World Sugar History Newsletter

Number 15, January 1990

In this issue:

  1. Reviews
  2. Papers Received
  3. Request for Information
  4. Conference Report

This version of the World Sugar History Newsletter, Number 15, January 1990, has been edited for the purpose of on-line display. The contents remain complete.


Arthur Lewis, Labour in the West Indies. The Birth of the Workers' Movement (London: New Beacon Books, 1988 reprint). Pp. 104. 8.50 hbk, 3.50 pbk; Rhoda Reddock, Elma Francois, The NWSCA and the Workers' Struggle in the Caribbean (London: New Beacon Books, 1988). Pp. 100. 9.50 hbk, 4.50 pbk; Susan Craig, Smiles and Blood. The Ruling Class Response to the Workers' Rebellion in Trinidad and Tobago (London: New Beacon Books, 1988). Pp. 74. 8.50 hbk, 4.50 pbk; Khafra Kambon, For Bread, Justice and Freedom. A Political Biography of George Weekes (London: New Beacon Books, 1988). Pp. 352. 18.50 pounds hbk, 8.95 pounds pbk. [For further information about these and other books write: New Beacon Books, 76 Stroud Green Road, London, N4 3EN, U.K. ]

All the above titles are published by New Beacon Books, a small independent publishing house. It was founded in 1966 by John La Rose. Publishing was seen by the founders as a vehicle to give black people "an independent validation of one's own culture, history, politics -- a sense of self -- a break with discontinuity". New Beacon reflects these ideas in its work. While based in Britain, it publishes the literature, poetry, politics, and history of Africa and the Caribbean as well as material from Britain. Many of these works are, therefore, relevant to those interested in sugar history as they deal with anti-colonial and workers' struggles in the Caribbean.

These four titles reviewed form a representative selection of those works relevant to sugar historians taken from the "social liberation" section of the New Beacon list. Arthur Lewis's classic pamphlet Labour in the West Indies is the most general. It was originally published in 1938 and written for the Fabian Society, that is, for a reformist left-wing British audience by someone who went on to become one of the most influential of the early development economists. Lewis takes as his subject matter the birth of the workers' movement in the Caribbean, focussing particularly on the upheavals of the late 1930s. He places this in context by examining the social conditions in the different colonies from which the movements sprung. Lewis also attempts to provide solutions to the problems of the Caribbean by devising ways of raising economic and cultural standards and securing the "conditions of unions," so derided by radicals at the time, and of the redistribution of economic and political power. All of these fed into his later work on development strategies and the so-called "Lewis Model". This new edition also includes a useful end comment by Susan Craig which attempts to locate Lewis within a wider intellectual and political context. The pamphlet, therefore, provides an insight into the work of an important West Indian scholar and to events in the Caribbean in the 1930s.

The other three works deal more specifically with Trinidad. Two of them consider aspects of the labour rebellion in the 1930s. Susan Craig's short book, Smiles and Blood, charts the response of the colonialists to the rebellion in Trinidad and Tobago in 1937, considering it in terms of token concessions and repression -- hence the title. Craig provides the context by examining the social structure of Trinidad and Tobago especially in terms of the decline of the plantation. She also considers why there was no unrest in Tobago, seeing this as due to the creation of a peasantry and the absence of proletarianization. This is followed by an outline of the crisis in the sugar and cocoa industries of Trinidad, looking particularly at the effects on wages and employment. The book then goes on to analyze the ways in which the ruling class and the state adopted a short-term strategy of isolating and arresting Butler, who was seen as the leader of the strikes, while they made speeches advocating reform and even introduced some changes. In places, Craig seems to see an almost monolithic unanimity of interest between the state and capital against the workers, but elsewhere she details the divisions in the Colonial Office and the loss of confidence by the business interests in the Governor and the Colonial Secretary. It would, perhaps, be more fruitful to see the state as the site of struggles between competing elements. So, while this work obviously is not as comprehensive or analytically sophisticated as Ken Post's study of Jamaica, Arise Ye Starvelings, it is, nevertheless, a useful, brief study of the events of the late 1930s in Trinidad.

Rhoda Reddock's book concentrates on a different aspect of the events of the late 1930s. She takes as her subject matter Elma Francois, one of the leaders and ideologues of the Negro Welfare Cultural and Social Association (NWCSA) to explore the role of the organization in the workers' struggles in the late 1930s. Reddock details the ways in which the NWCSA agitated around issues such as unemployment, the new laws regulating shop opening hours, and, of course, the strikes taking place at this time. A major focus of this piece is the relationship of the NWCSA with other labour organizations and leaders such as Cipriani and Butler: for example, the differing views over WWII. In addition, the relationship of Francois and the NWCSA with the colonial state -- Francois was the first woman to be tried for sedition along with some of her NWCSA comrades -- also provides an important theme. Overall, this pamphlet provides an interesting analysis of the workings of one organization which, unusually, was able to accommodate women in its senior ranks.

