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Small Axe 6.1 (2002) 1-30

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Politics, Nation and PostColony:
Caribbean Inflections

Anthony Bogues

For if the history of Caribbean society is that of a dual relation
Between plantation and plot, the two poles which originate in a single
Historical process, the ambivalence between the two has been and is
The distinguishing characteristic of the Caribbean response.

—Sylvia Wynter

Dem nah pull no string
Dem a just block up the train
Dem no cater for the youth dem wi down de lane
When dem done campaign
Dem go fly out pon plane
And dem and dem friend gone go drink champagne in a Paris and Spain
But Everyting remain just the same.

—Bounty Killer and Junior Reid

Must be given words to shape my name to the syllables of trees
I must be given words to refashion futures like a healers hand.

—Kamau Brathwaite, "Islands" [End Page 1]

Politics and the anglophone Caribbean nation-states are in acute crisis, from which there seems no easy exit. This crisis pervades the intellectual climate. Brian Meeks suggests that perhaps we are at the stage of "terminal meltdown," 1 David Scott argues that "there is scarcely a postcolonial society that is not in fundamental crisis," 2 and Selwyn Ryan opines that the "tensions between economic distress and democratic governance" 3 engender regional political instability. In the contemporary period, "crisis" is a much overworked label. As a political term it is a sign of instability, of chaos, disorder, and broken social bonds. Clearly the Caribbean nation-states constructed from 1938 onward are in crisis. Beverly Lopez, a prominent Jamaican businesswoman, plaintively says, "[I] recognize that the citizens of this country no longer look to us for a counter point vision or leadership." 4 But if there is general agreement that politics and various regional nation-states are in crisis, there is no consensus on the nature of the crisis. Is it one of "hegemonic dissolution," as Meeks suggests, or of "the modern nation-state project as a whole," as Scott argues?

I agree that there exists a fundamental crisis in the politics of the different Caribbean nation-states. However, while I acknowledge that part of the crisis results in "hegemonic dissolution" and that some of its traces can be found in the general collapse of the modern nation-state project constructed during the period of decolonization, I reflect differently on the crisis. I suggest that the present crisis in politics and the nation is one in which the economic relations, political ideas, and old patterns of domination and power are undergoing wrenching convulsions. To put it another way the crisis is one of "language, life and labor." In developing my arguments I operate from a cognitive-political space, which David Scott suggested was opened up with Sylvia Wynter's and Kamau Brathwaite's cultural, political and intellectual labors during the late 1960s and 1970s. 5 However, though I start from this space my axis is an explicitly political one. The difference, primarily, resides in my focus on the complexities of the nature of the Jamaican state and both the colonial and Creole nationalist project of constructing a particular Afro-Jamaican subject. [End Page 2]

The arguments in this essay are constructed around two moments in Jamaican political history. The first moment is the nationalist political practice and discourses of N. W. Manley. Manley's political and social ideas framed the Jamaican Creole nationalist movement. His conception of the political shaped the politics of formal Jamaican decolonization, and, in the words of Stuart Hall, "he was in command of the logistics of the nation." 6 In many ways N. W. Manley is the iconic figure of Jamaican Creole nationalism, a nation-founder who, with his integrity and various excellences, epitomizes the committed, nationalist, middle-class. Central to the core of Manley's political practice was an idea elaborated on by English political theorist T. H. Green. Green had argued that "the good which a man seeks for himself is not a succession of pleasures, but objects which, when realized, are permanent contributions to a social good." 7...


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