Revolution. A word that seems to hold a magic all its own. A word, a concept, an idea cherished by the downtrodden and feared by their oppressors. Revolution. A word which seems to give the common man, the power to change the world.
Revolutions and the revolutionaries who direct them, present a mythos that has captured the human imagination since antiquity. As long as civilization has existed, societies have sought domination over each other. Some of them have succeeded, building empires covering swathes of once sovereign territory. But for every leader who sought to conquer, there are those determined to resist him and at the heels of every tyrannical regime, bayed the hounds of revolution.
The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 would forever change the way in which the ruling and working classes viewed each other. The assassination of Czar Nicholas II and his family in 1918 threw the reality of the new state of affairs into sharp relief. The terrors of the French Revolution forgotten, the Aristocracy of the old world and the Democracies of the new had fallen into the dangerous but comforting fantasy that their rule by so-called “Divine right”, inured them against the disgruntled masses over whom they held sway. True, assassinations of royals and political figures had taken place before, particularly in the two decades leading up to the start of World War I, but this was different. This was no random act of chaos or anarchistic terrorism. This was a new monster, conceived in the writings of Karl Marx and mid-wifed by Vladimir Lenin and the bloodletting of the revolution.
This was Communism.
As the capitalist world struggled to come to terms with this new creature that was mobilizing the workers of Eastern and Central Europe, the greater threat represented by the Germans and the ascending Nazi Party would come to take first place in their concerns. The outbreak of World War II would for the first time, see Communist Russia emerge on the world stage as an equal and needed ally of the Allied nations. Nazism, itself naturally opposed to the tenets of Communism had decreed that the volatile peace that was briefly maintained between Russia and Nazi Germany would be but short-lived. The American entry into the war in 1941, brought the two most diametrically opposed systems of government at the time into a tenuous alliance, accompanied of course by Great Britain.
With the defeat of Nazi Germany bringing an end to the war in 1945, the three major powers of the Allied forces, namely Russia, Britain, and the United States. The “Big Three” as they were aptly named, met at Potsdam for a postwar conference aimed at deciding the reorganization of Europe and Germany. A famous photograph immortalizes the unlikely Triumvirate, Winston Churchill, Harry S. Truman, and Josef Stalin. The three represented an alliance that was bizarre at best and unsettling at worst. The greatest Capitalist, Communist and Colonialist nations of the world were at the drawing board, carving up the world between them. The amicability would not last long.
While the Western nations sought primarily to democratize the nations that had been liberated from Nazi rule, Soviet Russia seized upon the instability of the postwar period to convert several European and Asian nations into satellite states, effectively enlarging the Soviet Union. This divided Europe into two halves, The Western Bloc and the Eastern or Soviet Bloc. The Americans watched with dismay as Soviet power and influence came to hold sway over half of the world’s population. The two nations gradually began to adopt a policy of hostility towards each other, while the threat of mutually assured nuclear destruction prevented them from erupting into direct conflict. Thus began the Cold War.
Meanwhile, Britain, rocked by turmoil and discontent throughout her empire, began to seek ways to divest herself of it. Mass independence was the method she chose, relinquishing self-governance to those whom she had once enslaved and exploited.
In the case of the Caribbean however, she sought to use a different method: to unite the islands into a single federation and grant them independence collectively. Britain would retain the power to veto any decision taken by the federation, having the final say in all matters. This was done as a foil to prevent the rise of communism in the region. The ongoing Cuban revolution had put both the United States and Britain on high alert. The last thing they wished for was a Soviet Bloc in their very “Backyard” they reasoned.
The failure and collapse of the West Indies Federation in 1962, brought an end to any continued fantasies of British hegemony in the region. One by one the Island territories obtained independence on their own account, the tiny island of Grenada doing so in 1974.
Grenada was neither the most economically powerful nor the most politically influential state in the region, yet its independence was hailed by the arrival of a British warship in the harbor at St Georges’s for fear of the violence that was expected to erupt in the nascent hours of the island’s statehood. Already a hotbed of civil unrest, out of all of her colonies, it was little Grenada that would come to realize the worst fears of Britain and her American ally.
