A talk given as member of a panel at the Extra-Mural Department on September 8th 1967 on the subject of “Nationalism and how to stimulate greater public participation in national life.”


Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, as a student of political science sitting with two politicians (one of whom is admittedly part-time). I am reminded of the natural scientist Galilleo who some centuries ago said he was concerned with how the moon goes, not how to go to the moon. These gentlemen are presumably concerned with how to get and keep power; I am concerned with how power is organized and distributed in the society, not necessarily with how to win it.

I make this distinction also to explain why I will be less able to prescribe where Jamaica ought to go now, than to analyse where we are now.


Having said this, we should now try to see more clearly what we mean when we speak of nationalism and public participation. Political scientists, after reams of print and several conferences have been unable to agree on a definition of nationalism. You are therefore free to disagree with my suggestion. I suggest that we can see nationalism, for tonight’s purposes at least, as a dominant sentiment of pride among a people in a common distinctiveness from the rest of mankind which impels them to seek self rule or strengthen their own state.

Implicit in this understanding of nationalism, therefore, is the notion of involvement in state-building, of participation in building society, of government of the people by themselves – in a world of democracy. Quite simply, the feeling that “we are one” if it has taken hold of the whole community means full involvement of “we” in self-improvement. The point is, that tonight when we talk about nationalism and democracy we are really discussing indivisible things.


We can conveniently begin by recalling the society of 1938. Jamaica was then a colony for centuries run for the benefit of a few persons here and in England, and subject to their authority. This form of administration had done a number of things to her society. There is neither the time nor the need to discuss the many social consequences of colonial rule. Most of them are obvious. This evening I want to point to – perhaps the most all-pervasive curse of the colonial presence the creation of what I will call an anti-social society. Let me explain.

People in this country felt sociable to those with whom they shared colour and position in the social order. Most people at the bottom in most things were black, and people who were black, as you all know, have to overcome the burden of blackness to get anywhere in life. In the middle were the brown people, and at the top the most direct descendants of the settler community.

By and large, Jamaicans were and felt them-selves to be “poor people” or “small man” on one level, “middle class people” on another and “responsible or educated elements” at the top. The idea here is fairly commonplace, but important nevertheless. Jamaica was more of an island than a society; within that island there was a “we” and a “them” on all levels. Apparently coherent arid common action elicited by economic relations and law enforcement masked the hostility and hypocrisy, contempt and alienation which were the fundamental characteristics of intersectional relationships of the island plantation. Clearly, the “we-ness” which is nationalism did not exist.

Came 1938. Its joblessness, hunger, wretched-ness, and most important a feeling of impotence and exclusion of black Jamaicans moved them to rebel. The masses were simply going to “mash up” everything either by not working or by rioting until their lot improved. Or, alternatively and more likely, until they could find a champion of their claims to a better life. Hence Bustamante and his union.

Now the middle classes – the professionals, civil servants, clerks and small property owners – wanted to repress the rebellion as much as those at the top, but with this real difference. The middle class saw the underlying reason for the rebellion as much the same as that which kept them in a secondary position in the social order. That underlying reason was rule from abroad. Now note what this meant. The middle class could now argue that the “small man” and themselves were both denied decency in their own yard because of British rule. They both therefore had a common interest, so that argument ran, in getting rid of it. This basis of their nationalism, was the platform of the Peoples’ National Party (P.N.P.). The masses and the middle class must come together as “we” against “them” – the Englishman.