All forms of the state have operated in a world context. Since the development of capitalism in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and the creation of a ‘world system’ as expressed in a world market for goods, services, finance, capital and labour, state forms have been in large measure the product of the international environment or conjuncture prevailing at the time.
In the early period, brute force and savagery shaped the world system and existing state forms as can be seen in the roles that colonization, slavery, indenture and the plantations played in shaping the early development of the state in Guyana. As we are all aware, these original forces shaping the world system were later replaced by the inexorable market forces of mature capitalism: demand, supply, price, and the unending search for profit.
The authoritarian state, which as I have argued, was the predecessor to the criminal state operated in, and was the product of, an international environment which was qualitatively different from that currently prevailing. At that time, the Cold War was at its apogee as the two superpowers contended relentlessly for global power, influence, and domination. Rival colonial empires were in the final stages of disintegration. National liberation and independence movements and the Non-Aligned Movement epitomized the anti-colonial and anti-imperialist struggles of the underdeveloped world emerging out of colonial and imperial domination. Superpower rivalry created political and economic space for these national independence movements. The global economy was premised on state-led development, which to varying degrees was the prominent feature of all development models practised at the time.
Clearly these features contrast with the key ones in the present global environment. The Cold War has ended, one superpower is dominant, and globalization and market fundamentalism shape the evolution of the global economy. All models of development that are now practised are private-sector led and/or market based.
National liberation wars have been replaced by the ‘War on Terror’ especially centred on the Muslim territories of Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Palestine and Lebanon. There can be no doubt therefore that the international environment in which the authoritarian state operated was markedly different.
Final distinguishing feature
The final distinguishing feature of the criminal state is in fact one common to most states and their ruling elites. That is, its growth and continued consolidation are only possible because we as citizens ‘permit’ it. There is the well-known truism that people get the government and by extension the form of state they ‘deserve.’ Ultimately, the criminal state is what it is because the population at large ‘accepts’ it. There is no contradiction with the fact that coercion and intimidation play crucial roles in this compliance. The sad truth is the absence of serious and sustained resistance to the pathological degeneration of the state into a vehicle for criminal enterprise is a marked feature of our times.
The question that must be answered is: Why is this so? Several answers readily spring to mind. First and foremost, there are many active supporters of the status quo. There are as well those who would deny that the criminalization of the state is taking place. Then, as another category, there are those who would accept that this might be occurring but derive ‘benefit’ from the tendencies towards criminalization.
This category does not only include as one might expect the underclass, but ‘business persons’ operating in and at the fringes of sectors like money laundering, smuggling goods, trafficking in persons, and engaging in fraud, corruption, and systematic consumer abuse.
There are also those who would feel, for one reason or another that, bad as things are, all the presently available alternative options are worse. And, lest we forget there are also many among us who do not care about such matters as they are too burdened with their own problems of family and self survival. To these persons the true essence of the state is an abstraction far removed from their concerns, except maybe the basic provision of human security. Finally, there are those who do not see the linkages I have sought to draw between their condition as citizens and the criminal state.
Secondly, although as I have pointed out, there is no strong, sustained resistance to the degeneration of the state into a vehicle for criminal endeavours, there are still elements of concern to be found within the body politic particularly in some sections of civil society and the political opposition. While the numbers may be few, political analyses and views of what should be done are many. These efforts face two major epistemological weaknesses which are common to much of West Indian philosophy.
One of these is the belief that if you can truly describe, characterize or define the essential condition giving rise to a social, economic, or political problem then ipso facto the problem will be resolved.
You see this essentialist fallacy a lot when analysts and commentators operate as if the perfect designation of the problem will instantly resolve it. Thought and action are segmented.
The other weakness is the consequence of the first. That is the perfect becomes the enemy of the good. Good operational solutions, which like most human efforts will contain flaws are not considered, or are discarded and sacrificed at the altar of the pursuit of perfection. Right now in my opinion any one of the five most ventilated solutions for the country’s future would be better than the present degeneration. Yet none has a hope of forming the basis of a truly cooperative effort to implement it.
This is not a prescription for thoughtless and unreflective pragmatism but a call for linkage between thought and action. The crisis is severe.
This concludes my reassessment of the analysis first presented four years ago (SN, April-August 2003) on the state in Guyana.