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Contradictions and Counterfactuals - Pt 1

By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
February 08, 2018

"a state could never have been born without surplus." —Yanis Varoufakis

PART 1 — PART 2PART 3

V. I. Lenin, revolutionary and philosopher, believed that contradictions are inherent in everything we do. He argued: "Dialectics in the proper sense is the study of contradictions in the very essence of objects."

Consider this: At the same time a PNM government (read black government) gives out 14,492 acres of land to ex-Caroni Ltd., workers (mostly Indo-Trinidadians) at a cost of $5 billion (Guardian, January 27), Kamal Persad claims that over the last 48 years PNM's policies and programs "were directed towards the advancement of the black supporters of the PNM. [Eric] Williams's intention was to create a local black professional middle and upper class to effectively replace the whites" (Express, January 24).

Perhaps Persad lives in a different world but the principal objective of the decolonization movement of the 1950s was to remove the colonial leaders (read white leaders), who had conquered the lands of black and brown people, controlled their economies and ruled in the favor of their own. This was partially in response to a decision by the European powers in 1884, at the Treaty of Berlin, that carved up Africa to serve their interests.

When twenty-nine African and Asian countries, representing more than one half of the world's population, met in Bandung, Indonesia in 1955, they opposed "colonialism in all of its manifestations." The conference also accepted Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru's Five Principles of "mutual respect" for other nations' territorial integrity and sovereignty."

Once black and brown peoples kicked Europeans out of their countries who did Mr. Persad feel should have replaced them?

Not content with Persad's illogic, my fellow columnist, Ralph Maraj—in his histrionic style that becomes an actor and performer—called upon Keith Rowley to resign his prime ministerial position and then listed Rowley's and the PNM's faults. He accused Ellis Clarke, former president or Trinidad and Tobago (T&T), for choosing George Chambers to become the prime minister upon Williams's death. He speculated: "Many [he doesn't say who these many were] felt that had Clarke opted for either of the two other deputy leaders, Kammaluddin Mohammed or Errol Mahabir, worthy experienced individuals, things could have turned out vastly different for PNM and the country. The nation tragically remains in this debilitating ethnic trap after 56 years of independence" (Express, January 28).

The problem with this counterfactual is that it leads to a dead end for the simple reason that there is no way we can ever know how things would have turned out if either of these worthy individuals was selected.

While Ralph was declaiming against "this debilitating trap" in the country, he conveniently forgot that he left PNM after his sister, Occah Seepaul, was placed under house arrest by a PNM government and that together with Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj and Trevor Sudama, he formed National Team Unity proclaiming: "I am at home now!" I am sure race played no part in Ralph's decision to leave the PNM nor influenced his description of what he considers home.

These are not the only manifestations of what we can call the Indian contradiction, T&T style. Persad has no problem with the massive land given mostly to Indians on the ground that they, rather than anyone else, could make the best use of these lands. No one stops to ponder that enslaved Africans worked those same lands long before Indo-Trinidadians arrived on the island. If one has any doubt about this, one only has to peruse the Slave Register of 1813 to find out the names of the Africans who worked upon those lands.

When slavery ended in 1834, Africans were thrown off the plantations and hunted down like dogs by the planter class for "squatting" on lands which they had cultivated previously and which was otherwise freely available to the whites of the island. The Trinidad planters received close to 1.8 million or 1.5 billion or $15 billion (TT) in today's currency in compensation for enslaved Africans. Enslaved Africans did not receive "a red cent" as my mother would say. To be fair, the colored planters were also compensated for their slaves.

Apart from hunting down blacks for "squatting," the government made the land so expensive that blacks could hardly afford to purchase it. Land was sold in parcels of 3 acres until Governor Arthur Gordon (1866–70) made smaller plots available for sale. Black people then bought these plots, cultivated them as provision gardens, and planted them with sugarcane which they sold to the sugar estates.

Growing up in Tacarigua in the 1950s, I worked on our provision garden each morning before I went to school. Small sugarcane farmers such as the Watermans and the Ventours planted sugarcanes which they sold to Orange Grove Sugar Estates. Black people scarified to purchase these lands, possessed the self-discipline and self-reliance to keep their families together, the perspicacity to educate their children, and the wherewithal to develop a peasant class.

Sebastian Ventour, a distinguished judge, Neal Phillip, a professor at Bronx Community College (CCNY), and yours truly are products of these people. Incidentally, none of these families received any land when Orange Grove sold its estate in the 1970s.

Professor Cudjoe's email address is scudjoe@welleley.edu. He can be reached @Professor Cudjoe.

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