Norman Manley’s concept of socialism


Saturday, July 16, 2016

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Adapted from an article written in 2005.


Monday July 4, 2016, we marked 123 years since the birth of the Right Excellent Norman Washington Manley, national hero and one of the principal founders of the People’s National Party (PNP). It was also the 47th year since his passing in September 1969. His death at age 76 would have come six months after stepping down as president of the PNP in February 1969.

Among the many things Norman Manley left the party was a legacy for patriotism, tolerance, democratic practices, and a vision for a new Jamaica. It is a vision that both Michael Manley and PJ Patterson, former party presidents and prime ministers, and Portia Simpson Miller, the present party president, have all done so much to advance.

Norman Manley gave the party an understanding of the importance of democratic integrity in the internal processes of the PNP. For those of us, like myself, who grew up in the PNP in the 1970s, we knew that Norman Manley was, above all things, a real democrat and patriot, and that his commitment to democracy could not be doubted. The first-generation Comrades of the PNP would remain angry with him for many years for having called a referendum to decide on the issue of West Indian Federation.

To add insult to injury, he dared to call new elections to allow the Jamaican people to choose which party to lead them into Independence. The PNP lost those elections.

Manley’s concept of democracy was wide and far-reaching. It was this that would later lead him to his socialist thinking. Today, it is time for the PNP to proudly accept who and what we are without shame or apology. We are a party with a democratic philosophy geared towards the building of an egalitarian society.

We should no longer be claiming that we are a socialist party, if ever we really were. The PNP of today cannot claim to be a socialist party as envisioned by the party leadership of 1940, when we declared ourselves a socialist party, or when we passed the resolution on the composition of the class alliance and its leadership. This was passed unanimously by the third Annual Conference in 1941 and reads:

"At the present time there is the closest co-operation between the People’s National Party and the trade unions. This has resulted in the strengthening of the party in its stand for self-government and also the strengthening of the unions in their struggle for higher wages and better working conditions for the workers. Long live the close co-operation between the trade unions and the PNP.

"The fight for national emancipation is a fight for the material and social welfare of the workers, cultivators, small businessmen, shopkeepers and professional men. The national movement is therefore composed of an alliance of these classes and others who sympathise with our aims under the banner of the PNP, to work for the freedom of Jamaica.

"This alliance of oppressed classes, however, can only go forward from strength to strength under the leadership of the working class.

"In the national movement it is essential that the working class assumes the leadership if the movement is not to be foredoomed to a series of timid compromises rendering it incapable of achieving socialism, our ultimate objective, or even the first on the road to socialism, national self-determination.

"Therefore this conference recognises the necessity of basing our party first and foremost on the tolling masses who continue to be its strength."

Today, we need to be proud of our commitment to democracy and seek to advance it. We pioneered it in Jamaica in the late 1930s and early 1940s through our advocacy for universal adult suffrage. We have maintained it, consolidated it, though we have really not advanced the process much in recent years.

Those of us who are active in promoting true delegates’ democracy in the PNP understand democracy as Norman Manley did: that it is this democracy in its real form and practice that will have to be the cornerstone of our development. Notwithstanding harsh criticisms from some of the former candidates of the PNP, we should be actively and consistently promoting internal democracy and championing mass participation in community development as the way forward for nation building.

Thus, the internal democratic processes of the PNP are not just important, but are indispensable to the development of the party and should always be advanced. At the formation of the PNP in 1938, Manley would declare:

"The party will be modelled on strictly democratic lines. With regard to every person who joins this party, he pledges himself under his signature to abide by and be loyal and faithful to the aims and objects of this party. We are willing to accept in membership any genuine democratic organisation existing in Jamaica today and we know there are many of these organisations, led by the citizens’ associations, in Jamaica which are willing to identify themselves with this party. In addition to that, we propose to create independent party groups as small as you like. Any six persons may form themselves into a party group and will be entitled to democratic representation in the counsels and conferences of the party..."

