Dr. Fraser- Point of View
November 4, 2005
Making sense of our politics

“…For we should never assume that the political man is always suitably equipped to articulate a commanding vision of a new society.

The politician is overwhelmed by concrete tasks to be performed, decisions to be taken urgently, often without any pause or long reflection. He or she is haunted by the failure to deliver. The working hours are spent in a permanent state of emergency. The shadow of parliamentary opposition, where it exists, blurs their sense of priorities. They live with intrigue and the constant threat of betrayal within their own ranks. It is, I suspect a feverish atmosphere and hardly conducive to that state of reflective self-consciousness from which a vision of a new society is born” {{more}}

I am sure that given certain developments in our society and the tense political climate that exists many of us would have consciously or not been trying to make sense of what is happening. I came across the quotation, stated above, from George Lamming that helps in putting things into perspective. His view is that politicians are so caught up in concrete tasks and haunted by the failure to deliver and the possibility of intrigue that they are unable to articulate a vision of a new society. This presents a context within which Vincentian politics can be viewed. I need however to add another quotation from Lamming to try to pull this all together.

Lamming notes that there were three experiments in governance since independence all of which ended in failure. The three he refers to are the Bishop experiment in Grenada, Guyana’s artificial socialism and that of Michael Manley. The Grenada experiment was in his view the only one that had captured the imagination of the youth of that country. Michael Manley who did not enjoy the power and control of the other two was the victim of two things, external pressure and a ‘serious lack of preparation’. His efforts at change fell flat in a situation where those who were to benefit from the change never developed an appreciation of what was involved and what was being attempted. At issue here was the matter of political education. Lamming quotes from Michael Manley who admits to that weakness; “It is now clear that as part of the political organization’s response, political education in a profound sense has got to be the heart and stock of the political process. This political education begins by a process of internal education dialogue; it looks at the social and political history that begins with simple, with basic analysis of the nature of the society, the nature of the economy, the nature of its class structure.”

Lamming comments on this, “…The omission could not have been casual and we must assume that many a leader, then and now, recognized that such political education at mass level, would inevitably alter the relation of leader to rank and file. It would have put an end to the uncritical adoration of the leader, as great tribal chief, infallible beyond reproach. For this has been a characteristic deformity of the political culture of the region, and it has persisted, whatever the ideological character of the leader.” Lamming is making some serious arguments. All of this is obtained in his monograph, “The Sovereignty of the Imagination”. This is a reproduction of the speech he gave at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica when a conference was held in his honour. The publication was produced by the Center for Caribbean Thought.

There are three strands of thought I consider important. First, Caribbean politicians’ obsession with concrete tasks where their working hours are spent in a permanent state of emergency with the consequent lack of a vision for development; the lack of emphasis on political education since it will alter the relation between leader and rank and file. He sees this omission as assisting in perpetuating what he considers the deformity of the political culture of the region and the continued worshiping of the leader as ‘a great tribal chief.’ There are probably many lessons here for us. Additionally it helps us to better situate our political play and the players. Today, particularly as we approach new elections, the emphasis continues more so to be on the short term, completing concrete tasks with an eye to the electorate. But this is not only related to the fact that there is an impending election. It has been part of the nature of our politics with eyes glued on the next election.

I have always felt that little change could ever be brought about without an emphasis on political education. We can argue about the nature of the political education but its essentiality cannot be questioned. So we are caught between two strands, the focus on concrete tasks and the knowledge that any serious political education will subvert the existing relationship between leader and rank and file and topple the image of a tribal chief. Seen in this way our politics can then begin to make sense. But at issue is the question, how do you change this? This is one of the defects of the Westminster system, clearly more defective when it is applied to small island states. The focus is always on the next election.

The tribal chief image is a serious one that we are guilty of helping to perpetuate. If political education is critical to subverting it can we afford to leave this up to those holding power or trying to gain power? Are we in fact trapped in a situation where poverty and illiteracy continue to influence our political culture? Having said all of that, however, there is the feeling that something is happening in Vincentian politics that is difficult to pin down. Where it leads, if indeed it exists, is hard to tell. But to look ahead a bit, will the CSME force us to look into ourselves? Would the continuing problems/trouble in the banana industry and the elusive remedies ultimately force us to look beyond party politics?