Wed | Aug 12, 2020

Gordon Robinson | We don’t need another capitalist party

Published:Sunday | September 15, 2019 | 12:00 AM
Prime Minister Michael Manley chats with members of the foreign and local press at Jamaica House in 1976. Manley’s democratic socialist polices of the 1970s were groundbreaking and sometimes polarising during that era.

During the frenetic week leading up to the recent PNP leadership election, I heard former general secretary Paul Burke deliver an expansive lecture on democratic socialism and its alleged tenets to Cliff Hughes.

I was disappointed when Cliff, whose considerable history in political journalism and awareness of political philosophies are legendary, listened keenly without demur. Burke, sounding erudite as usual, reeled off eight points allegedly definitive of “democratic socialism” which he implied were set out in PNP’s constitution as non-negotiable requirements of pnp membership. My aged, creaking brain listened with incredulity as it didn’t recall any such definition in that constitution or any such extensive definition anywhere.


PNP’s constitution begins with a statement of PNP’s national, inter-commonwealth and international objectives. National objectives are:


(A) secure and extend the liberties, to secure the interests and to develop the national life and prosperity of the people of Jamaica as a whole by all constitutional means through construction of a socialist society.

(B) work for and promote the political, economic, social and cultural progress of the country as a whole in accordance with the fundamental aims of the party to build a Jamaica based on the principles of democratic socialism.

(C) promote predominantly the interest of the people as a whole by the organisation of Jamaica into a country of small settlers, farmers and workers and the development of the industrial, social and other services necessary for the maintenance of such a social structure.

(D) develop the political life of the country by guiding, informing and expressing public opinion through public meetings and party literature.

(E) nominate and support for election to the House of Representatives and to municipal corporations, members of the party pledged to support the programmes and decisions of the party in their respective bodies.

(F) exercise effectively the democratic rights and powers provided by the existing constitution so as to secure the development of a planned policy for the social and economic future of the country.

(G) protect, maintain and promote Jamaica’s status as an independent nation and to seek to preserve at all times the democratic rights of the people as are set out in the charter of fundamental rights and freedom and as entrenched in the Jamaican Constitution.”

PNP’s “inter-commonwealth” objective is:

“(H) t o cooperate with labour and socialist organisations within the commonwealth with a view to promoting the purposes of the party, and more particularly, to take common action with such organisations in the Caribbean region for the promotion of a higher standard of social and economic life for the population of the respective countries of the region as a whole.”

PNP’s “international” objective:

“(G) to cooperate with labour and socialist organisations in other countries,

For the improvement of the social and economic standards and conditions of the peoples of the world”

Burke’s “points of definition” of democratic socialism sounded a lot like PNP’s eight national objectives excluding the words “democratic socialism.” Burke successfully spun those eight points to Cliff as PNP’s definition of democratic socialism. But rigorous analysis and testing of allegations (which Cliff did later in the week when quizzing Lisa Hanna on her embarrassing accusations of vote buying) would’ve exposed that no definition of democratic socialism exists in pnp’s constitution. To the contrary, that “democratic socialism” is specifically referred to in objective (b), but none other suggests that the principles and objectives listed in the other seven objectives are external to democratic socialism albeit likely to be compatible with that philosophy.

The PNP constitution does include conditions for membership the most fundamental of which is:

“Membership of the party shall be open to all persons resident in Jamaica or of Jamaican parentage above the age of eighteen (18) years … . Who accept the programmes and policies of the party based on the principles of democratic socialism.”

In an article published in the Jamaica Observer (July 11, 2016) headlined democratic socialism and PNP renewal, Senator Floyd Morris wrote:

“In 1940, PNP declared democratic socialism as the ideology that grounds the movement. In 1974, M ichael Manley reaffirmed PNP’s commitment to this ideology. But it wasn’t until 1978 that a lucid definition, of this ideology was proffered to the members and supporters of the organisation.

