at the beck and call of the imperialist and demoralising or corrupting everything that can take the country forward. The ignorance of elementary politics in some of our West Indian politicians appalls me. They make every blunder insight. Let us be charitable and call it blunders.

If they saw this, explained it to the people, and then told the foreign capitalists where the country stood, a serious discussion could begin. Texaco and Tate and Lyle know that all over the world new relations are beginning. They will accept that. But if they meet people whose supreme happiness is to prance about as rulers, Texaco and Tate & Lyle push as hard as they can and let the prancers prance.

Our sad past can now be left behind — is being left behind. It may not be smooth sailing. Ignorance, conceit, or sheer greed, may cause a lot of mischief, but the general forward line is clear. And I believe in fact I know, that with bold and careful handling the territory can enter into new waters and be an example to the whole of the Caribbean, P.N,M must go. That is the first necessity. They do not know what they are doing.

I may seem to have departed from my original thesis — West Indians of East Indian descent; No such thing. They do not live here alone. They have to fit themselves into the historical movement of the territory. P.N.M. no longer has the confidence of anybody except those who profit by it. The other Doctor of philosophy has forced the East Indians to rethink their whole social and political future. This analysis has aimed at making our East Indians (and other citizens too aware of what is going on, above the surface and below. No use gossiping^ and whispering about such matters.

It is sad that Trinidad writers and politicians never come out and raise these matters. We will make them do so now. If our social and political analysis is correct we need a new political party to be formed. The present parties bounce balls from day to day, that is all they do.. Fortunately we are the balls that they bounce.

Part III.

Where do we go from here?

Whenever a speaker or writer makes a serious political or social analysis he or she must always, end by saying what to do. If you do not, you leave people more apathetic than before; you leave them with the belief that you the speaker and your friends know a lot of things, the audience just have to listen, and you and your friends will fix it. Bad everywhere, it is murderous in the West Indies, where for so many centuries we have been trained in just listening to orders from above.

Now, I haven’t to tell the youthful West Indians of Indian descent that they have to Act. We can give them some help ; and some guidance. But they know what they want — and being young, they are not afraid. They do not want an East Indian party. They know that that has failed. It isolates the East Indian minority and creates more disharmony, disorder, suspicion, more hatred than ever before.

They want a united party, Indians and Negroes united. They are politically a splendid body of young people. I meet them every day. In spirit they are politically the most advanced people in the country: they want to finish with the old ways. They are for the most part devoted followers of Stephen. Not on account of race: they see that Stephen wants to clean up the mess. But they don’t know exactly what to do and are waiting, waiting Impatiently but waiting.

Party Organization

The words they have to learn are two: Party Organisation. With that we can conquer the world. Without that nothing but chaos and disaster. Remember that: Party Organisation.

And now we come to the people who can act at once. The middle class West Indians of East Indian descent. I have pointed out since 1962, you are in a position to make history in this country, to make the island into a tropical paradise. Organised labour have moved into the first place. O.W.T.U. (with Sugar) henceforth will have the primary voice in the thinking of all who believe that their first loyalty is to their country. Labour is socially placed to do so. By one of those unusual— but not at all accidental (I shall prove it) happenings, it is a man of your .race who has taken the first political Step and by act after act has shown that he knows what he is doing, what he has to do, and will not be deflected from doing it. Stephen is a labour man, and labour and our intellectuals are rallying around him. Come in. What else can you professionals do? There are two other alternatives.

You can go to London and study science with Capildeo and politics with Michael X. Or you can join. P.N.M. Both are unrewarding. By joining P.N.M. you will upset the racial fanaticism of many in that party (chiefly some leaders and a portion of the rank and file, the lowest gangster types whom the gangster leaders have miseducated). A number of middle-class Indians entering the P.N.M. will create a crisis in the party insoluble by the present sawdust dictators who have ruined that party and are fast leading the country God knows where.

Here is an opportunity for you educated West Indians of East Indian descent to make your contribution to the building of the country. You will establish for persons of your status and your race a position in this country you have never had before and will never have unless you join and take part in a new party.

You are not rolling in money ; but you have dollars to spare for a cause and you have professional education and knowledge. Don’t go abroad. The country needs you and you need the country. Organised labour lack much but in many social respects they are the most advanced people in the country. Do you think that when O.W.T.U. meets Texaco in a negotiation lasting months, do you think that there is in the country a more serious confrontation and investigation of minds?

No, you mass of West Indians of East Indian descent during recent years have made astonishing progress in attaining professional knowledge and intellectual qualifications. Organised labour needs such capacities. Everywhere in the world organised labour needs them. You can place that knowledge at the disposal of new politics. Come in and join. Say what you want in our paper, send in pamphlets, on public health, on law, on science, on education, on art, on letters on our society, you have plenty to say. You are to a large degree financially independent. Exercise your independence. A New Government will free you from the fears that arc choking all classes of the population. Freedom you need. To say what you think and not be penalised. The country is sick of fear. You in particular can do some thing. Do it.

