Machiavellian Moments: Norman Manley, Eric Williams, Democracy and Decolonisation in the
F S J Ledgister
Attraction and inspiration are the sugar coating enabling the political leader to engage in political education, as J.S. Mill put it promoting “the virtue and intelligence of the people themselves.”[i] Mill tells us, also, that a people who have been slaves have to be taught self-government, and require “not a government of force, but one of guidance,” a point of considerable relevance when considering the politics of the
On the side of the metropolis, we should consider the assertion of Sir Alan Burns, a colonial administrator in Africa and the
Undertook the gigantic task of helping the peoples of various under-developed territories to overcome the handicaps imposed on them by nature and environment; to learn the principles of democracy and honest administration; and to qualify themselves for independence.[iii]
While this is dishonest, self-congratulatory, and self-deceptive, it contains the underlying positive claim of the colonial ruler: that they acted as trustee for peoples who could not have sustained their own self-governing polities in the world of competitive capitalism. It also encapsulates a truth, British rule provided (or provided the conditions) for the emergence of an educated subject class that learned “the principles of democracy and honest administration” along with the rules of cricket.
On the other side, consider the equally bombastic pronouncement of Eric Williams, the historian-statesman who governed
The independence of
The bombast should not blind us to the facts that British colonialism, by transmitting liberal-democratic values, did sow the seeds of its own destruction, and that a once-colonised people must find its own path in the world.
Though British colonialism was not the high-minded, altruistic enterprise that Burns makes it out to be, it had an influence persisting into the age of independence. Current political institutions in all the former West Indian colonies, except
A colony’s history is not entirely its own. The history of the colonial power is also, if only in part, the history of the colony. The evolution of political ideas and practices in the “mother country” affects events in the colony. The values associated with the imperial overlord are normative and may remain so in the post-colonial period. In colonies like those in the
Most British West Indian colonies, by the late nineteenth century, were Crown Colonies, ruled by imperial fiat from
I explore one aspect of how autocratically governed colonies became independent liberal democracies. How were the values of colonial rule challenged, and by whom? The short answer is nationalism buttressed by social democracy. Deeper analysis must involve considering who planted the seeds of nationalism and social-democracy.
I focus on two nationalist leaders of the late colonial period, Norman Manley of
I examine their writings and speeches in the pre-independence period, to determine how they constructed their theories, what these were, and how they functioned both as a means of gaining office and as a challenge to the colonial political order. Manley and Williams saw themselves as the political educators of their peoples; each sought, successfully, to acclimate liberal and social democracy to late colonial polities. After discussing the political thought of these statesmen, I will consider the nature and basis of their approach to politics.
Norman Washington Manley: The Dutiful Intellectual
The labour revolt of May and June 1938 in
Manley, a Rhodes Scholar, returned to
The labour revolt thus found him ready to enter public life. The political needs of the time provided Manley with a purpose and an objective: constructing a nationalist and social democratic political culture.[x]
His first major statement came at the founding conference of the PNP in September 1938. His speech was a first statement of his political philosophy and his conception of the purpose of political organization:
No amount of economic good will make our people a real unity. All efforts will be wasted unless the masses of the people are steadily taken along the path in which they will feel more and more that this place is their home, that it is their destiny. They will then do more for it, more work, more effort, more thinking, more sacrifice, more discipline, and more honesty than by any other measure you can bring in this country.[xi]
Political education, then, is the cornerstone of political development. Obviously, it is the task of the party to educated the people and create within it a national spirit and a sense of common purpose. That purpose involves not only the transformation of the political system through the achievement of self-government, it means also the transformation of the economy, and an end to middle-class complacency. Manley acknowledged that he had to shake off that complacency himself:
And it [the PNP] will be opposed by all those who look back upon what they regard as the beautiful past, the past of peace and contentment and freedom from agitation. But great things are not done without effort; and discontent is the divine prerogative of man. There are those who love our thatched huts and the picturesqueness of Back-O-Wall, and those who look at smiles on people’s faces and believe that all is well because people will smile, nature is bountiful, and one season follows another. I have lived in that feeling myself, I have felt those sentiments. If you live in a place long enough you become complacent. What you see every day you regard after a time as belonging to the order of things.[xii]
To exercise that divine prerogative to challenge the existing order and ameliorate it is obviously the task of the political party and the political activist. Manley provides not only a set of goals, but also a political language that, though not revolutionary, is fundamentally transformative. He insists that “the order and nature of things” has to be changed, and that this is the purpose of politics. The political party is the agent of that purpose.
