It was interesting to observe the reactions to the address delivered by historian Trevor Marshall to the Democratic Labour Party’s (DLP) Friday Lunchtime Lecture on November 3rd, in which he called for the present leader of the Barbados Labour Party (BLP), Mia Motley, to apologize for the stance of BLP to independence. According to Marshall, the BLP, under Grantley Adams had opposed independence “almost to the point of violence” along with the Euro-Barbadian pro-colonial elite.
Coming at a time when the ruling DLP is facing a particularly difficult re-election battle, and in a context where its main re-election strategy has been to discredit Mia Mottley, the timing of Marshall’s comments seemed particularly troubling to BLP supporters.
Similarly, a long-standing popular, built-in (almost a branding flaw) criticism of the BLP has been its supposed emergence as the party of the business elite. Hence Marshal’s decision to personally implicate Mia Mottley through her family connections along with the Euro-Barbadian elite conformed to this narrative.
Many felt that he had crossed the boundary form history to partisan propaganda when he asserted that the BLP “conveniently forget that they, along with the planter class objected”, and that “grandfather Mottley had fought strongly against independence”.
Whilst Marshall’s recounting of the historical stances of the BLP and the Barbados National Party on independence may be accurate, too much of his account sought to portray the opposition to independence as a particularly Barbadian or BLP experience, or as a “Mottley thing”.
All over the Caribbean there was opposition to independence on grounds similar to those of Barbados. In some Caribbean countries this opposition even emerged from the left. Thus, Marshall was very wrong to suggest that, “no other Caribbean country had that. In every other Caribbean country, the opposition was in lock step and in agreement.”
I would be happy to share with Marshall my own researches on St. Lucia which detail how the radical left led by George Odlum, as recently as the mid-70s, embarked on a “No Independence Before Election” campaign, to force the British to delay the granting of Independence under John Compton.
In addition, in all of the small Eastern Caribbean countries, there were debates over “viability” as arguments against independence. Hence these countries’ experience of “Associated Statehood” prior to full independence.
If Marshall’s call for an apology was genuine, it was drowned by his own louder background political noise. It is an awful stretch to suggest that the BLP of 2017 is indistinguishable from that of 1960. It is like the US Republican party of Trump claiming to be Lincoln’s party of slave emancipation.
Perhaps the BLP leader can use her independence message to formally update the party’s philosophy as a concrete response to the visible and invisible Trevor Marshalls who see the BLP as the party which opposed Barbadian independence.
By Dr. Tennyson S.D. Joseph