Understanding the Political Parties

Taken From “Democracy and Clientelism”  by Carl Stone

Chapter Six Page 111-122


Since the development of mass parties in Jamaica in the early 1940s, the party system has been dominated by the two main political parties, the Jamaica Labour Party (J.L.P.) and the People’s National Party (P.N.P.), who have occupied control of the executive at approximately ten year intervals. Each of the two parties has earned at least forty percent of the aggregate vote in five of the seven parliamentary elections held between 1944 and 1976, despite challenges from a wide variety of small but short-lived political parties.


Both parties have always been multiclass alliances rather than unified class parties. The policy and ideological differences between these two par­ties reflect divergent dominant class interests and tendencies in either party. The P.N.P. has from its inception consistently represented a “radi­cal reformist” policy tendency while the J.L.P. has consistently repres­ented a more cautious and “conservative reformist” tendency.


The dominant founding leadership within the P.N.P. consisted of an upper-middle-class intelligentsia providing second-level leadership to the maximum leader Norman Manley, and Oxford-trained lawyer, humanist and liberal intellectual. Manley was no firebrand socialist but his intellect­ualism and visionary nationalist commitment attracted into the P.N.P. party alliance all the radical middle-class intelligentsia and leftists of the period, some of whom articulated Marxist notions of socialism. The second level of early P.N.P. leadership was essentially divided between this left-leaning tendency and a center tendency that was nationalist rather than socialist in ideology. Manley straddled the two coalitions with some difficulty until the factions split in 1952,2 leaving himself and the moderate-nationalist tendency in full command of the party between 1952 and 1969.


The J.L.P. in its early stages was hardly a political party. It began as a loose alliance of individuals supporting the prominent labor leader of the time, the charismatic Alexander Bustamante3 who happened to be Nor­man Manley’s cousin. Its effective mass base was the Bustamante Indus­trial Union and it was really the union converting itself into a party to contest the first universal adult suffrage election in 1944. Its founder­leader was a militant antisocialist and demagogic populist who was des­pised by the P.N.P. intelligentsia as being an unlettered upstart lacking the refinements of middle-class education. The early J.L.P.’s second-level leadership was a mixture of conservative individuals whose common polit­ical identity was not ideology nor policy but loyalty to Bustamante.


Initially the styles and approaches of the two main parties were a study in contrasts. The J.L.P. set the pace in the transition towards clientelistic, pork-barrel, machine politics. It de-emphasized formal organizational structure, relying mainly on clientelistic networks of personal support for its political bosses and particularly on the demagogic crowd appeal of the flamboyant Bustamante. Its message to the masses was the delivery of short-run material benefits and inducements in exchange for support. It reinforced patronage politics with the cement of Bustamante’s charisma and symbolic image of champion of the poor and the downtrodden. While avoiding leftist class rhetoric, Bustamante constantly thrived on adversary class politics by publicly abusing, challenging, and ridiculing the planter-merchant class on behalf of the cause of the masses. Unrestrained class mil­itancy was curiously mixed with ideological conservatism and belief in the free enterprise system, the symbols of empire, British political overlord­ship, and the need to maintain the existing system of social relations but with necessary economic and social reforms. He skillfully used religion to berate socialism and Marxism as anti-Christian evils.


The P.N.P. tried initially to develop along the lines of the British Labour Party which it regarded as its model. It established dues paying community party groups in the respective electoral constituencies which elected dele­gates to an annual conference. It attempted to encourage grass roots par­ticipation in party life and to promote political education among its activists. Conversion to the nationalist cause and to socialist notions of change was placed on equal footing with winning votes. The party leader, Manley, self-consciously attempted to create a genuine democratic party structure in contrast to the oligarchic J.L.P. and the authoritarian per­sonal power with which Bustamante ran the J.L.P. as if it were his private estate. In order to compete with the populist style of Bustamante, which captivated the masses in the initial stages, Manley was gradually molded into a populist leader through his immense gift of eloquent oratory.

