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ALL AH WE IS ONE: Elected capitalists

Tennyson Joseph, [email protected]

ALL AH WE IS ONE: Elected capitalists

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THOSE OF US WHO employ a class perspective for understanding Caribbean politics have been following the ongoing shifts both at the electoral and policy level.

They signal a reversal of the socio-political gains which had been won by the Caribbean labour movement since their organisation into trade unions and political parties and the granting of universal adult suffrage in the 1950s, and their replacement by neo-liberal norms of market-driven capitalism as a basis for ordering Caribbean life.  

Thus at the policy level, we have been witnessing the abandonment of the social democratic gains like state-funded education and health care, the curtailment of the bargaining power of trade unions, and the emergence of the facilitation of private capital accumulation as the principal purpose of government, devoid of any larger social responsibility. 

At the electoral level, we have observed the election of pro-business types who, while joining historically pro-labour social democratic parties, have personally been deeply committed to pro-capitalist, neo-liberal notions of development, and are very disdainful of the idea of the social interventionist state protecting vulnerable social groups. 

Tax breaks for the rich and special concessions for businesses excite these new leaders far more than any direct actions of social uplift, despite the increasing pressures of economic failure on the lives of the majority.

For their part, the voters, stunned by the burdens of the post-2008 adjustments that have included VAT increases, mass layoffs, user fees for social services, and unable to understand the historical significance of social democracy in effecting collective mass advancement, have been opting for the fleeting promises of individual material advantage that have shaped the platforms of these conservative, anti-socialist types.

Thus in Jamaica, the promise was the reduction in income taxes. In St Lucia, it was the abolition of VAT, and it reached silly proportions with a promise that visa requirements for travel to the United States would be removed. 

Silly, as it was, it was swallowed by a people hungry for any sign of individualistic material relief in a context of the economic pressures which, ironically, have been caused by the failure of the very capitalism which promises to be the source of relief. 

Thus out of desperation, capitalists are now being elected to resolve the problems of capitalism, out of the false hope that the capitalist can achieve miracles where the social democrats have failed. Allen Chastanet will work capitalist magic.

Gaston Browne in Antigua; Andrew Holness, Daryl Vaz and others in the Jamaica Labour Party in Jamaica; traditional anti-left conservatives like Keith Mitchell of Grenada, and Allen Chastanet of St Lucia represent this false conservative turn. Second-tier personalities like Barbados’ Donville Inniss and Jamaica’s Lisa Hanna are also hoping to advance pro-market policies by co-opting social democratic parties.

The battle lines for the next decade and a half of Caribbean politics are now becoming clearer. 

Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, specialising in regional affairs. Email: [email protected]