By Dr Ralph E. Gonsalves
Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines
This extensive paper, which will be published in several parts, is an edited version of a longer document which formed the basis of a presentation made on August 24, 2012, by Dr Ralph E. Gonsalves, Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, at the closing session of “the Fifty-Fifty” Conference of the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies (SALISES) of the University of the West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica. Among other things, the publication excludes the section on “the Grenada Revolution” (1979 – 1983) which is amply covered in the prime minister’s autobiography entitled The Making of ‘the Comrade’: The Political Journey of Ralph Gonsalves.
This paper contains, too, the essence of Dr Gonsalves’ discussion on the subject “Rethinking Policy to Address Low Growth and High Debt: The Economic Challenges Facing the OECS/Caribbean” on September 04, 2012, at a recently-concluded “High Level Forum” sponsored by the International Monetary Fund, the Caribbean Development Bank, and the Central Banks of CARICOM member-countries at Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago.
The ideas of Dr Gonsalves, contained in this paper, are well-known to those who have followed his speeches and writings, especially his Budget Addresses, his United Nations Speeches, his Addresses to CARICOM and OCS, national and international gatherings, and his various publications over the past dozen or so years. They constitute what he calls “a compelling narrative” for socio-economic development. He weaves history, philosophy, literature, economics, law, politics, sociology, policy-making, public administration, governance, and more, into his integrated narrative.
Part 6: The “Left” in Government, 1997 to 2012
Since the late 1990s leaders on the progressive social-democratic “left” (for example, Kenny Anthony of the St. Lucia Labour Party, Rosie Douglas and Roosevelt Skerrit of the Dominica Labour Party, and Ralph Gonsalves of the Unity Labour Party of St Vincent and the Grenadines), and Marxists (Cheddi Jagan and Janet Jagan of Guyana) have been elected to lead governments in our region. The category of “the progressive social democratic left” is a broad one with different tendencies within it, some close to revolutionary democracy and a robust anti-imperialism but others more or less in the traditional, mainstream social democracy of European social democratic/socialist political parties. Remarkable social democratic or even socialist achievements have been chalked up under these “left” governments, and their relationship to monopoly capitalism externally has been one of both creative accommodation and resistance.
Dr Ralph E. Gonsalves, Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines
The government which I have been leading in St Vincent and the Grenadines, continuously, since March 2001 has established a compelling progressive narrative with the following nine central elements: First, a people-centred vision which takes as a starting point the enhancement of the strengths and possibilities of our people and the reduction, as far as is humanly practicable, of their weaknesses and limitations. Secondly, the articulation of a progressive social democratic philosophy applied to the circumstances of St Vincent and the Grenadines and the Caribbean. Thirdly, the embrace of a socio-cultural framework which defines our people as being part of a Caribbean civilisation, within the context of a bundle of uplifting universalist values, in the quest of further ennobling our civilisation in our own interest and in solidarity with other civilisations. Fourthly, the elaboration of the strategic economic framework of constructing a modern, competitive, many-sided, post-colonial economy which is at once local, national, regional, and global. Fifthly, the reforming of the constitutional and political apparatuses to enhance good governance, strengthen popular democracy and accountability, and deliver responsible and responsive government. Sixthly, to deepen regional integration to the fullest extent possible. Seventhly, the detailing of a wide-ranging bundle of policies and practical programmes which flow from the vision, the philosophy, the socio-cultural framework, the economic strategy, and the regional integration commitment. An eight element which acknowledges sovereignty and independence as vital assets to be utilized in principled and practical ways in the pursuit of our country’s foreign policy, including its foreign economic and external trade policy, to the benefit of our people. And finally, the fashioning of efficacious structures and systems of political leadership and public management to implement the policies and practical programmes, within the interest of our people.
In the 2010 Election Manifesto of the Unity Labour Party (ULP) of St Vincent and the Grenadines, which I have the honour to lead, the top ten policies and actions are listed as follows:-
1. Waging the ongoing War Against Poverty.
2. Wealth Creation and Job Creation.
3. Pursuing a many-sided strategy of sustainable economic growth and development, including the consolidation of fiscal discipline, balancing prudence and enterprise, and the provision of competitively-priced energy in sufficient quantities.
