Where we stand‎ > ‎News & Comment‎ > ‎

DOCTOR POLITICS AND ONE-MENISM: A CARIBBEAN TRADITION OF POLITICAL CRITICISM by Matthew Quest

posted 19 Jan 2021, 19:11 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 19 Jan 2021, 19:38 ]

Matthew Quest has taught history and Africana Studies most recently at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Quest is editor of Joseph Edwards's Workers Self-Management in the Caribbean.

Forgotten and neglected ideas can be useful for contemporary resistance if we assess them critically for innovation for our own place and time. In the 1970s, the characterization of oppressive electoral politics, political parties, and trade union hierarchies as “Doctor Politics” and “One-Menism” took root in the Caribbean to challenge such degrading iterations as it became clear to commoners that politics were not arranged for them to directly govern in the post-colonial independence era.

“Doctor Politics” was a challenge to the tendency for electoral politics and political parties to be dominated by doctors, lawyers, economists, and professors to the exclusion of the working class and unemployed that such bourgeois professionals claimed to represent.

Similarly, “One-Menism” was an idea that was critical of political parties and trade unions organized to benefit one man, or charismatic personality. One-Menism prevented toilers from directly controlling so-called labor parties and organizations. While the critiques of Doctor Politics and One-Menism emerged in different locations in the Caribbean, the conclusions of the analyses enjoyed widespread resonation among common people throughout the region.

THE PROBLEM WITH ‘PROGRESSIVE’ POLITICS

Doctor Politics and One-Menism criticisms reverberated most with ordinary people when wielded against politicians and leaders deemed “progressive.” Progressive generally means political ideas that aim to express the national interest and welfare of ordinary people as one and the same. Progressive both thinly approaches and avoids socialism. Progressive might seem valuable in contrast to a conservative politics that openly wish to serve the rich and powerful. However, it is also the disposition that often veils one’s collaboration with finance capital, multi-national corporations, and pursuit of personal wealth.

DR. ERIC WILLIAMS: ADVISOR TO LABOR AND COLLABORATOR WITH EMPIRE?

Doctor Politics made sense as a criticism of Dr. Eric Williams, historian and author of Capitalism & Slavery who is viewed in many circles as a part of a Black radical tradition. He was the first prime minister of post-independence Trinidad and Tobago who held power from 1962-1981. Although his politics were never insurgent, Williams represented himself as an “advisor to labor” before becoming prime minister. However, he advised the British foreign office and US State Department under the guise of the Anglo-American Caribbean Commission.

As prime minister, Williams repeatedly and contemptuously publicly lectured and suppressed independent labor action. This culminated in the Industrial Stabilization Act of 1965. The growing resentment toward Williams was expressed in insurgent fashion in the Black Power revolt of 1970. It was a revolt of students, workers and unemployed against a Black prime minister. The implications of this have been minimized in recent years as the critique of neocolonialism has lost its way. Subsequently, the Black Power revolt has been invented as achieving an ambiguous cultural consciousness of the legacy of enslavement, and the preposterous creation of the national development bank.

Williams, from the perspective of Bukka Rennie, author of A History of the Trinidad and Tobago Working Class in the 20th Century, is seen as completing the capture of working-class resistance. In the 1930s, it was more independent. This independent opposition was misdirected by middle class professionals. Rennie perceptively explains how Williams demonstrated that elites, for a time, could speak like a “bad john” to bewilder the popular will.

HAS THE CRITIQUE OF THE BLACK POLITICAL CLASS DISAPPEARED?

What was once a robust objection to the Black political class has dwindled into pessimistic sympathies that Black elite administrators have no power independent of white patrons. In the past, the Black political class was opposed as an oppressor class; today, many strangely believe that as a social class, they are oppressed also. Those that opposed Doctor Politics and One-Menism didn’t feel this way.

The critique of the Black political class has been formulated to be a loyal opposition to Black rulers above society. Objection to neocolonialism once meant advocacy of class struggle at the post-independence moment. It now means advocacy of national development in collaboration with those who police ordinary Afro-Caribbean and Indo-Caribbean people and property relations. Awareness of indirect rule by multi-national corporations and global finance capital is shared with those with ethnic capitalist aspirations.

