“If you are a big tree, we are a small axe.” As this Jamaican proverb (popularized by Bob Marley) suggests, a small axe is an instrument of criticism. This is what our journal aims to be: a small axe. Since the demise of New World Quarterly (journal of the New World movement) in the late 1960s and Savacou (journal of the Caribbean Artist's Movement) in the late 1970s, there has not been, in the Anglo-Creole Caribbean, a significant independent journal devoted to social, cultural, and political criticism. In different ways, the agendas of New World Quarterly (led by Lloyd Best) and Savacou (led by Kamau Brathwaite) were cultural-nationalist in orientation. Importantly, these were oppositional nationalist projects, nationalisms positioned counter to the complaisant middle class (or liberal-rationalist) nationalisms through which the postcolonial nation-states in the Caribbean were being imagined and constructed. Both journals sought to think critically against the Eurocentric norms of historical and cultural understanding of Caribbean society. Importantly too, both journals weren't concerned merely to dismantle the epistemological assumptions of European/Western understandings of the Caribbean; they were concerned also to explore the idea of an idiom of criticism that was vernacular, that is to say a practice of criticism that both gave form to, and spoke from within, a Caribbean cultural-political tradition.
We see Small Axe as heir to this project of fashioning of a criticism that works through our intellectual tradition. But we also understand that our social and political context has changed substantially from what it was in the 1960s and 1970s when New World Quarterly and Savacou were our small axes. The collapse of what Samir Amin calls the Bandung project that defined the immediate post-Independence period (from Nehru’s India to Nasser’s Egypt), the collapse of the experiments with Third World socialisms (from Nyerere’s Tanzania to Michael Manley’s Jamaica and Maurice Bishop’s Grenada), and the emergence of a new hegemonic globalization, has altered the context of our common life. This new context has far-reaching implications for how we think about sovereignty and self-determination, for example, or about the ideological and institutional forms of possible political futures, about the grounds of intellectual and aesthetic judgment, about development and about progress. In short it alters the context in which we think about those features of our collective life that together make up the Caribbean's modernity. If New World Quarterly and Savacou sought, in the context of the nationalist postcolonial state, to fashion an oppositional idiom of criticism, we inhabit a moment in which a new vocabulary of criticism is necessary to understand and address the social, cultural, and political forms of our present.
This is what we wish Small Axe to explore. To be sure we have no ready answers to the questions we wish to pose. In fact we think that this absence of ready answers is a condition of our journal. Ours, we think, is a time of much uncertainty, intellectual as well as political, when older paradigms are no longer plausible and new ones have not yet asserted themselves. Our aim is to be part of the refashioning of the cultural-political hopes for an alternative to our present. In this we think that a journal such as ours must be willing to risk questions that take us in directions we do not—because we cannot—anticipate.