Jun 02, 2019
I am writing this column mere hours after getting the news that Andaiye, revolutionary and women’s rights activist, had died. I have known Andaiye for 42 years and she remains one of my favourite WPA leaders of the glorious days of the party and movement.
As I digested the reality of her passing, I choose to use the moment to reflect on the Caribbean Radical movement of the 1970s and 1980s and its contribution to the region’s independence project. Andaiye was an integral part of that movement that has had a lasting impact on Caribbean politics and society
Andaiye is dead. She wanted to live longer, but in the end she succumbed. Most of Guyana, especially the youth, would not recognize her name. Yet it is a name that has been associated with political activism in Guyana for over forty years. She died without deserving recognition. It is the lot of the radical left in our Caribbean. Those who tried to bring revolution to these former colonial outposts are the outcasts.
Andaiye died on the 40th anniversary of the Civil Rebellion led by Walter Rodney and the WPA here in Guyana. It is also the 40th anniversary of the Grenadian revolution—the most significant moment in our post-independence journey.
This past week I attended a conference in Grenada to mark the 40th anniversary of the revolution. I remember that moment, March 13, 1979, when our Caribbean got the news that the New Jewel Movement had overthrown the Gairy Government of Grenada. I was part of a group of teenagers who had gravitated to the WPA which was trying to make its own revolution in Guyana. It was indeed an age of rebellion and revolution in the wider Caribbean. Throughout the region, left-wing radical movements were making their moves against the post-independence order which were deemed to be less than revolutionary.
The year 1979 was the culmination of what the calypsonian, Brother Valentino, dubbed the “roaring 70s.”. The radical decade actually began in 1968 when Walter Rodney was banned from Jamaica for teaching African history to students and ordinary Jamaicans. The Jamaican government of the day thought that kind of activity was dangerous and a threat to national security. The university students and working-class youths protested the ban in what came to be known as the “Rodney Riots.” The students were led by current Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, Dr, Ralph Gonsalves, who was the leader of the UWI student body.
The Rodney Riots marked the beginning of the modern Black Power movement and Rodney became its chief theoretician. In 1970, Black power activists took to the streets in massive protests and were later joined by soldiers who mutinied. That February Revolution almost toppled the Trinidadian government. That was followed by the ascendancy of the modern Caribbean Left movement, in which one should locate the Grenadian Revolution. The movement emerged out of the clash of ideas regarding the direction of the independence project.
Very early in the decolonization movement, two distinct tendencies began to emerge. One tendency favoured a reform of the old colonial order while the other tendency favoured a more fundamental change of the old order. Those who favoured a reform of the colonial order tended to be the more institutional mass political parties which were charged with governing the new independent space. These leaders were educated and socialized within the colonial framework and were heavily influenced by moderate democratic socialist European tendencies. Those who championed a more radical change from the colonial order were influenced more by Marxist and Black Power ideologies.
By 1979, the Grenadian Revolution had triumphed, the WPA was leading a civil rebellion that almost toppled the Burnham regime in Guyana. Left Wing forces led the insurrection that toppled the Patrick John Government in Dominica. The Left Wing in St Lucia took over the St Lucia Labour Party and influenced an electoral rebellion that defeated the incumbent John Compton Government.
Left wing leaders were central to the leftward movement of the PNP in Jamaica, which also benefitted from the critical support of the radical WPJ. There was left influence in the Union Island rebellion in St Vincent and the Grenadines. Finally, the soldiers that toppled the incumbent Surinamese government in February 1980, embraced leftwing ideas.
As I look back on that era, I think of the silencing of the story. Many of the radicals are now older men and women. We seldom tell their stories, partly because it appears as if nobody is listening. Approximately 150 schoolchildren attended the conference in Grenada over the three days. Many of them had heard whispers of the revolution, but nothing concrete.
Here in Guyana, Walter Rodney and the WPA are generally forgotten—the party has been relegated to the fringe of the political landscape. Rodney’s name is invoked to either degrade the PNC or to shame the WPA. And the WPA, the only Radical Left party of the region that survives, has ceased to be radical. Our party is now part of a government and coalition which do not share our traditional political agenda.
My last conversation with Andaiye was three months ago when I visited her to help me figure out my engagement with the Coalition at the upcoming election. She was, as usual, very frank with me. We talked about the possibilities of inspiring a cadre of Guyanese youth towards a more radical politics—something beyond narrow party politics. We also talked about keeping the Rodney legacy alive in Guyana and the challenges we face in that regard.
While sitting at the airport in Barbados waiting on my connecting flight to Guyana, I received a group email from Jocelyn Dow about Andaiye’s condition. I knew the end was near.