Maurice Bishop (21 May 1943 – 19 October 1983) was the charismatic and revolutionary leader of the New Jewel Movement in Grenada that overthrew the Eric Gairy government in a coup in 1979 and served as Prime Minister of the People’s Revolutionary Government. Richard Hart (Searle 1984, xii) notes that revolution in Grenada seemed as an “improbable revolution” owing to the island’s small size, geo-political location and underdevelopment in the economy. In spite of this, the unique achievement of the Grenada Revolution was its success as the single successful political revolution in the English-speaking Caribbean.
The tragedy of the Grenada revolution was the paradox of its beginning and end. The armed politically indigenous movement defined as the ‘People’s Revolution’ led by the New Jewel Movement (NJM) was achieved through a bloodless coup and the demise of the revolution through internal strife, that laid a context for US invasion, culminated in a bloody end.
George Lamming commenting on the Grenada Revolution wrote:
“Grenada was both a heroic and tragic suicidal experience. During its brief period of four years, the Bishop administration provided an example of genuine commitment to change, and had made much progress in creating institutions which would ensure effective people’s participation in self-management, or so it seemed. It was the only experiment of the three [Grenada, Guyana and Jamaica] which had captured the imagination of the country’s youth.” (Lamming 2007, 67)
Bishop was a charismatic and popular leader among the masses of people in Grenada. While the PRG had a commitment to Marxism-Leninism by structure, the style of his leadership was based on grass roots cultural engagement and education. Bishop advocated the development of both a revolutionary and national consciousness that addressed the contradictions of race and class in society and the greater project of decolonising of education.
One of the first decisions of the People’s Revolutionary Government was to invalidate the Westminster parliamentary model of democracy for a popular participation model with village and zonal councils that involved public meetings and state officials accounting for the conditions of communities. This process helped make the revolution tangible and transparent for the masses of people.
A major achievement of the revolution was its expansion of access to education and its grass-roots character that promoted both literacy and political participation. Maurice Bishop established the Centre for Popular Education with the aim of advancing a national consciousness that interconnects individual action and the collective interest expressed by the state. The national consciousness, while politicised around the rhetoric of the ideals of Marxism by the PRG, was part of a more specific and deeply rooted project of decolonisation and the construction of the individual with a regional and Pan-Caribbean character. This is expressed in the words of Bishop where he advocated for the creation of a New Caribbean Man.
In the Grenada Revolution, radical political development was made possible through the instrument of popular education that promoted a “national consciousness”. The national consciousness provided the ideological framework and language to advance the aims of the revolution, which was cultural in character. Rooting the revolution in indigenous cultural expression, self-reliance projects and combining the messages of black power with the political messages of the State worked to define the character of the collectivist approach to decolonisation of the mind as part of national development.
“Grenada is a sovereign and independent country, although a tiny speck on the world map, and we expect all countries to strictly respect our independence, just as we will respect theirs. No country has the right to tell us what to do or how to run our country, or who to be friendly with. We certainly would not attempt to tell any other country what to do. We are not in anybody’s backyard, and we are definitely not for sale. Anybody who thinks they can bully us or threaten us clearly has no understanding idea or clue as to what material we are made of. They clearly have no idea of the tremendous struggles which our people have fought over the past seven years. Though small and poor, we are proud and determined. We would sooner give up our lives before we compromise, sell out, or betray our sovereignty, our independence, our integrity, our manhood and the right of our people to national self-determination and social progress.” (Maurice Bishop cited in Searle 1984, 13-14)
Lamming, George. 2007. “The Sovereignty of the Imagination.” Bim 1 (1): 56-85.
Searle, Chris. 1984. In Nobody’s Backyard: Maurice Bishop’s Speeches, 1979-1983: A Memorial Volume. London: Zed Books.
Martin, Tony. 1983. In Nobody’s Backyard: The Grenada Revolution in its Own Words – Volume 1: the Revolution at Home. Massachusetts: The Majority Press.
Lewis, Gordon. 1987. Grenada: The Jewel Despoiled. Maryland: John Hopkins University Press.
Tafari, Ikael Rastafari in the Grenada Revolution
What is the significance of consciousness for Maurice Bishop in radical political development?
What is the relationship between education and revolution for Bishop?
Discuss the importance of the Grenada Revolution to the Caribbean radical social and political tradition.
Submitted by Amílcar Sanatan, UWI Socialist Student Conference
Monday 29th February 2016