Towards a New Democracy and a New Independence
A Program for the Second Independence Revolution
Paper Presented By
Tennyson S.D. Joseph*
“Common Sense Convois”
Organized by Lloyd Best Institute of the West Indies
The Magdalena Resort Hotel
Tobago, Trinidad and Tobago
Saturday March 24th, 2012
*Lecturer in Political Science, University of the West Indies, Cave Hill, Barbados
Dr Tennyson Joseph
Table of Contents
Mr. Winston Riley, Chairman of the Lloyd Best Institute for the West Indies
Mrs. Sunity Best,
Members of the Lloyd Best Institute, Caribbean Citizens and Compatriots
Let me first of all congratulate the organizers for responding to the urgency of the moment, in initiating this dialogue on the search for a new politics and more meaningful forms of democracy. As your conference documents have noted, it is now fifty years since the first English-Speaking Caribbean states attained independence. To many of us, these have been fifty years of marking time, trial and error, false starts, and dashed expectations, with some successes but more disappointments. It has been fifty years of living with the reality that we could have done better, and that we are operating below our capacity. If a search for a more optimistic reading of how we have fared in those fifty years were to be offered, the most that can be said is that we have held our own in the midst of crises, and despite resource and size constraints. Indeed, many a Caribbean political party has launched an electoral campaign on precisely these terms. But no positive spin can escape the reality that we are much further behind than where we ought to have been.
So it is in this context of our fifty year experience, that we meet to engage in deep reflection, to take stock, take a fresh guard, in order that we can move forward with clarity, purpose and confidence. And I want to congratulate the Lloyd Best Institute for initiating this dialogue.
I also want to congratulate you on your work in fulfilling the legacy of Lloyd Best. In both your recognition of the challenges of the moment, and in your convening of this Convois in response to them, you are being true to the political DNA that you have inherited.
If there was one thing which singled out Lloyd Best from other Caribbean political thinkers, it was his never-ending search for specific Caribbean responses to distinctive Caribbean reality. Lloyd best was matched, perhaps only by Jose Martí in his insistence that we, in the Americas and the Caribbean, were a wholly new people, and as such, we constitute the basis for an authentic, original and autonomous civilization. What separated Best from Marti and others, was his never-ending efforts at inventing and creating new and concrete models of government, economy and social life. Whilst others simply pointed out the fact that we were a unique region and people, Best set about demonstrating its existence and contributing to its construction. It is this which drove his demand for the need for independent thought, which fueled his research into the new models of the Caribbean economy, and which pushed him to propose new forms of governance, suited to our condition as a unique people and civilization.
Central to Lloyd Best was the requirement that we should not only talk, but act:
If we are dissatisfied with the body of doctrine that we have inherited, let us begin to work afresh. If we think the existent media frustrate dialogue let us found new ones that are not. If we think economic development requires the restriction of consumption let us restrict our own and get on with it. Whatever we say we believe, let us live it now.
So this is the impulse to act which I sense that you have inherited from your founding father. So in meeting here to explore the issue of a new politics and new forms of representation, you are therefore fulfilling the work of your founder, so I therefore wish to congratulate you for honoring his spirit and for respecting his name and memory and continuing his legacy.
Given my recognition of the seriousness with which you approach your work, and your commitment to honoring Lloyd Best’s memory I therefore wish to thank you for bestowing upon me the privilege of addressing you today, and to express my gratitude for the confidence that you have shown in me, in the bestowing of the responsibility that comes with privilege.
I wish also to add that both the responsibility and the privilege have been rendered even more weighty by my knowledge of the fact that I was recommended to you by the Caribbean literary and intellectual giant, George Lamming. Let me therefore assure you, Chairman, of my deep sensitivity to both the honor that your confidence in me implies, as well as the responsibility which the occasion carries, and let me also indicate to you my intention to validate both the honor and the privilege.
