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Bishop Speech - For the Cultural Sovereignty of the Caribbean People! Address at the Opening of the Caribbean Conference of Intellectual Workers, St. George's, Grenada, 20 November 1982

I want to start by extending a very warm, fraternal welcome to all of the distinguished delegates and guests who have honoured us here today by their presence. We certainly believe that this Caribbean Conference of Intellectual and Cultural Workers is a milestone and an extremely historic event. We certainly believe it is going to have a major impact on helping us in our own task of ensuring the fullest cultural development of our own Grenadian people.

Also I want to apologise, comrades, for reaching this late. But, as I am sure you would have heard, we were attending the CARICOM Heads of Government Conference in Jamaica and notwithstanding our very best efforts to get back yesterday, we could not. We had to overnight in Port-of-Spain, and were only able to come in this morning. But I am sure that comrades would be glad to know that even though it has taken us this long to return to our beloved homeland we have come back with a convincing victory over the forces of reaction that were hoping to isolate us.


Today, when we speak of cultural imperialism, we are describing a world-side menace. We are talking about a process at work not only in those parts of the world which have for centuries lived under the heel of more powerful nations.

Today, nations which in the past have colonised and subjugated other peoples, destroyed or sought to destroy their cultures, are themselves facing the danger of cultural imperialism.

But the form that his age-old process takes, in this the late 20th Century, is far more refined, far more scientific, has far more resources at its disposal than ever before in the history of mankind, and it is therefore far more devastating.

Today, no corner of the earth is safe from the creeping ravages of the Coca-Cola culture. In the Western World, concerned and conscious citizens look on with humour at the contamination of their young people by the shallow export culture beamed out to all mankind from the headquarters of imperialism

But there is perhaps no region of today's world that presents so dramatic a picture of the process of cultural imperialism as does our Caribbean. The Caribbean is a laboratory of cultural imperialism because it offers such ideal conditions; our geographical fragmentation, aided and abetted by continuing political fragmentation, which in turn is one of the major objectives of cultural imperialism; to keep us well apart and, if possible, always at each others' throats, so that we might never come to realise the strength that lies in our unity.


The history of our region provides a most interesting and tragic example of culture in the service of political and economic domination.

The 'New World', so-called, begins with the conquest of the Amerindian. In some places he was exterminated outright; elsewhere his culture was so hopelessly wrecked as to render him easy prey to every conceivable form of exploitation.

When that dirty work was done, our region became the arena for yet another brutal collision between the economic interests of Europe and the human rights of a people less equipped than their aggressors for self-defence — Africans uprooted and transported thousands of miles from the fount of their cultures.

Upon the ashes of the Amerindian, the African forged a new culture in this part of the world, a new set of responses to the physical environment and to the challenge of survival.

For centuries this Caribbean Culture, this culture of the masses of Caribbean people has developed in limbo, unrecognised, unrecorded or at best viewed with contempt. This culture is yet to gain the approval of the very people who are creating it and practising it — the masses of Caribbean people. And this, above all, this weak self-image of our culture, lays us wide open to domination. Our people can be so softened up, so drugged by the hypnosis of American television, American advertising and capitalist consumerism, that some really have no objection to becoming the backyard of the US.

Our cultures have never had the opportunity of developing to the point where they become a bulwark of our sovereignty. Education for Caribbean people has never meant the application of human knowledge to ensure the viability of our people's way of life. Education has mean the selection of an elite to be assimilated into the lifestyle and thought patterns of those whose interests lay in dominating us.

Education has meant a mutually impoverishing divorce between the culture of the educated and that of the masses. The political dimension of this fact is that our elites have been accomplices to the subjugation of our people.


Early in the 20th Century, from within the ranks of this educated elite, the intellectuals of various parts of the Caribbean, there first came the impetus towards asserting the validity of our African-based Caribbean cultures.

Negrismo, Haitianism, Negritude — movements taking place over the 1920s, 30s and 40s — all were manifestations of the uneasiness of Caribbean intellectuals in their second-hand European culture and their rejection of the policies of assimilation used by the various colonising powers as part of their overall strategy of domination and exploitation.