The man into whose hands the British Crown was relinquishing the reins of Grenadian governance was Sir Eric Gairy, a man who ruled with a careful mixture of terror and charisma. While he was supported and endorsed by the governments of the United States and Great Britain, the citizens over whom he presided languished under the weight of his mismanagement and tyranny.
His political origins, like those of many a despot, told an entirely different story. Returning to his native Grenada from Curacao in 1949, he immediately entered the political landscape with the impetuousness that would come to characterize him. Seeking to establish solidarity with the working class, he would form the Grenada Manual and Mental Workers Union. His agitation would directly contribute to the general unrest of 1951, which was so extensive in its destruction that it became known as “Red Sky”, owing to the conflagration caused by the widespread acts of arson. The British would intervene and Gairy would be arrested.
Forming the Grenada United Labour Party in 1951, Gairy would formally enter a long and tumultuous political career. Initially distrusted by both the British and the Americans, they relaxed when it became clear that his ambitions, whatever they were, would not threaten their interests in the region. If anything, Gairy would eventually prove to be a key instrument in the imperialist cause.
When Grenada attained independence in 1974, it was boiling with unrest and at the brink of civil war. Gairy, the statesman who had been so vociferous in the advancement of the cause of the peasant class and the demolition of the plantocracy, had changed his tune as soon as the power for which he lusted was within his grasp. He was a tyrant in the truest sense of the word, governing more in the fashion of a Roman dictator than a statesman and contemporary of Norman Manley and Eric Williams. He declared that his leadership and decisions were divinely inspired, often claiming to have heard the voice of God himself, guiding his hand. As such, it was morally disconcerting for the deeply spiritual Grenadian to question or to oppose his leadership, as doing so was tantamount to questioning the judgment of God himself. He himself was a deeply superstitious man, hoarding a library of books on witchcraft and black magic, as well as collecting paraphernalia associated with obeah and the occult. A firm believer in extraterrestrials and the supernatural, his fear of the unknown translated into his attitude towards detractors and political opponents. In 1967 he formed the infamous Mongoose Gang, a private militia answerable only to himself, that closely resembled the Tonton Macoute of Haiti’s ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier. They were responsible for silencing any who would oppose Gairy’s rule, and did so with murderous efficiency. It would be the actions of this group and the repressive policies of its creator that would galvanize the resolve of the young man that would change the course of Grenada’s history forever.
Enter Maurice Bishop.
Bishop was born on the 29th of May 1944 on the Island of Aruba, to Grenadian parents of the labourer class. The family would remain there until Maurice reached the age of six, at which point they repatriated to their native Grenada. Bishop was an only child, and thus the hopes and ambitions of his parents rested squarely on his shoulders. His father impressed upon him from infancy the pivotal importance of education, chastising the young Bishop if his grades were anything short of perfect. His mother, it may be argued, unknowingly instilled the first concepts of Socialist and Communism in the young Maurice, insisting he walk to school as his peers did, even though by this time his parents had managed to purchase an automobile. Standing head and shoulders above his classmates, he was often ridiculed for his lofty stature, which together with his sparkling intellect and mental acumen, already seemed to augur his destiny as a leader.
It was during his secondary school years that Bishop would begin to formulate the ideology that would direct his actions for the rest of his life. Winning a scholarship to the prestigious Presentation Brother’s college, he entered an arena in which, for the first time, his natural gifts were lauded and celebrated rather than ridiculed. He quickly began to distinguish himself in both curricular and extra-curricular activities, becoming the president of the History Study group as well as the student council. He excelled in sport and became the editor of the youth newspaper, called the Student Voice.
His strong sense of school pride did not stop him from forming close ties with fellow intellectuals from his school’s rival, Grenada Boy’s Secondary School. Of these liaisons, the one that would prove the most pivotal and fatal to the young Bishop’s destiny, was the friendship he formed with Bernard Coard. The young intellectuals were ardent in their support of the Cuban Revolution and the doomed West Indies Federation. To them, children of those who had lived under the ignominy of colonialism for over four centuries, the prospects of socialism seemed golden, the natural antithesis to a system which represented capitalism pushed to its natural extreme. In 1962, the two friends would form the Assembly of Youth Fighting for Truth, which aimed to encourage the island’s youth to become politically active and united in a common cause. The debates hosted by this assembly became large gatherings where the populace gathered to hear the youth hash out their ideas and proposals. It was in this arena that Maurice would begin to gain recognition as a natural orator and spokesman. He was well-read and concise and exuded a natural charisma and sense of humor that wooed even his rivals.