Manley connected nationalism with liberty, democracy, and creativity. Freedom can be maintained only through constant striving against authority, both external and internal. Democracy is necessary in order to realize human creative potential and “the evolutionary potential in every society however chaotic and vague its elements may seem.” Consequently, to demand self-government for
Logically, then, we would suppose the PNP to be committed to some form of socialism; and we would be correct. In 1940 the party committed itself to democratic socialism, which Manley defined as involving a “vital transformation of society” though not limited by “rigid doctrine” and neither anti-religious nor revolutionary.[xiv] In other words, Manley saw the PNP as playing the role of the Labour Party in
Manley entered the legislature as leader of the opposition and an advocate for self-government in 1949. In 1955 he finally achieved office. In government, the PNP did not immediately increase the pace of constitutional advance, having chosen to join the West Indies Federation proposed by the British, no longer either capable or willing to maintain an empire, as a means of ridding themselves once and for all of their colonies in the Caribbean.[xv] Nonetheless, Manley continued to move for greater Jamaican control of internal affairs.
In 1957 Manley made a remarkable broadcast to the Jamaican people, stressing the role of “the little people, the poor, the humble, and the seeming weak” in
Manley had not forsaken independence, but transferred his focus from
Although the federation was a creature of the British, many West Indian nationalists, including Manley, were committed to it. Manley’s rival, Bustamante, lacked that deep commitment, and in 1960 announced that the JLP was opposed to federation as a matter of policy. Manley’s response was to call a referendum on the question for September 1961.
In announcing the referendum, Manley asserted that there was a West Indian nation destined to take its place in the comity of nations. This nation contained a West Indian people, with common aspirations and a common history, which was on the verge of achieving unity.[xviii] As an exemplary nation where people of different races “are learning, have nearly learnt, how to dwell together in unity,” the West Indian nation was obliged to become an independent state as a light to the world.[xix]
Manley could not transmit his vision of a united West Indian nation to a majority of the Jamaican electorate, which, on
Yet independence had been his goal, and he welcomed it unreservedly, transferring back to
A few years later, retired from politics and looking back over his career, he declared that the mission of his generation had been to create a national spirit, and achieve political independence, the succeeding generation had the task of conceiving and creating a society “based on principles of equality” in which no group of Jamaicans would be alienated from or reject the Jamaican nation.[xxiii] At the end of his life, however, his vision had become more somber.
was a real chance to rebuild the national spirit, and to think out afresh the sort of
His vision was liberal, social-democratic, and humanitarian. He brought to Jamaican politics both conscientiousness and conscience, not to mention a strong moral awareness. His biographer, V. S. Reid, did not exaggerate when he stated that Manley’s life had been lived to the end of achieving independence and that “he had caused a multitude to praise.”[xxvi] It was entirely fitting that just before his death he should be officially proclaimed – by his political rivals – a national hero.
Eric Williams: The Hero as Politician
Before there was an organized labour movement, much less a labour revolt, in
Then a leader with vision did appear; Eric Eustace Williams, an academic intellectual with a blazing image of the history and destiny of his homeland at the forefront of his thought, was borne into office on a wave of popular enthusiasm in 1956, and remained in power until his death in 1981.
To assess Williams as theorist and activist, we need to note the distinction between Williams the statesman and Williams the scholar. His scholarly career lasted from the late 1930s until the mid-1950s. Thereafter, although he published books as late as 1969, he was very much the political leader. Yet, though these careers occupied different stages of Williams’s life, each informed the other; there are clear political concerns in his academic writing, and his political career was definitely informed by his academic interests.
