THE SOCIAL CONSTRUCTION OF ETHNIC INSECURITY: A REJOINDER
BY PREM MISIR
December 9, 2003
In my recent pieces, [ please note: link provided by LOSP web site ] I said the following, among others:
· Guyana has no dominant race-ethnic group.
· Guyana really has ethnic alliances.
· Guyana tolerates certain politicians to construct and reconstruct a false reality, leading to their manipulation of the race-ethnic card.
· Guyana has class-race-ethnicity lived-in simultaneously.
· Guyana has inter-ethnic and intra-ethnic class stratification.
· Guyana has parliamentary-elected representatives with mandates. An individual ordinarily does not have a mandate. A mandate is a document or commission assigning authority to an entity through a judicial process, as in the case of an elected government. In this case, the mandate essentially is a contract between the people and the government. Any individual can advocate for anything within the parameters of the law. But that individual may not present the advocacy as if it were a mandate. If it is bandied as a mandate, the individual will have to demonstrate that he/she has a contract with the people and detail how this contract is legitimized. If the advocacy is presented as a mandate, then that person must demonstrate the source of his/her legitimacy to effect a mandate. Advocacy for a new political arrangement is presented by various non-elected people as if it were a mandate, that is, it is as if the people at large already have assigned them this authority to vent and introduce the arrangement. Simply put, it is as if the people already have agreed to have this measure in place. I am not aware that the Guyanese people have a contract with these advocates on this specific issue of a new political arrangement.
Let’s advance the discussion further on race-ethnicity.
In any multiethnic society, a democratic ruling party has to demonstrate that all ethnic groups are addressed and served with due process, equity, and justice. This kind of demonstration, indeed, is integral to good governance, and not a response to race-ethnic insecurity problems. In fact, all good governments administering with good governance need to do this, that is, they must demonstrably treat all groups equitably. If we disagree with this role of government, then we are opposed to good governance. In the spirit of good governance, the PPP/C must show that its outcomes are intended for the advantage of all, and this willingness to show impartiality has everything to do with good governance, and nothing to do with a response to ethnic insecurity. Again, in this context, I would make “Social Marginalization & Ethnicity: A Preliminary Study” recommended reading. This booklet can be retrieved from GINA.
The concept of security is not only about a person’s response to criminal vulnerability, but also embraces a sustained provision of education, health and human services to the masses, regardless of race-ethnicity. On the question of combating crime, notwithstanding resource limitations, the PPP/C Administration unleashed considerable crime-fighting measures.
In any case, the first step for crime fighters must involve identifying the nature of the crime. This process of identification incorporates inclusion of a variety of predisposing and contributory variables in the crime-fighting equation. Some of these variables are a Regional crime connection, organized crime, political link to criminality, criminal deportees, and the incitement role of the media. The President’s menu of crime-fighting measures, announced in June 2002, included the following: amendments to the crime laws; expediting gun licenses for the business community; a dedicated unit for community policing located in the Commissioner of Police Department; provision of body armor and protective gear; the British Metropolitan Police training for the Guyana Police Force in firearms management and crowd control; recent Joint Police-Army task forces involved in intelligence gathering and special operations, and in working the highways, villages and backlands; and completion of Public Consultations on Crime.
Note the following with regard to social services. In 1992, only 8% of revenue was allocated to the entire Social Services Sector compared to 30% budgetary provision in 1957-64 through the PPP Administration. Due to adequate management of the debt burden, today, more funds are available for social services. In 2002, education constituted 17.2% of the Budget and health 8% of the Budget. In a United Nations Survey 2000, Guyana ranked 19th globally to have had direct investment yields compared to the 1988-1990 ERP period when Guyana was placed at 72nd. Preliminary estimates in 2002 place the total foreign debt at US$1.2 billion, reduced from US$2.1 billion. Today, with over 50,000 house lots allocated, more Guyanese than ever before are home owners. Let’s now show that ethnic security is really broad-based and not only pertains to crime, but to social and human services as well. In 1976/77, 50% of children under 5 experienced malnutrition, an increase of 31% since 1973. Today, according to the World Bank Group, the malnutrition rate for children under 5 is 12%. Student achievement is an important criterion used to assess and evaluate an education system’s performance. The SSEE, CXC, and CAPE results over recent years have been very encouraging for all ethnic groups.
Clearly, then, ethnic security is associated with multiple variables; some of these are crime, social, and human services. But ethnic security, generally, is politically presented as having a sole relationship with the level of crime. Given the limited resources available for crime-fighting coupled with attaining medium to long-term results, and the regional and organized crime connections to local crimes, this approach is not surprising because it provides greater ammunition for certain politicians to push the race-ethnic card. Note that minimal discussion centers on the correlation between ethnic security and the provision of social and human services. The Guyanese masses should call on particular politicians to trace the progressive development of social and human services over the recent years. Ultimately, no party should apologize for ensuring good governance through demonstrably providing due process, equity and justice for all ethnic groups. This perspective of good governance must become mandatory for all democratic multiethnic societies. The application of good governance in the formulation and implementation of policies in a multiethnic society must not be confused with racial motivation. If this happens, then some politicians will apply the race-ethnic card with greater effectiveness.
