Caribbean Politics: 40 Years Ago This Year Michael Manley Explained Democratic Socialism to US Audiences

Jamaica’s 4th prime minister Michael Manley held office from 1972 to 1980 and later from 1989 to 1992, at the helm of the People’s National Party (PNP). He came from an upper class family but, that notwithstanding, concern for the least well off in society was the cornerstone of his political action when he followed in the footsteps of his father Norman Manley – who had served as chief minister of Jamaica in the run-up to independence in 1962 – and assumed the highest office in the land.

Michael Manley worked tirelessly at alerting the world to the need for a new international economic order. Such an order would ensure that the mushrooming newly independent countries of the world at that time when decolonisation was in full swing would not be left out of the loop of development and prosperity and escape the trap of falling into a state of perpetual dependency.

In the international arena, Manley was at the forefront of pushing for multilateral initiatives, notably through the United Nations and the Commonwealth, aimed at securing the new international economic order.

In the late 1980s, the London-based Commonwealth Secretariat convened a Group of Experts comprising academics, diplomats, government officials (including the governor of the Bank of Jamaica) and private sector leaders from around the Commonwealth including rich and poor countries alike, in addition to contributors from the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), and commissioned it to describe challenges faced and elucidate how to bring poorer countries into the fold of economic development.

So great had been Michael Manley’s voice as an advocate for developing countries in the world economic system that when, in August 1991, the Commonwealth Secretariat issued a masterful and comprehensive report of the experts’ findings and policy prescriptions entitled Change for the Better: Global Change and Economic Development, the publication invariably ended up being referred to in development circles and informally by the Commonwealth itself as “the Manley Report”.


In order to secure a more just social and economic order within his native Jamaica in particular, Michael Manley championed a system he called Democratic Socialism.

Renowned Caribbean scholar and economics Nobel laureate Sir Arthur Lewis defined a socialist society as follows:

“A democratic society without distinctions of hereditary economic class – a democratic classless society.”

Interview in the US: 

In October 1977 while in New York to attend the UN General Assembly, Prime Minister Manley agreed to an interview with the host of the New York area broadcast Like It Is, Gil Noble. The interview gave Manley a less formal platform from which to expound on his system of government, its impetus and the challenges it faced.


In his introduction to the interview host Noble said the following of Manley, which echoes what I wrote a few lines above about Manley’s commitment to the development issue in the Caribbean and beyond:

“Among Third World nations he is highly respected principally because of a system of government he has prescribed for Jamaica, called Democratic Socialism, as well as for his positions on Third World issues.”


Below are some highlights of what Manley laid out during the interview, which can be viewed in its entirety here.


“At root it is an economic problem. At root it is a class problem – a class problem that has flowed from a certain type of economic history based in slavery, colonialism and a kind of capitalist system. And inevitably, as is true of all post slave societies, there has been the correlation between economic status, and therefore, class status, and skin colour”


  • Creating an egalitarian society.
  • Breaking the perpetuation of economic power held by only one group in society who have power because their fathers were in economic power.
  • Having an educational system that puts everybody through a common development experience in youth.
  • Capitalism has a place in Jamaica’s future, but the private sector must be socially responsible.
  • There must be a socially directed economy.
  • There must be stronger workers’ rights. This is called “industrial democracy”.
  • Faith in the people: democratic socialism ensures that communities’ voices are heard on issues concerning them.


“There are tremendous social pressures in Jamaica. Jamaica, like almost all countries that had a long colonial experience, is a product of that experience and reflected at the time of independence sharp class divisions, a very small and highly privileged elite – the elite who were really the beneficiaries of colonialism and of the imperialist process of economic exploitation; tremendous poverty, dangerous gaps between the haves and the have-nots. All of those are colonial legacies and all of those are charged with the inevitability of social tension.”


Manley says people were opposed to his democratic socialist programme because of a combination of 2 things:

1 “the inevitable insecure reaction to change”


2 The fact that Jamaica had to deal with

“a context of the most wrenching economic circumstances that you can imagine.”

Within this context of obstacles to their progress, poor countries trying to develop in the existing configuration of the day was like

“Trying to get to the second floor of progress on a system that only has a down elevator.”


“The attempt to build an egalitarian society begins with the dismantling of the citadels of privilege.”

This image is a good closing note:


If there were an international development walk of fame, Michael Manley would undoubtedly have a star on it.

In addition to 2017 marking 40 years since Manley explained Democratic Socialism in this particular interview, this year also marks 20 years since his passing.

A truly noteworthy Caribbean figure indeed, alongside the likes of Dr Eric Williams, Aimé Césaire, ANR Robinson and Patrick Manning, about whom you can read by clicking on their names.

Michael Manley pictured with Grenada’s then revolutionary leader Maurice Bishop and then Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

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