Williams first came to public attention with The Negro in the Caribbean (1942), a study of the region in the war years derived from his travels on behalf of the Caribbean Commission. In this book, he advocates political and economic federation of the
The third book written by Williams before he became an active politician, Education in the West Indies  was produced in response to the decision by the British government to establish a University of the
From the mid-1940s to the mid-1950s, Williams was Secretary of the Caribbean Research Council of the Caribbean Commission, based in
Williams’s relationship with the Caribbean Commission was stormy; he perceived them as biased against him on grounds of race and national origin. In 1955 the Commission refused to renew his contract. On the day he left their service, under the auspices of TECA Williams gave a speech at
The decision to commit his expertise to the service of his people catapulted Williams into a position of leadership that may have been unexpected but was hardly unwelcome. He entered public life at a crucial moment in
Williams became the leader of a new political party, the People’s National Movement (PNM), seeing it as a vehicle for political education as well as a body of activists seeking office. Williams emphasized his leadership and his commitment to political education by speaking regularly in what he called “the
The PNM had to overcome considerable distrust of politics as usual. Williams set out to do this in a pamphlet entitled The Case for Party Politics in Trinidad and Tobago . Trinidad, he contended, was “the sick man of the
One of the most common of the claims made to fame by the candidates was their experience in city or county councils and in ward-work. The manifestos are full of boasts of standpipes erected, drains paved, roads surfaced, telephone booths installed or secured, traces improved, and cemeteries enlarged, undertaken, or under construction. If the candidate is not able to guarantee you living space, dying space is the next best thing; if you guarantee the candidate a happy hunting ground in this life, he will guarantee you a happy resting place in the next.[xxxiv]
Williams goes on to point out that without the backing of a party, the promises of individual candidates were meaningless. What is more, it would not have mattered had the electors in 1950 backed a completely different set of independents.[xxxv]
Having lambasted the existing political elite, Williams turns to arguments to back the “overwhelming” case for “a democratically organized party”. Such a party would have a coherent programme, and internal discipline would enable its members to carry out that programme.[xxxvi]
The main task of the party is political education, with emphasis on the Burkean notion of the representative serving the nation as a whole rather than the local constituency. Political education is not limited to such tasks, but should focus on getting “the people to do things for themselves and think for themselves.”[xxxvii]
The party must be national, appealing to all classes, races, and religions.[xxxviii] Williams underlined this by stressing the cooperation of capital and labour, and his opposition to racial discrimination. As for the problem that any new party faces, the question of the experience of its leaders, Williams declared: “My colleagues and I are and always will be inexperienced in corruption, in changing our minds, in promising one thing and doing the opposite.” Instead, the party would hold up to Trinidadians the ideals of Athenian democracy, “animated by the noble sentiments of Pericles.”[xxxix]
The PNM’s victory in 1956 brought Williams to government. Two years later, in elections to the West Indian federal parliament, the PNM was dealt a sharp 6-4 defeat by the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) a rally of the “outs” formed to fight the federal elections by Sir Alexander Bustamante. The DLP constituted a significant challenge to the PNM. It took up the oppositional role that Williams had initially envisaged for his party, and it provided ethnic contrast: the PNM had become identified with one ethnic group, the Creoles; the DLP, consequently, became the Indian party.
