The real problem
The bane of Barbadian society has always been the existence of social elites or privileged in-groups and the deleterious effects that such entities have generated!
During the colonial period, for example, the Barbadian social elites/in-groups consisted of the white planter/merchant oligarchy and the expatriate British colonial officials: and we are only too well aware of the devastating effect that these elites had on the broad masses of the Barbadian people, as a result of their efforts to maintain their positions of social privilege.
Well, over the past 50 years or so Barbadian society has secreted yet another social elite or in-group. We refer to the university-educated black middle-class social group that has taken control of the top leadership positions in the Civil Service, the two traditional political parties, the education system, the major trade unions, the establishment churches and the legal system, and that has been coopted by the traditional white business-class to assist in the running of the established corporate sector.
Generally speaking, such elite groups or classes do not produce the material substance (and often-times not even the cultural and spiritual “substances”) on which the society is based. That critical function is performed by the members of the broad working-class who tend the fields, man the factories, service the hotels, and shoulder the construction industry. The elite social classes perch on the backs of the working-class and the physical industrial and agricultural economy that the labour of the working-class sustains.
The problem that has gradually arisen in Barbados over the past 50 years is that the “new” black middle-class has convinced itself that it is “wiser” than the working-class and that, as a result, it is entitled to rule and lead and make decisions for the working-class.
And this social attitude has manifested itself in the manner in which members of the black middle-class have taken control of and thoroughly monopolised the leadership of even such quintessential working-class based organisations as the political parties and trade unions.
Tragically, these middle class elements seem to believe that ordinary workers are simple-minded creatures incapable of contributing to any intellect-based decision making process, and have little or no appreciation of the insights and “education” that workers receive from carrying out their critical function within the system of production.
But thank God for the Alexandra School saga! What this sorry story has brought to the fore and made unmistakeably clear is the utter fraudulence of the claim of the black middle-class that they are wiser than and are therefore the natural leaders of the Barbadian working-class!
When we examine the collective behaviour of the top Ministry of Education officials, the principal, the leadership of the various trade unions and the principals’ association, the various ministers of Government, and a number of the teachers who were all involved in the Alexandra debacle we can find little or no evidence of wisdom, maturity, judgment, leadership ability or commitment to anything larger than themselves!
Working-class people should therefore look upon this spectacle and ask themselves whether they would not have done better and made wiser and more mature decisions in the prevailing circumstances.
The Alexandra debacle therefore exposes the fraudulence of the claim of the middle-class to be the wise and natural leaders of the working-class! The simple truth is that if the broad working-class is not permitted to bring its intelligence, energy and talents to the table the entire society is held back and suffers.
In fact, if we examine all of the working-class based organisations whose leadership has been monopolised by middle-class in-groups or elites, we will notice that these organisations have been sapped of the vitality of the initiative and sense of participation of their working-class members, and have experienced a tragic process of decay.
The two traditional political parties and the major trade unions are prime examples of this process of decay!
These organisations, which emerged out of the bowels of the working-class rooted labour movement, gradually came to be thoroughly dominated by middle-class in-groups which ensconced themselves in power and used the organisations for their own self-interested narrow purposes.
Thus, as the organisations came more and more to reflect the interests and perspectives of their middle-class leadership, they progressively lost the interest and involvement of their sidelined and marginalised working-class membership and constituency. The result has been a tragic decay of these important organisations.
The proof of this can be seen in the fact that none of our Barbadian trade unions any longer possesses the power to stage a major strike — they can only resort to talk and bluffing! Furthermore, the ideological, programmatic and moral bankruptcy of the two traditional political parties has been on display for many years now. And, of course, when a society’s major institutions decay, the entire society sinks into crisis — a state of affairs that is becoming more and more evident in Barbados.
The up-coming General Elections will therefore solve nothing in Barbados, just as the Alexandra Commission of Enquiry has solved nothing! What is really required is a significant reform of our system of national governance that will make it possible for the broad Barbadian working-class to take its rightful place of meaningful participation in the leadership of the institutions and in the national decision-making process.
With this critical mass working-class talent and input making itself felt, this will lead to a rejuvenation of our national institutions and our social life!
This is the only way forward for Barbados — a genuine participatory democracy in which we break free from the stifling hold of narrow elites and political in-groups, and in which the latent energies and talents of the masses of the people are unleashed and utilised! The next phase in the social revolution of Barbados must therefore be fundamental constitutional and institutional reform!
There is a more inclusive, democratic and participatory way of doing things and governing ourselves. Other relatively small (and successful) nations have found that more inclusive and better way — Switzerland and Iceland come immediately to mind. Let us resolve to also find that “new and better way”.
* David Comissiong is President of the Peoples Empowerment Party.