Remembering the Grenadian Revolution

international-sudents-day-rally-queens-parkDuring October, our sister CARICOM country Grenada remembered the events that collided that month in 1983 to bring an end to what came to be known as the Grenadian Revolution.

Thirty two years later Grenada and the larger Caribbean have still not come to grips with what happened.

The slaughter of comrades by comrades and the subsequent American invasion of the island shocked the region. But more than that, it effectively brought an end to an era in Caribbean history that was perhaps the closest we came to realizing our collective self- determination.

The Grenadian Revolution resulted from the overthrow of the then Eric Gairy government which, like all of the immediate post-independence governments of the region, found it difficult to move the region beyond the narrow confines of a cosmetic independence.

This inability to actualize an independence that privileged a democratic ethos that spoke to the aspirations of the broad masses spawned a resistance movement that rooted for a radical revolution in the politics and economics of the region. It is this challenge to the independence establishment which was simultaneously a challenge to the prevailing Western global order that would characterise our politics for almost two decades beginning with the so-called Rodney Riots in Jamaica of 1968.

The New Jewel Movement (NJM) of Grenada, a product of that radical ferment, overthrew the Gairy government on March 13, 1979, and proclaimed the beginning of a revolution. Radical forces in the Caribbean and beyond embraced the revolution as part of their own struggle.

Here in Guyana, all three of the major political forces – PPP, PNC and WPA – were close allies of the revolution whose leader, Maurice Bishop, had distinguished himself as a Caribbean patriot.

The Grenadian revolution occurred in an age of revolt and revolution – Nicaragua, Iran, Uganda, Dominica, St. Lucia, Guyana. All over the world people and their organizations were rising up against tyranny. But these uprisings were occurring in the middle of the Cold War, which meant they were seen by one protagonist, the U.S., as dangerous.

In this context, the anti-imperialist and nationalist commitments to fundamentally change Grenada’s political economy were seen as counter to U.S. interests.

For four-and-a-half years the revolution fought for its survival in a hemisphere and region that had begun to buckle under the pressures of the dictates of the Cold War. Caribbean politics became bitterly divided between left and right. Friendship with Cuba was outlawed in some countries. Guyana, whose political landscape was mostly left, was at the centre of these developments.

Invariably, Caribbean politics revolved around Grenada; the universality of revolutions at work.

But internally, the Grenadian revolution was confronting its own contradictions. Despite revolutionary changes in the politics and economics, the NJM deteriorated into two antagonistic factions in which tactical differences became irreconcilable differences. The party’s executive became the substitute for the party and the party became the substitute for the revolution.

By October 1983, the faction that controlled the guns arrested the prime minister and consequently turned them on their erstwhile comrades and their followers.

Prime Minister Maurice Bishop and some of his close comrades along with others were murdered. A few days later, American troops invaded the island ostensibly to save Americans there and the Grenadian people from the horrors of the revolution.

In Guyana we had the rare sight of activists from the PPP, PNC and WPA picketing the U.S. embassy to protest the invasion. But even the rage against the invasion could not hide the fact the revolution had imploded.

Three decades later our Caribbean has not fully recovered from that blow. The memory of the revolution still evokes mixed emotions. Many remember it as the October tragedy. Others remember it as that shining moment in our Caribbean experience when we stood tall and erect.

In the final analysis, it was both.