4. Extending and deepening the Education Revolution, including a further emphasis on ICT training and the implementation of “the one lap top per student policy”.
5. Making St Vincent and the Grenadines safer, strengthening citizen security and law and order.
6. Enhancing the Health and Wellness Revolution.
7. Uplifting the communities by properly addressing vital areas of concern, including housing, road repairs, sports and culture, and disaster preparedness.
8. Elaborating plans for the building of a new city at Arnos Vale and enhanced access to the capital city, Kingstown.
9. Completing the Argyle International Airport and enhancing connectivity in every way between St Vincent and the Grenadines and the world.
10. Delivering good governance all around, in every area of public policy, including those in regional integration and international relations.
Further, in the ULP’s 2010 Election Manifesto the economic approach is succinctly outlined under the rubric “Economic Approach: Competitive Economy, Sustainable Growth and Social Justice – Proposals for a Sound Economy.” This strategic economic approach is stated thus:
“The ULP is committed to its quest to build a modern, competitive, many-sided, post-colonial economy which is at once local, national, regional and global. Such an economy, by definition, must be sustainable and focused on delivering wealth, jobs and social justice. The ten central features of the economic approach or strategy are as follows:
1. The harmonious and effective workings of a mixed economy involving the private, cooperative and State sectors in a non-ideological and practical manner suitable to the circumstances of St Vincent and the Grenadines. Worthwhile historical and comparative experiences abound on this for our adoption and adaptation.
2. The placement of private sector and non-State cooperative enterprises at the centre of the economic system although the economic role of the State ought not to be confined solely to business facilitation and regulation. It cannot retreat as a force for good. Still, the State must not have an overwhelming presence in the ownership and management of economic activity or businesses.
3. The maintenance of the macro-economic fundamentals of a stable currency through the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union (ECCU), low inflation, fiscal prudence and enterprise, fair and competitive tax regimes, enhanced business competitiveness, engendering new and better attitudes to work and production, increased productivity, and effective good governance.
4. The location of social equity at the core of the considerations in the fashioning of economic policy.
5. The pursuance of a policy of balanced, sustainable, economic growth, without the volatility of peaks and troughs as far as practicable in our small, open, export-led economy, and which generates successful businesses and more jobs. This policy of economic growth demands, among other things, optimal human resource development and an efficacious application of modern science and technology.
6. The push for economic diversification to escape the historical trap of “mono-cropism”, though admittedly with at least one lead or transformational sector (tourism), and with Agriculture as the economic mainstay.
7. The further integration of the economy of St Vincent and the Grenadines in the economic union in the OECS and the CSME in CARICOM.
8. The practical implementation of the National Trade Policy which has been elaborated, and adopted by Cabinet.
9. The further intensification of the search for favourable credit facilities for start-up businesses, for investment in plant and machinery, and working capital.
10. The aggressive hunt for viable investors, domestic and foreign.”
There are programmatic details for each of the ten central features of the economic approach or strategy.
Since it is not possible, realistically, to increase the physical size of St Vincent and the Grenadines, or any other member-state of the OECS, it is necessary and desirable that both the landscape and seascape be put to optimal use. So, too, the instruments of sovereignty and independence. Similarly, the nation’s economically-active population must be properly trained, be healthy, and be fully utilised and productive. Further, the nation’s territory, the exclusive economic zone, and its population must be enlarged in terms of economic space, through the sale of our goods and services externally and to tourists and investors who come to our shores.
We must engage meaningfully, too, with our significant Diaspora. Indeed, given the substantial migration of our nations, it is imperative that they be better educated and trained so as to enable them to enter at higher, and more financially-rewarding, levels in the chain of the international division of labour.
The social capital of our nations, at home and abroad, is vital to be utilised for socio-economic development, our governance, and civilised life and living.
