Stuart’s political class
According to Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, he, his Democratic Labour Party political cohorts and his Barbados Labour Party political “fellow travellers” are all members of a unique and separate Barbadian social class, known as the “political class”.
Our Prime Minister made this famous declaration during his contribution to the recent House of Assembly tribute to the late Lionel Craig. Mr Stuart is reported as having asserted as follows: “We are the political class . . . . I believe in the political class . . . . And wherever therefore we have a chance
to support one another, whenever we have a chance to validate the claims of the political class, we have to do so.”
Now, I, for one, do not consider that politicians constitute a separate social class, but the fact that the Prime Minister of our country perceives himself and his fellow politicians as being members of a special category of persons that is separate and apart from the mass of the Barbadian population, in my view, goes to the very heart of much of what is fundamentally wrong with our Barbadian society today.
And the fact that not a single member of the House of Assembly sought to contradict Mr Stuart, or to distance themselves from his jaundiced and socially dangerous point of view, shows how far the cancer has invaded our body politic.
A social class is a category of people who possess a similar socioeconomic status, manifested in a similarity in the quantity or degree of wealth, material goods, prestige, social honour, and power over others, which they possess. In addition, it is generally accepted that population groups are broken up into four social classes: an upper class, a middle class, a manual working class, and a poverty-stricken under-class.
Furthermore, the most famous of class theorists –– Karl Marx –– explained that every such social class existed either as “a class in itself” or “a class for itself”.
A “class in itself” is a category of people that occupies a certain objective position within a society, while a “class for itself” is a category of people that has added the dimension of consciously fighting for its own goals and interests.
Now, if we pay close attention to Prime Minister Stuart’s words, we see that he is not only purporting to add a fifth category to that traditional structure of four social classes, but that he is also suggesting that his self-defined “political class” is one that should “support one another” and “validate the claims” of the class whenever possible.
It is truly tragic that the Barbadian politicians of this era should perceive themselves (and their fellow Barbadians) in this manner! I simply cannot imagine any of the leading black Barbadian politicians of the past –– Samuel Jackman Prescod, Dr Charles Duncan O’Neale, Sir Grantley Adams, Wynter Crawford, Errol Barrow, Tom Adams, Bernard St John, and the list goes on –– delivering themselves of the type of sentiment expressed by Mr Stuart.
I don’t think that any of these leaders perceived themselves as belonging to a separate “political class” that was distinct and set apart from the rest of the society!
I would, however, like to correct Mr Stuart, and inform him that he and his fellow politicians do not really constitute a class, but rather –– judging form their behaviour and actions over the past seven years –– they seem to constitute what Max Weber, the German sociologist, defined as a “status group”. And they appear to be an elite “status group” that is, simultaneously, consumed with its own self-interest, and owned or controlled by Barbados’ upper or bourgeois class of big business owners and managers: the same “snobs” and “elitists” that Mr Stuart pretends to disavow.
If you doubt me, just look at the record of Mr Stuart’s Democratic Labour Party (DLP) administration. His predecessor, the late David Thompson, set the tone when, immediately upon being appointed Prime Minster in January 2008, he attended a luncheon of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce, prostrated himself, and pleaded with the leaders of big business to keep him “on the right track” with their advice and counsel.
He then moved smartly onwards to write off a debt of $20 million that the Barbados Turf Club owed the Government!
Since then, Stuart’s DLP administration has gone on to funnel almost all of Government’s major construction and supply contracts to a handful of elite companies and individuals, and to decimate the hard won social rights and programmes of the broad Barbadian working and middle classes.
And, I don’t think we need to remind Mr Stuart about the embarrassing cheques that from time to time have come to light with the names of politicians on them, or of the millions of dollars that find their way into the coffers of the two political parties of Stuart’s “political class” at election time.
No, Mr Stuart, your “political class” is not a class at all! It is an elite status group bought and paid for.
Granted, the great majority of the politicians of the past were also members of an elite status group, but, fortunately for us, they had the saving grace of being committed to a nationalist or nation-building agenda that largely coincided with the inherent interests and aspirations of the broad masses of the Barbadian people. Hence, their multiplicity of nation-building achievements –– many of which are currently being destroyed by Messers Stuart and company.
Mr Stuart’s “political class”, on the other hand, has little or no interest in, and has effectively abandoned the nationalist or nation-building domestic agenda. As a result, the only interest that remains for them to serve is their own –– an “interest” which they find very easy to connect to the interests and agenda of a local bourgeoisie.
If we have learnt anything at all from our Barbadian history it is that the bane of Barbadian society has always been the existence of social elites or privileged in-groups that are consumed with maintaining their positions of privilege and power.
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, at present, we are afflicted with another social elite or in-group, Mr Stuart, and it is your precious “political class”. Your “political class” constitutes an elite “status group” that is seemingly prepared to decimate the interests of the working class and middle class in its effort to hold on to its position of privilege and power.
We cannot acknowledge and celebrate your “political class”, Mr Stuart. Rather, we need to “downgrade” it, and create a new political governance system in which much more power, participation and control is vested in the mass of ordinary citizens!
(David Comissiong, an attorney-at-law, is president of the Clement Payne Movement.)