Manley Becomes Prime Minister of Jamaica Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Two years after Michael Manley assumed the presidential office in Jamaica, he instituted policies of Democratic Socialism as a radical solution to address the extensive financial inequalities in Jamaica. Manley’s relations with socialist countries, most notably Cuba, incited hostility from the United States, forced emigration of the business and entrepreneurial class, and crystallized political lines between the People’s National Party and the Jamaica Labour Party.

Summary of Event

Born in 1924, in St. Andrews, Jamaica, Michael Manley was the second son of Norman Manley, one of Jamaica’s national heroes and the founder of the People’s National Party People’s National Party (Jamaica)[Peoples National Party] (PNP). Michael Manley, a member of the elite, light-skinned class, was born into Jamaican politics. He was educated in London, England, at the London School of Economics. Manley was an organizer of the Jamaican National Workers Union in 1952 and a member of the PNP national executive. He was elected to the Jamaican parliament in 1957. After his father’s death in 1969, Manley became leader of the PNP. Prime ministers;Jamaica Jamaica, government Democratic Socialism [kw]Manley Becomes Prime Minister of Jamaica (Mar. 2, 1972) [kw]Prime Minister of Jamaica, Manley Becomes (Mar. 2, 1972) [kw]Jamaica, Manley Becomes Prime Minister of (Mar. 2, 1972) Prime ministers;Jamaica Jamaica, government Democratic Socialism [g]West Indies;Mar. 2, 1972: Manley Becomes Prime Minister of Jamaica[00600] [g]Jamaica;Mar. 2, 1972: Manley Becomes Prime Minister of Jamaica[00600] [c]Government and politics;Mar. 2, 1972: Manley Becomes Prime Minister of Jamaica[00600] Manley, Michael Seaga, Edward Castro, Fidel

When Jamaica received its independence from Britain on August 5, 1962, the largely African-based population expected an era of nationalism, economic prosperity, and social justice. Ten years later, however, economic growth from the increase in bauxite mining and processing had failed to reach the majority of the people. Despite positive economic growth during the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, the pattern of employment—often based on race and color—remained similar to the pattern before independence. In addition, the trade deficit was high and inequalities and political violence were increasing. Voters were ready for a change; thus Hugh Shearer and the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) were defeated in the 1972 election. Manley was elected as Jamaica’s fifth prime minister.

In September, 1974, during a visit from Julius Nyerere, Nyerere, Julius the president of Tanzania, Manley announced to the Jamaican people that the government had converted to Democratic Socialism. On November 20, 1974, the PNP unveiled its manifesto. This ushered in one of the most intense debates in Jamaican history, as the people feared that the country would become communist. This fear was augmented by the fact that Manley and the PNP had close ties to the communist Workers’ Party of Jamaica and was strengthening relations with Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

Manley used Democratic Socialism as the guiding principle of his government and believed in social reform and the redistribution of wealth. Manley’s reforms included instituting state control over the economy and addressing the needs of the Jamaican citizenry. Issues of concern included nutrition, health, housing, and employment. By addressing issues of social justice and the interests of the black majority in Jamaica, Manley hoped to create the just and fair society that independence had promised but had failed to deliver. Using state power, Manley applied radical solutions in an attempt to remedy the inequality evident in Jamaica: Maternity rights were granted to all women, a minimum wage was negotiated between the government and the private sector, Project Land Lease organized the rural population into cooperatives to increase domestic food production in order to eliminate Jamaica’s reliance on imports, the Urban Development Corporation provided affordable housing, the rights of tenants were recognized, the distinction between legitimate and illegitimate children was abolished, and education became free to all, regardless of class.

Jamaican prime minister Michael Manley (left) with Cuban president Fidel Castro during the latter’s state visit to Jamaica in September, 1977.

(AP/Wide World Photos)

Manley also developed a foreign policy reflecting his new vision for Jamaica, which included the fight against imperialism. Against the wishes of the United States, he established relations with socialist countries and strengthened Jamaica’s relationship with Cuba. Manley placed a levy on bauxite, Jamaica’s most important natural resource, and, in order to regain control of the production of this resource, renegotiated an agreement with international aluminum companies. The gains were largely used for consumption rather than for state-led investments, however.

