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A Nationalist Party in the Age of Globalization

PNM's Legacy on its Fiftieth Anniversary

A lecture delivered at "A Nationalist Party in the Age of Globalization," a conference
that took place at the Centre for Excellence, Tunapuna, Trinidad, March 25, 2006.
The conference was sponsored by NAEAP Educational Institute, the Newhouse Center for the Humanities, Wellesley College, and the College of Science, Technology and Applied Arts of Trinidad and Tobago (COSTAATT).

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
"Remember officers and Soldiers, that you are Freemen, fighting for the blessings of Liberty - that slavery will be your portion, and that of posterity, if you do not acquit yourself like men."

George Washington, quoted in Joseph Ellis, His Excellency

"Public life is a situation of power and energy. He trespasses upon his duty who sleeps upon his watch, and may well go over to the enemy."

Edmund Burke, Thoughts on the Cause of Present Discontents


On January 24, 2006, the People's National Movement (PNM) celebrated its 50th anniversary. Necessarily, there have been several comments and evaluations about its achievements. Speaking of PNM's inauguration in 1956, Selwyn Ryan insists: "No other [political] movement in the history of Trinidad and Tobago had ever succeeded in mobilizing such a varied collection of influential and dedicated people for such a specifically political purpose." Overand Padmore says that PNM "brought leadership, ideas, organization, commitment, discipline, communication capacity and a coherent message" to the political culture of Trinidad and Tobago. George Alleyne asserts that while the PNM "may not be the Caribbean's oldest continuous political party, [it] has the distinction of contributing more to the economic and social progress of the region than any other political party, including the many that are its senior through longevity."

These perspectives possess enormous validity. Yet it is better to judge PNM's achievements and effectiveness within the context of the growth and development of the society (the historical trajectory, as it were), how it has fitted into the national landscape, and how it conduced to making us a better set of people. Societies, as we know, go through different phases in their social development. In The Order of Things Michel Foucault observes certain "discontinuities" (that is, "breaks, ruptures, reversals," as Stuart Hall calls them) in the history of a society's thinking and argues that there comes a time when the flow in a society's thoughts is interrupted and a culture "ceases to think as it had been thinking up until then and begins to think other things in a new way." One can argue that an important rupture in our society's history took place around 1900; a period in which we can locate the formation of modern Trinidad and Tobago. In this sense, modernity or the modern does not mean simply the recent or the up to date. It consists of a number of "deep structural processes of change" that involve the political, the economic, the social, and the cultural. As Hall notes, modernity, "was the outcome, not of a single process, but the condensation of a number of different processes and histories."

Against this background (or within a social, political, and cultural milieu), one can argue that the inauguration of modern Trinidad and Tobago took place around the rise of the Reform Movement that was agitating for internal self-government; the rise of ethnic consciousness represented in the activities of a black nationalist movement (represented by persons such as Maresse-Smith, Alexander Pierre, Canon Douglin, Emmanuel M'Zumbo Lazare), Sylvester Williams and the Pan-Africanist movement); the formation of the East Indian National Association of Trinidad; and the rise of class consciousness among working people that manifested itself in the activities of the Trinidad Workingmen's Association that ultimately became the Trinidad Labour Party. Necessarily one would have to sketch out these events in more detail, but one can argue that these processes, taken together, presage a new moment in Trinidad and Tobago's historical development.

