PNP was socialist from the start

PNP was socialist from the start

Kevin Obrien

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Print this page Email A Friend!

All established political parties suffer serious defeats at times, which naturally call for serious introspection and objective analysis. Historical perspective is a vital part of this process, but it has to begin with accurate history.

A learned professor recently wrote: “Forty-six years ago, the PNP [People's National Party] discovered its identity. Duncan was right at the helm with Michael Manley when he declared democratic socialism as the doctrine of the party.” This is at odds with the recorded facts, which show that the PNP did not suddenly 'discover' socialism under “Joshua” in the 1970s.

Most early PNP members were avowed socialists, including first President Norman Manley. Professional historians can provide a more record, but here are some relevant documents about PNP socialism.

The keynote speaker at the party's August 27, 1938 launch was British Labour Party Member of Parliament Sir Stafford Cripps. His main address outlined socialism as applied to England and her colonies. Cripps founded the Socialist League in 1932 and advocated a Popular Front with the Communist Party, for which he was expelled from the Labour Party in 1939 (

See the following excerpt from Sealy's Caribbean Leaders, pages 162-163, written by Theodore Sealy, who spent 48 years with The Gleaner, and was perhaps the most renowned of its editors-in-chief.

“It was around that time (1939) also that Manley and the People's National Party declared themselves formally to be socialists. The party had been a general party including all elements, right, left and centre, but after Sir Stafford Cripps had given it a socialist tint in his inaugural speech, the left-wingers gained more and more ground inside the party.

“I remember speaking to Norman Manley on his way from court and asking him whether he did not think that to try and sell self-government was a big enough task to achieve successfully, and if he did not think that to add another massive purpose -- socialism -- to that programme was probably biting off more than could be chewed.

“His reply was very, very cold, distant and thoughtful. He stopped walking and said, 'You know, this war that is on, after this war, the world is going to be a socialist world, so we might as well be prepared for it.'

“He himself failed to gain a seat (in the 1944 elections) in the legislature largely because he had changed his image as the rational mediator and had become brash and almost reckless in his support of the more rabid left wing elements of the party. Indeed, on the day the constitution was first proclaimed with a great parade in the main square of the city, Norman Manley, through friendship with a member of the Kingston Parish Church, which stands on one corner of the square, got himself into the church and up into the clock tower where he was seen during this great parade waving a clenched fist from high on top of this bell tower.

“This created shock waves throughout the upper and middle classes; to think that Norman Manley was now a rabid political personality.

“The (Trade Union Congress) TUC grew much stronger, though it had internal stresses between the left-wingers such as Richard Hart, Frank Hill, Ken Hill, and centrists like Florizel Glasspole. But the left wingers seemed to have overshot their arrow. They grew so arrogant in the power they exercised in the political movement as well as in the union that they seemed to have had ambitions of unseating Norman Manley. And he sensed that. The result was that the press and other interests were clamouring for Manley to declare whether it was a party of the philosophy of its leader and its moderates, or was it a party of the left wing who seemed to have bigger public image than the leaders in the party. Manley bore with this for quite a while and then suddenly he announced a purge, a trial. This led to the ousting of extreme left wingers Richard Hart, Ken Hill, Frank Hill and Arthur Henry — the four H's — from the party.”

Or this excerpt from Alexander Bustamante and Modern Jamaica by George Eaton, pages 108-109. Professor George Eaton was permanent secretary in the Public Service Ministry in the 1970s, and in 1996 chaired the Eaton Report committee, which became a Jamaican labour reform blueprint:

“It was in September 1940 at the party's annual conference that Norman Manley made the declaration and spelled out what socialism would entail. While he reassured the party faithfuls that they were not being committed to revolution or godlessness, Manley did insist, nevertheless, that socialism was not just a matter of higher wages and better living conditions for workers, but that 'it involves the concept that all the means of production should in one form or other come to be publicly owned and publicly controlled'. In defining socialism essentially in terms of public ownership of all the means of production, Norman Manley was putting forward the one definition consistent with the Marxian formulation of socialism, apologists tor democratic socialism notwithstanding.

“But was it reasonable to expect that a capitalistic economy, in which private ownership and private enterprise predominated, and in which economic and political power was shared with a capitalist class with an effective will to power and to resistance, could be transformed a socialised economy within Manley's definition, without developing and invoking a highly coercive power and apparatus? ... on a purely common sense approach, there need not be any inconsistency in equating the avowed socialism of the PNP which, according to Norman Manley in September 1940, would involve public ownership and control not just of public utilities, but of all the means of production, with totalitarian communism. What is more, Manley went on to add that if socialism involved anything less than a demand for the complete change of the basic organisation of the social and economic conditions under which Jamaicans lived then it was something less than socialism. If, therefore, in 1944 as well as later, the PNP became the victim of a 'red smear' campaign and Bustamante's political opportunism, Manley's own rhetoric must be taken into account as a contributory factor.”

See also the November 6, 1964 edition of The Gleaner with the PNP announcing the democratic socialism programme. “A programme of Democratic Socialism as the future political policy of the People's National Party (PNP) was announced by party President Norman Manley, QC, during a press conference at the party's South Camp Road headquarters. Manley said the programme was the work of a special committee of the party, and of the PNP National Executive Council, and would go before the annual general conference of the PNP. An absolute limit of 500 acres on the ownership of land; the right of the Government to acquire land compulsorily from holdings above 100 acres which were not in productive use; restriction on foreign ownership of land; the nationalisation of the Jamaica Public Service Company Limited as a start in a programme to transfer ownership of vital sectors from private to public ownership were a few of the items highlighted in the programme.”

So the conversation started well before Michael.

Kevin Obrien Chang is an entrepreneur and public commentator. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or

Now you can read the Jamaica Observer ePaper anytime, anywhere. The Jamaica Observer ePaper is available to you at home or at work, and is the same edition as the printed copy available at




1. We welcome reader comments on the top stories of the day. Some comments may be republished on the website or in the newspaper � email addresses will not be published.

2. Please understand that comments are moderated and it is not always possible to publish all that have been submitted. We will, however, try to publish comments that are representative of all received.

3. We ask that comments are civil and free of libellous or hateful material. Also please stick to the topic under discussion.

4. Please do not write in block capitals since this makes your comment hard to read.

5. Please don't use the comments to advertise. However, our advertising department can be more than accommodating if emailed:

6. If readers wish to report offensive comments, suggest a correction or share a story then please email:

7. Lastly, read our Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy

comments powered by Disqus



Today's Cartoon

Click image to view full size editorial cartoon