The diversity struggles of the early political parties
History is perhaps the best tool to evaluate actions and determine mistakes or formulae promoted that did not succeed. It is inevitable that the human family learns through tragedy and at times endures difficult and painful experiences before they learn or give cause to change. One great example is the Bolshevik revolution. History has probably erased the fact that prior to the Lenin-led 1917 revolution in October, a coup had overthrown the Kerensky government, which was seeking to establish a democratic regime after bringing down the monarchist Tsar in March of that year.
Before the so-called period of industrialisation, which made glorious promises by an articulate Lenin, the country may instead have developed a democracy. Fast forward to Russia today, with millions of lives lost, it can be argued that aside from industrial development the people are not much further than they were before 1917. They no longer have a monarchy but what they have is a near equivalency under the current regime.
Lenin was not himself an industrialist or a worker, but an intellectual with a pen. The country may need to wait for another generation or two before anything resembling a human democracy with egalitarian principles takes root in the once-Czarist Russia.
It is the gradual way society evolves no matter where we look. It was 1861 when serfdom ended for the peasant citizenry of Russia. That was only 160 years ago, which brings to mind the saga of slavery in the West and the Americas who look at 1834 and 1863 respectively. Is it conceivable, given human societal history, that up from slavery a community can spring into action as a fully evolved democratic, economically thriving human society? Or will it be the case that like other communities around the globe, it has to learn and take heed through its failures? I'm inclined to believe the latter and the past 60 years are replete with lessons that we need to have learnt to avoid repeating failed ideology.
Back in the early 1960s, when the Progressive Labour Party had its offices on Burnaby Street and Arnold Francis was the leader, there was a conference in the Caribbean which he attended. On his return, he went to the office to find that instead of the sign PLP on the door, there was another sign saying, "The African Liberation Front". Apparently Roosevelt Brown had hung the sign on the door. Naturally, the sign was taken down but that did not settle the disquiet with some of the revolutionary forces within the party. On another occasion, he received a call from the Prospect School for Boys indicating that a White teacher had kicked a student.
Mr Francis, after receiving the call, contacted the Department of Education and organised to meet them at the school. Upon their arrival, they discovered that Roosevelt had already gone to the school and had pulled the teacher out of the class. Some would sympathise with him for doing that, such was the clash of diplomacy in the early days of party politics. Here was the leader who brought the Department of Education for the purpose of establishing what the exact circumstances were and if need be, to punish the teacher via suspension or any other means. But, how was that to be achieved if a party member took it upon himself without consultation to deliver his own justice on the teacher? This is just an example of what historians have glossed over as "directional" struggles within the early PLP.
Mr Brown was one of the key organisers of the regional Black Power Conference held in July, 1969 in Bermuda. He unquestionably was pre-eminent in the Black struggle for equality and freedom. However, being associates of people who were on the left side of the Cold War, he had loaned himself to an ideology which while revolutionary, was also unworkable and counterproductive to a Black community that was already ostensibly advanced economically and socially by evidence of its extensive merchant class. Scholarships, churches, lodges and workmen's clubs were in the main all heavily supported by the middle and merchant class. In fact, we will discover if we are honest, even persons like Dr E.F. Gordon, Reverend Monk and others were landed and supported by the same merchant group. Hundreds of years of social and economic development will be challenged by a leftist ideology.
From the late 1960s all the way through to the late 1970s, being pro-Black was often considered to be synonymous with being leftist. No shame, perhaps even with noble intentions as for example Glenn Fubler stepping aside from the PLP in the late 1970s and beginning the Bermuda Socialist Workers Party. I recall sentiments among many of the young adults who felt the party was too soft in its approach and should come straight and declare itself a socialist party. Back in the late 1960s and early to mid-1970s, it was normal for a Black revolutionary to declare themselves as a leftist. The rationale for some was "The enemy of my enemy is my friend". Sadly many people like Franz Omar Fanon found out the hard way how untrue that was.
The party, although starting as a centrist group, could not survive its own diversity. The social dynamics of a working-class party with mixtures of labour and merchant, teachers and professionals along with basic labourers and tradesman, and should I include light-skinned and dark-skinned, Bermudian and West Indian, was too big of a diversity challenge to overcome. As a result, as far as the continuity of the party was concerned, there would be winners and losers. One only needs to look around to see who they were. The Devonshire and Pembroke East districts became the dominant factors within the party construct.
Russell Dismount never re-entered politics and never supported the UBP. He remained loyal to what he had hoped for from the PLP. Walter Robinson returned in 1966 and led the constitutional conference for the PLP, but lost his seat in the 1968 General Election a couple of years after being named as the leader of the PLP. He ran again in 1972 and won a seat and became the leader once again until he retired in 1976. Cecil Clarke, a businessman, had his offices bombed during the riots of 1968 and, due to the intimidation, he left Bermuda. He lived in Guyana until his death. Dorothy Thompson also returned to the PLP fold and was one of those who attended the 1966 constitutional conference. Arnold Francis unsuccessfully tried to form another party, which was beaten in the 1968 General Election and thereafter joined the UBP. He would die as a "battered" sympathiser of the PLP but left active politics after the events of the United Bermuda Party Black Caucus.
The Black Caucus illustrated the UBP’s diversity struggle. Many middle-class blacks who expected betterment in their lives and in their communities were invited into the UBP. But once there, they found themselves providing political clout to the establishment but saw their own priorities being neglected. With the overwhelming economic strength of the old guard who now held the jugular veins of many of their new members, none but the brave or very secure would speak up for their community within the general party caucus. Therefore, they started a Black Caucus to focus on their specific issues. They at times met at Sir John Swan's building. Mr Francis, although not in an official position, was seen as the leader, Gloria McPhee was also a prominent figure.
Many of the Black Caucus members received threats of retaliatory measures if they did not disband. Mr Francis told how some of wealthy party members treated and threatened him for what they viewed as breaking with the party philosophy. Needless to say, the Black Caucus soon broke up, and thereafter Arnold who then was at his intellectual prime, was no longer a useful commodity to the UBP political machinery - the most experienced and articulate from his time on the floor of the house, ending his political career in his prime.
The UBP at its inception was not a smooth construct either, but Sir Henry Tucker as the president of the bank and principal architect of the new party used his weight in both capacities figuratively and literally to demand and get support from some of the reluctant White politicians.
He saw it as the only road to remain in power, while some others were still hanging on to old notions, which were fading into what would eventually be bygone history.
Even the governors at that time, including Sir Julian Gascoigne, were trying to convince the Bermuda Colonial parliament they needed to step into the real world and a new day which demanded equality.