Williams, for his part, sought to stress the open, multiracial nature of the PNM, its commitment to political education, the development of a national identity, democracy, and economic change. In his speech, “Perspectives for Our Party” given at the PNM’s third annual convention in 1958, he noted that the PNM had established party government, given the country a political leader “who speaks with authority,” established the “University of Woodford Square”[xl] as a public forum, set up its own newspaper, won control of the legislature and local councils, posed “a conception of the new society,” and spearheaded the nationalist movement.[xli]
His government had operated according to the Lincolnian ideal, promoting development and political education. The party had to be organized as “the indispensable complement and support” of the political system. It had to penetrate “into the deepest masses of the people”.[xlii]
In this party organization, the “Political Leader” (i.e., Williams) plays an important role. As theoretical guide he inspires the party, and plays the central role in political education. The political leader sets the tone for the party. In the conditions of the
The DLP provided Williams with the opportunity to make a statement about nationalism and democracy that remains to this day the benchmark of West Indian nationalist thought. In January 1961, a liberal white businessman, Sir Gerald Wight, wrote an open letter to Williams, expressing concern about anti-democratic tendencies in the PNM government. In his reply, Williams contended that the PNM was “in the historical stream which runs from Aristotle to Franklin D. Roosevelt,” and told Sir Gerald “
Addressing a crowd at
Williams’s opponents, he declared, were concerned only with power, not with the history of the colony or its progress. All they could see in Williams’s slogan was “racial antagonism;” but “
While his opponents in the DLP sought to hold back the tide of liberation, Williams and the PNM by developing the country, by recognizing the small farmer and the worker, by standing for the dignity of labour, had ended “Massa Day” in
By calling on Williams to repudiate the phrase, the DLP had demonstrated that they were no more than modern house slaves. The PNM, by contrast was committed to building a free, democratic nation.[xlviii]
At this point, Williams seems to slide into farce by noting that his government had been able to welcome Sir Winston Churchill to the colony, and “it is only left now for Her Majesty the Queen to visit us.” Clearly, the values of
It is noteworthy that Williams, in this and other speeches and writings, connected liberal democracy in
Both themes are present in Williams’s speeches and writings as his country moved to independence. On
The History was intended to show that in
While Williams the historian sought to provide his people with a sense of their common history, Williams the prime minister sought to give his people a sense both of the solemnity of the occasion and the significance of the achievement: “You are nobody’s boss, and nobody is your boss.”[li]
The important issue was what would be done with independence. Trinidadians had the responsibility of protecting and promoting their democracy, defined in clearly liberal and social democratic terms. For democracy to survive and thrive “an informed and cultivated and alert public opinion” was necessary.[lii]
There is, however, a note of pride in his final words:
Let us then as Nation so conduct ourselves as to be able always to say in those noblest and most inspiring words of St. Paul, “By the Grace of God we as people are what we are, and His Grace in us hath not been void.”[liii]
There is something fundamentally West Indian about being able to find a biblical text to endorse the nation-state. Williams had brought his country to independence; unlike Manley he crossed the stream into the new land, and for nearly two decades after independence was at the head of
Discussion: The Politician as Foundational Theorist
Modern political theory in the West begins with a concern for the creation of nation-states. This is the problematic of Machiavelli’s Prince and Discourses on Livy, and it is unavoidable in considering the establishment of post-colonial states. Colonial rule created polities that were large workshops, producing goods for the markets of the imperial power, rather than being nations or states in embryo. As late as World War II most colonies were not considered capable of governing themselves.
At the same time, colonial rulers justified their rule by arguing that it provided benefits for both colonizer and colonized. It was not exploitative, but, rather, a means of civilizing the world and appropriating its unused resources for the benefit of humanity. As a British scholar noted in the 1940s:
Although colonial relations arise out of the search for material advantage, men like to justify their activities on moral grounds and colour them with the warm glow of humanitarianism.[liv]
The imperial powers provided their colonial subjects with the education necessary to supply a lower middle class of clerks, police constables, and schoolteachers, whose status and social mobility were linked to the state. These people came from the subject races, and their experience administering the lower levels of the state, and, over generations, rising in the bureaucracy, gradually gave them a sense that they could run as well as serve the state. Local intelligentsia, fostered by the colonial authorities, were, as Benedict Anderson puts it “central to the rise of nationalism in the colonial territories.”[lv]
The British tried to inculcate their values and beliefs in their colonials to keep the subject populations docile and encourage loyalty to the metropole. To do this, they needed a class of educated people to act as the transmission belt for imperial values. Some of these colonial subjects could aspire to some degree of status as a result of education in the metropole. It is no accident that such figures as Trinidad and Tobago Island Scholar Eric Williams and Rhodes Scholar Norman Manley were scholarship boys who won the glittering prize of an
In exposing young colonials to the values of British high culture, and then expecting them to return to middle class status in their homelands, the British miscalculated. Men like Williams and Manley – talented, sensitive, and intelligent – could not long accept subordinate status. They had received the same, or better, preparation as the leadership of
In the late 1930s, under the impact of the Great Depression, the working people of the British West Indies emerged as a political force in their own right, one that could be used by middle class activists to gain their own ends, and that would accept these activists as leaders in order to gain improved wages, working conditions, and social mobility. The worker revolts of the late 1930s provided emergent political leaderships with a demos on whose backs they could ride to power, but which they also had to serve. Before the labour rebellion, the mass of West Indians had been subjects; their actions earned them the right to become citizens.