It is the miserable division into racial parties that have helped to bring this country into the mess that it is. The clean-up will be a gigantic job. Come in and help. It cannot be done without you. You do not wish to go back to India. Make your Trinidad into something. Labour and the professional classes. That is an unbeatable combination in any developed society and ours is a highly developed society.

Let us face the fact that the middle-class West Indians of African descent feel that this island, as part of the Caribbean, is predominantly their field of operation. Your task is to show that you are second to none in rebuilding the country and bringing your energy and your knowledge and your ancient culture to the task.

Indian Business

The second group of East Indian descent to whom we speak are the small business men. You understand business. Well, Business First.

Building A Party

A party cannot be built without finances. The professionals will help. But you send us your cheques or bring your cash. We need tens of thousands of dollars to build a real party, to employ organisers, to publish material, to educate the public, the whole public — the whole public for history has made us into one people. Do not hesitate. Do not fumble. It will be the best investment you have ever made. I know you have heard such appeals before, and you have given your money and felt that in the rod you had given it for nothing. That in this case is not so and I will prove it to you. In 1962 I published here in Trinidad a pamphlet entitled Federation. In the Foreword I wrote as follows “The East Indians have contributed far beyond their numbers to the economic development of the territory. A heavy burden is placed on them. They more than al others have to break the racial stranglehold which both DLP and PNM are using against the political instincts and social aspirations of the people”

You see therefore in my interest in a man like Stephen Maharaj is nothing new. At the time I wrote the above I did not know him. But unless you are watching social forces carefully and how they are developing, and the men they are likely to produce, your politics is a lot of guesswork when it is not prejudice, conceit and greed.

In plain words, long before any question of any new party arose I (and my friends) recognized the important role you had played and had to play in building our community. What I am telling you now is that in this crisis you business men have a political role to play. Play it, rally round us, support us, send your cheques to Stephen or anyone he may send to you.

But, some of you will say, we are business men, not politicians; what are you getting us into? We are getting you into bigger and better business. Look again that at quotation. Ponder over it. Discuss it. Do you know what that means? We intend to build the local businessman of whatever race. He has done plenty. Now he must reap. I offered this policy to PNM. All they could think about was the Industrial Development Corporation with its pioneer status and our money draining away into the sea and going abroad. Foreign capitalists have their place. You have yours. Our local West Indians of East Indian descent have proved their business capacity. Any new party will put business and business opportunities in their way. We are supremely confident. Why are we so confident? Because the great mass of your people now live in poverty and we intend to finish up with that. Thousands of farmers living a descent life means better business for everybody. Better Business More Profits, More Opportunities for people with energy, an eye for the quick (and honest) dollar, a readiness to adventure. This may seem strange coming from this pen. The reason is this.

Our unemployment is terrible. Shanty Town is a disgrace— a national scandal.

But what people will not understand is that when you have tens of thousands of the population, chiefly East Indians, living below subsistence level, you are wasting the National capital. That is why you have to go begging for loans (at exorbitant interest) and gifts. East Indians have proved their capacity to be first-class West Indians. Make all of them so, all. It is a national task. That is why, I a socialist, see that all sections of society must enter into it.

250 Acres

The programme the P.A.C has put forward for discussion places this high on its list. 250 acres for sugar. Not an acre more for any man or any Company. Farming. Mixed Farming. (And look out for us, East Indian Labourers. Those East Indian children of yours are going to school, every single one of them. We are determined that they grow up into educated West Indians. No child of ten is going to help in the task. No. To school.) And with a real farm and a real household, the doctors, the educationists, the professional men and women, the scientists of all races will have the opportunity to lift the poorer people to the standard they themselves have reached. East Indian small business will have immense new opportunity larger than before. They want a change, those people, in particular the great mass of exploited East Indians. On them more than all others the crushing weight of the sugar-plantations has fallen. So you educated ones, and businessmen, take your part in new politics, support it, finance it, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. People always think of gain in terms of money.

Trinidad has more money today than it had twenty years ago. It is not a happier place. The new party intends to develop the economy, yes. It can abolish unemployment, yes. But those racial scandals which we related at the beginning of this article, they continue because of a backward economy, and because the racial differences are to the advantage of some not to bend every energy to destroy them. They are the offspring of imperialism and colonialism which live on them and could not live otherwise. Under Independence they are a disgrace and a scandal.

The people, of all races, want to put all this behind them and begin a new life. That is why we want and must have the new party.

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