2007 Notes on ‘Progressive Labour’ – Part One

As the PLP engages in a thorough post-election self-analysis and restructuring, I thought it may be useful to revisit some of my old writings on the subject.  

I made these notes in the weeks after the 2007 election, as part of my ongoing analysis of Bermudian politics.  At the time I had been a rejoined the PLP (in late 2005 or early 2006) and was involved with the youth wing, Progressive Minds.

One wonders, how accurate where they?  And what relevance are they for today?

The Crisis of Progressive Labour

Progressive Labour’s crisis today is a crisis in the meaning of ‘progressive labour’.

There are today a lot of people who call themselves pro-PLP, but there has perhaps never been a time when the label was less informative.

The nearest thing to a common content of the various ‘progressive labours’ is a negative – anti-UBPism.  On the positive side, the range of conflicting and incompatible ideas that call themselves progressive labour is quite diverse.

In very real terms, for many in the progressive labour spectrum, they have eliminated any specifically socialist demands from the program.

Democratic Socialism, Social Democracy & Stalinism

My conception of progressive labour is perhaps better known as democratic socialism.  This differs from the social democracy/Blairism that has eliminated virtually all socialist positions in that I stand for a socialist society, for social revolution.  It differs from the Stalinist model in that it is based on ‘socialism-from-below’ – on grassroots direct democracy and not on authoritarian centralisation and bureaucratism of power.

Though the social democratic (of which the PLP generally represents, historically) and Stalinist model are very different, they share the concept of ‘socialism-from-above’.  Social democracy  dreams of ‘socialising capitalism from above’, in this case.

What unites the many different forms of ’emancipation-from-above’ is the conception that emancipation must be handed down to the masses by a ruling elite; that only a centralised organisation would be successful.

My view, of ’emancipation-from-below’ is the view that emancipation can only be realised through the self-emancipation of the masses in motion, mobilised ‘from below’ in a struggle to take charge of their own destiny, as actors – not merely subjects – on the stage of history.

Post-1998 Transition

Just what has the transition from the old UBP Bermuda to the ascendant PLP ‘New Bermuda’ achieved?

The whimper that the ‘New Bermuda’ vision of 1998 has become today constitutes a setback not only for domestic Bermudian progressive and socialist development, but also on a Caribbean regional perspective.

While there are still some within the organised labour movements who still think and speak of an alternative development, this is relegated to a minority subversive current.

Even those critical of post-1998 developments are often resigned to the Thatcherite mantra of ‘there is no alternative’.

Long before November 1998 it was clear that the PLP was in ascendance, a process accelerated by the fracturing of the UBP in the mid-1990’s.  But as the picture of what kind of PLP would come to assume power became clearer, it was increasingly obvious that the result of its ascendancy would not prove to be so great a triumph for ordinary Bermudians as originally hoped.

Looking back over the last decade of PLP governance, its trajectory away from its popular perception of its founding goals is particularly striking.

To Critique & To Be Critiqued

Interestingly, my criticisms of the post-1998 developments have been both well received and strongly opposed by various militants in the struggle.  In general, those who have been formerly prominent in the struggle and now intimately linked to the new PLP hegemony – those who benefit most from the new PLP status quo – perhaps unsurprisingly are the most opposed to these criticisms.  But among what may be considered the rank-and-file grassroots, the criticism is readily received and welcomed.

This speaks to the co-optation of the former leaders of the struggle, who have forgotten the struggle in exchange for the trinkets of power.  They squabble over position, over titles of prestige, over the trappings of power and in so doing they squander the point of being in power, and use their power to oppose those who maintain the struggle.

And why?  Partly because they fear, in a ‘king of the hill’ mentality, that these others seek only to replace them in the seats of power and prestige.  And partly because they fear being exposed as traitors to the struggle, and that the struggle would do away with the colonial mentality that they express in their co-optation and trinkets.

Amongst the grassroots, the benefits of the new PLP status quo are marginal.  Life remains as it was under the UBP, only the face of management has changed.  They see but the swapping of one oligarchy with a new one, albeit an oligarchy in the making.  As the conditions of life remain unchanged, so does the conditions of the struggle.  And so the critique of the new PLP status quo cuts through the rhetoric of the co-opted leadership and speaks to the need for continued struggle.

The co-opted leadership resists this, and struggles to suppress such critique, both formally and informally.  And in so doing they risk losing all, even the marginal gains that 1998 has achieved for progressive labour.


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