Description

C L R James sent this letter to writer and broadcaster Andrew Salkey at the BBC Colonial Service in September 1965. In it he expresses fears that he will be assassinated as tensions rise in the lead up to elections in Trinidad and Tobago. 

What was C L R James’s involvement in politics in Trinidad and Tobago?

Although he spent much of his adult life in Britain and the USA, James spent a five year period in Trinidad and Tobago between 1958 and 1962. For a short time he was influential in the People’s National Movement (PNM) under Eric Williams’s leadership, editing the party’s newspaper, The Nation, alongside activist and pamphleteer Walter Annamunthodo. James’s radical political stance was, however, at odds with the PNM’s policies and he was expelled from the party in 1960. He returned to Britain in 1962, shortly before Trinidad and Tobago gained independence.

When James returned to Trinidad in the spring of 1965 – in his capacity as a sports journalist – there were labour disputes in the country’s sugar-producing region and a state of emergency had been declared. Nervous about his potentially subversive influence, the ruling PNM put James under house arrest. In spite of protests from sources in Trinidad and Britain, James’s movements were restricted until the labour unrest ended six weeks later.

The Workers and Farmers Party

Together with George Weekes (president of the Oilfield Workers Trade Union), Stephen Maharaj (former member of the Democratic Labour Party) and other associates, James formed the Workers and Farmers Party (WFP) in August 1965. They used their newspaper, We, The People to criticise the government and garner popular support. Promising a left-wing alternative to the ruling PNM, their policies included addressing historic tensions between Afro-Caribbeans, Indo-Caribbeans and other Trinidadians; a defence of democratic rights; prevention of government corruption; and land reforms.

The WFP posed a real political threat to the PNM, and this took Williams and his supporters by surprise. They retaliated by calling the WFP troublemakers, ‘Castroites’ and communists, and by having government security forces monitor James’s every move during the election. In this letter, James is shocked at a recent attempt to kill Walter Annamunthodo and expresses his fears that he is ‘next on the list’. ‘And now they see they may lose the election’, he writes, ‘these people will kill and I am the easiest one to get’.

In spite of their ambitious plans, the WFP failed to win any seats in the election, faring so badly that all of the Party's candidates lost their deposits. The PNM won the election, a disappointed James returned to London and the WFP disbanded shortly afterwards.  

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