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Ronnie Sookhdeo

Pressure from both masses and imperialism means:

Caribbean at the Crossroads

(April 1979)

From Militant, No. 452, 20 April 1979, p. 11.
Transcribed by Iain Dalton.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The revolution in Grenada has sent reverberations through the whole of the Caribbean. It is a reflection of the explosive situation that exists in the area. Many islands, already in the grip of the vicious cycle of endemic unemployment and rocketing inflation, held down by repressive regimes, could tread the same path as Grenada.

The last time the West Indies underwent such convulsions was in the period following the 5-fold oil increases and recession of 1973–74. That had dire consequences for the social and political policies of capitalist countries but became a nightmare for the workers in the impoverished islands.

Under pressure from the masses the leaders were compelled to carry out big reforms in their economies. It is a measure of the changes which have been wrought that the capitalist powers can now refer to countries like Guyana and Jamaica as ‘socialist countries’. Indeed the leaders of these countries have declared themselves as ‘Marxist’. Manley has gone so far as to say that “capitalism is over.”

But at the same time the USA is injecting massive aid into the region to defuse the gains of the workers’ organisations. This has led to a renewed call for the islands to abolish landlordism and capitalism.

Thus a recent labour conference, with representatives from 18 islands, have pledged in the most emphatic manner a total eradication of the “evils of exploitation, hunger, illiteracy and to push for unity and solidarity on the Cuban model.”

And as if to rub salt in the wounds of British and American Imperialism the conference was held in Guyana and chaired by Forbes Burnham the Prime Minister. It was Burnham their former stooge who presided over the expropriation of their assets – 90% of the economy having been nationalised.

Guyana: facing a capitalist impasse

Burnham came to power with the connivance of the CIA in 1964 and has since used all manner of electoral frauds to stay in office. Undoubtedly most of the assets of Imperialism and native capitalism have been abolished in Guyana. But the racial divisions and the absence of a clear Marxist leadership capable of cementing unity amongst the masses, together with the absence of workers’ democracy, has resulted in chaos in the country.

The example of Portugal has shown that even where the bulk of the economy has been taken over by the state, without democratic control and a socialist plan of production the establishment of a workers’ state cannot be assured. On the contrary, counter-revolution is provided with fertile ground on which to grow.

The 20-week strike of sugar workers graphically illustrated the dangers of not moving towards full-blooded socialism. The strike began after the government’s rejection of a £50 million profit sharing scheme which they had earlier approved. The pay of the sugar workers (mostly of Indian origin) is half that of their counterparts in the Caribbean.

The Government responded by drafting in 6,000 strike breakers which in turn led to sympathy strikes by the bauxite workers. In the end the strikes cost the government upwards of $200m.

In the last year the economy has been further put through the mill. Thus in a report to the International Monetary Fund in June the Government admitted that:

“Guyana’s balance of payments had been under severe pressure since the latter part of 1975. Exports fell by nearly one-third between 1975 and 1977 but the levels of imports remained relatively high.”

The IMF has exerted a stranglehold over the economy. The Government was forced to cut imports and adopt deflationary policies in order to cut the budget deficit and curb inflation. As a result the cost of living has risen spectacularly to over 80% in the last 7 years alone.

Unemployment is well over 40%. The price of sugar and rice have all doubled. Finally the slump of sugar prices on the world market has brought the regime to its knees.

In the last few months Burnham has paid frantic visits to the USSR and Germany and North Korea.

American Imperialism is now trying to tempt Burnham to abandon any moves towards a planned economy and instead open up the country to capitalism. They have already received such an undertaking from him. On 30th November last year, the Financial Times acknowledged that if it were not for the support Burnham was receiving from a large number of foreign capitalists the situation would be perilous.

Jamaica: first a move to the left, now back to the right?

A similar crisis faces Jamaica. There Michael Manley, the Prime Minister, was swept into power in the 1972 elections – winning 37 out of the 53 seats.

Manley inherited a rotten and corrupt regime. Inflation was 30% and unemployment well over 25% despite the agreement the Government has with the USA and Canada which facilitated huge numbers of Jamaican citizens emigrating. Wages were a pittance. Plantation workers only averaged £1.30 for a gruelling 12-hour day.

Manley initiated reforms like the nationalisation of the electricity and Bus services but this not due to any coherent policy, rather it was a reaction to the chaos that prevailed. In the same way land that was left unused by the plantation owners and absentee landlords were redistributed to Workers Co-operatives, because they were demanded and seized by the workers.

The Jamaican economy which was also devastated in the recent would recession is now wholly dependent, like Guyana, upon the IMF.

Sugar production was just 280,000 tons last year – the lowest for 30 years. Tourism, another pillar of the economy is expected to bring $120 million compared to $190 million earned last year. The partial increases in bauxite levy, which the government fought for in 1974 will still only bring in $200 million and that is $40 million less than the $160 million earned last year. Such is the cost of remaining tied to the world capitalist market.

Unemployment at 45% and inflation at 47% are rampant. The Government has devalued the dollar four times in the last 13 months and is under intense pressure from the IMF to cut back further on public expenditure.

In this situation the right wing within the People’s National Party has gone on the offensive against the left.

Many radicals have been expelled and the Jamaican Communist Party (Workers Liberation League) has picked up some support. This in turn has provoked the recent attack on Trevor Munroe, a trade unionist and one of the leaders of the WL. At the same time the right-wing Jamaican Labour Party has attempted to make a come-back.

What future for the small islands?

The Manley Government is at the crossroads. There is no way forward for Jamaica on the basis of capitalism. Only a planned economy could eradicate the terrible poverty and misery of the Jamaican masses. But Manley is hesitant to take this road.

He is desperately manoeuvring between capitalism and the Stalinist states for aid and assistance to keep afloat. In the last week he has flown to Moscow requesting aid but such measures are only palliatives and the PNP will be forced to choose which road to take in the next period.

Without exception all the islands in the Caribbean are faced with similar problems. Such islands like Antigua, St Lucia, Dominica, St Vincent which only produce bananas and spices but have as much as 45% unemployment, will undergo a traumatic time in the coming period. By themselves they will be condemned to backwardness and impoverishment.

The only sure way out for these islands and for Jamaica and Guyana is to decisively break with world capitalism and establish a socialist federation. On that basis the problems facing the peoples of the Caribbean could be removed through planned and co-ordinated expansion of economic growth.

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