The Class Structure

Taken From Democacy and Clientelism in Jamaica by Carl Stone.

Pg 16-24 



The politicalized section of the middle class and lower-middle-class intelligentsia claimed the right to challenge the planter-merchant elite for political ascendency. The working class claimed the right to bargain for national benefits and to put their collective strength of numbers and organ­ization in competitive contention with the power of the capitalists to improve working conditions and the rewards of labor. The universal adult suffrage idea, introduced in 1944, (and promoted by the liberal colonial officialdom in Britain) legitimized a notion of equality of citizenship, regardless of wealth and property. This eroded still further the paternalist order of the old class structure. This fact was underscored by the humiliat­ing defeat of the planter-merchant political party, the J.D.P., in the first elections held under universal adult suffrage in 1944.


Between this early period and independence, the class structure witnessed important changes in the drift towards a more competitive class system. These changes included the following main trends in class composition and class relations:


  Enlargement of the capitalist class to include a wider grouping of light-skinned ethnic minorities (Afro-European, Chinese, Lebanese, etc.) offering competi­tion to the white planters. This created a multi-racial coalition of minority eth­nics bonded by an interest of common ownership of capital.

    Intraclass competition among the capitalists leading to the ascendency of the newly emergent merchant-manufacturing sector over the planters. This process

set the stage for the beginning of a modern capitalist class.

    The development of an affluent and multi-racial upper middle class of profes­sionals and managers sharing the power of the capitalists.

    The growth of a highly unionized urban working class with strong bargaining power within the expanding modern sector. The emergence of an expanded lower-middle class within the wage workers enjoying social respectability and aspiring for entry into the upper-middle class.

    The increase in inequality in levels of living between the most affluent and most impoverished classes as the economy diversified and the modern sector

expanded due mainly to foreign investment.

    The growth of counter ideological social belief systems emphasizing black con­sciousness, racial pride and African identities among the more militant and alien­ated within the poorer classes.

    The decline in cultural differences between the main classes and the weakening of the racial factor in the reward system as education became more important as

a means of upward social mobility.

    The development of party politics as a middle-class power base. Increased upward mobility between the lower and middle levels of the stratification system.


In many respects these changes were as profound in effect as the labor and peasant disturbances of the late 1930s which have been so misunder­stood and misrepresented by most accounts of the period. To begin with, these disturbances by the comparative standards of Third World social and political violence were relatively mild episodes. Second, the disturb­ances were blown entirely out of proportion by the paranoid and frightened ascendent class of light-skinned planter-merchants who lived in constant fear of uprisings by the black minority.” Third, the level of changes of pol­itical consciousness reflected by these disturbances has been grossly misrepresented.


The ethnically biased reward system and rigid paternalist class structure with its residue of the slave plantation history was never fully accepted by the poorer classes. There was always at the lower reaches of the class struc­ture a subculture of resistance and alienation among the poor that regarded the system as basically unjust. What changed in the 1930s due partly to the impact of returning migrants from overseas, middle-class pol­itical agitation for democratic political changes and the racial message of the Garvey movement was the emergence of leadership willing to challenge the old order. This was aided by an increasingly apparent weakening of the power structure due to economic failures and a growing sense of power on the part of the alienated minorities among the poor. The most significant thing about the disturbances of the 1930s is that they combined the feature of a general strike with a coalescing of militant forces between wage labor, the poor peasantry, and the parasitic sector of the hard-core unemployed.


All class systems develop a subculture of alienation which questions the reward system and the power structure but is usually contained by the dominant ideological belief systems that reinforce the hierarchy of class power and rewards. Such subcultures of alienation represent the other side of the dialectical duality of class relations. When the power structure is in disequilibrium, the minority subculture of alienation may provide militant support for reformist or radical revolutinary social change movements. This alienation produces militancy and aggressive behavior which should not be confused with ideological radicalism or acceptance of an anti­system ideology. Antisystem ideologies are invariably the products of the alienated among the middle-class intelligentsia or of “prophets” or “messi­anic~~ figures from lower-class, millenarian movements. Both types of countersystemic ideologies have emerged with full force in contemporary Jamaica, seeking to recruit mass support among that subculture of class alienation.


Subcultures of class alienation can be mobilized by any social change movement which can inspire confidence in its ability to take hold of the power structure and change it, regardless of whether its ideology is left- or right-leaning. It is in that sense that subcultures of class alienation are ideo­logical, blind or neutral. It is the character of the mobilizing forces leading the social change movement that determine ideological directions.


