The Myth of Independence- Middle Class Politics and Non-Mobilization in Jamaica

By Louis Lindsay



Up to about the first half of the present century it was customary to think of political independence as representing a truly momentous event in the history of a country. The term itself traditionally connotated liberation from the yoke of foreign oppression, and the freedom of a community to pursue policies and purposes which reflected its own interests and values.  From this perspective, political independence was seen as a phenomenon which generally uplifted the collective integrity of a social group, Its attainment was thought to imply the liberation of the spirit and creative energies of individuals from the whims and fancies of external end pre­viously uncontrollable forces. Through its impact it was believed that whole communities of subjects could be transformed into free communities of citizens.


But if this is what independence meant in the past, the same is not generally true of the present. With the rapid dissolution of European colonial empires which followed the second world war independence has come, in a sense, to be taken for granted. The concept has lost much of the drama, excitement and powerful norma­tive vibrations which it usually conveyed. As the leaders of more and more formerly colonized territories in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean took their seats in the United Nations, the meaning of independence underwent a rapid process of devaluation. And this process has virtually emptied what was once a rich and exciting ideal of much of its ethical significance and moral thrust.4


It is not easy to escape the conclusion that there is a clear connection between the devaluation which has occurred with regard to the meaning of independence, and the formal granting of the right of self-determination to traditionally devalued peoples of the Afro Asian and Caribbean world. As native leaders in colonial territories asserted their right to independence, metropolitan governments were increasingly compelled to make concessions to their demands, But the concessions which were made appear to have been more symbolic than real. No sooner was the right to independence conceeded in form, than it was withdrawn in substance. If native leaders demanded independence, they were given independence. But by removing from the gift of national autonomy the key operational component of self-determination, European imperial powers pacified and placated colonial discontent by offering the myth while withholding the reality of national political sovereignty.


The core of the myth of independence centres around the substitution of procedural and legalistic criteria for functional and substantive ones. Where this substitution has occurred, political leaders claim — and are widely believed — to be independent merely because a document was signed by representatives of the colonial power and themselves, specifying that on such or such a date colony X or Y would achieve and become entitled to the privileges and prerogatives of national political sovereignty.


The advent of the document prescribing independence is generally welcomed with solemn ceremonies and spectacular displays. A national flag is designed and unfurled, so too is a national anthem and perhaps a national dish, a national tree, a national bird and so on. But for the great majority of citizens in the alleged newly independent state, life continues in much the way that it did before what is heralded as independence was achieved. For a small minority of privileged individuals, however, the formal declaration of independence means new and rewarding ambassadorial. and consular positions abroad, grand and luxuriously appointed “official” residential mansion ,and greater access to and positioning for the corruptive uses of funds which are now more easily obtainable from both foreign and local sources.


To both the ostensibly withdrawing metropolitan power and those who inherit the formal political offices of state, symbolic political independence is critical as a strategic manipulative device. The metropolitan government by gracefully appearing to concede the right of national sovereignty, finds it easier to preserve the notion of a beneficent and non-exploitative mother country who has carefully and with much self—sacrifice prepared her colonial wards for ultimate independence and self—determination, Given, however, that the character of the “documentary independence” which is given does not and cannot by itself qualitatively change the traditional pattern of relationships between metropolitan power and hinter-land colony,6 with the granting of independence, the metropolitan country often manages to extract additional increments of prestige and moral comfort, while at the same time it preserves (perhaps even increases) the concrete benefits which it traditionally obtained from its mother—country role.  In this way, local forces of actual or potential political radicalism may be lulled into passivity and quiescence by the receipt of a document which offers symbolic reassurance as a mask for continued exploitation. As a mechanism for symbolic manipulation, legal or documentary independence facilitates the process by which established native political elites can bolster their image as successful leaders by claiming, legitimising and imposing titles such as Father of the Nation, National Hero and so on. This kind of claim strengthens the prestige of incumbent post-independence leaders vis-a- vis those who seek to challenge their authority and increases the capacity of these leaders to maintain a status quo in which they inherit not simply the titles but also a good deal of the benefits and rewards formerly enjoyed by metropolitan overlords under the ancien regime.

