Monday, April 28, 2008

Dreaming of a New World (Movement²)

The New World Movement
The New World Movement that originated among Caribbean scholars and public intellectuals in the late 1960s, can probably be seen as part of that region's experience of what Immanuel Wallerstein has called the World Revolution of 1968. Many figures, locally prominent and some internationally famous as well had roots in this movement, or were associated with it, including: Norman Girvan, George Beckford, Clive Thomas, Walter Rodney, Orlando Patterson, Trevor Munroe, Lloyd Best, Edward Kamau Brathwaite, Richard Bernal, and many others.

Added to the independence movement of the 1960s throughout the Anglophone Caribbean, what was then a still recent Cuban Revolution, the rising to prominence of Rastafari and Reggae, and various open lectures in the region by C.L.R. James, and Dr. Eric Williams' speeches to public audiences in Port of Spain at what was dubbed the "University of Woodford Square", where he spoke both as a historian of repute and as an independence leader--these times were momentous and of lasting importance.
Lloyd Best, Trinidadian, recently passed away and his work especially as published in the T&T Review, and the work of the associated Trinidad and Tobago Institute of the West Indies and the Tapia House Group, also had a strong formative impact on my own thinking. Between Tapia, based in Tunapuna, and C.L.R. James who was born in Tunapuna, they managed to turn this otherwise marginal and rundown "town" in Trinidad into one of some world importance, and coincidentally I lived there for one rather trying year as a student (memories of hunger, heat, blackouts, rats, and huge toads).

The multiple currents of the New World Movement defy an easy summary, but I will try nonetheless. These currents included political economic analyses of the legacies of slavery and plantation society that paralleled the development of Latin American Dependency Theory. The foci were on greater economic, political, but also cultural autonomy; a quest to build the bases for a new Caribbean autochthony; a search for a new indigeneity; regional integration and collaboration between Island territories; a focus on local industry, self-reliance, and pride in local traditions, local foods; a sharp stance against transnational corporations and American cultural imperialism; a critique of monoculture and import dependency; calls for a new politics focusing on real and popular democracy rather than ossified forms of Westminster parliamentary democracy that allowed for bureaucratic and populist authoritarianism; a revalorization of local language and arts; the construction of a Caribbean philosophy and an investigation of the existence of a Caribbean civilization--all momentous, magnificent, and without rival since.

These were both popular and academic currents, where scholars communicated with broad publics, narrow audiences, and among themselves. The university was no longer an Ivory Tower but a hotbed for social transformation, sometimes to the great ire of national political leaders (Walter Rodney banned from Jamaica, and C.L.R. James ostracized by Eric Williams).

New World²
Since the late 1960s, a number of new schools of theory, research, and anaylsis have developed and taken root, in a ways that furthered, added to, or otherwise amended the research and activist orientations of the New World Movement. Among these we can include world-systems analysis, practice theory, Third World feminism, some form or variant of what some call post-modernism, post-colonialism, and critiques of Orientalism and Eurocentrism.

Perhaps it is due to the plethora of voices, of shades and inflections of tendencies, of overlaps and sometimes very abstract dividing lines, of a massive literature, endless conferences, and so forth, that I personally have lost a sense of the ‘crispness’, the sharp orientations that produced statements in bold relief that for me characterized so much of what was produced by the New World Movement, where “nuance” would have sounded like compromise, where compromise sounded like a call to more of the same old collaboration. Even in my relatively short life experience, nuance and negotiation, as academic buzz words are still relatively new, definitely post-1980s in my case.

More importantly, I have lost sense of locally rooted scholarship with clearly defined political orientations. I wonder if there are scholars “out there”, especially those with some connection to the Caribbean, who have had the same dream of “reviving” the New World Movement, with the aim of reexamining and building upon some of its central tenets:
  • bringing the promises of independence and decolonization to life;
  • achieving the development of local economic self-sufficiency;
  • popular democracy;
  • cultural autochthony; and,
  • social transformation
With the exception of perhaps a few holdouts, such as Latin American Perspectives and The Monthly Review, I can’t think of when the last time was that I reencountered such goals being openly espoused in scholarly writing, despite the mass-mediated notions that universities are bastions of some kind of socialist radicalism.

Principles, such as those listed above in rather un-nuanced form, in my mind become pertinent and valuable once again, if one sees the world as not having outlived and overcome colonial legacies; a renewal of imperialist projects (i.e., the “Project for a New American Century”); the revitalization of old discourses of civilization vs. savagery; the undermining of national independence; the hegemonic grasp of a capitalist world market that can be seen at its worst in bleeding nations that became dependent on imported foods rather than putting their faith in unfashionable ideas (for free marketeers and technocrats) of food sovereignty; the spread of a Western consumer culture and the expanded projection of Western tastes and values, with consequences for the environment, political independence, and sustainable lifeways.

The Caribbean, for those who live there, were raised there, or have developed personal connections to the region, stands out as one of the regions on earth that is most vulnerable to all of these changes. It would be fitting if a new, New World Movement were to emerge for what is, arguably, a region of world historic importance. This idea was well expressed most recently by Junot Diaz, the Dominican winner of this year’s Pulitzer Prize for fiction, in an interview with Newsweek:

The Caribbean generally and the island of Hispaniola specifically is the linchpin, the pivot point where the old world swung into the new world. If you want the transformation point, if you want the ground zero where the Old World died and the New World began, it’s there. I mean, nothing is more quintessentially American-in the entire span of that description-than the Caribbean and more specifically the Dominican Republic. If you want to be incredibly grandiose, the entire world, we’re all the children of what happened in the Caribbean, whether we know it or not. I mean, the extermination of indigenous people, the conquest of the New World, slavery and in some ways the rise of this form of capitalism that we all live under. I mean really the modern world was given rise by what began in the Caribbean.

Those scholars and activists, writers, artists, anyone who would like to network and collaborate in collectively producing a new, New World Movement, let's get in touch, spread the word, and get started. We can't count on having the luxury of time.


blackgirl on mars said...

Count me in. I've been having visions of this from the very beginning--
that's why I've been working on my novel for so many years.
Thanks for this,
the lab

blackgirl on mars said...

I've been thinking about 2 very separate things:
1. There needs to be a gathering of minds to make this New World Movement -2 official and;
2. Are there any agricultural incentives in Trinidad to make the island, or even other islands, more self-sufficient and less dependent on trade? Is there an organized effort to get people planting to show that there are no food shortages in the future?