In 1972 the socialist left swept to power in Jamaica. Calling for the strengthening of workers’ rights, the nationalization of industries, and the expansion of the island’s welfare state, the People’s National Party (PNP), led by the charismatic Michael Manley, sought nothing less than to overturn the old order under which Jamaicans had long labored—first as enslaved, then indentured, then colonized, and only recently as politically free of Great Britain. Jamaica is a small island, but the ambition of the project was global in scale.
Two years before his election as prime minister, Manley took to the pages of Foreign Affairs to situate his democratic socialism within a novel account of international relations. While the largely North Atlantic readers of the magazine might have identified the fissures of the Cold War as the dominant conflict of their time, Manley argued otherwise. The “real battleground,” he declared, was located “in that largely tropical territory which was first the object of colonial exploitation, second, the focus of non-Caucasian nationalism and more latterly known as the underdeveloped and the developing world as it sought euphemisms for its condition.” Manley displaced the Cold War’s East–West divide, instead drawing on a longstanding anti-colonial critique to look at the world along its North–South axis. When viewed from the “tropics,” the world was not bifurcated by ideology, but by a global economy whose origins lay in the project of European imperial expansion.