Saturday August 29th marked the 110th anniversary of the birth of Wynter Algernon Crawford. As happened ten years ago on the occasion of the centenary of his birth, there has been nary a whimper with respect to commemoration of this monumental event. It is to our collective shame and embarrassment that an entire generation or two of Barbadians are completely unaware both of this man’s name and his indelible contribution to modern Barbados.
Crawford was fundamentally a radical ideologue, utterly committed to the aggrandizement of the downtrodden masses, equipped with what legendary writer George Lamming called “the most alert and incisive political imagination” in those early days of the Barbadian democracy. This political imagination led him to the formulation of dozens of avant-grade social and economic policies. Many years before they were introduced, Crawford lobbied for a national health and unemployment scheme, subsidized low-income housing, compulsory education, free textbooks as well as hot lunches for students. Economically, Crawford can also be credited with facilitating the establishment of the Hilton Hotel here as well as being one of the earliest and most enduring proponents of ‘industrialization by invitation’.
On a political level, Crawford fundamentally disagreed with the gradualist approach taken by Sir Grantley Adams in obtaining the change, which both men ultimately desired. This perhaps best explains Crawford’s premature departure from public life and his near-anonymity today. His practice of the art of politics, though always guided by the right ends, may not always have selected the best or most effective means to those ends.
Firstly, in a country in which nearly every aspect of life was based on or bound up in three centuries of colonialism, the rapid pace of change which Crawford sought was simply not possible. Disentangling the existing oligarchical structure would be a slow process, requiring ironically a short-term entente with the ruling class. Indeed, when one’s head is in the shark’s mouth, one must extricate oneself slowly while mollifying the shark. After your head is out and you’re safe, then you no longer need to appease the ‘shark’. Sir Grantley understood this better than most and therefore his model for political leadership was following his principles and achieving his ends, which is only possible through the use of pragmatic means. Adams faced much opposition in this approach, such as the blistering attacks which Crawford launched after the decision of Adams to enter into coalition with the Conservatives in 1944. However, Crawford himself later recognized the importance of political pragmatism, when he retrospectively lamented his decision not to enter into coalition with the same Conservatives after the 1946 election, writing in his memoirs that it was the “biggest error of my entire political life”. Though he never conceded that Sir Grantley was right on that point, it was a tacit admission that the persons whom you think to be your enemies in your struggle can be useful tools.
Secondly, Mr Crawford may also have overestimated the progressiveness of his countrymen. Ordinary Barbadians in his day, and perhaps to an extent still today, were among the most conservative of our Caribbean family, and indeed not nearly as anti-British as our neighbors or the local intelligentsia. This mistake has been so tragically oft-repeated by radical politicians since Crawford. In our post-Independence history, pan-Africanists have not fared particularly well, for example. History records the travails of Drs. Caddle and Blackman. The lesson then perhaps is for individuals of like mind in the present and yet to come, to better attempt to bring ordinary people along with them, requiring a special tailoring of message and approach, so that those past mistakes may not be repeated.
Finally, while Crawford was well-placed to be Premier, the foregoing as well as the lack of a party structure felled that and the full achievement of his vision for Barbados. His Congress Party, eventually collapsing, never enjoyed the strong structure that the BLP had created or the DLP would create, making those latter two not merely political parties, but institutions, which are inevitably longer-lasting. This lack of structure carried over to the deficient attempts in union organizing, which in those early days provided a strong backbone for parties.
Ultimately, Crawford’s life provides fascinating and prescient lessons for all. It is to his credit that he committed it to writing and his memoirs, I Speak for the People, is compulsory reading. As Crawford eventually scorned both parties it is little wonder that little tribute to him remains, beyond a roundabout and the CHB awarded by Tom Adams. Government must do better than this. It could start with the possible renaming of either of the buildings which house the NHC or the School Meals Department, a posthumous knighthood or perhaps even a deserved addition to the pantheon of National Heroes.
Indeed, our entire political history, not just Mr Crawford, must be taught to our nation’s children. Too much of what we take for granted today were hard-fought for by political parties and individuals like Messrs. Adams, Cummins, Cox, Mapp, Springer, Blackman, Crawford, Wickham and many others in the early progressive movement. If more of us appreciated the hard graft of building this nation, maybe, just maybe, we would be more hesitant to tear it down.