In defining modernity Stuart Hall notes that the production and classification of knowledge-the birth of new intellectual and cognitive forms-and the construction of cultural and social identities are of enormous importance when we speak of modernity. In fact, Hall agues that the latter constructs "a sense of belonging which draws people together into an 'imagined community'" and creates "symbolic boundaries which defined who does not belong or is excluded from it." Thus, in Trinidad and Tobago, one can discern a definite epistemological break and an intellectual coming of age in the publication of Joseph de Suze's Little Folks' Trinidad (1901), a work that inaugurated a new way of interpreting our national space and approaching pedagogical matters in the society. The Daily Mirror reminded its readers that as early 1858, A. A. de Verteuil observed: "It is really surprising how uninformed even Trinidadians are regarding their own country. Our best school boys are able to give the names of the chief rivers, and the positions of the principal towns in Great Britain, France and even in Russia and China, but they are ignorant, perhaps, of the names of the Guataro and Oropuche [sic], or through what county the Caroni [river] has its course." Welcoming the publication of Little Folks' Trinidad, the reviewer observed:
The work is a history and geography book in one, but is not in the least bit dry as these sorts of books usually are. Mr. de Suze writes so brightly and well that it is always interesting even to adults, many of whom are as ignorant of their own native land as the children and might read it with immense advantage to themselves. There are, we are afraid, a great many "grown ups" in Port of Spain who do not know where the Ortoire river rises or where it meets near the sea, whether the Three Sisters are the northern or the southern range, where Mt. Tutuche is, and what is its altitude, nor where to look on the map to find any of the big lagoons, hills, rivers or other natural features of the country. To these we say, "Pocket your pride, do not be ashamed to read a child's book and take up Little Folks' Trinidad, and read it carefully." When you have finished, your knowledge of the island will be considerably enlarged and you will not regret the hour or so spent on its perusal."
By 1901 primary school education was made free (prior to this, children paid to go to primary school), and this allowed many more children to gather the rudiments of an education. In philosophical terms, one can say that prior to 1900, the society existed in itself; after 1900, the society existed for itself.


Within the first decade of the twentieth century, our nation began to construct itself intellectually, politically, and culturally out of the disparate elements of the past. During this period there arose a sense of nationalism (a conception of a nation as a distinct political entity) that shaped the politics of the society for the rest of the century. From those beginnings we see the agitation of the Lazares and the Maresse-Smith for greater self-government; Cipriani's inculcation of the "barefooted masses" into the political equation; Butler's mobilization and Adrian Cola Rienzi's organization of the working people to garner a greater share of the nation's wealth; and Patrick Solomon's formation of the Indo-Caribbean Cultural Institute and his dedication to transforming the constitutional arrangement so as to achieve more internal self-rule. These figures and their attendant movements (the Trinidad Labour Party, the British Empire Workers, and Citizens Home Rule Party, respectively) created a deeper unity and greater self-awareness within the national community and heightened the urgency for representative government among the population. As early as 1933, C. L. R. James saw self-government as the natural culmination of the political process that was taking place in Trinidad and Tobago at the time. In The Case for West Indian Self-Government, he writes:
"A people like ours should be free to make its own failures and successes, free to gain that political wisdom and political experience which come only from the practice of political affairs. Otherwise, led as we are by a string, we remain without credit abroad and without self-respect at home, a bastard, feckless conglomeration of individuals, inspired by no common purpose, moving to no common end."

Eric Williams and the PNM represented a culmination of that deeply politicized process of the first half of the twentieth century from which they derived their political capital. In other words, they became legatees of that initial impetus for freedom that was started by these early freedom fighters and intellectual theorists. Significantly, the society gained self-government, independence, and republican status under the PNM. However, when the PNM began its work on January 24, 1956, no one could have foretold the outcome of their endeavors; how the movement would unfold in historical time; and what it would mean to and for the nation fifty years later. Sixteen years after its formation, V. S. Naipaul sounded a similar note as James about the tendency toward individualism and fecklessness of which James had warned previously but with a bit more acerbity:
Everyone was an individual, fighting for his place in the community. Yet there was no community. We were of various races, religions, sects and cliques; and we had somehow found ourselves on the same small island. Nothing bound us together except this common residence. There was no nationalist feeling; there could be none. There was no profound anti-imperialist feeling; indeed, it was only our Britishness, our belonging to the British Empire, which gave us any identity. So protests could only be individual, isolated, unheeded.
Naipaul's travel was made possible by a scholarship Dr. Williams granted him in 1960. It was this individualism, fragmentation, and fecklessness that the PNM tried to repair when it came on the scene in 1956.