As one of the new states Which emerged from the post - war - period of European political declonization, the Jamaican experience can be used as a case study for illustrating how myths and symbols associated with independence have been used to generate political quietism and frustrate pos~ibil1tims for meaningful change in Third World countries. Essentially, this is what our discussion in the following pages is about, Our focus, however, will be on one small aspect of the much larger problem.  Specifically, we will be concerned with the myth of mobilization for self-government and independence




A good place to begin our discussion of the myth of mobilization for independence is with the brilliant collection 0f essays on the subject written by the late Martiniquian sociologist and psychia­trist Frantz Fanon.9 Beginning with a theory of the role of sacrificial effort in the attainment of valuable and valued social objectives. Fanon has shown how the notion of independence as a gift bestowed by generous metropolitan governments on grateful natives has served to warp the collective psyche of both masses and elites, and. perpetuate the reality — if not the legality - of colonialization and foreign control.


According to Fanon, nothing which is really worthwhile is ever attained without struggle. That which hoe has been given as the gift of independence, is not independence at all, but a subtle process of manipulation which allows native-receivers to enjoy the illusions of freedom while, simultaneously permitting metropolitan-givers to maximize their ability to increase the scale of their exploitation. In this way, a metropolitan power can continue to derive concrete and tangible benefits at minimum costs even after independence has been declared. Real independence, Fanon insists, is always a demand never a ‘prayer”.11


For Fanon, the promise of independence was lost when European colonizers began to establish time-tables for their withdrawal from the Third World. These time—tables ‘hoodwinked” native political leaders into complacency by making it appear that little or no purposive political mobilization was necessary to secure or recapture the benefits of freedom and national sovereignty.12

The absence of purposive anti-colonial mobilization has meant the persistence of colonialist attitudes and. values into the era of supposed independence. It has produced. not the redemption for which the native longed,’ but a “falsified historical time


Genuine political mobilization in a colonialist setting is never a one-dimensional affair, It will operate simultaneously in two separate but closely interrelated directions. Firstly, Fanon maintains real mobilization speaks to the colonial power in voices and with actions which it understands and is unlikely to forget. And, secondly, real mobilization is also the process by which the native rids himself of the accumulated myths into which he has been socialized by colonial authorities.  Socialization into mythical conceptions of both the self and the colonial environment were imposed upon the native in order to guarantee the servitude and deference which external oppression requires for its successful functioning,14

The central thrust of Fanon’s thesis then is that where there has been no genuine mobilization for self-determination ,the colonial situation will continue after the declaration of legal “psuedo” independence.15 And for Fanon there can ho no authentic anti-colonial mobilization without the deliberate use of violence;


The naked truth of decolonization evokes for us the searing bullets and blood stained knives which emanate from it. For if the last shall he the first, this will only come to pass after a murderous and decisive struggle between the two protagonists. That affirmed intention to place the lost at the head of things and to make them climb at a pace (too quickly some say) the well known steps which characterise an organized society, can only triumph if we use all means to turn the scale, including of course, that of violence?6


It is only through mobilized violence, Fanon claims, that both the oppressor and those whom he has subdued into servitude can begin the “purgative” task of self-cleansing which real self-determination and development requires. To assume that anything other wise can be the case, is to naively postulate “a sudden humanity on the part of the colonialist” — a humanity which both history and current practices show to be entirely without foundation, For Fanon sees it as an inexorable law of the process of oppression that “no colonialist nation is willing to withdraw without exhausting all possibilities for maintaining itself.


