Topic Seven.

Lectures 19-21

Robert Buddan

November 11-18, 1999.


The state is the foundation of politics. It is the central and most authoritative political organisation of any society. It consists of the executive and legislative branches of government, and the civil, judicial and security arms of administration. The state is the major institution through which citizens conduct their politics, that is, elect their governments, establish the purposes of government and hold governments accountable to those purposes.

The Caribbean state, however, arose not as a self-conscious and rational construct of Caribbean peoples, as the US and British states did, but from the purposes established by colonial powers and after Independence, the purposes set by new Caribbean leaders but within the structures of state institutions that were largely inherited from the colonial period.

Caribbean states achieved independence facing certain challenges unique to them:

  1. Those established by small size and these states were amongst the smallest in the world that were to face the uncertain future of viability and vulnerability at the time.
  2. The delayed and incomplete process of nationalism so that the concept of ‘nation-state’ did not have the same validity as it had achieved in Europe and the older more established nations.
  3. Colonial state structures that were not designed for the new tasks of development and democracy, and the capacity and relevance of those structures were yet to be tested. Caribbean states were experiments of parliamentary democracy in small developing countries.
  4. A geo-political climate in which the Cold War had arrived in the Caribbean with the Cuban revolution and manifested itself in the growing hostility between the US and Cuba. This would subject these small states to great power politics and limit their policy options to what suited the great powers. Also, at precisely the time these new states were becoming Independent and needed a stable the regional climate, that climate was becoming unstable.
  5. Great expectations from populations that had been denied rights and opportunities for hundreds of years and now were overly-optimistic about what their governments and their leaders could do for them.

Caribbean states then faced the challenges of limited size, weak nationalism, irrelevant or inadequate colonial structures, great power dominance, and unrealistic popular expectations.

Yet, Caribbean states and their leaders were unprepared for these challenges. They entered Independence with a great degree of innocence and naivete on a wave of popular optimism about their goals. Some leaders did have a deeper sense of history and realized that these state systems were in urgent need of post-colonial reforms if they were to effectively redress the evils of the past. Others felt that the Caribbean merely needed to imitate western models and follow the western process of capitalist economic and liberal political modernisation. These different leaders disagreed about what the appropriate structures and purposes of these states should be.

This disagreement was exccacerbated by the impact of generational changes. A younger, more radical generation, critical of the West was already emerging from the region’s universities in the 1960's. Their academic research and ideological positions made them oppose western imperialism, capitalism, racism and political models that seemed to give too much power over the state to the economically dominant minority classes while two-party systems divided the Black majority and undermined the natural unity that should have been expected from their history of oppression.

These radicals added their own views of the role of the state. The main views at Independence then were, the liberal, the moderate socialist and the radical socialist or Marxist. The modern Caribbean state, therefore, was founded in a period of conflict over its purpose and disagreement over its design.

How did these views explain the nature of the Caribbean state?

The Radical Critique: Post-Colonial or Neocolonial States.

In studying the Caribbean state, some political scientists take the view that while they have achieved formal independence, that is, freedom from direct political control by a foreign power, they have not achieved real independence. They use the term ‘neocolonialism’ (new colonialism) to suggest that while the form of control has changed, the substance has not. They make two points in particular: one is about control - economic and ideological; and the other is about Independence - real or symbolic.

The locus of control has shifted from the political to the economic and ideological spheres. It is possible and even necessary to grant Independence or freedom from foreign political control, but it is vital for exploiting foreign powers to retain economic control through foreign ownership and investments and through control of world trade and financing. On this point, Trevor Farrell suggests that a real test of independence is to ask, in whose interests are a country’s resources preponderantly organised and to what extent is a country in control of its own dynamics and development. His answer is that, it is foreign powers that still organise and control the economic resources of the Caribbean. The belief that Caribbean peoples control their own destinies is an illusion.

Control is not only of the economic kind. These writers suggest that neocolonialism is about ideological control as well - the control of the mind, what one thinks and what one believes. Neocolonialism is a mental (cognitive) condition. As such, it promotes positive beliefs in western materialist values, consumer tastes and life styles, and beliefs that western or foreign ways and things are better than local ones. The colonial mind accepts western structures (but rejects Black peoples who manage those structures) as the colonial ideology taught them to. For instance, Black politicians are severely criticised for supposedly causing political and racial tribalism but the two-party structure which divides people in the first place is still valued as a democratic ideal handed down from the west. Colonial ideology had created a mindset that caused locals to distrust and disrespect their own kind.

