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posted 23 Jul 2013, 04:09 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 23 Jul 2013, 04:22 ]
I first met Teddy Belgrave, if my leaky memory stands up to scrutiny, in 1971, at a day party on Carnival Sunday at my parents home in Lower Santa Cruz. He had come along with Simeon Humphrey. In the backyard against the background of kaiso music and a bit of libation we engaged in a heavy discussion about how we should move forward from the wreckage of post 1970 cultural nationalism.

When I say we, I refer to a section that had come through St. Mary’s College, all of whom had been heavily impacted by the revolutionary insurrection of the year before, the reverberations of which were still spreading like ripples across a pond and which only petered out in the nineteen nineties. This section included, among others, at that time, Mikey Adams, Alva Allen, Jerry Sagar, Andre Moses, my late brother Gregory, Simeon and I.

We were at a critical juncture: young, ignorant, arrogant, full of energy, steeled by the insurrectionary struggle, willing to tackle new ideas and capable of going in any direction. Teddy was to have a profound effect on the ideological direction many of us took and the political orientation and organisational process upon which we embarked.

Some of us had already begun to dabble in Marxist ideas of one variety or the other. Teddy helped to systematise that encounter. We plunged with gusto into a maelstrom of collective study and activism. Of course, we were just one stream of a growing river of activity that characterised the early 1970’s.

For the next twenty years our paths converged, indeed intertwined. For the last twenty years they diverged, but that is another story.

To a great extent under Teddy’s guidance we immersed ourselves in community work, cultural activity, student politics, trade union work and political education and activism.

The St. Augustine campus of the University of the West Indies had not yet degenerated into a degree factory and we were involved up to our throats in student politics: engaging in ideological struggle with the remnants of cultural nationalism and with the different strands of left and progressive political positions. Those were the days of the development of armed struggle by NUFF and the Burroughs backlash and much of the work that had to be done had to take security concerns into account.

We were involved in the Publications Committee of the Students Guild and some from our collective ran on slates in Student Guild elections and won positions on the Guild. This included people like David Abdulah and Charlie Phillip.

In 1974 Birdsong was formed and this allowed us to expand our horizons in the cultural field and eventually led to the formation of Pamberi Steel Orchestra and our entrance into the complexities of Pan politics. This phase of activity unearthed Keith Castor, Nestor Sullivan, Cathy Ann Jones, Pat Townsend and others.

We had by that time developed strong links with the farmers’ movement through people like the late Ragoonath Khemraj, Selwyn Sukhu, the late Norris Deonarine and Glen Ramjag. We had already developed links with the trade union movement and were involved with the development of the United Labour Front from early on. When the ULF became a political party many of us were foundation members. Teddy ended up on the Executive.

In 1975, Teddy became the Chief Education and Research Officer of the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union, as George Weekes embarked on a grand re-organisation of the bureaucracy of the OWTU. Later that year I joined him in the education department of the OWTU. For the next couple of years we worked together and lived as roommates at Lower Hillside Street. We were later joined at the department and at Lower Hillside by David Abdulah.

We had the task of re-establishing the education department, a critical element of which was the library, which was in a mess. We revived the Vanguard newspaper and established two mechanisms which had a profound impact on the OWTU: the branch bulletin and the Education Council.

The branch bulletin for the first time placed emphasis on the voices from the branches. The branches had full control over what they published except in so far as it was not libellous and did not contradict union policy as laid out by the Annual Conference and the General Council.

The education council was made up of education officers from the units of the union and was a freewheeling institution of debate, discussion, argument, consciousness raising and the development of ideas. Out of this institution and the residential courses we organised, emerged developed comrades like Man Man Edward, Wayne Stephen, Angus Lalsingh, Frank Sears, Albert Louison, Ashton Harrilal, Kelvin Seaton, Chris Abraham, Cecil Paul, Sylvester Ramquar, Sylvan Wilson and many others.

Teddy Belgrave was central to these developments. At heart he was a teacher and had a knack for communicating ideas in all their complexity in an easily digestible form, not by pontificating but by utilising the experience of those with whom he was engaged. His calling was teaching; his passion was Pan. While at the OWTU he revived the Free French Steel Orchestra and obtained sponsorship for them from the union.

Even after he left OWTU in the late seventies our paths did not, at first, diverge: he being an executive member of the Committee for Labour Solidarity/Motion and I being an activist. We were involved in all the struggles of the time and had deeply implanted ourselves in the labour movement: OWTU, TTUTA, NUGFW and CWU, among others.

The divergence came in the late eighties and early nineties as the progressive movement across the world was forced to face changed realities.

In the Committee for Labour Solidarity/Motion the debate revolved around the role of the vanguard party and the nature of that party; the relationship of leadership to membership and to the masses of working people; the concept of socialism as we approached the twenty first century; the relationship of the working class to other sectors of the society, among other issues.

We were not able to resolve these questions in a consensual manner and the CLS/Motion shattered under the weight of unresolved contradictions. The repercussions in the trade union movement were horrific. At the very time when the labour movement was reeling from the blows of the IMF and the assault of international capital, our organisational demise left the movement naked and vulnerable and forced it into a long, painful retreat, from which it now seems to be emerging. Teddy went his political way and I went mine.

Over the last twenty years, I would come across Teddy here and there. I would read his writings, particularly on Pan and I would be aware of his doings. He, from time to time, would participate in trade union seminars and do what he did best; educate the working class.

A few months ago I met him at Southern Marines Pan Palais in Marabella, the captain of Marines, Malomo Joseph, was a former member of the National Steel Orchestra and knew Teddy who was involved at one time with the NSO in a managerial capacity.

Interestingly we didn’t talk much politics or about Pan. He was lamenting the fact that he had no grandchildren. He, then, asked me whether I had read his book DARE TO STRUGGLE. I had bought the book, but had to confess that I hadn’t yet read it.

The last time I saw Teddy was at a fundraiser for the Cuban Five at Paramount Building last November. I told him I had read his book and that I had discovered a document by him where he had done a bio on Lennox Pierre. He said that he was the only person who could do justice to Pierre and talked about maybe doing a book.

I heard about a month ago that he was in the hospital. On July 5th, the day of the JTUM/PNM march (take your pick) I bounced up Nestor Sullivan and Valerie Taylor on Abercromby Street and Nestor told us how gravely ill Teddy was.

Despite our later differences in perspective, Teddy Belgrave played a tremendous part in shaping my world outlook and in introducing me to the organisational process of revolutionary activism. For that I will be forever grateful.