The dominant postwar antisystem movement in Jamaica has been the millenarian Rastafarian Movement’2 based on a mix of black conscious­ness, African (or more precisely Ethiopian) collective identity, and ascetic religiousity. Its emphasis is on the inner life, on individual spiritual purity and on the reordering of one’s symbolic world by inverting white, biased status symbols of the system and replacing them with black symbols. It has sharpened consciousness without itself providing a power base from which to challenge the hierarchy of class power. This has left the way open for Marxism and Leftist ideologies’s propounded by one segment of the alien­ated sector of the middle-class intelligentsia (through the P.N.P.) to attempt this in the 1 970s. The anchoring of Marxism within the P.N. P. as a factional tendency within that party in the 1970s has therefore given that ideology maximum leverage with which to influence the subculture of class alienation.


The paradox of the evolving class structure of Jamaica in the preinde­pendence period is that at the precise period when the class structure was shifting from a paternalist power structure to a more competitive class sys­tem, economic changes in the modern sector were being set in motion which could lead to renewed class contradictions. These contradictions related to increasing income inequality; uneven income growth and capital accumulation between town and country and between the agricultural and nonagricultural sectors; increasing proletarianization and urbanization of the labor force with the consequence of increasing class militancy; and increasing unemployment in contrast to growing middle-class and capital­ist affluence and luxury living.


Rapid economic growth in the 1950s and 1960s merely postponed and disguised the buildup of social tensions which exploded mainly in the direction of crimes’~ of violence in the 1960s and 1970s. Rapid and acceler­ated rural to urban migrationls, urban overcrowding and joblessness created urban ghetto communities. These ghetto communities became integrated into the two-party system through patronage politics but increasingly also provided community power bases for the lumpenproleta­nat through street gangs who lived by crime and violence. The ghetto areas became the focal points of political and class militancy. The lumpen gang leaders became an integral part of the urban power base of the two major parties and were soon able to bully their way into large patronage benefits, organized crime, illegal wealth and middle-class material affluence.


The P.N.P. in the l970s sought to harness the alienation of the urban

ghetto youth a vanguard force towards building a militant socialist, anti­capitalist and class conscious base of support. The immediate power or tactical objective (as in the earlier 1938 period) was to manipulate and amplify mass alienation to establish control over state power. In this later period, the stakes were even higher as a P.N.P. radical petty bourgeois intelligentsia sought to displace and eliminate the class ascendency of the merchant-manufacturing capitalists and the opposition challenge posed by the J.L.P. This was attempted through state ownership of the means of production, and ideological and racial attacks on the ethnic minorities who were identified with the J.L.P. as having sold out to capitalist inter­ests. The weak merchant-manufacturing class was easily put to flight but in the process they migrated in large numbers and highjacked the economy by the export of foreign currency, the decapitalization of production, the clo­sure of several enterprises, and the creation of an embattled and militant mood of panic in the private sector that brought investment acitivity to a virtual standstill. The J.L.P., on the other hand, stood its ground and mounted ideological counterattacks. The near collapse of the economy (accelerated by these developments as well as by increased government deficit spending and waste on an unprecedented scale) forced the govern­ment to abandon its leftward drift and to seek aid from the I.M.F.16 This aid and the terms attached to it pushed the government’s fiscal and eco­nomic policies decidedly to the right of center.


Underlying these power contentions and ideological conflicts were some

continuing trends of change in the class structure in the following main

areas over the first and second decades after independence:


    Relations between the classes became more egalitarian as there was a decline in patterns of deference between the lower, middle, and upper strata.


    The cultural and institutional difference between the classes narrowed even further as wealth and income became more and more the dominant determi­nants of social status.


    Black racial consciousness advanced particularly in the middle strata, bringing with it very visible younger generation changes as regards racial attitudes and responsiveness to Rastafarianism and lower-class cultural trends in music, dress, and life styles.


    The economically dominant and privileged light-skinned ethnic minorities either migrated in fear of political upheavals or violence, or remained in a more low-key and defensive class posture, shedding some of the class arrogance inher­ited from the planter-merchants of the older class order.


    The lumpen strata became increasingly aggressive, independent, confident, and power conscious, often challenging the leadership dominance of the middle-class politicians at the local levels.


    The growth in the absolute and relative size of the parasitic sector which increas­ingly survived by crime and plunder against the wealth and income of the pro­ductive classes (both wage labor and entrepreneurs).


    Increasing social pressures and tensions built up against the multi-racial middle and lower-middle class by the dispossessed militant unemployed and lumpen­proletariat in the parasitic sector.


  Generational antagonisms and ideological conflicts’7 at both middle- and working-class levels as militant and radical minority-class tendencies at both class levels among the younger generation departed from the more passive sta­tus quo and accommodating views and opinions of the older middle- and working-class generation.


