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A native of Grenada but with influence throughout the Caribbean, Franklyn Harvey, a civil engineer, made his mark in radical history by coordinating and facilitating the empowerment of everyday people through promoting their direct self-government.

Franklyn Harvey was one of the most dynamic political philosophers and radical activists of the Caribbean New Left (1968-1983). Whether in Canada, Trinidad, or his native Grenada, often in underground fashion, he shaped the foundations of events that history has already recorded as profoundly significant and inspirational.       But history is not always recognized in a timely fashion by those who might subsequently find it life enhancing. Often deep contributions are mystified as part of a bygone era with supposed little relevance for where we have arrived. Harvey left his mark on history in a manner that was quite distinct, even among what we may recall of this previous epoch associated with Black Power and Third World national liberation. His body of work is still a dynamic contribution to contemporary breakthroughs.

In 1966-1967, working with Jamaica’s Robert A. Hill (later the literary executor of CLR James and Marcus Garvey), St. Vincent’s Alfie Roberts, and Antigua’s Tim Hector, Franklyn Harvey offered solidarity to C.L.R. James in Montreal following his ill-fated Workers’ and Farmer’s Party campaign of 1965-1966 in Trinidad. Studying with James, disparate topics such as Athenian democracy, the Russian Revolution, Marx’s idea of popular control of the working day, Hegel’s dialectic and existential philosophy, the Haitian Revolution and Caribbean History, Harvey was among those who began to shape his own original legacy at an early age.                                                    

Harvey took James’s ideas about the socialist future, direct democracy and workers self-management, and amplified them with other activists to shape the Caribbean New Left. With the Caribbean Conference Committee and the Caribbean International Service Bureau (CISB), Harvey and others put on a series of conferences in Toronto and Montreal that elevated C.L.R. James and the novelist George Lamming for a new generation, and projected Stokley Carmichael and Walter Rodney as among the most dynamic thinkers and writers of their generation. It was Rodney’s banning from Jamaica, after attending the Montreal Black Writers Conference in 1968, that set off the famous Rodney Riots, led by the working class and the unemployed against Jamaica’s post-independence regime. In 1969, the famous “Computer Riot,” at St George Williams University (later Concordia University), a response by Caribbean immigrant students to discrimination led by Kelvin Robinson and Kennedy Fredericks that set off the Black Power revolt in Trinidad in Feb-April 1970.                 

A rebellion that united students and the unemployed, led by Geddes Granger’s and Dave Darbeau’s National Joint Action Committee (NJAC), but also uneasily Afro-Trinidadians and Indo-Trinidadians, at first confronted Canadian influenced institutions in Trinidad. Soon it became a mass revolt against Eric Williams’s post-colonial regime. Williams tried to get the military to repress the NJAC led movement, but was met by a mutiny led by Raffique Shah and Rex Lassalle. Franklyn Harvey was in Trinidad as a university professor; he was a civil engineer by profession, and was editing Moko, a publication around an activist-intellectual circle with James Milette and Gordon Roehler. Franklyn Harvey, Darcus Howe, Wally Look Lai, Raymond Watts, and Raffique Shah were among the informal grouping that attempted to link up the students, the unemployed, and the rebel soldiers and steer the revolt toward social revolution – they failed. There was no premeditated revolutionary cell trained by C.L.R. James, as some historians have mistakenly suggested, but many had some idea that if state power could be overturned, James could be invited back to run the country.                    

Bukka Rennie, a Trinidadian among the 48 Caribbean students criminalized at the Computer Riot in Montreal, soon returned to help coordinate radical interventions during the state of emergency where many had been arrested or exiled. Rennie, who had been editing the Montreal Black community newspaper Uhuru, produced New Beginning, advocating a transitional program for social revolution that began the New Beginning Movement (NBM) (1971-1978). Led by Harvey and Rennie, NBM was unique in that it projected historical and economic ideas based on direct democracy and workers self-management. It believed ordinary Trinidadians and Caribbean people should directly hold the reins of society. Eventually spawning chapters in New York City, Toronto, Washington, D.C., and London, some saw NBM as anarchist, as it opposed both the one party state and welfare state as the meaning of a socialist future. Yet they conceived of themselves as autonomist or Jamesian Marxists. But even this was not the whole truth of their audacity.                                                      

Franklyn Harvey wrote The Rise and Fall of Party Politics in Trinidad and Tobago (1974) explaining that Eric Williams’s and C.L.R. James’s approach to building an anti-colonial mass party was a contradiction in terms. It led to the national bourgeoisie suppressing the self-directed liberating activities of the workers, farmers, and unemployed – an important lesson for those still projecting a mass party today for a second liberation from empire. Harvey, with NBM, generalized James’s analysis found in disparate places as applied to Classical Athens, the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, and Julius Nyerere’s Ujamaa Tanzania, and projected a new form of post-colonial government. This would be a movement of workplace councils and popular assemblies.