Relevant, detailed policies and programmes arise inexorably from all what we have been discussing, including those touching and concerning agriculture, tourism, manufacturing, information technology, housing and infrastructure development, health, education, sports and culture, economic competitiveness, energy, fiscal and financial stability, debt management, regional integration, foreign relations and external trade. In these respects, it must be recognised that the proper utilisation of the instruments of sovereignty and independence are economic, as well as, political assets. So, too, the matter of political leadership, its possibilities and limitations.
In the latter regard, Karl Marx’s insights offered in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte
published in 1869, are instructive:
“Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living.”
C.L.R. James in The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution
was to make a similarly profound point:
“Great men make history, but only such history as it is possible for them to make. Their freedom of achievement is limited by the necessities of their environment. To portray the limits of those necessities and the realisation, complete or partial, of all the possibilities, that is the true business of the historian.”
Frequently, “left-wing” critics of governments on “the left”, for example the progressive social democratic, nationalist, and anti-imperialist administrations or even Marxist ones, which have arrived in office through parliamentary means, and are so sustained, do not appreciate the inherent constraints, particularly in the context of the historical and contemporary condition of the political economy of these micro-island states of the OECS. There is oft-times an air of unreality about the criticisms. This is not to be taken as an excuse, apology for, or mitigation of, a less-than-stellar performance by these governments on “the left”. But the critics have to be on guard not to ignore or downplay the real condition of the limitations for even more advanced progressive policy-actions. At the same time, these “left” governments must be held accountable for failure and/or refusal to exploit to the fullest the possibilities and space arising from their extant circumstances.
It is against that backdrop that I consider Tennyson Joseph’s incisive and probing book Decolonisation in St Lucia: Politics of Global Neoliberalism, 1945 – 2010
, published in 2011, but nevertheless lacking in a thorough grounding of the dialectical and material contradictions within the political economy of St Lucia during the Kenny Anthony’s St Lucia’s Labour Party (SLP) government between 1997 and 2006, including the complexities of effecting change through a competitive parliamentary system led by a mass, broad-church social democratic party even if led by a revolutionary democrat. Despite the resonance of aspects of Joseph’s critique there is an intellectual straining to make a critical case, a stylising facts in search of a theory of exploration. The following lengthy quote from Joseph’s book illustrates my point:
“The main weakness of the SLP during its two terms in office (1997 – 2006) was its failure to devise a strategy that could effectively reestablish the link between the sovereign ambitions of the state and the economic advancement of the domestic population. Throughout the period of the SLP in government, the impact of globally hegemonic neoliberalism significantly militated against the realisation of such an objective. Indeed, the SLP’s neoliberalism effectively increased the capacity of global capitalist economic relations to influence the internal economic relations of the society. Central to the SLP’s project was a retreat by the state from activities that had previously occupied a central place in governmental activity. Typical of such a retreat was the party’s policy in the banana industry. One of the positive features of the industry prior to the neoliberal challenge was its inclusion of a large number of small farmers in the economic and political decision-making structure, through the St Lucia Banana Growers’ Association (SLBGA). In contrast, the SLP’s project of commercialization witnessed the economic and political disenfranchisement of the majority of the producers in the industry. A related policy of economic neoliberalism in other sectors of the economy resulted in a gradual but perceptible challenge to the party’s neoliberlaism within the wider society. Thus, despite the attempt by the SLP to create wider spaces for democratic expression and participation in the society, its concessions to global neoliberalism resulted in huge gaps between popular expectations and the party’s perception of its activities as progressive. The persistence of this contradiction between governmental administrative success and popular disillusionment was a critical factor in accounting for the defeat of the SLP in December 2006.”
Frankly, there is an unrealism of much of this kind of critique; there are, too, factual inaccuracies; and the critique is insufficiently connected to the condition of the political economy, its possibilities and limitations.
The record of a progressive, social democratic government on “the left” in the OECS, that of the ULP administration in St Vincent and the Grenadines up to September 2010, is presented in a summary form in my autobiography The Making of the Comrade
. Other details, including those up to the present time, are available in various official and unofficial publications. The ULP record is impressive.
Next – Part 7: Some Issues For Ongoing Reflection
Previous – Part 5: The Revised Treaty of Basseterre 2010 – 2011