Fac­tional contentions within the P.N.P. forced him to assume tight control over the party machine and to assume the role of maximum party boss. The pressure to gain votes and the primacy of electoral advantages over political consciousness converted the party over time into an electoral apparatus controlled by party bosses promising to dispense patronage. The political culture of clientelism embedded in the social structure over­took the idealism of the P.N.P. In spite of this conversion, however, a genuine mass party structure developed with reasonably well-informed activists with an interest in debating policies and ideology. Democratic procedures for candidate election were also developed. In time, personal loyalty to the party leader became more important than ideological leaning as the basis for party membership, and by the mid-l950s when the P.N.P. came to power, it had become a clientelistic party like the J.L.P. but with a more democratic and stronger formal organizational structure.


A process of organizational convergence born of the pressures of com­petition completed the evolution of the two parties by the late 1950s. The P.N.P. copied the personalism and clientelism of the J.L.P. while the J.L.P. imitated the formal organizational structures of the P.N.P. when it went into opposition in 1955 under the direction of a new group of upper-middle-class, second-level leadership. The J.L.P. established local party branches within the electoral constituencies and an annual conference like the P.N.P. in which constituency delegates elected party officials.4 Like the P.N.P. it created a central secretariat that functioned to coordinate party activities between elections. What began as a cadre party of notables uni­fied around a dominant political boss and existing only at election periods was now restructured in the image of a mass party. Traces of the earlier authoritarian cadre structure of the J.L.P. still persist. Leaders are still personally recruited by the party leader from among notables and elites out­side the membership of the party. Unifying party principles, policies, and ideology remain very weak and undeveloped except in so far as party posi­tions are articulated in opposition to the P.N.P. and socialism. Demo­cratic procedures are constantly violated with impunity at the whim of the party leader.5 The grass roots and formal community branch structures remain largely undeveloped except for a few constituencies.


While the J.L.P. has been wedded to ideological acceptance of the capi­talist free enterprise basis of the economy, the P.N.P. has consistently articulated a Democratic-Socialist line supporting greater state ownership and intervention in the economy and nationalization of important foreign owned industries. The P.N.P. has tried consistently over the years to bring to the party arena and its agenda of issues intellectual currents of left-of­-center ideas derived from the wider international arena of anticolonial pol­itical and social movements, while the J.L.P. has tended to be parochial, nonintellectual, and inward-looking in its policy thinking. As a result, the P.N.P. adopts more of the approach of political missionaries seeking to convert the society to radical visions of transformation. The I. L. P., in con­trast, is more incrementalist and cautious in seeking short-term adjust­ments and reforms that tinker with the existing political system and social order rather than prescribe fundamental changes. The P.N.P.’s approach to nationalism is consequently cosmopolitan, regional, outward-looking, and Third World-oriented, while the J.L.P. is essentially localist and parochial in its concept of nationalism.


The P.N.P., in the current period, has therefore promoted basic value changes and structural changes in its social policies including worker par­ticipation in industry, cooperative ownership of land and capital, the dem­ocratization of the management of educational institutions, and greater grass roots participation in public life through revitalized local level com­munity councils. The basis of these initiatives is a constant search for new, experimental, and innovative concepts through which to transform the society according to more up-to-date and progressive models of socio­political development. The P.N.P. has therefore been the driving force behind the independence movement and the principal advocates of institu­tional change in the political system. The J.L.P.’s focus has been more on the attempt to maximize growth and material benefits operating within the constraints and parameters of the social system and power structure as it exists.


Underlying these contrasting visionary and pragmatic approaches to public policy are vastly differing views of political and social reality that are embedded in the traditions of the two parties developed over a thirty-year period of involvement in public life. The P.N.P. intelligentsia view the Jamaican social system as capable of responding to fundamental social engineering and policy experimentation, and as capable of evolving new patterns of development similar to those emerging in countries experienc­ing currents of socialist and leftist change. The P.N.P. sees the folk tradi­tions of the Jamaican people as sufficiently flexible to adapt to new ideas and to assimilate novel approaches to problem solving. The J.L.P.’s prag­matism is rooted in a deep respect for the existing folk traditions and methods of community and individual problem solving, and a fear that idealistic and millenarian expectations may simply trigger chaos or confu­sion, or be misunderstood and create illusions of change without solving the underlying problems, while raising expectations for better and more satisfying solutions. Essentially, the underlying difference between the two main parties lies in the J.L.P. pragmatism and conservatism and P.N.P. liberalism and belief in leftist social engineering. In consequence, although the P.N.P. has never been a Marxist party, it has attracted Marxists and has allied itself to Marxist fringe groups.