PNM's first challenge consisted in its attempt, no matter how fragile or tenuous, to hold the society together, to establish a coherent vision for its people, and to grant the society a measure of political respectability. As a nationalist party, the PNM was anti-imperialist and anti-colonialist rather than against any ethnic group or religion. This is why Dr. Williams saw the PNM as a movement of and for all. However, at its inauguration, Trinidad and Tobago was not seen in the most auspicious light by fellow West Indians and those who looked at her from abroad. For example, when Sir Francis Mudie reported on the suitability of a site for the federal capital of the West Indies (the choice was between Jamaica, Barbados, and Jamaica), Trinidad was ranked third. It found "widespread reports of corruption in the public life of Trinidad and, more importantly, these practices appear to be tolerated." Of the East Indians, the Commission said, "They have ideals and loyalties differing from those to be found elsewhere in the Federation and they exercise a disruptive influence on the social and political life in Trinidad which would vitiate the social and political life of the capital if it were placed in the islands." Although one ought to be careful about this statement, it bears some relevance to the demands made by the East Indian National Congress in 1933. Generally, the East Indians feared self-government and the creation of a West Indian Federation believing that they would "be detrimental to the culture, traditions and future prospects of Indians." John La Guerre reported: "The East Indian National Congress had warned that adult franchise was 'a dangerous procedure' given the lever of illiteracy. It resisted Federation on the ground that it felt that merging with other groups might lead 'to misunderstanding, because of language customs and habits which are alien to the other groups,' and wanted a member of their community to represent their interests and a Commissioner from India to look after their interest." The observations of Mudie and La Guerre demonstrate some of the challenges that faced the PNM's thrust for national unity when it came onto the political scene in 1955.

Interestingly enough, Dr. Williams rejected this characterization of the society and lobbied intensely to change the minds of the members of the commission. As a result of his hard work, he got the commission to locate the capital in Trinidad. But as Colin Palmer observed: "No one who supported Trinidad on that fateful day of the vote could have predicted the terrible problems that would ensue when the SFC chose the American-leased Chaguaramas Naval Station as the specific site of the capital." Significantly, it was Solomon who became the Deputy Political Leader of the PNM, who formed the Indo-Caribbean Cultural Institute in 1949 to allay the East Indian fears of being swamped by the Creole community by what they saw as the threat posed by self-government and the formation of a Federation. Those who speak of Dr. Williams and PNM's antipathy to Indians did not really know the man or his party.

PNM and Dr. Williams were faced with other challenges during those early days. As with all anti-colonial movements, the party sought to bring disparate forces together to achieve national independence only to see this cohesion wane after national independence was achieved. For fifty years the PNM kept the tribes together and, in the process, achieved a fragile unity among disparate forces. In a way, a part of PNM's mission consisted in its attempt to transform this sense of individualism-certainly at the political level-into a better group cooperation. No other social or political organization in the history of the society ever achieved this goal. Simply to have kept an organization intact for fifty years was an achievement in itself.

At a second level, Dr. Williams and the PNM had to create a nation out of these disparate groupings. To be sure, the demands of the 1900s were not the same as those of the 1950s, as the demands of the first decade of the twenty-first century are not the same as those of the 1950s. Whereas the nationalists of the first era literally pleaded with the (mother) country for more crumbs (greater representation), Williams and the PNM enjoined the mother to let loose of the country's apron strings and to let the children enjoy a life of their own. The major challenge of the early twenty-first century remains: how do we construct a coherent, disciplined society, intellectually and culturally sophisticated in the ways of the world?

Joseph Ellis, a biographer of George Washington, the father of the American nation, noted that Washington's core achievement was transforming "the improbable into the inevitable;" that is, constructing a cohesive federal unit out of thirteen disparate communities, each trying desperately to maintain its own economic and political identity, evinced among other things by Shays' Rebellion and the Whiskey Rebellion of late nineteenth-century America. As much as we would like to believe that PNM's success was inevitable-some say that all of the correct political ingredients were present when Williams arrived on the scene-Williams had to work assiduously to transform the improbable into the inevitable and to overcome many obstacles that seem to be of little significance today.

Dr. Williams worked hard to achieve his aim. Between June 21, 1955, when he authored "My Relations with the Caribbean Commission," to June 14, 1956, when he reiterated the fundamental principles of the PNM, Dr. Williams delivered over 189 lectures in every nook and cranny throughout this country. Having written his constitution and the People's Charter, he went to London where he compared notes with Kwame Nkrumah, C. L. R. James, George Padmore, and others. In Trinidad, he worked like a dog to convince his audience that the time had come to take power into their own hands. He succeeded beyond his wildest imagination. He became the first premier of the island.

