George Padmore

West Indies Need Independence
– Not Big Reports

(June 1940)

Originally published in J.R. Johnson’s column, The Negro’s Fight, Labor Action, Vol. 4 No. 11, 24 June 1940, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

We print this week the second hall of an article on the West Indies, by George Padmore. The first half was in last week’s Labor Action.

The determination of vested interests to main-destined to have but one result. Disturbances occurred all over the West Indies, and a Royal Commission was sent to investigate the causes which were only too obvious.

In consequence of certain recommendations made by this Commission, the Government, with much trumpeting and self-congratulation, has decided to appropriate a niggardly sum of 1,000,000 pounds (about $4,000,000) annually for a period of twenty years for the purpose of initiating public health, housing, slum clearance, social welfare and agricultural reforms throughout the West Indies.

The scheme moreover provides for the setting up of a central organization under a comptroller and an inspector-general of agriculture, with a staff of European advisers, specialists and experts, for whose salary about $400,000 has been voted. More jobs for “empire builders”!

The question of trade unionism is considered among the Commission’s recommendations. They advise the recognition of trade unions and peaceful picketing. Strikes, however, are to be discouraged, and to guarantee this, the unions are to come under the supervision of European labor advisers appointed by the Colonial Office.

Three Cents a Man

Together with this West Indian scheme, the Government has proposed a similar plan embracing the whole Colonial Empire. This is to be financed through the Colonial Development Fund, which is to be increased from 1,000,000 pounds to 5,000,000 pounds for a period of ten years. This works out to a penny and a half (three cents in American money) per native annually.

This fund has in the past been used for building roads, railways, docks, warehouses and other capital undertakings which serve the direct interests of the European settlers, plantation and mining companies. There is no reason to suppose that its increased resources will not be drawn upon for the same purposes. For this is what the imperialists understand as “colonial development.”

The constitutional changes urged upon the Commission in memoranda presented by the International African Service Bureau, the League of Colored Peoples, the Trinidad Labor Party, and other West Indian political organizations, have been relentlessly ignored. Why? The Commissioners know as well as we do that as long as the present system of Crown Colony Government exists the common people will have absolutely no voice in shaping public policy and governing revenue so that it is used to promote their economic and social well being.

Under the present system. West Indian legislative and executive councils – the chief organs of government – are completely dominated by European officials, planters, merchants, oil-speculators and coupon clippers.

Take, for instance, the question of land settlement, the most vital issue facing a landless peasantry. The Royal Commission recommends the development of local food-growing schemes’ and the settlement of people on small homesteads in order to relieve unemployment in the towns.

Commenting upon this recommendation, a previous Royal Commission sent out to the West Indies in 1896–7, observed that “the settlement of the laborer on the land has not, as a rule, been viewed with favor in the past by persons interested in sugar estates. What suited them best was a large supply of laborers entirely dependent upon being able to find work on estates and consequently subject to their control and willing to work for low rates of wages.

This report made forty-three years ago, recommended land for the peasantry. But the natives are still waiting for the promised piece of land on which to grow food. The planters will always succeed in sabotaging such reforms so long as their political power remains unbroken. If the West Indies are ever to advance, the plantocracy must be dislodged from its political seat of power. This can be at least begun in a constitutional fashion, as follows:

  1. Give the West Indian people universal adult suffrage.
  2. Abolish nominated members to Legislative and Municipal Councils and substitute for them elected representatives.
  3. Abolish property qualifications for members to such Councils.
  4. Institute a system of popular control over the expenditure of public funds.

In brief, give the people less Crown Colony bureaucracy and more real democracy. The West Indian peoples are entitled to full self-determination. If they are not qualified after three hundred years of British tutelage, then it is time for Britain to get out.

These so-called trustees dare not give an account of their stewardship to the British people. They censor their own report, and like true autocrats take refuge behind the exigencies of war. They dole out niggardly sums of money as a bribe to their victims and try to create the impression that they intend for the future to liquidate “those evil things – bad faith, brute force, oppression and persecution” within their colonial empire.

Last updated on 28.8.2012