Educated activists who possessed a vision of a transformed society wanted more than mere office. They wanted to create nations. Beyond their immediate, or long-term, advantage, they sought sovereignty and national independence for a sophisticated political community whose citizens could control their lives individually and collectively. They took the political awakening of the West Indian masses in the way that Machiavelli had urged Cesare Borgia and Lorenzo de’ Medici to liberate their homeland:
This opportunity, then, must not be allowed to pass by, in order that
Their approach could not be that of simply overthrowing the barbaro dominio of the British. British colonial rule was authoritarian. It was also the rule of law, a constitutional government in which subjects of the Crown possessed defined rights and liberties. In spite of this, the fact that the majority of colonial subjects were excluded from political life made it possible for Williams and Manley to act as “redeemers” in Machiavelli’s sense of the word.
But not only, or merely, as that. Other leaders – Bustamante in
It is difficult to untangle to what extent this was a product of their educations and humanist world-view, and to what extent they were taking Machiavelli’s advice that those who seek to change the form of government must “retain the shadow of its ancient customs.”[lviii] In the West Indian case, this meant not the prevailing customs of colonial administration, but those which were normative even though not applied: the British rules of parliamentary democracy.
The Machiavellian caution employed by Manley and Williams stands in stark contrast to the radicalism of Cheddi Jagan, leader of the People’s Progressive Party in
The role of Manley and Williams was to bring together the needs of the West Indian middle and lower classes with the norms of Western parliamentary democracy and the ideals of the post-Enlightenment West. This meant constructing theories of politics that did not challenge the assumptions of the West, but did stress the importance of middle and lower class West Indians, and gave them a sense of history, significance, and value. Williams’s concern with West Indian history, and the impact of colonialism on the West Indian peoples, and Manley’s vision of an exemplary people, a light unto the nations, are the means whereby this was achieved.
They did this, furthermore, not as patriarchal dictators dispensing wisdom from above, but as activists in the democratic arena. The competed with men such as Bustamante in Jamaica, or Albert Gomes and Tubal Uriah Butler in Trinidad, who, while they lacked the particular humanist vision of Manley or Williams, could speak to the people in terms they understood and offer themselves to the masses as the people who would best handle their public business.
What Manley and Williams achieved was the routinization of liberal democracy – and its values – in the space of a generation. They succeeded in imparting meaning to abstractions of political thought and convincing their peoples that they were citizens who could govern themselves. We tend to forget, absent the context of colonial rule, how radical an ideal this was at the beginning, and how significant it has been.
In any discourse there must be speakers and hearers, and discourse only works if those who are in the position of hearers are willing to listen. People respond to a message when it has engaged their thought. The message of Williams and Manley that West Indians could act creatively, manage themselves wisely, and stand up on their own feet is one that resonated with large sections of their peoples. Their vision of a self-governing homeland had meaning for their listeners because they could recognize themselves, in what their leaders said, as actors in rather than victims of history. Manley and Williams engaged the masses of their countries, and in that engagement the masses were transformed, and transformed themselves, into nations. Thus Williams and Manley could lay the foundation for nation-states, and regard that construction as the mission for their generation of leaders.
In recognizing their limitations as political chieftains, we should not forget what they have achieved: in
[i] John Stuart Mill, Considerations on Representative Government , in J.S. Mill: Three Essays.
[ii] Ibid., 175.
