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New Jewel Movement

New Jewel Movement

Early in the morning of October 25, 1983, an invasion force numbering more then six thousand U.S. infantry and marines attacked by sea and air the tiny spice island of Grenada, southernmost of the Windward Islands in the Eastern Caribbean. After five days of unexpected resistance from Grenada's People's Revolutionary Army (PRA), the United States, backed by some Caribbean states but opposed by the great majority in the United Nations, finally asserted control.

The immediate prelude to these momentous events was an extraordinary meeting in September of the Central Committee (CC) of Grenada's ruling party, the Marxist-Leninist New Jewel Movement (NJM). After four and a half years of revolutionary rule, beginning with the armed seizure of power from autocratic Prime Minister Eric Gairy in March 1979, the majority of the CC assessed that the regime was in a state of crisis. Earlier that year, on March 10, U.S. president Ronald Reagan in a national broadcast had declared Grenada, with its close ties to Cuba, a threat to U.S. security. Following this broadcast, there were large, coordinated naval maneuvers in the Atlantic and Caribbean. An invasion of Grenada seemed imminent, and yet many CC members averred that from the perspective of military preparedness and national morale, the country was at its lowest point since 1979. The position eventually endorsed by all was that weak leadership had been the cause of the flagging support.

Divisions began to emerge, however, when suggestions as to the way out of the crisis were proposed. Liam James, member of the inner Political Bureau and chief of security, argued that while Prime Minister Maurice Bishop had the charismatic qualities to inspire people, he lacked a "Leninist level of organization and discipline," as well as great ideological clarity. The answer, James proposed, was a model of "joint leadership," merging Bishop's strengths with those of Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Bernard Coard, generally perceived as the most ideologically developed of the top leaders. After much debate, in which Bishop, among others, expressed reservations, the proposal was carried forward to a full party gathering on September 25. Here, differences seemed to have been overcome and the meeting ended in apparent unity. The following day Bishop left on a scheduled trip to Eastern Europe, returning via Cuba on October 8. By then everything had changed. He announced that he wanted the joint leadership matter reopened for debate. Battle lines were now drawn. Some party leaders began to see his request as an unacceptable volte-face on a collective decision. For his part, Bishop began to believe that there was a conspiracy afoot.

Rumors were rife. One in particular, suggesting that Coard and his Jamaican wife, Phyllis, were planning to kill the prime minister, led to a clash between a pro-Bishop militia contingent and a unit of the regular army. When an investigation into the source was held, Bishop's number two security officer said that the rumor came from the prime minister himself. Bishop, refusing to respond to the accusation, was placed, precipitously, under house arrest.

Almost immediately, popular demonstrations began, from a people who were entirely unaware of the previous secretive, inner-party decisions and who were outraged at the detention of their popular leader. On October 19 a large demonstration freed Bishop from his home, and he, along with his closest associates, marched to the main military camp at nearby Fort Rupert and overwhelmed its guards.

In the subsequent attempt by the army to recapture the fort, there was a shootout with fatalities both on the side of the encroaching military and the newly armed pro-Bishop supporters. The PRA contingent was eventually victorious; Bishop and his closest allies were held unarmed, then shortly thereafter executed.

The killing of Bishop undermined any remaining popular support for the revolutionary process. The expected U.S. invasion came six days later. There was resistance, but most of the country was still paralyzed and in shock, with many expressing great antipathy toward those in the NJM whom they held responsible for murdering Bishop.

The NJM had been formed only a decade before in 1973. A direct product of the effervescent Caribbean Black Power movement, it emerged from the unification of two trendsthe Joint Endeavour for Welfare, Education, and Liberation (Jewel), headed by Unison Whiteman, and the Movement for the Assemblies of the People (MAP), headed by Maurice Bishop. MAP was one of a few Caribbean organizations inspired by the ideas of the Trinidadian Marxist C. L. R. James.

The NJM was launched during a profound political crisis. In 1972 Eric Gairy's Grenada United Labour Party (GULP) won what many considered to be a fraudulent general election. Immediately after, he declared without prior consultation that he would lead Grenada to independence from Great Britain. Many people opposed independence under Gairy, fearing that his arbitrary and often brutal rule would worsen. Large, anti-independence demonstrations escalated into a nationwide lockdown in December 1973, when Gairy's paramilitary forcethe "Mongoose Gang"beat up Bishop and other NJM leaders as they mobilized support.

Gairy managed to ride out the general strike and declared independence, effectively defeating the opposing coalition. Out of this failure, NJM leaders, influenced by Coard, decided to transform the party from a popular, if inchoate, mass movement into a vanguard party based on Leninist principles of selective membership and "democratic centralism." Vanguardism seemed at first to serve the movement well. In 1976, as part of a broad-based alliance, the NJM contested general elections. Gairy won, though many considered it another rigged exercise. The NJM, however, emerged as the largest opposition party, and Bishop became the constitutional leader of the opposition.

In early 1979, when it was alleged that Gairy was planning to arrest and massacre NJM leaders, the party had already trained a military force and was able to respond with the seizure of power on March 13. This power was consolidated when large numbers of people came out in the streets in support of the revolution.

NJM rule combined some distinct successes with a few ultimately fatal weaknesses. NJM's economic policies, predicated on Keynesian notions of infrastructural development, led to growth and significantly reduced levels of unemployment. The structural features of the economy, however, rooted in an agrarian-based, export dependent monoculture, remained largely unchanged. The political strategy showed some innovation, as in the national budget debate, which sought to creatively involve the entire populace in a discussion of the annual budget. The broader policy on political freedoms was, however, seriously flawed, including the failure to consider multiparty elections and the detention of large numbers of opposition figures on the sometimes unsubstantiated basis that they were "counterrevolutionary."

The single most important political failure, however, was the dogmatic application of vanguardism after the seizure of power. Leninism had been a useful tool for insurrection, but turned out later to be a millstone around the party's neck. The unswerving implementation of a policy of secrecy, elitism, and exclusionism served to alienate the NJM from its support base, laying the basis for the crisis of mid-1983 and the fatal joint leadership proposal, which, in turn, led to the tragedy of October.

See also Bishop, Maurice; Gairy, Eric


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brian meeks (2005)

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