These movements produced a fine flowering of literature and no one would wish to underestimate this legacy. Nevertheless, these movements cannot be said to have changed the course of Caribbean history.

These are important forerunners of the new developments that this body of intellectuals here today represents. We must build upon the work of our forerunners by taking stock of what they have achieved. But by examining their shortcomings we avoid errors of a similar kind.

A major weakness was that their ideas remained locked within the right circle of an educated elite. Theirs was essentially a dialogue with the white world, not with the masses from whom they had sprung. Indeed in the case of the Negritude movement among French Caribbean intellectuals, the forum was Paris! These movements for the enthronement of Caribbean culture never reached the Caribbean peoples who were the creators of this culture.

These early movements involved Caribbean intellectuals most of whom were themselves irreversibly the products of cultural imperialism, members of the colonial bourgeoisie which was totally assimilated to European culture. These intellectuals who had been removed by colonialism from the all-important living contact with the masses, and who could now only make piteous gestures of identification with their own culture. This contradiction has produced some beautiful literature which we count as part of our cultural heritage today.

But perhaps the most significant weakness, and the one from which the others derived, was the political immaturity of these movements, their failure to deepen their political perspective of culture.

These movements of intellectuals were basically a response to a political situation — the situation of colonialism, and specifically a protest against racism and cultural domination. But the movements failed to develop any real combative power and became narcissistic, spinning around din race and culture until they had no further to go.


One notable exception however, and this we must acknowledge, is our Martiniquan comrade Aime Cesaire, foremost poet of the Negritude movement, who took the struggle onto the political plane even after the cultural movement had lost is impetus.

But Negritude as a collective response of intellectuals to the problem of cultural domination remained largely an artistic movement, a literary response to a political problem, a response which was not sufficiently informed by a political awareness of the problem.


One generation later came Black Power, affecting primarily this time the English-speaking areas of the Caribbean.

The Black Power Movement achieved more of an impact upon the direction of Caribbean history, because its philosophy had a stronger political base which kindled the consciousness of the masses.

It is true to say that after Black Power, the Caribbean will never be the same again. the movement has contributed to the process of changing the status of Caribbean culture.

The Black Power Movement has contributed to transforming the Caribbean, largely because so many of its adherents later continued to develop politically. A large cross-section of the progressive forces of the Caribbean are comrades who first became engaged in political struggle through their involvement with the Black Power Movement. This is true of the entire leadership of Grenada's New Jewel Movement.

We must acknowledge all the stages through which our struggle has passed, and we must recognise the limitations of the historical context within which these movement occurred.

A vision of sovereignty is provided today in the process of the great Cuban Revolution, and in the younger processes of Nicaragua and Grenada.


I want to offer an example of this vision which shows the marriage of politics and culture in one Caribbean experience. In 1981, the great Cuban poet, Nicolas Guillen received the Jose Marti Award. In a ceremony held in the Palace of the Revolution he made a very brief statement:

In Cuba we have great poems, some of which have travelled beyond our national boundaries. Poems which are engraved on our lives, and bear permanent witness to our human progress: the agrarian reform programmes for example, is one of the greatest poems in our history; the popular literacy campaign, higher education for all, the nationalization of the means of production, once in undeserving hands, is also a poem of infinite value: and all these make up the great poem that is the Revolution, the revolution triumphantly led by Fidel Castro.

And then Guillen read a poem of thanks to the Revolution:

When I see myself and touch myself,
Only yesterday Johnny-who-had-nothing,
And today Johnny-who-has-everything
I turn my head, look around
And ask myself and touch myself
I have, let's see,
I have the pleasure of going everywhere in my country
Owner of all that is in it,
I did not have or couldn't have before.
I can say crop
I can say bush
I can say city
Army I say
Already mine forever, and yours, ours a spreading radiance
lightning, star, flower.


