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Oscar’s review of Ralph’s paper on ‘The End of Slavery in St Vincent and the Grenadines and Our Commemoration in 2012’


by Dr The Hon. Ralph E. Gonsalves Tue, Sept 4, 2012

I am pleased that my friend, Comrade Oscar Allen has reviewed my paper on “The End of Slavery in St Vincent and the Grenadines and Our Commemoration in 2012”. Oscar’s “Review” was published in the Searchlight of Friday, August 31, 2012. My lengthy paper was laid in Parliament on July 31, 2012, and published in the Searchlight on August 07, 2012, as part of my contribution to the public’s understanding, and our commemoration of Emancipation.{{more}}

My paper contained the following eight sub-headings: Background and Context; Late Colonial Settlement of St Vincent and the Grenadines; the End of Slavery; Apprenticeship Period; Compensation to Slave-Owners; the Causes of Slavery’s End; Genocide, Slavery and Underdevelopment; and Emancipation to Independence. The sub-headings reflect the central issues of relevance for appropriate consideration. Neither the treatment of each of these issues nor the commentary on attendant matters was exhaustive; indeed, they were not meant to be.

Oscar’s summary judgment was that my paper was “timely, informed and flawed”. So, naturally I was keen on his critical assessment of the supposed “flaws”.

Oscar charges that “in many cases, the story is told using the material and voice of the master, colonizer, prime minister.” This is a “bum rap”. Conceptually, Oscar cynically conflates as one the voices of master, colonizer, prime minister; that is Oscar’s first mis-step. Secondly, he ignores or down-plays to insignificance my substantiation of the theses contained in my paper, with, among other things, quotations from eight persons, namely: Dr Joseph Spinelli in his 1973 doctoral dissertation on Land Use and Population in St. Vincent 1763 – 1960; Professor Roderick Mc Donald, editor of the 2001 volume entitled, Between Slavery and Freedom: Special Magistrate John Anderson’s Journal of St. Vincent during the Apprenticeship; John Anderson himself; Richard Hart in his 1985 book, Slaves Who Abolished Slavery; Karl Marx in Capital (Volume 1, Chapter XXXI) published in 1867; Eric Williams in his 1944 masterpiece Capitalism and Slavery; CLR James in his The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution, republished in 1963; Walter Rodney in How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, published in 1972; and Martin Carter, in his 1954 “poem of resistance on emancipation”, I Come from the Nigger Yard”. Only one of these eight sources was part of the coloniser’s apparatus, John Anderson, and his frank exposition on one or two matters permitted me, from a different vantage point, to bolster one of my “emancipation” or “liberation” theses. Six of the other seven authorities whom I quoted are all lodged in the “liberation” paradigm. Four of them are liberation exemplars: Karl Marx, CLR James, Richard Hart, and Walter Rodney – the last three named are foremost Caribbean nationalists. Eric Williams was Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago (1962 – 1981), but his central thesis in Capitalism and Slavery in 1944 first made its explicit appearance in James’ Black Jacobins in the late 1930s. Dr Spinelli, the eight authority whom I quoted, provided important data from his valuable research.

Additionally I explicitly used sources from The Estate Book, and the House of Commons: British Sessional Papers, 1835 which are standard sources of raw data concerning slavery in the West Indies. Indeed, Oscar concedes, as he must, that such sources are part of the “inevitable” material of the researcher.

So the large question remains: Where is the story by me told “in many cases using the material and the voice of the master, coloniser, prime minister”, as alleged by Oscar Allen? Anyone reading my paper would see that Oscar is dead wrong, and obviously so. Thus, what are the reasons, if any, for this unfounded critique? I am yet to ascertain any from his Review.

Oscar’s second limb of criticism has him searching for a fault where there is none. This relates to the twin-matters of the slaves’ emphatic resistance to slavery and the creative self-organisation of the ex-slaves in the “apprenticeship” period. I addressed both of these issues. If Oscar thinks I ought to have given more data, so be it. But “the people” focus is undoubtedly in the paper. I will detail more information of this subject in another essay, particularly regarding the numerous “free villages” which were established immediately after Emancipation. I hope that Oscar does some detailing himself. There is much work to be done and few committed, accomplished hands.

