Reflections and Lessons from the Grenada Revolution 30 Years after its Demise

By Dr. Wendy Grenade

 

October 19 and 25, 2013, mark thirty years since the demise of the Grenada Revolution and the US invasion of Grenada. This milestone presents an opportunity for critical reflection on one of the most defining periods in the post-colonial experience of the Caribbean.

This article provides an introspection of the highs and lows of the Grenada Revolution and the lessons that can be gleaned for the way forward.

The Grenada Revolution embodied possibilities and contradictions. On the one hand, the holistic developmental thrust of the Grenada Revolution cannot be denied, specifically its emphasis on: raising levels of social consciousness; building a national ethos that encouraged a sense of community; organising agrarian reform to benefit small farmers and farm workers; promoting literacy and adult education; fostering child and youth development; enacting legislation to promote gender justice; constructing low income housing and launching house repair programmes; improving physical infrastructure and in particular the construction of an international airport; providing an environment that encouraged popular democracy through Parish and Zonal Councils etcetera.

In hindsight, one of the fundamental objectives of the Grenada Revolution was to improve the lives of the Grenadian people within a comprehensive social and human development framework, following a mixed economy approach.

Yet despite the positive attributes of the Grenada Revolution, the People’s Revolutionary Government (PRG) operated within the authoritarian state formation inherited from Gairy and the colonial establishment that preceded the Gairy regime.

The military arm of the state, while necessary to protect and defend the sovereignty of Grenada from external aggression (particularly in the context of the Cold War and US hostility to Grenada), instilled a culture of fear within Grenada, particularly among citizens who progressively became disillusioned with the excesses of the PRG.




Additionally, despite the emphasis on popular democracy and community empowerment, there was a disconnect between the vanguard NJM party and the masses. This proved to be fatal in the final weeks of the Revolution. Fundamentally, the revolutionary leaders had no mechanism for conflict resolution. In fact, the Grenada Revolution thrived within a political culture where disagreements were settled not by negotiations and compromise but by a heavy-handed military response.

On the external front, Grenada became a theatre for Cold War intrigues; a dispensable cog in the wheel of Cold War politics. In hindsight, the United States was unjustifiably hostile to Grenada. It used its power against a small state as one of its tactics in its larger strategy to reclaim US pre-eminence in the world.

However, the PRG demonstrated immaturity in its dealings with the United States. To its detriment, the PRG did not engage in strategic, pragmatic foreign policy behaviour. Ultimately, the implosion of the Grenada Revolution created the conditions for the violation of the very sovereignty the revolutionaries promised to defend.

Thirty years on, there is need for balanced, honest reflection on the Grenada Revolution, not to apportion blame, allot guilt and shame or fuel antagonisms. Instead, there is urgency for a national conversation on the Grenada Revolution to break the silence; foster healing and reconciliation and moreso glean lessons for the way forward.

As Grenada approaches forty years as a sovereign independent nation, there are several lessons that small developing states can learn from the revolutionary experience: despite the realities of neo-liberalism, a mixed economy approach that privileges human well-being over markets and profits is a necessary imperative; participatory democracy can promote civic consciousness and boost productivity; constructive resistance combined with pragmatism should guide the foreign policy behaviour of small developing states; authoritarianism, whether from the left or right, is always likely to incite mass resistance and can engender political violence; the use of military force must never be a substitute for dialogue and compromise; dogma must never be allowed to eclipse and replace the inherent humanity of the people.

Finally, with time, healing and reconciliation can bring about genuine freedom.

 

(Dr. Wendy Grenade is a Grenadian Lecturer in Political Science at the Department of Government, Sociology and Social Work at the Cave Hill Campus in Barbados of the University of the West Indies)

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