In preparing for today’s Convois, I wanted to find a piece of writing and a statement that captures the problems of our democracy and our politics in the present moment. In searching, I was gifted the following piercing analysis which summarizes the problems of Caribbean politics and Caribbean democracy as we enter the second decade of the twenty-first Century, fifty years after independence.
The framers of our political constitution for independence had like their federal predecessors, displayed great energy and little, if any, creativity. With very minor deviations, we readily assumed the garb of Westminster, and our members of the new parliament, bewigged or frock-coated, took their opposite seats as Her Majesty’s government and Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition… We still have our two political parties, well-balanced one against the other, and only occasionally disturbed by rumors of a third. We have our Speaker, our Cabinet, our front benchers, our back benchers, our Hansard, and all the trappings. We are sometimes praised for the stability of our two-party system; the envy it is assumed, of other Commonwealth… nations in whose governments one party clearly dominates, and of course, the democratic example to the wayward Cubans. The façade is impressive, let us look behind it…”
In going behind the façade, the writer found even more in our Caribbean to cause him concern.
He goes on:
Vote for me and you might get a job. Vote for my opponent and, if I win, you probably won’t. Harass my opponent in his electoral campaign and get a hand out for a meal. The parties have no need for philosophies other than the simple creed of bribery. Indeed, as some well-meaning politicians have discovered, to have a policy and a program might be dangerous. The strongest position is one of non-commitment to anything but to the party. Ideologies and principles are dangerous; flexibility and room for maneuver are all important.
And still the writer persists, with his piercing diagnosis:
I suggest one ailment in common: the beginning of the breakdown of parliamentary democracy as we are accustomed to think of it in terms of party-political organization. Perhaps, then… the trouble is that we have come into possession of an obsolescent system. Whatever the cause, it appears that the system of government which we have inherited from Britain is inappropriate; perhaps to…the circumstances of [the Caribbean].
And then he goes on to prescribe:
Familiarity need not bring contempt, but it will certainly wash away mystery, awe and majesty. The judge looks less formidable in his wig and gown if we have often seen him in his shorts. There is consequently some compensation in smallness. It can lead to straighter talking and to the substitution of earned respect for pomp and circumstance. But [here] that will take time. In the days of slavery, in the traditional hierarchy of the estate personnel, in the system of crown colony government, communication ran, for the most part, in a one-way traffic, downwards. The high officials and the bosses issued the orders which were passed on to those who passed them on to others who carried them out. This is no longer true, trade unionism and adult suffrage have given importance to the voice of the labourer. But we are still reluctant to risk the challenge of authority. In the long years of our history that has been a dangerous exercise. Nowadays, moreover, even though we feel freer to offer criticism, we are little practiced in the arts of discussion and inquiry. We deal rather in assertion and counter-assertion, in which the louder and the stronger frequently silence those who may be right.
Whilst I said that the statement was relevant to our present time, I did not say that it was of recent vintage. If you were thinking that this statement was written in and for our present time, you would be wrong. It was written by Douglas Hall, Professor of History, not in the 2012, not fifty years after independence, but in 1972, only one decade after Jamaican independence. In prefacing my comments with Douglas Hall’s statement, I have deliberately omitted all references to Jamaica and all time specific references in order to make a simple point.
And the point is this: that the problem of making the Caribbean political problem relevant to our needs, is an old stubborn intractable problem that generations of Caribbean people have been grappling with and in response to which many prescriptions have been offered. So in approaching the problem I come, not with new solutions, not to re-present what others before me have offered with greater technical finesse and political insight and clarity. Instead I come, at the tail end, fifty years later, to speak to a new generation still grappling with the old problem, and to suggest that today we are living in a moment of greater possibility of achieving our goal of ushering a new politics for the Caribbean. I have come with the hope of demonstrating that the moment is now.
