Round Table with Oscar
August 31, 2012
A review of Dr Ralph E. Gonsalves’ 2012 “The End of Slavery in SVG and our Commemoration in 2012”

Prime Minister Dr Gonsalves has delivered a statement to our Parliament on the topic “The end of slavery in SVG…” and has also published the monograph. I have described it “timely, informed and flawed’’ in a brief comment on its closing lines. The well-spaced 43-page paper is a welcome contribution to discussion on the topic, found as it is, in one document, rather than in a series of newspaper articles as Adrian Fraser, Renwick Rose, Oscar Allen and others usually produce for the public.{{more}} The sources which Dr Gonsalves referred to are varied – from the British abolition of slavery bill of 1833, to Karl Marx in 1867 and Roderick Mc Donald in 2000. In this review, permit me to touch only on two or three areas, where I raise some constructive questions, observations and propositions.

Insignificant Presence of the Oppressed

The monograph has 8 sections and in many cases, the story is told using the material and the voice of the master, coloniser, prime minister. In some points, this is inevitable as the writer must consult and present statistics and other official dates, but more and more as Caribbean writers refine the craft of history writing, the voice of the ‘’people’’ is being heard. In the three page section on the “End of Slavery” and in the earlier four-page section on economy and demography during the colonial settlement of SVG, it may well have been noted that one of the reasons for the reduction in the number of slaves just before apprenticeship and emancipation was the fact that a good number of slaves actually bought and negotiated their freedom from the masters.

Another instance of the self-organization and freedom planning of the slaves and freed workers deserved great attention. The strategies of the slaves during apprenticeship, which professor Mc Donald pointed to, had already been examined by earlier historians and presented as a revolutionary programme to construct a cavitation of peace and prosperity; not away from estate work, but away from the estate and governance, while negotiating terms and conditions of the estate work! The point I am making about making the slaves not just visible through the eyes of a magistrate or his editor, but investing and investigating the vision and the planning of our slaves’ fore-parents. Without that historiographical focus, Woodville Marshall’s view in 1968 was that “a depersonalization of the blacks is both perpetrated and perpetuated”.

“The cause of slavery’s end” is an important 8-page section of this study by Dr Gonsalves. Here he presents the conclusion of Dr Eric Williams that transatlantic slavery had capitalized Britain to the extent that a new industrialized Britain no longer needed sugar colonies. The British industry leaders therefore gave backing to the abolition movement. Also in the mix, Gonsalves shows how Karl Marx also made the connection between European enrichment and colonial improvement. He fortifies this section, however, with the important study by Richard Hart “Slaves who abolished slavery”. What disappoints here as well is the fact that the human beings in the region and SVG who produced the wealth, who rose up in resistance and rebellion, who were the engines that drove slavery to its death, do not have a face in this section of the Gonsalves study. Six lines on page 22 speak briefly about Vincentian “acts of resistance”.

Clearly, this document on “The end of slavery in SVG” does provide an informed and timely presentation of the topic. I suggest, though, that it is somewhat deformed and may become enriched in a revised edition in due course.


I will limit myself to the briefest comment here, while it really merits a complete discussion by itself, being the basis of a political education forum.

Early in the study (p5) Dr Gonsalves refers to the emergence of “African Slavery as the dominant mode of the socio economic organization” in SVG, after the patriotic war waged by the Garifuna-Callinago. I may be wrong, but I get the sense that, taking the case of plantation slavery, the author is too strict in making the internal slave “mode of production”, a relationship or entity separate from the “capitalist exchange relations externally”. I think that “local slavery is integrated into the external/overseas enterprise. It is one business, one colonial slave mode of production. That way of looking at the genocide, slavery and underdevelopment transitions makes it clear that what we face today is a differentiated, but ongoing, uneven relationship with mercantile and industrial and global capital. That makes us sit and struggle along with generations of our parents to decolonize our productive and creative resources, reimagine our ethnic relationships, reconfigure our political apparatus, and revolutionize our sense of region. Underdevelopment does not have to be the heritage we pass on to our children.

A new socio economic spiritual civilization is the desired outcome of emancipation. Let’s not stop the discussion.