PEOPLE AND CHANGE
Furnivall’s major concern in the second half of the book is to examine post-war colonial policies and to assess their short-comings and probable effects. It is here that he differs so profoundly from what Gordon Lewis has rightly called the pessimism of the plural society point of view in Caribbean Studies. He argues that all colonial powers have come to recognise the corrosive effects of laissez-faire economics, and imbued with ideas of progress, efficiency and social justice, they have fashioned various new policies to promote colonial development and welfare. Basic to these new policies is the idea — shared by Conservatives and Socialists alike — that economic development is the basic pre-requisite for colonial welfare and for the transition to independence. Furnivall tries to show that such a scale of priorities solves no problems and may actually aggravate them. It is worth quoting at length on this point:
Modern colonial policy promulgates welfare measures to counteract the ill-effects of economic development, but looks to pay for these measures by injecting capital to expedite development. . .Colonial powers feel even more virtuous when they contribute to the cost of colonial development and welfare, incidentally subsidizing home capital and labour. These things may be good business for the British taxpayer (so far as the money is not wasted), for we all have a finger in the colonial pie. But they are not altruistic. They serve merely to speed up the development of the colonial estate and enhance its value as a business concern to the colonial power. Once again, as so often in past colonial history, we seem to hear little Jack Horner exclaiming ‘What a good boy am I’ as he pulls out a few more plums’. (p. 541-2)
Sponsored economic development is likely to aggravate rather than cure the condition of “anomie” (normless-ness) which was originally produced by economic forces. How then can welfare be achieved?
. . . progress is not a condition of welfare, but welfare is a condition of progress; the problem is human, not mechanical, and compulsory progress bears fruit in disaffection and unrest. If we are to reconcile progress and welfare in the tropics, we must organise a demand for welfare among the people. Now if tropical peoples are to be enabled to promote their own welfare, it is necessary to create an environment in which they enjoy the requisite status, a sufficient motive and adequate means to do so. The promotion of welfare is possible only in an autonomous society. (p. 542).
He goes on to point out that just as economic freedom leads to ‘economic bondage to the moneylender or employer’, so the introduction of western political institutions such as parliamentary democracy prove unworkable so that:
‘We now impose conditions on political advancement, postponing autonomy until some remote future when, by welfare measures, the people shall have been endowed with the qualities requisite for working western institutions.’
But in the plural society of the tropics, the problem is not to create political institutions which will express the common will: such a thing does not exist. The problem is to create a common will and this is a task which requires something analagous to religion. Furnivall argues that Nationalism is the ‘religion’ on which reintegration is built.
Nationalism must indeed figure largely in any project of reintegration, for the object of reintegration is the framing of a national society capable of independence, so far as any minor (or even major) power is capable of independence in the modern world. (p. 547).
I have dealt at some length with Furnivall because it is important to show that the notion of ‘plural society’ as it appears in his work is but a small part of his overall conception of the nature of ‘tropical society’. It is also contradictory to the general trend of his analysis since he lays great emphasis upon the dissolution of traditional society by the operation of a “pure capitalist’ order. That dissolution is well documented, there is merit in some of the prescriptions advanced for reintegration, but the weakest part of the discussion is that dealing with the nature of colonial society itself.
In the Caribbean, we can see much more clearly than could Furnivall (who dealt almost exclusively with south-east Asia) that colonial societies create their own peculiar institutions. In the inter-regnum between the dissolution of traditional values and culture of the constituent groups, and the hoped-for future of revolutionary national re-integration. what is it that holds the society together? Furnivall sees this as a period of laissez-faire individualism in which law and order is ensured only by economic self- interest and colonial police activity.
M.G. Smith seems to agree that there is an absence of moral cohesion between the different sections, though within each section there is a definite institutional integration.
The structural cleavages based on racial/cultural differences are fundamental and any change in the distribution of political power will involve conflict between these sections—a conflict which will probably be violent and intense. One’s objection to such a prediction is not that violent conflict is unlikely, but that the prediction is based upon an oversimplified and distorted view of the present situation, and explains away all conflict as being rooted in differences of primordial identity.
West Indian colonial societies were held together by force, but obviously not by force alone. After 1840, the emphasis laid upon Christianity, upon education, respect for the law, ‘good’ as opposed to ‘bad’ behaviour and language, and upon the idea of ‘moral upliftment indicates that there was a clear and deliberate attempt to create a set of common values (or an imposed ideology if one wishes to call it that) for the whole society. In practice, this meant a common recognition not only of the de facto power position of the Europeans but also of the superiority of English culture. This has been remarked upon by almost all observers of the West Indies and has been described as a ‘white bias’ in the whole social life of the colonies.