POLITICS AND ECONOMICS: NATIONALISM AND DEMOCRACY IN JAMAICA
This meant showing the mother country that we could run the British Parliamentary system here – fair first-past-the-post elections, parliamentary procedure, cabinet government with all its accessories.
This has serious consequences for public participation. And here I come to another crucial point. The formal institutions of the British Parliamentary system encourage highly centralized government. In this arrangement, the political party in the country is subordinate to the party in the legislature; the party in the legislature to the cabinet and by and large the cabinet to the Prime Minister. In England, political scientists increasingly argue that the Westminister system is as centralized as the Presidential system, perhaps even more so since the British Parliament does not have as effective a control of the purse as does Congress in the United States of America.
Now, formal centralization is the opposite of democratic decision-making, unless there are informal institutions allowing public participation. In England there can be “Prime Ministerial Government” and at the same time effective public participation because of a relatively informed and literate public, independent and vigorous news media, alert, participant pressure groups, and meaningful local government. And it is precisely those institutions which make the British Parliamentary system democratic, which encourage public participation that we do not have and cannot import.
You therefore end up in Jamaica, as in other West Indian plantation societies with all the centralizing dictator-like institutions without the decentralizing forms of public participation. In order to develop the latter, you need, along with other things, the kind of political parties ours have not become. A press, radio and T.V. controlled by
the few, if not by government itself, ineffective local government, a public necessarily absorbed in eking out a subsistence living and unable to understand the language of authority – these are the conditions which reinforce the centralism of the Westminister forms.
I am saying simply that the constitutional changes 1953, 1957. 1959 and finally 1962 certainly gave progressively our elected representatives authority over Jamaican affairs. But the British Parliamentary system in the Jamaican political culture has done nothing to stimulate public participation and thus give meaningful power to the people. In fact it has discouraged democracy and in that sense is but a new phase of the centralized government of the plantation system.
In any event, linguistic communication in Jamaica would have made (and still does make) effective participation almost impossible. The language of authority – government, the boss, the big man, “busha” – is Standard English. To participate in national affairs, one not only must understand that language but also must feel a facility in communicating in it. The majority of Jamaicans may understand Standard English but do not speak it in their everyday lives. This means that the creole or patois speaking Jamaican must participate in national life by proxy. In effect they have to choose representatives not so much on the basis of the latter’s sharing of their life experience and views, but on the basis of the representative being able to talk the language of the big man. Historically inexperienced in national participation, discouraged by the political and constitutional developments, the small man feels forced to depend on official talkers rather than on genuine leaders, bargainers who are often more like those with whom they bargain than those whom they supposedly represent. This is certainly one of the more important reasons why ‘leadership’ of the masses – in the Trade Unions, the Jamaica Agricultural Society, the political parties – usually comes from outside the mass.
The argument is simply this. Most Jamaicans can little comprehend, much less communicate in the bureaucratic and parliamentary paraphernalia of the state. They therefore cannot participate. They cannot be citizens; they have to be subjects whose lack of civic skills keeps them in their place. To stimulate participation, you have only two alternatives – creolize the language of national life or anglicize the countryside through civic education
THE INDEPENDENCE CONSTITUTION
Now, for a brief look at the independence constitution. We are not concerned here to give any comprehensive comment on the document but to deal with it in so far as it affects our discussion tonight.
By 1962 – apart from the accident of the Federal quarrel – the PNP and the JLP were harmonious cousins. As “crowd parties” they could not rely on the financial support of a participant mass. Both have become obligated to the new business elite of construction, manufacture and commerce thrown up by the increased economic activity of the ’50’s. In a sense both parties have become insurance companies, in which the local and foreign big men take out policies end pay premiums so long as their interest receives due protection.
Thus, similarity in internal organization, governmental policy and social and financial sup-port was confirmed in party agreement on the making and content of the document of sovereignity.
On this, I want to make four factual points rather than argue anything: first, the document was drafted by a committee of sixteen drawn from both parties in both Houses of a Legislature elected two and a half years previously in an election in which independence was not an issue. This means that the Independence constitution of Jamaica was drafted by a committee meeting in secret, thirty per cent of whom had no mandate to do anything and the rest no mandate to determine the form of the Jamaican state.
Secondly, the public was allowed only thirty days during which to submit memoranda, and to do this without any guiding framework, in a vacuum as it were. Thirdly, the document itself was written in the finest 1argon · in the tradition of Her Majesty’s Bar. To be sure there are over one hundred barristers in Jamaica but there are also 790,000 other adult Jamaicans. Finally, as I hinted earlier on, the document encouraged constitutional oligarchy, if not dictatorship, the invariable consequence of transporting the British Parliamentary System away from the British cultural setting.