So it is in this spirit that I wish to frame my discussion with you today. I have been asked to speak specifically on the topic, of “New Politics: Still Searching for Representation”. Your choice of topic, I sense, has been motivated by a realization that our previous post-colonial experience of democracy has been weighed in the balance and it has been found wanting. I also sense, that you would like hear some concrete proposals in order to make your dialogue more meaningful. In my paper today, I therefore wish to fulfill your terms of reference by engaging in both diagnosis and prescription. I will therefore endeavor to do the following:
First, in speaking specifically to the question of the representation deficit, or the failures of representational politics, I present a brief diagnosis of what are the specific challenges to Caribbean democracy that we are faced with in the present. I will emphasize the present, because as I have shown with the Douglas Hall statement, and as you know very well through the work of Lloyd Best, the problem of finding a new and relevant model of governance in the Caribbean has been as old as Caribbean independence itself. In diagnosing, therefore, I will give a general account of the Caribbean condition today, showing how the world has changed since the fifty years of independence, and how the new reality has challenged the economic and political assumptions upon which Caribbean independence had been pursued. Secondly, I will move from a general reading of the Caribbean condition, to identifying the specific ways in which the failures, reversals and shortcomings in representative politics are reflected. Finally, I will conclude with some prescriptive comment.
I wish to add, that unlike what has been attempted before, my prescriptions will not be specific. One of the dangers in prescribing is the pitfall of speaking in a social and economic vacuum. No political order exists suspended in air. Every political order is merely a reflection of the possibilities allowed by the material and economic social circumstances in which the politics is played out. The political system is always a reflection of the outcome of political contestation between competing interests within the limits of what the economic material conditions will allow. As Marx has put it: “While men make History, they do not make it in conditions of their own choosing”.
Indeed, one of the weaknesses of Lloyd Best and others who have attempted to prescribe detailed accounts of what a future democratic form may look like, is that often their prescriptions have been presented in a social and economic vacuum. Political forms are only determined in the context of concrete politics and concrete practice. In fact, many a taken-for-granted political practice was discovered only in the midst of real struggle, without which those forms would never see the light of day. It is only actual struggle and political practice which can truly determine what is possible.
For these reasons therefore, my prescriptions, will come, not in the form of detailed prescriptions of what a new executive or legislature should look like, or how many members should sit in this chamber or how many members should sit in that body. Instead, I will endeavor to provide an account of the concrete political moment of the present, showing what I think is possible and why I am proposing that we are on the threshold of a new politics and a new democracy.
If I am able to achieve those things, I think I would have fulfilled the task asked of me here today, and I would have provided the Convois with a basis for discussion.
In discussing the challenges to our politics and the challenges of representation fifty years after independence, we should not lead ourselves to the conclusion that the problems are new. Whilst those fifty years have provided us with sufficient time and evidence of the failure of our political system, we certainly cannot argue that our earliest years after independence had not anticipated the failure with which we are now grappling.
Indeed, the earliest years after independence produced a wide body of work, all decrying the inadequacy and the unsuitability of the inherited Westminster system of Government to the needs of the post-colonial Caribbean.
These criticisms had several bases.
Trevor Munroe for instance felt that the problem resided in the fact that our decolonization was merely constitutional, a reality which he felt resulted in limiting our options to those which would meet the approval of Britain. He felt that the constitutional approach took off the agenda many options which perhaps would have seen the emergence of more relevant, home-grown responses. Moreover, Munroe felt that the path of constitutionalism served to alienate the mass of the population since the very process of constitutional decolonization involved only the legal minded political elite in discussions with their British counterparts, while the people were mere spectators.
Others, such as Frantz Fanon, felt that the problem resided in the betrayal of what he called the native bourgeoisie, who because of their economic dependency upon the former colonial power, were “unable to set the economy on new foundations” nor were they able, due to their lack of creativity, to create new political institutions more suited to the needs of the mass of the population. As Fanon had seen it, the blame was to be placed largely upon the shoulders of those he described as the “educated classes”:
“It so happens that the unpreparedness of the educated classes, the lack of practical links between them and the mass of the people, their laziness, and let it be said, their cowardice at the decisive moment of the struggle will give rise to tragic mishaps. National Consciousness, instead of being the all-embracing crystallisation of the innermost hopes of the whole people, instead of being the immediate and most obvious result of the mobilization of the people, will be in any case only an empty shell, a crude and fragile travesty of what it might have been”.