This kind of thinking is different from the earlier criticisms made by the radicals. They concentrated their criticisms on the inherited western structures - capitalism, capitalist democracy, class exploitation - but they promoted black and native peoples, their innovations and forms of economic enterprise and industry, political organisation and community relations. That was the position younger radicals like of Walter Rodney, Michael Manley, George Beckford, Cheddi Jagan.

The other point made by the radical school of thought is about symbolism and symbolic manipulation. Independence they said is merely symbolic. Louis Lindsay says, “ No sooner was the right to independence conceded in form, than it was withdrawn in substance.” He continues to say that independence is mainly ceremonial providing the state with a national constitution, national flag, national anthem, national dish, national tree, national bird and so on, “but for the great majority of citizens in the alleged newly independent state, life continues in much the same way that it did before what was heralded as independence was achieved. Lindsay uses terms like, ‘ceremonial independence,’ ‘symbolic independence,’ ‘documentary (paper) independence,’ ‘pseudo-independence,’ to describe what he considered to be the superficial nature of the neocolonial Caribbean state.

Lindsay and Farrell seem to be saying that after independence, Caribbean leaders have become managers of the state but they do not control real power. They make the distinction between management and control. Nationalisation of the ‘commanding heights’ of the economy only appeared to give states power over these economies. The rise of Blacks to ministerial positions, corporate boards and civil service posts similarly gives the illusion of national power. But Farrell insists that, “The granting of political and administrative [power] did not signify any fundamental change in the colonial relationship as long as ownership and control of the commanding heights of the local economy remained firmly in the hands of the metropolitan investors and their home governments.”

The radical critique in summary is that, Caribbean states needed fundamental and wide-ranging restructuring after independence and neither the moderate reformist socialists and certainly not the liberal pro-west modernisers were interested in or capable of such change. Instead, western political and economic structures simply came under the management of Black faces giving the illusion of real independence. However, neocolonial control remained with foreign powers. Substantive Independence is a myth. The Caribbean state is neocolonial. The Caribbean people as a whole, including the dispossessed majority never controlled the state nor had an opportunity to design new structures nor define a new purpose for the state.

The Social Democratic (Reformist) State.

Another way of explaining the Caribbean state was adopted by Carl Stone. Stone sees the central theme in the evolution of the Caribbean state as a struggle for democracy, that is, a process of converting the colonial state to one serving the interest of the majority class along with the accountability of government through popular political participation.

The state under colonialism was neither democratic nor developmental. Its main features were:

  1. The restriction of political power and privileges to economically dominant white and racially mixed property owners;
  2. Minimal government administration so as not to encroach on the power of large landowners;
  3. Tight limits on state spending for public services and limited taxation on the rich;
  4. An undeveloped notion of the public interest and an ideology that favoured large landowners.

The goals of the post-colonial state was different in trying to promote:

  1. Fuller development of the idea of the public interest through an array of public policies to serve the majority classes;
  2. A more expansive and active role for the state in the economy to obtain increased revenue to finance higher levels of public spending;
  3. More active government administration so that a capable public sector could compete with the private sector to serve public interests;
  4. The growth of reformist ideologies to replace the aristocratic state with a social democratic state.

In essence, Stone argues that the Caribbean state underwent a transition from being an aristocratic state designed to serve minority, private interests to a more social democratic state designed to serve majority, public interests.

To accomplish the goals of social democracy the region’s nationalist movements consciously sought to win the vote, parliamentarism and competitive party systems and to build a national state. He says, therefore, “It is... absurd for anyone to suggest that parliamentary rule represented some sort of alien British institution imposed on colonies...” Caribbean states were national states. This is another way of saying that Independence was real and not merely a symbolic transfer of power from the British state to the national Caribbean state. (Stone recognises that parliamentarism was accepted to the nationalist elites because it was ingrained in their minds over a long period of colonisation.)

Stone goes on to argue that independence not only brought a new state into being but that state brought real benefits to the people. It was more than just a change of form. There was change in substance.

The State and the Social Sector.

The new and beneficial role of the state could be seen in areas such as health and education.

