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Winston Best & Norman Girvan
The George Padmore Institute is very sad to announce the recent deaths of two of its close friends and collaborators – Winston Best, on 18 March, and Norman Girvan, on 9 April. There is material in the GPI archive about their many activities.
Winston Best was born in Barbados but spent much of his working life in the UK, where he was a stalwart of the many struggles facing black children and their parents in the British school system.
John La Rose met Winston in the 1960s. At that time Winston was Education Officer of the North London West Indian Association. John and he worked together on many educational campaigns and struggles including the banding campaign in Haringey in the late 1960s, the Community and Education Workers Association (CECWA) in the 1970s, the National Association of Supplementary Schools in the 1980s and the supplementary school movement throughout. Winston was a regular visitor to events at the GPI. In 2001 Winston was a key contributor to a series of seminars that the GPI held on the Early History of the Black Supplementary School Movement. In December 2007 he delighted a group of students from the Kokayi Supplementary School who were able to interview him at the GPI along with Roxy Harris on issues to do with the Black Education Movement.
Gus John, another friend of both the GPI and Winston, wrote in a recent Tribute
“It is impossible to speak or write about the British schooling system and its engagement with the post-war Black presence these last 50 years without calling the name, Winston Best, over and over again. Without doubt, Winston stands in the vanguard of the black working class movement in education and schooling as both an educator and an activist.”
Gus John’s detailed appreciation can found at www.gusjohn.com/2014/03/a-tribute-to-athelston-winston-best/.
Norman Girvan was a leading Caribbean academic and international economist. More importantly he was a radical intellectual who interrogated the reality of the Caribbean and the wider world ‘in order to transform it in the interest of the ordinary men and women of the Caribbean’.
His many professional posts included Secretary General of the Association of Caribbean States, Professor of Development Studies and Director of the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies at the University of the West Indies, and head of the National Planning Agency of the Government of Jamaica. In 2010 he was appointed as the United Nations Secretary General’s Personal Representative on the Guyana-Venezuela Border Controversy. In 2002-2011 he was a Board Member of the South Centre and served as Vice Chairman from 2006 to 2011. Since 2009 he was a member of the United Nations Committee on Development Policy. He published extensively on the political economy of development in the Caribbean and the Global South and was the recipient of several honours and awards.
Norman was in London studying for his PhD at the LSE in the 1960s when he met John La Rose. They remained friends, comrades and collaborators over the years that followed.
We quote here below from the Tribute given by David Abdulah, General Secretary of the Oilfields Workers Trade Union in Trinidad, at the Service in Celebration of Norman’s life, held at the University of the West Indies, Mona, on 3 May.
What then, we may ask, kept Norman Girvan going? A friend of mine, Trinidadian born US based, Professor Acklyn Lynch remarked many years ago that the Caribbean sadly lacked, at the level of our leadership, a sense of ethics and aesthetics. Norman possessed both the ethic and the aesthetic and he held fast to the old adage – “to thine own self be true” – so much so that he maintained a deep ethical conviction to be intellectually honest.
Norman himself gives us a real appreciation of what underpinned his sense of ethics and aesthetics. There was, firstly, the context in which he started his student life which propelled him into the pursuit of Independent Thought and which shaped his conviction that Caribbean integration was central to our development. And there was the influence of CLR James. But let Norman tell it in his own words:
“I was a student on the Mona campus of the University (then University College) of the West Indies…I remember it as a time of great excitement, tremendous ferment and heated debates. Imagine what it was like to be in a Caribbean populated by the likes of Norman Manley, Eric Williams, Cheddi Jagan, Grantley Adams and CLR James; Frank Worrell and Garfield Sobers; Arthur Lewis; Vidia Naipual and Roger Mais; Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, and the ghost of Marcus Garvey; moreover in a world populated by the likes of Nehru, Nasser, Nkrumah and Nyerere, Tito, Sukharno and Mao Zedong. A debate was raging over what form the West Indies Federation should take and what economic policies it should follow…The burning issues of debate were West Indian integration and identity, imperialism, decolonization, racism, socialism, democracy, mass party and economic development. There was a widespread sense that the emerging postcolonial order was in crisis. The question was – what course should national independence take?”
I wish to suggest that Norman consistently interrogated this question for his entire adult life for the postcolonial order is still in crisis. Freed of the need to be in a formal institution, the last decade of Norman’s life was perhaps the period of greatest activism. This activism was seen at its brilliant best in his campaign to initiate debate and educate Caribbean citizens, mobilize civil society and influence governments on the so-called Economic Partnership Agreement between Cariforum and the European Union. In all of Norman’s work in the past decade he has, with all his tremendous intellectual capacity, critiqued the present neo-liberal capitalist paradigm and its deleterious effects on Caribbean sovereignty and the welfare of the ordinary men and women of the region. This is why I say that he was New World till the very end. But he makes the point best:
“My point is that the New World mission of intellectual decolonization is more relevant than ever because intellectual colonization is alive and well in Mona and St. Augustine and Kingston and Port of Spain. The methods of intellectual colonization are the conditionalities of the international lending agencies and donor countries, their financial surveillance, their technical reports on our educational system and our health care system and our agricultural policy and our public sector reform. The methods are the daily bombardment from the global media, it is scholarships and fellowships and travel grants that do us the favour of assimilating their world view, and it is consultancies given to scholars where they define the terms and we do the work…
Thank you, Norman Girvan, one of the most fertile minds of our academy, friend of the region’s working people and poor, comrade of our social movements, fighter and believer in social justice, one who knew that another world is not only necessary but possible, mentor to a new generation of activists. And, above all, like all true revolutionaries concerned about humanity, Norman was simply a wonderful, wonderful human being!
 Norman Girvan, “New World and its Critics” in “The Thought of New World: The Quest for Decolonisation” Ed by Brian Meeks and Norman Girvan, (Kingston: Ian Randle Publishers, 2”10)