The principles and objectives of the PNP define democratic socialism as:

‘A political and economic theory under which the means of production, distribution and exchange are owned or controlled by the people and where the opportunities of society are equally available to all.’”

Two simple points; not eight! Floyd made the case that “owned or controlled by the people [my emphasis]” didn’t equate to state ownership. In the 1970s, those of us who want to, recall Michael Manley didn’t invent democratic socialism nor did he drag PNP kicking and screaming into a “foreign” philosophy but simply reiterated one the pnp had embraced over 30 years before. Michael Manley pursued that philosophy mainly through policies of empowerment including worker participation; equal rights for all regardless of circumstances of birth, gender, or otherwise; across-the-board development of human capital through free education; and an ambitious adult literacy programme.

These and other revolutionary social policies were all implemented in furtherance of his vision for societal and economic reconstruction as his father had demanded in 1967. Michael’s vision was for economic independence, self-determination, and self-reliance.

We can argue ad nauseam how and why this altruistic, patriotic vision went awry, but it’s an inescapable fact that the overwhelming majority of Jamaicans supported Manley’s vision in 1974; confirmed it in a contentious 1976 election, which PNP would probably have won anyway but which was blighted by the declaration of a spurious islandwide state of emergency. I submit that, if Michael Manley’s rhetoric hadn’t gone off the rails; if his resistance to foreign intervention had been as resolute as his friend Fidel’s; if he’d retained control over the PNP’s extreme left wing by not undermining his election promise “we are not for sale” with an almost immediate post-victory embrace of the IMF; if Jamaica had pursued his self-reliance philosophy relentlessly come what may, the nation wouldn’t now be in such a philosophical knot tied by economic, educational, and antisocial tumult.

So the debate introduced by Peter Bunting as to whether the PNP should retain the philosophy of democratic socialism is an essential national issue that should engage national participation and be decided once and for all. Democratic socialism isn’t evil, wicked or intended to assist the capture of citizens’ property. It’s a credible political philosophy embraced by many world leaders including leading Democratic Party presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. Andrew Holness himself referred to Wigton Windfarm shares’ public offer as the “socialisation of wealth”. So it’s time to let go of the Eddie Seaga (with CIA help)-created bogeyman and take a rational, unemotional look at whether we want one of Jamaica’s political parties to espouse democratic socialism.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary (USA) includes a dual definition of a “social democracy”:

“1. A political movement advocating a gradual and peaceful transition from capitalism to socialism by democratic means.

2. A democratic welfare state that incorporates both capitalist and socialist practices.”

Since Jamaica isn’t moving towards socialism any time soon we’re talking about the second definition of democratic socialism namely a balance between capitalism and socialism. So, for example, democratic socialism can accommodate private sector driven economic growth and endowment funds, financed by private sector and/or political parties, to assist impoverished retirees including political party workers.

Merriam-Webster also speaks to the difference between socialism and a social democracy stating that “socialism”:

“Refers to a system of social organisation in which private property and the distribution of income are subject to social control, but the conception of that control has varied and the term has been interpreted in widely diverging ways ranging from statist to libertarian; from marxist to liberal. In the modern era, ‘pure’ socialism has been seen only rarely and usually briefly in a few communist regimes. Far more common are systems of social democracy, now often referred to as democratic socialism, in which extensive state regulation, with limited state ownership, has been employed by democratically elected governments (as in Sweden and Denmark) in the belief that it produces a fair distribution of income without impairing economic growth.”

So, where’s the beef? Even Merriam-Webster (a USA source where “socialism” is considered the Antichrist) understands the difference between “socialism” and “democratic socialism”. Why’d somebody attack a label which only espouses his own proposals including for an endowment fund to provide assistance to the downtrodden without impairing economic growth? Why attack PNP roots and critical philosophy while seeking to lead the PNP? We already have a political party whose philosophy is based on capitalism. It’s called the JLP. Who wants more of the same?

Peace and love.

- Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to