From Tue Jul 18 12:00:08 2006
Date: Tue, 18 Jul 2006 17:34:27 +0200
To: “H.Haines Brown” <>
From: Bob Thomson <>
Subject: a history of Grenada

The evolution of class forces in Grenada

By Robert Thomson, 1985

An extract from chapter 7 of Rural Development in the Caribbean, edited by P. I. Gomes, UWI Trinidad (C. Hurst & Co., London, 1985)

30-page summary of M.A. thesis, Carleton University, Ottawa, 1983.

The Grenada Revolution began in 1979 as a response to the repressive government of Eric Gairy, an ex-school teacher who rode to political power on his success as an organizer of farm workers in the early 1950's, and then used that power to further his own personal wealth and egotistical aspirations at the expense of the very workers he had led against the excesses of plantation agriculture. The poverty and political backwardness of Grenada under Gairy had roots in more than just the manipulation of one man however. They are also the legacy of centuries of slavery and colonialism, and an economy and society organized around the production of food which Grenadians did not consume, in exchange for imported food and goods which they did not produce.

Grenada's economic history can be divided into three general periods: slavery (1600–1838), the “free” labour era (1838–1940) and the modern era (1940–1979). These three periods have been marked by the development of increasingly complex dependency relations in Grenada's links to the world capitalist economy. Foster-Carter has described this process well in reference to Jamaica, although his comments apply equally well to the colonial history of the entire region:

The slaves' former subsistence production showed considerable resilience, eventuating into a peasant mode of production in a highly contradictory articulation….with a capitalism itself enmeshed in contradictions: structurally dependent on foreign monopoly capital, and first striving to ‘break’ the peasant mode in order to be assured of labour supplies, then incapable of developing enough to make use of that labour once it did begin to present itself (in torrents; ultimately diverted into emigration). (Foster-Carter, 1978:234)

The external orientation of Grenada's economy features highly unequal terms of trade which amassed large fortunes for a few and left very little in the way of resources and capital to be invested in improved consumption and services for the people who produced this wealth. The plantation system of colonial agriculture, utilizing slave labour, was so profitable that it was cheaper to import food for the slaves than to devote even a few acres to local food production. The exodus of peasants to the cities and factories of Europe as the Industrial Revolution advanced created such a demand for cheap food energy that sugar was called “green gold”. The development of Grenada's economy has been dominated by its interaction with the changing capitalist world economy over a period of three centuries, during which substantial surpluses have been transferred out of Grenada. Indeed, Wallerstein, Amin and Williams, regard the Caribbean as an important element in the initial accumulation of capital in Europe and the world. (Wallerstein, 1980; Amin, 1982; Williams, 1944) The initial development of Grenada to provide raw materials and capital for European, particularly British, industrialization has influenced (and still affects) current development and places serious obstacles in the path of a self-reliant development strategy today.

As internal European markets developed and the vast fertile lands of Brazil and Cuba provided cheaper sugar, Britain's Caribbean colonies lost their competitive edge in sugar production. The demand for cheaper raw materials created modernizing forces which required that slaves be replaced with more efficient machinery. Centuries of slavery had left deeply ingrained social structures however, and the plantocracy resisted their displacement in the economy by the growing industrial capitalists. Through their control of politics, the landed aristocracy in Britain aided the plantocracy in the colonies in this resistance. Using the colonial state, they succeeded in restricting access to land, credit, technology and markets for the slaves who had been freed by the economic logic of the industrial revolution.

In Grenada, where the rugged terrain had made sugar even less profitable, it was replaced by cocoa and nutmeg in the late nineteenth century. These were export crops more suited to smaller estates and required less capital from the owners who had been indebted by the competition with larger, capital intensive operations in the larger territories and colonies. This allowed small holders to gain a bit of a foothold and to partially reduce their dependency on the plantocracy. However, the emancipated slaves were only given sufficient land to grow a portion of their subsistence requirements. This had the effect of lowering wages and reducing the planters food import bills, yet kept labour tied to part-time estate work.

The legacy of this system is an economy wherein a substantial proportion of the dependent “peasantry” is forced to sell some of its labour to the estates, while also having to rely on subsistence farming, jobs in tourism or service sectors, remittances from relatives abroad, barter, migrant labour, cash crops, petty commerce, mutual aid societies and a host of other mechanisms, in a complex network of multiple dependencies and defense mechanisms.

The subservience of Grenada's economy to export markets resulted in a lack of linkages between local production and consumption. In that now classic phrase, Grenada produces what it does not consume, and consumes what it does not produce. This dependency leads to drain on the economy through unequal terms of trade, under which the prices of manufactured imports historically rise faster than the prices of commodity exports. Unless export production can grow faster than the increased prices of imports, and/or become more efficient, there is a drain on the economy. Grenada's small size makes increased production difficult and the historical drain of surplus from the economy has left insufficient capital for investment in increased efficiency.