To be sure, both parties contain a rich diversity of individual and fac­tional tendencies, and the dominant or ascendent tendencies in either party has varied overtime. Left-of-center social engineering dominated the more conservative tendencies in the P.N.P. during its tenure as the opposition party between 1944 and 1955. The ideological split and bloodletting in the party in 1952 eliminated this leftist influence and installed the ascendency of the more conservative tendencies among the party’s leadership. The 1969 change in party leadership that brought Norman Manley’s son Michael Manley to the top leadership position in the party, reverted the ascendency back to the leftists. In government, a division of labor deve­loped between 1972 and 1976 in which non-leftists controlled most impor­tant areas of policy making except the domain of foreign policy. The domi­nance of the new party leader Michael Manley and his open support for the leftists gave the P.N.P. government a visible leftist image.


The J.L.P. has always represented a curious coalition of conservative business interests clinging to the party out of fear of P.N.P. socialism and the trade union leaders from the B.I.T.U. The paradoxical union-business alliance produced leaders, some of whom favored left-of-center welfare and social policies to benefit the poor peasantry and the working class, and others who believed in the primacy of the interests of business and the sub­ordination of all other interests. Because of the loosely knit character of the J.L.P. leadership, its anti-intellectualism, pragmatism, and reluctance to formulate sweeping ideological principles to govern its policies in govern­ment, the J.L.P. leadership has never been divided into ideological fac­tions. J.L.P. factions are based on personalist coalitions supporting competing challenges for top party leadership. J.L.P. governments have therefore reflected a wider diversity of policy tendencies among its govern­ment ministers than the P.N.P. Unlike the P.N.P., all the J.L.P. top leaders have been ideologically conservative with the result that policy approaches under the J.L.P. have been more right than left of center.

It is important to understand the historical roots of the divergent ideo­logical tendencies between the parties and the dynamic class forces that account for them. The J.L.P. began as a worker’s movement seeking to provide a party expression for its preeminent and popular trade union base. Its incrementalist view of change was rooted in the low level of class consciousness of its mass base which articulated angered militancy towards the capitalists but had no aspirations for state power, ownership, Their main concern was with a better distribution of income and the recog­and control of the means of production or a strong sense of class solidarity. nition of certain rights of trade union representation as workers. Essen­tially, the working class saw state power and institutions as alien to their interests but awesome in the degree to which their mastery demand an understanding of the culture of the colonizer which they did not possess.  Their political mood was one of populist distrust of and alienation towards distant governmental institutions. This naturally lent itself to the flamboy­ant populist and demagogic leadership of the J.L.P.’s founder-leader, Bus­tamante, whose style reflected the populist oppositionist tendency of the working class.


The P.N.P., on the other hand, started as a nationalist movement repres­enting a middle-class challenge for the wresting of control of the state insti­tutions from the colonizer. Unlike the J.L.P., its initial focus was therefore on access to and control over state power and on political rights for the masses. Its more highly educated upper-middle-class top leadership sym­bolized both a higher level of status respectability than the lower-middle-class J.L.P. top leadership, and a greater capability in the mastery of the culture of the colonizer. Its more political orientation -demanded a more fully articulated political ideology which was expressed through the frame­work of the Fabian Socialism it embraced. Its appeal was therefore strong­est among the more educated, informed and politicized sectors of the subordinate classes. In the course of attempting to build a mass base to compete with the J.L.P., it developed its own working-class trade union arm which in the early period articulated the rhetoric and symbolism of socialism. As the P.N.P. mass base developed between 1944 and independ­ence, it became distinguishable from that of the J.L.P. as it successfully mobilized the more ideologically radical, informed and politicized sections of the working class and small peasantry. Its strong appeal to the middle peasantry and rural middle class converted the national farmers organiza­tion, the Jamaica Agricultural Society, (J.A.S.), into a strong ally of the P.N.P. party. In such parishes as St. Ann in Manchester, where the J.A.S. was strong, the P.N. P. established a hegemony over the small peasant vote.


Like the J.L.P.which later acquired strong big capitalist support because of its antisocialist response to the P.N.P.’s challenge, the P.N.P. also developed a dual class tendency. It combined the nationalist aspira­tions of the respectable middle class with working-class and peasant radi­calism inspired by the activist and left-of-center leadership in the P.N.P. party. The J.L.P., on the other hand, combined ideologically conservative but militant working-class and peasant support with big capitalist backing complemented by firm petty capitalist and antisocialist tendencies in the lower sections of the social structure.