In 1963, the young Bishop 19 years of age at that time, left the sunny shores of his homeland to pursue law at the University of London. He would secure his Bachelor of Law degree in 1966. It was within this period, in the belly of the colonial beast itself, that Bishop would cement his socialist and anti-colonialist ideologies, fed as they were by the writings of Stalin, Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, and Mao Zedong. During this period as well, he would visit Socialist republics for the first time, Czechoslovakia and the then German Democratic Republic. Taking note of everything he observed, he began to conceptualize a new version of socialism, one that would best suit a largely Afrocentric Caribbean nation, taking into account its history of British colonialism.
Upon returning to Grenada in 1970, Bishop fell into the thick of things almost immediately, representing striking nurses in the Capital’s hospital (and being arrested for protesting with them, as well as spearheading a regional conference aimed at consolidating efforts towards liberation. He was becoming widely recognized as a man of the people as well as a bold and charismatic speaker.
The general elections of 1972 would see Gairy’s Grenada United Labour Party remain in power. His power reaffirmed and consolidated, he would become even more despotic. It was at this time that he mobilized the dreaded Mongoose Gang, crushing all dissent and establishing his rule as a reign of terror.
The New Jewel Movement
Around this time, Bishop would form the Movement for Assemblies of the People, with Kenrick Radix and his comrade and paramour, Jacqueline Creft. Bishop strongly disagreed with the bi-cameral, vote- centered democracy that characterized the island’s politics, and established the MAP as a means of creating a culture of true democracy in which the populace would be adequately informed of and encouraged to participate in the country’s affairs and decision-making processes. This was the Caribbean-style socialism that he wished to introduce to his people, one rooted in the ancient ideals of democracy, but that which did not limit the democratic process to simply casting a ballot once every five years. He wished to make the government truly accountable to the people, and to make them fully comprehend that those in power only ruled by the good graces of the populace. In 1973, the MAP would combine with the Joint Endeavour for Welfare Education and Liberation or JEWEL, to form the New Jewel Movement.
It was the formation of the New Jewel Movement that would sow the first seeds of the deathly enmity between Gairy and Bishop. Not only were the activities of the group a public censure to the authoritarian leadership of Gairy himself, but the group’s Socialist leanings were of an immediate concern to Gairy’s imperialist friends, namely the governments of Britain and the United States of America. Utilizing his favored Gestapo tactics, he attacked the leadership of the NJM as they were driving to Grenville, arresting them and beating them severely. Bishop would suffer a broken jaw in the fracas. In the next year, 1974, he would see his own father murdered by the Mongoose Gang, in a savage tumult dubbed as ‘Bloody Monday’. Truly, the unrest had, like the biblical adage, turned brother against brother, for the handpicked leaders of the Mongoose Gang were Moslyn and Willie Bishop, cousins of Maurice Bishop himself.
The following month, on the very eve of Grenadian independence February 6th, 1974, Gairy would seize Bishop himself under suspicion of plotting a coup d’etat. His incarceration would last all of two days and soon after being released on February 8th, 1974, he would leave for the United States. He spent the next few years strengthening ties with regional leaders and becoming recognized as one of the most important regional voices in the cause of Black Power and Pan-Africanism. Perhaps most importantly, he would begin talks and form a strong relationship with his childhood hero, Fidel Castro, the president of Cuba at the time. Upon his eventual return, he would become the leader of the opposition in his own island, Grenada, championing economic and societal reform.
Grenada in Turmoil
Grenada at this time was languishing under Gairy’s rule. With his focus placed primarily upon personal enrichment, Gairy had neglected Grenada’s development to a criminal degree. The roads were barely maneuverable at best and impassable at worst. The hospitals were understaffed and archaic. Agricultural Production had dropped to 25% of what it had been prior to independence. A record 47% of Grenadians were unemployed, with far more underemployed. The cost of food rose by 200%, clothing by 164%, housing by 135%. As if to add insult to injury, many women who were fortunate enough to find employment in the public sector had only managed to do so at the cost of their dignity, as Gairy was fond of trading job opportunities for sexual favors. Infrastructure and Education were severely neglected and illiteracy at all ages was widespread.
