George Rawick 1966

A New Nation in a New World

Source: Speak Out, (November 1966).
Transcribed: by Christian Hogsbjerg, with thanks to Ian Birchall.

George Lamming, and Martin Carter, editors, Guyana Independence Issue of New World. Georgetown, Guyana: New World Group Associates, 37, Camp and Croal Streets. 136pp. $2.00.

Produced by plantation slavery, contract labor, colonialism, and the never ending struggle of people to be masters of their own fate, the people of the West Indies are a most unusual people. They struggle today to gain a vision of themselves, of their past, of their present, and of their future. In this task the new intellectual journal, New World – with both a quarterly magazine and a fortnightly journal – has begun to play a significant role. While the West Indies have produced a gallery of writers and artists who unite the strength of European ; civilization with the self-possession and grasp of reality of non-European peoples and do this in a way that transcends all the sources – until now these men and women have known mainly the pleasures of exile. New World is part of the crucial task of bringing that galaxy of West Indian writers and scholars home from their exile in England, in the United States, in Canada.

That rich intellectuality and artistic sensitivity is being raised to newer – and more problematic – heights by the reality of national independence, by its successes and its failures. A host of younger men and women today begin to build upon the tradition of their great predecessors and older contemporaries. The first generations of West Indian intellectuals sought for the solution of the problem of the West Indian people in the freedom of Africa. Edward Blyden, born in the Danish West Indies, the free descendent of slaves, was in the years before World War I the outstanding voice of African nationalism. Marcus Garvey of Jamaica fought to forge a unity in philosophy and action of the aspirations of Africans, West Indians, and black Americans in the United States. George Padmore united the struggle for the freedom of Africa and the Caribbean with proletarian internationalism. And C.L.R. James, the mentor of this present generation of West Indian intellectuals, and one of the founders of the African Bureau, the center of the agitation for African Freedom, has built upon the legacy of Blyden, Garvey, and Padmore. He today unites both concretely and philosophically the struggles of West Indians, black Americans, Africa, and the working classes of the metropolitan countries.

All of this – and more – has gone into the making of the Guyana independence issue of New World, edited by the outstanding Guyanese poet Martin Carter and that wonderful novelist and poet, from Barbados, George Lamming. They have produced an issue which, article for article, is probably more exciting and committed to a vision of a new society than anything that has appeared in Europe or the United States in recent years. The issue has the “Distinction, Gaiety, grace...Virtues of the Ancient Eastern Mediterranean, city states, islands, the sea and the sun” which C.L.R. James, in one of his two articles in this issue, sees as the outstanding characteristics of West Indian life.

Only an indication of the contents of the issue can be given. There are 26 articles. There are poems by seven authors including Wilson Harris, L.E. Braithwaite, Martin Carter, Nicolas Guillen, and Aime Cesaire. The articles include a statement for this issue by Mr. L.R.S. Burnham, Prime Minister of Guyana, and a section of the autobiography of his political opponent, Cheddi Jagan, as well as articles and sections of fiction works in progress by George Lamming, David Decairos and Miles Fitzpatrick, Raymond Smith, Lloyd Best, James Millette, Wilson Harris, Orlando Patterson, and Wilfred Carty, among others.

One article, “Pioneers in American Freedom” by John Henrik Clarke, the editor of

Freedomways, the Afro-American journal, deserves special mention. In it, Clarke

discusses the role of West Indians in the North American freedom struggle.

The poems, in particular those of Wilson Harris and Martin Carter, will be

new to most non-West Indians – and they are splendid. There is a fine article by Braithwaite that helps explain some of the inner meanings of the poetry of Harris and Carter. That wondrous poem by the outstanding contemporary Cuban poet, Nicolas Guillen, “Ballad of My Two Grandfathers” (one a black slave, the other a white master), captures in strong, simple lines the inner tension of ‘all the peoples of the Caribbean.

Everyone will have his own favorite articles. I want to comment about three. Perhaps the outstanding article in this issue is the one by the Guyanese teacher and Marxist scholar, Sidney King. In it King writes a history of the Berbice Revolution of 1763, a history which while very short has many of the qualities of that great Caribbean history, C.L.R. James’ Black Jacobins. King takes this slave uprising, 12 years before the American Revolution, and places it in the orbit of the revolutionary developments of the modern world. He knows what a revolution is about; he is part of it without reservation. This article is only a beginning. King calls for a book on the Berbice Revolution that will be the companion of James’ Black Jacobins. There is no question that King is the man to perform this job.

C.L.R. James’ article “Tomorrow and Today: A Vision” is a further contribution that the author makes to his continuing dialogue with the West Indian people, one that began many years ago and most recently reached a high point with his major address to the second Conference on West Indian Affairs in Montreal: “The Making of the West Indian People.” James jams two concepts together boldly and without apology or polemic. The first is the statement that the West Indian people, the average West Indian, is prepared and ready “for achievements and creativity in contemporary civilization more spectacular than any the modern world has seen;” Of this he has no doubt. Here James continues to emphasize that which he for so long has understood as the center of the Marxist understanding: the inevitability of the self-activity of the mass of humanity in the struggle for a new, free society.

He then proceeds to a discussion of some proposals “which our whole past falsely teaches us to think of as organically removed from the ordinary person.” Among the proposals are: the creation of a Faculty of Philosophy at the University of the West Indies; a faculty of Caribbean studies with professors of different nationalities publishing a multilingual journal; distinguished West Indian authors teaching one – or two – year courses at the University; an independent newspaper (not owned abroad) and an independent publishing house.

James’ reason for those very specific proposals should be made clear. That the masses will do their task, of this there is no question. That the intellectuals and scholars will do their task, that of helping “to release and consolidate the consciousness simmering among the people,” of this there is some grounds for concern. The task of the intellectual, the scholar, most particularly of the Marxist, is not to make proposals as to what the masses should do in their spheres. The task is for them to do what they have to do with the greatest directness, creativity, and boldness. Then everything else will proceed.

James makes one last proposal which requires some attention. He suggests that the outstanding West Indian cricket players, such as Sobers and Kanhai, be enabled to do whatever they want to do when they are not playing cricket through funds provided by public subscription. In his Beyond a Boundary and in his second article in this issue of New World, one entitled, “Kanhai: A Study in Confidence,” James gives us the clue to the significance of this proposal. Sobers and Kanhai represent in the most meaningful form the totality of the West Indian people. James writes of Kanhai, “in Kanhai’s batting what I have found is a unique pointer of the West Indian quest for identity, for ways of expressing our potential bursting at every seam.”; Moreover, his playing is a manifestation of that “distinction, gaiety, grace” of the West Indian people of which James speaks. The cricketer pulls together for the whole West Indian people their sense of their power and their identity.

The insight of James on these matters far transcends the usual discussion. Apply it for a moment, for example, to the meaning of Joe Louis and Cassius Clay for black Americans and suddenly our understanding of the political significance of Joe Louis for black Americans in the nineteen thirties and forties and why thousands of black teenagers flock to see Cassius Clay wherever he appears in public becomes clear. Louis and Clay demonstrate to the black Americans who they are, what they must be, what can occur. These are not minor achievements.