Maurice Bishop and the New JEWEL Movement

Forward Ever, Backward Never

Excerpt from Learn Our History | Vol. 1

Any discussion about Grenadian history is bound to bring up Maurice Bishop and the New JEWEL Movement.

Maurice Bishop (1944-1983) was a Grenadian revolutionary who came to power following a bloodless coup on 13 March 1979, removing the incumbent Eric Gairy and his Grenada United Labour Party and instating the New JEWEL Movement (or New Joint Endeavour for Welfare, Education, and Liberation) as the de facto government.

The New JEWEL Movement, founded in 1973, was a socialist party whose manifesto spoke of 'self-reliance' and 'self-sufficiency', as well as rejecting 'the easy approaches offered by aid and foreign assistance'.

Bishop would go on to serve as Prime Minister from 1979 to 1983 and during his time would oversee:

  • the introduction of free public health, including the building of several clinics and hospitals

  • a drop in illiteracy levels from 35% to 5% and a drop in unemployment from 50% to 14%

  • the introduction of free secondary education and improved higher education

  • equal pay for women, paid maternity leave and the outlawing of gender discrimination

  • improved domestic and international transportation with the building of 45 miles of new roads and a new international airport

The general consensus among the Grenadian populace was overwhelmingly positive; however, critics of the Bishop administration pointed to the suspension of the constitution, the stifling of free press and his government's failure to hold elections, as evidence of his anti-democratic tendencies.

Bishop has been quoted at length on his views on the democratic process, explaining:

“There are those who believe that you cannot have a democracy unless there is a situation where every five years, and for five seconds in those five years, a people are allowed to put an ‘X’ next to some candidate’s name, and for those five seconds in those five years they become democrats, and for the remainder of the time, four years and 364 days, they return to being non-people without the right to say anything to their government, without any right to be involved in running their country."

For Bishop and his party, democracy was less about elections, but more about the system in which the population lived:

“The right of freedom of expression can really only be relevant if people are not too hungry, or too tired to be able to express themselves. It can only be relevant if appropriate grassroots mechanisms rooted in the people exist, through which the people can effectively participate, can make decisions, can receive reports from the leaders and eventually be trained for ruling and controlling that particular society. This is what democracy is all about.”

Although only serving for four and a half years, the legacy of Bishop's leadership endures. The New JEWEL Movement would be brought to a halt with the arrest and subsequent murder of Bishop, but for a time, the party’s slogan: Forward Ever, Backward Never galvanised this spirited nation.