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8, Mrs. N.

Thomas - Independence movement in the British West Indies

The late 19th century was a time of change in the Caribbean with the ex-enslaved being key to the
economic transformation of the region, namely the rise of the peasantry, economic enfranchisement
and the rise of the merchant class. The next step was political enfranchisement as movement towards
political independence eventually for some whilst others opted to remain colonies and departments.
For the British West Indies going to independence was a gradual process.

In 1866 following the Crown Colony system was introduced where the Crown ruled directly with a
representative in a Governor instead of through a controversial planter assembly who manipulated
the British government to issue funds to perpetuate their privileged positions and make laws in their
favor. Barbados was the exception having had the oldest assembly since 1645. They opted to keep that
system which represented only a small minority white planters - until 1960.

Crown Colony system would bring social and infrastructural change:

Public works on roads, bridges, drains and infrastructure

Improved Postal services
Construction of schools
Improvements in Health care
Effective Policing through a police force

But many British Caribbean people felt that all this was merely cosmetic as this political change
continued to restrict them and keep them disempowered. For example to be eligible to vote in St. Kitts
an annual income of 30 pounds was needed or property valued at 100 pounds. This meant that up
until the 1930s less than 5% of the 36 000 people could vote (only 1800). The vast majority therefore
could not vote or access government jobs yet still had to pay taxes. The British colonial authority
continued to behave as though they were indifferent to the challenges faced by the impoverished
Caribbean citizenry. At this juncture, a middle class who was more educated was emerging. They were
intent on more substantial roles in society and they began the call for constitutional change.


Karl Marx in the mid 1800s pointed to a Utopia of classlessness where individuals and groups
organized themselves to effect what was necessary without government, religion or private
ownership, from each according to his ability and to each according to his need. This is in direct
contrast to the free market economy of capitalism and private ownership of the means of production
land, labour and capital. The Industrial Revolution spawned this aversion to the exploitation of
capitalism. Investors and inventors gained much wealth whilst the masses of labourers who made
them rich got little compensation, widening the divide between rich and poor.

London 1847 a Communist Party Manifesto was secretly created by a Congress of workers and was
published in 1848 by Marx and Engels. It conceptualized society as organized by a central controlling
government with communal ownership of the means of production, with no separation between the
bourgeois and the proletariat. This movement arose when the European workers were in upheaval
during the Industrial Revolution. But the exploitation suffered by Caribbean workers struck a chord
and communism seemed more attractive as it emphasized the role of labour, more equity and just
divisions of resources and the means of production.

The 1930s- There were nationalists who were dissatisfied with the noted dependency on the British
for capital. They believed that more opportunities for employment would alleviate the poverty and
suffering of the masses. There was a lack of housing, dilapidated roads, a lack of health care, no
schooling, poor drainage and high taxes. To worsen matters there was widespread unemployment and
low wages. They became more active in the 1930s calling for greater accountability from the colonial
authority. The next step was to mobilize into trade unions and political parties. There were riots in the
1930s across the Caribbean which prompted the British Home Government to send out Commissions
of enquiry to the Caribbean to determine the reasons for dissatisfaction. More representation was
granted via constitutional changes and political privileges beginning in the 1940s. The process of
decolonization began that is, slow release of control and ownership of colonies.


Jamaica 1944 - Granting universal adult suffrage where every man and woman 21 years+ could vote,
that is, hold the right to franchise. This represented the nullifying of prior condition of land and
income qualifications.

In the 1950s full ministerial and full internal self-government with elections every 4 years with the
winning party appointing Minister of Agriculture, Education, Finance etc. The ruling party governed all
internal affairs with the Governor (Britains representative in the colony) ran foreign affairs and
defence. This was true of Trinidad with Sir Solomon Hochoy and the PNM/DLP of the 1950s. Whilst
this was happening in the individual colonies Britain was pushing the Caribbean towards a Federation
with one Premier Sir Grantley Adams of Barbados. Chaguaramas, Trinidad was to be the capital. This
was a shortlived Federation as differences in economic development, among others, meant that the
more developed territories felt burdened by the less developed and did not want to continue the
arrangement. Jamaica withdrew followed by Trinidad with Dr. Eric Williams famous statement 1 from
10 leaves naught.

With the collapse of the West India Federation each state moved toward independence with total
control of external and internal affairs:

Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago 1962

Guyana and Barbados 1966

Others felt that they were not yet ready and 5 states went on to take Associated Statehood in
1967: Grenada, Dominica, Antigua, St. Lucia, St. Kitts. St. Vincent accepted associated statehood in

They went on to push for independence and in the 70s and 80s beginning with Grenada in
1974 and ending with St. Kitts in 1983.
1967 Montserrat and 1972 Cayman Islands opted to still remain colonies