Gairy, faced by growing unrest and dissatisfaction, continued to consolidate his own power and personal security. He sent the leaders of the Mongoose Gang to the Chilean dictatorship of Agusto Pinochet, to learn the torture techniques and interrogation tactics that that despotic leader utilized to maintain his own iron grip on his country. Even as Gairyism began to more closely resemble the fascist regimes of Pinochet and Samosa, he maintained a friendly rapport with the United States and Britain, even being knighted by Queen Elizabeth II during this period. All the while the popularity of the NJM continued to grow, fueled by the ferocity of the Mongoose Gang and the increasing repressiveness of Sir Gairy’s government.
The decisive moment would come in 1979. Sir Eric Gairy had left the country on a visit to the United States. A rumor sprung up that he had ordered the assassination of the entire leadership of the NJM to be carried out in his absence, under the auspices of the Mongoose Gang. The rumor was not baseless and Bishop and the leadership of the NJM found themselves at a crucial juncture. Opting to take the initiative rather than waiting to be liquidated, they launched a swift offensive from their position in hiding, striking at the police barracks and other key positions. Within 24 hours, the Revolution was over a quick and largely bloodless affair, with only two fatalities. The Mongoose Gang was routed and detained but in an exemplary demonstration of clemency, none of them were executed, not even the men who had shot Bishop’s father.
In a strategic move, Bishop had seized the main radio station, Radio Grenada, in order to secure the psychological aspect of the revolution. In the radio broadcast that was heard all over the nation, he announced:
It is impossible to describe the ecstasy that permeated the Grenadian population when these words fell on the national ear. The people did not understand the concepts of Marxism or Socialism that had guided the hand and mind of Maurice Bishop, but they felt in their hearts that the revolution was a great thing, a wonderful thing. Adding a touch of melody to the general mood, The Trinidad-based calypsonian The Mighty Sparrow, himself a Grenadian, penned the tune, ‘Dead or Alive’ naming Gairy as a wanted man in the same breath as Idi Amin and the Shah of Iran.
Foregoing the temptation of succumbing to the general euphoria, the Bishop administration went to work. The reality that greeted them was dire. More than half of the population was unemployed. The national treasury contained a grand total of 24 dollars. However, the improvement was swift. If anything it was ushered along by the fact that the populace saw themselves as being directly invested in the success of the revolution and worked together with Bishop’s administration, now the People’s Revolutionary Government (PRG) to achieve their objectives. Work on the nation’s roads and national housing began immediately, providing employment for thousands. Bishop consulted farmers directly in order to effect his agricultural reform policies and the industry flourished. In less than three years Grenada’s economy had grown by 2% even though this was at a time when the world economy was experiencing a recession.
Bishop carried his reform into all aspects of Grenadian life, just as he had promised them while giving his electrifying speeches while yet under Gairy’s rule. Affordable housing was made available and over 12,000 people benefitted from it. Health care was made universally available and free, with the number of doctors and nurses employed skyrocketing. There were many foreign faces in Grenada’s hospitals now, as the nation received support and assistance from many international groups and countries who supported the success of Grenada’s revolution, none more so than Cuba, which had by this time formed strong ties with her fellow West Indian Socialist sister.
Education had always been a sore point in Grenada’s history, with most of the population being unable to attain anything more than a primary school education. Many had not acquired even that, and the illiteracy rate among the adult population was staggering. Bishop immediately started building schools and provided free books and uniforms for the children of poor families. Bishop conceived the idea of a ‘Revolutionary Education’ ensuring that future generations would understand and cherish the concept of freedom, ensuring that a despot such as Gairy had been should never rise again. Set to the tune of nursery rhymes and church choruses, revolutionary songs taught the children the basic tenets of socialism and instilled in them a love and passion for the revolution. They were called the Young Pioneers, and made to understand that they were the “New Jewels” of the revolution; the most important part of it. Rallies were common, and the nation’s youth demonstrated their understanding of revolutionary theory with plays and recitations under the gaze of their proud and delighted parents. Some parents were also now the beneficiaries of education themselves and in three years, adult illiteracy had dropped to 5%.
