Why I Love Maurice Bishop and What We Can Learn from the Grenadian Revolution

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Maurice Bishop and Fidel Castro, two lions of the Caribbean who told Yankees to go fuck themselves.

Maurice Bishop is BAE. Who was he? He was an Aruba born Grenadian revolutionary who went to school in the UK (receiving a law degree but leaving to return to his native land before being called to the bar), a soldier, and a leader in the New Jewel Movement. He was a self-proclaimed Marxist-Leninist, and, most importantly, he was an English speaking black man in a black country that was formerly a colony of the British Empire and who used Marxism to work for his people’s liberation. Before Bishop and his party rose to power on March 13, 1979, Grenada was run by Eric Gairy, a corrupt buffoon who believed in UFOs and was very close with fellow Yankee running dog Pinochet of Chile, who had overthrown Salvador Allende (another reason you cannot elect socialism!) in a US backed, CIA orchestrated coup d’etat on September 11, 1973. Gairy was a kleptocrat (one who runs a country by promoting stealing and corruption), a brute (his Mongoose Gang was known to routinely beat people to death and sexually assault women, along with plundering the treasury), and a mystic (he believed in all sorts of superstitions and conspiracy theories). Bishop knew the example of Allende very well, yet, history would have it that he would, essentially, follow in his footsteps. Bishop, instead of taking power in an election like Allende, would come to power in what was essentially a coup while Gairy was in New York addressing the UN with one of his notorious rants.

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Bishop speaking during his time as Premier.

At 10:48 AM on the morning of March 13, 1979, Bishop pronounced a “bright new dawn” for the people of Grenada. His address reads, in part:

Brothers and Sisters,

This is Maurice Bishop speaking. At 4.15am this morning, the People’s Revolutionary Army seized control of the army barracks at True Blue. The barracks were burned to the ground. After a half an hour struggle, the forces Gairy’s army were completely defeated, and surrendered. Every single soldier surrendered and not a single member of the revolutionary forces was injured. At the same time, the radio station was captured without a single shot being fired. Shortly after this, several cabinet ministers were captured in their beds by units of the revolutionary army. A number of senior police officers, including Superintendent Adonis Francis, were also taken into protective custody. At this moment, several police stations have already put up the white flag of surrender. Revolutionary forces have been dispatched to mop up any possible sources of resistance or disloyalty to the new government.

Maoists hold, as a key part of our theoretical understanding of revolution and power, that a revolutionary seizing power in a coup d’etat is, essentially, setting themselves up for failure. Why? Power comes from the people, a Party belongs to and is comprised of vanguard elements of the people, and revolution is made through protracted people’s war reliant on the people. There are three “magic weapons” that are needed to carry a successful seizure of power: the people’s army, controlled by the Communist Party, leading a United Front of all democratic, revolutionary and progressive strata in the country. Without this, one can seize state power, of course, but you will not be secure. Coups and putsches rely on a very small segment of people within the military or another otherwise armed segment of the population taking advantage of a situation (in this case, Gairy being out of the country and the Grenadian military being corrupt, lazy, undisciplined and weak) to take power. It’s not founded in the masses, it takes over and then hopes to gain mass support. Essentially, they’re backwards and in constant danger of being overthrown.

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Maurice Bishop and Samora Michel of Mozambique on African Liberation Day, 1982.

The New Jewel Movement was a progressive one, taking Marxism-Leninism as its expressed theoretical foundation. Bishop, in terms of his foreign orientation, was oriented towards Cuba and the Soviet social-imperialists. From what I’ve read, he never criticized the social-imperialist nature of the USSR, as a matter of fact, he appears to have considered them socialist. This is sad, but I’m more charitable than many of my Maoist comrades when it comes to brothers that have found themselves between a rock and a hard place. China, during the Dengist era, had sold out many a liberation movement, aligning with the US and South African interests in Angola, what would become the Taliban in Afghanistan, the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia, and also attacked Vietnam. Pinochet in Chile, and other reactionary forces. Bishop was in constant contact with comrades fighting in Africa who kept him abreast of this situation, and he probably thought very little of the Chinese. To this day, in Africa, many leftists don’t have much time for China. Or the Russians, for that matter, who supported the Derg and Ethiopian meddling in Somalia. That said, in terms of material support and aid, Bishop got more from the Cubans than any other movement, they helped Grenada out with an airport, aid, weapons, and medical assistance. Bishop loved Cuba, just like the whole Caribbean. Of course, many Maoists in the US bawl and scoff at their embrace of social-imperialism and chaining themselves to the Soviet bear, we know all this and the nature of the system there, but black and brown people that have made revolution generally have little time for such polemicizing and nonsense, we’ve got countries to run and people to feed. The Black Panther Party didn’t attack Cuba either, it opened its doors when cadre were in trouble and thus was a friend. This is pragmatism and common sense, Mao displayed it, so did Bishop. When you’re talking about the war, you can say anything you like, when you’re fighting it, it’s another ballgame entirely. Most of the various cracker-left sectlets that holler the loudest about progressive movements in foreign countries making the “wrong” friends are, not surprisingly, the least worried about providing actual material support to them, or to members of their diaspora in this country that support the movement back home.