Others like Trinidadian CLR James and Thomas Gittens at the time located the problem of the failure of Caribbean democracy in the Caribbean political party. Both Gittens and CLR James saw the political party as an instrument whose ultimate goal was to keep the common people institutionally separated from the centre of government. Gittens felt that whilst the movement towards independence was spearheaded by the mobilized mass, the political party had the effect of “demobilizing the mass mobilisation”.
CLR James in his famous criticism of the Eric Williams’ PNM in Party Politics in the West Indies, sought to identify the problem in the separation between the party as party and the party as government. As far as James was concerned, the political party, whatever its political form was an instrument used to separate the government from the party, and as such, in the context of our times, was an anti-democratic institution. Like Fanon, James too felt that the problem resided in the distance between the local bourgeoisie and intelligentsia on one hand, and the mass of the population on the other. In CLR James’s view, the problem of Caribbean democracy resided too much in the local ruling class’ belief in the British political system and in their acceptance of the British notion of colonial tutelage with its timetable for “readiness for self-government”. As James put it:
“By delaying the achievement of self-government… and by the mean and grudging granting so many the vote, so many to become ministers and all the palaver and so-called education by which the British Government claimed that it trained the West Indian population for self-government, a terrible damage was inflicted on us. In reality, our people were mis-educated, our political consciousness was twisted and broken. Far from being guided to Independence by the 1960s… the imperialist government poisoned and corrupted that sense of self-confidence and political dynamic needed for any people about to embark on the uncharted seas of independence and nationhood…”.
The result therefore, was an intellectual elite which was instinctively hostile to the demands for real change on the part of the people. It was an elite which measured its progress in terms of its ability to conform to British standards. And it was an elite, which in psychological terms, expressed a lack of confidence and even a contempt for the underclass. It was an elite which rejected the political aspirations and the modes of cultural expression of the ordinary West Indian. Yet at the same time, this was the very class, which, by virtue of its privileged education was positioned to lead the trade unions and political parties which were at the forefront of the nationalist struggles.
And of course there was Lloyd Best with his continuous search for an autonomous Caribbean form, of which his prescription for a “Macco Senate” remains among the most enduring. All of his constitutional proposals revolve around the theme of finding a form of government, which would allow “government to replace politics”, and which would allow community interests, rather than party interests to shape the composition of government Selwyn Ryan tells us that in one of Best’s schemes:
“The House of representatives [would] be complemented by another House which will be elected on the basis of community interests… This new house will include the corporate or vested interests of the land – the trade unions, business and professional associations, women, sportsmen etc. “It would be a huge assembly of interests from the community, each electing their people and changing them as they want so you get representation and politics… Once you emancipate the people from the Executive, you are going to have real competition about who gets jobs and therefore you are going to get representation”.
It is clear from these offerings that the question which we have come to address is a very old problem. The problem, wherever it was defined, revolved around the unsuitability of our inherited political system.
So this was the way the problem has been historically diagnosed. Sadly, the problem has been compounded with time. There have been some new and significant developments which have further deepened the crisis of Caribbean politics and has rendered even more fleeting the possibility of Caribbean democracy and true representation. Indeed, fifty years into independence, and particularly since the decade of the 1980s, a new world has emerged which has rendered nebulous all the old strategies of our post-colonial development and our aspirations to political democracy. Central to the negation of Caribbean development and democracy, has been the new world ushered in by what has come to be called globalization and its ideological handmaiden neo-liberalism.
We cannot understand the present challenges to Caribbean democracy, without reflecting on the manner in which the present reality of globalization and neo-liberalism have changed the world under which the Caribbean attained its independence, and by extension, has changed the world under which Caribbean democracy had been framed.
