Date First Published February 14, 1990

GAWU Holds Stimulating Dialogue On Divestment

DIVESTMENT in an undemocratic environment will erode the sinking economy further, according to labour leaders, the political opposition leader and a leading economist and WPA executive member.

These views were expressed last Saturday at the auditorium of the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers’ Union (GAWU) building on Regent Street in a dialogue on the State’s divestment moves.

Responding to a barrage of criticisms of government’s lack of democratic principles, Deputy Prime Minister Planning and Development Haslyn Parris said that “if there is not enough dialogue and democracy, then the matter has to be addressed. It is being addressed in discussions which are ongoing.’’

As speaker after speaker suggested that divestment should take a back seat to democracy, Parris noted that whatever may be the reasons for the present situation it had to be dealt with and he suggested that participants should deal with the issue of divestment itself and any alternatives they might propose.

The debate was organised by GAWU and presentations were made by Executive Secretary of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG), Mr. Leslie Melville, DPM Parris, opposition Leader Dr. Cheddi Jagan, Director of the Institute of Development Studies, UG Dr. Clive Thomas, General Secretary of the Guyana Rice Producers’ Association, Mr. Pariag Sukhai and TUC secretary Joseph Pollydore.

Kicking off what proved to be stimulating and vibrant debate in front of a capacity audience, Parris explained that “divestment is removing a State corporation from one hundred per cent government own­ership.” He referred to the concept of strategic alliances with other companies and said in some cases where businesses were doing badly for one reason or another, “it’s either you get an alliance or close it down.” To divest means to pursue a sustained competitive advantage for the corporation. Not to divest may mean letting it suffer the fate of the now defunct Glass Factory, he said.

After the panellists had made their opening contributions there were lively offerings from the floor with the panellists responding in some cases and the dialogue continued well beyond the prescribed time.

In response to the question of what was the alternative to divest­ment Dr. Jagan said that “the foreign investment policy needs to be ex­amined more.” Many speakers argued the government had no mandate to divest.

Union leaders called for union par­ticipation in consultations before divestment is agreed on. Responding to this and allegations that very little information was often pro­vided, DPM Parris noted that busi­ness confidentiality has to be taken into account. During discussions though, he supported, in principle the ideas of consultation and full disclosure. Veteran trade union­ist and General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress Mr. Joseph Pollydore said, “we must address the question of consultation before divestment — very seriously.”

The dialogue was enthusiastically welcomed by those present.

A suggestion was made that another debate be organised at another forum to which DPM Parris readily agreed.

Our Absconding Athletes

IT HAS happened again. In fact, a friend with whom I discuss sports actually told me to expect some of our athletes defect­ing in New York after the Games.

My earliest recollection of a Guyanese athlete ducking out from returning home after representing his country abroad, is the heavyweight Rodwell Payton who almost won a bronze at the Common­wealth Games in Edmonton in 1978. Then three of our best young boxers en route from the Commonwealth Games in Brisbane, Australia eluded the officials to remain in New York in 1982.

This was followed by an almost complete exodus of 14 footballers who were sent to play an Olympic qualifying match in Mexico in 1987. Now two of our amateur boxers, Urchell Chandler and Wesley Christmas who gave his country a bronze medal at the Commonwealth Games in Auckland, New Zealand deserted the team also to re­main in the United States of America.

There are usually two sides to an argu­ment. The nationalist will, in rage and dis­belief, thoroughly condemn the attitude of the athletes as being extremely unpa­triotic. He would add that the athletes were more set on defecting rather than on trying to win for their country at the best they could.

The pragmatist will take an almost antipodal view. He would de­fend the position that an athlete should think firstly of himself before country or else. How can an athlete with no job with which he can support himself properly not want to live in another society, even illegally. If he is good enough, he has a better chance of reaching the top than remaining at home.

While one does not fully agree with the view of the pragmatist, it does have some merit and athletes have gotten places by using this approach. The question is, how can the sports authorities in Guyana find a solution to this embarrassing and disgusting situation?

I see three approaches to the problem: (1) Since some Guyanese athletes may in the future, follow the example of their predecessors to the embarrassment of their country, the relevant sports authority should suspend attendance at all international sports meetings outside the Caribbean until they feel that the situation is again normal to have full confidence in the athletes. (2) Since boxers and footballers are the culprits, exclude them from Commonwealth and other interna­tional games outside of the Caribbean until the climate returns to normal. (3) If the authorities agree that the country’s boxers are the athletes most likely to win medals, include them but make certain that the United States of America is not used intransit to their destination.

