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WE MUST FACE OUR FEARS by Ken Howell

posted 15 Jul 2014, 08:44 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 15 Jul 2014, 08:45 ]
Some of our ancestors arrived in this place not by choice or necessity. They were kidnapped and brought here as slaves. Others came by choice and necessity and had to endure
conditions not much different from slavery. The socio-economic conditions existing at that time were not of their making. In fact in our history, there are many accounts of organised resistance against the system of slavery and indentureship. 

After slavery was abolished, the struggle took on a different character as the relationship at the economic level changed from that of slave and slave master to that of worker and employer. This was because the introduction of indentured labour into the colony, notwithstanding the restrictions the law placed on that type of labour, brought with it a change in the employment relationship.

If you were to attempt to paint a picture of Trinidad and perhaps Tobago at that time, what you would see was a country in which you had the Governor and all the British subjects who formed part of the state apparatus and the commercial establishment; the French planters who controlled the fertile lands in the country and the former slaves and those who came as indentured immigrants. 

The last two groups had no say in the administration of the country, and although the ex-slaves were no longer the property of a slave master, they were still regarded as raw material for use in the production process. 

According to Dr. Bridget Brereton, by the year 1870 however, the political landscape had already seen “the emergence of a coloured and black middle class espousing the ideology of Black Nationalism”. In her book Race Relations in Colonial Trinidad 1870-1900 she said that group “held the key to the political future of Trinidad.” 

As things turned out that statement was proven over and over to be true because it was the middle class who was always available to act as an obstacle in the class struggle against the interest of the working class whose only desire was to bring about political and economic change in a system which had and still has as its main objective the exploitation of the working class. 

The emergence of a middle class was not a result of some plot hatched by those who were regarded as being of that class. This was the natural outcome of the education system existing at that time, for the purpose of producing a certain category of personnel for the labour market and also to be used as a buffer between the ruling class and the working class in times of heightened class conflict. 

But in that period 1870 to 1900, one would obviously ask, where did this middle class come from? Well, the middle class was the product also, of a generation of former house slaves who the plantation owners, of necessity, had to train to perform several functions, without which the plantation system could not operate efficiently and those who were described as being of the middle class were the children of these ex-house slaves.  

We must also remember that religion played a major role in the education system then, and still does now. So that through the use of religion, the middle class was schooled in the culture of the ruling class and as a result felt a certain closeness to that class.

They were made to feel different in status and in their station in society. Therefore, through social conditioning (social engineering), the middle class believed themselves to be higher in status than the working class.  


Cipriani
It was against this background that those who were members of the Trinidad Working Men’s Association approached Captain Cipriani to lead them, after their Association collapsed under the blows of the colonial government after the general strike of 1919; thus the Trinidad Labour Party was formed. It is reasonable to speculate that during the early years, of the twentieth century while the political climate on the international scene was volatile-with wars in Europe- conditions in Trinidad were also unsettled.  

The major access to news about what was happening was through sailors who visited these shores and through the literature that they sometimes brought into the country. It is not difficult therefore to understand why the port of Port of Spain was a hotbed of labour unrest.  

The Port was the first major industry and also a place where the workers came into contact with all types of foreigners; those who were from countries where Unions were engaged in campaigns against the war; those who were affiliated to revolutionary organisations and so on. In those circumstances, it is easy to see how the Port would have been a place where revolutionary ideas would have taken root and spread into the rest of the Island.  

These ideas quite naturally would have fed the revolutionary spirit of the people thereby reinforcing their determination to fight for change and perhaps to the extent that they wanted to change not only the political system but the economic structure as well. This fact can be gleaned from the position which was later taken by the Butler Party, which was not only campaigning for political independence, but for economic independence as well. 
 
Our ancestors of African and East Indian origin were never supporters of capitalism. But with the resources available to them, the only option was to fight for reforms. And that was where the struggles took them. From 1937 to the present time all we have been struggling for is reforms to the oppressive capitalist system. 
 
It is true that we have seen some improvement in the quality of life of our citizens largely due to the resilience and struggles of our people. The problem however, is that while we have demonstrated the capacity to wage struggle and achieve our objectives in the past, our attempts to take the struggle to a higher level have been meeting with failure.  

The question which must be in the forefront of our minds is who or what has been responsible for our failures? Well, the answer is to be found in the way we choose our leaders and the fact that working people always hold the belief that their interest will be served by persons who claim to be for the working class. And so, consistent with the desire for change and democracy for the underclass, we have been placing our trust in different political parties who make grand promises on the campaign trail and argue, subsequently, that they did not mean what they said. 

The strike called by the Trinidad Working Men’s Association at the port of Port of Spain in 1919 quickly bloomed into the first general strike in the country. This meant for the colonial powers that a new threat to their authority was looming on the political landscape. The strike was broken and the leaders arrested and imprisoned. Since many of the strikers were from the smaller islands, many who were regarded as leaders were deported back to their respective territories. 
 
Following the destruction of the Association and the formation of the Trinidad Labour Party, the movement was taken over by middle class elements led by Captain Arthur Cipriani who contested a seat on the legislative council and went on to represent the party in that place. 
 
It is said that the Chief Servant Uriah Buzz Butler and Cipriani did not see eye to eye because while Cipriani was regarded in some quarters as the champion of the barefoot man, in others he was suspected of having a foot in the camp of the ruling class. So that the influence of the middle class on the party might have served its purpose up to a particular point, but because of the class contradictions inherent within its relations with the two contending classes it was not able to represent the class interest of the working people by taking the struggle to a higher level. 
 