On hindsight, the period between 1960 and the early 1980s, can be seen as a golden age for post-colonial state construction and economic development. In that period, there was still a large degree of global legitimacy for even the smallest of states to engage in interventionist social and economic re-engineering. After a protracted battle to win the instrumentality of sovereignty, all our societies, to greater or lesser extents, sought to pursue correctives to the colonial condition. Those correctives required heavy doses of state intervention to widen the education levels, to improve the health service, to improve housing and other social amenities, and to modernize the civil service making it more responsive to local as distinct from metropolitan needs.
All of these progressive developments were sustained by what can be described as a permissive global politico-economic environment. Among the features of that environment was the presence of the Cold War which created room, through non-alignment, for small states to manoeuvre and extract maximum advantage. In economic terms, there was both the expectation and realization that the former colonial power, had a responsibility towards its former colonies, and this was reflected in material terms in the favorable and preferential trade arrangements, which provided some breathing space for domestic growth and development.
In philosophical terms, the environment was supported by perspectives which were conducive to independence and self-determination and which saw the instrumentality of sovereignty and state intervention as important mechanisms through which national development could be pursued. Self-determination implies political democracy, and despite its limitations, it was a period when the first tentative steps to government by the consent of the governed were allowed in our Caribbean region.
In looking back, it is clear that some of the principal economic and democratic successes in our region took place in that period, and our post-independence social contracts were given full expression. It was a social contract in which the state was seen as having a minimal responsibility for social welfare, our farming community was guaranteed an income, irrespective of how rudimentary their production processes were, and public sector workers were guaranteed jobs for life. Underlying these arrangements, was a broad agreement that we would embrace democratic norms, in which we pursued social democracy and avoided communism, and stayed within the political and cultural orbit of the West.
These were the broad terms of the post-colonial social contract which sustained Caribbean democracy and development in the first twenty years of our independence 1960 to 1980. From 1980s onwards however, globalization and neo-liberalism would usher in a new world, which severely damaged the fragile economic framework for development which had been laid, and reversed and diminished the limited democratic infrastructure which had been established. This can be seen in many ways:
One of these was
1. The collapse of the Soviet Union and Eastern European Communism bringing to an end the Cold war.
That reality has made a mockery of the policy of ideological conformity with the West espoused by our former leaders, as the expected benefits simply disappeared once the Cold War had ended. We immediately witnessed reductions in grants and concessionary financing from our so-called friends in the West, as their interests shifted to the regions of the former communist world. This has placed a tremendous strain on our economies, and has led to much social instability.
A Second feature was,
2. The emergence of global trade liberalization and the removal of Colonial special trade arrangements.
Beginning first with the synchronization of European trade policy as the EU was taking shape, and evolving further with the establishment of WTO out of the GATT, the impact of this development on the Caribbean has been direct. Much of the social political and economic crises confronting our society since the early 1990s have sprung from the emergence and application of liberal norms and practices which have removed the economic cushions which once protected our fragile democracies, and with the fact that nothing new has taken their place.
A third feature has been the,
3. The emergence of new ideologies which have impacted on the capacity of the state to intervene to pursue locally determined priorities
Once globalization had set in, it had now become difficult if not impossible for our states to pursue policies consistent with ensuring local citizens special advantage in the economic opportunities existent in their country. Relatedly, the state itself, its size, its role, and the very idea of sovereignty, have also come under attack, and the state has been systematically redefined to a set of functions less resistant to externally determined economic objectives. In such a context, faced with its own powerlessness, the state has now responded by resisting democracy and by insulating itself from demands for more democratic inclusion. It is in such a context that we can understands the moves to states of emergency, and other authoritarian tendencies on the part of the state.
And the fourth feature is:
4. The Negation of Democracy: The Return of Power Without Responsibility
This final point is of direct relevance to our specific concern about the question of Caribbean democracy. Whilst we often focus on the economic consequences of globalization, we tend to forget that globalization has resulted in the erosion of our democracy. Under classic colonialism the state enjoyed power without responsibility. In other words, the British colonial apparatus and its local representatives were able to wield power over our citizens, yet these colonial rulers were neither elected by, nor were they accountable to the local population. The Colonial state was therefore neither representative of local wishes, nor was it responsible or accountable to any local aspirations.