Continuing, Manley said: "But it is equally true that there is a common mass in this country whose interest must predominate above and beyond all other classes, because no man is democratic, no man is a sincere and honest democrat who does not accept the elementary principle that the object of civilisation is to raise the standard of living and security of the masses of the people. If you do not agree with that principle, then you are playing with the words when you talk about democratic politics."

Manley, who fought and was awarded outstanding military honours in World War 1, further understood that democracy was not just about voting. At the Annual Conference of the PNP in 1945, towards the end of World War II, he would say:

"Time and again it has been said that this war was being fought to make the world safe for democracy. I remind myself that the last war was being fought to make the world safe for democracy. But the fact is that it has only been one of the steps — a vast and utterly painful step in the real fight for world democracy — a fight now in modern times nearly 200 years old. I remind you that democracy has hitherto meant the mere right to cast a vote and voters have been tools to be manipulated by those who hold the strings of power or those who wield the pen of deception and demagoguery.

"But if you look a little below the surface you will find that the emphasis on political democracy has been designed largely to conceal from people the fact that there can be no democracy without economic democracy. For it is that alone that accepts the right of the common man to equality of opportunity in all spheres of life."

Norman Manley had started to equate democracy with the brand of socialism in which he believed. Prior to that, he defined his and the party’s concept of socialism in 1940 by declaring:

"And by socialism I mean a system wherein I think a fundamental change is involved, in that it does involve a demand for the complete change of the basic organisation of the social and economic conditions under which we live. If it involves anything less than that, then it is something less than socialism.

"In the economic sphere — I speak truisms, and you will forgive me — socialism is not a matter of higher wages, of better living conditions for workers, though these things are important, but it involves the concept that all the means of production should in one form or the other come to be publicly owned and controlled.

"You and I, all of us, have been bred in a system in which all the means of production are privately owned. Everything that is a source of wealth in the world today is, in fact, in our country and in the British empire, privately owned; and it is not only a matter of saying that you will distribute more of the profits of the business: it is a question of saying that the businesses shall belong to the workers, which is a different matter altogether.

"It is only socialism which is founded on belief that it is possible to organise a genuinely egalitarian society, which is a society in which all opportunities will, so far as possible, be equal and open to all persons, subject to the basic necessities of preserving society. Such a state of affairs cannot exist under a society organised on capitalist lines and can indeed only exist in a society organised along socialist lines."

As Manley’s thinking on socialism evolved, he would redefine his thinking. As chief minister between 1955 and 58, he said:

"Our problem in the West Indies is to develop capital resources and capital investment as the only means of tackling the great problem of increasing production and thus enlarging the national income and the opportunities for work, and the standard of living of all the people.

"So, as a socialist, I do not find it difficult or contradictory to invite capital to Jamaica and to help and to pledge the utmost good faith in our dealings with its enterprises. Nevertheless, I would not find it difficult to develop any form of public enterprises or to establish any form of public control if I were satisfied that the national well-being would be advanced. I am free to act as seems wisest and best, precisely because I am a socialist, precisely because I know what we socialists always seek to achieve, precisely because I am not trammeled and confined by outmoded superstition about the inefficiency of public corporations or any sort of effort where the State has control."

After 1952 and the purge of the party’s left-wing, Manley again linked socialism with his democratic philosophy. In summarising the basic principles of democratic socialism as set out in the 1901 Frankfurt Declaration, he said: "To build a new society in freedom and by democratic means. To accept that socialism can only be realised in a democracy. That democracy means government of the people for the people."

Today, the first objective of the PNP, as enshrined in our present constitution, is "To secure and extend the liberties, to secure the interests and to develop the national life and prosperity of the people of Jamaica as a whole by all constitutional means through the construction of a socialist society".

In theory, every single one of our Government ministers were supposed to be committed to this objective, which should be the end game of their mission in Government.


Manley’s socialism started off with the ideal of egalitarianism and with socialism as the methodology to bring about that ideal. This methodology is not on today’s agenda, but the ideal still is. It is the ideal of social equity and the building of an egalitarian society that is fundamental, and not the label under which it comes. The real debate is whether an egalitarian society is attainable and achievable in developing countries; whether it is possible to give real hope to all our citizens and not create the malcontents of today. This is part of the challenge, and a contributing factor to that growing pool of young men, many of whom are actively involved in social disorder and violent crimes.