Part of the conundrum of such a victory consisted in Dr. Williams and PNM becoming the first in most things: the first premier; the first chief minister; the first prime minister; the first internal self-government; the first independent government; and the first republican government respectively. Such firsts have their own difficulties when one tries to measure the achievements of Dr. Williams and the PNM. In the case of George Washington, Ellis noted,
"When he observed that 'I walk untrodded ground, Washington meant that, as the first American president, everything he did set a precedent. Less obviously, his privileged perch at the Constitutional Convention allowed him to recognize that the ground surrounding the American presidency was not just untrodden; the air around it was filled with menacing memories of George III."
Being the first on untrodded ground makes it difficult to determine how good or bad one's performance is since there is little criterion by which to judge and particularly when, by and large, things turned out to be reasonably good. One may say that Badase Sagan Maharaj or Rudranath Capildeo, leaders of the oppositional formations, may have done a better job, but how are we ever to know; what yardstick do we use; and how do we judge? Although one can point to the failures and shortcomings of Dr. Williams and the PNM, it is difficult to draw the line when we seek to determine the nature of their achievements. Does it consist of the physical and economic transformation of the society or the quality of the society they have bequeathed to us? Does it stand on the nature of their foreign relations' postures or the ease with which they created a truly democratic society?

Americans tend to revere Washington and see him as the first among equals. Together with Lincoln and Roosevelt, he is among the three greatest presidents of the United States although he was a very ruthless man. During the War of Independence he had soldiers summarily shot to death. He was also a very severe slave owner. In his review of Gary Wills' The Negro President, William Cain reports: "Washington held the lives of hundreds of slaves in his hands. He watched over them with dogged, remorseless attentiveness, and he made sure they worked hard (sixteen hours a day in the summer, six days a week), once even demonstrating to an injured slave that hoeing could still be done with one's arm in a sling." Do we judge a leader and a movement simply by their blemishes or do we seek to understand, particularly in the case of Dr. Williams and the PNM, how they kept the union together and how they shaped the nation? As Cain asks in the American context, "Should we honor such men or look elsewhere for heroes?"

There is yet another problem in trying to evaluate the achievements of the PNM and its leaders. Using a cricket analogy, Peter O'Connor has argued that in its fifty years of existence the PNM "has been a dull and tedious knock, devoid of inspiration and achieved against a series of the 'jokeyest' bunch of bowlers and fielders (present team included) imaginable." Such a statement contradicts the elegant description of the progressive foreign policy record that the PNM achieved: the promotion of a Caribbean Economic Community (which led to CARIFTA) after the West Indian Federation failed; PNM's objection to the US invasion of Grenada (the noninterference in the affairs of other countries) under George Chambers; Trinidad's resumption of trade with Cuba after a US trade embargo; and, as Alleyne has noted, Trinidad and Tobago's "clear and sensible bid to strengthen the Region, directly and indirectly," and the setting aside of millions of dollars "to provide assistance to CARICOM countries." It is difficult to see where the joke lies in these efforts and forces one to ask who is the real joker in this case?


During the last fifty years a tremendous amount of economic development has taken place in the society, although one may question the level of social development and cite the crime situation to point to a poignant failure of the PNM. Yet the PNM has done a magnificent job in transforming a sugar-based economy into an energy-based economy that has allowed the society a certain degree of material prosperity. One deplores the fact that poverty still abounds, but when we compare ourselves to Haiti, Guyana, and Togo, for example, we seem to be doing pretty well.

Whatever its critics may say, the rapid economic progress PNM has achieved has been outstanding. Over the past fifty years, Trinidad and Tobago has increased its national income almost fifty-fold. In 1956 Trinidad and Tobago's Gross Domestic Product amounted to $273.7 million. In per capita income terms, the average income of a Trinbagonian was about $380 (US). Several tactical investments in the hydrocarbon sector, together with the fortuitous rise in energy prices, allowed the country's GDP to grow by $14.4 billion (US). Today a Trinbagonian enjoys an average annual income of approximately US $11,091 and a much higher standard of living than the generation that existed when PNM came into power. In fact, such has been the rise of our economic fortunes that the United Nations Development Programme 2005 Human Development Report ranks Trinidad and Tobago number 57 out of 177 countries, "the highest designation for countries whose life expectancy, adult literacy, and per capita income place them in the top tier [countries of the world]." This seems to be enormous progress to this reader although there are those who caution that we ought not to be too carried away by the quantitative aspects of this achievement. The following chart shows the Trinidad and Tobago's GDP in US dollars:



However, the greatest achievements of the PNM lay in building a nation; keeping the society together; the relative civility of its political culture; and the peaceful transformation of political power, over the years, from one political party to another. Sometimes in our haste to criticize our nation-a kind of self-contempt, as it were-we seem to believe that it was inevitable that our nation stay together as a coherent body. Yet it does not take much to remind us that during the last fifty years many nations have unraveled into ethnic warfare and competing, belligerent entities. I refer to the former Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union, and contemporary Iraq. The day we begin to believe that nations stay together because they were so ordained by a godhead is the day we begin to sow the seeds of our national destruction. Nonetheless, candor demands that we admit that all of the parties who held the reigns of power contributed to holding the society together in unity.