[iii] Sir Alan Burns, In Defence of Colonies:
[iv] Eric Williams, British Historians and the
[v] Paul Sutton argues that comparison of Manley and Williams is only apt ‘if the aim is political or intellectual biography’. (‘The Historian as Politician: Eric Williams and Walter Rodney’; in Alistair Hennessy, ed., Intellectuals in the Twentieth Century
[vi] Rex Nettleford, Manley and the Politics of
[vii] Philip Sherlock, Norman Manley.
[viii] See the biographies of Manley by Philip Sherlock (note 7 above), and V.S. Reid (note 26 below).
[ix] Ibid., 73-80.
[x] Nettleford, op. cit., 14.
[xi] Norman Manley, “Launching of the People’s National Party,” in Rex Nettleford, ed., Norman Washington Manley and the New
[xiii] Norman Manley, “Of Freedom,” in ibid., 384-385.
[xiv] Norman Manley, “The PNP Declares Itself a Socialist Organization,” in ibid., 59-64.
[xv] Rex Nettleford, note in ibid., 134.
[xvi] Norman Manley, “A Moment of Joy, a Moment of Promise,” in ibid., 158.
[xvii] Ibid., 159-160.
[xviii] Norman Manley, “Referendum: The Verdict is Yours,” in ibid., 174-177.
[xix] Ibid., 177. “To dwell together in unity” was the motto on the West Indian coat of arms.
[xx] Norman Manley, “To Plough the Land and Gather the Fruit: Address at the Opening of the Independence Parliament,” ibid., 312.
[xxii] Norman Manley, “
[xxiii] Norman Manley, “A Mission to Perform,” ibid., 365.
[xxiv] Norman Manley, “Mission Accomplished: The Wheel has
[xxv] Ibid., 381.
[xxvi] Victor Stafford Reid, The Horses of the Morning – About the Rt. Excellent N.W. Manley, Q.C., M.M., National Hero of Jamaica: An Understanding.
[xxvii] Eric Williams, The Negro in the
[xxviii] Eric Williams, Capitalism and Slavery. London & Chapel Hill: The
[xxix] Winston Mahabir, In and Out of Politics: Tales of the Government of Dr. Eric Williams from the Notebooks of a Former Minister.
[xxx] Eric Williams, “My Relations with the Caribbean Commission, 1943-1955” in Eric E. Williams Speaks: Essays on Colonialism and
[xxxi] Ibid., 164-165.
[xxxii] Ivar Oxaal, Black Intellectuals and the Dilemmas of Race and Class in
[xxxiii] Eric Williams, “The Case for Party Politics in
[xxxiv] Ibid., 179.
[xxxv] Ibid., 183.
[xxxvi] Ibid., 183-184.
[xxxvii] Ibid., 186-187
[xxxviii] Ibid., 196.
[xxxix] Ibid., 204-205.
[xl] Williams was inordinately proud of this. He cites in this speech, as an example of “the international recognition of the
[xli] Eric Williams, “Perspectives for Our Party,” in Cudjoe, op. cit., 208-209.
[xlii] Ibid., 226-227.
[xliii] Ibid., 228-229.
[xliv] Williams, Inward Hunger, 263-264.
[xlv] Cudjoe, op. cit., 238-246.
[xlvi] Ibid., 247-252.
[xlvii] Ibid., 252-254.
[xlviii] Ibid., 255-262.
[xlix] Ibid., 262-263.
[l] Eric Williams, History of the People of
[li] Eric Williams, “Independence Day Address” in Cudjoe, op. cit., 266.
[lii] Ibid., 267-268.
[liii] Ibid., 269.
[liv] J.S. Furnivall, Colonial Policy and Practice: A Comparative Study of
[lv] Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, revised edition.
[lvi] Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince: A Bilingual Edition. Tr. & ed., Mark Musa.
[lvii] Niccolò Machiavelli, Discourses on the First Ten Books of Titus Livy. Tr. Leslie J. Walker, S.J., ed. Bernard Crick. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1970, 266.
[lviii] Ibid., 175.