Following a panel discussion, organised unsurprisingly by the Barbados Chamber of Commerce & Industry (BCCI), on the question of Barbados formally entering an International Monetary Fund (IMF) programme, the open suggestion of Barbados “going to the IMF” has once again been placed on the table.
A close reading of the politics of Barbados suggests that the private sector perceives the IMF as an ally in their general objective of imposing market relations as the key determinant of social relations in Barbados. Popularly elected governments are seen as frustrating that goal. Therefore, the entity most likely to organise a forum on Barbados entering an IMF programme was the BCCI.
It is clear that a sharply discernible class perspective is emerging over the future economic options for Barbados. On one side is the private sector which unrelentingly pushes ahead with its goal of using the crisis to foster the emergence of deeper market relations in Barbados at the expense of the traditional social democratic ethos of the post-colonial state. Allied to the private sector are some neo-liberally trained economists who discuss the issue of the IMF in purely economic terms, missing its politico-social implications.
Caught in between are the traditional institutions of defence of the majority population – the trade unions, political parties and the government – whose historical roles as “mediators of competing class interests” have been compromised by their own economic failures which have weakened their capacity to defend social democracy, to resist the onslaught of the private sector criticism, and to protect the social groups which constitute their mass bases and from which they gain their legitimacy.
At the bottom stand a voiceless, defeated and betrayed population, whose hour has not yet come.
It should be remembered that one of the earliest indications of the thinking of representatives of the private sector on the IMF question came from Peter Boos, who went as far as calling for a “collective non-governmental body to work along with the International Monetary Fund to turn around Barbados’ economic fortunes” (Daily Nation, May 30).
It should be remembered too that it was shortly following Boos’ call, though not necessarily in response to it, that Prime Minister Freundel Stuart made his famous “political class” speech where he denounced “elitists and snobs” who wanted to make decisions without facing the people.
What is clear is that the current economic crisis is opening up spaces for a more protracted economic conflict, around which the current IMF debate is only a single theatre. In the current struggle, the traditional “protective” mass-based institutions have been too emasculated to offer direction.
The need for a renewed examination of social democracy and practice to rise on the back of the decaying order is becoming increasingly more urgent.
A progressive social-democratic response must emerge now!
• Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus, specializing in regional affairs.