Caribbean Labour Solidarity
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Richard Hart (1917 - 2013)

We mourn his passing

It was with deep sadness and a sense of loss that I had to inform our members and friends of the death of our honorary president Dr Richard Hart on 21st December 2013. I had come to know ‘Dick’, as he was fondly called, over the past 35 years of involvement in Caribbean Labour Solidarity (CLS), an organization of which he is a founder member. Richard and a few other friends, including Lionel Jeffery and Cleston Taylor - both of whom are also now-deceased past presidents of CLS - came together in London in defence of trade unionists in Jamaica. During their campaign it became clear to them that a permanent ant-imperialist organization was necessary in the fight against capitalism in the Caribbean; thus CLS was born in 1974. It is indeed ironic that this year, 2014, we are marking the fortieth anniversary since CLS came about - as a result of the mistreatment of workers in Jamaica - at a time when CLS is yet again embarking on a campaign for justice for the residents of Tivoli Gardens, Jamaica who were murderously attacked by the security forces in 2010 in an attempt to apprehend the wanted drug baron ‘Dudus’ for extradition to the USA.

If Richard Hart could be described in one paragraph this is the best I have seen –at the back cover of his book The Life and Resurrection of Marcus Garvey ,published by Karia Press in 2002.
‘Richard Hart was a pioneer in the development of Trade Unions, political parties and organizations in the Caribbean. Although he pursued a career as a solicitor, he is more widely known as a historian and politician. He has written numerous books, pamphlets and papers.’

Founding political parties was nothing new for Richard Hart. As long back as 1937, together with Hugh Clifford Buchanan, Frank Hill, Albreath A. Morris, T. G. Christian, Cecil Nelson, Lionel Lynch and Wellesley A. McBean, he established the first Marxist group in Jamaica. Dick’s love affair with Marxism began after reading Lenin’s The State and Revolution, which he borrowed from Buchanan, who in turn had been loaned it by Audley Thomas, a senior civil servant in the Colonial Secretary’s Office. Richard recorded that by the time he read Lenin’s book he already had an interest in communism, having been drawn to the ‘communist’ writings of Buchanan in the Daily Gleaner. Dick would remain committed to Marxism throughout his long life time of struggle for a socialist world.

These Marxist beliefs would continually get Dick into trouble. In 1952 he was expelled from Jamaica’s People’s National Party (PNP), of which he had been a founding member in 1938, for a supposedly a communist plot with Frank Hill, Ken Hill, Arthur Henry - they were dubbed “the 4 H’s”. Richard was finally restored to membership of the PNP and honoured by the PNP government in 1988.

Picture of left to right Winston Pinder ,Richard Hart, Luke Daniels, Lionel granddaughter, Lionel Jeffery

It is not surprising that CLS would take an anti-imperialist stance with most of the founder members having been affected by imperialism in one way or another, and with three of them becoming presidents of CLS. Lionel Jeffery had been imprisoned in Guyana for opposing British colonialism as a member of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) – later to be purged from the PPP deemed to be ‘hard left’. Cleston Taylor was victimized in Jamaica for his trade union activities and had to flee to Britain where he soon took up workers’ issues and was blacklisted in the building industry, as a result of which he set up his own building firm. Richard Hart was also imprisoned by the British for his political activities in 1941-42 and would also be expelled from the PNP in 1952.

CLS was formed in 1974 as an umbrella organization that included representatives of parties of the political left in the Caribbean. In 1978 I was delegated as a member representing the support group of the party of Walter Rodney -the Working People’s Alliance of Guyana. This was a new experience for me although I had been political from an early age after reading about the slave trade at secondary school and experiencing the ‘disturbances’ of the 1960s in Guyana as a teenager . Political meetings of this calibre – with many of the major leaders from the Caribbean speaking at our executive meetings. including Cheddi Jagan, Rupert Roopnarine, Clive Thomas, Andaiye, Everton Price , Ralph Gonsalves (now prime minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines), and others. I was fortunate to have someone like Dick be present at those meetings. He was the most disciplined, fair, outspoken, intelligent and honest politician one could hope to engage with ,and his integrity is legendary - a quality so lacking in many politicians today of whatever persuasion.

I was immediately won over to Dick as a leader to follow when I noted his making sure I was heard at meetings and also on one particular occasion acknowledging to the meeting the correctness of my position over a particular current issue we had discussed at the previous monthly meeting, after which events unfolded to show that I was correct in my thinking. This act of recognition served to encourage my continued participation in the political process.

Dick was born into a privileged class in Jamaica and had a good education on the island and in Britain. He could easily have joined with the ruling class to lead a lucrative and easy life as a legal professional but he was drawn to the working-class cause; the sense of injustice he must have felt, when he was imprisoned without trial by the British could only have strengthened his resolve to fight the oppressive system. Ironically at the time he was working with Alexander Bustamante‘s union, when he was arrested for organizing a march protesting the imprisonment of Bustamante during a period of Labour unrest.