When Harvey, a native of Grenada, was declared persona-non-grata and had to leave Trinidad, the political bureau of NBM in Trinidad decided that he should base himself in Grenada to assist Maurice and lead the ideological struggle with the Stalinist perspectives advocated by Bernard Coard and Trevor Munroe that was pushed through the OREL group and was becoming influential in elements of the New Jewel Movement. Harvey was instrumental in injecting this idea of popular assemblies, in recent years found in “Occupy” and “Spring” movements across the globe, as the most original idea in the 1973 Manifesto of Maurice Bishop’s New Jewel Movement (NJM). A forerunner of the NJM was the Movement of Assemblies of the People (MAP) – it was an idea that was spread from Trinidad to Grenada by Harvey. Following the NJAC rebellion that initiated “People’s Parliaments" Harvey and NBM pioneered the critique of the Westminster model of government in theory and deepened it in practice. Harvey thus as insurgent political philosopher, with his circle, projected the most explosive idea that sparked the Grenada Revolution (1979-1983).                                  

While the Grenada Revolution did initiate zonal councils and popular assemblies, these always functioned dependent to a one party state. There was not room for political dissent or independent initiative in these councils and assemblies. In recent years there has been much reassessment of the conflict between Maurice Bishop and Bernard Coard that led to the former’s death, the latter’s long imprisonment, and of course U.S. invasion. But there has been no penetrating re-assessment of the councils and assemblies in theory and practice. Historical research suggests that Harvey actually predicted the internecine bloodletting, and was in the best position to challenge the morass that the Grenada Revolution declined into and was burdened before its collapse. Many wonder why a more dynamic intervention didn’t happen. This is a subject for further research but also a sign of the reverence many had for Harvey’s talent and originality.     Harvey must also be remembered as a coordinator of an unsung movement for Caribbean federation from below. 

That is unlike the failed West Indian Federation (1958-1961) and CARICOM today; this was a movement that was projected by the Caribbean Diaspora from disparate places like Montreal, Toronto, New York City, Washington D.C., London into the region independent of aspiring rulers above society. It was a movement for Caribbean unity animated by working class perspectives that superseded capitalist politicians in the region who collaborated with empire. Conferences in 1972 and 1973 were had to project and coordinate this federation. Consistent with this development, as editor of Caribbean Dialogue (1974-1979), Harvey fused NBM’s approach to popular democracy with an anti-fascist national liberation approach in the wake of the subversion of Salvador Allende’s Chile and Michael Manley’s Jamaica. Caribbean Dialogue kept the Caribbean Left in Antigua, Jamaica, Trinidad, Guyana, Grenada and other countries like Martinique and Guadeloupe in conversation about the potential of insurgent developments.

At the contemporary moment we have many criticisms of what is termed “neoliberalism” that upon closer look are not for the abolition of capitalism but that believe under certain terms capitalist development, especially with more public infrastructure, can be measures of anti-racism, social equality and self-determination. In the 1970s, the Caribbean was marked by populist regimes increasingly moving toward nationalized property as a means to contain the spontaneous and self-managing struggles of working people. In response to the “Occupy” and “Spring” movements we see contempt for “anarchy” by professional planners above society, claiming to be socialist, who wish to advise transparent capitalist politicians.                                                                                    

Franklyn Harvey, as civil engineer, was at times a professional consultant, but he made his mark in radical history by coordinating and facilitating the empowerment of everyday people through promoting their direct self-government. He warned against the search for public and nationalized property without the promotion of workplace councils and popular assemblies – whether among oilfield workers, farmers, or bus drivers. He warned against mediators who would lead rebellious people back to ordinary party politics. Harvey noted among the Caribbean working people there were go-slows, sick-outs, work-to-rule, sit-down strikes, sabotage of machinery and equipment, and burning of plantation fields – this suggested an instinct and elemental drive to govern. Many progressives take note of these self-directed liberating activities by the masses, after they happen – they don’t teach the need for popular self-management -- only to lead them back to elite planning and elections for a new minority to rule. But Harvey was different:

“The struggle of the working class is no longer for capitalist crumbs but for the very destruction of capitalist social relations. New self-organized forms are emerging, but they are still infant forms which are being suppressed by the state, the labor management in the unions and other institutions of mediation. These forms are the reflection of our struggles in concrete reality.”

In what are termed neoliberal times, it is difficult to imagine popular self-emancipation in workplaces particularly where there is such high unemployment. But in communities of African descent whether in imperial or peripheral nations there has always been high unemployment.  Franklyn Harvey conceived of the unemployed playing a central role in popular assemblies. Should capitalist cycles shift back to greater forms of public and nationalized property under state capitalism, and a living wage again seems plausible and more widespread, we will need outlooks that can explain this coming reconversion of capitalist society. Most socialists having labored to make capitalism more efficient, ethical, authentic, and responsible in the name of making the U.S. or U.K.  great again or a second national liberation for the Global South, will not welcome the deeper content of mass struggles that reminds, be our payment high or low, there is necessary revolt against value production itself. Franklyn Harvey, given the radical life he led, foreshadowed this future.

* Dr. Matthew Quest is a historian of the intellectual legacies of C.L.R. James and the editor of Joseph Edwards's Workers' Self-Management in the Caribbean (2014).



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