Race-ethnic Class Solidarity - no historical interpretation
Recently, we have witnessed an ahistorical interpretation of the formation of race-ethnic class solidarity in Guyana. One commentary erroneously pointed out that the formation of this working-class alliance in the ruling PNC era to which Dr. Jagan referred had nothing to do with the PPP and others’ earlier efforts. In fact, this commentary espouses the mistaken view that the meeting point of WPA’s multiracial mobilization and PNC’s authoritarian rule, created this working-class alliance. The overwhelming historical evidence refutes this invalid statement, as the conclusion is devoid of a sense of history.
We must remind ourselves of the following: The embryonic seeds of race-ethnic class solidarity were implanted way back in the 19th century with African and East Indian resistance against the White planters and in their united support of Critchlow’s fight for better wages and an 8-hour workday in the early 20th century.
H. Snell, M.P., addressing national unity in the London Weekly on March 19, 1927, noted, “That the Colony has been able to reduce these complexities to something like a working plan and succeeded in creating a basis of unity in the common love of their country on the part of African, Hindu and Chinese alike is itself a great achievement, and one that offers bright promise for the future. These separate races do, in fact, live side by side with each other, respect each other’s ideals and prejudices, acknowledge allegiance to communal laws and work together for the good of the Colony…” How much of this description of working-class unity has changed? How is it imperiled today?
The PPP was united for the 1953 election and the Robertson Commission (1954) ably captured this working-class unity thus, “It was largely by the efforts of Dr. and Mrs. Jagan that PPP was built up and KEPT UNITED…In this way racial dissension between African and East Indian elements was minimized and by the time of the election campaign in 1953 a useful political instrument was forged…the PPP could count on a substantial number of supporters among all races and all classes in British Guiana, with the bulk of its supporters naturally to be found among the ordinary working people.” The 1961 election results showed that despite the 1955 Jagan-Burnham split, the PPP captured somewhere between 15% to 20% of its votes from African workers. T. McKitterick in analyzing the 1961 election results said that if race were the determining factor, the PPP would have lost the election. McKitterick found that in about 5 of the PPP-won constituencies, East Indians were not in the majority.
Working-class racial unity also was evidenced in 1978 through intense alliance among GAWU, CCWU, UGSA, NAACIE, and OWP, close group effort between the PPP and WPA, the PPP’s proposal for a National Patriotic Front Government, and the Patriotic Coalition for Democracy, among others. GAWU, CCWU, UGSA, NAACIE, and OWP in 1978 together represented about 50% of the urban, rural, African and East Indian workers. Based on these evidences, we can hardly say then that it was solely the WPA that created a working-class alliance; it’s an alliance that already was created, but with different form and content at different points in Guyana’s history.
Logic & History
Any notion, therefore, of suggesting that the working-class alliance in 1984 was born out of this interplay only between WPA’s multiracial mobilization and the PNC’s authoritarianism, is ignoring the historical roots of race-ethnic class solidarity in Guyana, as evidenced in the aforementioned historical points, among others. If we agree that the past and the present create an unspoiled web, then it is only the arrogant presumption of the power of human reason that makes some people believe that they can fashion some new form of society. Human reasoning must carry conjunctively the architecture of history in any analysis. In many cases, this human reason should be tinged with adjustments as human history unfolds. Unfortunately, some believe that the power of human reason is static, so they constantly apply this ‘unchanging’ logic to their analysis, even as the solidarity changes its nature.
At any rate, race-ethnic class solidarity has had a checkered evolutionary history, starting with the dialectic to become created, then graduating to its being as a reality, next experiencing a lag, then moving to its current antithesis in a struggle to reach synthesis. However, race-ethnic class solidarity does not merely follow a linear progression in its developmental process; at any time, it can revert to a previous form and content. When this reversion or any other change occurs in race-ethnic class solidarity, our reasoning has to adjust accordingly to give meaning to its new form and content. We should keep in mind that sometimes “The very shaping of history now outpaces the ability of men to orient themselves in accordance with cherished values…that newer beginnings are ambiguous to the point of moral stasis” (Mills). In all of this, we purport that no one, yes, no one or group has monopoly over the creation and life of solidarity; this class solidarity has been and will continue to be the handmaiden of several social groups and their intersection with history. This method represents one of the ways to lay bare the social construction and reconstruction process of ethnic conflict and ethnic insecurity.