Since 1969, under the new leadership of Michael Manley (a trade union 1st product of the period working-class expansion of the P.N.P. mas base) a new class dimension was added to the P.N.P. giving the party three-dimensional class component. This third-class component embrace the militant and radical urban unemployed youth who are victims of economic stagnation in the postindependence period and articulate in the contemporary period the most militant and radical class tendencies in the society. They represent a new brand of populism which is hostile to the capitalists as well as to the middle class, committed to black nationalism, and a Third World and Africanist perspective demanding broader political rights and freedoms to facilitate greater mass control over state power. Their effect has been to radicalize the P.N.P. even further along a left-of-center ideological path as well as to divide the party in terms of its compet­ing class tendencies.


The two parties’ mass appeals, projected symbols of mobilization and political approach and styles can therefore be differentiated in terms of the  following syndrome of contrasting features:


      Radical Reformist
1.   Socialist (i.e. supporting state ownership and cooperatives)
2.   Cosmopolitan and internationalist
3.   Seeking radical changes
4.   Promoting mass political education

5.   Ideological                               
6.   Cooperative with Marxists        
7.   Active formal mass organization


I.    Capitalist (i.e. defending free enterprise)
2.   Parochial

3.   lncrementalist

4.   Noninterest in mass political education

5.  Nonideological

6.  Hostile to Marxists

7.  Weak formal mass organization


It should be noted, however, that in spite of these differences in approach, style, and mobilizational symbols between the two parties, sim­ilar and convergent societal pressures and machinery for problem diagno­sis and policy prescription have tended to result in a strong underlying similarity in the concrete economic and domestic policies and programs of the two parties when in office. In agriculture, for example, except for the P.N.P.’s consistent promotion of cooperatives, the policy emphases of both P.N.P. and J.L.P. governments have been similar. Both party governments have promoted subsidies, small farmer credit, state market­ing of domestic agriculture, government land acquisition and redistribu­tion to small farmers, the discouraging of idle land holdings, the importance of traditional agricultural exports such as sugar and bananas, and attempts at diversifying local production to promote important substi­tution. Both party governments have promoted import substitution via the local manufacturing sector, heavy reliance on North American loan financing for infrastructural development and public expenditure, govern­ment ownership of utilities and some productive enterprises, economic integration with the eastern Caribbean states, government attempts to monitor the financial system, and fiscal initiatives designed to redistribute income to the poorer classes. Both have emphasized primary and second­ary level educational expansion of adult literacy programs, social wel­fare expansion, low income government funded housing, special employment projects by government expenditure in local government and public works, price controls, law and order and a massive build up of the local machinery of security and crime control and youth skill training and community development programs.


What has been substantially different is the politics and political method­ology accompanying these policies and the degree of emphasis given to ideology. In agriculture, the P.N.P. has been more aggressive in attacking big landowners and in encouraging militant demands for access to idle lands. That party has also more aggressively and explicitly encouraged a dominant role for the state in agriculture. In industrial policy, the P.N.P. has also been more explicit in advocating economic nationalism as a cen­tral principle or objective, and has been more aggressive and contentious in its dealings with the local capitalists as well as the foreign corporate inter­ests. Similarly, the P.N.P.’s social policies have been given more of an ideo­logical packaging designed to suggest that far-reaching class and social changes are being attempted with very explicit socialist ideological objec­tives, although the content of the policies are qualitatively similar to J.L.P. policies.


These differences of ideology and political methodology between the parties add up to important substantive divergencies in policy perspectives in the one area of public policy in which symbols make up a substantial party of policy making. The reference is, of course, to foreign policy. Here, the P.N.P. under Michael Manley’s leadership has charted some new directions that departed fundamentally from the broad, interparty consen­sus on foreign policy that operated between 1962 and 1968. These new directions include aggressive bargaining with multinational corporations; trade, political, and diplomatic ties with Communist countries; active involvement in Third World international north-south contentions and racial and anticolonial struggles in Africa; a more explicit Third World identity, coupled with an aggressive rhetoric and anti-imperialist posture; close strategic ties with middle-level Latin American states such as Mexico and Venezuela; and close fraternal ties with neighboring Communist Cuba. All these represent new P.N.P. foreign policy areas of change that differ from the pro-Western, benevolent view of powerful market econo­mies, anticommunism, lukewarm Third World identity, passivity in bar­gaining attitudes to the MNC’s, and the exclusively English-speaking networks of foreign alliances that were supported by both parties between independence and 1968.