Education was also taking place on a more general scale. Bishop wanted the people to be directly involved in the government of the nation. He had suspended the constitution and had put an end to general elections. However, this was not done to consolidate his own power. With a foresight far beyond that of many of his contemporaries, Maurice Bishop had observed that the Westminster system with its ballot based “five-second” democracy as he called it, was not indicative of true democracy at all. The only choice the people held was who would govern them. They had no say on which actions a government should take, no say in the matters that pertained to their daily lives. Bishop took the time to educate the people, not only in socialist theory but on world affairs, economics, and history, so that they would better understand Grenada’s place in the global scheme of things and how they might improve it. Regional Assemblies were held on a weekly basis, during which officials would report to the people and present themselves for public scrutiny. The result of this was that Grenadian life started to improve in a manner that had been almost inconceivable before as even the concerns of the simplest farmer were given audience and addressed.
Of particular interest to Bishop was the education and advancement of the nation’s women. A class neglected under colonialism and victimized under Gairyism, many women did not understand that they too had a pivotal role to play in the revolution. Bishop, together with Jacqueline Creft and Claudette Pitt, formed the National Women’s Organization (NWO) to seek the advancement and empowerment of the nation’s women. Equal pay for women was written into law, as well as paid Maternity leave. The sexual exploitation of women seeking employment was to be severely punished. Gradually the nation’s women gained a great sense of pride in the revolution, that had done as much to liberate them as it had the country on a whole.
As the regional and global community observed the progressive strides that were being made by Bishop’s revolutionary government, they began to invest in an unprecedented manner. Capital investment would increase to over 700% of what it had been during Gairy’s time. In a bid to further stimulate the national economy, in particular, the tourism sector Maurice Bishop’s government started construction of the Point Salinas Airport, designed and funded by North American and European contractors but funded by Cuba, who also provided the manpower. It was hoped that the airport would boost the nation’s tourism sector, which had been in the decline since the revolution. The new airport would allow large, commercial aircraft to land on Grenada for the very first time, as the previous airport, Pearls, was only suitable for small passenger planes.
This would be the bone of contention that would eventually result in the collapse of the revolution. The Reagan administration, plagued by bias and insecurity, claimed that the airport was being built to accommodate large Soviet aircraft en route to Cuba. As ‘evidence’ they pointed to the fact that the Cubans were providing both funding and manpower for the project. In addition to this, they began to malign the Revolutionary Government in the press, claiming that Bishop’s government was guilty of the worst violations of human rights. Bishop, shrewd in spite of his distaste for American Imperialism, had extended the olive branch to the American president before, in hopes of securing a relationship that was amicable at the very least. Reagan had received his overtures coldly, now he had become openly hostile. Covertly, the CIA began to use espionage and misinformation to destabilize the revolution from within.
To combat the American propaganda machine, Maurice Bishop resorted to his first and most powerful weapons. His oratory prowess and skill. He traveled the to United States, giving speeches all over the country, in order to make clear the reality of the situation in Grenada. He was well received by the African American population and vindicated in the eyes of all who heard him. In one of his very final appearances in 1983, he addressed a crowd of mostly black Americans, explaining to them how the revolution had found its genesis and how the nation had progressed since then. He laid bare the lies of the C.I.A. and the Reagan administration, ridiculing the idea that Grenada would be so suicidal as to use the new airport to launch an attack on the United States. He dismissed the claims of human rights abuses, revealing that dissent and discontent were given a far greater voice under the revolution than they had ever enjoyed under Fairy’s oppressive regime. In perhaps his most pivotal statement, he claimed that the main reason the metropoles did not wish to see the revolution succeed was because Grenada was a black, English speaking nation, and that if such a nation were to make a successful stand against imperialism America might begin to experience more resistance and unrest among her own African American citizens. The cheers of the audience spoke to the truth of his claim, and carried away by the fervor he had inspired, he declared that the following year, 1984, was to be coined the “Year of the International Airport.”
He would not live to see it.
