- Perspectives on the Grenada Revolution, 1979–1983 ed. by Nicole Phillip-Dowe and John Angus Martin
In the space of several days in October 1983, the Grenada Revolution, the first socialist revolution in the English-speaking Caribbean, came to its truly shocking conclusion. Prime Minister Maurice Bishop, the charismatic and internationally renowned leader of the New Jewel Movement (NJM), was treacherously assassinated along with several associates as part of an internal power struggle with other members of the revolutionary movement. Six days later, the United States administration of Ronald Reagan – which had long antagonized and threatened the People's Revolutionary Government– dispatched American military forces in a full-scale invasion of the tiny island nation (with the complicity of regional governments). The revolution's inspiring promise of a popular transformation that would provide health, education, and employment for the masses had not only been crushed by foreign intervention, but also discredited by the fratricidal violence within the NJM itself.
This new edited volume by Nicole Phillip-Dowe and John Angus Martin returns to the dramatic events of the early 1980s and "captures the Grenada Revolution from a Grenada perspective" (xi). Aside from one essay, all of the papers were written by Grenadian authors from various personal perspectives and academic disciplines. The 12 chapters were selected from 16 papers presented at a 2016 University of the West Indies Open Campus conference held in Grenada. Given the more than three decades that have passed since the revolution's tragic denouement, the writers seek to foster a more nuanced and complex interpretation, transcending Manichean visions of "saints and devils, martyrs and traitors", as Shalini Puri puts it (176). Indeed, some of the early chapters prove rather polemical and controversial revisions of received wisdom. Lawrence A. Joseph, for example, looks back on the March 1979 uprising that toppled the regime of Eric Gairy, arguing that in strictly juridical [End Page 203] terms "the revolution" amounted to a mere coup d'état by "usurpers" (17), given the NJM's inability to impose a new institutional order through democratic elections. Joseph Ewart Layne, on the other hand, writes from the first-hand perspective of a revolutionary leader who spent 26 years behind bars following the American invasion for his role in the events of 1983. While he offers something of a mea culpa for NJM errors and abuses, he insists that it was the leadership's "missteps in strategy formation and implementation" that led to the disastrous outcome, rather than "ideological conflict and personal ambition for power" (29–30).
Many of the chapters in volume's middle section look back on the revolution's four-and-a-half years of social transformation in areas such as women's rights, youth engagement, and church–state relations. In many of these spheres, the papers aim to document both the hope, creativity, and promise of these idealistic revolutionary projects, while acknowledging the far messier historical realities. Nicole Phillip-Dowe's chapter on the National Women's Organization (NWO) established during the revolution demonstrates the many successes of this group in educational and social projects directed at children, as well as its leading role in community development, such as improving roads and cleaning up neighbourhoods. At the same time, she shows how the NWO functioned as a subsidiary of the NJM and, despite successful reforms (such as the Maternity Leave and Equal Pay Laws), it remained very difficult for prominent women to balance party work and family obligations. In her chapter, Claudette Joseph describes her experiences as a part of the revolution's Young Pioneers movement as a child, recalling the early 1980s as a period with "a deep sense of community, national pride and patriotism" (79). Her memories of childhood in the revolutionary era are extremely positive, as she reflects on the various initiatives that she personally experienced during that heady period of social transformation. As with Phillip-Dowe's discussion of the NWO, however, Joseph also details the darker aspects of the years of New Jewel rule, such as...