Whether or not the native uses violence against his oppressor, violence will be used against him by those who benefit from his oppression. According to Fanon, it is only when the native indicates by the resort to armed struggle that he too is willing to use violence as an antidote to violence that the colonizer will seriously begin to count the costs of his actions. It is only after this kind calculation is made, that the possibilities for real self-determination are placed on the agenda for the first time.19


Fanon is insistent on violence as a necessary condition for colonial redemption largely because he holds a perspective on independence, which is close to the traditional view which was outlined in the opening sentence of the present discussion.  For him, true independence “is not a seeking for reforms but the grandiose effort of a people, which had been mummified to rediscover its own genius to reassure its history, to assert its sovereignty.”  If libera­tion of this type is to be achieved, (and for the colonized anything less is less than liberation), the “inferiorised man” must bring all his resources into play, all his acquisitions, the old and the new, his own and those of the occupant”.1


The use of violent means as the weapon to secure independence represents for Fanon the ultimate commitment to change. When the native arms himself and strikes the death blow at his oppressors be burns his bridges behind him. He cannot look back, He must forge ahead on his own momentum. In this way, (and only in this way) will he be able to debunk once and for all the myths of his own worthlessness and incompetence perpetuated upon him by his colonial oppressors. For in the violent struggle for freedom a marked alienation occurs from the myths and illusions which had previously dominated the life of the colonized:



The native’s back is to the wall, the knife is at him throat (or, more precisely the electrode at his genitals): he wi1l have no more call for his fancies. After centuries of unreality, after having wallowed in the moot outlandish phantoms, at long last the native, gun in hand, stand face to face with the only forces which contend for his life — the forces of colonialism… The native discovers reality and transforms it into the pattern of his customs, into the practice of violence and into his plan for freedom.


Once the native commits himself to violence as the means of his liberation, the mother country towards which he had always told to look for comfort and sustenance will no longer be available for this purpose. There is no escaping from this fact, given that it will be against the mother country that his violence will be principally directed. The native who is mobilized for violent struggle will automatically find that survival depends exclusively on his own skills and energies.  He will be forced to find new allies and make new friends. His choices might not always be the most correct or most appropriate ones. But whatever he does’ he will do for himself. his new friends will more likely than not be chosen on the basis of interests and values which are compatible with his own and will not typify the alliances of contradictory forces which colonialist oppression had forced upon him.


For Fanon, Algeria was the illustration par excellence of mobilization for national liberation. Through violent struggle, the Algerian people had brought the French Republic to the verge of total chaos and destruction. The metropolitan country was made to face pressures which it could not indefinitely withstand, In achiev­ing their independence, the Algerian people had challenged and severely weakened or destroyed most of the myths which had kept them bondaged for almost one and a half’ centuries to an external and oppressive force.

Fanon consistently insisted that genuine struggle for independence was not in Algeria (nor can it be elsewhere) simply anarchic expressions of accumulated anger. If the commitment to change and collective redemption is a serious one, the process of becoming liberated will itself help to create (in fact will be essential in creating) the dynamic “of building, of organizing, of inventing the new society that most come into being.”

Fanon saw revealed in the unfolding consciousness of the new Algerian citizen, the essential confirmation of his thesis that violent mobilization is the antidote to colonial sterility:


All the degrading and infantalizing structures that habitually infest relations between the colonized

and the colonizer were suddenly liquidated. Where as the colonized usually has only a choice between a retraction of his being and a frenzied attempt at identification with the colonizer, the Algerian has brought into existence a new positive, efficient personality, whose richness is provided less by the trial of strength that he engages in than by his certainty that he embodies a decisive moment of the national consciousness.



Professor Fanon’s thesis on anti-colonial mobilization for independence must be seen as constituting a model of what is theoretically possible, and not as en empirical description of what actually occurred in the majority of newly independent states. Fanon’s model is not, however an all or nothing one. He recognizes that there are former colonial territories in which the process of decolonization has been more effective than in others. And Algeria represents for him the paradigmatic illustration of what it is possible to achieve, where mobilization against colonial rule assumes the form of violent struggles for national liberation.