Today we have the advantage of witnessing this unfolding of revolutionary culture within our own region. Indeed, today's movement of intellectual workers springs directly out of the Cuban revolution. It was the Casa de las Americas, the great Cuban house of culture, which one year ago convened for the first time the Conference of Intellectual Workers for the sovereignty of the peoples of our America. Your conference which opens today upon the soil of Free Grenada is a continuation of the initiative that was launched at that historic gathering.

Where lies the way forward? This question will no doubt be focussed upon during your deliberations of the next three days. But it is important to concentrate on the challenge which confronts us now. There is an important document, prepared for President Reagan, which outlines a strategy for dealing with your category of workers in the Caribbean.

I quote

The war is for the minds of mankind. Ideological politics will prevail . . . Education is the medium by which culture retains, passes on and even pioneers its past. Thus, whoever controls the educational system determines the past . . . how it is viewed . . . as well as the future. A campaign to capture the intellectual elite through the media of radio, television, books, articles and pamphlets, fellowships and prizes must be initiated, for consideration and recognition are what most intellectuals crave, and such a programme would attract me.

This is the way intellectuals of the region are perceived by the American administration and the agencies they employ.

Our educated class is made up of men and women who are up for sale, and who can be bribed by the offer of scholarships, grants, and the opportunities for publication of their work. 'Consideration and recognition are what most intellectuals crave.' We wish it were possible to make this document known to every teacher at all levels throughout the region. We need no further definition of cultural imperialism than these strategies which are outlined here.


There is a man who will fight in any army, anywhere, at any time. He demands a certain price for his skills, and asks no further questions. He is called a mercenary. The intellectual may also be a mercenary; that is a man whose relation to his work is determined entirely by his personal interests in the promotion of a career. [Posting this text from the grenada revolution online without a link for a quick show of knowledge can be an act of a lazy intellectual mercenary]. In this respect, the historian, the economist, the writer may be no different from the type of soldier we have just mentioned. A revolutionary struggle has the duty to help rescue men and women from this fate. All of you here are intellectual workers who have had to wrestle with this problem, since capitalism surrounds you with markets which are always ready to buy and hire your skills, and at a price poor nations cannot pay. It is to your credit that you have remained where you belong.

In our context you have to ask yourselves, in whose interest, on behalf of which class do you carry out your social function as teacher, researcher, actor, writer?

In our view, there are at least two armies, the military army and the cultural army. The revolution must be defended; but we cannot train young comrades in the use of weapons to create and defend a revolutionary struggle unless we can also make it clear to them what is the meaning, the true nature of that struggle. This task of defending and clarifying the meaning and context of a revolutionary struggle must be the task of our cultural army. And it is indispensable. Without it every military victory remains a sterile victory, where the 'freedom of the press' allows the transnationals to shape the tastes of the people


The Grenada Revolution is young. It is barely 3½ years old. But already it presents a living example of the regenerating impact of political process upon cultural development.

The cultural development of our people since the Revolution is due to a vital process of change which only political revolution can set in motion. This process of change has two aspects — they complement each other; they come together to produce a strong, revitalized cultural identity. The cultural regeneration of our people comes out of a twin process of increased self-expression and increased education.

Where does our culture reside, the culture that we can call our own? It resides among the masses of our people, the people whose way of life is a submerged and disrespected sub-culture — the masses of the people, whose morns and values have never made it into the law-books or the education system, whose voices are silenced by the authoritative words and images that dominate all the organs of communication and discussion in the society from the newspaper to the Parliament.

Today in Grenada, the long-submerged culture of the masses of the people is rising to the surface of our history through the development of structures which unlock the voices of our people from centuries of oblivion.

Today in Grenada we are building organs of democracy and the right to speak, all over the country, in every nook and cranny of Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique — not in one gilded and velveted room, not around one polished table with room for only a handful of men to sit and decide on our behalf, but everywhere in our country and for everybody in our country.

Our media, too, have been infiltrated by voices they have never accommodated before. Our people are firmly taking control of their newspapers, their radio, their television. Our people will never again be controlled by the media.

