From Occupation to Independence: A Short History of the Peoples of the English-Speaking Caribbean Region

Article excerpt

London: Pluto Press, 1998 pbk L14.99; hbk L45.00

In From Occupation to Independence, Richard Hart examines both the colonization of the English-speaking Caribbean, and the movements for independence from colonial rule. The text is not a comprehensive historical study, but is rather a short overview of key events and historical points. While short in length, it is nonetheless an excellent source for an introduction to the histories of occupation and struggles for independence within the region. The text also examines a number of key themes of interest to those studying contemporary social and labour movements. For example, Hart documents the shaping of the contemporary social struggles by illustrating the connections between the anti-slavery struggles of the colonial period and the contemporary movements for national independence. Also examined are the role of trade union struggles in relation to struggles for national liberation. For Hart, the role of labour movements is of particular importance, as he uses his analysis of the intersections of labour and independence struggles to examine the deeper connections between race and class.

Hart begins by examining European colonization, starting in early in the 17th century. As indicated by the title, Hart focuses on the region that came to be the English-speaking colonies. Initially, however, Hart examines the colonial projects of England, France, Spain, and the Netherlands. By the 1620s, all had established colonies on various islands in the Caribbean region. By the mid-- 1600s, there was widespread conflict between these rival colonizers, which lasted throughout the remainder of the 17th century and well into the 18th. But by 1815, Britain had emerged as the dominant European naval power, bringing an end to the regional conflict between the European colonizers.

The region was of immediate economic interest to the Europeans, due to the availability of crops such as tobacco, cotton, and sugar. Before long, however, sugar became the predominant export. By the mid-1600s, the indigenous populations of the islands had been dramatically reduced due to the cruelties of colonial rule. Thus, in order to secure the large labour force required by the sugar plantations, European colonizers initiated a slave trade from West Africa, capturing West Africans and transporting them to the Caribbean colonies to work as indentured labourers on the plantations. Hart also notes the role of ideologies of racial superiority in providing the European colonizers with justification for the use of African slave labour in the colonies.

Hart documents the enormous cruelty inflicted upon the slaves by the British colonizers and slave traders. However, he is also quite careful to note the degree to which the enslaved Africans resisted this condition and rose up against the slave traders and plantation owners. Individual escape attempts were often made. On a broader level, there were mass escape attempts, as well as various forms of mass rebellion and guerilla warfare. The text contains an extensive listing of the many anti-slavery uprisings that took place throughout the colonies during the 18th century. Most of the rebellions of this period ended in defeat or only partial victory; however, they nonetheless represented a continued determination on the part of the enslaved Africans to pressure for their emancipation. …