Sunday, February 18, 2018

Alleged outbreak of class war, T&T style


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In this space last week, I ended up using the words "social revolution", which worked like an invocation, making vivid something of which I had been only dimly aware.  That something is "class war", as some commentators have been characterising political exchanges in the US, where people are taking sides as between the 99 per cent poor and the one per cent rich.

"I want my American dream back," said one of the "Occupy Wall Street" demonstrators for the 99 per cent. The setting of that dream has a Stateside address, but already, in this borderless digital globe, one blogger is promoting "Occupy T&T".

Trinidad and Tobago, whose inequality is yet to shown as drastic that of the US, will presumably wait out the emergency before manifesting any "Occupy" sentiment in its streets. I had invoked "social revolution" as a distant prospect for this country. War, pitting class against class, if really raging here, is yet to be given a local name.

But reader responses to that "social revolution" reference last week nudged a realisation that my relative cluelessness might have been willful. From my secular upbringing in the Tapia House Group, I had been prepared to regard the long-heralded war between the classes as virtual at best. Then, the world changed: even "communist" Cuba is latterly trying to foster a business class.

Writing "social revolution", I had in mind that dated expectation of a classless society, or a "dictatorship of the proletariat". It was thus jolting to see one reader refer to my "class position", when I wasn't conscious of having one.

If the last century's battles are being refought in today's T&T, the "dialectic" of the Cold War period sounds more than ever like simply old talk. Among the company I kept back then, we asserted that T&T could have no "bourgeoisie" since we never had anything like the French townships called "bourgs". We attached strict meanings to words and their roots, and refused to apply to the T&T condition articles of doctrinal faith received from elsewhere.

Anyway, I was prompted to attend more carefully to the thunder of warlike rhetoric brought forth by the lifting of the curfew, with the emergency left to run its course. Resentment of the emergency had always evinced a haters' attitude toward who had imposed it.

The People's Partnership administration bears the lingering curse of the bad mood and bad mind that afflicted everything like a contagion in the last days of Patrick Manning rule. Given incorrigibly to getting things wrong— misspeaking, misstepping, mishitting—the administration inherited the blight of the crossed forearms of Percy. As with the ministry of crime virtually constituted by PNM Ministers Martin Joseph and John Jeremie, today's predicament remains the draconian rule of Murphy's law.

Since the public, or the expanded chattering classes endlessly lecturing and hectoring, are disposed to expect no different, prophecy is self-fulfilled. As in 3D movie houses, everyone watches the People's Partnership show with pre-issued spectacles. So the emergency is seen by definition as "bungled"; any other accounting of the event is regarded as "public relations."

Absent reliable and regular opinion polling, the headline story tells that the emergency has had fewer and fewer friends. If the notoriously do-nothing police were opportunistically moved to take advantage of the curfew for zero-tolerance stopping and searching, such action was widely, loudly, and inexplicably decried as an abuse of the emergency.

Predictably, the emergency shifts the balance of power between the state and the citizen in favour of the State. Constitutional rights were suspended by the Parliament for a fixed period; over that period, specified rights cannot be "violated" or "trampled upon", because notionally they do not exist. But institutions upholding the rule of law remain in operation, as the courts and the DPP show.

Last week, the emergency-minus-curfew was condemned as a win-win formula for the business class in exercising clout over the People's Partnership administration. Across this front, the allied trade unions launched a high-decibel, class-war offensive. The NWU assailed an axis of "neo-fascist politicians" and "parasitic merchant capitalists", combining to retain the emergency. OWTU president general Ancel Roget called for a boycott of those businesses supporting the emergency. 

As the emergency got drawn into the dialectic of class war, the administration, ever on the defensive, aimed to relieve the plight of T&T's jobless poor. Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar announced a $300-million jobs plan for crime "hot spots", where unemployed youth are assumed vulnerable to "the lure of criminal elements".

She also vowed that criminal capos would not be allowed to capture the running of the programme. Instead, she pitched hopefully for "civic-minded street activists who have demonstrated leadership", who would work alongside State agencies.

 The prime minister must be relying on State officials to distinguish effectively between "community leaders" types infamously embraced by Mr Manning, and  "civic minded street activists" who look like leadership material. Given her administration's track record of lucklessness, I would hedge my bets.

Still, the jobs plan marks the government's own offensive in the class war over the emergency. I hadn't known it was on, but I was always destined to be a refugee from a T&T class war, even before its alleged outbreak.