BY LOLA CAMPOS
Thirty-nine years ago, just over 40 comrades launched an armed struggled and came to power in the tiny Caribbean islands of Grenada and the Grenadines. In what has been dubbed as “the bloodless coup,” the People’s Revolutionary Army took control of the military barracks, radio stations and police stations under the overwhelming support of everyday Grenadians.
Grenada had achieved independence in 1974, but only in name. It was led under the comprador leadership of Eric Gairy. Gairy held many positions with the colonial British government before “winning” the first election for Prime Minister in 1976. That election was rife with fraud and it was widely documented that Gairy’s paramilitary Mongoose Gang terrorized his opposition.
The Mongoose Gang was responsible for breaking up demonstrations and silencing opposition members, including the death of Maurice Bishop’s father, Rupert Bishop, in January 1974. Gairy also allied himself with some of the most repressive dictatorships in the region and considered Chile’s Augusto Pinochet an ally. In fact, the Pinochet dictatorship offered military and counterinsurgency training to police forces under Gairy.
The New Jewel Movement, or the New Joint Endeavor for Welfare, Education, and Liberation, NJM, took the opportunity to seize power after rumors spread that Gairy was planning the executions of their leaders.
Maurice Bishop sits in front of Grenada’s flag. | Source: Pinterest
Although it only had a population of around 100,000, Grenada’s revolutionary movement dealt a significant blow to imperial and neo-colonial interests in the region. This, after all, was the first English-speaking country in the region to lead a revolutionary, Marxist-Leninist struggle in the aftermath of the victories of the Cuban Revolution, the Sandinistas and the dethroning of the Shah of Iran. No matter the size of the islands, it put the United States in a state of panic.
At the helm of the NJM stood many, but most significantly, a young, charismatic lawyer and Marxist named Maurice Bishop. Upon taking control the island’s radio stations, Bishop addressed the islands stating, “People of Grenada, this revolution is for work, for food, for decent housing and health services, and for a bright future for our children and great grand-children.”
Bishop would lead the nation from steep unemployment, corruption, violence and poverty into a beacon of hope for the Caribbean. While NJM’s rule was short (1979-1983), in their four years of power, they were able to achieve astronomical feats.
Cuban and Grenadian workers during the construction of the Maurice Bishop International Airport. | Source: Grenada Revolution Memorial Foundation
Bishop immediately sought support to modernize Grenada’s infrastructure. The NJM built a $70 million dollar international airport with the comradery of Cuba, which financed the project. Fifty miles of paved road were constructed and cheaper, more efficient public transportation systems were put in place at the service of the masses. The NJM also undertook the electrification of the smaller islands in the Grenadines chain that belonged to the nation.
A massive education rehaul was launched, centering literacy, free secondary education and granting hundreds of university-level scholarships for Grenadians to study in over 30 different countries. During the NJM, the country all but eradicated illiteracy, achieving a 96 percent literacy rate.
A Ministry of Women’s Affair was created under the leadership of Jacqueline Creft, which encouraged women to study, enter politics and implemented maternity leave with pay. The revolution also freely distributed milk and provided foodstuffs at a lower price for the people.
Maurice Bishop and Fidel Castro in Havana, 1981. | Source: Fidel Soldado de las Ideas
Bishop would move to develop strong alliances with other Third World leftist leaders like Fidel Castro (Cuba), Daniel Ortega (Nicaragua), Samora Michel (Mozambique) and Michael Manley (Jamaica). Bishop and Fidel maintained a strong friendship and the impact of Cuban Revolution marked Bishop for his entire life.
To Bishop, “it did not matter what we heard on the radio or read in the colonial press. For us, it comes down to the courage and legendary heroism of Fidel Castro, Che Guevara … nothing could overshadow this aspect of the Cuban Revolution.”
Strengthening his Third World beliefs, Bishop would take time to visit Managua and Havana to share in celebrations with the Sandinista National Liberation Front, or FSLN, and the Communist Party of Cuba.
Grenada, under Bishop’s leadership, suspended the imperialist constitution and bourgeois democracy to introduce true revolutionary democracy. The NJM empowered a government that submitted to the will of the people with structures like the Farmer’s Council, the Zonal Councils, the Worker’s Parish Councils, alongside Youth and Women’s Movements to guarantee participation from all sectors of Grenadian society.
When challenged that the NJM was denying “true” democracy to Grenada, Bishop responded,
“There are those (some of them our friends) who believe that you cannot have a democracy unless there is a situation where every five years, and for five seconds in those five years, a people are allowed to put an ‘X’ next to some candidate’s name, and for those five seconds in those five years they become democrats, and for the remainder of the time, four years and 364 days, they return to being non-people without the right to say anything to their government, without any right to be involved in running their country.”
The NJM and Bishop did not apologize for the liberation of their people because what was being created in Grenada was a participatory and direct democratic system with the interests of the poor, Black majorities at heart. Where standard of livings were dramatically increased, and the most basic human rights to housing, education, safety and food were guaranteed.
This could not be allowed under the guise of neoliberal democratic paradigms, where the exploitation of the Third World by the First World is sanctioned under representative democracy.
The NJM ruled until 1983, when Bishop was assassinated in a military coup by his deceptive vice minister, Bernard Coard. Bishop and several NJM ministers were executed by a firing squad and their bodies were never found.
U.S. Marines in Grenada during the 1983 invasion. | Source: libcom.org
This catastrophic perversion of the revolution opened the door for invasion of Grenada by the United States six days later. Operation Urgent Fury included over 7,000 U.S. troops under the guise of protecting 1,000 U.S. student on the island but was truly a reflection of President Ronald Reagan’s rampant anti-communism and imperialism in the region. This resulted in the reinstitution of the former Grenadian constitution and an immediate reversal of the accomplishments of the NJM’s revolution.
But, the legacy, heroism and fighting spirit of Bishop remains.
In the words of Bishop, “When will imperialism learn? Yes, they can kill our bodies but they can never kill the spirit of a people fighting for their liberation, they can never kill the spirit of a people fighting for their country and fighting to push their country forward.”
“Forward Ever, Backwards Never!”