Approach to the paper
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.