PEOPLE AND CHANGE
The interesting thing about this situation is that there is a sharply increasing demand for an approximation to some of these consumption patterns on the part of all the members of the society, a demand which has been stimulated by both political changes and increased awareness of mass consumption patterns in other countries. However, these demands are expressed through the framework of the old society and are often modified into a set of dependency relationships rather than leading to any real creative innovations.
A class analysis provides politicians and social reformers with a jumping-off point for action designed to bring about change, and at the same time permits a repudiation of the old colonial rulers and of white dominance in terms which are not expressly ‘racial’. Of course, the ideological terms in which it does this are borrowed from outside the society, and they can become the vehicle for the expression of a narrow elite interest or even ethnic group interests, or alternatively, they can result in the development of a new dependency relationship with a new ‘mother country’. A great deal depends upon the honesty with which local problems are analysed and tackled. It does appear that structural change must involve a repudiation of the colonial relationship at the political level, and then the creation of a basis for the evaluation of status which repudiates the old emphasis upon ‘refinement’ and command of ‘English’ culture. Both these repudiations are difficult since the first creates problems of international relations and the second creates problems in the judging of competence. Innovation must meet with a good deal of emotional opposition and create anxiety.
What we are witnessing in British Guiana and other similar places is a transitional stage in which an attempt has to be made not simply to create a common will out of near-chaos as Furnivall suggests, nor to reshuffle the sections in a ‘plural’ society, but to transcend the limitations of the structure imposed by Creole colonial society, and to swing the whole system in a new direction. Plural society theory of either the Furnivall or M. G. Smith variety seems to suggest that there is no existing basis for such a shift, though Furnivall appears to be much more hopeful about the possibilities of ‘Nationalism’.
It is perfectly true, as both A. Singham and L. Best have pointed out in previous issues of this journal, that ‘cuckoo politics’ and the ‘neo-colonial model’ can serve to hide, behind a facade of spurious activity, a basic reluctance to abandon the old social structure, its values and its dependence upon outside approval, sponsorship, guidance and aid. What are the alternatives and to what extent are they determined by ‘pluralism’?
The current conception of nationalism in most West Indian territories is a projection of the status yearnings of the old colonial elites who through a long period of struggle became the spokesmen expressing the frustrations and sufferings of the whole society. Having succeeded the old colonial authorities, they now seek to consolidate their position by replacing loyalty to the British by loyalty to a new group (which is very closely modelled upon the old despite any appearance of radicalism), and to its own symbols of office (not markedly different from those that have passed on).
After the usual spectacle of the independence celebrations, the bulk of the population does not appear to feel any great involvement in the new ‘nation’ for the simple reason that their position is not appreciably different. The elan that was produced in the early days of the struggle against colonial rule or economic hardship – in the 1940s in Jamaica, by the PNM in Trinidad and in 1953 in British Guiana – is soon dissipated. But even if there is no revolutionary transformation of the system, is it justifiable to say that nothing has changed? Or to say that there has merely been a substitution of one segment for another at the top of the political hierarchy? In all the territories, the new political elites have come into office on the basis of popular votes and their policies have been committed to reform and economic development and national reconstruction. Education at all levels has been steadily increasing in volume and improving in quality and content; some degree of industrialisation however small has taken place; and, as we have noted already, there has been a steadily rising level of consumption expectation.
It could be argued that these things will in themselves have a cumulative effect in time and will lead to a progressive change in values and in structural relations. Insofar as they shift the societal emphasis toward achievement and rationality, create new occupational structures and a new uniformity in consumption patterns and leisure activity, so they will minimise the structural significance of ethnic differences, even if these continue to be perceived to be important.
The dangers of such a relatively slow evolutionary process have been pointed out, not least by politicians who have noted the widening gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ produced by the uneven growth of different economic sectors and the consequent disparities in consumption levels. These difficulties stem partly from the slowness of economic growth, but also from the timidity of politicians, and sometimes from their sheer laziness. Politicians can make a big show of apparent activity, simply by inviting or accepting all the standard international programmes, by passing incentive legislation to lure foreign investors, and then hoping for the best. ‘Experts’ appear in large numbers and there is a considerable increase in the activities of merchants, insurance companies, banks and import agencies which cream off any increased wealth put into circulation by aid programmes or by developments in productive activity.
More importantly perhaps, the adoption of this sort of dependent posture is closely associated with a political programme which lays maximum stress upon the right of individuals to earn high wages or salaries and the right to spend freely, and which gives undue advantage to traditional elites as well as introducing new enclaves of high-income foreigners. The alternative course of austerity, accumulation of capital and government initiative in developing the economy inevitably runs into political difficulties, irrespective of whether it is desirable or not. Thus the whole question of strategies for economic development and for social reconstruction becomes inextricably bound up with the ‘communist’ versus ‘anti-communist’ debate and with external alignments.
It must be remembered that adopting an austerity programme may not avoid the problem of creating high consumption elites and even enclaves of conspicuously favoured foreigners. It is not the purpose of this article to discuss the relative merits of different strategies for economic development, but to raise again the question posed by Furnxvall as to whether economic development presents an opportunity or an obstacle for social change and national integration. It seems clear from the examples of other countries that the demand for welfare can become a major societal goal and the mobilisation of national resources can provide a means of creating new structures cutting across ethnic alignments. This is not simply a matter of creating new market relations which leave the ‘plural’ nature of culture and society intact. It involves the creation of entirely different modes of social relationship which counterbalance those of ethnicity – without destroying them completely of course, but such a path of economic development must involve a large cross-section of the population in creative tasks.