Pressures at the National Level
A country like Guyana with deeply entrenched ethnic divisions and antagonisms, a history of violence, a high unemployment rate and burgeoning attention from the imperial powers must inevitably create major headaches for any government. One of the Guyana government’s reactions to these headaches 1s the much publicised, but, I feel, little understood idea of the Cooperative Republic.
I do not propose to say much about the Co-operative Republic here It ,s merely my intention to look at the social generators which led to its promulgation and to argue that the Guyana government’s decision to nationalize Demba was in pan prompted by the fact that the idea had so far promised more than it had achieved.
Political independence for Guyana, like that of other independent Caribbean territories, has brought with it no significant change in the structural apparatus of that country. Important sectors of the economy were still firmly located in the hands of white absentee landlords, who made all the basic decisions concerning Guyana’s economy in the metropole. Foreign ownership and control of the economy means that the benefits to be derived from exploitation of Guyana’s resources (natural and human) are enjoyed by foreign shareholders with no commitment or interest in Guyana other than a financial one. Foreign owned banks, while still unwilling to finance local investors, nevertheless retained their willingness to accept local deposits for overseas investment.
Faced with the ever present spectre of metropolitan retaliation. Guyana did not seek until now to make any political decisions which would displease its “friends” in the metropole. Tension still pervaded the relationships between the two major ethnic groups and national distrust in the government’s ability to heal the breach and ameliorate the lot of Guyanese was mounting.
Culturally, despite departures in dress and food habits from the Western norm, significant and disturbing metropolitan oriented cultural deposits still remained – and at the highest echelons in the society. Whispers of graft and corruption flourished and internal status fissures in the society seemed unassailably obdurate.
It was in the midst of this post independence malaise that the government decided to introduce the idea of the Co-operative Republic. By virtue of its stated emphasis on change in the economy it sought to involve the small man in the country’s basic decision-making apparatus and to change, in one fell swoop, the society’s super-structural elements also.
But the Co-operative Republic seemed to have received a number of setbacks which threatened to dilute its objective of benefitting the small man. Despite much publicity, people did not seem to understand what it was all about, and as a result of the existence of the colonial mentality, achievements failed to
what it was all about, and as a result of the existence of the colonial mentality, achievements failed to match promises. It is therefore possible to argue, that the government decided to speed up the achievement process by nationalizing Demba.
In addition to the above, it must be mentioned that the utterances of politicians such as Dr. Cheddi Jagan as well as of groups such as Ratoon, urging the government not merely to settle for partial nationalization but to “tek all” probably helped to provide an appropriate national social climate for nationalization.
One final factor which must have prompted the government to make this decision must be mentioned. This concerns the international atmosphere. Guyana’s decision to nationalize Demba was preceded by the partial or full nationalization of foreign interests by other countries. In Zambia and Peru foreign copper partial or full nationalization of foreign interests by other countries. In Zambia and Peru foreign copper interests were partially nationalized, while in Cuba and Persia, foreign oil interests were fully nationalized. There was therefore a number of important precedents in the Caribbean, South America and in Africa for the Guyana government’s decision.
So far I have been concerned with the social conditions which could be seen as influencing Guyana’s decision to nationalize Demba. These were dealt with in terms of the community level, the company level and very briefly at the national and international level.
A major underlying tenor of the argument has been that this decision must be seen as part of the decolonization movement. The movement, it is arguable, comprises a number of sequential stages, each stage possessing I number of internal contradictions which made the next stage possible.
In the first stage, Linden is colonized and the structure of the community and the company is such as to generate a number of strains for members of the colonized class. To be sure, these strains also have implications for the movement at the national level. Workers are dissatisfied, and they demonstrate their dissatisfaction. In the second stage the workers withdraw their labour collectively in such a way as to give it the flavour of a political protest movement aimed at reduction of strains. At this stage though, workers have acted collectively on a number of instances in order to effect change and so improve their position. The colonial framework of the company/community still remains intact in that all the basic decisions are still being made in the metropole. Set against the background of the socialist rhetoric of “Co-operative Republic,” the scene is now set for the next stage. In this stage the government moves in and carries the movement one step further by its decision to nationalize the company.
A key ingredient of the model is that it is the economy which provides the motive force for the movement and workers have accordingly used their relationship to the means of production (1.e. their lab our power) as a means of generating protest. But it is of equal importance to note that the protest action of the worker has generally smacked of disenchantment not only with the economy but also with other superstructural elements in the area such as the polity, the hospital, recreational facilities, housing and so on. It is thus argued that no matter how useful changes in the economy may be they are not enough and are doomed to, at best impeded progress, and at worst outright failure if concomitant changes at the company, community and national levels are not forthcoming. I now turn to a discussion of this question: Nationalization as a Means of Decolonization?