If Fanon saw Algeria as the positive model of the liberated African state, he saw the Ivory Coast as the negative illustration of persistent colonialism. To him, the Ivory Coast brought into stark relief the full consequences of the decadence which follows when political leaders believe that there is and opt for a “prayerful” route to independence. If as a result of purposive and determined struggle, the great potential of the Algerian people had blossomed and grown, the situation in the Ivory Coast was seen, in contrast as representing a waste of human resources and a massive tragedy of’ unfulfilled greatness.


In. the same way as there are lessens to be learned, from the Algerian experience so too according to Fanon, there are lessons to be learned from the Ivory Coast. For under the regime of Houpheuet Boigny, what masquerades as the achievement of independence is in reality, hardly more than a continuation of the colonialist era. For how, he asks, can the Ivory Coast be called independent, when President Boigny continues to serve as “a straw man for French colonialism” and his ministers daily “hob-nob with an economy dominated by a colonial pact”.


Mr. Houphouet Boigny has become the travelling salesman of French colonialism and he has not feared to appear before the United Nations to defend the French thesis… The future will have no pity for those men who, possessing the exceptional privilege of being able to speak words of truth to their oppressors, have taken refuge in an attitude of passivity, of mute indifference and some times of cold complicity.











Jamaica fits easily into the category of those new states in which formal independence was granted without the initiation of any kind of serious struggle against colonial rule. Indeed, Norman Manley, the widely acknowledged “founding father” of the modern Jamaican state consistently emphasized that because of his own skill and the good sense of his peop1e, Jamaica managed to secure its constitutional advance to self-government without having “to fight for it”.31


Norman Manley recognized from very early in the game which he played with the Jamaican people, that a struggle against British colonialism could not be successfully undertaken without simultaneously challenging the whole complex of values and assumptions or which the British polity was based. And to question or challenge the ethos of Westminster politics was an activity which his pronounced Anglophilism led him to believe would have nothing but very undesirable consequences for the island.


Just five months before Jamaica was declared a legally independent state, Premier Manley declared that the “British constitu­tion is the best in the world”the only good system of government.” Holding this belief, Mr. Manley expressed pleasure and satisfaction that Jamaican leaders had done nothing which would have jeopardized the country’s chances to receive and use the institutions of Westminster government. In a nostalgic review of the years which he had spent as leader of the PNP, Mr. Manley firstly asserted;


I make no apology for the fact that we did not attempt to embark upon any original or novel exercise in constitutional building .. . . Let us not make the mistake of describing as colonial, institutions which are part and parcel of the heritage of this country, If me have any confidence in our individuality and our own personality, we would absorb these things and incorporate them into our own use as part of the heritage we are not ashamed of, I am not ashamed of any institution which exists in this country merely because it derives from England.



It is clear that independence did not carry for Manley the connotation of a new beginning. Throughout his political life, the PNP leader remained deeply convinced that the transfer and receipt of Westminster institutions was identical with independence, self-determination and nationhood.  If it was necessary to mobilize the Jamaican people at all, this mobilization could only be for the right to receive the heritage of Westminster government. For it was altogether inconceivable that the people of Jamaica should (or could) be mobilized in antipathy to the people and government of Great Britain. What would be the point of engaging in or encouraging militant anti colonial activities? Had not the British after all committed itself to the idea of a West Indian federation and promised that this federation would enjoy all the institutions and privileges of a dominion within the British Commonwealth of Hations.’6


The logic of Mr. Manley’s position appears on the surface to have been simple and straightforward. Briefly, it ran something like this; if the objectives which one necks to obtain can be secured without a struggle, than there is clearly nothing to he gain ed and possibly much to be lost by adopting belligerent attitudes and postures.


But the point which is in contention here is not the internal consistency of Manley’s arguments. It is the character and status of the assumption which he shared with otter dominant leaders of tie party, that Great Britain as the colonial corer shared in, sympathized with, and itself possessed interests and objectives which were close to or identical to the legitimate aspirations and desires of the colonized people of his country.