Many of us tend to forget that our independence movements were also democratic movements. By the winning of one man one vote, we gave ourselves the capacity to elect governments of our own making, who would make decisions according to the wishes of the majority. These governments were to be directly accountable to us and as a consequence, could be removed once we felt that they had not conformed to our expectations. Our independence movements therefore moved the centre of decision making from the Colonial Office in London and placed them in the hands of the local population.
All of this has been undermined by globalization, which has re-presented the old colonial problematic of power without responsibility in a new guise. Firstly, our new independent governments are now constrained in their policy choices and critical economic decisions are now being made more and more in the IMF, World Bank, and the G20 than in our domestic cabinet rooms. Whilst the power of our domestically elected governments have decreased, they remain no less accountable for actions over which they have very little or no control. So whilst in the old days the colonial rulers enjoyed power without responsibility, today our local governments have responsibility without power, and international agencies enjoy power without responsibility. All of this negates the very essence of democracy, in which the right to self-determination and government by the consent of the governed are essential parts.
A close examination of the assumptions of neo-liberalism which is the ideology of globalization reveals in clear terms, the manner in which the ideology of neo-liberalism has negated Caribbean democracy.
Among the Central ideological assumptions of neo-liberalism are:
- The privileging of private capital over the social good
- The assumption of the Economic Sphere as given and natural, whilst the political sphere is artificial and therefore subject to containment: Thomas Jefferson: “The less Government, the better”
- The privileging of the individual over the social. Margaret Thatcher: “There is no such thing as Society”
- The idea of the state as the facilitator of private capital accumulation, at the expense of the protection and enhancement of civil society
- The idea that the state should retreat from the economic sphere and should confine itself to security and labour regulation (Historical reminder: Security and global regulation were the two key functions of the colonial state)
- The so-called end of ideology upon which is established the assumption that all other options are closed. Margaret Thatcher’s TINA – “There Is No Alternative”
- The death of Politics: The assumption that all major political questions have been resolved and the only role left for politics is “administration” – This leads to the rise of the technocrats – “have we not seen this in Italy and Greece – where the politicians have been replaced by unelected technocrats?
- The sacrificing of democracy for efficiency
I could go on and on, but I think the point is clear. These in broad terms, capture for us the reality of the present, and reveal starkly why, despite our lamentations of the poverty and backwardness of our democratic inheritance, the challenge we face today is qualitatively different, and why we have even greater work to do in fashioning the new democracy that we all aspire towards.
I can now turn to some broad perspectives on how we can overcome the present challenges and begin to work towards fashioning the new democracy.
Whenever I am called upon to prescribe alternatives that will usher in a new democracy and a new politics for the Caribbean, I am always moved to frame my prescriptions within the context of the failure of the Caribbean independence project. My contention is that the failure of Caribbean democracy, and the failure of Caribbean development within the context of post-1980 globalisation and neo-liberalism represent nothing more than the failure of the Caribbean independence project itself. In prescribing a new politics and a new democracy for our Caribbean therefore, our first and most urgent task is to recognize that the first independence revolution has run its course, and that the post-colonial Caribbean state as we know it, has exhausted all its possibilities. Once we come to that realisation, we will have no choice but to turn our collective attention to the pursuit of the federal option.
In this task we, must reflect deeply on the causes of the failure of the West Indies Federation. We must reflect on why federation became the road not taken, and we must reflect on whether in our present condition, we have not come full circle back to the federal idea. In our reflection, we will perhaps come to the realisation that much of the nonsensical politics which we see in many of our Caribbean states, from backward immigration policies, to senseless states of emergency, to the continuing hostility to the integration project, all of these headless chicken policies might be springing from the fact that we are trying to make the singular independent state do what it once did well but what it perhaps can no longer do. Our first and most urgent task therefore, in what I call the second independence revolution therefore, must be to put the Federal Humpty Dumpty back together again and sit him with pride and dignity back up on his wall.