THE RASTA CRITIQUE OF “MIKHELL MENLIE”

One-Menism, derived from Rasta idioms implying such political forces were satanic, was a criticism of Jamaica’s Michael Manley, who some grassroots Rastas called “Mikhell Menlee.” Manley was a trade unionist and politician, who many continue to believe falsely led a revolt against neo-colonialism. Manley was able to co-opt through symbolically embracing Haile Selassie and taking on the prophet identity of Joshua.


Michael Manley was falsely labeled by the US as a communist threat during the period of 1974-1975. Norman and Michael Manley actually repeatedly purged people they deemed radical from their political party going back to the 1940s, as embodied by the “Four Hs.”

Manley obstructed the project of Caribbean federation from below and repressed independent labor action of Jamaicans as a maximum personality of his associated trade union. In Jamaica, like in Antigua and Guyana in certain respects, many trade unions were directly linked to a capitalist political party with progressive pretenses. That is the best way to understand Manley’s People’s National Party that had a long history of purging members dedicated to popular mobilizations or people who were perceived as having radical politics.

We often don’t understand the history of the conflicting tendencies in Caribbean politics more broadly, because rebel individuals protest within party politics and are purged only to return directly or indirectly. In mass party politics there are specialists in popular mobilizations that are always intended to be brought to a timely end, serving the election of those whose main goal is power above society for themselves and those they patronize.

Doctor Politics and One-Menism can lead to ambiguous conclusions just as the popular slogan “Let the People Decide.” These ideas can be wielded at the intersection of participatory democracy and direct democracy. The former is a subordinate discourse to elite representative government. The latter suggests that ordinary people directly govern without professionals as the embodiment of culture and government.

WORKPLACE COUNCILS AND POPULAR ASSEMBLIES

When workplace councils and popular assemblies form, these may appear to suggest the frameworks of direct democracy in terms of process, where those who are not professionals and politicians deliberate and discuss what is to be done. But many can be convinced, or never leave behind the idea, that capitalist politicians and trade union hierarchy can and should govern. This mistake can be labeled “progressive” if these elites advocate and implement certain policies.

The discourse of “Groundings,” as Walter Rodney amplified this idea from the Rastas, has a critique of “politricks.” Still, groundings are also willing to dialogue with any social class, though there is awareness that the average professional is socially blind in significant ways. There is an unexamined tension here. Just as Rodney’s insurgent opposition to the Black political class in Jamaica in 1968 and Guyana in 1980 has been minimized as a relevant legacy for today.

For workplace councils and popular assemblies to arrive consistently at a direct democratic vision and program, dedicated facilitators need to take part in politics which propagate the destruction of hierarchy, not just in how people discuss, but what they ultimately decide. Workplace councils and popular assemblies can disagree on many things without being a failure. Such projects are destroyed when it is decided that ordinary people will not directly govern.

MISUNDERSTANDING POPULISM

Populism is often misunderstood as an expression of racism and xenophobia though in some places, as embodied by Donald Trump, it is that. Politicians of color in the Caribbean at times have articulated a racial populism against perceived outsiders. More substantially, populism is the idea that wisdom is plentiful among ordinary people to govern.

By articulating the “wisdom of the people,” bad-minded elites can wield this proposition against others of their own social class. Popular mobilizations, especially just for elections, can be a type of crowd politics directed by one form of state bureaucracy against another. This lack of ethics can be wielded by white racists but also people of color who are perceived as rejecting racism. One can reject racism and not discard the empire of capital just as Doctor Politics and One-Menism, expressions that emerge in a populist environment, can be used to ally with hierarchical government and contain the insurgent instincts of ordinary people.

LLOYD BEST: A DEFENDER OR CRITIC OF DOCTOR POLITICS?