In the area of life expectancy, this improved in Jamaica from 61 years in 1950 to 67 in 1960, 70 in 1970 and stands at about 74 today;

In infant deaths per 1,000, this also improved from 119 in 1938, to 81 in 1950, 63 in 1960, 36 in 1970 and 11 today. In fact, Jamaica ranks ahead of all developing countries on this score at present and has usually done so since 1978.

Stone’s point can be substantiated with reference to the Human Development Reports of the United Nations. They consistently show that the English-speaking Caribbean ranks in the middle range of human development and score higher than the countries of Africa, Asia, the Middle East, many countries of Latin America and even some in Eastern Europe.

The State and the Economic Sector.

The state sought to stimulate economic development given the weakness of a modern private sector and the prevalence of a backward plantation sector. Beginning in the 1950's, Caribbean states followed a path of ‘industrialization-by-invitation.’ The state provided tax holidays, protection for infant industries, investment incentives to local and foreign investors, provision of infrastructure, industrial estates and industrial policies and planning systems.

Then from the late 1960's into the 1970's, Caribbean states pursued policies of economic nationalism. Influenced by more radical thinking, the larger states begun to engage in ownership of large areas of the economies. The countries following this path were Guyana, Jamaica, Trinidad and to a lesser extent, Barbados. In Guyana, at one time, the state sector was responsible for over 80% of GDP. In Trinidad, the government was a majority owner in 53 large enterprises and a minority holder in eleven. In Jamaica, similarly, the government owned parts of the major industries - sugar, bauxite, hotels, banking.

State ownership in the economy was justified as reducing foreign ownership of the economy, transforming the economy into productive areas and away from traditional import trading, and rescuing failed industries in order to save jobs. The context of the time is important. The Third World had emerged with ideologies of nationalisation as a counter to the history of foreign ownership of its economies.

The State and the Public Sector.

As the state became more active, its bureaucracy also grew. New agencies had to be created to service the new roles it had taken on and it had to employ more people to operate its agencies. Agencies were created with responsibility for overseeing industrial development, urban development, export promotion; planning and statistical institutes emerged, central banks became more powerful, foreign affairs agencies became more active in international negotiations; and regulatory agencies became more numerous.

As the state became larger and more powerful, governments also became more powerful as directors of the state. Cabinet ministers came to have more power as their scope of responsibilities grew and prime ministers developed more centralised systems of executive management to coordinate the work of bigger governments. A new class of special advisors and prime ministerial staff came into being and generally a set of public sector managers and technocrats became a part of the state.

Government spending as a percentage of GDP rose dramatically in Jamaica after Independence. It was 6.2% in 1955, 12.1% in 1970 and 22.1% in 1977. Government revenue as a percentage of GDP also increased. It was 14% in 1950 but rose to 21% by 1970 and 24% by 1980. Government also became a large employer. It employed 57,000 persons in 1968 and 107,000 by 1973.

In Stone’s conception, after Independence, a post-colonial state emerged. Its task was to involve itself in social and economic development in ways that the colonial state had not. In so doing, the very state became transformed taking on modern functions. This was not simply a neo-colonial state since it was significantly different in structure, manpower and purpose from the colonial state.

The highest development of the social democratic state was achieved in Jamaica between 1972 and 1980. During the period important social legislation marked the attempt to meet the social welfare of the majority classes: maternity leave for women, minimum wage, protection of workers against unfair dismissal, protection of tenants from the arbitrary power of landlords, reducing the voting age to 18, and a number of community-based initiatives in health, youth training, neighbourhood security, cooperatives and others that strengthened popular participation.

The (neo) Liberal State.

The idea of the liberal state is of the minimalist state. A strong state would be too powerful and dangerous to rights and freedom, and a large state would be too bureaucratic, corrupt and inefficient. The state should therefore leave the economy to the private sector, welfare to individuals themselves to achieve and should undertake only those functions necessary for the public good - defence, education, infrastructure, national security. This was not the state that emerged initially. However, since the 1980's and 1990's, the neo-liberal conception has gained ascendancy.

The neoliberal period had gained the ascendancy because of:

  1. The setbacks to the social democratic state caused by the electoral defeat of democratic socialism in Jamaica (1980), the US invasion of Grenada in 1983, the deaths of Eric Williams in Trinidad (1984) and Forbes Burnham in Guyana (1986) and the end of Soviet support of Cuba (1989). The commitment to a state-dominant model of development passed with the decline of socialist ideology and socialist regimes or those like Eric Williams which was strongly nationalistic.