Not one to give up, Dick in 1945 helped form the People’s Freedom Movement; that was to morph into the Socialist Party of Jamaica, which disbanded in 1962. Politics and trade unionism were the twin vehicles for liberating the people of the Caribbean and Dick was deeply involved in both: he became the secretary of Caribbean Labour Congress from 1945 to 1946 and became General Secretary from 1947 to 1953.

Richard was invited to Guyana by Cheddi Jagan - a fellow Marxist and leader of the People’s Progressive Party - in 1963 to edit their newspaper The Mirror. He soon showed a great interest in the Indigenous people of Guyana who had survived (unlike the natives of Jamaica) the onslaught of the Europeans because of the country’s size and impenetrable rainforests. Learning of an Anglican priest the Rev. John Bennett who was working with the Arawaks, Dick befriended him, which was to prove very useful for Guyana. This friendship says something about the kind of man Dick was; who would have bet on a Marxist and an Anglican priest striking up a friendship to produce an Arawaks-English dictionary in 1989. When Jagan was ousted from power because of his Marxist views by the British at the insistence of the Americans, Richard left for London in 1965.

When the New Jewel Movement overthrew the Gairy government in a bloodless coup, Richard Hart would again be called upon to lend support and expertise, this time as a solicitor advising the revolutionary government. He was appointed Attorney-General in May 1983, and just managed to escape unscathed when the USA invaded Grenada in October of that same year. Back in London he would once again be with us at CLS and helped found the UK Committee for Human Rights in Grenada to fight for the life then freedom of the Grenada 17. His account is recorded in The Grenada Revolution: Setting the Record Straight, published in 2005.

Dick was an instinctive historian, having recorded his political experiences from an early age. At his funeral historian George Fisher described him as ‘one of our best historians, despite not having a History degree’. Dick was awarded an honorary degree from the University of West England in 2004. He also received a Gold Musgrave Medal from the Institute of Jamaica and an honorary doctorate from the University of the West Indies in 2005. Hull University also bestowed upon him an honorary degree in 2011.

Dick interpreted history from the position of the oppressed and his two-volume seminal work Slaves Who Abolished Slavery, published by the University of the West Indies, was written with the purpose of instilling a sense of pride that he felt was lacking in too many black people as a result of centuries of being made to feel inferior to whites. The fight for equality would need people aware of their proud history of resistance and resilience in the face of the most difficult circumstances if they were to be triumphant. The second volume focused on Jamaica’s history of revolts, because he understood that we could not have liberation if we did not have a sense of where we came from and took pride in that. He felt that the focus and celebration of white abolitionists, many of whom had argued for our enslavement to be prolonged, gave the impression that black people did not have agency.

Richard Hart saw the organized working masses as the vehicle to bring about social change in our society and it should not surprise that he should get involved in the trade union movement. Much of this history is told in his book Rise and Organise, published in 1989 by Karia Press. Dick was always eager to inform and educate and when he finished teaching a History course and it was suggested to him that he had the basis of a book he gave us From Occupation to Independence - a short History of the English Speaking Caribbean Region, published in 1998 by Pluto Press. A journey starting with the early inhabitants of the Caribbean, through their brutal decimation by the Europeans, to the constant ‘Thieves Falling Out’ wars over European possession of the Islands, which would only end with British dominance of the waves. The Second World War and rise of American dominance in the region would speed up the fight for independence and a willingness of the British to divest themselves of the islands - the story told in another volume Towards Decolonization ( published in1999 by the University of the West Indies).

Richard Hart was an inspiring speaker; when I first heard him speak publicly I could not believe it was the same quiet-spoken individual I was having regular meetings with on the CLS executive. He delivered his speeches with real conviction and commitment and a sense of full command of the subject and often without any notes. I remember him lamenting at Cleston Taylor’s funeral in March 2010 that he had a typed speech because he worried about forgetting what he intended to say - this was at the age of 93 and he was by now beginning to realize his memory was not what it used to be. I joked with him ‘That is no good - a historian with no memory!’ But he took this all in his stride: in 2012 as we sat for a meal with his wife Avis, on whom he had become more dependent for remembering things – she was trying to tell us of his predicament in as gentle and diplomatic a way as possible, when Richard blurted out to her: ‘Senile is the word you are looking for!’ and we all erupted in laughter.

Despite his growing handicap, Dick produced two new books in his final years: Caribbean Workers’ Struggles, published in 2012 by Bogle-L’Ouverture Press with the Socialist History Society, and Occupation and Control –the British in Jamaica 1660-1962, published by Arawak Publications in 2013. Caribbean Workers’ Struggles was launched at Bishopsgate Institute in London in December 2012 and this was to be his last public-speaking engagement - no typed speech, and although he lamented his loss of memory without falter he told us a story from many decades back (recounted by Margaret Busby in her obituary for The Independent) that had everyone convulsed with laughter.

Richard Hart led a rich and full life, which we are very fortunate to have shared in part, and his memory will live with us forever.

Luke Daniels
President Caribbean Labour solidarity

Obituaries for Richard Hart
The Gleaner:- Ken Jones, "A Giant of a Man"
21Century Manifesto:- Ken Fuller, "Memories of Richard Hart 1917-2013"