The efforts of the PNP to carry out its alternative vision coincided with the severe international economic downswing of the mid-1970’s. In addition, the PNP policy of Democratic Socialism halted foreign investment and caused the large-scale emigration of the Jamaican business and entrepreneurial class. Manley’s relationship with Cuba and other socialist countries contributed significantly to these investment withdrawals. The affiliation with socialist countries also resulted in a deteriorating relationship with the United States.

By 1976, a major realignment among voters had taken place; this further solidified people’s political position with either the JLP or the PNP. The hardening of people’s political position, coupled with the country’s poor economic conditions, resulted in a surge of unprecedented political violence in the country in the mid-to-late 1970’s. In 1976, Manley was compelled to call a state of emergency.

Although Manley presented evidence of efforts by the United States to destabilize the island nation, he won the election in 1976. However, economic hardships still plagued the country. In 1977, with his country’s economy failing, Manley chose to enter into a relationship with the International Monetary Fund (IMF); this was the beginning of his downfall. His choice resulted in an internal split within the PNP. Austerity policies restricting access to consumer goods deepened the economic crisis and increased political violence between the two political parties.

During the 1980 campaign, approximately eight hundred people were killed. In October, 1980, Manley’s Democratic Socialist PNP government was defeated. Edward Seaga and the right-wing JLP won a landslide victory. Seaga served two terms in office, steering Jamaica on a more capitalist road. During Seaga’s tenure, foreign investment reentered the Jamaican economy. Corporations such as McDonald’s, Burger King, and Kentucky Fried Chicken opened stores in Jamaica. Although some businesses flourished, the economic situation continued to deteriorate for the poor sector of society.

Manley’s party was reelected in an unprecedented victory in February, 1989. However, sober suits replaced kariba shirts, preferred in the 1970’s; for Manley, the solution for the Caribbean now lay in the market economy and not in state-sector-led intervention. When Manley returned to power in 1989, he developed a positive relationship with the United States, did not seek relations with Cuba, and accepted a certain degree of privatization, deregulation, and foreign investment in Jamaica. In 1992, citing ill health, Manley stepped down as prime minister and leader of the PNP.


Manley’s vision of Democratic Socialism was a response to the domestic dissatisfaction with economic and social inequalities with Jamaica. By providing an alternative political philosophy of state-sector-led control over the economy, Manley attempted to respond, and be accountable, to his constituency, who increasingly demanded that the state address issues of inequality. Manley envisioned a Jamaica where wealth was distributed equitably. This vision impacted his national and international popularity. He was initially lauded for his attempt to offer a political alternative to the Jamaican people. He fell out of favor, however, as his policies brought reprisal from the United States and emigration from the business class increased economic hardships for the country. Manley’s political comeback, in 1989, was inconceivable and unprecedented. However, Manley’s return to power came about because he softened his socialist rhetoric and advocated private enterprise. This signified the changing character of Jamaica and the Caribbean. Prime ministers;Jamaica Jamaica, government Democratic Socialism

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Edie, Charlene J. “Domestic Politics and External Relations in Jamaica Under Michael Manley, 1972-1980.” Studies in Comparative International Development 21 (Spring, 1986): 71-94. Provides a look at the impact of the foreign and domestic policies of Manley.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Henke, Holger. Between Self-Determination and Dependency: Jamaica’s Foreign Relations, 1972-1989. Kingston, Jamaica: University of the West Indies Press, 2000. Provides an analysis of Jamaica’s domestic and foreign economic policies implemented by the country’s two political parties.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Manley, Michael. Jamaica: Struggle in the Periphery. London: Third World Media, 1982. Looks at Jamaican dependence on foreign goods and justifies Manley’s program of Democratic Socialism.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Payne, Anthony. Politics in Jamaica. Rev. ed. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995. Provides a political analysis of postcolonial Jamaica between 1965 and 1988, paying particular attention to Jamaican foreign policies.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Payne, Anthony, and Paul Sutton. Charting Caribbean Development. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2001. Examines the different paths of development that have been pursued in the English-speaking Caribbean, including countries such as Jamaica.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Stephens, Evelyne Huber, and John D. Stephens. Democratic Socialism in Jamaica: The Political Movement and Social Transformation in Dependent Capitalism. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1986. Descriptive case study of the policies of Manley’s government between 1972 and 1980 provides an analysis of the effort to break the cycle of dependent capitalism in Jamaica.

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