Ideas & Causes
“The more that I have thought about the morality of politics, the more there has emerged for me a single touchstone of right and wrong; and the touchstone is to be found in the notion of equality.”
– Michael Manley: “The Politics of Change”
Michael Manley’s passionate commitment to equality and justice was reflected in every aspect of his philosophy and the causes for which he was famous. Whether the immediate concern was education, labour relations, racism, a new international economic order, crime and violence, national security, self-reliance, the deepening of democracy, or any other issue, his outlook could always be traced to the wellspring of his philosophy, the touchstone of equality and justice.
With Norman and Edna Manley as parents, it was no surprise that Michael was a man of ideas and causes. His home, Drumblair, was a Mecca for the meeting of minds and talents. Yet Drumblair was not the only environment that stimulated his intellect. He boarded at Jamaica College during the golden age of that institution under the headmastership of the legendary Reginald Murray, supported by a brilliant teaching staff, including Sidney and Hugo Chambers, Henry Fowler, Ewart H.J. King and H.P. Jacobs. It was a time when JC won with great frequency major scholarships like the Rhodes, Jamaica and Centenary scholarships. Michael Manley shared space with such outstanding students as M.G. Smith, Douglas Hall, Dennis Hall, Ken Ingram, A.C. Ellington, Gladstone and Don Mills, H.D. “Dossie” Carberry, Seymour James, John Hearne and David Coore. He was one of a number of budding intellectuals who walked alternately clockwise and anti-clockwise along the semi-circular driveway that spanned the “top” and “bottom” gates of the campus discussing at length local and international affairs and conjuring up hypothetical solutions to some of the world’s most difficult problems.
His letter to his mother, written in November 1940, showed not only a talent for writing but also extraordinarily mature ideation and expression for one less than sixteen years old. It was a stirring time in Jamaica. Garveyism, even Bedwardism, was still fresh in the memory. Rastafarianism was taking root. Trade unions were founded, then faltered. Alexander Bustamante and St William Grant emerged. The labour disturbances of 1938 rocked Jamaica, and in their aftermath came the founding of the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union and the People’s National Party. The onset of the Second World War added a different dimension to public affairs in Jamaica.
All of these events and developments impacted greatly on Michael Manley’s mind, as did his subsequent exposure to Canadian and British society as he entered adulthood. In London, he was exposed to the teaching of the legendary Harold J. Laski, his tutor in politics, who had a profound effect on the young Manley. Michael’s years in London, where he came face to face with the colonial power that had owned Jamaica for nearly 300 years and interacted with many West Indian students, including some like Errol Barrow and Lynden Forbes Burnham who were destined to lead their Caribbean nations, contributed to clarifying his thoughts. By the time he returned to Jamaica in late 1951 as Associate Editor of Public Opinion, he was ready to write a regular column, “Root of the Matter”, in which he expounded thoughts that would be tweaked and refined over subsequent years into his philosophical construct on the foundation of equality and justice. The causes to which he has been devoted are of course closely related to his philosophical ideals.