In Trinidad, it is said that Lloyd Best, New World Group political economist and leader of the Tapia group, articulated first the idea of “Dr. Politics” leading some to revel in the irony that Best was “the
Doctor of Doctor Politics.” Best habitually advised Eric Williams, and at insurgent moments in Caribbean History of 1969-71, clearly discredited and disoriented popular uprisings. One can discredit uprisings by joining them and speaking for them, not simply denouncing them.


We might better understand Best’s relationship to the criticism of “Doctor Politics” by recognizing he found this resentment in the populace but purposefully did not put it to maximum use against Caribbean rulers. Best never got his chance to become prime minister after Williams, but like him could make a pappyshow of political criticism that had no clear target. Raising awareness is not an objective that has a clear function.

Best is known for his critique of the legacy of underdevelopment of the plantation economy in the Caribbean. It was not an anti-capitalist critique. Where one diagnoses the problems of global capitalism or white imperialism it does not necessarily mean one mobilizes against accumulation at home and abroad. Otherwise, the well-behaved professionals the Caribbean perennially produce, with a plethora of such analyses, would have overthrown these social relations by now. It is an aspect of the national culture that needs rethinking.

Best epistemically challenged the racism and imperialism that underdeveloped the Caribbean while advising the neo-colonial state how to negotiate its structural dependence in the world system. This is the prime contradiction of most university professionals and trade unionists today. One of the reasons why Best’s archive of thought is being recognized and recorded globally today is because it serves as a firewall between Black rulers in a post-colonial society where instinctively Black commoners wish to lash out against them.

JOSEPH EDWARDS AND THE CHALLENGE TO ONE-MENISM

Joseph Edwards, a Jamaican refrigeration mechanic who led strikes of sugar workers, banana workers, and meatpacking workers, popularized the challenge to One-Menism. As a consistent critic of Michael Manley, he best articulated the challenge to politicians falsely representing the dignity of labor. Edwards at the wildcat strike at the Western meat packing plant at Westmoreland, Jamaica, organized a workplace council advocating the importance of rank-and-file workers managing a significant portion of their own dues. Edwards urged financial support be given to single mothers among their group.


Edwards advocated for sugar workers’ councils in the famous Black Power publication Abeng arguing that no matter the union workers were organized in, they were subordinated to electoral and parliamentary party politics without regard to whether their leaders were executives or in opposition. Edwards clarified that labor unions could be run like a business, where there was no significant political education and decision-making meetings for toilers and professional organizers could live a life far removed from those who toiled in workplaces.

Unions could function to discipline labor to the production process while spreading no awareness that the profits in jeopardy were not their own. The two-party union/management sell-out could coerce labor by suggesting their independent labor action was an attack on paltry welfare measures set aside for the poor thereby manipulating workers to remain subordinate.

ANDAIYE’S APPROACH TO WOMEN AND “MR. SLIME”


Andaiye, Walter Rodney’s comrade in Guyana’s Working People’s Alliance and leader of Red Thread Women’s organization, looking back on the Caribbean New Left, has
 rethought politics from the point of view of counting women’s caring work, the collapse of the Women’s League in the Grenada Revolution, and the forgotten historical revolt of Guyanese housewives in 1982-1983. 

Women (like many men) in Caribbean radical movements have not always known how to take initiative in crisis (especially where they are politically organized not to do so). And when they do so, women are not always perceptively recognized (whether by women or men) by those who are observing such interventions first hand. Recognition is key, not for renewing repr
esentation above society, but acknowledging independent ruptures with orthodox frameworks.


Alissa Trotz, scholar and editor of Andaiye’s selected writings The Point is to Change the World, reminds us that she shared with George Lamming’s In the Castle of My Skin, a mindfulness. Caribbean teachers who become politicians, can become like the character “Mr. Slime.” Mr. Slime will create a mutual aid society where he collects the masses money and he is thought of as Moses. He will promise land to the landless, and then hoard the land for himself while evicting commoners off the land. Mr. Slime can initially lead commoners in strike action until they find themselves under his hierarchical rule. Somehow Mr. Slime, a seemingly activist voice, comes to monopolize all the property of his village.

