Round Table with Oscar
May 7, 2013

Caspar among the intellectuals

The late CaspAr London and Dr Ralph Gonsalves had an intellectual relationship that evolved remarkably over the years. To begin with, they both made a life commitment in the early 1970s to the emancipation of working class people to the position of power and social authority. These two men, one a traditional intellectual, the other an embedded working class person, formed an intellectual alliance of teacher and student.{{more}}


In our everyday common sense understanding, the intellectual lives and works in the world of knowledge. S/he is an owner and manager of knowledge and ideas. Because of the vast knowledge property that the intellectual controls, s/he gains the respect of the people and becomes a powerful commander in the minds of the people. Dr Gonsalves is an intellectual of that kind – a knowledge “capitalist”. Alongside that form of intellectual, there is another concept of intellectual which Caspar London slowly came to recognized and embodied. Let me introduce here a problem which socialist activists need to face. Glyne Williams put it in these words: “the need for workers and the workers’ party to think themselves into historical autonomy, without which no sustained revolution is possible”. What we saw develop in the interaction between Ralph Gonsalves and Caspar London was a “slow and laborious” journey from a socialist “teacher-student” team to a “teacher, teacher” dilemma – as Casper yearned to see greater working class intellectuality.


Ralph, the Marxist-teacher of Caspar the Marxist (from Karl Marx) student, was not just a matter of one man mentoring his friend and comrade. Behind this relationship, there was the strategic political need to have a workers’ movement with leaders developed from among the workers themselves – like a Caspar London. They both accepted that fact and, as the theoreticians then explained, the working class intellectuals will come to birth only in alliance with the traditional intellectuals.

And so a generation of grassroots socialist thinkers developed in our Caribbean region, more or less following this pattern. Caspar London was one of the finest examples of this phenomenon – his feet firmly implanted among and organizing the working people, his head taking in the Marxist Leninist ideas and the practice of existing socialism, his relationships, including friendships and employment among other sectors, his leadership in the local movements like the YSG, YULIMO UPM, NPWU etc, his visits to fraternal parties and unions, his Vincentian working class culture, his passionate devotion to the workers’ cause, his acceptance of the toil and tradition and trauma that come with a revolutionary vocation, his cordiality and compassion and his unity and solidarity with Marxist comrades at home and in the region, and a not uncritical knowledge and admiration of Ralph Gonsalves, his teacher, though not his exemplar. He never sought to be a traditional intellectual, towering over and dominating the working peoples’ intellect.

During this period, 1970s to 1990s, Dr Gonsalves carried out his role as a traditional intellectual. He taught, wrote and published, engaged in a rhetoric and issue clarification. For the first half of this period, he expressed himself in the dogmatic language of Marxism Leninism. He put always the language of working class domination early in the 1980s, and when he formed a new party, the Movement for National Unity (MNU), among the stalwarts at his side was Caspar London. In the 30 years since then, tactical and personal fissures led to the student teacher relationship becoming strained. On occasions, Caspar would write in a newspaper article about the weakening of the party structure and organizing, and that party political education was being neglected. He was seeing things from his position from the ground and in the street. Dr Gonsalves was seeing things from his position in power, in Cabinet and on the world stage. When Caspar London offered to give himself to building up the party organisation and education, the offer got no response. Things were changing quietly on the interior of the relationship and the strategic bond. The traditional intellectual, now in government, remained a traditional power broker, towering in power over the people, rather than enabling the working people “to advance to its autonomous development under its own home-grown intellectuals”.


The church historian, Dale Bisnauth, when asked to comment on a publication by one of his teachers, had this to say: “a student does not critique his guru”. Caspar, during the past ten years or so, began to study the recent works of Caribbean historians. It turned him on and he gained insights which Gonsalves had not elaborated. A new intellectual style was struggling to emerge, which was more respectful of the realities of Caribbean peoples. Real people’s history in the Caribbean enriched and deepened his knowledge of our working peoples’ struggles. He was becoming an autonomous and organic working class intellectual, tending to bypass his former Marxist mentors.

I am of the view that when Caspar’s health failed, the health system failed him also, and even more critically, the political apparatus deserted him. He did have a reserve and rearguard community of compassion and relief though, which included Jesus.