ARTICLES: THREE CASES OF CONSTITUTIONALISM AND CUCKOO POLITICS: CEYLON, BRITISH GUIANA AND GRENADA

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I – CUCKOO POLITICS

In the three countries that will be examined in this paper, namely, Ceylon in 1931, British Guiana in 1953 and Grenada in 1959, the imposition of an “advanced” legal constitution on to another type of authority system produced a peculiar type of politics which we describe as cuckoo politics, which is the converse of real politics.

The cuckoo bird in a clock serves no purpose except that it very dramatically and loudly proclaims its presence at a given hour. In fact, just before the hour strikes, the cuckoo bird, with elaborate ritual and noise reminds us that it exists. Unlike a grandfather clock, where the number of strokes tells the time, the cuckoo clock does not even indicate by the number of strokes what the time is. The cuckoo clock, then, has an ornamental value but practically no functional use.

The political experience of “new” nations which have had quasi-colonial constitutions (with their supposed emphasis on preparation for independence) has been like the cuckoo, more ornamental than functional. It has produced a generation of politicians who, without being specially aware of it, have become more concerned to observe constitutional proprieties than to practise meaningful politics. In fact, it can be argued that these constitutions have actually been dysfunctional in that after independence, the members of the elite class which assumes office find themselves incapable of exercising real power. What we wish to explore here is the relationship between this type of constitution and the emergence of cuckoo politics.

However, it is necessary first briefly to examine the social and economic environment in which cuckoo politics operates. We are all aware that the basic decisions about the economy in the colonies were and are made outside the local political system. In Ceylon, British Guiana and Grenada, heavy dependence on the plantation system meant that the basic decisions about pricing, marketing and production were always undertaken outside the system. In a sense one can argue that just as these types of economy could be described as dual economies, their polities also could be divided into two sectors: there was the imperial bureaucracy of which the principal role was to preserve and protect the foreign interests, and on the other hand, there were the Legislative and Executive Councils, which were allowed to disburse a limited amount of patronage as though they were the loci of real power while in fact, their main function was to debate constitutional niceties.

In socio-economic terms these colonial and ex-colonial societies fall into four broad classes. The most important, of course, is the foreign entrepreneurial class. Secondly, there are the professionals who can be subdivided into three sub-classes: local members of the imperial bureaucracy; the lawyers, doctors, and other self-employed professionals; and finally the managers and technocrats of the foreign enterprises. The third class consists of the small local landed gentry and the comprador class (that is, the traders) who do not control any pivotal or productive sector of the economy. Finally, there is the large class of agro-proletarians. In this class we would include both the plantation workers and the small peasants, who are partly proletarian in that they engage in wage labour as well as peasant farming.

All of these socio-economic interests have tended to view the political system during the period of colonial tutelage as an appendage rather than as a vital part of the social system. These interests, whether consisting of trade unionists representing the agro-proletarfans, or the chambers of commerce, representing the comprador or trader class, have learned to deal with the agents of the imperial bureaucracy to obtain specific demands. There has evolved a tradition in these societies where the only source of real authority has been the imperial bureaucracy. This bureaucracy has had a very special role in that its legitimacy was based on rules and regulations which were obtained from the imperial source. Indeed, it might be argued that one of the reasons why even after independence the colonial elites have displayed a strong psychological preĀ· disposition to obtain external sanctions for their actions was that their long experience conditioned them to the idea that for anything to be decisive it had to be done externally. One of the strongest traditions in a colonial society is its external orientation. Even alter Independence the elites continue to seek external sanctions for their actions, either from the new sources of imperial authority (the East) or the old (the West).

One of the basic problems confronting societies such as the ones we are about to describe is the absence of an integrated political community. The granting of universal adult franchise, as we shall see, in many colonies did not hasten the day of modernity but rather retarded it. It can be argued that universal adult franchise, in conjunction with the peculiar type of constitutional order in these colonies, tended to consolidate the particularistic tendencies within the society. That is, political activity clustered around caste, community, racial or religious groupings, rather than around socio-economic groupings. In fact, one of the most unfortunate consequences or these colonial constitutions has been their tendency to nurture and consolidate these traditional associations of people (race, caste, etc.), rather than to create and establish a civic society encompassing all the various cultural groups.