Oscar’s third limb of his critique concerns a matter on which he admittedly equivocates; that is, he opines that he may be wrong. This matter revolves around my description of “slavery as the dominant mode of production” in the period 1800 to 1838 in St Vincent and the Grenadines (that is the period after the defeat of the Callinago/Garifuna people up to Emancipation) and its “capitalist exchange relations externally”. Oscar’s analytic preference seems to be to lump everything together; it is “one business”, he says. The problem with this lumping together is that is insufficiently disaggregates “the dominant mode of production” and the character of “the exchange relations externally”. The failure and/or refusal to disaggregate them sufficiently is that one is open to making the “infantile leftist” error of equating all societies across the historical sweep which are subservient to external capitalist exchange relations, despite their different internal modes of production. This is why some simplistic persons say that there is still slavery in St Vincent and the Grenadines today because of the external dominance of monopoly capital. From this error flows wrong strategies and tactics, in economics and politics, for the continuing process of national liberation.

In order to make myself absolutely clear, I use the formulation “mode of production” in its precise scientific meaning. A mode of production has two constituent bundles, namely, the productive forces and the relations of production. The productive forces consist of labour, the means of labour (tools, machines, and so forth) and objects of labour (lands, mines, factories, buildings, etc.). The relations of production are the relationships which people establish in the process of producing goods and services, for example, employer-employee, capital-worker, landlord-tenant and so on. Bourgeois political economy speaks mainly of factors of production (land, labour and capital) in any production process but has no consideration for “relations of production”, (for example “classes” and “class struggle”).

Accordingly, a defining feature of the slave mode of production is that the slave is owned as a chattel by his/her master (owner). In a capitalist mode of production, the production relation is between a capitalist and a worker; one buys the other’s “labour power” for wages. Under slavery, the owner/master appropriates the entire value of the slave’s labour; under the capitalist mode of production, the worker is paid a portion of the value which he creates and the “surplus value” goes to the capitalist. Clearly, it is vital to examine the nature of modes of production comparatively and historically!

A dominant mode of production exists alongside subsidiary modes of production, but it is the dominant mode which fundamentally defines the character and essence of the social formation (the mode of production plus the superstructure of ideas, beliefs, institutions, laws, etc. make up the social formation).

In the Caribbean, the slave mode of production existed long after “classical slavery” of Greece and Rome. Classical slavery pre-dated feudalism out of which capitalism emerged, first as mercantile capitalism and then as industrial capitalism. The slave mode of production arose in the Caribbean as an imposition, not a natural outgrowth of Caribbean societies, by mercantile capitalism. The profits from slavery and slave plantations in the Caribbean enriched European mercantile capitalism which, in turn, strengthened into an industrial capitalism. In time, slavery in the Caribbean and its attendant trading arrangements became a brake on the further expansion of capitalism. The slaves’ resistance, rebellion, and revolution (in Haiti) made the continuation of slavery untenable in a context where it was also unprofitable to, and in restraint of, an expanding capitalism.

The capitalist mode of production evolved and strengthened, in time, over the post-emancipation period up to the present time in the Caribbean, save and except in socialist Cuba after 1959. The nature and character of the exchange relations externally have also altered over time. Currently, global capital continues its dominance in these exchange relations. But the internal political economy has altered, too. The dominant mode of production is an altered, and altering, capitalism and exists in a political framework where sovereignty and independence are important assets in the search for enhanced economic and political space for people-centred development.

There are forces-at-large in the global political economy which are determined to narrow or limit the economic and political space of small nations. This is a vital “national” question in exchange relations externally. At the same time, too, there are the same forces globally which have posed a question regarding the internal social formation (mode of production and superstructure) on the agenda urgently for resolution: Can a capitalist mode of production with an unbridled “free market” emphasis coexist with solidarity (“socialist”) safety nets and entitlements for the underclass, working class, and the economically-disadvantaged elderly? Is the NDP at home not on the same side of this with the Republican Party abroad in the USA?

I submit, theoretically and practically, it is important to disaggregate the nature of the dominant mode of production and its external exchange linkages even while being clear as to the umbilical connections between both. The theoretical query which Oscar raises in an equivocating manner in his Review is critical to be untangled for current and future political praxis. On it hinges, in part, success or failure for the “liberation forces” in changing, or finding space within, the extant mode of production and external exchange relations in the people’s interest.

I urge Oscar to write something substantive and substantial on some or all of the issues raised herein. In the process I hope that he keeps his scientific compass and balanced judgment in play. This involves, among other things, the avoidance of his current temptation to pander to the backwardness of some recent letter-writers and at the same time to succumb to an over-eagerness to be critical of Ralph for absolutely no good reason. Childish antics do become tiresome.