In 1817, the social theorist, activist and ‘father’ of ‘cooperation’, Robert Owen, was told at the Congress of Sovereigns at Aix-La-Chappelle that the enduring structural contradiction between capital and labour would make it impossible for his idea of cooperativising the world to gain traction. But instead of rethinking his activism, Owen concluded: ‘I … discovered that I had a long and arduous task before me to convince governments and governed of the gross ignorance under which they were contending against each other, in direct opposition to the real interest and true happiness of both’ (Gray, Alexander (1946) The Socialist Tradition. Longmans; London). Robert Owen continued to believe that cooperation would come upon the world ‘like a thief in the night’ and his essential dogmatism led the British social theorist Harriet Mortineau to comment scathingly ‘Robert Owen is not a man to think differently of a book having read it’ (Ibid).
Karl Marx believed that ‘Man makes his own history, but he does not make it out of the whole cloth; he does not make it out of conditions chosen by himself, but out of such as he finds close at hand’ (The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte). Based partly on this notion, Marx made a formidable reputation for himself by building his theory of socialism/communism upon the very theory Owen failed to properly take into account, namely that there exists an enduring and irreconcilable struggle between capital and labour.
Of course, this structural difficulty has historically expressed itself in various ways and to varying degrees. In the early industrial period, Luddism, which attempted to destroy actual factories, the struggle for universal adult suffrage, the rise of the trade union movement and labourite political parties, the formation of the International Labour Organisation, the establishment of Soviet-type communism, New Deal in the United States of America, the establishment of social security systems worldwide and even the successes of Donald Trump, Bernie Saunders, Jeremy Corbin today are all expressions of but at the same time efforts to sensibly manage the enduring conflict between capital and labour. Mainly for their incapacity to truly appreciate the existence and dynamics of this irreconcilable contradiction and their belief that they could reason capitalism to its own demise, Marx and Frederick Engels labeled the likes of Owen utopian socialists.
Like Owen, Mr. Lincoln Lewis wants and is willing to make every effort to create an equitable and good life for all, but I believe that like Owen, his inability to come to grips with the enduring structural deformities of our kind of society has severely hamstrung his efforts. In his usual manner (SN: 24/06/2017), Mr. Lewis set about chastising Dr. David Hinds for what he claimed is the latter’s rudimentary understanding of our constitution. Dr. Hinds was reported as stating that the Working People’s Alliance (WPA) is disappointed with the pace of the constitutional reform ‘to put the necessary checks and balances in place to consolidate our ethos of liberal democracy. Freedom of speech, reduction of the power of the President and the Bill of Rights will be enshrined in the document.’ ‘How more ridiculous can this statement be?’ Mr. Lewis exclaimed. ‘For starters, freedom of expression is already enshrined at Article 146. … We have to start holding the politicians accountable for the things they say and demand that they provide the evidence to back up the vacuous statements they keep making. Unless this is done they will continue to make fools of the masses.’
It would be difficult to deny Mr. Lewis’s contention that our political/social rights are fairly adequately formally protected in our constitution. However, I am drawn to his assertion that ‘There cannot be meaningful reform of what is not known, understood, or given a chance to work’ for, since he has not, one way or another, responded to some searching questions about his approach and now is reproaching Dr. Hinds for comparatively minor infractions, I believe that he is either not aware of its existence or not sufficiently acquainted with the constraints of the kind of structuralism outlined above holds for his approach.
For a start, can Mr. Lincoln Lewis please tell us where is this ‘we,’ who are to hold our politicians accountable? What Guyana has are two large ethnic groups whose elites are in a near irreconcilable struggle for power. When out of office, their intelligentsias are vociferous in their demand for shared governance but when in office all manner of untenable and opportunistic reasons are concocted by the same people to show why power-sharing is not possible. Indeed, although our system has transited to a point where small majoritarian governments are possible, one of the larger ethnic groups will become alienated because they will come to feel that they are substantially left out of the process of governance.
How, in this day and age, when theoretical and practical experiences spanning over a century point to the fact that some social structures can be quite enduring and that ethnically fractured countries such as ours contain a tenacious structural condition in that they do not have a ‘we the people’ could Mr. Lewis seriously be asking us to give this condition ‘a chance to work.’ In the absence of a united public political opinion, how does he intend to hold government accountable? Are we to understand that, like Robert Owen, he believes that it is possible to eliminate this structural deformity by simply reasoning with our ethnic groups and/or their elites not to vote race; not to be ethnic parties; to consider the national interest and not what they perceive to be their own? Coming as he does in the in the 21st century, if he holds that more exhortation and time will extricate us from our current difficulties, he is even more utopian than the early socialists!
Unless Mr. Lewis can provide a better answer to this structural deformity, conventional wisdom has it that as in the conflict between capital and labour, this condition will not just evaporate with time but has to be managed by way of sharing government, establishing some form of ethnic democracy or succumbing to dictatorship. I take it that only the first of these are reasonably acceptable and if there is one thing that the reading public knows about Dr. Hinds it is that over the years he has been one of the staunchest supporters of executive shared governance. Not surprising, then, in the very report to which Mr. Lewis refers Dr. Hinds stated: ‘We (WPA) feel that Constitutional Reform is critical to everything that we are doing because constitutional reform has to do with the way the state for example is reconstructed…with the allocation of power…with the whole question of ethnicity and the sharing of power in this country.”
If our intention truly is, as Mr. Lincoln Lewis wishes, to hold the government accountable and quickly provide the good life for our people, establishing a properly structured governance arrangement is the most important political issue today. Usually, as was the case with our constitutional reform process at the end of the last century, the elites in control of the government have to be forced to make these kinds of radical changes. The opportunity to be transformative was missed during the last reform process because the government was unwilling; perhaps even ignorant and the PNC was still wedded to the belief, now unlike Mr. Lewis, that the winner-takes-all Westminster type system was viable. The result is that we have the fairly good formal constitution but not a framework to properly account for the ethnic group interests that pervade our society and thus insubstantial mechanisms for holding our governments accountable.