For The Bahamas, since January 1967, Progressive Liberalism it can be said, became the first organised political ideology. It remains so. Progressive Liberalism was ushered in, by the political party which adopted its name, the Progressive Liberal Party, under the leadership of Sir Lynden Pindling. After an unprecedented wave of negro voters placed their mark, for a change in the long held status quo, progressive liberalism went from a three man dream, to an independent Bahamian government mandated reality.
Liberal political ideology rests on the commitment to a type moral equality of persons: all persons carry equal moral weight in society. There are huge allowances for individual autonomy. A citizen can choose to be a butcher, baker or candlestick maker, if that is where individual education and personal goals lead. All are equally subject to the law and all equally afforded the opportunity, to realise whatever ambitions one may see fit to set for oneself, through the free education, free society, system.
Progressive Liberalism, as a political ideology, made bold promises in 1967. As a belief system, embraced as a social ideology, progressive liberalism deliberately sets out to transform human reality, through a type of liberation, from generational sociopolitical constraints. Liberalism’s design is promulgated in the idea that ‘a rising tide lifts all boats’. With expansive freedoms, to create a prosperous, self made society, the tide, as it were, correspondingly rises. When the national tide rises, all boats in society are deemed lifted. Some, of course, will be more industrious than others. Some will be luckier than others. Some will gain more than others. Liberalism offers promises of opportunity, not outcome. However, the premise of progressive liberalism is that, the total gains provide an overall rise for society as a whole. As society gains, generational economic and social outcomes are envisioned to change as well, hopefully, for the better.
We cannot wish ourselves into greater prosperity. We cannot simply hope for greater opportunity. We must create it for ourselves. We must, as individuals, work harder in order to achieve our economic goals and we must re-dedicate ourselves to the things that really matter: God, family and nation.18th October, 1990, p. 137 – From the book: The Vision of Sir Lynden Pindling: In His Own Words, Letters and Speeches 1948-1997 Compiled and Edited by Patricia Beardsley Roker
Crucially however, this means that a strong economic foundation becomes the vital support pillar for the liberal ideology to work in the long term. Progressive Liberalism is based on ever increasing economic gains and growth models. Hence, the voracious, insatiable appetite for constant streams of bigger and bigger foreign direct investment schemes.
Progressive Liberalism also meant that substantial reliance, substantial pressure, is placed on liberal free society itself, to be industrious, act in rational ways, and develop almost a curriculum of rational self-determining modes of behaviour that are expected to be passed down from one generation to the next. Concomitant, society must become autonomously rational enough to resist practices, laws and policies, which contribute to the liberal society’s own self-destruction. For The Bahamas, in this aspect, Progressive Liberalism invested heavily in the church, to take on the role of the rational moral compass of Bahamian society. The Bible rather than individual or community values were stressed. Simply put, the negro majority, in 1967, had no clue where to begin. As that first, hard-working negro middle class emerged, it left the necessary rational and moral part of Progressive Liberalism to the words between Genesis and Revelation.
No political ideology unpacks without inherent problems in design, construction and importantly, sustainability. Progressive liberalism’s Achilles heel is its dependency on a type of necessary social rationality and continued, increasingly gainful, economic progress. The very moment progressive liberalism is confronted by prolonged periods of social irrationality and economic stagnation, real problems arise. As the decades passed after 1967, as economic highs and lows took their toll, as economic booms and busts impacted Bahamian society, as the once impactful relevance of the church slowly declined, as the economic disparity between rich and poor widened, as foreign labour and migration forces carved a larger place for itself in Bahamian society, so too were the philosophies of Progressive Liberalism challenged in ways that were not envisioned in 1967.
Prior to 1967, a form of Conservative Capitalism ruled all economic and political ideology throughout the islands. We say Conservative Capitalism, in the sense that, there was, since the mid 19th century, concerted efforts to stave off wholesale economic stagnation by offering generous amenities to monied foreign investors. The United Bahamian Party and Bay Street merchant capitalist growth objectives, reaped substantial gains in terms of wealth creation and local development. However, the exploitation of economic goods (land, agricultural goods, ocean goods, capital investments and labour) were rooted in historical societal mechanisms. These mechanisms virtually ensured wealth access to only the most exclusive sector of Bahamian society. This had all largely been the status quo, with few exceptions, since the end of slavery, in 1834.
For The Bahamas, this progressive liberal philosophy was unapologetically formally articulated, through direct government policies and focused social engineering programs to accomplish one primary goal; to advance the economic and social plight of the negro majority, as they were, in 1967.
Beginning in 1967, liberalist government-led policies, took the form of massive government sponsored educational scholarships to allow Bahamians to travel abroad for college and university education, substantial investment in sports at the local level, expansion of national tertiary education, expansion of government employment opportunities, targeted government spending on infrastructure, airport expansion, social welfare in the form of National Insurance, urban renewal, increase government housing, limiting jobs to foreign nationals, the revocation of work permits to foreigners, strictly enforced Bahamianization policies in every employment sector, and incredibly, the eventual purchase of hotels by the government, forming the Hotel Corporation, all in an effort to keep Bahamians employed by Bahamians and government the progressive liberal dream alive.
