Jamaica LANDS
Left Alliance for National Democracy and Socialism

Opinion Pieces

These are opinion pieces, written by members of the party. They may or may not reflect the official position of the party.

Corruption or Capitalism?


Last week Thursday, in the Jamaican Senate, numerous amendments to the Integrity Commission Act were passed and await House approval. This 2017 iteration of the anti-corruption bill has made the rounds since January. However, one particular clause of the bill remains unchanged. According to The Jamaica Gleaner, the controversial Clause 52 keeps key government contracts secret. Any oversight would require the permission of the Director of Investigation. In fact, Clause 51 supplements 52 by restricting communication of documents which disclose confidential business of the Government or "prejudice the relations of Jamaica with the government of any other country or with any internal organisation." These clauses in combination indeed protect relations between Government and other bodies from scrutiny. This undermines the fight against corruption.

An irony of ironies. Or perhaps business as usual? In fact, this very legislation as a microcosm demonstrates how the State works. After all, it is a fickle thing. Being the tool of the ruling class, it is responsible for representing and managing the general interest of the society being ruled. However, that "general interest" is the sum of opposing groups and social forces - within both the capitalist and working classes. To keep things in order, the State must always accomplish three goals.

First, it must sustain itself as an organised body. The State must administer the whole of society, oversee creative projects, and defend itself from internal and external threats. These take funds and are sensitive to time. Cutting corners with regulation and hastening contracts with bribes and kickbacks is an intrinsic tendency, especially if the coffers are near empty. Such behaviour can only go so far until the state fails to function. You can mitigate it with auditing, official reports and anti-corruption regulation, but these do not get to the root of the issue. National Integrity Action is a wonderful development, but it faces a battle with the odds stacked against it and needs help outside the scope of legalistic oversight.

Additionally, the State has to solve its internal rivalries. Administering all of society as it produces and reproduces itself and the things it needs to survive is an inherently political task. Of course the capitalist state does what it can to represent the general interest (generally through elections and assembling Cabinets from the legislature). However, without consensus, one faction rules, and things run smoother when the political alignment of the state is more precise and conforms to that of the ruling faction. In fact, outsiders are embraced insofar as they facilitate negotiation between Government and Opposition. So when someone loses their job or doesn't get one as a result of belonging to the wrong party, that's not in spite of the State, but because of it. A similar logic can apply to the accountability of the security forces. It's just nonsensical to expect the State to fairly prosecute itself without some kind of oversight. And it's true: the existence of INDECOM is correlated with a decrease in law enforcement force. Unfortunately, without wider oversight and without community level defence from security force abuse, how can we face the Special Zones? 

Finally, to represent the general interest, the State needs to absorb social unrest. That is, it must abide some sort of reform and provide some kind of feedback when a critical mass of citizens - whether capitalist or worker - organise towards and agitate for a common political goal. It will allow this up to the point of self-undermining. The capitalist State oversees the growth of capital. Parties entering government are compelled to compromise their principles for the sake of the continuity of the state and of capital - expressed in such terms as "practicality" and "realism."  Laws get written in bloated, imprecise, or self-contradicting ways - including the case of Parliament passing half-rate anti-corruption bills. These too are corruption, but in a unique sense. The State recuperates our movements and our desires, and implements half-measures in return. The functionaries of the State must be functionaries of capital, they too have desires and limits. Also, if social progress is not checked, the ungrateful, recalcitrant masses might get ahead of themselves and try to change things fundamentally. The horror! Half-measures are truly better than none, but they sustain a dependency, an distorted representation which at some point must give.

Every capitalist state must pursue all of these tendencies individually and in unison - each reinforces the others. When there are financial or political hurdles in the way, the civil servants of this state "corrupt" it - hiding intentions, making secret deals with the private sector, flaunting the very law it enacts and enforces, and mocking the constituents. This is not out of spite or malice, but because capitalist society is a living contradiction, but somehow it has to keep on going. And yes - every capitalist state does this, not just the poorer ones. Every state's corruption has real negative effects on the people it rules, especially the most vulnerable: the working class and oppressed peoples. Therefore, all that can be done is to build up alternative institutions and currents, a sort of counter-power, so we don't have to rely on or accept the everyday reality.

Jamaicans regularly complain about corruption. It's time to take those complaints and channel them into practice. To start, we can support the removal of clauses 51 and 52 of the Integrity Commission Act. We can read through the act even more thoroughly and look for inconsistencies. However, an anti-corruption project suitable to ending it permanently must have a broader scope. It is not enough for the books to be open and for reports to be published. We as workers, as oppressed, and as socialists, must study them carefully, charting out the functions of our State into a collective map. Such a map can be extended to illustrate the relations between the State and private sector and private-private interactions. Indeed, with this information, parallel movements can be connected on a class basis. Conscious of the problems we endure, if we know what we're up against, our struggles will be easier. We'll have intimate knowledge of the fact that the final victory against corruption is the total defeat of capitalism.

S. A. Smith