The fourth work, For Bread Justice and Freedom, a full length political biography of labour leader George Weekes, spans a much longer time period in Trinidad's history. It was written by Khafra Kambon, who as a student became involved in the Black Power uprising of 1970 and has remained active in radical politics ever since. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he paints a very sympathetic and somewhat idealized portrait of Weekes, who was for twenty-five years, the leader of the OWTU, the powerful oil workers' union. Kambon sees Weekes as inheriting the radical tradition of Butler, and spends much of the book tracing the difficult relationship between Eric Williams, the Trinidadian government, and Weekes and the OWTU. This relationship is essentially characterized as a betrayal, as Williams became an increasingly neocolonial politician. Weekes is seen as the bulwark of the radical opposition in Trinidad, as the only leader with a power base, a fundamentally different vision to Williams and the PNM, and a commitment to the struggle. This radicalism also brought Weekes into conflict with other union leaders, such as Bhadase Maraj of the sugar workers' union. Kambon denies any charges of racial divisiveness, arguing that Weekes always tried to unite African and Asian workers.

The book unfolds chronologically. The majority of it is concerned with charting the lead-up to the adoption of the ideas of Black Power in the late 1960s, for example, describing the abortive election attempt of the Workers and Farmers Party in the 1960s. These developments culminated in the near revolution of 1970, which provides the central focus of the work. The activities of the National Joint Action Committee (NJAC) figure largely in this. (Kambon himself was an important member of NJAC.) The state of emergency and imprisonment of Weekes are dealt with atsome length. The book then goes on to chart the continuing struggles in the 1970s, looking at the return to conventional politics in the form of the shortlived ULF and ending with the retirement of Weekes from leadership of the OWTU and his elevation to Senator, which became possible after the fall of the PNM and the death of Williams. This book, therefore, provides a useful insight into the political history of Trinidad in the twentieth century written by a protagonist in the process.

As the volumes described above demonstrate, New Beacon Books are playing an important role in publishing analyses of Black writers of important events and struggles which are of interest to any historian of the Third World in general and sugar in particular.

Georgina Walyen
University of Salford

J. H. Galloway, The Sugar Cane Industry. An Historical Geography from its Origins to 1914 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989). Pp. iii + 266. 30.00, $44.50.

This is an interesting, well written, and very useful book for all students of the sugar industry. Its utility would have been enhanced if the author had included a chapter on beet sugar and had carried the story beyond the First World War.

Starting from his own work on the sugar industries of Barbados, Northeastern Brazil, and the Mediterranean, Galloway has produced an excellent synthesis of available knowledge on the culture's evolution from remote antiquity to modern times. His study traces the geographical diffusion of sugar from the Far East to its main contemporary locations. This book updates, and in some respects, improves considerably upon the classic texts of von Lippmann and Noel Deerr. Above all, it shows a good command of the modern historiography on the subject.

The book is in three parts. A short initial section comprises, besides a brief introduction, chapters on "Sugar cane and manufacturing" and "The Eastern origins". The next, and longest part, (chapters 3-7), concentrates on the "Sugar industry in the West," while the final section, "Sugar industry in the East," offers chapters on Asia and the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean colonies.

Such a sequence has not only a geographical justification, but also a historical one. In chronological terms, the culture of sugar cane began in Asia, although the sugar industry of that continent only assumed modern features late in the eighteenth century, well after similar developments in the Americas. Its modernization, which coincided with the expansion of sugar cane culture to Indian and Pacific Ocean islands, was a result of the first industrial revolution and the subsequent extension of European imperialism.

These two processes, together with the formal abolition of slavery, were responsible for great changes in the sugar cane industry throughout the world, leading in some regions to a new division of labour between its agricultural and industrial components within the realm of the central factory system. Wherever this transformation did not occur local industry became obsolete and unprofitable, losing its external markets to beet sugar or more dynamic cane producers. Protectionist policies, of course, also played an important role in this, but they alone cannot be blamed for the decadence of sugar production in more traditionalist areas.