Focused liberalist social engineering evolved into the Bahamas government’s concerted efforts to influence particular attitudes and social behaviors on a large scale, toward seeing ‘black and Bahamian’ as value added commodity. Cultural endeavours like Junkanoo and later the advent of Goombay were promoted and underwritten by government monies on an unprecedented scale. Little Miss and Miss constituency pageants, sporting acknowledgments and the rise of all manner of celebratory banquets, ushered in a new imaginings of innovative black excellence and enviable style.
Bahamian Progressive Liberalism also briefly sought alliances with emerging post-colonial African states. Though interesting in the beginning, the hope of eschewing 400 plus years of historical divide, became a bridge too far. There was little common ground to be found other than the desire to oust white imperialism without losing their much needed money. The Bahamas went back to seeking bricks for the pillars of its progressive liberalism ideology, from the West, where it was comfortable and profitable.
Breaking Free From Inheritance – The Promise of Progressive Liberalism
We enter into the state of nature, born into this world, embodying some prehistory. At some point however, in the process of maturity, we make a conscious decision of whether or not to embrace the inheritance of our parents or to reject it.
The negro inheritance, in the New World, in which he found himself, from the 15th to the 19th century, as subservient slave, became not only a state of existence for the individual, it also was a social and legal commodity; the only commodity, which was regrettably passed down from one generation to the next. Even after the legal liberation from the state of enforced servitude, a new hierarchal social caste system replaced it. In The Bahamas, this hierarchal social caste system became an accepted form of existence, accepted by whites and near whites, the mixed race and most importantly, blacks. It was tolerated because every so often, those in the lower (near whites and mixed race) and lowest (pure black) caste, through whatever channels of access existed at the time, worked industriously to matriculate upward, reaching close to the near dizzying heights of whites.
The first examples of this post-emancipation, upward matriculation, came in the form of politics. A handful of coloured men, albeit all former slave owners themselves, such as Stephen Dillet and John Patrick Dean, joined the ranks of members of the Assembly beginning in 1834. By 1884, there were negro Out Island magistrates and ongoing attempts by well meaning, term appointed, British governors like, Governor Henry Blake, trying, but failing miserably, to flick a few moth eaten pigeon feathers at the status quo, however half-heartedly.
Governor Blake (1884-1887) Becomes “Plus Conchist Que Les Conchs” More Conchy Than The Conchs
This sociopolitical system, went on until the agitations of those trapped in the caste system, began to be felt. For the disenfranchised Bahamian negro, 1967 became the year of rejecting a negative socioeconomic historical inheritance. 1967 became the year of a national conscious choice to reshape inheritance.
Counting the Cost of Those First Years of Progressive Liberalism
Problems arose, very early on, within the PLP as to the best way to implement progressive liberalist policies. Some wanted a gradual approach. Others wanted quick, indifferent, sweeping change. Without question, all the gains came at a cost in those first few years. It became savagely divisive within the PLP. It bitterly divided The Bahamas. And, for the predominantly white tourism and white investment target market, apprehensions would take some time to quell. In order for Progressive Liberalism to succeed, it not only had to economically raise up the black man, it also had to destroy, beyond all possible hopes of resurrection, just one thing. It had to finish the perceived, political superiority of the white man, not only in the minds of the negro, but in the white man’s psyche itself. Goliaths had to be brought down to life size.
Cries of Totalitarianism, Early Political Divisions and The Dissident Eight
One of the key pillars of liberalism, is the idea of the free market economy, where market forces determine the economic equilibrium. Liberalism posits that for the individual in society, once a level playing field is fashioned, all rise and fall on the basis of their own merit. Some PLP Members of Parliament felt that the same, level playing field, should apply to them. All wanted to stand in the sunshine of Progressive Liberalism. However, it soon became apparent that a few felt, too much recognition was being bestowed on some, and not others. It all came to a head, like a schoolyard fracas, one day, in the House of Assembly, as Randol Fawkes called for a ‘no confidence’ vote against Lynden Pindling.
Where Does The Bahamas Go From Here?
Progressive Liberalism makes positive claims to defend personal freedom, within a free market, economic system. In its introduction in 1967, the PLPs heavy hand of government intervened in virtually everything. Pragmatically speaking, it would have been thoroughly impossible to attempt to usher in a new political philosophy, within a country unaccustomed to the tenets of its aims, without government steering the ship. The wheel of that ship, the one that rode that bracing, rising tide, was firmly in the hands, of Lynden Pindling. As the years and decades, came and went, Progressive Liberalism has been slowly coerced, both positively and negatively, into a changed form, from its original incarnation. Parts of it, needed to reflect a changing Bahamas. But, where will it go from here? How will Progressive Liberal ideology evolve to serve The Bahamas or indeed, will The Bahamas, have to completely overhaul itself, in some way shape or form, once again, in order to survive and thrive, in a new economic reality.