Former Jamaican Prime Minister Michael Manley was a powerful and influential figure both at home and abroad, first as a trade union leader and parliamentarian and then in the 1970s as prime minister and a vocal supporter of the non-aligned movement. He was determined to improve the position of the Jamaican people by reconfiguring both political and economic orthodoxies, which he and many others felt were still too closely aligned to British colonialism and American imperialism.
Manley, along with perhaps Grenada’s Maurice Bishop, was the leading proponent in the English-speaking Caribbean of quite radical reform—although often the rhetoric exceeded the reality. Nevertheless, this period of history within the Caribbean is a particularly interesting one because of the charismatic individuals involved, the attempts to implement new approaches to political organisation and economic management, and how, despite their focus on national self-worth and unity, both men became and remain still extremely polarising figures. So it is within this context that the three books under review are presented.
All are useful and welcome contributions to evaluating Manley’s ideas and legacy and how they have shaped broader academic debates around how small states can better organise themselves and promote their interests on the international stage. However, there is a nagging feeling particularly in relation to the books by Bernal and Ledgister that their enthusiasm for Manley and confidence in small state activism are not entirely sustained by the evidence.
Although the three books share the common thread of Manley their approaches and broader focus are quite different, and this makes them very interesting as complimentary reads.
The Influence of Small States on Superpowers: Jamaica and U.S. Foreign Policy, by Richard L. Bernal, London, Lexington Books, 2015, xvi + 439 pp., £80 (hardback), ISBN 9781498508162
Michael Manley and Jamaican Democracy, 1972—1980: The Word is Love, by F. S. J. Ledgister, London, Lexington Books, 2014, xii +129 pp., £49.95 (hardback), ISBN 9780739190272
Michael Manley—the Biography, by Godfrey Smith, Jamaica, Ian Randle Publishers, 2016, vii + 433 pp., $35 (hardback), ISBN 9789766379223