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Bishop was important because Grenada was the first English speaking country in the Americas to break, for a time, from Anglo-American backyardism, as Bishop called it, and come under the guidance of an explicitly Marxist regime. The government’s propaganda, the documents, the broadcasts, were all in English. This was extremely important. Bishop was a consistent visitor to the US (which was at this time developing a plan to attack his country and slaughter his people), where he addressed black colleges, the Grenadian diaspora, and the US working class as a whole. Essentially, he was to my people what Fidel Castro was to the Spanish speaking population. He improved his people’s lives. The Grenadian revolution was a progressive, anti-imperialist one. Grenada, for the first time, had more than one dentist on the island. People could get their houses repaired without going into crippling debt. People could go to the doctor. People felt proud of themselves and their country. The pig Gairy was gone. Women received equal pay for equal work, and were no longer subject to brutality, torture, and rape from the police. Comrade Bishop was  a bad ass brother, a badass comrade, he told America to go fuck itself, he loved his people. This was a psychological boost, and we knew we had a friend. Many of us went down there. When he said this, he was talking to the white man. He was Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Vladimir Lenin, and Che, rolled into one.

Grenada is a sovereign and independent country, although a tiny speck on the world map, and we expect all countries to strictly respect our independence just as we will respect theirs. No country has the right to tell us what to do or how to run our country or who to be friendly with. We certainly would not attempt to tell any other country what to do.

We are not in anybody’s backyard, and we are definitely not for sale. Anybody who thinks they can bully us or threaten us clearly has no understanding, idea, or clue as to what material we are made of. They clearly have no idea of the tremendous struggles which our people have fought over the past seven years. Though small and poor, we are proud and determined. We would sooner give up our lives before we compromise, sell out, or betray our sovereignty, our independence, our integrity, our manhood, and the right of our people to national self determination and social progress.

Of course, Bishop was trapped and doomed from the beginning. He came to power in a coup, was placed under house arrest after a vicious power struggle, was freed by the masses, and was ultimately betrayed and murdered, along with many comrades, by Hudson Austin and Bernard Winston Coard, rightist members of his own party and the military. The Soviet Union toward which his Grenada was oriented was on its last legs in the early ’80s, and when it fell, if he had survived until 1991, would have been caught in the same economic straitjacket that Cuba was caught in, no market for its goods and no aid = hard times. Grenada probably would have found itself being an English speaking Cuba, under embargo and bereft of trading partners, forced to survive on whatever it could get. This is why we have to remember the importance of self-reliance, diversifying, and development of the country. You can throw out one imperialism, but if you haven’t broken out of the one crop, colonial/neocolonial mold (Cuba grows sugar, first for the Spanish, then for the Yankees, then for the Soviet Union, Grenada grows nutmeg), you will suffer, especially if you chain yourself to social imperialism, which history shows us will always implode and collapse in on itself, like all imperialism. The RCP (before it became the Avakian cult) laid out the shortcomings of the Cuban system in Evaporation of a Myth, and Mao himself criticized the system in Cuba and encouraged them to grow food for themselves so that it was not reliant on the Soviet Union when it had enough land to adequately feed its people.

Bishop was an internationalist, and developed bonds of unity with Black people in the US. He recognized the importance of building unity across the diaspora, and breaking down divisions that benefited the imperialists. He said during what would be one of his last speeches:

And another objective that we had was to use the period to deepen our relations with some of our closest friends in the United States, with our Black American sisters and brothers, with our Grenadian nationals, with those progressive forces right across the United States who have given us so much support unstintingly, to those who lead and are hard workers in the friendship societies and the solidarity committees. We were very anxious to speak to the sisters and brothers, to express our appreciation for the hard work that they have done, and to give them some idea as to what we are doing at this time in Grenada. That objective, also, has gone well.

This is extremely important. We had an English speaking Caribbean revolutionary reaching out to us and providing support in a tangible way. We could go to Grenada, we could talk to Grenadians, we could take part in the revolutionary process. Like I said, Bishop ended up dead, killed by traitors within his own party and his own movement, people he once called friends. Just like Malcolm X, whose mother was Grenadian, as Bishop proudly pointed out. From his death rose a fascistic type regime that was eventually overthrown by the US and other Caribbean comprador countries. But, for a period, for all its mistakes, Grenada, the island that Bishop said “made a big revolution”, walked straight. With it walked the entire New Afrikan working class in the United States. Learn from its victories, its mistakes, and its failure.

 

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