Richard Hart, Marxist and historian

Michael BURKE

Thursday, January 09, 2014    

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RICHARD Hart, who died nearly three weeks ago, was a great historian. He was an unrepentant Marxist who never denied what he believed in, even when he was arrested and imprisoned. His greatest strengths were that he stood by his convictions and he was prepared to act rather than talk. While he never served in the Jamaican Cabinet or legislature, he did serve as attorney general in Grenada during the time of Maurice Bishop.

The great thing about the long life of Richard Hart (96 years) is that he was able to put the missing pieces of Jamaica's modern political history together. Someone with a shorter life span might not have the opportunity to do so, and for this we should all be grateful. His published writings should be best-sellers and his family should be the benefactors, unless he has willed otherwise.

Last week Thursday, in my first column for 2014, I wrote that this year marks 70 years since Jamaica gained Universal Adult Suffrage and self-government from England. Prior to that, only those who had land or paid at least ten shillings in taxes could vote in elections for the legislative council, which at best was an advisory body to the governor.

It was around the time of the Morant Bay Rebellion that the ideas of self-government and Universal Adult Suffrage were mooted in the famous Underhill meetings organised by the Englishman Edward Underhill. In later years, Marcus Moziah Garvey would push for full adult suffrage and self-government. Incidentally, the word suffrage simply means the right to vote.

Things started to get organised in this direction in 1935, when Ken Hill founded the National Reform Association. One such member of the National Reform Association (NRA) was the bricklayer-turned-trade unionist Hugh Buchanan. And Richard Hart, as a young law student, made common cause with Buchanan. And Hart joined the NRA with Buchanan some time during or after 1935.

The National Reform Association was the forerunner of the People's National Party (PNP). But it is not as if the NRA simply evolved into the PNP, since the PNP included far more groups of persons who were not in the NRA, such as the Jamaica Agricultural Society, the Jamaica Union of Teachers (forerunner of the Jamaica Teachers' Association) and others.

It was O T Fairclough who got the various groups together, along with others like Norman Manley who was not a part of any of the associations that comprised the original membership of the PNP.

Richard Hart, the Marxist, never relented. It was understood in the PNP that, no matter what one's personal ideological position was, as long as one accepted the programmers and principles of the PNP, then one was eligible for membership, and in this vein so was Richard Hart. Indeed, he was the only real Marxist of the Four Hs (Ken Hill, Frank Hill, Arthur Henry, and Richard Hart) who was expelled from the PNP in 1952.

Carolyn Cooper wrote a good article about Richard Hart in last week's Sunday Gleaner, but unfortunately it was spoilt by wrong dates. What a pity that, for research, she relied on Wikipedia with all its legendary wrong dates rather than more reliable sources. In the best of times Wikipedia can only be relied on for a lead, but not as the final authority.

The Four Hs were expelled from the PNP in 1952 (not 1954) and Richard Hart was re-admitted into the PNP in 1998 on the occasion of the PNP's 60th anniversary (not 2001). It is a pity even more so because some students, even at the university level, are bound to rely on Carolyn Cooper's column as safe to research because it was published in The Gleaner and because, in her own right, she is an eminent professor at UWI, though not in history.

We are all human and we all make mistakes. But because I know that students quote newspaper columnists, even those of us who might not be university professors, I try to correct whatever mistakes I make as soon as possible.

As far as Norman Manley was concerned, a communist belonged to a communist party and therefore Hart was a Marxist, not a communist. Indeed, it was not until Wills Isaacs and Glasspole convinced the PNP Disciplinary Committee that the Four Hs had joined an organisation opposed to the PNP that they were expelled.

But it does appear that the Four Hs were expelled as a part of a power struggle. To begin with, Ken Hill was a first-class political organiser who was also charismatic and rising in popularity. Ken Hill, who lost his first bid for the West Kingston seat in the House in 1944, literally chased Bustamante out of West Kingston and into Clarendon by 1949. He was that formidable. And it was just not possible to single out Ken Hill on ideological grounds without singling out others, including Richard Hart.

In 1942, when Richard Hart was a lawyer for a year, a law student (called an articled clerk in those days when apprenticed to a lawyer) was in Richard Hart's office and seated in front of him on an errand from Noel Nethersole when he got arrested. The law student's name was Keith C Burke, my father (many years later president of the Jamaica Bar Association). I inadvertently omitted this piece of information in my tribute to my father at his funeral in November 1999, so I make reparation today.

I always knew that flush toilets improved the health of people anywhere in the world that they were installed, but, thanks to Richard Hart, I now know that they contributed to the preservation of written history. Toilet paper was invented to be used in flush toilets. Prior to that, just about any form of paper was used, but with old newspaper being the preferred choice of many.

Richard Hart, in one of his historical treatises about his expulsion from the PNP along with the other three who made up the Four Hs, quoted words on paper that, according to Hart, he retrieved from the latrines at the offices of the Trades Union Congress. One can only imagine the amount of important historical sources that were lost before the advent of flush toilets.





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