Over the entire twenty five year history of its operations, the PNP has expressed in its rhetoric and actions such a depth of admiration for the British, that one is left initially perplexed at the extent to which many students of Jamaican politics have gone in attempts to establish credentials for the party as a grant national organization.


All the signs of what the party was about and what it was likely to become, were clearly observable from the very day of its official launching in September 1938. To understand the strength of the party’s attachment to the symbols of Britain and the British empire, one need only recall here, the pronounced hostility from both the platform and the floor which greeted Sir Stafford Cripps’ key­note address at the founding Conference of the PNP. Party leaders and members were angry because Cripps in his speech had been severely critical of British colonial government and its oppressive and exploitative practices towards colonies such as Jamaica. In this connection we should also recall Manley’s consistent refusal to tolerate even the mildest criticisms of his friend and confidant Governor Denham or the enthusiastic way in which the PNP leader lustily led his audience in the Conference closing rendition of the “God Save the Queen” British national anthem.


The extent to which PNP leaders tried to impress their Anglophilio orientations on the Jamaican people has not generally been recorded by scholars who have dealt with the subject of the party’s early development and growth. But PNP Anglophilism was perceived by some of those whom the party tried to enlist as members. For example, Mr. Arnold Lecesne, who represented himself as a genuine straggler against imperialism, felt it was necessary for him and the small group of follow-travellers for whom he was the mouthpiece to circulate a document in which he told PNP leaders:


You can count me out of any national or political school that seeks to discipline us for a bigger place in the empire, I regard it [PNP] as only a glorified Citizens (British Subjects) Association whose aim and object is to confirm British rule over us.



While Mr. Lecesne might have exaggerated the pro-empire leanings and ambitious of the PNP, he certainly raised an issue which is of critical importance for explaining the absence of serious anti-colonial mobilisation in Jamaica. For the deep veneration of PNP middle class leaders for things and ways British, was sufficient in and of itself to counter the possibility of any serious party inspired anti-colonial thrust in the island.


To a flip leader such as Florizel Glassspole, Great Britain offered a living model of political values which were deeply cherished and firmly held, To ask him to raise an angry voice against the mother of “good government” and democracy would be to ask him to take a stand which not only ran contrary to his political values but, equally importantly,  would threaten his own prestige and authority in the local society. For the appeal of the PNP was structured around the extent to which the top leadership of the party could use their Afro-Saxon command over the symbols and substance of British culture to mystify and mesmerize ordinary Jamaican citizens into accepting their competence to govern.


Given that the legitimacy of the PNP was made to depend on the extent to which its leaders could use their middle class back­grounds and qualifications to persuade both the Jamaican people and the metropolitan government of their fitness to rule, for the party to have engaged in anti—colonial mobilization would be for its leaders to suicidally undermine the whole basis of their actual and potential legitimacy and authority. Unfortunately, the full charac­ter and implication of this point cannot be discussed here and must await further consideration in a subsequent chapter.


One sees PNP middle class veneration for Britain clearly revealed in the speeches and actions of party leaders at the outbreak of, and during the second world war. The general tendency was to equate any serious attempt to criticize imperial policy with disloyalty to the mother country and as indications of disrespect far the ostensibly great humanitarian causes which Britannia,with many sacrifices sought earnestly to defend. This was a remarkably benign view of British motivations and ambitions, But this notion of the greatness of Great Britain was held with patriotic fervour by most members of the upper and middle classes, and perhaps too by most people of all classes in Jamaican society.46


A careful examination of the deliberations and resolutions of the 1939, 1940 and 1941 PNP conferences leaves little doubt of the extent to which the party’s top leadership accepted and endorsed the vies of a philanthropic and virtually flawless mother—country. To show its commitment to Britain in that country’s “hour of need, the party encouraged young Jamaicans to volunteer for recruitment to fight and, if necessary, to die for England, In regard to local political activism, the party executive released a special statement in which it avowed, “to abstain from agitation for constitutional reforms in the confident belief that when we have emerged from the present difficulties, the claims and rights of this island will receive the fullest attention and satisfaction”