We make no apology for interpreting the freedom of the press in Free Grenada to mean liberating every possible medium of communication from the stranglehold of a minority which in turn is manipulated by powerful foreign interests. We make no apology for moving swiftly, and with the consent of the majority of our people, to silence our local representatives of the reactionary Caribbean press, that band of faithful mongrels who all this week have been wagging their tails and yapping in unison at the command of their headquarters. Identical editorials, identical lies and distortions, manufactured in one factory and then off-loaded onto your free and independent newspapers across 1000 miles of Caribbean Sea. If that is freedom and independence of the press, then we will have none of it in our free and independent Grenada.

Our people today have channels of expression which were not open to them before, and so, inevitably, the culture of our people emerges out of its age-old limbo.

But at the same time that we institute mechanisms for the release of our people's culture, we must guard against the notion that culture is something to put away in a glass case or preserve in a bottle. It is perhaps quite incorrect to use the word 'preserve' when we talk of culture. We speak, rather, of the defence of our cultures.


We cannot speak of liberating our culture if all we mean is taking it out of one cage to put in into another. Our culture has to develop into a strong frame of reference, a strong rallying-point for our people in today's world, in tomorrow's world.

In all the formerly colonised countries of the world where the masses are still kept in a state of ignorance while a small elite are given access to education — an education which is imported wholesale from another culture — the folk culture or the culture of the people remains in a state of underdevelopment, unable to give the people real confidence, real power, real viability in the modern world. On the one hand the culture of the people is cut off from the light of modern knowledge, and on the other hand the educated classes are cut off from the culture of their people.

This problem is not insoluble. The solution, in fact is so simple as to be dangerous — dangerous of course to the headquarters of the Guardian, the Express, the Advocate, and the Gleaner. To arm the Caribbean people with their own culture, to rescue the culture of the Caribbean people from its present role of amusing American tourists, to turn this culture into a living force which can fire the masses of Caribbean people with self-pride and independence — this is one of the truly dangerous developments in Grenada that place us in the shooting range of President Reagan and his pack of hunting dogs of the Caribbean Basin.


For our culture to grow to its full stature, the people, all the people must have access to education. There are thousands of illiterate people in some of the very Caribbean countries which are used as bases for attacks on Grenada. No one is concerned about their human rights, their right to education, and our attackers do not see our literacy campaign as an increase of our people's human rights.

Our people must have access to education, but this education must be fashioned in our own image, this education works through our culture and not against it, through our reality, through our priorities, through the values which bind our people together.

I would hope that our visitors have the opportunity of viewing some of the materials and learning of the activities of our Centre for Popular Education while they are here in our country. The CPE in only one aspect of the massive development of education for all in our country since the Revolution. Opportunities for education and training have increased a hundredfold — education and work training relevant to our needs, our situation.

For the first time in our history knowledge is being made available to the people who hold the keys of our culture, knowledge which does not come in the alienating forms of colonial education.

An important part of this process of cultural regeneration is the new contact between the educated elite and the masses, facilitated by our Revolution.


Members of these two traditionally separated classes today meet and take strength from each other within the ranks of our mass organisations, and in our new political process in general. In the NWO [National Women's Organization], sisters who have university training or who work behind a desk must collaborate in community work with sisters who never finished primary school and who know how to work the land for a living. They must respect and support each other.

In our People's Militia a man or a woman who is a teacher in civilian life must take orders from a squad leader who not so long ago was one of his/her students.

In our political education classes or study groups, the educated and the under-educated pool their ideas, and their life experience to the benefit of both, to the achievement of deeper insights for both.


For, yes, we have political education, and we have the honesty to call it political education. The television network of our Caribbean Basin doesn't call its canned-in-the-US programmes 'political education', it doesn't call its massive onslaught of advertising on the minds of the people 'political education'; it doesn't even call its slanted newscasting 'political education'. The news media of the Caribbean doesn't admit that they are engaged in political education, with their blanket of silence on developments in Grenada, interrupted only by prefabricated editorials on us, and reports on Soviet MIG fighters that are unloaded in crates on the St. George's wharf.

Yes, the political education of our people is a major aspect of the defence of our culture. For our people must be able to see behind the smokescreen created by the US-controlled media in the Caribbean. They must not be blinded to the realities of the forces which seek to control our destiny. Our people must have the facts, the power to analyse their own situations and make choices.

