In 1972, the People’s National Party, led by Michael Manley, was elected in a landslide in Jamaica. Manley was widely seen as a nationalist Joshua, who would lead the country forward, expunging any vestige of its colonialist past. Manley embodied a biblical, larger-than-life figure, whose rhetoric offered a vision of a better, more prosperous future, a government free of corruption, and, most importantly, a democratic socialist course which would benefit the downtrodden masses. In 1980, Manleys PNP was defeated, its dream and its vision shattered by the harsh realities of the international political economy. The victorious Jamaica Labour Party, led by Edward Seaga preaching a staunchly right-wing, free-market message, was able to prevail following a period of economic difficulty and social disruption. What went wrong? Was the demise of the PNP due to a basic flaw in the democratic socialist ideal? Was it due to bad luck or a conspiracy? Or were the culprits errors of judgment and failures of policy?
Through a detailed, largely chronological account of events which occurred during the Manley government, supplemented by extensive interviews with the Jamaican elite and members of Manley’s administration, the Stephenses have pieced together an excellent historical analysis. The extensive primary research will undoubtedly make this a sourcebook for future researchers. It is an important book because in 1986, after five years marked by austerity, hopelessness, debt crises, and the erosion of living conditions in Latin America generally and in Jamaica specifically, it is easy to forget the heady optimism of the early and mid-’70s. Likewise, we may forget the series of events and the dynamics of the political process, aided and abetted by foreign powers, which led to the downfall of Jamaica’s social democratic experiment.
What did the Manley government accomplish? The book points to several achievements, including its bauxite policy which secured for Jamaica a vastly increased share of the income from its leading export; its program of land reform; its labor legislation and social policies which opened secondary education to the masses; and its expansion of the state ownership sector through purchase of foreign-owned utilities. Following a brief historical overview intended to frame the analysis, the book dissects the PNP’s two terms in five detailed chapters. Three concluding chapters cover Seaga’s return to dependent capitalism, an evaluation of the democratic socialist path, and the lessons to be learned from the Manley government’s experience.
In a brief review it is perhaps most instructive to focus on the authors’ evaluation and lessons. They conclude that
the demise of the PNP government was the result not only of structural constraints resulting from dependent capitalism (i. e., high import dependence and export concentration) but also country specific structural and historical constraints and mistaken policy choices, and thus not primarily the result of inherent difficulties of the democratic socialist path itself (p. 38, emphasis added).
What were those country specific and historical constraints? Can one who is sympathetic to democratic socialism trust the authors’ conclusion that it was the pilot and the weather rather than the flawed design of the democratic socialist ship of state? Taking up first the errors of policy the Stephenses base their argument on the party’s lack of a plan for economic and social transformation, which they indicate was related to its nonideological, clientelistic nature. This is a valid point, since in an effort to provide work, money, and resources to its supporters, the government failed to live within its budget. This failure contributed a great deal to Jamaica’s incurring the full wrath of the capitalist gods in the form of its adverse treatment by the IMF.
Another of the authors’ main theses is that the PNP’s failure to secure the continued cooperation of the professional and managerial classes was a major factor in its fall. The inability to develop a working compromise with important factions of the ruling class led to an erosion of the economy and, ultimately, to a loss of support by the populist base. However, what is not clear is just what the PNP should have done in order to secure an alliance, and whether such actions would not of themselves have undone its mass appeal. In short, the Stephenses beg the very question which they set out to answer.
There is much more that can be said about the book, but space limitations do not permit this. Let me conclude by ticking off some strengths and weaknesses. The book’s main strength is its wealth of detail, not raw and uninterpreted, but rather analyzed within a historical, neo-Marxist perspective. It makes for a holistic, highly readable account. The book’s main weakness is its reliance on elite analysis. This methodology, I believe, has led to a trite, superficial treatment and understanding of policy failures. For example, the lack of success in implementing policies is attributed to “foot dragging” by the civil servants. This type of remark is a common complaint of politicians but is not illuminating in that it glosses over a very complex reality in the realm of development administration. For this reason, I feel that although the book is useful as a political-economic overview, it is unlikely to be of much assistance to political activists seeking an understanding of how to put right what went wrong. Nevertheless, this is an outstanding book and a “must” for the library of any Caribbean or Latin American scholar.