The contrasting styles and approaches of the two parties provide a basis for cyclical changes in party strength. The J.L.P symbolizes the party of stability and pragmatic commonsense government while the P.N.P. sym­bolizes the party of change and experimentation. Class pressures for radi­cal change tend to be articulated by the radical reformist (P.N.P.) party during periods of sharp antagonism over class issues. Conservative reac­tions seek to restore the balance by increasing class support for the party of stability (J.L.P.), and by defining the radical party as a party of confusion. The radical party is unable to escape the loss of credibility because of its limited ability to restructure the society consistently with the rhetoric of change. The conservative party is itself, however, inevitably trapped by having to alienate large sections of the more dispossessed among the sub­ordinate classes by its alignment with the forces of class reaction. This sets in motion another phase of change in the cyclical ebb and flow of party strength.


The pattern of cyclical change in the party system requires a periodizing of the alternating “ascendency” and opposition roles played by the two parties between 1944 and the present time.

A “conservative beginning” (1944-54) is followed by a “radical drift,” (1955-61), and was succeeded by a “conservative restoration” (1955-61) which was in turn followed by a further “radical drift.” As outlined, at each period the central mass mobil­izing political issues change as do the opposition basis of the challenge (see Table A, page 120).


Of interest is the fact that it is during the first and fourth periods that ideological differences between the parties become sharpened in response to class tendencies advocating radical social and political change under the banner of socialism. During the second and third periods, when the build­ing of the institutional infrastructure of government was being settled by incremental progress towards self-government in period two, and the grad­ual undertaking of development tasks that came with independence (1962) in the third period, these ideological differences remained muted and lar­gely latent. It is as if ideology was set aside until the new structure of government was consolidated. Once this consolidation took place, the sharpening of ideological differences reemerged with even greater force in the fourth period. It is of even more significance that during the periods of ideological ferment (periods 1 and 4), it is the party of change which initiates the ideological challenge and the questioning of the class system while the party of stability merely responds by aligning with conservative elite and mass tendencies in the society.

The conservative class forces attempted in both the conservative and radical periods to contain the social tendencies seeking to weaken the class system. These conservative forces are to be found in both political parties. During the “conservative restoration” period, the main instruments of

Table A


Party in Ascendancy  

Main Symbolic Image

Party In Opposition

Main Opposition Challenge


1944-54 conser­vative beginning




Incrementalist welfare distribution





State owner­-ship and de­-colonization






Idealistic nation building, West Indian national­ism, rational modernizing agent (i.e. planning)



Parochial nationalism, widening rich-poor gap



conservative resto- ration




Bureaucratic moderni zing by pragmatism, foreign (USA) penetration, and law and order





Social justice pop­ular parti­cipation, rich-poor gap, politi­cal rights (including
free speech)

1972— radical drift



Anti-capitalist pro-Third World, economic nationalism, pro- welfare state and government regulated econ­omy, industrial democracy


Individual vs. the state, pro-free enter­prise, anti­-communism/socialism






















containing radicalism were: tight agenda management of the issues enter­ing the domain of public and party discussion; political parties ignoring the more conflict-prone class and racial issues relating to ownership and minority control of the economy; the suppression of radical literature and organizations by the J.L.P. government; a tendency by the main part’ spokesman to exaggerate the prospects for long-term economic growth am development; and by the ascendency of the moderates over the remnant of the leftists in the party of change. During the second period of radical drift, the main mechanism is that of attempts to align with and co-opt radical and far left tendencies in a PNP. ideological coalition in which moderate and conservative tendencies are preeminent in the implementation am formulation of public policy. The result has been a sharp dichotomy between leftist rhetoric and cautious policy making, and sharp internal party contentions between the leading second-level leadership in either ideological camp.


Of even more significance is the fact that the periods of ideological quie­tude have been the periods in which significant diversification, moderniza­tion and growth have taken place in the economy, while the periods of intense and polarized ideological conflicts and divisions are periods when the economy is in stagnation and mass social discontent prevalent.


