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8, Mrs. N.

Thomas - Independence movement in the British West Indies

The late 19th century was a time of change in the Caribbean with the ex-
enslaved being key to the economic transformation of the region, namely
the rise of the peasantry, economic enfranchisement and the rise of the
merchant class. The next step was political enfranchisement as movement
towards political independence eventually for some whilst others opted to
remain colonies and departments. For the British West Indies going to
independence was a gradual process.

In 1866 following the Crown Colony system was introduced where the
Crown ruled directly with a representative in a Governor instead of
through a controversial planter assembly who manipulated the British
government to issue funds to perpetuate their privileged positions and
make laws in their favor. Barbados was the exception having had the
oldest assembly since 1645. They opted to keep that system which
represented only a small minority white planters - until 1960.

Crown Colony system would bring social and infrastructural change:

Public works on roads, bridges, drains and infrastructure

Improved Postal services
Construction of schools
Improvements in Health care
Effective Policing through a police force

But many British Caribbean people felt that all this was merely cosmetic
as this political change continued to restrict them and keep them
disempowered. For example to be eligible to vote in St. Kitts an annual
income of 30 pounds was needed or property valued at 100 pounds. This
meant that up until the 1930s less than 5% of the 36 000 people could
vote (only 1800). The vast majority therefore could not vote or access
government jobs yet still had to pay taxes. The British colonial authority
continued to behave as though they were indifferent to the challenges
faced by the impoverished Caribbean citizenry. At this juncture, a middle
class who was more educated was emerging. They were intent on more
substantial roles in society and they began the call for constitutional


Karl Marx in the mid 1800s pointed to a Utopia of classlessness where

individuals and groups organized themselves to effect what was necessary
without government, religion or private ownership, from each according to
his ability and to each according to his need. This is in direct contrast to
the free market economy of capitalism and private ownership of the
means of production land, labour and capital. The Industrial Revolution
spawned this aversion to the exploitation of capitalism. Investors and
inventors gained much wealth whilst the masses of labourers who made
them rich got little compensation, widening the divide between rich and

London 1847 a Communist Party Manifesto was secretly created by a

Congress of workers and was published in 1848 by Marx and Engels. It
conceptualized society as organized by a central controlling government
with communal ownership of the means of production, with no separation
between the bourgeois and the proletariat. This movement arose when
the European workers were in upheaval during the Industrial Revolution.
But the exploitation suffered by Caribbean workers struck a chord and
communism seemed more attractive as it emphasized the role of labour,
more equity and just divisions of resources and the means of production.

The 1930s- There were nationalists who were dissatisfied with the noted
dependency on the British for capital. They believed that more
opportunities for employment would alleviate the poverty and suffering of
the masses. There was a lack of housing, dilapidated roads, a lack of
health care, no schooling, poor drainage and high taxes. To worsen
matters there was widespread unemployment and low wages. They
became more active in the 1930s calling for greater accountability from
the colonial authority. The next step was to mobilize into trade unions and
political parties. There were riots in the 1930s across the Caribbean which
prompted the British Home Government to send out Commissions of
enquiry to the Caribbean to determine the reasons for dissatisfaction.
More representation was granted via constitutional changes and political
privileges beginning in the 1940s. The process of decolonization began
that is, slow release of control and ownership of colonies.


Jamaica 1944 - Granting universal adult suffrage where every man and
woman 21 years+ could vote, that is, hold the right to franchise. This
represented the nullifying of prior condition of land and income

In the 1950s full ministerial and full internal self-government with

elections every 4 years with the winning party appointing Minister of
Agriculture, Education, Finance etc. The ruling party governed all internal
affairs with the Governor (Britains representative in the colony) ran
foreign affairs and defence. This was true of Trinidad with Sir Solomon
Hochoy and the PNM/DLP of the 1950s. Whilst this was happening in the
individual colonies Britain was pushing the Caribbean towards a
Federation with one Premier Sir Grantley Adams of Barbados.
Chaguaramas, Trinidad was to be the capital. This was a shortlived
Federation as differences in economic development, among others, meant
that the more developed territories felt burdened by the less developed
and did not want to continue the arrangement. Jamaica withdrew followed
by Trinidad with Dr. Eric Williams famous statement 1 from 10 leaves

With the collapse of the West India Federation each state moved toward
independence with total control of external and internal affairs:

Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago 1962

Guyana and Barbados 1966

Others felt that they were not yet ready and 5 states went on to
take Associated Statehood in 1967: Grenada, Dominica, Antigua, St. Lucia,
St. Kitts. St. Vincent accepted associated statehood in 1969.

They went on to push for independence and in the 70s and 80s
beginning with Grenada in 1974 and ending with St. Kitts in 1983.

1967 Montserrat and 1972 Cayman Islands opted to still remain