Bukka Rennie

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Re-Brand the PNM!

The Lyrics and The Licks


The "Party" is merely a strategy. This strategy became necessary owing to the fragmentation of populations according to varying levels of social and political consciousness. The level of generalized consciousness of any group is determined by that group's engagement with economic activity or the group's specific relationship with the process of capital generation, circulation and accumulation. The question that arose was: how best to distill and disseminate information among a fragmented population, among groups of varying levels of consciousness, with the aim to co-ordinate action in order to gain or secure further fundamental development? The answer was/and still is, the Party. According to Winston Mahabir, an early PNM stalwart, the Party is the "conductor" to a "multi-faceted, multi-tiered orchestra, the various parts of which must play in unison and harmonise to advance good, successful music." Even moreso, today, it is the necessity that the Party represents such a co-ordination of various elements and a conglomeration of specific issues and concerns.

The Party for the 21st century, unlike the Party of old that represented the interest of only a single, isolated sector or class, must today, given the "universality of knowledge," embrace in philosophy, ideology and principles all the various sectors of the population, i.e., youth, women, unemployed, production workers, artists, intellectual workers, professionals, service sector workers, farmers, students, entrepreneurs large and small, as well as the specific demands of a separate, geographical entity such as Tobago, and even the various ethnic nationalists who comprise elements of all those mentioned above. All and sundry must be challenged tactically as the Party intervenes in their daily existence. What are these sectors demanding now and for the immediate future? The Party must ask itself these questions and be capable of answering promptly because of its direct engagement with and among the said people. What are their fears, aspirations and concerns, and how do these fit into and inform the Party's overall policy formulations, never at the expense of any one sector but always for the general good?

The PNM was nurtured on the demands of the people for Independence in the late 50's – early 60's and the Party coined the slogan "Massa Day Done" that best expressed the concerns of all the various sectors, and after winning state power in 1956 and governing for eight years, a Research Committee of the General Council had the following to say in 1964 about "the Party in Independence":

  1. "The Party is for Independence and Democracy..."

  2. "The Party should be unmistakably in the forefront of the progressive forces in the country... in its philosophy the Party possesses the necessary equipment to perform this function..."

  3. "Party activists must ...be conscious of their historic role at the head of the mass movement in every field..."

  4. "The key ... is therefore the activation of the Party, the translation and evolution of the Party from a mere election machine into a social and political force in the community..."

  5. "Party members should play an active part in these organizations (religious, charitable & social, cultural and recreational, political). Where they choose to do so, we take pains to urge that they must not permit their Party allegiance to obtrude..."

  6. "It is...of the utmost importance for the future of the country that the vital decisions should not be taken exclusively by the people who are closest to the seat of power. For there the fear and the pressure are greatest and there the judgment is most likely to be affected by transient considerations...The existence of an active powerful democratic party close to the government and the people is the only effective counter-poise to the pressure of sectional interests, the surest guarantee of objective judgment, the most enduring foundation of future stability, and the most potent barrier against the capricious use of power..."

  7. "Let the PNM fulfill its pre-destined role as the key to open the door of the dynamic and creative energies of the people..."

The 1964 document quoted above is titled "The Party in Independence" and was signed by the following people who comprised the special committee of the General Council appointed to deal with the issue:- ANR Robinson (Chairman), P. Nurse (Secretary), R. Felix, I. Persad, F. Smith and G. Chambers. Two members of this committee were later to become Prime Ministers under different circumstances. There are two points to be noted here. Firstly, it is clear that after 8 years of governance, some members of the PNM had come to comprehend that the Party was not the whole people, nor synonymous with the mass movement as suggested in the People's Charter. In fact, the extracts quoted indicated that the Party had to establish a particular relationship with the mass movement and seek to intervene in the people's organizations and to provide leadership therein without "party allegiance being obtrusive." Secondly, that there had to be a delicate relationship between the Party and Government with the Party being the "surest guarantee of objective judgment" by the Government and a counter-balance against the "capricious use of power." There is no clearer stated vision anywhere in the history of the Caribbean Region of the relationship between Party, Government and the Mass Movement of the people organized in their socio-political groups and how all this fits into a general philosophy and view of the world. There has never been a Nationalist Party in the Caribbean with so ennobling a vision as that of the PNM. Obviously, CLR's theoretical influence was still shinning through the General Council, although he had left the PNM in 1963, and of course as time wore on, this theoretical influence died out and the PNM veered significantly away from its intended moorings.


