Academic journal article The Journal of Caribbean History

Capitalism and Slavery Fifty Years Later: Eric Eustace Williams - A Reassessment of the Man and His Work

Academic journal article The Journal of Caribbean History

Capitalism and Slavery Fifty Years Later: Eric Eustace Williams - A Reassessment of the Man and His Work

Article excerpt

Heather Cateau and S.H.H. Carrington, eds., Capitalism and Slavery Fifty Years Later: Eric Eustace Williams - A Reassessment of the Man and His Work (New York: Peter Lang, 2000), xv + 247 pp.

The central and subsidiary theses espoused in Eric Williams's seminal work Capitalism and Slavery have been the subject of several international conferences since 1984. Undoubtedly, this is a consequence of the intensity of the debates that this work has engendered among scholars since its publication in 1944. To date, no consensus has been reached; in fact, it becomes increasingly clear that the debate will continue for a long time. As soon as it seems that the central issues are settled, new information, the result of further research, are brought to the fore by a growing number of supporters and detractors, thus giving new life to the subject. The work indeed stands challenged but not debunked.

The book under review is the product of the latest conference, entitled "Capitalism and Slavery - Fifty Years: Eric Williams and the Post Colonial Caribbean", held on 24-28 September 1996 at the University of the West Indies (U.W.I.), St. Augustine campus, Trinidad and Tobago, under the sponsorship of the U.W.I., in collaboration with the W.E.B. DuBois Institute for Afro-American Research (Harvard University), the Collegium for African American Research (Europe), the African Studies and Research Center at Cornell University, and the Research Institute for the Study of Man (New York). This five-day conference, embracing distinguished academics with backgrounds in a wide variety of disciplines, including history, economics, economic history, sociology, literature and the creative arts, had twelve sessions, each examining aspects of Capitalism and Slavery, as well as the man, Eric Williams - his time and legacy. The conference was a fitting celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Capitalism and Slavery and memorial of the tenth anniversary of the author's death.

The work comprises a preface, an introductory overview by the editors and eleven chapters, most of which are revised versions of oral presentations and papers delivered at the conference. The preface is fittingly written by the Rt. Hon. Michael Manley (since deceased), a dynamic politician and statesman who himself served twice as prime minister of Jamaica, 1972-1980 and again in 1989-1993. His first tenure as prime minister brought him into close working association with Dr. Eric Williams, then prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago. Manley in the 1970s, like Williams in the 1930s and 1950s, stoutly challenged the status quo - the old regime of capitalism (colonialism and imperialism) with its stark exploitation of the less developed countries (LDCs), of which the Caribbean states are members. Both contended that the economic development and industrialization of the North was to a great extent a consequence of the gross and blatant exploitation of the South. Manley, in his strong anti-imperialist stance, rose to become a leading figure in the now defunct Non-Aligned Movement and a leader in the struggle for a New International Economic Order. Importantly, also, he was the son of Norman Washington Manley, leader of the People's National Party (PNP), and premier of Jamaica during the 1950s, just around the time when Eric Williams led his newly formed political party, the People's National Movement (PNM), to victory in Trinidad and Tobago to become its premier. Both the senior Manley and Williams were pioneers in the struggle against colonialism and for West Indian unity. The Manleys and Williams shared a common vision of Caribbean unity and cooperation.

The eleven essays in the book under review are organized into four parts. Three essays make up each of the first three parts, while the last part consists of two essays. The first part examines the man Eric Williams and Capitalism and Slavery; the second gives a holistic view of the text; and the third discusses the slave trade, slavery, and profitability and decline of the Caribbean sugar economy prior to abolition. …

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