Reply to Selwyn Cudjoe

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I welcome the response of my friend and colleague, Prof Selwyn Cudjoe, to the editorial in The Checklist, the official newspaper of the United National Congress, ‘UNC Must Reclaim Our ‘Independence Project’ for the Whole Country: Eric Williams is not T&T’s Father’ .

Basically, the editorial seeks to counter the false, but dominant PNM historiography that: 1. nothing important existed in Trinidad and Tobago before Eric Williams allegedly ‘fathered’ us 2. the PNM led us to freedom 3. we owe the PNM something for this and should be grateful to them This is a serious misreading of our history.

The UNC has inherited and carried on the struggle of Cipriani, Butler and Rienzi, through to CLR James and the Workers and Farmers Party. This struggle is to unite the masses of Africans and Indians in overturning and replacing the systems which have favoured an exploitative elite and impoverished the masses. There is a clear line of ancestry.

PNM historiography acts as though our history began in 1956, when that is furthest from the truth. This people’s struggle began long before, and is fundamentally opposed to the PNM project.

The true, authentic Trinidad and Tobago tradition which the UNC embodies was forged by all our worthy ancestors who came before Eric Williams, whom the PNM purposely cast aside into darkness by bestowing on Williams the title ‘Father of the Nation’.

Indeed, The Checklist editorial’s graphic has the caption: ‘Honouring some of our many neglected nation-builders: AA Cipriani, Elma Francois, AC Rienzi, Lennox Pierre, Albert Gomes, Ashford Sinanan, Bhadase Maharaj, TUB Butler, Roy Joseph. We must not allow the PNM to write them out of our collective history.’

The false glory which Cudjoe and PNM historiography seeks to paint is that Eric Williams led the nation like George Washington or Jawarharlal Nehru, fighting Britain for independence. That is clearly wrong.

By 1962, Britain was getting rid of its colonies and had no desire to hold on to Trinidad and Tobago. The colonial-era PNM did not fight the British imperial system, but rather sought to become the new head of it.

The PNM ended up fighting their own fellow Trinidadians and Tobagonians in order to inherit leadership from the British, denigrating its opponents a ‘hostile and recalcitrant minority’. Williams did not unite the nation, but created a lasting divide that continues to this day.

The PNM succeeded in its goal of replacing the old colonial masters, without changing the exploitative system. This ironic fact was recognised early on by our people and led to the Black Power movement just eight years after independence in 1970, out of whose struggles the predecessor party to the UNC was formed.

Eric Williams did achieve what he set out to achieve, but this came at a very high price to Trinidad and Tobago. This became apparent immediately after Williams’s death, when the country lost 20 years of development due to the underlying rot of the economic and political system that Williams established in his uninterrupted 25-year personal reign from 1956-1981.

Prof Cudjoe neglected to quote from the paragraph immediately preceding his quotation of me, ‘[T]he PNM under Williams … was never able to bring a fundamental order to the conduct of politics in the country… Williams also governed with a ruthlessness, some would add a pettiness, that not only demoralised his opposition, but resulted in the end of relations (at least) with virtually all of his major and important supporters: CLR James, Winston Mahabir, Sir Learie Constantine, Patrick Solomon, ANR Robinson, Karl Hudson-Phillips, Elton Richardson, Ferdie Ferreira, Nicholas Simonette and other comrades in the party.

‘This extended to the public service as well, with important figures such as J O’Neil Lewis, Eugenio Moore, Doddridge Alleyne and Frank Rampersad.’

The task of decentring Eric Williams is extremely important to liberate our history and our future. In fact, Selwyn Cudjoe used to do this in his early writings. Williams was a central figure to be sure, but not our father. Our task is to do justice to all our ancestors who fought for a truly just and free Trinidad and Tobago – well before Williams came on the scenehonour them, and continue their struggle.

Kirk Meighoo
UNC PRO