However, as activists throughout take responsibility to re-fashion and re-tool the PNM, they must be mindful that the world of the 21st century is radically different to the world of the 50's and 60's. The Party that was described in the People's Charter was envisaged to transform the system of colonial relationships, to establish an indigenous sovereign Nation State with the specific task to facilitate economic transformation and political development in context of a world threatened by the probable devastation from nuclear warfare, intense COLD WAR machinations, polarity between East and West and the delicate balancing of a Non-Aligned 3rd World Movement seeking self-determination for its unit-partners. That world is now no more.

Since then Multi-National or Trans-National Corporations have bridged East, West, North & South, following the dictates of capital generation and wealth accumulation that coincided with the disappearances of Iron and Bamboo curtains in the wake of the liberation struggles of masses of humankind. Since then the objective need to continuously extend and deepen markets have transformed the world into a global village. The Nation State, with all its attendant laws, regulations and territorial barricades, has come to be viewed as hindrance. On the other hand, the demand of capital for a global village brings to the fore new levels of people's demands for political and cultural sovereignty, ethnic distinction, the upsurge of traditional fundamentalisms, as well as the demand for direct democracy and the empowerment of people where they live and where they work. The masses of the world have rejected the idea of being reduced by economic necessities to a general sameness, to a common cultural denomination within a Global Village dominated by North-American, G-8, initiated technology and crass North-American commercialization and consumption. That is the tendency today. Imagine in T&T today we are practically raising American children who are in fact born and bred T&T citizens. That kind of absurdity serves to foster ethnic nationalism, the cry of people to re-affirm who they are, the crucial need as we say today in T&T, to "BIG UP WE-SELF!", and which is so evident throughout the world and which must be addressed by any serious, progressive Party in these times. A Cultural Policy, therefore, is an imperative; no moral judgments are to be made against ethnic nationalists who today are usually dismissed as being racist and tribal. To do so is to engage in religious moralising, not politics. Politics must address people's fears as well as their concerns and aspirations. Politics must determine how we intervene in the various social milieus in order to transform their narrow or limited vision unto a grander worldview. The lesson for us all is that the "universal" lies within the "specific", just as the "specific" lies within the "universal."

At the same time, the intensity and speed of technological development and its application to mass industrial production throughout has brought a new threat to human existence, i.e., ecological devastation. In the 50's and 60's it was the threat of nuclear warfare; in the 21st century, it is ecological devastation, i.e., global warming and climate change as a direct result of mankind's habits of industry. The question for us is: how are dependent small island states with economies of scale such as ours, to sustain industrial development given our constraints and our environmental fragility? The point is that our Industrial Policy must be set by the requirements of sustainable development.

To sum up. The world today demands a Party that in fact reflects the people's various concerns, fears and aspirations and that possesses within its capacity specific tactics relative to each concern, fear and aspiration. The Party itself must be a strategy that co-ordinates and conducts "unobtrusively" the intervention of social leaderships within each and every sector. Every social milieu must be challenged politically by the Party and in so doing the Party's revolutionary and progressive thrust must revolve around both a Cultural Policy and an Industrial Policy informed by the necessities of the time outlined above. If the Party is not revolutionary or progressive, it is not the soul and spirit of the people, then it is nothing but an electoral machine and amounts to naught.

We say: Great was the PNM, and only if the work is done and done in a timely manner, it shall prevail.

April, 2010.

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