Clear­ing the fog from Seaga’s mem­ory

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY - Ju­lian Robin­son is gen­eral sec­re­tary-des­ig­nate of the PNP. Email feed­back to col­umns@glean­ 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 pointby-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.”


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).


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 much­needed 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.


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