EDITORIAL - The relevance of Richard Hart

Published: Friday | December 27, 2013 Comments 0

The death last week in Britain of Richard Hart, age 96, marked not only the passing of an important Jamaican political person and public intellectual.

It reminded us, too, that there are few remaining figures with direct connection with the launch of Jamaica's modern political period who, for better or worse, helped to shape the politics in which we exist today.

Indeed, but for Sir Howard Cooke, the former governor general, Richard Hart was among the last people who were directly involved in the founding of the People's National Party (PNP) and were part of its early operations. It is important, this newspaper believes, that they are not allowed to merely slip from our collective consciousness, but be subject to both serious academic analyses and study and popular appreciation.

We rest this case on three planks:

An appreciation that those who shaped modern Jamaica were real people of many great strengths, but possessed human foibles. They had achievements, but they made mistakes.

We believe that in the more than half a millennium since their arrival, the transplanted people of Jamaica and the Caribbean have created a genuine civilisation with all that that entails. Our societies are capable of surviving whatever may be discovered when we scrutinise ourselves.

The better we understand our past, the less likely we are to repeat its mistakes.

In that respect, there are things to learn from Richard Hart, not least his politics of argumentation.

Richard Hart was an avowed Marxist, but he was a decent human being.

These days, unfortunately, he is largely remembered as a letter: one of the 'Four Hs': Hart himself, the Hill brothers, Frank and Ken, and Arthur Henry - who were expelled from the PNP in 1952 for allegedly operating a Marxist cell in the party. With the 'Four Hs' went the Trade Union Congress, the trade union that was aligned to the PNP, presaging the formation of the National Workers Union, the PNP's trade union affiliate.

Democratic Socialism

Some three decades later, Mr Hart reconciled with the PNP, then led by Michael Manley. Mr Manley was then still espousing democratic socialism, an ideology in waving distance of the PNP Fabian roots.

Hart himself never disavowed his Marxism. Indeed, in the 1960s, he worked in Guyana for Cheddi Jagan, whose left-wing government was removed by the British colonial power in 1953, as editor of his party's newspaper, The Mirror.

In the early 1980s, he was attorney general in Maurice Bishop's New Jewel Movement government, which had overthrown Eric Gairy's administration. Mr Hart opposed US intervention in Grenada after an internal coup in which Mr Bishop and several others were murdered. That, however, was a matter of principle.

Throughout, Richard Hart remained a gentleman - urbane and respectful, ever willing to engage, but clear in his point of view. Well into old age, his mind remained crystal clear. He often contributed to media discussion in Jamaica and elsewhere.

He was also a man of the arts and letters, having, for instance, in Guyana, helped in the development of an Arawak-English dictionary. Indeed, he was awarded a Musgrave Medal by the Institute of Jamaica.

The relevance of Richard Hart's political ideology to today's Jamaica is questionable, but there can be no doubt as to his principle and his intellectual engagement of the process. Those are at a premium.

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: editor@gleanerjm.com or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.

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