  The challenging of the dominant ideological belief system legitimizing private wealth and capitalist accumulation by socialist and populist doctrines advocat­ing equality of income and property, state and people ownership, and vilifying local private wealth as ill-gotten gains plundered from the working class.


  The further decline of the racial factor as part of the reward system in the power structure as patronage links, party connections, political influence, and educa­tion assumed greater importance.


  Increasing foreign ideological influences by way of Cuban P.N. P. party links on the sub-culture of alienation, giving birth to an emergent pattern of Third World, Marxist-and Rastafarian-oriented radicalism that diversified the ideo­logical spread of tendencies in the body politic and intensified class antagonisms and tensions.


  The aggressive and confident assertion of lower-class culture through popular music celebrating lower-class social struggles and articulating populist militancy.


Implicit in the foregoing analysis is a view that the Jamaican class hier­archy consists of three main status groups as set out below and seven main class groupings. These groupings derive from the earlier analysis of the sec­tors of the political economy. The hierarchy of class groupings is as follows:



STATUS GROUPINGS                                          CLASSES


                                                                                                                                                            1.  Capitalists (0.5 %)

    (Owners and managers of large and     medium scale privately owned enterprises and    farms who employ wage labor reg­ularly and in significant quantities)


UPPER MIDDLE CLASS                                        2  Administrative class (0.5%)
(Public sector top bureaucrats and technocrats, independent service professions, politicians,
clergymen etc., who administer and control the key public institutions and public services)


2. LOWER MIDDLE CLASS                                   3. Independent property owners
                                                                                 or middle-level capitalists (5%)
(Shopkeepers, small businessmen,
                                                                                 middle farmers, and landlords who
                                                                                 live on rental that accrues from
                                                                                 property owning)


                                                                                 4.  Labor aristocracy (18 %)

(Professionals, technicians, white-collar workers, and high-wage and skilled workers)


3.LOWER CLASS                                                   5. Own-account workers or petty
                                                                                   capitalists 28%)
                                                                                   (Small farmers, higglers, petty-
                                                                                   traders, small contractors, etc.)


                                                                                 6. Working class (23%)

                                                                                 (Low wage manual workers)


                                                                                 7. The long-term or indefinitely

                                                                                 unemployed (25%)


The grouping of seven classes represents divergent sources of livelihood and income, levels of wealth, and relationship to the means of production. The three status aggregations of these classes represent the dimension of status rank which correlates with class in all class systems. Both class in the narrow economic sense and status have to be taken into account in exa­mining the social forces influencing political behavior.


Most analyses of the Jamaican social structure of the period prior to independence centered around the dominance of European values and the white bias in the power structure.’8 These analyses have become rapidly dated and have lost contemporary relevance in the face of the growth of black racial consciousness among significant secti9ns of the lower and mid­dle strata, the aggressive assertion of lower-class culture through popular music and the growing acceptance and populartity of Rastafarianism as it penetrates all levels of the ethno-class’9 structure.


The strength of MG. Smith’s20 work on cultural pluralism lies in his sin­gular recognition of the intergroup power contentions of the society, the instability of the hierarchy of power and the continuing contentions for ascendency. While this culturalist theory mistook the symptoms of cultu­ral differentiation between the main ethno-class groups for the underlying structure of class domination (to which the cultural paraphernalia were mere interclass barriers), Smith’s work more than any other analysis preindependence Jamaica captured the essence of the fluidity, instability and fragility of the Jamaican power structure.


The demonstrated error of this cultural approach is to be found in the fact that the cultural differences between the ethnic and class grouping have narrowed precisely at a point in time when interclass antagonisn cleavages and tensions have increased rather than declined.2’ Indeed, it precisely as these cultural gaps in language, dress, religion, music and entertainment, sports and media use become narrower that class competition and challenges increase. This is so because with this cultural levelling sections of the subordinate class aspire for higher levels of living, resent impoverishment, challenge the reward system as inequitable and demand greater equality in various social spheres. The narrowing of these cultural gaps has been part of the transition from a paternalistic to a more competitive class system,22 homogenized by attendant and inevitable conflicts and cleavages.

Color and racial differences remain as a residue of the “plantation” slave history of the society. This is in spite of the fact that black and dark skinned persons now make up a majority of the professional sector oft upper middle class, a growing proportion of the private sector top management, and a majority among white-collar workers and the state sectors administrative elite. The blackening of the upper reaches of the status hierarchy has been accelerated by massive emigration by light-skinned eth minorities of whites, Jews, the light-colored, Chinese, and Lebanese in 1970s.


In spite of these changes, race remains correlated with class since t overwhelming majority of the ethnic minorities own property or located in the upper reaches of the class and status hierarchies. This does not diminish by one iota the fact that the social structure is based on a class system of stratification in which race has been assuming a diminishing r as a part of the reward system.