We will observe that the colonial constitutions of British Guiana and Ceylon particularly resulted in the division of the society over peripheral issues such as community, or communalism, rather than over the basic social and economic issues. It can even be argued that one of the reasons why these communities became so prone to this type of politics was their prolonged experience with a constitution that encouraged them to deal with patronage rather than with economic planning.

Responsible politics implies that those who hold political office are capable of exercising real power. The State is the most important source of power because it has a near monopoly over the instruments of violence. The struggle for power normally takes place over issues which various coalitions of interests in the society want to preserve, protect and extend. The constitution represents an agreement between competing interests as to how the game of politics is to be played. Constitutions also provide the legitimacy that the elites require in order to rule.

There are many ways by which rulers seek legitimacy for the exercise of authority. Rulers normally employ such facilities as the mass media or army to win support for their policy. Most rulers, however, prefer to rule by gaining mass acceptance of their policies as the most appropriate. When a society gives this type of support to the rulers, the society is said to enjoy a type of consensus. However, when the rulers are unable to obtain this physchological compliance, they often have to resort to violence to maintain their rule.

There are three main ways by which legitimacy is sought. Legitimacy can be sought by emphasising a belief in tradition and custom drawn from the community’s historical past. All political systems, whether they are modern or ancient, seek this type of legitimacy to some degree. Tradition provides the rulers with a rationale to justify their governing on the grounds of historical continuity and stability. (For societies like the West Indies, with no strong traditional base, there is a tendency to seek this type of legitimacy by emphasising the symbolic importance of stability). Traditional legitimacy has a very functional role in any community, for it is through traditionalism that a society tries to integrate attempts at social change and to cushion its effects.

Another manner by which a ruler may seek legitimacy is by reference to his special qualities of leadership. This type of leadership quality normally inspires strong support amongst the followers. At the outset this type of leader bases his plea for support on his skill in a specific area such as his effectiveness as a trade union leader or his academic brilliance. Before long, however, he claims support not mainly on the grounds of his specific skill but on grounds that he is the maximum leader, capable of solving every national problem by his personal intervention.

The third type of legitimacy that is sought by some rulers is based on an appeal to laws and regulations which are agreed upon by the community. This last category takes on a special meaning in a colonial society, where legitimacy Is sought on the basis of a legal tradition that is essentially alien.

This tripartite type model, which we have modified and borrowed from Weber, now has to be further modified in our analysis of colonial political systems. One of the difficulties with these three categories is that they are not usually mutually exclusive, and hence co-exist with one another within a single political system. Furthermore, this co-existence leads to interaction, which often results in a modification or even transformation of the system, whether it is basically legal, traditional or charismatic. Yet there is a tendency amongst Western students of the under-developed world to conceive of political development as being unilinear, i.e., involving a gradual evolution from traditional to charismatic to legal types of authority.

In the colonial context, however, this co-existence has been quite lopsided and mixed about, for legal domination in some instances preceded traditional domination, and charismatic domination became a creation of legal domination. The students both of colonial constitutions and social structures have often misunderstood the function of the polity in the new states. The former have given constitutional developments a disproportionate importance, believing that constitutions of these types actually effected and prepared these societies for independence. On the other hand, the social structural school have not paid sufficient attention to the fact that the crown colony system actually tended to consolidate particularism, not universalism. They have also tended to view constitutional provisions providing for equality before the Jaw, etc., as hastening the disintegration of traditional society. However, neither group has understood that experience with these colonial constitutions produced a peculiar type of polity, where political conflict arose over questions of procedure rather than over issues of substance. The politics of procedure is what we now call cuckoo politics.

In the three cases we have chosen to investigate we can observe some of the peculiar features of cuckoo politics. There are some similarities between the three societies. All are essentially migrant societies, for even Ceylon, which is the most “traditional” of the three, has many features of a New World society, for its population came from India during various periods and in successive waves. They are all plantation societies, and they all had the same colonial master. In a very special sense these three are plural societies – they are plural in the sense that various communal groups have been able to coexist as partially separate entities while there has been some fusion of economic activities and ethnic status.

In Grenada even though we have a racially homogenous society, status differentiation has occurred in the basis of colour and religion. Despite various cultural differences all three countries have produced a remarkably similar polity. This interaction between the constitutional order and the social structure in these countries produced the phenomenon or cuckoo politics.