Essentially, there was a decision not to harass the mother country with local political problems while the war was in progress. To dominant party leaders, not to take this step would reflect ingratitude for all that Great Britain had done and was doing not, only for Jamaica but for all humanity. In order to ensure loyalty to and support for the party’s position, an absolute ban was placed on PNP sponsorship of all “open—air” meetings, and the party ceased to legitimise public discussion of issues related to demands for constitutional reforms in the colony.48


While PNP leaders were restraining the public from pressing Great Britain for reforms in the Jamaican political system, the BITU leader, Alexander Bustamante, was engaged in a completely different course of action Bustamante, it is true, had shown little interest in the self-government debate. But as a trade union leader he was interested in securing bread and butter reforms for his supporters and this interest was not eased or relaxed during the war Indeed, if anything Bustamante tended to intensify the pressures which he placed on the colonial government. In numerous public meetings he stressed that he wee unprepared to accept meekly the economic injustices suffered by the Jamaican labouring classes, merely because Europeans had chosen to fight a war among themselves. There is no doubt that Bustamante severely infuriated the colonial bureaucracy when in September 1940 he told a group of striking water front workers — “I have stood for peace from the first day I have been in public life, but my patience is exhausted. This time, if need be, there will be blood from the rampage to the grave”


On the comparative level, it is of interest to note that while in Jamaica the outbreak of the war generated quietism and passivity on the part of so-called nationalist party leaders, in many Afro—Asian countries the war stimulated an almost exactly opposite response. Rather than eliciting as it did among Jamaican middle class political leaders, deep sentiments of imperial loyalty and support, Britain’s war time mobilization prompted nationalist leaders elsewhere in the empire to ask and demand answers to questions such as the following: Why should we help to liberate others while we ourselves remain the exploited servants of colonialist aggrandisement? Why should we shed our blood in the service of metropolitan interests when the evidence indicates that it is these same interest which keep us chained to the yoke of colonialist oppression and degradation.


Instead of using the war to place these kinds of questions on the agenda for public debate and discussion, the official PNP response was to seek to protect the mother country from the strains which attempt to answer these questions would surely produce.  It is true that dissident elements resisted the efforts of leading members of the party executive to “curb our right to free speech”.51 But generally these protests failed to convince or jerk the deeply rooted Anglophile orientations of the majority of PNP leaders and supporters. While even the government of the United States was expressing the view that Britain’s use of its overseas territories to support its war efforts made the colonial power open to charges of exploitation and inhumanity.  Manley and his key PNP executive associates ware striving to deny or at least to underplay the fact and implications of this argument,


The group that eventually became known an the PNP’s left wing, began to secure its infamous label as a band of militantly irresponsible “Young Turks” because of the persistent efforts made by individuals ouch as Richard Mart and the Hill brothers to persuade the party executive to abandon its “no mother harassment policies and programmes.  But the more insistent the requests for changes in party orientations, the stronger was reaction to the effect that heretics within the PNP entertained notions which were hostile to the mother country and disrespectful of its great institutions and practices.


If established members of the upper and middle classes of -Jamaican society harboured doubts and suspicions regarding Britain’s intensions towards the island, these suspicions turned on the fear that if radical elements within the local society came across too strongly on the self—government issue, Great Britain might well use the strains and demands of the pressures of war as justification for deserting its backward (and in the event of massive self—govern­ment pressures) wayward end ungrateful Jamaican colonial subjects, In fact, H.G. DeLisser, the literary laureate and “house” intellec­tual of the upper classes, wrote what was widely regarded as a “riotous comedy” in which he sketched a vivid picture of the ‘Haitian type’barbarity, and the absolutely “ludicrous” situation which would result if Great Britain’s war policy compelled the metropolitan


government to declare the island an independent Republic, DeLisser it seems, had merely converted popular upper and middle class parlour room gossip into a highly successful dramatic presentation.