- Editor’s Note
This issue addresses the legacy of Dr. Eric Williams (1911–1981), Caribbean scholar and teacher, statesman and politician. After an outstanding academic career as a scholarship student at St. Catherine’s College, Oxford, then as Professor of Social and Political Science at Howard University, Consultant and Secretary of the Anglo-American Caribbean Commission, Research Consultant at the Foundation for Foreign Affairs, Head of Research and Deputy Chairman of the Caribbean Research Council, and Senior Officer with the Caribbean Commission, Williams founded the People’s National Movement in Trinidad and Tobago on January 24, 1956, and served a record-breaking tenure, first as Chief Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, and then as Prime Minister of the independent Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, until his death in 1981. The papers published here are largely drawn from scholars attending “Capitalism and Slavery Fifty Years Later: Eric Williams and The Postcolonial Caribbean,” a conference sponsored by The University of the West Indies, St. Augustine Campus, September 24–28, 1996. 1
Though Eric Williams is best known as a historian and politician, his life and work in several distinct cultural spheres illuminate many of the diverse social and political interests of literary and cultural studies. This issue hopes to offer some insight into the different trajectories encompassed by the converging roles of Eric Williams as a scholar, teacher, politician and statesman, roles that upon closer examination throw light on many of the conflicts and ambiguities surrounding ideas of nationhood and national identity, colonialism and postcolonialism, race, ethnicity and identity politics, the management of cultural change, as well as the changing role of the intellectual in postmodern, postcolonial contexts. From his humble beginnings in a British colony at the turn of the century, Williams forged an intellectual and political tradition that is now under rigorous scrutiny. Only a small part of the diverse and often contentious debate that has followed Williams can be included here, but it should be sufficient to suggest points of convergence with areas of study that seek to understand and effect social transformation and cultural change in national and global contexts.
In Representations of the Intellectual, Edward Said observes: “there has been far too much defining of the intellectual, and not enough stock taken of the image, the signature, the actual intervention and performance, all of which taken together constitute the very lifeblood of every real intellectual.” 2 In this context, it seems appropriate to reprint sections of the autobiography of Eric Williams, Inward Hunger: The Education of a Prime Minister (1966), that illuminate the individual voice and presence of a Caribbean intellectual and activist who envisioned and sought to enact [End Page v] an entire program of social and political change, some of the risks, obstacles, and conflicts he faced, and the resistant political consciousness that characterized his intellectual and political endeavors. 3 The passages excerpted here reveal the careful self-placement of a “cosmopolitan” nationalist, who identifies himself as the scion of an aspiring lower middle-class and an intellectual elite, and who mobilizes his unrelenting erudition, achievement, and reputation on behalf of an ongoing struggle to refashion the colonial Caribbean into “a geographical unit rather than a geographical expression.” 4
In Inward Hunger, the carefully framed logic of Williams’ determination “to resist the vortex of American slavery” (79) and “to stick to the West Indies” (77) illuminates the interpenetration of Caribbean and African-American intellectual thought and also the tensions, contradictions and differences that have intrigued social and cultural analysts in the United States and in the Caribbean. The anomalies of Marcus Garvey, Claude McKay, C.L.R. James, Derek Walcott, and, more recently, Jamaica Kincaid in a North American setting are more often noticed than understood. 5 The intermeshing and, at times, contradictory intersection of local-regional-hemispheric social and cultural relations are carefully woven into the design of Inward Hunger. Though cosmopolitan in education and orientation, and celebratory of his work at Howard University and the alliances he formed while working in the United States, Williams remains committed to “a regime of truth” specific to the structure and function of power in Caribbean societies. 6 His sphere of identification is clearly...