“We were prepared to die rather than return to Pindling’s PLP.” — One of the Dissident Eight
Historical revisionism is an old political art form practised in epochs and settings ranging from the apparatchiks of the former Soviet Union to the rehabilitation by contemporary Argentinian politicians of the Juan and Eva Perón mystique and cult of personality.
To boost its political stock and electoral fortunes, the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) is once again engaged in a longstanding two-prong revisionist strategy to rewrite political history to its self-interested favor.
The main thrust is a bald revisionism of the genesis and creation of the Free National Movement (FNM).
The second is the ongoing program to burnish the image and legacy of the late Sir Lynden Pindling, romanticizing his time in office while bristling at any legitimate criticism of the man who presided as prime minister during the pernicious drug era.
The strategy is designed to diminish the FNM while promoting the Pindling mythology. That it is often promoted today by propagandists who once decried Sir Lynden and the PLP in blistering and searing language is telling.
With successive new generations of Bahamians, most of whom were born after the creation of the FNM and the death of Sir Lynden, both major parties will need to tell their founding stories in order to win hearts, minds and votes.
The cohort of voters wedded to the PLP because of what the party once represented but long ago abandoned, has substantially diminished and will continue to decrease. Most young Bahamians know the Pindling of the one dollar bill and after whom the New Providence international airport is named.
There is little emotional attachment to Pindling and the PLP by scores of young voters. The same is true for the FNM, with few younger voters having a basic working knowledge of the late Sir Cecil Wallace Whitfield and the founders of the FNM.
Few know of the origins of the FNM. For increasing numbers of younger and new voters, former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham and his legacy and that of the first FNM government will be a receding memory.
In October 1971, Prime Minister Pindling boldly declared on radio that other political parties in the country were “out of the ball game”.
Just a few days later on October 20, 1971, the Council of the Free PLP, which comprised the Dissident Eight, who left the PLP a year earlier, and other early supporters including Sir Kendal Isaacs and Sir Orville Turnquest, met at Dissident James (Jimmy) Shepherd’s residence at Spring Hill Farm in Fox Hill. Sir Orville up to that time was a member of the National Democratic Party (NDP).
After a marathon debate that began in the evening and continued into the morning, the dissidents cum founders of the emerging Free National Movement issued a resolution, creating a new political party after a series of momentous events which led to the birth of the new viable party.
At the formation of the FNM there were two other opposition parties in the country: the United Bahamian Party headed by the late Sir Geoffrey Johnstone and the NDP headed by the late Paul Adderley.
The previous year, in 1970, in the House of Assembly, eight PLP members of Parliament voted no confidence in the leadership of Pindling. After the vote, the eight walked out of the chamber into Parliament Square protected by a police cordon. They were heckled and booed by a large crowd, some of whom were out for blood.
A knife-wielding assailant attempted to stab Wallace Whitfield. The blade of the weapon was caught in the palm of a supporter of Sir Cecil’s, the latter narrowly escaping injury or something worse.
Quite early in the PLP’s tenure in office there were mounting concerns about the increasing lack of collegiality and the growing cult of personality surrounding Sir Lynden. There was alarm over a number of policy decisions and betrayals at odds with the party’s once progressive philosophy.
There were originally more dissidents than the eight who finally left to form the Free PLP and then the Free National Movement.
But when the vote of no confidence came, some of the more insistent critics of Sir Lynden and the direction of the PLP, buckled in their convictions and their courage, absenting themselves from the House chamber with dubious excuses.
Men like the late Warren Levarity, along with the seven other dissidents, courageously opposed Sir Lynden at the height of his power. He was to pay a heavy price for his convictions. Like many others, Sir Lynden set out to destroy him.
Those who opposed Sir Lynden were branded and targeted as traitors. Sir Lynden’s court and cult of personality, greed and power include some who are still alive and who were among the most vicious.
The brothers who helped secure the Second Emancipation of majority rule were treated as outcasts and enemies, one of the greater shames of the PLP and of that era. It is a shame and a disgrace which the PLP has never fully acknowledged.
While entreaties were made to various dissidents to return to the PLP, with promises of favors and financial rewards, none of the Dissident Eight returned.
Sir Lynden and his political hatchet men made it impossible for some of the dissidents to find work, to access scholarships for their children or to receive various private or government contracts.
