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DR. RALPH GONSALVES THE PRAGMATIST

March 21, 2016

By

Sir Lawrence A. Joseph

     If anyone had any doubts about the pragmatism of Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, Prime Minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, those doubts would have been completely erased on the night of Monday 14th March 2016. On that night Dr. Gonsalves delivered a most stimulating lecture to a most enthusiastic audience at the Grenada Trade Centre. It was entitled “The Grenada Revolution: Historical Context, Impact, and Continuing Significance” and was organized by The Grenada Revolution Memorial Foundation (GREMFO) and Groundation Grenada.

      A pragmatist may be regarded as one who deals with matters in accordance with their practical requirements or consequences. In the present context Dr. Gonsalves treated the essentials of the lecture title with reference to their practical lessons. He said that one of the most important lessons emanating from the 1979 to 1983 revolutionary processes is that it would be highly impractical and undesirable to try to transplant a foreign ideology such as Marxism/Leninism into a country which is traditionally steeped in capitalism without first having the appropriate foundation in place. Capitalism here refers to an economic system where the means of production are owned privately and for profit.

Since the 1950’s through the revolutionary processes of Eric Gairy Grenadians took pride in owning their own plots of land and private businesses. Moreover they became accustomed to the practice of the principle of ‘one man, one vote’   based upon a multi-party system of democracy. Contrary to this situation the new revolutionary leaders were bent on establishing Marxist/Leninist principles under a one-party system with the state owning all the means of production. This thinking, according to Gonsalves, was much too far ahead of ordinary Grenadians.

Marxism is the economic, political and social theories of the Germans Karl Marx and Frederich Engels which hold the view that class struggle is needed in order to enable communism to supersede capitalism. Communism itself is a political theory which favours collective ownership of the means of production for the general good.  Marxism was especially promulgated in Russia by Vladimir Lenin who took the position that a vanguard party was needed in order to achieve governmental control to enable the dictatorship of the proletariat to prevail. At the time of Lenin the socio-political conditions in Russia were ripe for the application of Marxism. Russia was large and was perhaps the poorest European country with an enormous illiterate peasantry with a paucity of industrialization.

     As a consequence of the actions of the Bolsheviks who comprised the vanguard party in Russia, there was the eventual establishment of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) comprising a number of Eastern European countries in 1922. However, because of the unaccomplished ‘pie in the sky’ revolutionary dreams that Union disintegrated under President Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991. In fact capitalism may be said to be the order of the day in those countries today as the pure form of Marxism/Leninism has since been abandoned. Nonetheless it was this Marxist/Leninist ideology that the leadership of the New Jewel Movement (NJM) was bent on transplanting wholesale into the small closely knit Grenadian society without the necessary input from the ‘proletariat’.

Dr. Gonsalves himself appears to have had some measure of exposure to what is referred to as socialism. Socialism is considered by many to be at the lower stage of communism and is based on the principle “from each according to his ability to each according to his contribution”. The upper stage is based on the principle “from each according to his ability to each according to his need”. It is within this latter stage that the pure form of Marxism lies. In general socialism refers to a range of economic and social systems characterized by social ownership and democratic control. It is a most ubiquitous ideology as many countries all over the world now adopt various forms of socialism.

In addition to the above, Dr. Gonsalves also identified the non-legitimization of the Grenada usurper regime either by referendum or by general elections, together with the continuous arbitrary detentions of many without charge or trial as serious errors committed by that regime. There is no doubt that the abovementioned errors significantly contributed towards its downfall in October 1983 despite its contributions to a number of positive societal benefits.  In conclusion, Dr. Gonsalves went out of his way to advise Grenadians that even if they consider that they are not getting all they want from the ongoing Constitution reform process marginal improvements to the Constitution are better than none at all. In my opinion, whether one likes him or otherwise, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves who won four consecutive general elections in his country must be recognized as being a quintessential political pragmatist.

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