In trumpeting their democracy, Americans are apt to point to the election of 1800, or what they call the "Second Revolution," to point out "the stability of the young constitutional system, since the incumbent was ousted without violence: "Above all, the election demonstrated that control of the vast political power of the national government could pass peacefully from one political party to another." To be sure, the young nation has its own political problems, but it stabilized to become one of the foremost democracies of our time. We too had our own rebellions-the February Rebellion (1970) and a coup attempt in 1980. Yet in spite of all this turbulence and with all of its failings, the nation managed to maintain its political equilibrium and create a young, strong democracy. To me, this was one of PNM's gifts to the nation at some of its most formidable moments.

I also want to make the same claim for Dr. Williams that Ellis advanced for Washington: "He was a republican in the elemental sense that he saw himself as a mere steward for a historical experiment in representative government larger than any single person; larger than himself; an experiment in which all leaders, no matter how indispensable, were disposable, which was what a government of laws and not of men ultimately meant." I am not sure that Dr. Williams' critics would accept this description of Dr. Williams. Although there was defiance and an imperial dimension in his approach to political matters, there was something fundamentally republican in his politics in which he believed in the dignity of his people, their right to be heard and a belief in their possibilities. It might be that in the end he felt overwhelmed by their intransigence, selfishness, and their self-absorption, but he believed passionately in them and they, too, believed in him.

There are those who would not think it appropriate that I compare Dr. Williams with George Washington even though they are both considered "fathers" of their respective nations in that they embodied certain qualities that spoke to the character of their respective nations. Although we tend only to see Dr. Williams' shortcomings, it is necessary to see him in his fullest dimensions. Dr. Williams possessed all those qualities that make him one of the most formidable leaders of his age. We must view his overall achievements over the last fifty years rather than focusing on his failings of which there were many.


Trinidad and Tobago is a small society. It is handicapped in terms of intellectual and political traditions, and we make absolutely no attempt to learn and cultivate the rich legacy of our varied traditions. For the most part, the accomplishment of each generation dies with the passing of the personages of that age so that invariably we know little of the work of stalwarts such as Maxwell Philip, Emmanuel M'Zumbo Lazare, or Uriah Buzz Butler. The example of Lazare, "a solicitor and one of the island's most prominent politicians" when he died on New Year's Day in 1929 is instructive. I will allow an extended excerpt from British Guiana's New Daily Chronicle to speak to his prominence and importance to the society:
As a solicitor he ranked among the leading Lights of the island. He was the first Creole [meaning African] to qualify under the local examination of the Incorporated Law Society of England, and was admitted to practice in January 1895. Although he was a prominent lawyer for a number of years and one whose advocacy always reached its eminence when defending the poor and the unfortunate, as instanced by the Barbados stowaways case for which he received the thanks of the Barbados Government, his memory will ever remain green for his Herculean efforts to purge civil administrations in that Colony from corruption, and his unceasing fight for securing local representative Government....

His civic record is unparalleled for the energy he devoted to it, for straight-forwardness and unselfishness of purpose and for high ideals which he strove to maintain. He was congratulated by the then Secretary of State for the Colonies for his public spirit in bringing to light the famous scandal of the Diego Martin Local Road Board. When the Charter of the City of Port of Spain was withdrawn under the administration of Mr. Chamberlain at the Colonial Office, Mr. Lazare worked incessantly for its restoration. Mr. Lazare was also a member of the Municipal Committee. The Municipality was restored on 26th June 1914, by the terms of the Port of Spain (Temporary Purpose) Ordinance for 1914. At the first elections under the Port of Spain Corporation Ordinance, Mr. Lazare was returned for the South-Eastern Ward and from that date he has had a seat as an elected member of the people. He was raised to the dignity of an Alderman in 1917, and seven years served the City with that loyalty which has distinguished his entire civic career. His activity on the occasion of the water crisis which culminated in the riot of March 23, 1903, brought about his prosecution before the Supreme Court but he was honorably acquitted.
For those of us who are black conscious and proud of our African heritage, we can take pride that Lazare "was born of African parentage" and was one of the first persons to conceive of the idea of celebrating the 50th anniversary of the emancipation of enslaved Africans in 1887. He was twenty-three years old at the time. The New Daily Chronicle notes, "His petition [to celebrate the day] was presented to the Governor [Sir William Roberson] despite the entreaties and advice of his friends." Today Trinidad and Tobago might be the only country in the world that commemorates the emancipation of enslaved Africans, which it does on August first each year.

