What is the Progressive Agenda?


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

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I have been following the emerging Progressive Agenda from seminal discussions to the final paper. I watched with great interest the deliveries from the president of the PNP and also from the chairman of the Party's Policy Commission that spearheaded this significant project. From the statement of the latter, this article will define the Progressive Agenda and discuss two major points made by the party's leader: the issue of Marcus Garvey's criminal charge and the idea of advancing science and technology. What is the progressive agenda? Anthony Hylton says it is a theoretical construct. It is important to see the project as a work in progress. As they proceed, I hope they will identify the distinction between philosophising and programme development. This is, indeed, not an easy task.

It is important also to applaud the PNP on this massive project. The discussions, the presentations and processing the many voices indicate a bold capacity to research and to use the interpretation of data as the basis of policy making. It is important also for political leaders, political activists and parties to engage in the venture of publishing and constant researching. I am sure the launch of the Progressive Agenda will inspire party members to begin to develop a portrait of a PNP government with the capacity to deal with the major challenges of our times. Mr Hylton declared that the document was not radical, but it is a "theoretical construct". It is not about being technical; it is about dealing with meaning. If this idea/document is a "theoretical construct", then by definition it organises themes into abstractions, going beyond the empirical. It involves going beyond the ordinary. I will not argue about the abstractions, I will just embrace the principle of organising themes into a coherent story or programme. The Progressive Agenda, as we saw it unfold, is a colourful organisation of a political programme. It has not provided the PNP with a new philosophy or a bold character - one that makes the distinction between that party and the ruling JLP. It is against this basis that this document cannot be compared to Norman Manley's seminal thoughts on the foundation of the PNP, or Michael Manley's bold, philosophical and progressive Democratic Socialism document. These theses gave the PNP character and distinctiveness. Many people will not know the difference; they just want to see and hear leaders with ideas and a programme of activities that can face the challenges of our times.

It was a great idea to hear a political leader speaking of a society led by science. However, Simpson Miller went on to emphasise the role of Information Technology. I caution her to be careful regarding the difference between science and technology. The idea of linking Information Technology to development is a myth. It is science and sand that make the chip: science underpins development. I say this because years ago I heard a political leader in the area of industry, commerce and technology, say, "When we get this ICT, we will not need the chemistry, biology and physics lab". This idea became a national policy. This thinking is very much alive in the Progressive Agenda and it is a most misleading thought that created havoc in the educational and training institutions. A science-led path to development requires a science reform education curriculum for education and training in Jamaica. This has to be a deliberate effort. Countries with a command of science and technology advanced into First-World status - Cuba is an exception due to the embargo. ICT by itself cannot take us anywhere; success in ICT is, of course, success in science and it should be understood this way: science leads in innovativeness and successful entrepreneurship. This is very important in a country in which we believe that we can teach entrepreneurship, or that being able to write a business plan is the key to entrepreneurial activities. Scientific knowledge is the key to innovativeness.

It is good to hear politicians of the two major political parties speak of clearing Garvey's name. It is both a waste of time and an indication of not being able to deal with race and politics in Jamaica. It is my thinking that Garvey would have preferred if those two parties meet and develop a strategy to bridge the political tribalism divide. Can those who advance political tribalism truly embrace Garveyism? Garvey's emphasis was on the unity of black people - the unity that characterised the journey from the post-emancipation society to the building of a national society and subsequently independence in Jamaica. Garvey emphasised self-reliance and industry building, but and these are not part of the political thinking today. Garvey also spoke of the development of the black intellectual class as a basis for sustainable development.

So, I address the two parties: Be true to Garvey's teaching and if you are true, then when will you both extend hands to go beyond the recommendations of the policy document on political tribalism? The Progressive Agenda has arrived after a few years of waiting. The last policy paper of the PNP, I recall, is the 21st century paper that was launched at the Jamaica Conference Centre. It seemed to have died a natural death. Could the Progressive Agenda suffer the same fate? Or could it lay the basis for useful discussions for a manifesto? People want to hear from the PNP its ideas for an alternative government: What is your plan? How different are your from the JLP? I guess there is no more singing of one of the favourite sings of the 1970s: "We know where we are going". A party or movement without a coherent philosophy will be like a ship without its rudder. It is comforting to know that a political party has such engaging research capacity and research activities. The Progressive Agenda is nothing but a "glitzy" and colourful political programme, very much characterised by the definition of an agenda.





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