ALL AH WE IS ONE – Royal backwardness
“It would be unseemly to lower the tone of this book by detailing with whom, when and how, Colonial Secretaries and Attorney-Generals (sic) distribute the nod distant, the bow cordial, the shakehand friendly, or the cut direct as may seem fitting to their exalted Highnesses; the transport of joy into which men, rich, powerful and able, are thrown by a few words from the Colonial Secretary’s wife or a smile from the Chief Justice’s daughter. But political independence and social aspiration cannot run between the same shafts; sycophancy soon learns to call itself moderation; and invitations to dinner or visions of a knighthood form the strongest barriers to the wishes of the people.” – (C.L.R. James – The Case for West Indian Self Government, 1933).
The above words from Trinidadian political thinker C.L.R. James immediately came to mind upon reading the report in the Nation of the six Caribbean prime ministers who were “honoured” by invitations to the wedding of the grandson of the British monarch.
Quite strikingly, THE NATION report found it necessary to develop a story, not on the invited six, but on those who were “snubbed” by non-invitations, as if 50 years after independence the institution of the monarchy has anything but symbolic relevance either to the politics of the Caribbean, or the lives of the ordinary people. It was as if time had remained frozen in 1933 when CLR James had been lamenting the fixation of Caribbean colonials with “invitations to Government House” as the beginning and end of their political aspirations.
Particularly troubling was the absence of any critical discourse in the papers or elsewhere on the obsolescence of the monarchy as an institution. In a context where thousands of Caribbean children were glued into television coverage of the wedding, an opportunity was missed for a thorough public discussion to contextualise the institution of the monarchy, to highlight its role in Caribbean colonisation, and to discuss the ongoing efforts at overcoming its hold on the psyche and politics of the region, as we undertake the final push towards total decolonisation.
To add insult to injury, Caribbean political leaders such as Ralph Gonsalves – who only recently took his people through a referendum on the Republicanism question – missed the opportunity to put his body where his mouth his by staying away from the wedding.
Indeed, in a context where there has been so much Caribbean ambivalence on the CCJ and on Republicanism itself, those committed to overcoming the institution of the monarchy would have added significant weight to their cause by voting with their feet, and staying at home. C.L.R. James was indeed correct, “invitations to [Royal Weddings] form the strongest barriers to the wishes of the people”.
In this regard, Prime Minister Stuart must be congratulated. On this occasion, his absence spoke volumes.
Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus specializing in analysis of regional affairs.