It is clear that Manley’s preoccupation was about democracy, equality of opportunities, and the building of an egalitarian society. Socialism was therefore seen as the means to achieve this goal and was not of itself the goal. One of the PNP’s contradictions and failures since retaking office in 1989 has been our inability to accept that the PNP can no longer pretend to be a socialist party, or can it ever be a genuine socialist party as presently constituted.

Notwithstanding that, I remain committed to socialist thinking as the blueprint and guide for national development. There should be no apology, further hesitation, or shame in coming to this recognition. The economic component of socialism, that of State ownership and/or control — major public ownership by and of the working class — is neither practical nor applicable, and as an ideology it is just not marketable in Jamaica. What is still marketable is democracy, social equity and egalitarianism — people power.

Many of the social problems that made us search for solutions in the 1970s still confront us today. Some would wish us to overlook the many social advances of the 1970s which gave hope to the Jamaican people and, perhaps, was the single most important factor that prevented the violent social unrest which would have been inevitable had we continued with the polices of the 1960s.

The building of an egalitarian society is really what has motivated Norman Manley, Michael Manley, PJ Patterson and Portia Simpson Miller as leaders of the party. Democracy, social equity and egalitarianism are the fundamental objectives of the PNP. This must not only be the party’s philosophy and objective, but far more importantly, must also be seen, felt and understood as the Government’s and nation’s commitment.

This is what Norman Manley’s socialism was about. It is only through this vision and mission of social equity and egalitarianism that real hope and successes can be provided for those of our people most marginalised and vulnerable.

On that point, it is my firm understanding that the PNP’s commitment is for full State-funded, universal and accessible quality education for all at the primary and secondary levels. That is our objective. The fact that the State has been unable or unwilling to secure the requite resources does not remove this as an attainable ideal for the PNP. Cost-sharing and auxiliary fees were meant to be temporary measures, only to supplement the inability of the State to provide the necessary resources and therefore not compromise the standard and quality of education being provided.


There have been some fundamental developments in the PNP with the broadening of participation in the internal selection process of future elected representatives, both at the local government level and for national elections. At the 65th Annual Conference of the party, in September 2003, there were some 57 amendments to the Constitution, most of which were geared at deepening democracy, widening participation, and establishing a framework for performance and accountability throughout the party’s organisation.

Unfortunately, some of these amendments which seek to advance participation, performance, accountability, responsibility and sanctions have been before the annual national conferences since 2008. It is the lack of these rules and sanctions which have been a major factor derailing and frustrating the building of democracy and organisational capacity in the PNP. Hopefully, after so many delays, these will be discussed for action at the 78th Annual Conference in September 2016.

The present challenge today is for the party to advance this democratic process as Norman Manley would have wanted, were he alive today. Renewal in the PNP today means real party groups and with real delegates as representatives having their voices heard and not leaders claiming to speak on their behalf, no matter how well intentioned they may believe themselves to be. Norman Manley would have wanted those voices to be heard.

The resolution that was brought to the 67th Annual National Conference in 2005 by Member of Parliament Phillip Paulwell and Councillor Angela Brown, both from the East Kingston and Port Royal constituency, sought to give every registered, financial and bonafide party member the right to have a direct say in the selection of a new party president.

Norman Manley would probably have said to those in doubt about the importance of such a resolution, as he did in 1959 at the 21st anniversary of the PNP: "We want new thinking in the party at all levels. The leaders want to hear new ideas and sit with them with humility, and wrestle with them. The rank and file member wants to open his mind to new ideas and new methods and new thinking."

Norman Manley would further elaborate on democracy by stating: "It would not be long before the democratic organisations of this country would be guiding Government as to the needs of the people and lead Government. Because it is we that should lead government and not we that should be led."

– Paul Burke is the general secretary of the PNP


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