The resolution of the left challenge in the “conservative beginning” was to expel the radical faction from the party of change, the P.N.P., in response to pressures from the conservative capitalist interests. In the second period of “radical drift” this route is not as easily available due to a significant leftist tendency among important urban party activists; the identification of the party leader with the leftist faction; that faction’s per­sonal loyalty to him, and the organic connection between the P.N.P.’s left­ist posturings and its foreign policy and Third World and socialist connections. Instead of being resolved within the party of change, the major ideological confrontation has to be resolved itself in a bitter, intense and “winner take all” antagonism between the two parties. The P.N.P. had labelled the J. L.P. leader, Edward Seaga, as an infidel foreign born proim­perialist agent of the C.I.A. and antipeople capitalist interests. TheJ.L.P., on the other hand, has accused the P.N.P. leader, Michael Manley, of plot­ting to sell out the country’s interest to Cuba’s Fidel Castro and an assort­ment of communist interests. Interparty violence reached an unprecedented level between 1975 and 1976 as both parties attempted to destroy the respective opposing party’s machinery by the mercenary vio­lence of hired gunmen. This culminated in political espionage by the deten­tion of prominent J.L.P. leaders for alleged subversive activity and attempts to completely discredit the J.L.P. and its leadership. For the first time this stable two-party system witnessed a breakdown of the traditional interelite give-and-take, tolerance and accommodation to the ground rules of coexistence which are a necessary part of the survival of the two.party system.


Since the P.N.P.’s electoral victory in 1976 and the ending of the state of emergency in 1977, interparty tensions have declined but a number of unresolved issues stand in the path of the resumption of normalcy between the two parties. The J.L.P. has been demanding a revamping of the present electoral system which permitted the intimidation of voters, multiple vot­ing, rigged voting lists and electoral practices in some constituencies in the 1976 election.7 The P.N.P. government has been reluctant to make the necessary changes to clean up the electoral process. Both party leaders regard each other with mutual loathing and contempt, in contrast to the mutual respect which characterized all pairs of top leaders in the past. Given the extent to which the parties tend to mirror and reflect the style and tendencies of party leaders, and the degree to which personal loyalty to the top party boss is a central feature of party loyalty, especially among activists, the mutual hostility between the two party leaders will continue to encourage bitter interparty antagonisms between J.L.P. and P.N.P. activists. Both parties continue to surround their constituency machinery in most urban constituencies with gunmen and violent mercenaries8 who add a continuing fascist and militarized feature to grass roots political life. Politics and partisan competition have become a zero sum game in which procapitalist tendencies in both parties fear their elimination in the event of an emergent ascendency or left forces in the party change, the P.N.12. Similarly, left forces in and outside of the party of change fear the day that a conservative J.L. P. party victory could usher in a return to the repression of the left that took place during the “conservative restoration” of 1962 to 1972 under the J.L.P. government. The Jamaican two-party system has therefore been experiencing some of the stability anxieties and neuroses which plague most unstable Third World political systems where military coups and intense factional violence are prevalent.


Parties and a party system consist also of voters whose patterns of party choice influence the balance of strength between competing parties. In analyzing the pattern of the two-party vote it is therefore necessary to get a more complete picture of the party system in Jamaica.

Voting and party competition in Jamaica represent a relatively unique pattern of party competitiveness. Since the first electoral contest based on universal adult sufferage in 1944, the two major parties, the Jamaica Labour Pary (J.L.P) and the People’s National Party (P.N.P.), have alter­nated in office at two-term intervals over a series of eight parliamentary elections. The pattern of electoral victories has been as follows:\


Elections   Parliamentary Seats                                            Popular Vote

                       J.L.P.              P.N.P.                                                                 J.L.P.               P.N.P.
1944               22                    5                                                                         4.14                23.5
1949               17                  13                                                                       42.7                  43.5
1955               14                  18                                                                       39.0                  50.5
1959               16                  29                                                                       44.3                  54.8
1962               26                  19                                                                       50.0                  49.6
1967               33                  20                                                                       50.7                  49.1
1972               17                  36*                                                                     43.2                  56.1
1976               13                  47                                                                       43.2                  56.9


*Adjusted from 37 to 36 after a successful J.L.P. petition and judicial recount.