Wednesday, August 20, 2008
McCarthy, Lloyd D. “In-Dependence” From Bondage: Claude McKay and Michael Manley: Defying the Ideological Clash and Policy Gaps in African Diaspora Relations”
Claude McKay and Michael Manley may seem like strange bedfellows for a study in 20th century politics. Though both born in
Lloyd D. McCarthy’s choice of characters for this analytic dual biography/regional history is ultimately rewarding. McCarthy draws attention to the logical connection between growing up on a colonized, hyper-exploited island and Manley and McKay’s eventual embracing of egalitarian, passionately anti-racist politics. McCarthy makes the case that Manley and McKay represent two archetypal political poles of 20th century
Manley and the Promise of Democratic Socialism
Born to a former Premiere of Jamaica and a well known artist, Michael Manley was given a life of social and political connections across
Manley’s Democratic Socialist model aimed to “Jamaicanize” foreign businesses (state takeover of 51%), expand local capitalism, and nationalize some key institutions. The goal was to reallocate some economic power and provide basic relief to the poor, without scaring away foreign investors or domestic capital completely. Raised as a Fabian socialist, Manley attempted to rebuild
There is also no criticism of the extent to which Manley’s years in office were business as usual for Jamaican politics: cronyism, patronage, street violence by rival party gangs. None of this changed under the rule of “socialist” Manley. As Arthur Lewin pointed out in Monthly Review in the aftermath of Manley’s (first) fall from power, the Manley administration focused the anger of the poor at the rival [conservative] Jamaica Labor Party, not actual economic elites. In short, Manley’s rule served to “mute class struggle”, containing the rebellious mood to the confines of mainstream, two-party politics. McCarthy credits Manley with inventing a nonrevolutionary, “morally-based”, Democratic Socialism perfectly suited for the
There are also undeniably proud moments in Manley’s time in office. His commitment to the liberation struggles in
Claude McKay’s grandparents were born into slavery, and McKay himself was brought up in a rural peasant environment. The language and oral history traditions of rural
The year 1919 would change everything for Claude McKay, a year which also carries a morbid legacy for the radical labor movement and especially the Black community. It was the year of the Palmer Raids, when leftists and immigrants were targeted en mass for deportation. It was also know as the Red—with blood—Summer of 1919, when dozens of Black communities were faced with murderous pogroms and ruthless intimidation campaigns. Hundreds were killed in the violence, which also saw Black resistance to the onslaught. Claude McKay, an aspiring poet working as a waiter, grabbed a pen and wrote a poem at work, titled “If We Must Die”. The poem cried out in anguish at the slaughter being carried out against Black people, and insisted that “if we must die” may it be on our feet, not on our knees. The poem was an incendiary call for vigorous self-defense. It struck a nerve with his co-workers and, via publications such as Max Eastman’s The Liberator, found resonance with Black people and their allies across the country. Despite his deepening connections with the Black left, the labor movement, and radical literary circles, McKay prepared to migrate again, this time to
In the young
When McKay returned to
McKay’s vision, as McCarthy spells out quite clearly through pieces of McKay’s prose, poetry, and political writing, was one of Black liberation and socialism. He believed that capitalism and imperialism had robed the
Manley and McKay
Michael Manley, too, believed that capitalism and imperialism had robbed Black people and people of the Global South of their rights and resources. McKay was inspired by the formation of a world revolutionary movement, while Manley had his eye on international possibilities, too. Manley imagined a European Union-style trading block that would help primarily countries of the Global South. McKay believed that only revolutionary action could wrestle power way from the ruling class, while Manley insisted on an inside-the-system approach that sough a middle path between capital and labor. Both identified their Afro-Caribbean roots as being essential early building blocks towards their radical politics. McKay and Manley both saw themselves as voices for the masses of poor and working class people of African ancestry across the globe, and both saw themselves as stemming the tide of generations of cultural genocide and extreme exploitation.
The many simpatico ways these men’s lives and ideas dovetail each others is looked at in great detail and indeed illuminated by Lloyd McCarthy. The unflattering ways they do not line up, however, are glanced past. McCarthy is unable to see the yawning gap between Manley’s socialist-sounding rhetoric and the zig-zag political realities of his administration. It is a bit simpler to analyze McKay’s politics, as he never wielded state power. His vivid mixture of Black Nationalism, anti-colonialism, and radical socialism found a burning expression on the page, but was never tested on the ground. Therefore it is McCarthy’s light, sympathetic treatment of Manley that is the most suspect.
McCarthy’s book is a joy to read; a rich look at the 20th century Caribbean left as represented by two of it’s most charismatic and brilliant thinkers. The author, it would seem, is simply a little too close to the Manley’s legacy to give it a fair, honest appraisal.