TABLE OF CONTENTS
Introduction: The Scales of History
Why does an event that took place over a quarter of a century ago on a small island with a population of only 100,000 people, an event that lasted only four and a half years, beginning on March 13, 1979, and ending in October 1983, so haunt the present Caribbean?
How does a revolution that claims world-historical significance and ambition fit into 12 x21 miles? How are human agency and revolutionary desire shaped by the landscapes they inhabit? How does one understand the role of small islands in global histories of revolutionary politics? Can Grenada illuminate such histories in significant ways? Can Grenada call us to other abandoned memories of violence?
How do some triumphs and some tragedies ascend to global status and how are others rendered merely local? Where does one look for the latter?
Why did so many passionate supporters of the Grenada Revolution welcome the US invasion?
What happens when 16 people gathered in a room, deprived of sleep and on the verge of breakdown from sheer exhaustion, take a decision—and it is the wrong one? What memory or insight might be triggered by a stray military boot abandoned on the sand; a piece of blue laundry flapping in the wind; the shame bush one notices only if one is walking; an accidental conversation at a playground or on the sidelines of a soccer field; the rustle of the mongoose in the bush; or the angle of a face raised to the sky?
“What really happened?” is not my primary question, and it is certainly not a sufficient question. Nor is my goal to secure agreement. My concerns are more the following: How do people live with deep disagreements? How do they remember, cherish, and guard against the past? How can one create a public record that represents and is sensitive to divergent points of view?
What would an unfinished and ongoing memorial look like?
The fall of the Grenada Revolution is an event of such significance that Caribbean history, and especially Anglophone Caribbean history, may be periodized in relation to it.
The Grenada Revolution fits uneasily in narratives that frame it primarily in terms of the conflict between socialism and capitalism. Although the leaders of the Revolution were mostly socialists, many of its most ardent supporters were not. At times, the Revolution involved creative alliances with and openness to other ideologies and movements, and at other times, a dogmatic closure to them. It therefore has a particularly important place in the imagination, memory, self-assessment, and current practice of the regional Left.
The Grenada Revolution reveals significant discrepancies between metropolitan Left and local and regional Left understandings of the event. For much of the international Left, which supported the Revolution from a distance, knew little about its internal differences, and to some extent romanticized it, October 25, the day the United States invaded, was the day of crisis around which they mobilized. They read the invasion in the context of the Cold War and the United States’ bloody interventions in Latin America through the 1970s and 1980s. But what differentiates the Grenada Revolution from many other leftist revolutions is not that it was ground under the military heel of the United States, but that it was brought down because of its own internal blood-letting. The conflict between comrades and between their respective supporters then and now; the continual revisiting of what was a defining event for an entire generation of Caribbean people; the restless questions “How could this have happened? How could we have let this happen?”—these are the threads in the fundamental traumatic knot that both halts memory and makes it urgent. These are some of the reasons that in the Caribbean, the profoundly human questions “what kind of world is possible?” and “what can we make of our world?” often pass through Grenada.
This book listens for memory of the Revolution that unfolds away from the archives of states, outside genres of tragedy, epic, and romance. I want to listen not just for the Revolution as a grand state project, but also for the affection and intimacy with which people referred to it as “the revo.” That colloquial abbreviation also beautifully captures the smaller space or miniature scale of the Grenada Revolution. That smaller scale enables particular kinds of micropolitics and what I will call “micropoetics.”
The texts I have addressed thus far suggest that the hopes of this moment may lie not so much in epic, romantic, or tragic tellings—each of which pre-ordains too much, each of which aspires to a grandeur of scale that is unnecessary to recognize the importance of Grenada. Grenada and the Caribbean are bound to lose in any contest of scale. I would rather pin the significance of Grenada on its reminder of the importance of the small.
The predicament of Grenada cannot be understood and would likely not be approached at all if one thought of its trauma in terms of numerical magnitude. … It is via the aesthetic, everyday practices, vernacular theorizing, and the geography of Grenada that I have sought to give Grenadian experience priority, to allow it a certain autonomy from the weight and models of two paradigmatic models of trauma—the Holocaust and New World slavery—so that it does not sink under the scale of those tragedies or the scholarship they have generated.
I explore the Revolution less to identify the insights and excesses of its leaders, less to memorialize or exculpate them, than to honor the many people from Grenada and beyond who joyfully gave their energies to the transformation of Grenada. They brought to the Revolution heterogeneous ideologies and commitments. In turn, the Revolution unleashed desires and energies in ordinary people that sometimes fit the leadership’s intentions and sometimes were quite independent of or opposed to them. The rightful renaming of the airport in honor of Maurice Bishop goes a long way toward freeing the memory of the Revolution from a focus on commemorating its slain leaders and moving us toward less choreographed and more numerous memories of the creative struggles ordinary people launched from the small, tight spaces afforded them.