Still, they did not buckle. One dissident captured the convictions of some of the others: “We were prepared to die rather than return to Pindling’s PLP.” Because of this brand of courage and sacrifice our democracy is secured through a vibrant two-party system.
The PLP continued to promote that mob mentality in order to silence critics and to protect Pindling’s leadership.
Lewis Yard, Grand Bahama: In 1970, a group of senior PLPs decided to hold a party meeting one Sunday afternoon. They were alarmed by the cult of personality around Sir Lynden and the metastasizing corruption in and direction of the party and the country, the very same culture of corruption alive and well in today’s PLP.
The delegation included Cecil Wallace Whitfield, Arthur A. Foulkes, Maurice Moore, Dr. Curtis McMillan, Garnett Levarity (Warren’s father) and now Governor General C. A. Smith, all veterans in the fight for majority rule.
The meeting was held in a school room, with a raised platform for the speakers and rows of folding chairs for attendees. Having just invoked the Lord’s name in prayer, a goon squad sprang from the front row. Once on their feet they grabbed the chairs, folding them into bludgeons.
Then they viciously set upon their targets. They drew blood from Sir Cecil, bashing him in his head, and bruising others. On the way out of Lewis Yard, a close associate of Sir Lynden, who would later resign from the Cabinet in disgrace, was observed in a trench coat, standing in a drizzling rain.
To ensure that those who disagreed with Sir Lynden and his court got the message intended at Lewis Yard, PLP MP the late Henry Bowen went on ZNS to denounce the dissidents as traitors. The charges were replayed on state radio in a barrage and loop of intimidation.
These events preceded the October resolution. The resolution is a refutation of the historical revisionism that the FNM merged with the UBP.
There were no UBP politicians present at the birth of the party, founded by the courageous men who fought within the PLP for majority rule and against the racist policies of the white oligarchy.
The resolution stated:
“Whereas the Free-PLP has witnessed the gross misdirection of the progressive movement in The Bahamas and the willful abandonment of the ideals upon which that movement was launched and the consequent peril and destructive course on which our beloved country and its people are now being led by the PLP government;
“And whereas in order to restore and maintain the purity of purpose upon which the Bahamian people have placed their hopes the Free-PLP was created and dedicated itself to establish a government which will truly reflect the political, social and economic aspirations of the people of the Commonwealth of the Bahama Islands;
“And whereas the Free-PLP has become increasingly concerned over the scattered direction in which varying political groups in the country have been heading and the continuous emergence of new and additional factions amongst citizens of our country who have common aspirations for the good government of the country and who ought logically to combine their energy, resources, and political aims for the benefit of a unified and single cause;
“And whereas with an impending general election imminent, the Free-PLP views with alarm the prospect of several political parties all of whom are opposed to the ineffective and downhill direction of the present government, engaged in an election contest in which they would be competing against each other and possibly thereby causing the present government to be returned;
“Be it therefore resolved that the Free-PLP hereby declares its grave concern over the continued fragmentation of the political forces in The Bahamas who are opposed to the present government and seeks to take any necessary steps to implement a solidification of such of the political forces as ought immediately to be united;
“Be it further resolved that in pursuance thereof the Free-PLP has re-dedicated itself to the creation of an all-embracing national political party and to this end hereby reconstitutes itself under the name and style of the Free National Movement and invites into its ranks all Bahamians who are opposed to the corruption, tyranny and reckless folly of the present government and who seek to establish good government dedicated to serve the best interests of our country and all its people.”
Facts are stubborn. As one writer noted: “The Free National Movement was [not] created as a result of the amalgamation or merger of the Free-PLP and the United Bahamian Party (UBP).
“[The FNM] was a black-led alternative to the monolithic PLP.” Like the PLP, its creation was rooted “in the depths of the history of the development of multi-party democracy in the modern Bahamas, which commenced in 1953”.
The Dissident Eight were as opposed to the policies and mindset of the UBP as were any of the other leaders who remained in the PLP.
The sad irony is that during 25 years in power the PLP elite morphed into an oligarchy and became as entitled and corrupt as the UBP. The PLP betrayed many of its ideals and did irreparable harm to the country in a number of areas.
In subsequent years it was FNM governments that rekindled the progressive ideals abandoned by the PLP including: freeing the broadcast media, greater gender equality, a slew of social advancements, an insistence on a multiracial society and other achievements.