POLITICS AND ECONOMICS: NATIONALISM AND DEMOCRACY IN JAMAICA
THE NATIONALIST MOVEMENT
Now for the crucial point about the nature of this attempt to build a sense of community and with it the desire for self-rule. The Jamaican nationalists started what was more than a political party; they started a movement. Allow me to make a critical distinction between a ‘party’ and a ‘movement’.
A political party is primarily an electoral and parliamentary tool. Its concern is to organise voters, win elections and keep power. A political movement on the other hand, may very well try to do these things too, but only derivatively. Its primary concern Is to bring into the consciousness of the people the whole business of governing a society. It does this in two ways – first – by informing people in a systematic and intelligible way about their past, about how the state, the economy and the society work. Secondly, the movement ensures that it is open and responsive continuously, both psychologically and structurally, to the experiences and demands of the masses – the feedback, in other words.
The movement then is, in a sense, a society wide ‘university’ which can win and sustain political power, the more lasting because it has as its base information and participation rather than capricious personal attachment. Whereas the political party assumes importance at election time only, the political movement means more to more of the people more of the time.
Quite simply, this was what the nationalists set about in 1938. By and large the winning of political power was seen as part and parcel of a civics campaign. Education came first. Pamphlets on what the term “state” meant, study classes, lectures – all marked the early nationalist party as seeing itself as a political movement. Of course, the organisers could well have had no choice but to go about things in this way. The ignorance of the masses, the innocence of the party to legislative and electorical obsessions, the populism of its most energetic organizers, the socialists, and the overriding need to impress the colonial power that the people were behind the party – all required that the PNP build a genuine nationalism of participants rather than a hollow one of subjects.
Not so the Bustamante Union. It sought, with considerable success, to make of the dis contented masses a part-time militia responsive on a moment’s alert to orders from the Commander in Chief Bustamante and assuaged periodically by concessions won from an enemy, primarily the sugar manufacturers. To be sure, this effort met with success because of the apparent selflessness and genuine skill of Bustamante. But further, his requirement of periodic aggressive action went well with the lower-class personality shaped by the plantation, experience – a personality usually dependent, periodically aggressive and apparently easily satisfied
Whilst Bustamante’ s approach was supremely in touch with the people’s immediate needs, the appeals of the nationalists (brown people saying not easily intelligible things) were suspect. To the masses “Busta” was a hero of proven trust.
Now we must be clear that we are talking about two types of involvement, corresponding to the distinction between the ‘movement’ and the ‘party’. In the movement are the urban petty bourgeoisie, the students of the “University” of Edelweiss Park anxious for information, trusting of men of intellect, contemptuous of the ignorant, concerned to remove the British (largely to gain access to the Colonial Secretariat and win power in Headquarters House.) In the union party are the large agro-proletariat, urban unemployed and squatters, the Bustamante “militia” concerned to get work, win higher wages, shelter and clothing, – caught up rather with self-suffering, needy of favourable legislative action but of necessity cool to self-rule.
One must be wary of overdrawing the distinction, but I believe that in the 1940′ s we had two types of public involvement: in the minority, the classes of the nationalist movement; in the majority, the crowds of the union party.
In progressive steps all adult Jamaicans by 1944 came to possess the vote. Since this has be-come the main avenue of public participation in national life, we should examine adult suffrage politics from the point of view of its significance to the individual, the politician and the political party.
Our General Election in 1944 does several things. It gives most of us a sense of importance of state business. We identify with one or other of the national Goliaths or draw the solicitude of one or other of their lieutenants. It provides release – political meetings provide entertainment and diversion and allow the expression of aggression through partisan feelings. Most important – and this is another of my major points – the casting of a vote makes most of us feel free to be inactive, non-participant in national affairs until the next election. The whole social milieu encourages us to leave it to government except for the few months in every decade, say, that an election is in the air.
Paradoxically then. the responsible and commendable act of voting encourages the irresponsible practise of non-participation in national life for the rest of the time. It is like cancelling the responsibleness of conserving on water-use during the rains.
The politician and the political party in this style of politics also contribute to making the citizen dependent yet sporadically aggressive, sub-missive yet rebellious. To the majority of Jamaican politicians, politics has meant getting ahead, making good in life – social mobility – from being a rural primary school headmaster for example, to an Honourable Minister of Government complete with police outriders. The politician thus behaves like a shopkeeper and a fundamentally insecure one at that: he tries to make the most personal profit at the least personal cost. He has little interest in stimulating public interest in national affairs. In fact, the situation of the colonial politician vis-a-vis the colonial power would perhaps give him a vested interest in minimising public participation. For a participant public would have made demands which would put the politician in a real dilemma. If he pressed these demands, it might well lead to irresponsible action in the view of the colonial power (e.g. Guyana 1953). If he did not press these demands, his mass support would be in jeopardy. The easiest way out therefore, is to get the people to vote, and leave it at that.
The political parties also have an interest in this ‘hero-crowd realtionship’ as a lecturer in Government at the University has put it. Bustamante’s party, as we have seen, had never been anything else. As for the PNP, between 1944 and 1952, a number of factors moved the nationalist party away from its original strategy. The developing cold war. relentless anti-socialist attacks from influential interests within the society, and in-evitable difficulties in getting response from the agro-proletariat contributed to the fall of socialism within the party. With it went the need (and the people to satisfy it) to educate its followers to a particular view of the national situation.
After 1953, therefore, both the PNP and the JLP and their task as winning elections and, tn between, providing as much local development and welfare as was compatible with the supreme aim-providing to the British by “good behaviour” that we were ready for a new instalment of self-government.