Socialism's influence on Trinidad and Tobago

A topic well deserving of its own book and I'd be surprised if no one has written it yet.

Socialism to me (and its various forms), has been one of the major hindrances to the proper development of Trinidad and Tobago, right up there with the colonial mentality, slave culture, racism, corruption, party politics and so much more.

Socialism is a diverse concept with many different schools of thought, ironically, it does not seem to take the impact of diversity under consideration.

It would be a crime for me to try and explain any of its concepts here and I would be lying if I said I studied any of it in significant detail. However, while theory and practice may differ from school to school, they all have common themes you can recognize fairly easily.

For instance, most countries that embrace socialism tend to have one ruling party over an extended period of time. Sometimes democratically elected other times not so much.

There tends to be a single leader of that party, who is promoted as a strong champion of the ideals of the people who carries their hopes and dreams on his or her back. There is also a strong belief in the "working class" and that the resources of the nation (and by extension its wealth)
belong to them. In more extreme circles, private ownership and individuality is the enemy.  The state is expected to control wealth on behalf of "the people" and ensure its fair and equitable distribution, preventing the emergence of a powerful business class.

It seems to me that many of Trinidad and Tobago's leaders and intellectuals subscribed at some point to these ideologies from day one of our independence to present time. The UNC for example is often described as being socialist, we have a Movement for Social Justice and many trade unionist come from that same school of thought.

Even Eric Williams and his mentor CLR James held some of these principles dearly, disagreeing of course on the fundamentals and details.

I have listened to old interviews with CLR James where he asserts himself a firm believer in Marxism where as judging by his legacy, Williams was not so strict. While the policies of the PNM party to this day still cherish the concept of  "protecting the poor and vulnerable", usually undermining their productivity in the process, Eric Williams was more willing to embrace the capitalists of North America.

His regime was intent on moving the society away from agriculture and getting the working classes into factories and plants. Even if that meant reluctantly inviting capitalist, American multi-national corporations to set up in Trinidad and Tobago such as Alcoa. Alcoa from what I understand, was the first multi-national corporation the state successfully courted to establish operations in Trinidad and Tobago, thus kick starting the trend.

In Williams, we saw a different kind of socialism to what CLR James advocated. CLR James believed we should develop our country internally, that is, from our own efforts with national pride rallying the people to give their all to the cause. Eric Williams was more pragmatic and probably understood the culture of the people a bit better.

Most people probably did not even understand what the term independence meant or what a Prime Minister was, so expecting them to take interest in an ideological dream was naive at best.

His model of development, that one can piece together from history, was one where we would depend on capitalism originating elsewhere to be attracted to T&T through favorable deals with the government.

The state would then collect tax revenue to support its socialism.

Not the purest form of socialism, but at least it allowed for the parts everyone loves, secondary school education, social security and healthcare for all. As the years went by, this strategy was put under pressure by reality. Trade Unions continued to rise up, multi-nationals pulled out of the country when things got bad and issues of corruption and inequality continued to be a staple of our culture.

The government nationalized some assets (example Petrotrin) to ensure they continued to exist and play their roles as employers, tax payers and most importantly forex earners. Some of these assets would become what I call productivity shams, where profitability and efficiency were
second class to employment and social stability.

An unstable oil price wreaked havoc on our economy and forced the government of 1986 to review some of the social programs that were in place. We depended on the oil industry for much of the wealth that funded our socialism, but we had little to no influence on that industry.

Not long after that, there was the coup attempt whose originators claimed corruption, discrimination and inequality as its cause. Many years before that, in the 1970s, there was the Black Power movement, a
revolution that stood up to inequality and discrimination.

Going back even further, before the birth of the nation, Uriah Butler and the labor unions striked, protested and rioted in the 1930s, resulting in the death and lynching of a police officer.

But how could a country whose founding fathers seemingly subscribed to doctrines of fairness, equality end up with so much inequality and resentment?

Perhaps it was ideology versus reality?

Eric Williams seemed more realistic about the culture of Trinidad and Tobago than CLR James. He seemed to have understood that the general attitude towards governance and development of the nation by the average citizen was, "meh".

What was more important for most was, what they could get for themselves. If this reasoning holds true, then the benefits of socialism to the common man easily served as a wolf in sheep's clothing. A society that is inherently about individual success, is not going to be interested in workers rights, building the nation, eliminating currency and fairness.

From what I can tell, Williams choose bribery in the form of social programs such as secondary school education and health care to please the masses. Those programs were to be paid for through a high tax rate combined with favorable concessions for the business elite and foreign investors.

Back then, this path may have made more sense as the citizenry probably did not even see independence as the birth of a nation. Rather it looked like the handing over of ownership from the Crown to a Prime Minister.

Whoever that was and whatever that title meant.

Attempts to unite the people around the red, white and black, without putting some money in their pocket would have most likely lead to social unrest. After all, who wants to hear about building a new nation when you can't get a job, can't read or write or your house is made of mud or you simply don't have one.

Of course, unrest still came and continues in various forms even to today. People claim different reasons for their dissatisfaction but it usually boils down to the government not distributing our resources effectively and equally.

A role it decided to take on at inception.

Had we gone the CLR James route, it is likely we would have seen a different Trinidad and Tobago. Perhaps more along the lines of a Cuba or Venezuela. A country filled with national pride and willing to fight for what they believe in.  At the same time, the moment the economy dips, violence and bloodshed would have skyrocketed to the likes of which we are yet to see.

Marxism talks about revolution and not many revolutionaries are unwilling to spill blood when they feel like they have been cheated or taken advantage of.

I believe that socialism and its many forms only has a sliver of a chance of working out in societies that are homogeneous. That is, societies where most people look the same and have more or less the same or similar political views. In my lifetime I have come to acknowledge 3 main dividers of people that can always be used to create division and unrest:

  1. Race (Ethnicity/Skin Color)
  2. Religion (dogma)
  3. Politics

In other words, what you look like, what you believe and how you see the world.
All 3 continue to be used as the basis for war the world over today, with the first one being the most powerful.

In any society like ours, where you have so many people who look
differently and have different opinions of what God is and who should be in charge, how can any government expect people to be content being treated "equally"?  

It is far too easy to tell one person; "your God, made the world for you", and another "your ancestors worked this soil while theirs sat around whole day" and thus stir up tension.

We see this playing out all the time with national issues, when flooding hits one part of the nation the response of the authorities is compared to in other parts. When one cultural event looses funding, complaints are made about others that did not.

We are not all created equal, our differences are what make us interesting and unique. Life would be boring any other way.

Instead of pursuing the fair share agenda, we should celebrate and utilize our diversity to our advantage.

Our African demographic should be used to boost trade with the African diaspora, our Indian demographic with the Indian diaspora, our Arab with Arabs, Asian with Asian, European with European and so on.

Instead what we have now, is our diversity holding us back as we all strive to be equals but not equal to "them".

Many of our supposed intellectuals and activist seem fascinated with socialism or at least its ideals. Particularly the idea of government protecting the poor and vulnerable through safety nets and the idea of government being the business in our economy.

Perhaps they do not recognize that the concept of government, socialism and even capitalism all came from roughly the same part of the world. There was never any guarantee that any of these concepts would work in a non European society.