Sat | Aug 19, 2017

Julian Robinson | Clearing the fog from Seaga's memory

Published:Tuesday | October 25, 2016 | 10:00 AM
Julian Robinson

Former prime Minister Edward Seaga has used my statement about the People's National Party (PNP) being a democratic socialist party and the PNP's need to figure out how we give expression to that ideology, within the context of our current economic and political reality, to launch his version of history. There are many persons who do not share Mr Seaga's memory of the history of Jamaica in the 1970s.

I was born in 1972 and was, therefore, much too young to fully understand and appreciate all the developments affecting the country during that period first-hand. While I am a student of political history and have a perspective on the 1970s, it is not my intention to respond on a point-by-point basis to Mr Seaga.

Mr Seaga has failed to mention the international context of the 1970s, a period of great ideological upheaval in the world, as many nations that had gained independence in the previous 10-20 years were finding their place in the world and in which large nations sought to exercise hegemonic power, resulting in many proxy struggles in countries like ours.

Jamaica was at the forefront of the search for 'space' for smaller and weaker countries that had no role in determining the structures of international affairs, in its championing of a New International Economic Order. Some countries that had, for a very long time, been accustomed to directing countries like ours were intent on keeping people like us in our place - in the words of the late prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Eric Williams, "the hewers of wood and the carriers of water."

 

SIGNIFICANT BENEFITS

 

Much of the respect Jamaica enjoys internationally today is as a result of its role under the leadership of Michael Manley during the 1970s. In fact, many of the agreements that the government entered into with countries such as Cuba and Venezuela, which were criticised at the time, have been adopted, endorsed and continued by Jamaica Labour Party administrations and have brought significant benefits to the Jamaican people.

While there were high levels of GDP growth in the 1960s, the vast majority of the Jamaican people felt excluded from that growth and turned to the PNP in 1972 to give expression to their hopes and aspirations. We will not pretend that mistakes were not made. The undisputed fact, however, is that many Jamaicans (especially those from the lower social and economic strata and those of darker pigmentation), who prior to the 1970s were denied social and economic advancement, had doors and opportunities opened for them because of the 1970s. Historians will, in time, pronounce fully on that period.

A trend in many democratic countries is to have parties with a Leftist leaning. These parties are grouped under the broad umbrella of social democracy. There are many social democratic parties the world over, for example, the Labour Party in the UK, the Australian Labour Party, the Barbados Labour Party, the Social Democratic Party of Germany, the Social Democratic Party of Japan, the Socialist Party in Spain, the African National Congress in South Africa, and the People's National Party in Jamaica, among others.

The term 'social democratic' is used by some, while others use the term 'democratic socialist', and some even use the term 'Labour' (but note that the Jamaica Labour Party is not numbered among the International Social Democratic Parties).

 

PARTIES MUST EVOLVE

 

All political parties need to reinterpret their raison d'etre from time to time. While a party is grounded in a philosophy, the appropriate expressions of that ideology must evolve as the circumstances and the environment change. That is the context within which I made my comments.

As a political movement, the PNP has always demonstrated its willingness to engage in introspection, review and analysis to determine that its policies and programmes are appropriate for the time. In the 1980s, after extensive internal debate and an analysis of the 1970s, the document called The Compass was developed. In the early 2000s, the 21st-century Document was done, and more recently, the Progressive Agenda.

Coming out of the 1970s, the party accepted that the State could no longer control the 'commanding heights' of the economy and that private-sector-led growth, with appropriate state intervention, was the method to be used to facilitate economic growth. That cannot be reversed.

We also recognise that economic growth is critical to delivering much-needed social services.

One of the recommendations coming out of the 2016 Appraisal Committee's work is that the party needs to reaffirm what it stands for. This is critical, as party members must be able to clearly articulate this vision and convince the population to invest their hopes and aspirations in the PNP and to trust us with state power.

That process has already commenced within the party and will continue in the weeks and months to come.

It is the ideals of social equity, equality of opportunity and the building of an egalitarian society that are fundamental, and not the label under which these ideals are given expression.

- Julian Robinson is general secretary-designate of the PNP. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.