Mon | Jan 25, 2021

Revisiting the Revolution

Published:Thursday | January 14, 2016 | 12:00 AM

Title: Grenada: Revolution and Invasion

Edited by: Patsy Lewis, Gary Williams, and Peter Clegg

Publisher: The University of the West Indies Press 2015

The bloodless 1979 coup d'Ètat that hoisted a small, obscure state on to a global geopolitical stage was affectionately called 'The Revo.'

Reeling from the excesses of autocratic regimes, left-leaning activists challenged the status quo. The Zeitgeist revolution of the 1970s powered Grenadian intellectuals to the levers of power, and the stage was set for a social, political, and economic experiment that stirred the longing of the marginalised but incurred the suspicion and wrath of the United States and its right-leaning friends.

At the outset, a prodigious, insightful agenda proved transformational, impacting the lives of the disenfranchised. Economic empowerment, infrastructural development, a thrust in education, and teacher-training programmes in a society with an unforgiving literacy rate were clear indicators that The Revo was attuned to the pulse of the people.

But its abrupt implosion and subsequent invasion by United States troops at the invitation of a handful of Caribbean countries sent shockwaves to every corner of the globe, raising the $64,000 question: What went wrong?

Grenada: Revolution and Invasion is a timely oeuvre that ably responds to a series of unanswered questions. Well edited, rigorous, almost clinical, it employs several multidisciplinary tools to grasp the unconscious factors that sparked this tragedy. It offers a stark, pulsating, and evocative account of Maurice Bishop's murder and subsequent invasion.

Political theories

Clearly, this is an undertaking that goes beyond political and military intrigue. It delves into history, human rights, feminism, and Jungian psychology.

It invites students of political science to revisit the applicability of political theories. Throughout, there is an appeal to Kantian bioethics. Indeed, there are universal principles what transcend political prescriptions. Sexism, narcissism, arrogance, and the inability to implement basic policies to fully empower women left many pondering if a revolution within the revolution was needed. Further, the obsession to establish a Marxist-Leninist vanguard in a former black British colony by Bernard Coard and his supporters threatened party unity.

Notably, the writers are measured, never swayed by romanticism or apologism, although emotions bleed through some of the presentations.

British attorney Richard Hart, in The Grenada Diaries, recalls, "It was very sad to see Queen's Park, the scene of so many rallies ... swarming with American soldiers ... I was sitting next to Shahiba and could see her tears and my own eyes were quite moist."

Patsy Lewis's A Response to Edward Seaga's Grenada Intervention is detailed in her rejection that the US intervention was legal. She adds that Edward Seaga's defence of the invasion presented in his book, The Grenada Intervention: The Inside Story, is myopic, loaded with Cold War rhetoric, and fails "to better understand the time, developmental concerns and challenges facing small states ... ".

Robert J. Beck takes this discourse a step further in The Grenada Invasion, International Law and the Scoon Invitation. He acknowledges Governor General Scoon's request for external assistance as authentic but adds another layer to this legal imbroglio by examining the intervention in Lebanon and Sri Lanka during the Cold War. He concurs with G. Nolte's thesis in Intervention by Invitation that "international recognition of the internal character of a conflict and the legitimacy of a government played an important role ... in the acceptance by other States of interventions at the invitation of a government".

Writers speak to the collective conscience of Grenada, its cultural archetype, and foreboding psychic traumas that it suffers in silence. The pain is hidden, secretly nursed, only to surface with injurious effect.

Militarism and the US invasion left deep, psychic scars. Grenadians are yet to heal. Memories of boys trained to handle guns to defend the revolution are not easily erased. In Women in the Grenada Revolution, 1979-1983, one soldier's words tell the psychological static of a people primed for violence: "As a soldier, one learns who the enemy is and they become not a person who has ideas and thoughts that could reason ... I wanted so much to kill a Yankee soldier, to slit his throat and feel the knife cutting into his flesh ...".


The fall of Bishop sparked social and psychological schisms. Confusion, acrimony, and angst overwhelmed a people. The unimaginable irony of the invasion - the US assuming the role as saviour - split the psyche on a personal and national level.

But as Collins argues in What Happened? a nation must heal to realise its fullest potential. "Narrative," he pens, "is a powerful source for examining not just personalities, but also complex experiences of trauma..." He later asks, "Somewhere in Grenada's history, had there developed a personality cult that made politicians of any ilk inclined to promote their ideas and personalities even when a majority of the populace seemed not inclined to support them? He later responds to his own enquiry: "Grenada's political culture was historically very authoritarian, elitist, focused on the 'maximum leader.'"

It is this unconscious force that shaped the tortuous outcome of the revolution. Yes, the party misfired, determining the fate of a nation through the very tactics that shaped its history.

And a fitting corollary to the traumatic events of October 1983 is offered in Jermaine O. McCalpin's Written to Amnesia? Here, the writer emphasises that reconciliation is illusory without justice, highlighting the shortcomings of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee. "The report," we learn, "has helped to write the past into amnesia, and Grenadians ... are keeping silent, almost as a solemn vow."

Grenada: Revolution and Invasion stretches the imagination, clamouring for long-term reflection and study. Indeed, that a movement, so spirited, authentic, and organic, buckled under ideology and the frailties of human nature is a damning indictment on the fate of societies.

Rating: Essential

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