The Death of Communism

VIEWPOINT BY IAN McDONALD

WE live in an extraordinary time. Co-mpared for instance, with the slowmotion collapse which the Roman Empire, the Spanish Empire, and the British Empire experienced, the Russian Empire is disintegrating in a twinkling of history’s eye. The most that can be salvaged now by that great revolutionary, Mikhail Gorbachev, is a loose Commonwealth club-like association of inde­pendent states. All empire-haters should be over­joyed. “What bliss is it in that dawn to be alive!”

However, what is happening represents an even more crucial and fundamental displacement of forces than the end of empire. We are witnessing something far more important — the death throes of a creed. This creed, Communism, for a long time promised the world that it was the creed of man’s future and for many it seemed indeed that nothing could withstand it. Now, with a start­ling and historic suddenness, it is viewed with revulsion on all sides not merely as a God that failed but even as a Satan which; but for the grace of God, nearly succeeded.

I do not want to be misunderstood. The influ­ence of Karl Marx as a great economist, poli­tical thinker, and philosopher will never be dis­placed. He stands with Plato, Aristotle, Locke, Hobbes, Adam Smith, the French Encyclopae­dists, John Stuart Mill, Keynes, and all the others in the pantheon of great Western thinkers about the predicament of man in society. What is dying is Marx’s creed as interpreted, put into practice, and imposed for power’s sake alone by other men, including Lenin but pre-eminently Stalin and his satraps.

 

DOMINANCE

I myself do not think that history will deal kindly with Lenin. But it is Stalin’s practice of Communism which made it dominant in half the world and it is that creed which is now being rejected with abhorrence as clean contrary to the freedom and dignity of man. In this sense Gor­bachev is the ultimate founding father of anti­-communism. I have always thought that Gor­bachev’s comment early on that the Russian Revolution, like the French Revolution, must now be consigned to the history books was a coded signal that he rejected Communism as it had developed since 1917 and that he would therefore be doing all in his power to expunge it from the record.

Thick, learned volumes will be written to ex­plain why Communism has failed so abjectly but I can think immediately of four reasons why the creed of Communism did not, in practice measure up to the fundamental needs of man.

ONE, it could not deliver the material goods. Central planning backed by a system which per­vasively commands and administers everything and everybody can achieve success in relatively pri­mitive economies. But as economies grow more mature, complex, sophisticated, that way of doing things simply does not work any longer.

TWO, it ignored the ineradicable appeal of private property. This is not serious when people own virtually nothing but, as they earn more than they spend and begin to accumulate, they will more and more insistently seek to exercise the rights of transfer and exchange which go with un­encumbered ownership of property.

 

STATE POWER

THREE, the concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat in practice turned out to be a crude means of gaining total state power and holding on to it through intimidation and terror. This brutal delusion — that an elite, self-perpetuating and privileged priesthood can arrogate to itself power to decide what the proletariat should dictate – is now in the process of being most rudely shattered.

FOUR, most basic of all, it did not recognise, indeed it strove to suppress, the deep need of men and women to be free. In practice Communism tried to ignore the axiom that freedom is a fundamental demand of human nature and therefore condemned as “bourgeois’’ or “individualistic’’ such principles as freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, freedom of the press, freedom to live and work as you please and not as you are com­manded.

Pursued by ruthless men, for a while this attempt to ignore what is basic in the nature of man succeeded. But it only succeeded at huge material, and even greater psychological, cost, As Vaclav Havel, the once imprisoned dissident and now President of Czechoslovakia, said recently:

“The worst thing is that we live in a contaminated moral environment …because we became used to saying something different from what we thought.”

Gorbachev saw with utmost clarity that the self-delusion, the technological and the material back­wardness, and the moral contamination which the system he inherited had imposed could not be al­lowed to continue. He gave it just a shake at first and has found it rotten to the core, with the result that now everywhere the days of Commun­ism as we know it are numbered. All but the most dyed-in-the-wool Stalinists will be glad of that.

And yet the death of this little-mourned per­version of how men should seek to govern men leaves unanswered a deeper and more subtle ques­tion: in this era of liberal capitalism triumph­ant, has Socialism a future? To that very different question I will try to devote another Viewpoint soon.

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