This is because the middle class tends not to see a connection between its class interest and that of the workers. In this case where the working people were mainly interested in achieving political and economic change the middle class elements were not. The middle class represents a kind of buffer zone in the class struggle, which is never stable; it is always shifting in the direction of the class which it perceives to have the power and in whose favour the balance of forces might have shifted. 
 
When in the 1930s workers focused their attention on the inhuman conditions under which they had to work in the oilfields and the sugar estates the struggle for the right to form Trade Unions and to negotiate terms and conditions of employment began. As we know, the Oilfields Workers Trades Union and the All Trinidad Sugar Estates and Factory Workers Trades Union were formed in 1937 as was the Seamen and Waterfront Workers Trade Union. 
 
Gomes
Following this development it is clear that the leaders of the mass movement realised that they had won a major battle and as a result they mobilized and launched another major political offensive against the colonial powers demanding the right to vote and won that right in 1946. In that period leading up to 1946, and after, there were many other political parties who entered the political arena, one such party was led by
Albert Gomes and had support within the working class. 
 
The struggle for democracy was gaining ground in a place where rights and freedoms for the former slaves and indentured immigrants did not exist before. This fact could not have been good news for the colonial office and as a result they had to find a way to respond to the threat posed by this unhealthy development: for them of course.  

Ten years after that major victory
Dr. Eric Williams, appeared on the political scene. Prior to his entry into the politics, he was an

Williams
employee of the colonial office, he was from the middle class and he was well educated and because of the position he held in that office, he was knowledgeable about all the leading personalities in the politics of the 1940s. 
 
He was therefore ideally suited for the task of directing the struggle for political and economic change down the road of more reforms and away from meaningful change; and he succeeded in so doing to the point where today the task ahead of us to break the mould is a daunting one. 
 
In 1965-66 trade union leaders, persons who were affiliated to Marxist study groups and certain progressive elements with interest in the working class, as well as some progressive members of the middle class, came together and formed the Workers and Farmers Party. 
 
That party had within its ranks persons who, were considered to be schooled in the ideology of the working class. Therefore their commitment to the working class was beyond question. And so, when the election date was announced the W.F.P. went on the campaign trail competing with parties such as the People's National Movement and the Democratic Labour Party in the belief that its credentials were of such outstanding quality that in the eyes of the workers it was the right choice. When the votes were counted the results showed that all the candidates lost their deposits. 
 
An analysis as to the reasons why that party lost the elections will reveal the fact that it is not sufficient to be committed ideologically and politically to the working class; one must also have unbreakable links within the communities where the workers live, play and work. It is not sufficient to be a leader of a trade union and expect that fact will win you enough respect in the eyes of the working class. We have to feel what they are feeling and live what they are living. 
 
Working class leaders who are fighting in the trenches against the exploitative nature of capitalism must be able to counter the propaganda war on which the capitalist has embarked and which is aimed at the minds and hearts of the working class. In order to win that war we must become closer to the workers in all spheres of their daily lives. 
 
That task can only be achieved when the party of the working class is close to the people; when the leaders are down in the trenches with them and when the working people are prepared to defend the party with their lives. Because the capitalists intend to win the propaganda battle and if they win the battle for the minds they know that they can win the war.   

The major battle that is being fought today is the battle for the minds of the people. The weapon that is being used in that battle is all the branches of the media and information technology: the internet. Mind you, the internet and info tech is good. But the fact is who controls the flow of information can control what you know do and think; it's a mind game! 
 
Whereas in the past the use of force and fear were the tools being used by the powers that be to control the population, the advances made in the area of technology have provided new tools which are added to the old which have been tried and tested. But notwithstanding these developments, we must face our fears and take charge of our destiny. We must not continue to place our destiny in the hands of middle class elements that purport to be committed to the struggle of the working class in words but not in deeds. 
 
Our task now is to place the struggle for true political and economic change back on the agenda and never again must we allow ourselves to be diverted away from the struggle and the task that our ancestors had set themselves which was to rid our country not only of colonialism but also of capitalism. 
 
So, one will agree, that there is a common thread running through all of the struggles from the 1900s through to the 1970s and that thread is connected to the task of building a political party which is strong; with leaders who are committed in mind, body and spirit to the difficult task of leading the working class out of the bondage of capitalist exploitation and into a new political and economic arrangement. 
 
Subsequent to the brutal attack launched on a demonstration of workers in San Fernando by the Police (Bloody Tuesday March 18th 1975), a number of Trade Unions and individuals came together and formed the United Labour Front. Many political groups of different ideological shades were involved in the formation of that party. The party contested the election in 1976 and succeeded in forming the opposition in the Parliament. 
 
Most of the left groups might have committed themselves to the task of ridding this country of capitalism but they all failed to achieve their objective because they allowed themselves to be caught in the political conflict which was raging between Eastern Europe (the U.S.S.R.) and the U.S.A during the period of the cold war. 
 
All of those organisations had committed comrades within their ranks, but they could not see beyond the ideological conflicts in which they were engaged. There were those who believed that the time was appropriate to take the struggle to the ultimate limit. That course of action failed to bring about the required result, not because it is not a tool of the struggle, but because it was a decision whose execution was not appropriately suited to the circumstances which presented themselves then. 

Against the background of the failures experienced in our attempts to form a Party of the Working Class with the capacity to weather the political storms, there are lessons which we must learn. One such lesson is that at no time must we seek to travel - politically and ideologically- ahead of the people's desires and aspirations. 

However, we must always be prepared, to take the next step when and only when the working people are ready to do so. This does not mean that we should not call the brothers and sisters to a time and place where we can begin the discussions about the party of the working class and what type of policies and programmes and objectives it must set itself. We must initiate the discussions now.
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