Secondly, once we accept that the Federal option is the only option, we must begin to think about the new organisational forms which will serve as the vehicle through which the new integration project will have to be launched. In our reflection, we must consider deeply why it is that, a region which has had such a long tradition of grass roots political activism, has never once conceived the necessity of organising in a sustained and deep way, a Caribbean Integration Party. There have been several Caribbean integration movements, or perhaps one continuous movement, but despite all the work of CARICOM and other supranational development entities regionally, there has never been a sustained, bottom up movement that exists with the sole and primary aim of organising a political party whose business is to create a unified political region. The second urgent task of the Second Independence Revolution, must be to bring to life such a movement. The era of top-down integration has died as surely as the first independence revolution has exhausted itself, and it is the challenge of our generation to develop the organization capacity and the organizational stamina to give birth to new grass roots organizational forms which have a pan- Caribbean agenda and a pan-Caribbean structure.
But in our creation of new pan-Caribbean political structures and new Pan-Caribbean political movements, we have a responsibility to transcend the political party. One of the most consistent perspectives in all the prescriptions for new models of Caribbean governance that I have seen from Lloyd Best through to CLR James through to Douglas Hall, is the insistence that the political party must be transcended. In aspiring towards the second independence revolution therefore, we must start from the position, that the political party as we know it, the political party in its present form, must be smashed completely and put aside forever. To paraphrase Karl Marx, we must resolve “to put the whole machinery of the political party where it belongs: into the museum of antiquities, side by side of the spinning wheel and the bronze axe”.
The political party, in its earliest manifestation in our context, emerged as the vehicle through which the disenfranchised masses could register their voices on the political landscape. It originally emerged as an instrument of liberation. It emerged as the principal organ of nationalist and working class organisation. And there is no doubt, that the political party in its earlier incarnation served the useful and historical purpose of smashing the colonial apparatus.
But today, fifty years after independence, the political party has been transformed from an instrument of liberation to an instrument of oppression. The political party has become nothing but a crude and blunt instrument for one section of society to disenfranchise and marginalise the other section of the society. When it falls into the wrong hands, the political party is sometimes no different from any other petty criminal organisation.
Just as the political party served as the vehicle of the first independence revolution, then we cannot move forward into the second independence revolution, without creating new and relevant forms of political organisation. These new and relevant forms of organisation must resolve and overcome all the old deficiencies in democracy, representation, accountability, transparency, and participation currently experienced with the party in its present form. So our third task, as we seek to shape the second independence revolution, will be to imagine, identify, discover and create the new forms of political organisation which will take you to where you want to go.
In this regard, we must be mindful as I was arguing earlier, that we cannot sit in our armchairs and imagine these new political forms. If we pay close attention to the quarrel between James Millette and Lloyd best for example, you will see that Millette’s concern was that Best had a tendency to prescribe from his head idealized notions of new political forms, sometimes removed form concrete reality. I propose instead, that in our search for new political forms, that we start from the concrete experience of practice. It is only the concrete experience of practice, which will throw up the forms that we seek and will guide us to what is possible.
In this regard, I wish to suggest that in our search for these new forms, that we pay close attention the existing experiences of Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring, as they may provide useful hints as to where our future organisational experiences may reside.
I wish to suggest too that we pay close attention to the organizational forms adopted by the Obama Campaign, its use of technology, the decentralistion of decision making, the concentric circles revolving further and further outward from the centre and but held together by the common purpose and the initiative from the centre. No more is the top-down, bottom heavy form of organization suited to the new times, but as technology, education and information spread, we must open ourselves to imagining and creating new forms of organization, that are more horizontal, that are flatter, and that are created not on the premise of the wisdom of the top and the ignorance of the bottom, but are based on the realization that the education and information provided by the new technological forms are great levelers, and require new organizational forms suited to the times.
People like Alvin Toffler have written extensively on the way in which our technological foundations help to shape our political forms. Long before Toffler, Marx had given us the blueprint with his famous assertion that the “technology of the hand mill, will give you the society of the feudal lord, while the technology of the steam will give you the society of the industrial bourgeois”. We need to reflect deeply on what sort of society the technology of the internet and the micro-chip and the blackberry gives to us.