Although the achievements of the PNM are unparalleled, few persons are willing to speak unflinchingly about those achievements. In speaking of the sixty years of existence of the Credit Union Movement in Trinidad and Tobago, Ewart Williams, governor of the Central Bank of Trinidad, spoke about the necessary flexibility and resilience it takes for an organization to exist for such a long period in such a fragile society. Not only has PNM shown the necessary flexibility and resilience to survive; it has prospered and done well in its fifty years of existence.


In 1983 in "Eric E. Williams: His Intellectual Legacies," I made the following observations, which are as apt today as when I made them. The only caveat I would add is that whatever is/was said about Dr. Williams remains equally true for the party he led since he could not have achieved his objectives without the help and hard work of his party. I argued that Dr. Williams' most important legacy was the relatively civilized society and advanced political culture that he left us and which still remains intact today. I should have added that the development, consolidation and careful nurturance of the nation were also among Dr. Williams' major achievements. Thus, it can be argued that the society he left us is relatively free from the savage political brutality found in the sister islands of Haiti, Guyana, and Grenada during the rule of Eric Gairy. The sense of relative political freedom that he bequeathed to us-that is, the capacity to disagree with government, the ability to agitate for changes in the society without being brutalized by the police or the army-stands as the hallmark of his and the PNM administration and represents our contribution to democratic practices around the world. So powerful was the example of the PNM that both the UNC (United National Congress) and NAR were forced to respect these political advances when they came into power and subsequently had to demit office.

PNM's second major legacy consists in the relative openness and freedoms that exist within the state. Fundamental freedoms exist and are respected. One can worship as one pleases; the press can lambast the government and its leaders as it pleases. No less than two weeks ago, a Newsday editorial bemoaned: "It is a pity that Mr. [Patrick] Manning did not engage his brain before putting his mouth in gear. We only hope that, as has usually been the case when politicians play with race, the good sense of the general populace will prevail." The opposition can still make fools of themselves as they did at Mid Center Mall, Chaguanas, on February 19, 2006. Moreover, one's home is relatively safe from intrusion by the state, and basic freedoms are honored.

Third, Trinidad and Tobago still remains a prototypical example of what racial harmony means and what a multicultural democracy is. Under Dr. Williams and the PNM, racial relations improved considerably. It must also be remembered that Basdeo Panday became the first East Indian Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago because of the two parliamentary votes of A. N. R. Robinson and his NAR party. Only a skirmish with his erstwhile nemesis, arch rival and psychological sibling, Ramesh Maharaj, kept him from enjoying a longer tenure as the prime minister of the country. Needless to say, Panday's prime ministership demonstrated that regardless of one's race, anyone could achieve the highest job in the land.

Fourth, and perhaps the one achievement that is most easily forgotten by the populace, is that Williams and the PNM gave their people a sense of pride in themselves: the belief that they are as good as anyone else; and a feeling that they could achieve anything they wanted to achieve. As a result, Dr. Williams and the PNM gave my mother's generation, a sense of self-worth, self-confidence, and an expanded sense of their intellectual horizons. Not that Trinbagonians were never a confident people, but Dr. Williams' vast knowledge and his ability to locate their aspirations in a larger international frame of reference made them aware that they were participating in a political and social drama that was larger than themselves and their island.