The last four chapters, which deal with the above mentioned processes and their consequences, are among the best in the book. A minor omission in chapter seven is the lack of any reference to the sugar cane industries of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, which shortly before 1914 were growing rapidly and at the expense of the Brazilian Northeast. Another, and more serious problem, appears in chapter one, where Galloway divides the industry into "three distinct stages: the cultivation and harvesting of sugar cane, the extraction of the juice from the cane, and the conversion of the juice to crystalline sugar" (p. 16). This seems a rather erroneous concept since the second and third stages pertain to one and the same manufacturing stage vis-a-vis the agricultural one. The only manufacturing operation which can and has historically been separated from it is that of sugar refining, as the author states (p. 17).

Readers may also be surprised by Galloway's optimistic view on the current and future trends of sugar consumption in the world (p. 9) and by his pessimism with regard to the potentialities of manbred cane varieties as compared with natural ones (pp. 15-16). On the other hand, one would have expected more maps from a geographer. They are completely absent from chapters six through nine. Finally, there are numerous orthographic errors in names and titles in the bibliography. Nonetheless, these shortcomings are relatively unimportant and do not affect the merits and qualities of this relevant work of reference.

Tamas Szmrecsanyi
Universidade Estadual de Campinas


Muriel McAvoy-Weissman, "Manuel Rionda and the Formation of the Cuba Cane Sugar Corporation". Paper presented to Association des Historiens de la Caraibe, xxie collogue, BasseTerre, Guadeloupe, March 1989.

Riva Berleant-Schiller, "Free Labor and the Economy in Seventeenth-Century Montserrat," The William and Mary Quarterly (July 1989), 3rd Series, Vol. XLVI, pp. 539-564.

Barry York, "Sugar Labor: Queensland's Maltese Experiment 1881-84," Journal of Australian Studies (November 1989), No. 25, pp. 43-56.

Doug Monro, "Planter versus Protector. Frank Cornwall's Employment of Gilbertese Plantation workers in Samoa, 1877-1881," The New Zealand Journal of History (October 1989), Vol. 23, No. 2, pp. 173-182.

The Workers' Voice. An official publication of the National Federation of Sugar Workers - Food and General Trades (NFSW-FGT) of the Philippines. This relatively new monthly publication has a wealth of first-hand information on the continuing brutal struggle for workers' rights being waged on the sugar plantations in Negros. A smaller publication, Link, is also published by the NFSW. For further information write: NSFW-FGT, 34 Verbena-Libertad Sts., 6100 Bacolod City, Negros Occidental, Philippines, P.O. Box 591.


The following letter had been received from Keith Barr, preservation archaeologist in Alexandria, Virginia.

Alexandria Archaeology is exploring the site of a sugar refinery that operated between 1780-1830. We are interested in exploring the trade relationship in sugar between the United States and the Caribbean during this period. What role did Britain have in this trade at this time?

How did these transactions work? What were the relationships between plantation, merchant, shipper, and refiner? Do records or papers of these entrepreneurs survive? Are there merchants, refiners, or shippers records with direct references to Alexandria, or other Mid-Atlantic or Chesapeake Bay ports? Much is known about the plantations, how sugar was grown, and processed but what about the trade?

We are cooperating with a group of Chesapeake Bay area scholars writing on the region's historical archaeology. The book will be published by the Smithsonian for the 500th Anniversary of Columbus' voyages.

Anyone who can offer any information please write to:
Keith L. Barr
Alexandria Archaeology
105 North Union Street
Alexandria, Virginia 22314


"Colloquium on Sugar Cane and Society"

This meeting was held June 16-18, 1989, in New College, University of Toronto. The following papers were presented:

Daphne Morris, "Contextualisation and textualisation of cane in literature and popular culture in the English-speaking Caribbean."
Ramabai Espinet, "The absent voice: unearthing the female epistemology of cane."
Bernard Moitt, "Separating myth from reality: sugar, slavery, and the law in the French Caribbean."
David Trotman, "Law and the defense of sugar interests in the post-emancipation Caribbean."
Cheikh I. Niang, "Aspects socio-economiques de la production sucriere au Senegal."
Keith Ellis, "Images of cane in Caribbean literature."
Anton Allahar, "Cane sugar takes a 'beeting'."
Horace Henriques, "The contradictory nature of slave resistance: its contribution to the formation of the Guyanese middle class."
Paget Henry, "Class and politics of sugar cane production in the English-speaking Caribbean."
B. S. Baviskar, "Sugar cane in the Indian economy."

For further information contact, Dr. Peter Blanchard, Department of History, University of Toronto.

World Sugar History Newsletter is compiled by: Bill Albert, School of Economic and Social Studies, UEA, Norwich, and Adrian Graves, Department of History, University of Adelaide. All correspondence to Bill Albert, School of Economic and Social Studies, University of East Anglia, Norwich, NR4 7TJ, U.K.