PNP and socialism in 80 years


Thursday, September 20, 2018

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So the People's National Party (PNP) reached its 80th anniversary two days ago on September 18. Norman Washington Manley was its first president. The Bustamante Industrial Trade Union had its 80th anniversary on May 23. Both evolved out of movements for change, such as the Marcus Garvey Movement, the National Reform Association, and the riots of 1938.

The PNP declared itself a socialist party in 1940. But after the first election, in which it suffered a severe defeat, the PNP redefined socialism as “Christian and democratic in method and outlook”. The PNP suffered politically when its main rival, the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), described the PNP as communist, intent on dividing the little they possessed with others.

Democratic socialism was redeclared by the PNP in 1974. Throughout its long history, the PNP has advanced or shelved socialism depending on its political feasibility at the time. In 1990, Michael Manley said socialism was “dead”, but in his last-ever interview he said that he would “always remain a socialist”.

After full emancipation, in 1838, the ex-slaves either took to the hillsides or joined one of the free villages run by the Baptist Church. With the cost of sugar production up, and England turning to Cuba for cheaper sugar, the colonial government brought in indentured labourers mainly from India, but that did not boost production, so the planters turned to bananas.

The banana growers formed the Jamaica Banana Producers Cooperative in the 1920s and Norman Washington Manley was its lawyer. In the 1930s a terrible fruit disease literally wiped out Jamaica's banana industry.

With this problem not helping either the banana planters or the workers, Manley suggested to United Fruit Company that they set up a fund, known as Jamaica Welfare. The fund would improve community life in rural areas to make it attractive for the peasants and their families to work on the banana estates.

The plan of Jamaica Welfare became more or less the manifesto of the People's National Party after it was established in 1938. Jamaica Welfare taught self-reliance to rural peasants. All types of cooperatives were established to bring about industry among the rural people.

There was self-help housing. There was the each-one-teach-one literacy programme as well as courses taught all over Jamaica on how to make clothing and ceramics, as well as on cooking different types of food. Farming methodologies were also taught.

Folk music was recorded by an English professor as well as by Louise Bennett. And Jamaica Welfare recorded two melodies sung by Harry Belafonte, whose parents were Jamaican. Since 1965, Jamaica Welfare is known as Social Development Commission. All in all, Jamaica Welfare was a socialistic plan.

If the original plan of the PNP was a broadening of Jamaica Welfare as conceptualised by Norman Manley, then in that sense the PNP was socialist since its inception in 1938 — and not from 1940 when it formally declared itself socialist.

In the 1940s Jamaica Welfare became a statutory body (Jamaica Social Welfare Commission) to provide food for the war effort. In 1965 it was renamed Social Development Commission.

The role of women as homemakers and co-participants in leadership was also emphasised Jamaica Welfare. For most of the PNP's history there has been a woman among its vice-presidents. In 1960, Iris King was a vice-president. Between 1978 and 2006 Portia Simpson Miller was a vice-president. Angela Brown Burke, the third woman to ever be a vice-president of the PNP, just ended 12 years in that post (2006-2018) last weekend when she was not re-elected. Significantly, though, even in defeat Brown Burke received more than half of the votes counted (1,577 out of 2,513).

In 1942 Bustamante left the PNP and founded the JLP in July 1943. The JLP won in 1944 and 1949. In 1949, however, the PNP received 3,510 more votes than the JLP. Then there was the split in the PNP caused by the expulsion of Ken Hill, Frank Hill, Richard Hart, and Arthur Henry in 1952 after being accused of being communists.

The PNP won power in 1955, but would have lost again because of the 'Four-H' split had the JLP not been divided by the votes for the Farmers Party. There was the Federation of the West Indies and the referendum which the PNP lost (September 19, 1961) when the voters chose to secede from the federation.

Then the PNP lost power in 1962 and again in 1967. Norman Manley announced his retirement from politics in 1968, which came into effect in 1969. Michael Manley was elected to take over the PNP from his father on February 9, 1969. The PNP came to power in 1972 and attempts were made to implement democratic socialism.

The PNP lost power in 1980 and did not contest the 1983 General Election on the grounds that the voters' list had been three years old. The PNP returned to power in 1989 and Michael Manley was once again prime minister.

The PNP would be in power for a total of 18 years with P J Patterson being prime minister for the latter 14 of the 18 years. While the infrastructure of the country was seriously addressed socialism was all but shelved. Portia Simpson Miller succeeded P J Patterson as PNP president and prime minister. The PNP lost power in 2007 and returned to power in 2011, losing again in 2016. Dr Peter Phillips has led the PNP since 2017 and is the current leader of the Opposition in Parliament.

I have written several times that the PNP should return to democratic socialism as conceptualised by Norman Manley and implemented by his son Michael Manley. The cooperative model is, in my view, the model that will work best in Jamaica. The PNP did not set up such cooperatives among the young people, even in opposition. If Jamaica Welfare could do it with private help, why can't the PNP do likewise? This, in my view, is the way forward.

Michael Burke is a research consultant, historian and current affairs analyst. Send comments to the Observer or

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