The grouping of individuals into the class categories outlined earl does not imply that the respective classes are internally homogenous. This raises the complex issue of how different are these classes and what are main factors responsible. The mere fact of this classification does not deny the existence of some interclass similarities and common tendencies wit the broader tripartite status categories and between them as well. The precise nature of these differences and similarities and their implications political attitudes and behavior will be explored in the chapters that follow.


Class consciousness and awareness are unevenly developed within any single class. Additionally, sections of any class are subject to divergent and contrary agencies of political socialization24 in home, community, regional, workplace, and other environments of influence. Most impor­tantly, all social classes reflect in any society dual or multiple political and social tendencies.25 Precise class analysis as distinct from abstract theoriz­ing involves determining empirically what are these tendencies, locating the dominant ones, and linking them to patterns of political behavior and opinions.


The clear implication is that class coalitions or what I have referred to in an earlier work as multiclass coalitions26 in Jamaican politics involve cross-class alignments between factions of different classes with identifi­able tendencies. These class tendencies account for the allegiance to partic­ular party or class coalitions. As in the case of class tendencies, the multiclass coalitions also reflect dominant and subordinate coalition tendencies based on a number of factors. The class coalitions in a stable two-party sys­tem such as Jamaica are enduring alliances that survive long political peri­ods and straddle several political generations. Changes in the constituent class tendencies over time mean that older and hitherto dominant class ten­dencies may clash with class tendencies that are emerging or ascendent in later periods. The strength of partisan identification may keep in the party alliance some class tendencies that are antithetical or antagonistic to newer class tendencies. Sharp differences may arise between younger and older generations of these constituent classes. The class structure itself may be undergoing important changes in class relations and class power, leading to changes in the political allegiance of some classes. Finally, the very char­acter of a political party may change over time while still attracting support developed and crystalized in an earlier period. The nature of the class ten­dencies in any party or political coalition must therefore be subjected to constant empirical examination. This is best done by intensive and multi­faceted empirical investigations within well-defined periods of political change as in attempted in this work.


It is evident from the foregoing analysis that conflicts between the classes in Jamaica in the postindependence period have taken a variety of forms, some of which obscure their underlying class basis. Some areas of conflict have been racial and cultural as in the case of the Rastafarian movement and the cultural wave of ghetto music. The former challenged the negative black self-concept of the white dominated colonial legacy and many cherished beliefs and values reinforcing the class structure. The latter asserted lower-class culture and life-styles while (like the former) damning the exploitative and oppressive character of the social order.


While these class challenges have focused essentially on the symbolism, social ideology, and belief systems underpinning the hierarchy of paternal­ist ethno-class dominance, other areas of class challenges have focused on power contentions and material distribution. These include power strug­gles between the left intelligentsia in the P.N.P. and the capitalist class in the l970s.


Also included are conflicts between the lumpenproletariat and the estab­lished power domains of the elites in the public and private sectors, and the contentions between labor and capital in both the public and private sectors.

Class contentions are essentially three-dimensional as class power rests on ownership or control of wealth, ideological or symbolic reinforcement for that hierarchy of controls and the actual distribution of material rewards in the political community that maintains the hierarchy and the ideological belief systems. The most advanced and antagonistic conflicts involve all three dimensions, while lesser conflicts are confined mainly to one dimension. Advanced power contentions between classes always involve all three dimensions. Where the major classes are all involved in such advanced power contentions the result is either revolutionary change or counterrevolution in the long run, or anarchy in the short run. Lesser conflicts may create instability if prolonged but are not likely to escalate into creating the preconditions for revolutionary or counterrevolutionary changes.


Where fragmentation of conflicts occur in the sense that the respective conflicts involve different classes, such conflicts are manageable. When, however, all classes in a political community are involved in the same dimensions and areas of conflicts, the contentions are less manageable and system change is likely to occur even if it is not as far-reaching as revolu­tionary changes.


The major areas of class conflict in Jamaica (as set out below) are frag­mented in that the class antagonists in the different conflict domains are with one exception distinctly different classes and class tendencies. Secondly, with one exception the conflict domains are limited to one dimension. Thirdly, in all cases the classes in conflict represent a minority of the political community.


The only potentially revolutionary conflict is the conflict between the left intelligentsia supported by a section of the P.N.P. mass base and the capitalists as it embraces all three class domains of conflict and has the potential to embrace or coalesce with the other areas of conflict. The fact that the capitalist class is a common enemy in all these contentions further reinforces the revolutionary potential of that conflict. The major limiting factor has been the failure to harness the majority class tendencies in either wage labor or the peasantry in that ideological and power struggle.