By *Jomo Sanga Thomas
(“Plain Talk” March 4, 2022)
The mantra that the world has changed is becoming louder. More and more people have been calling for progressives to abandon their views, commitment and stridency because, in their words, the old language of the left, working people, oppressed, exploitation, capitalism, and imperialism, is hopelessly out of step with the times.
With this incessant cry, one is reminded of the work of the conservative political thinker Francis Fukuyama, who, in 1991, wrote an important, but mistaken book entitled “The End of History.” The writer argued that with the collapse of the Soviet Union, liberal democratic societies had won the critical battle of the ages over progressive thought. Therefore, there was nothing left for humanity to fight about. It was clear sailing for neo-liberal, capitalist ideas and economics.
Back then, like now, you had to be very brave to utter the words socialist, Marxist or revolution. Only those who risk being labelled as crazy was “mad” enough to assert that Marx was not dead, and that a new and better world was not only possible but also necessary.
There is no denying that the world has changed, but these are changes for the worse. The people’s consciousness, built up in the 1970s, has eroded, trade union organisation and solidarity have waned, community love and togetherness have given way to a brutish, selfish individualism.
With this sharp turn backwards, who in their right mind will give up their principles for such an empty shell? Who will want to stop being their brother’s keeper because of a few dollars more? Well, not me.
If poverty has fallen in our land, we must still recognise that too many of our brothers and sisters cannot keep body and soul together on a daily basis.
When we celebrate the advances in education or the improvements in healthcare delivery, we will be remiss to forget that many children of the poor repeat classes and fail to graduate from school. Even more, low-income families suffer in pain and die because they do not have the money to see the doctor or pay for the curative drugs that are badly needed.
Although many of us have grasped the opportunity and moved into the middle class, we cannot forget the large swath of our people, especially youths, who do not have jobs or are grotesquely exploited by their employers.
We are moving along rapidly with tourism even though evidence abounds that these islands get pennies of each tourist dollar. We have the experience of the Buccament Bay Resort, where employees worked long hours and didn’t get paid on a timely basis. Buccament Bay Resort boss, David Ames, stole over EC$8 million of our people’s money and was spirited out of the country.
Yet we move deeper into tourism. We sell lands at Canouan at great inconvenience to nationals where primarily rich, white people enjoy our beaches and treat our people like garbage.
Prime real estate at Mt Wynne pawned to foreigners at a fire-sale price. When these lands are sold, they are gone forever. Mitchell’s NDP gave away two-thirds of Canouan. This government has sold prime tracts there and in Bequia. Mystique has long been gone. Union Island is up for grabs. Mayreau is also being sold.
We need development, but if all we get is low-end jobs and rampant racism, our slice of paradise is not being put to its best use. The Richmond quarry lease offers another sad tale. Our prime real estate should be used as our equity share in any tourism development rather than be bargained away.
We are in a bind. We want development. We want a better life for our people, but it cannot truly be said that we got the bargain out of these “developments”. The number of vehicles and cell phones in use, as well as GDP figures, do not offer a proper gauge of our people’s wellbeing. Therefore, the inescapable conclusion is that the elite, rather than the masses, suck on the honeycomb of power.
Where can we go? Where must we go? In the 1970s, the left unfurled a banner screaming for “Genuine Independence, People’s Ownership and Control”. Is it too late for us to interrogate ourselves about the nature of our independence? Are there points of light for which we can be proud that came from the journey that began 43 years ago? Of course, there are. However, our honest answer must be that there is still too much darkness across our land.
What commentary can we offer regarding our quest for people’s ownership and control? Would it be unfair to conclude that we have all but abandoned this effort as the greedy clutches of neoliberal ideology swallow us? No progressive could honestly dismiss this claim.
Karl Marx said “people have interpreted the world in various ways. The problem, however, is to change it for the better.” Charles Dickens reminds us “the more things change, the more they remain the same”, while Kwame Nkrumah summons us to charge full speed ahead, “seek first the political kingdom and everything else will become manifest”.
Little or no change comes without political power, so Nkrumah is on point. Some of us are doing better than yesterday, so there is some truth that these are the best of times and the worst of times. Who feels it knows it best.
Even so, there is no getting away from Marx’s scream: You think you know how? Deliver. Make people’s lives better. This is no easy task. While power is essential, it is only meaningful if its ultimate goal is to empower the people.
You can shout all you want about how much the world has changed. If these changes leave the people behind, progressives must embrace the teachings of the revolutionary thinker Amilcar Cabral, who beseech us to “tell no lies and claim no easy victories”.
This column, with minor changes, was first published on Oct. 7 2016. The ULP propaganda machine then, as now, charged that I was against foreign direct investment. Can’t deal with the issues? Attack the man.
*Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
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