I am not too sure that as much politics takes place in the PNM today as it did in those early days of Dr. Williams. In "Politics of Language," I noted that when Dr. Williams and the PNM ceased to listen to their people it had devastating consequences for the party. There is a notion in Palmer's Eric Williams and the Making of the Modern Caribbean-and one that I share-that PNM's dynamism as a party came to an end after the February rebellion of 1970. Today one gets the impression that little listening and even less politics in a serious sense-that is, the rigorous debating of ideas, the promotion of opposite points of views within the party, and party members having the courage to disagree with party leadership in an open constructive manner-is taking place within the PNM. Open debate is the sine qua non of any serious political party. It might be that many people feel they have a lot to lose if they disagree with some of the positions of the leadership of the party whom they feel they must not offend. Needless to say, such a posture cannot contribute to the development of the party and/or the strengthening of the leadership of the party.

It is necessary to reiterate that a party cannot move forward if the leadership of the party does not encourage divergent views and the members of the party do not have the courage to raise important issues that affect the party's future. All important issues that involve the party must be debated and thrashed out at the party level in the presence of the party leadership and with recognition that no one, no mater how political savvy he or she is, knows it all. In this context, Edmund Burke's observations are instructive:
We must soften into a credulity below the milkiness of infancy, to think all men virtuous. We must be tainted with a malignity truly diabolical, to believe all the world be equally wicked and corrupt. Men in public life as in private, some good, some evil. The elevation of the one, and the depression of the other, are the first objects of all true policy. But the form of Government, which, neither in its direct institutions, nor in their immediate tendency, has contrived to throw its affairs into the most trust-worthy hands, but has left its whole executory system to be disposed of agreeably to the uncontrolled pleasure of any one man, however excellent or virtuous, is a plan of polity defective not only in that member, but consequently erroneous in every part of it.
This insight was offered over two hundred years ago. It possesses the same potency today. And just in case one needs more ammunition to support the point, every one should turn to James's Party Politics in the West Indies for guidance. It is still a must read for every member of the PNM; that is, if reading still matters to most members of the party.


After fifty years in the political vineyard, the PNM has made many important contributions to the society. In fact, it has constructed contemporary Trinidad and Tobago, warts and all, into what it is today. As such it must take praise for most of the achievements of the society and blame for many of the negative dimensions of the society. In this context, the party cannot be unmindful of the powerful role that history and culture play in the making of a society. However, the party must review its political direction once more. In 2002, under the direction of Patrick Manning, the present leader of the PNM, the party advanced a 2020 vision, perceptively entitled, "Positioning Trinidad and Tobago for the Global Age." Among other things, the document emphasized:
Forty four years ago, the People's National Movement emerged as the first national party in the political history of Trinidad and Tobago. Since then we have sought to outline the political direction in which the society has gone. We have defined that process through the articulation of several documents, the most important of which have been the People's Charter (1956), the Chaguaramas Declaration (1970), the PNM Vision of the World of the Eighties and Beyond (1987)....

When we offered the People's Charter, it was inspired by the urgent demands of colonialism. At that time, much of the globe was under the yoke of colonial rule. Colonialism spelt a common order of political domination, economic subservience, social subjugation, cultural alienation, and ethnic division of colonial peoples all over the world. The People's Charter, written ten years after the introduction of universal adult suffrage, sought to bring Trinidad and Tobago into the modern world of self-government and self-determination. Fourteen years later, in the Chaguaramas Declaration, we sought to mobilize the country to meet the challenges of neo-colonialism (post-colonialism by multinational corporations) and the residues of color discrimination that were still present. Although significant progress had been made in terms of self-government and social and economic development, there still remained a desire for greater equality of opportunity for all citizens. Nearly two decades later, in PNM's Vision of the World of the Eighties and Beyond, we sought to consolidate the gains that had been achieved and to chart a new direction in a world in which significant economic and social changes were the order of the day. Moreover, this document came in response to two major oil price shocks that had dramatic consequences around the world, and in Trinidad and Tobago, especially as they were followed by an oil price collapse in 1986. Significantly, these changes coincided with the advocacy of a new world order which emanated from the developed countries that was designed to serve their interest. Each of these documents was shaped by a vision to bring maximum benefit to Trinidad and Tobago. However, they were influenced by different historical phases of what we have now come to call "globalization."
Drawing on documents that had been submitted from hundreds of persons, organization and party groups from throughout the country had come up with a vision that was as salient as the People's Charter or the Chaguaramas Declaration. Sadly, the party never gave this document the privileged position in its political activities as it should have. Its inculcation into party affairs should have become the most important document in the PNM's educational programs. Because of this oversight, party members never imbibed the contents of that document or even understand what it means for the future development of society and of keeping the party together ideologically. In short, it provided an ideological direction for the members of the party. Yet, sad to say, I do not know if the members of the PNM are invested in that vision or how well they know and understand its contents.

