Re-Brand the PNM!
The Lyrics and The Licks
The first task of any Party in such a predicament as the PNM today is to attempt to minimize, as much as possible, the negative mind-set that has plagued it for many years and which has been generated and popularized by anti-PNM cliques, groups and sectors of the population. The view that the PNM is racist, corrupt and wasteful, on one hand, and, on the other hand, the view that it is anti-progressive, conservative and pro-imperialist, have all been the result of the aggressive manipulation of perception rather than actual reality. And that is not to say that PNM Regimes have not proven over time in part to be quite incompetent in its administration of the nation's affairs and in the office of Government have been quite arrogant and misguided in its setting of priorities given finite resources. Nevertheless, every section of the population regardless of race, religion, class, gender or colour benefited from the PNM Regimes' programmes of economic transformation and social development, and these facts and statistics, must be stated boldly with confidence and without fear of contradiction. The accomplishments of the various PNM regimes must be outlined in context of the prevailing objective constraints.
There is still a lot to be accomplished; no one can deny that but a great deal has been done and the modern amenities and infrastructure of our towns and municipalities stand as testimony to this. What greater testimony does one need than the existence of a modern and widely literate population in T&T. At the same time the pace of infrastructural development under the PNM Regimes, particularly that of Manning's, have certainly not kept pace with the aspirations of a modern, enlightened people leading therefore to intense criticisms and unpopularity. Imagine elementary schools with leaky roofs, clogged up toilets, vermin-infested classrooms in 2010 while billions of dollars are being spent. There can be no justifications for such atrocities today. However, on the other hand, certain anti-PNM critics simply mouth the same spurious criticisms that their predecessors in history were mouthing mere weeks after the 1956 elections and which they were mouthing as well during the build-up to the 1962 Independence which they surmised would end in disaster. In fact, they were the very people who expressed openly the preference to persist with the colonial arrangements mostly driven by ethnic fears. At the same time, an objective examination of the critics themselves and their criticisms of the PNM regimes tell a particular story.
LEFT-WING WORKING CLASS ACTIVISTS
These are people, cutting across race and gender lines, who saw the post-Independence arrangements as neo-colonial and imperialist in nature. The system, which became synonymous with the PNM regimes, was seen as exploitative and reinforcing, rather than dismantling the international division of labour by which we were forced to produce cheap raw materials expropriated by the developed economies from whom in turn we import very expensive, finished, manufactured and refined goods. But it stands to reason that a local manufacturing sector could not spring up overnight as the basis upon which to supplant the old economic relationships. Such a sector had to be nurtured and matured gradually. The old and the nucleus of the future had to first exist side by side in the process of transition. Moreover, the prerequisite was to first gain sovereignty, i.e., political independence, and inculcate and entrench the free political will to design, formulate and implement a new and different path to economic development. However, the workers' organizations had their own agenda and time-frame. 1962 Independence brought with it, quite understandably, a new wave of working-class combativeness and an increased demand for better working conditions and wages. The PNM regime responded with the enacting of the ISA in 1965 in an attempt both to "police" the working population while simultaneously attempting to modernize the industrial relations process and procedures. The negatives of the ISA far outweighed the positives, and hostilities intensified and served to break the affinity between the Trade Unions and the political leadership of both the PNM party and PNM regime. CLR James, the Party's most renowned and progressive member, departed early in this period, signaling the exodus that was to come and he launched nationally and internationally his objective analysis of "Party Politics in the West Indies", a severe critique of the functioning of the PNM. Most of the local radical students and returning professionals who were then to ally with the Trade Union Movement in T&T were schooled on CLR's teachings, and so, in tendency held affinity to the worldwide student movement, demanding direct democracy and greater control over their lives and their destiny as encompassed in an anti-Imperialist path to national socio-economic development. Therein lies the genesis of the alienation and estrangement of the children of the founding fathers of the PNM from the both the PNM Party and the various PNM Regimes.