Andaiye also saw that there are “Mrs.” And “Ms. Slimes.” Under the guise of an intersectional analysis (gender, race, and class), women professionals and administrators can become overlords in the name of development, NGOs and international consulting work. Andaiye, following the poetry of Martin Carter, was in search of new political formations of the wageless and wished to forge a “free community of valid persons,” alert that elitist and even progressive politics was organized in a way that did not see Caribbean commoners as politically or economically viable. The archive of Andaiye can contribute to advancing the critique of Doctor Politics and One-Menism.

WHY DOES THE CRITIQUE OF DOCTOR POLITICS AND ONE-MENISM NOT COMPLETE ITSELF?


Why does the Caribbean radical tradition as embodied by the critique of “Doctor Politics” and “One-Menism” never complete itself fully? There appear to be at least two reasons. First, in the Caribbean there is a disturbing pattern of purported radicals and progressives going in and out of elite party politics and representative government. An ethical and evolving person can begin in electoral and capitalist party politics to ultimately grow and lead a rupture with these on principle. This can help educate their audience about the bankruptcy of institutions. However, a continuing collaboration with elite factions reveals a loyalty only to ethnic patronage politics and the politics of racial insecurity. This can misleadingly be framed a politics of national purpose.

Those who genuinely believe society is not arranged properly for ordinary people to govern must stay away from elite party politics and trade union hierarchy and help a more grassroots gathering of forces find and maintain their autonomy. They cannot steer it back into the old mess. Such people who go in and out of electoral politics and advise hierarchical administrations speaking of a national purpose and popular assemblies for Caribbean people are not credible.

Second, the logical fulfillment of the critique of Doctor Politics and One-Menism is to advise the toilers about historical experiments in, and challenges to, the direct self-government of working people, the unemployed, the wageless, and caregivers. Most often ordinary people will not mind someone with formal education who is genuine and engages them confident in popular capacities. Such confidence cannot be a mere trope or cheap trick. Can prime ministers, hierarchical administrators, and everyday people all be beautiful and heroic? Who proposes to sustain that “activists” should be advising above and below society?

Too many Caribbean thinkers and populist intellectuals on a world scale, speak as if they wish to liberate ordinary people from obscurity while expressing loyalty to hierarchy and domination. The politics of mass mobilization should be checked by a clear awareness of the goals as we go marching. Where we are valid persons, our consciousness need not be raised by those so mediocre in vision and malicious in intent, that they will obstruct everyday people directly governing.

Too often, we learn by experience, what we begin marching for, is in fact not what we exactly wanted. Yet, overcoming mistakes, like our relationship to the fraud of elite representative government, is what radical democratic politics is all about. We cannot have genuine workplace councils and popular assemblies that directly govern when they share a belief that politicians and administrators above society can be basically good and have some useful function. Democracy is majority rule not minority rule through periodic elections and professional appointments.

FULFILLING THE CHALLENGE TO DOCTOR POLITICS AND ONE-MENISM

Caribbean politics has a tradition of talking about ordinary people – how beautiful and creative they can be. What the fulfilment of the challenge to Doctor Politics and One-Menism requires is that those who offer counsel, must refuse office and professional administration. We should not aspire, or support the aspirations to run a government, a political party or trade union above society. The power to be found in workplaces and neighbourhoods is the antidote to Doctor Politics and One-Menism.

Some may hesitate to agree and say: “Well protest is nice but it is the policies in government that matter.” I did not suggest the power in these locations was to protest, but to govern. A protest strictly speaking, is an appeal to hierarchical government. Of course, when we mobilize, we can petition and protest as a means to expose those who rule above society. But we must be alert and ring the alarm that there are activists for the government who wish to sustain those who keep us down, not help us create our own direct self-government. We must be alert that calls for “people’s centered movements” include some other social class, perhaps off-center for a brief moment, that in fact aspires to rule.

Be alert for those who wish to liberate everyday people from the obscurity of themselves and still wish to advise those who govern above society. Let’s renew our critique of Doctor Politics and One-Menism making it more consistent, and our awareness and challenges to them stronger.
Comments