Toffler has asserted persuasively that the vote, is really an industrial invention that mirrors the industrial production of the assembly line. Just as the assembly line produces a finished product in which the input of the worker is minimal, the turning of a screw or the tightening of a bolt, then so is the act of lining up to vote, reflective of our limited input in the political machinery. Representative democracy, results in as much alienation from the final product, as is the worker in the factory whose job is to tighten a bolt as the unfinished good winds its way towards his station on the assembly line. It is for this reason that Maurice Bishop called the vote “Two second democracy every five years”, and why the French Philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau described the vote as a simultaneous exercise in, and surrender of, sovereignty. The very moment when we make the x on the ballot paper, is the same moment when we surrender our sovereignty to our representatives. Both Rousseau and Bishop were aiming for a form that allowed us to retain our sovereignty whilst participating in the political lives of our societies without surrendering our power to our representatives.
When we think about it closely, we see that all the forms of twentieth century political organization, from the communist vanguard party form of Lenin, to our own liberal democratic form, are really forms of representation in which a few act on behalf of the many. This indeed is the very meaning of representation.
It is for this reason that Rousseau argues for the emergence of participatory democracy, and why Toffler and others, argue that the new technologies of today, make it possible to move beyond representation and to adopt new form of political participation. When we think of the possibilities of the radio call in program to democracy– that is the combination of simple radio and telephone technology, we get a sense of how much deeper the possibilities may be when we begin to tap into the full potential of the internet and the black berry for our democratic participation. I urge that we study these realities as we propose a new democracy for the future Caribbean.
Finally, as we build the second independence revolution, I urge that we make an inventory of all the old questions and demands that were put on the agenda during the first independence revolution. And having made that inventory you should then produce a balance sheet of what was achieved, what failed, what is no longer relevant or critical and what is still essential. Our inventory will constitute the political and development program of our Second independence revolution. Overcoming racism and white supremacy, the social protection of the vulnerable, the control of the economy and its resources in the interest of the majority, the democratization of the Caribbean state, the demand for a new and relevant constitution, the need to transcend Westminster, the need to provide housing, health and education for all, and the need to protect our right to sovereignty and to pursue our own self-determination all must be part of the programmatic aspiration of the second independence revolution. Of course we may need to add new issues to our programme: like the defense and protection of the environment, the fight against corruption, drugs and money laundering and other issues relevant to our time.
In particular too, we need to pay special attention to all the previous demands which have been placed on the agenda for deepening Caribbean democracy and for making our politics more meaningful: Our demands for the right to recall parliamentarians in mid-term; the need for term limits on Prime Ministers, the demand for institutionalized primaries for candidate selection at constituency level; the need for integrity legislation; the need for party financing legislation; and all the other demands offered by Best and others for bringing politics closer to the people and for limiting the power of elected politicians should form part of our agenda both at the local level as well as the regional level.
This is all I can offer at this stage, and I hope that I have said enough to contribute to your thinking about the new politics and the new democracy that we are struggling to give birth to. I have deliberately avoided detailed prescription since, as I have argued, that it is only in concrete struggle that the minute details of what is possible will emerge. What I can assert however, is that the new realities of our time, the crisis of the present moment, the material reality of the possibilities of the new technology, the concrete example of the current practice in Occupy Wall Street and other forms of political action, as well the shift in Caribbean consciousness which has placed new demands on the table, suggest that the moment is ripe for change. Whilst therefore, the demands for a new politics and a new democracy is as old as Caribbean independence itself, and whilst Lloyd Best, and others had made their lifetime projects to bring such a new politics into existence, I close, optimistic in the possibilities of the present, and certain that our concrete material condition now make their aspirations realizable, and that our victories are imminent. I look forward therefore, to furthering the dialogue, and to meeting with you, and joining with you, at the beckoning rendezvous of victory.