On the other hand, owing to the pressure exerted on the PNM for urbanization with undue haste, the peasant farming sector was left undone and to their own ingenuity. The constant, natural migration from rural to urban areas, a universal predicament, and the resulting social pressure, forced certain priorities on the PNM regimes that, given the finite, limited resources available, could not accommodate the simultaneous expediting of both urban and rural development. Rural development lagged as a result. Peasant farmers were the ones who dreamt most of the by-gone days of colonialism when certain powerful individual agriculturalists, both expatriate as well as local, saw to their mutual basic needs. The fact that numerically the peasant-farmers were largely Hindu Indians heightened the alienation and lent evidently to the charge of racist priorities. Similarly, the African peasant-farmers of Tobago experienced alienation and since Independence there would come to emerge from time to time alliances between the opposition parties that represent these two social milieus, i.e., Indian farmers of rural Trinidad and African farmers of Tobago. From as early as 1965, there came to exist in clear evidence an extensive enough objective base for the emergence of an alliance of workers, students and peasant farmers spearheaded by the Trade Unions. In the midst of all this, the PNM, both the political entities of Party and Regime, largely chose to ignore these developments, most of all, ignore the inherent "politics" of these developments and continued to hold office by way of subterfuge, manipulation and patronage.
Most of the social leadership of organized labour was serviced educationally from the KREMLIN whose anti-colonial politics and activities formed a major plank initially in the COLD-WAR politics of the day. Even after Independence, the linkages to Moscow were kept intact as part of the "anti-American Imperialist" strategy. These leaders were regular visitors to Moscow and Eastern Europe, attending indoctrination seminars and conventions and they came to see the Russian model as the paradigm for international working-class struggle and development. Having not undertaken any serious study of their own history and therefore unable to formulate any ideology out of their own Caribbean experience, they lacked original thought, yet were embraced by the masses whenever necessary for the sake of prodding forward localised struggle for better wages and conditions. PNM lasted 30 years in power largely due to the incompetence of these working-class leaderships who proved unable to take their strident, vociferous criticism of the PNM beyond mere mouthing and the labels of "imperialist running dogs" comprador bourgeoisie, CIA stooges, etc. etc. Nevertheless, their sheer emotionalism and sloganeering were fed by genuine rancour in the society due to PNM's tactical failings in their approach to the politics of socio-economic transformation. Eventually, the Lyrics and the Licks took a toll on the successive PNM governments, particularly as unemployment continued to increase after the initial growth period petered out and placed serious downward pressure on the terms and conditions of those employed.
By 1970, the unemployed had become a widespread, permanent under-class, un-employed as well as unemployable, with its own sub-culture, politicized heavily by the leadership of the anti-PNM working-class activists and influenced by the political expression and events emanating from the Black ghettoes of America and Britain. The social explosion of 1970, a mere eight years after Independence, was the high point of the coalescing of the combative forces allied against the PNM – i.e. workers, students, farmers and the unemployed. When the February Revolution was dissipated by the PNM regime and the unemployed sought then to attack the State, launching a guerilla-type military campaign of sorts, they were to find safe havens within the strong working-class and farming enclaves in Central, South-Central and North-Eastern areas of Trinidad. PNM neither foresaw the coming explosion, despite the obvious objective signals, nor dealt with it with intelligent politics; e.g., no new alliances among the various sectors of the population were forged or even attempted. By the 1971 elections, the PNM could command only 28% of the electorate, 72% joining the no-vote campaign orchestrated by the combination of opposition parties and other opposition social forces. Since then, in the flow-up period of two decades, given the failure to seriously revisit party philosophy and strategy, a failure that was compounded with the passing of Dr. Eric Williams, the PNM found itself merely holding the fort until it was totally decimated (33-3) in the 1986 elections. In 1991, the PNM were able to recapture state power, however, despite the influx of new faces, there came no formulation of a new vision to suit the changing times.