The time appears to have arrived for scholarly evaluations of British colonial policy in the Caribbean and of the performance so far of the new nations. To a large extent the former can be done only in terms of the latter—clearly no mean task. Yet this is precisely what Professor Lewis sets out to do.
The end product is nothing short of brilliant.
In part this is due to the imaginative structure of the work. Methodologically that structure can be analyzed on two separate levels. First, on the level of research orientation and, second, on the level of explicit ideological thrust. “The mode of analysis here employed,” the author states, “treats . . . phenomena . . . only insofar as they have contributed to the shaping of the society, both in its spirit and its structure, as we know it today, and seeks, moreover to treat them in at once a historical and sociological fashion.” The tendency to provide pedestrian chronologies of political events for each island (so frequent in books of this scope and purpose) is here avoided. The analysis is rather a fruitful combination of political biography and social history. Thus the analyses of Marcus Garvey, Arthur Cipriani, Eric Williams, Grantly Adams and many other West Indian politicians serve at the same time to illustrate the socio-political milieu of each society.
Lewis’ technique is to maintain a nearly rhythmic counterpoint between past and present, social structure and individual leader, insular society and general West Indian culture, and, finally, West Indian and metropolitan interests and policies.
Because the work has a clear ideological thrust the reader might do well to begin with the final chapter, “The Challenge of Independence.” It is here that the author’s particular ideological frame of reference is fully exposed. It is in these final pages in fact that Lewis unleashes a most devastating critique of the Puerto Rican type development programs adopted by virtually all the new West Indian nations. According to the author the real “acid test” of the genuiness of a government’s commitment to the cause of national indepedence and economic development lies in its attitude towards foreign investment. By that standard no new West Indian nation makes the grade. Unlike other “detached” social scientists Lewis does have an alternate path to recommend; “a socialist ideology so that the nationalist ethic may be married to the planned organization of social equality.” “Until that ideology emerges, based on the class consciousness of the masses,” Lewis further asserts, “the West Indian societies will remain the complacent and apathetic communities they have become.”
If the author’s method does not adjust to contemporary canons of objective social science it at least has the virtue of combining profound intellectual honesty with tenacious and unmuddled ideological commitment.
To be sure, the approach has its weaknesses. Since none of the West Indian territories so far lives up to the socialist ideal, the author provides no further means of measuring differences in national accomplishments. Comparative analyses tend to be limited to social and cultural factors. So that while, as a Trinidadian, this reviewer finds himself in amused agreement with the statement that “it is difficult to speak of Barbados except in mockingly derisory terms” because of its proto-British smugness and traditionalism, as a social scientist studying the advances made by that island’s Black leadership he finds little to mock. Confronted with greater natural obstacles than either Jamaica or Trinidad, that leadership has shown none of the panache or “style” associated with West Indian leaders, but plenty dogged determination and seriousness of purpose which is paying off in many areas. Nor is there agreement, to cite but one more example, that Jamaican politics is a “Dickensian mock-encounter between Tweedledum and Tweedledee”; at least no more so than the politics of the two-party systems of Britain or the United States.
Perhaps because of the author’s need to be ideologically consistent yet at the same time wishing to do justice to the richness of Caribbean folk culture (which be describes in the most magnificent prose imaginable), Professor Lewis often seems tom between his rational-intellectual judgment of West Indian society and an emotional-romantic disposition towards aspects of the same.
Witness his eulogy of Trinidad’s ethnic pluralism, a feature which— given the high correlation between class and race—will surely disappear once Lewis’ ideal society materializes.
But if this apparent internal conflict in his work is a weakness, it most assuredly is also a major part of its charm. Gordon Lewis, in the final analysis, is as much an adopted West Indian as he is the detached left-wing Laborite intellectual. And while the latter gives this study its thoroughly ideological pugnaciousness, it is the former which gives it its profoundly human quality. The end product is ample testimony to the felicitous marriage of the two. One eagerly awaits the companion volume promised by the author.