I have held off writing about the PNP and the general elections in general because I was still relishing the decline of this institution (what the Germans call schadenfreude) but like all things in life that has passed. Now with Dr Phillips on his way out we see the PNP once again embroiled in an internal election for the presidency, which, as people who are closer to the matter have noted is a redux of PDP v PMB and everybody v PSM. That part doesn’t interest me, parties will always have factions which gravitate towards one or another individual, this is a part of life and politics and any decent party (or person) will learn to bury the hatchet and move on for the greater good.
What does interest me more than anything is, where does the PNP stand, that is are they a socialist party (not progressive which has shown itself to be a vague and meaningless political label, but socialist in whatever stripe) and will they be acting accordingly? This is a serious question which little time and thought has been given to as this ostensibly socialist party embarks on yet another leadership contest. What does it say about this ‘socialist’ party that for the past two elections we have seen members of high finance comfortably run for leadership? What does it say about a ‘socialist’ party which can see a person run for the highest office in that party after publicly saying they have no time for such ideology?
These are important questions to answer, the PNP must find itself and be honest with the people not only to save their soul electorally, but so that members of the Jamaican left can make the decision whether to stay with them or to leave them in droves. The question of what the PNP stands for is one which has been put off since the mid-80’s and one they naively thought they could move on from with the collapse of the old socialist bloc. Now they need to make the public declaration and show via their actions their commitment to socialism and their bona fides or admit that they are simply a second rate JLP (a party beholden to local and international capital and which cares not one jot for the worker).
So to the question, is the PNP a socialist party, that is are they a party which believes that the state should have a leading hand in the economy and that the masses (read industrial workers and peasants) must (however slowly) become masters of the state thus in need of political education to wield this power?
Based on the little solid information released from both camps, neither candidate seems interested in building a socialist party or inspiring the masses. There is much talk of revamping their electoral machine, but scant talk about political education. Much talk about instilling party standards and history, little space given to the history of the local and regional workers and social movements. Plenty of talk, on both sides, of strengthening the women’s corps of the party, but nothing as it relates to using the party and its organs for the dirty work of women’s empowerment (after school programs, pre and post-natal care etc). There is talk of re-financing the party to ensure that their lights aren’t turned off again, but no talk of using the party for non-partisan true socialist communal issues such as community upliftment. There is not even the token nod to police brutality where the party could actually take a stand against the scourge.
Even when important items such as political education are mentioned, they are couched in such vague terms such as ‘progressive’ (a term so broad that it manages to force both Stalin and Truman in the same ideological home) that one is no clearer about if the PNP remains at its roots a party committed to socialism and third-world nationalism.
No one doubts that the PNP will be back as a ruling party, we all remember the JLP and their barren years. No one in their right mind thinks that the party older than Jamaica as a self-governing entity and with its tentacles so deeply rooted in the history and psyche of Jamaica will cease to be viable electorally. The question is will they return like a bad case of the shingles or will they return like the prodigal son?
This contest between two financiers in a ‘socialist’ party needs to be viewed as a wake-up call. Whoever wins the party and its base (which remains wedded to the idea of some form of socialism) will not be pleased and the temporary truce which will be called will fade away and the party will once again descend into civil war trying to find its soul (while also dealing with the remaining fallout from the PSM run nearly 20 years ago).
What is the point of voting for the PNP right now as opposed to the JLP? How do they differ in the grand scheme of things? While the JLP immediately kowtows to the US the PNP puts up a front and then folds. When it comes to the treatment of regional allies and neighbours, the JLP abuses them while the PNP (even when in office) gives verbal acknowledgement then moves on. When it comes to local economics, we see the JLP making life easier for the upper classes. Under the PNP they mouth off about loving the poor while making life easier for the rich.
It should not be forgotten that it was three elections (2007, 2016 and 2020) which saw the JLP become a true national choice as they shed the unelectable baggage which was Seaga. Their policies did not change, they did not move closer to the 70s PNP instead the PNP moved closer to the JLP and when an actual choice came people chose the real deal over the knock off and who can blame them? Would you rather a Mr Pibb or a Dr Pepper, an RC Cola or a Coca Cola? We all know the answer to these questions and so too did the people as the removed the PNP from office.
Do I believe the PNP will one day become MAS, the PSUV or the FLSN? No, I am not that naïve, a party like the PNP can only ever hope to be a soft, champagne, social-democratic party, and I have made peace with that. The leader, be they Golding or Hannah, must come to terms with what the party is, not simply for the case of winning elections, they will regain power so long as we maintain this entrenched two-party system. Rather they must come to terms with this and ground the party in some form of socialism because of the world they will be leading the party in and leaving it to.
As we enter a multi-polar world where the old imperial hegemons seek to cement or regain their old colonies and play things, a time when a new iron curtain and cold war is dawning on us and the global economic system faces the very real prospect of total collapse we as a country need a party which practices some form of socialism and resistance. We as a country need a viable and realistic alternative to what remains the JLP doctrine since Bustamante ‘We are with the West’. As the idea of regional integration becomes more hostile by certain powers during these times and when the concept of third world nationalism the building up of poorer nations into stable entities is actively fought against Jamaica needs a political party with national appeal which stands up for these things. This has historically been the PNP and it cannot be lost on anyone at this time that they have deafeningly silent on these matters to the point where they are now routinely viewed with suspicion in groupings and summits where they could once hold their heads high and speak with conviction.
Will they go all the way or even halfway there, no, but they didn’t in the 70’s and had to be pushed there by autonomous affiliates and persons who formed a ‘national front’. That is all we need and frankly that is all we expect, a PNP which is socialist in its outlook and willing to work with outside actors who wish to see the same long-term future (the means of production and wealth being redistributed to the masses while the state captures the commanding heights of the economy). These affiliates, well-wishers and autonomous entities which would enter a national front if offered do exist and are busy doing their work waiting for a national party to throw their weight behind, the question is will the PNP come to terms with itself, accept its socialist leanings and act as the big tent needed in these times which will only become more perilous for those on the fringes of society and at the risk of falling into the fringe. Time will tell, but Jamaica doesn’t have that time. I can only hope that the new leader, whoever they are, puts aside their hostility or disregard for an ‘outdated model’ and work with it and within it (and social democracy is very broad in its application). Anything else is nothing more than the continuation of failed selfish policies which have led them to this quagmire.