What choosing power do the majority of Caribbean people have after years of being hammered with images of American TV analyses of the world situation seen through the eyes of American interests? What voice does the majority of Caribbean people exercise, given the subtle, insidious imperialist political education that they receive?


The awakened consciousness of our people, their newly-won access to self-expression on the one hand, and to education on the other, already have borne fruit in the regeneration of our culture.

In the first place, we are witnessing in Grenada a confident flowering of the arts — wealth of creativity in poetry, song, music, drama and dance. At the moment our National Performing Company is on tour in North America, after a most successful tour of England.

The steady growth of Grenadian literature is particularly note-worthy. Grenada has no representatives in the impressive of fame of Caribbean literature because of the traditional under-development of our education system and the lack of self-awareness of our people. But in the 3½ years of the Revolution alone we can boast that never before have so many Grenadians put pen to paper, never before have the voices of so many Grenadians been recorded in print.

The growing self-knowledge and pride of our people is something which strikes the attention of all who visit our land. The growth, too, of new dimensions of culture — new attitudes, new behaviours, new routines which we take for granted.

For culture is the arts and the deeper processes which throw up the arts. All of our shared habits, all of our collective responses to our common situation, all of these are culture. And today in Grenada our long-submerged culture is surfacing to the light of day, but it is also growing new leaves, new flowers. We are walking in new ways that are our ways.

  1. The oldest grandmother living in her little house on her plot of land in a rural village, putting on her hat to come out at seven o'clock in the evening to participate in her Zonal Council meeting, for she wants to keep abreast of all that is going on, and because she has her piece to say, and takes it for granted that everyone must say his or her piece.
  2. The youth whose life pattern included liming on the bridge for hours on end, who now takes on the discipline of attending meetings and participating in community work — for who must be responsible for the building and protection of the community but the people who live there?
  3. The young of middle-aged sister who steps forward to participate in the defence of her revolution, calmly manipulating an automatic rifle or controlling the anti-aircraft machine, guarding the beach with the rest of her sisters and brothers.
  4. The young Pioneer who has to be stood upon a chair to reach the microphone on order to deliver a solidarity message or recite a revolutionary poem before a gathering of 10,000 people.
  5. The young people returning willingly to the land to ensure that we grow what we eat through programmes of the Revolution such as the Co-operative movement and the new farm schools.
  6. The women and men of our country sitting down to discuss what should go into the nation's budget and demanding that we cease the folly of wasting precious foreign exchange on commodities which we do not need, commodities that are considered life blood by people as poor as ourselves in other Caribbean countries, where the media allows the transnationals to shape the tastes of the people.

All of these images of cultural regeneration, images of a people taking their destiny into their own hands. This, comrades, is what is threatened by cultural imperialism, which aims a the very opposite, focussing our individual energies upon a foreign ideal which militates against our own development as a people. And because of this threat, Intellectual and Cultural Workers of our region have a real responsibility to ensure that this threat is defeated.


We know, of course, that imperialism is well organised and rich in human and financial resources. Yet it is clear there are things that our intellectual and cultural workers can do.

Firstly, intellectual and cultural workers have to respond by becoming organised and united regionally.

Secondly, intellectual and cultural workers must move creatively and energetically to forge closer links — direct links —with the Caribbean masses, and help them to raise their consciousness so that they would not be misled by the lies and distortions of imperialism; so that they would be better able to understand the new revolutionary values and processes that are being built in the Caribbean today.

Thirdly, intellectual and cultural workers must forge in reality the ink between People's Politics and People's Culture.

Fourthly, intellectual and cultural workers must unite in strength to expose the warmongers and the merchants of neutron death. And in this context they must struggle hard to ensure that the Caribbean in reality becomes a zone of peace, independence and development.

Fifthly, intellectual and cultural workers must struggle for real independence for our people.

And, because we know that this historic conference aims at achieving these objectives, among others, we are doubly happy to be your hosts during this period.






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