  2. In more practical terms, some Caribbean states had simply exhausted their spending power and had entered a debt trap which prevented them from supporting social services and state economic enterprises any longer. Countries like Guyana, Jamaica, Haiti, Cuba, the Dominican Republic were forced to reduce the role of the state. Even Trinidad suffered a recession from the mid-1980's because of sharply reduced revenues from oil and had to drastically cut back on state spending.

  3. Internationally, organisations like the IMF and World Bank, backed by conservative American governments like those of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, aggressively made aid, investment, trade and debt relief conditional on structural adjustment policies. Structural adjustment became the economic ideology of the neoliberal conservatives to roll back the state and socialism to expand the private sector and capitalism.

The neoliberal state is characterized by certain policies that have been the hallmark of state reforms in the 1990's:

  1. Privatization: This is the opposite of nationalization and means that states must sell off what they had come to own to private owners.

  2. Deregulation: State regulation of the market and the rules of competition were to be loosened so that more economic players could enter the market.

  3. Liberalization: Import duties were to be reduced to allow more entry to foreign exports and less protection to local industries.

  4. Good Governance: The World Bank introduced the notion of ‘good governance’ in 1989 aimed at modernising government services and reducing bureaucracy.

  5. Poverty Alleviation: The alleviation of poverty (rather than its eradication) became a goal to be served by non-state organisations, mainly non-governmental organisations and the private sector along with basic support from the state.

  6. The Market: The main vehicle of production and welfare and enterprise would be the market, not the state. The market would liberate human ingenuity while the state only stifled it with bureaucracy.

  7. Democracy: Democracy of the liberal kind was to be promoted over socialist or any other kind. Liberal democracy would provide the checks and balances of the market and civil society against the state and keep the state in check.

This new kind of state was at variance with the social democratic state that the Caribbean had become used to between the 1950's and 1980's. This model became especially noticeable in Jamaica, Barbados and Dominica in the 1980's. Carl Stone summed up the form it had taken in Jamaica in the 1980's: “The reversal of democratic gains in the 1970's set the stage for three interrelated developments within the Jamaican state. These included the concentration of power in the hands of the Prime Minister, the de-nationalisation of the state in so far as it has become more responsive to overseas than local interests, and the complete reversal of policy emphases developed in the transition to democracy which sought to harness the state as an instrument of improving the quality of life of the majority classes through increased social services and enlarged public policy capability.”

The liberal model has created problems for democratic control of the small Caribbean states. Democracy requires people to have control over their state but the state has been removed from control of the economy. Instead the economy has come under the control of local and foreign private sectors, that is domestic and transnational capitalism.

The problems are essentially two. First, the liberal model has subjected the state to the transnational corporations and the big governments of the world under the name of ‘globalism’; and second, it has turned over the private sectors of the Caribbean to classes of people who have not shown the enterprise, honesty or commitment to national development but who still display a mentality towards trading, reliance on state support and parasitism.

For example:

Privatisation of enterprises has meant that many enterprises that were created or sustained by tax dollars were sold out to wealthy business interests (individuals and corporations) who could afford them; or where locals could not afford them, they were sold to foreign investors.

Liberalisation has served the exports of transnational companies and hurt the small local producer trying to compete.

Good governance has replaced the ideology of serving the public interest through state activism in the social and economic sectors to providing efficient government service in a relationship between server and client.

Poverty alleviation serves to provide basic support for the very poor who have been left behind by the market, rather than reforming the capitalist market to end poverty and aim for social equality.


Caribbean states have passed through three main phases: the phase of decolonisation; the social democratic post-colonial phase; and the neoliberal conservative phase of structural-adjustment.

In each of these phases the state has undergone a different set of reforms. In the phase of decolonisation the reforms were primarily constitutional ultimately leading to Independence and full national representation. Radical critics however, took the view that these reforms were merely symbolic and that power did not actually pass to the people.

In the second phase, the state took on social democratic characteristics in a period of state-building. The state became more active in the social, economic and public sectors. In some countries like Guyana it also became more authoritarian and militaristic. In the third phase, reforms were undertaken to reduce the role of the state and increase that of the market.

It could be argued that Caribbean states are still undertaking efforts to find the right balance between the roles for the state, the market and civil society and policies that meet acceptable criteria of democracy and development.

Eighth topic Migration