The sub-title “The policies of Great Britain, France and the Netherlands towards their West Indian Territories in the Twentieth Century,” is a capsule summary of the contents of this volume. There is first a brief survey of colonial holdings and struggles between the European powers in the Caribbean before 1815. Next there are separate chapters on British, French, and Dutch Caribbean policy from 1815 to 1939. The body of the work is what has happened since 1939, specifically the transformation of the colonies from their earlier colonial status to self-government. European nations and specific Caribbean areas are treated separately. British Guiana and British Honduras are included. Finally there is a brief summary chapter.
The historical background gives in clear form the policy of the European countries concerned in the Caribbean with special emphasis on political forms and controls and the changing economic and social picture which came with the ending of slavery and the decline of the sugar economy in the nineteenth century. One problem always involved in such areas is the frustrations of the old ruling class, almost entirely European, when the economic and social structure which has supported them begins to decline. Along with that is the awakening of the masses of the population to their possibility of a better life in the nineteenth century.
Attempted solutions for these problems often came from the European nations rather than the residents in the islands themselves. Politically, Britain tried to help her colonies by ending the colonial elected assemblies which had functioned in the eighteenth century and replacing them with more efficient appointed councils in the crown colony pattern. The French took an entirely different approach in incorporating their islands into metropolitan France.
The author is of the opinion that neither of these solutions really worked so far as the residents of the islands were concerned and certainly did not prepare the people in the British colonies for the greater self-government which they would demand and get in the period since 1939.
Another major problem which has affected all these areas is that of localism and difficulty of transportation between islands and between the Caribbean and the European country concerned. This is one of the problems in making the French areas genuinely a part of France and was mainly responsible for the collapse of the proposed British West Indies Federation in the 1960’s. The wide geographic separation of the British islands, plus their differences in size and economy, is a part of this localism. Other recent problems are increased contacts with the United States, especially tourism and bauxite development in both British and Dutch areas. More and more throughout the nineteenth century the colonies became dependent on subsidy or other help from the European powers. This still continues today in various forms.
The author is sure that both the British and Dutch delayed too long the training in self-government so necessary for the peoples in the area when they demanded and received control of their own affairs in the post-World War I period. Racial background differences make for some complications, though the author does not think that this will make very much difference in what eventually develops. All in all, Sir Harold seems to be optimistic about future developments in the Caribbean, though this is essentially a factual study which leaves the drawing of conclusions to the reader.
An excellent map of the Caribbean area, a good index, and a very complete bibliography are appended.