Perhaps the party's first mistake was to turn that vision over to members of the society, no matter how brilliant they are, to transform its contents into policy positions. The PNM and its present leader made a grave mistake when it placed the articulation and to some degree the implementation of that vision, into the hands of persons who did not necessarily wish the PNM and its party well. Nor, for that matter, were they committed to the objectives of the PNM both as a party and as an organization that had guided the destiny of our people in such a successful manner. Although it was wise to make the program a national program and call on all segments of the society to participate in the program, it was a mistake of historic proportions to give control of the vision to anti-PNM forces. In light of this, I wonder if the time has not come to make Vision 2020 a more vital part of party life, couched as it is within the demands of the rising tide of globalization.

As one reviews the party, one is not sure that all members of the party-particularly those in elective office-understand their responsibilities to the party and their constituents and how committed they are to the initial and present values and objectives of the party. Sometimes the elected representatives of the people seem so far removed from the people that one wonders how much they buy into the populist, people-oriented positions of the original PNM. Sometimes the leadership itself is so concerned with the macro problems of development that they forget the micro needs of our people and the need to educate them about the party's positions constantly. One calls that propagandizing.

There is also need to take care of the immediate though seemingly simple needs of constituents and party members. For example, the members of the Tuvaluan constituency, my constituency as it were, have been begging for a community center in the Tunapuna area and a rebuilding of the Tunapuna Public Library ever since Learie Nicolas Constantine began to represent the area in 1956. Such small but vital needs have not been met. Does it make sense to alienate such an important constituency particularly when it has become what we call a "marginal seat"?

Every party needs some founding document; some theoretical formulation of its position to alert a people about where they stand and what it asks of them. Indeed, if you demand nothing of a people you will receive nothing in return. Party members need political sustenance to sustain them over the long haul. I prevail upon the party to get back to the business of discussing party business and educating the ordinary party member about what the party has achieved and the bundle of ideas that has animated this great party over its first fifty years.

A party must always respect its contract with its members. In 1960 in his attempt to warn Dr. Williams about the violation of that contract and the breaking down of the party structure, James observed: "Any government that is not conscious of the power of the people is bound to be a bad government. That is to say, it will fool you, cheat you, and if need be, reduce you to hewers of wood and drawers of water, and without mercy keep you in what it considers to be in your place." To the people of the party, he said that "there is much that we can be and do on a national and even an international scale. What that is or can be we will never be able even to find out, far less carry out, unless the people are politically organized. Even when they elect a government of their choice they have to remain politically alert, and make it clear that they are not to be bamboozled, trifled with or pushed around." That was James's message in 1960. It remains pertinent today and we must listen to it but, more important, we must act upon it.


Fifty years is a long time. PNM has achieved much. One wonders how well the PNM is girding its loins for the next fifty years and what signals it intends to send to its members. PNM's greatness lay in challenging a moribund society; offering a new conception to members of that society; and reminding them that they were better than the colonizing powers said they were. It asked them to challenge old ideas and embrace a new way of seeing the world. Inherent in such a proposition was the notion that a backward party could not lead a forwarding people. Moreover, a party cannot be democratic without when it stifles dissent within; a party cannot adequately plan for the future when it does not encourage free and frank discussion within its ranks. Most important, there must be a bundle of ideas around which the party faithful orients itself.

These, I suspect, are the challenges the PNM faces: how well it orients the party to achieving its goals in an age of globalization and how consciously it moves toward taking itself seriously and giving its members the respect they deserve. Globalization, as we know, is only the latest phase of a very old European story of expansion and conquest and the corresponding response of adaptation and change of non-European people. How well we respond to this phase of expansionism will have everything to do with how well we understand what we are up against and how well we face its challenges. In this narrative of continuing liberation and empowerment, education, enlightenment, and ideological clarification will play an important role. This too is part of the party's responsibilities.

Great is the PNM and it will prevail. However, to prevail, it must be true to its origins and be ever alert to its historic responsibilities. Long live the PNM and may it have an even longer reign.

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