The Coup & Assasination of The Bishop
Among his own ranks, unrest and jealousy were growing. Bernard Coard, Bishop’s childhood friend, had been the revolution’s Minister of Finance and had been directly responsible for manifesting the economic reform touted by Bishop. Encouraged and emboldened by his successes, he began to reason that he should have more say in the way that things were done since he was the one responsible for putting much of it into practice. Like Milton’s covering cherub, he began to lust after power and to.claim the highest position of power for himself.
Bishop, on the other hand, held the final say in governmental affairs, as he saw this as a means to end the bickering and meandering that constituted politics under the Westminster system. Blinded by the glamour of his own dreams and by his good intentions, he never saw the proverbial dagger that was being unsheathed at his back.
In October 1983, Coard struck. A military junta had been formed and they presented Bishop with an ultimatum. Share power with Coard or step down. Bishop refused to do either. He understood fully that if the revolution were to survive, he must be the one to continue to lead it. As for Coard, his insatiable lust for power reminded Bishop rather uncomfortably of Gairy and Bishop preferred death than to ever again subject his people to such despotism. He refused their demands and was placed under house arrest. Determined to remain at the side of her disgraced lover, Jacqueline Creft sought him out, though it meant that she would be placed under house arrest herself.
At this, the county erupted into widespread protest. Numbering at least 30,000 they formed a virtual army and liberated their dethroned leader, spiriting him and Creft away to Fort Rupert.
But his release had not set Bishop at ease. He knew that his hours were numbered, as Coard was not a man to be denied that which he had set his heart upon. In the fort, Bishop began taking issuing instructions and making arrangements should his worst fears be realized. The fort was thronged by school children and supporters, who had come to lend their solidarity to their leader. In spite of the general air of euphoria that prevailed due to his release, Bishop’s mood was sombre, as was that of his education minister and partner, Jacqueline Creft who felt a keen sense of impending doom. Within moments, her premonition would be made manifest.
A loud explosion rang out. The Revolutionary Army, led by General Hudson Austin, had mobilized against Bishop and his supporters and had begun to lay siege to Fort Rupert.
Within the Fort, the occupants flew into a panic. Crouching beside the dead and wounded they huddled as gunfire began to bombard the room. Maurice Bishop was filled with horror, not out of concern for himself, but because the Revolutionary Army was firing indiscriminately upon the civilians, without regard for age or sex. Many an unfortunate supporter jumped to their deaths from the fortress walls, and far more were wounded by the bullets of the Revolutionary Army.
When there was a brief lull in the gunfire, a young soldier, loyal to Bishop, volunteered to put his life on the line to parley with their attackers. The Army agreed to cease fire on the condition of immediate surrender. His concern for his People ever foremost in his mind, Bishop agreed, allowing the women and children to leave first. The unfortunate Jacqueline Creft left with the women, but she was soon recognized by the soldiers and seized.
The soldiers then seized Bishop and lined him and Credit together with six of his key supporters up against a wall and quickly organized a firing squad. Shots rang out and the leader of Grenada’s bloodless revolution slumped to the ground, slain in the company of those closest to him. The assassins slit his throat and severed his finger to retrieve a ring. The bodies were hurriedly relocated and burnt, their final resting places forever lost to history. The Revolutionary Army established martial law and instituted a curfew, the violation of which was to be punished with instant death.
Looking on, Grenada’s Caribbean neighbors were shocked and horrified by the news of Bishop’s overthrow and execution. They appealed to the United States to intervene, which President Reagan, happy to bring an end to any form of Communism in the Caribbean, was eager to do. The United States launched operation Urgent Fury, a coalition effort between the American army and troops from various Caribbean nations. Within two days, the revolutionary army had been crushed, the Americans rushing to reinstate the brand of Democracy that had prevailed before Bishop’s revolt.
The dream that Bishop had nursed and brought to fruition was over, drowned in Grenadian blood. For a brief moment, the small island of former slaves had dared to oppose Imperialism and had thrived against it. For a few short years, even Bishop’s enemies had been forced to admire the energy and conviction of a man who had done so much to improve the lives of his people in such a short time. For a moment, Grenada had shone as the socialist jewel of the Caribbean.
Only for a moment.
The jewels of the revolution sank into the Caribbean Sea, from whence they had come…