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ALL AH WE IS ONE: Lett’s letter


Tennyson Joseph

ALL AH WE IS ONE: Lett’s letter

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It was gratifying to read the letter to the editor by Reverend Leslie Lett in last Tuesday’s Daily Nation entitled: Social Democracy No More. Lett’s letter was an apt and timely response to the meek abandonment by the Government of Barbados of its social-democratic moorings and its capitulation to neo-liberal ideology particularly in its education policy.

The strength of Lett’s intervention was his rejection of the intellectually lazy and convenient argument that “we have no choice” and that since the era of social-democracy is over, any demand for a continuation of social protection mechanisms suggests one being “out of touch with reality”. 

“There is no alternative” is always a clear indication of intellectual failure. For those who have not appreciated that the our economic and policy failures are the consequence of the absence of thought and philosophy, Lett’s missive was indeed a dose of reality: “It is crucial that we all realise that social democracy is itself a ‘synthesis’ of the contradictions of neo-liberalism. To work this through requires some dialectical thinking, and this seems to be outside the comfort zone of some economists.” Well said, reverend!

Only those who think in binary notions of “either/or” have a difficulty in grasping Hegelian synthesis. It is always funny to hear persons categorise those of us who have been insisting on the retention of social democracy as not understanding reality.

It is less funny to see the poverty of such thinking reflected in commonsensical prime ministerial statements that we can’t pursue social democracy in 2014 “in the same way in which we pursued it in the 1960s, ’70s”. 

In rejection of this perspective, Rev. Lett reminds the Prime Minister and all of those who have inherited social democratic political institutions on the back of the struggles of the poor, that it is their responsibility not to meekly abandon social democracy, but to “find another way to pursue it”.

The problem the Caribbean faces today is the uncritical acceptance of neo-liberal ideology as given. Let us not delude ourselves.

There has been no point in the history of the Caribbean when we were anything but sites of capitalist exploitation, in which progressive parties, movements and leaders have fought to carve out spaces for the poor majority. In other words, our political reality has always been one where we have learned to “survive within capitalism”.

Our real challenge today is the loss of will and the absence of intellectual capacity on the part of our leaders to develop a social democratic “synthesis of the contradictions of neo-liberalism”. The time has come for all progressive members of the social democratic parties in the Caribbean to hold special conventions to arrive at such an answer. 

Without such self-reflection, our leaders will continue to abandon the people, and to boastfully wallow in error. Let wisdom prevail.

• Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus, specialising in regional affairs. 

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