The long term drain on the economy had an important impact on Grenada's social structure. The collapse of sugar on the smaller islands such as Grenada reduced the ability of the plantocracy to accumulate capital and thus the wealth necessary to dominate the society. The dependent peasantry and the urban middle classes were similarly limited in their access to an independent economic base. The balance of class forces in Grenadian society was therefore fragile, and tended to favour whichever group was able to control the State, the only mechanism sufficiently powerful to allow control by one class or another.

The lack of an independent economic base for any one class which would permit it to accumulate sufficient surplus to dominate the society is a major feature of peripheral and dependent capitalist societies today. (1) One result is the creation of delicate class alliances and balances which frequently change as competing sectors of the politically dominant petty-bourgeoisie vie for control of the society, primarily through control of the state, often through the armed forces or police.

Flows of surplus are based, not only on economic relations such as the ownership of capital, but also on a broad social and political consensus (which includes cultural factors) that forms the basis for an acceptance of and sometimes resignation towards the role each class plays in generating and sharing the overall surplus. Changing alliances, both within the petty-bourgeoisie, and with external actors, provoke many of the coups and counter-coups so prevalent in the Third World today.

In addition to the economic, technological and infrastructural legacies of colonialism, which are discussed below in an analysis of food consumption and agricultural resources in Grenada, the fragmentation of class structures, forces and balances plays an important role in obstructing development today. This fragmentation continues today, and forms the basis for a political framework which limits consensus and generates more confusion than agreement on national development strategies.

Since control of the State depends upon both political and economic factors, the granting of universal adult sufferage in Grenada in 1950 under pressure from anticolonial forces led to a political shift in balance from the plantocracy to the urban middle classes between 1951 and 1979. In 1950 Eric Gairy formed a trade union to address the grievances of agricultural workers who were losing their semi-feudal tenancy “rights” as capitalist relations of production and wage labour were forced on the plantocracy by the colonial authorities in the name of modernizing production. Following a successful general strike for wage increases of over 50%, Gairy vaulted to political power and was able to develop a political and economic base for himself using the power of the State. Monopoly import privileges, tax breaks, government contracts, patronage, land expropriation and other legal and illegal incentives allowed him to control the expanding urban sectors of construction, tourism and small manufacturing.

Gairy also broke the economic base of the plantocracy once and for all through the expropriation or outright seizure of estates. Agricultural production fell by half (by volume) from 1970 to 1974 as a result of Gairy's land “reform” programme, which not only removed land from production to be distributed as patronage in tiny uneconomical plots, but also reduced investment and maintenance expenditures and thus productivity on those lands not actually seized but threatened by the atmosphere of intimidation. (World Bank,1982:15; Cumberbatch,1977:12) Between 1961 and 1981, 43% of cultivated land, or 10,382 hectares, was taken out of production. Of the 13,697 hectares farmed in 1981, approximately one third were not cultivated.

Gairy's resort to repression to reinforce his hold on the State eventually alienated the other substantial sector of Grenada's middle class organized around the Grenada National Party of Herbert Blaize (GNP). Not only did his actions reduce their own profits, but his repression also threatened the whole basis of Grenada's capitalist economy by provoking widespread unrest. The GNP allied itself in the 1976 elections with the New Jewel Movement (NJM), a grouping of left-leaning populist intellectuals with considerable support amongst Grenada's youth (some 50% of the population) and sectors of the working class and peasantry. Winning six of the 15 seats in Parliament despite massive rigging by Gairy, this People's Alliance became the Official Opposition in Parliament, with Maurice Bishop as its leader.

Grenada's Westminister style Parliament however, like many Caribbean Parliaments, was dominated by excessively concentrated executive power. Meeting infrequently and never allowed more than cursory debate of legislation and budgets, Parliament had little capacity to criticize or even monitor Gairy's depredations. This political vacuum, Gairy's repression and the fragmentation of political and economic forces facilitated the takeover of the State by the NJM on March 13, 1979. Once in control, the NJM's domination of the State overshadowed the weak, divided economic and political bases of Gairy, the GNP and the plantocracy. As we have seen however, realignments in internal forces, even within the NJM, are capable of producing spectacular changes in the balance of class forces in a small society like Grenada, with political implications which go well beyond minor adjustments.

It is evident that the development of classes in Grenada has been fragmented and uneven, with the result that cultural, ideological and structural obstacles endure which resist the reorganization of the Grenadian social formation. The importance of this class analysis lies in its identification of the particular relations of production which underlie the generation of economic surplus in Grenada. Without an understanding of the basis for these flows of surplus, it would be difficult to redirect them along the lines advocated by the alternative model of development outlined above.

The particular blend of economic and social factors which influence food consumption and agricultural production is the subject of the remainder of this article. The complex inter-relationships between class, food consumption and agricultural resources discussed below have a profound impact on development strategies under an alternative model, or for that matter, under the traditional model prevalent in the Caribbean today.