THE SOCIOLOGY OF DECOLONIZATION: THE CASE OF GUYANA BAUXITE

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?