Social structure does not equate to the Constitution

Dear Editor,

It is quite obvious that Mr Lincoln Lewis (‘The deformities do not lie in the structure…’ SN, July 3) did not adequately grasp the notion of social structure as expressed by me (‘Future Notes’, SN June 28) for if he had he would not have attempted to equate it with the Constitution and then sing his usual hymn about our giving it a chance to work! Much of what Mr Lewis said is incorrect but too inconsequential to my main concern to detain me. However, since it is around the issue of the ethnic structure of our society that much of the demand for shared governance rests, I will, as succinctly as possible, make one last attempt in this conversation, to again outline the case.

Social structure speaks to the way a society is organised, and, for example, I believe it would be generally agreed that wherever it exists, a capitalist society contains a fundamental and enduring contradiction: social production but private ownership and accumulation. Indeed, the most important laws in a capitalist society facilitate capitalist exploitation of the workers, although in modern and progressive societies, workers are also given the right to organise to mitigate ‒ but not eliminate ‒ their exploitation. Robert Owen was a quite successful businessman, but for his folly of believing that he could reason with the ruling class to give up the capitalist system and introduce a more humane co-operative arrangement, Karl Marx labelled him and those of like mind utopian socialists.

In 1861, John Stuart Mill, considering the issue of nationality and representative government, claimed that “Free institutions are next to impossible in a country made up of different nationalities.  Among a people without fellow feelings … the united public opinion necessary to the working of a representative government cannot exist.  The influences which form opinions and decide political acts are different in the different sections of the country.  An altogether different set of leaders have the confidence of one part of the country and of another.”

Thus, where a society is structured in a manner that for ethnic reasons, people largely only listen to their own leaders, a ‘united public opinion’ necessary for holding government accountable will not exist and free and objective national institutions are next to impossible. Maybe not as starkly as presented by Mill, but the enduring structural deformity of which I spoke is the existence in Guyana of two large ethnic groups which, for the most part, adhere to the political dictates of their self-interested communal leaders.

Holding governments or any groups accountable does not entail simply the willingness and opportunity for some within our midst to objectively criticise. More importantly, such criticisms must lead to behavioural change, and in the case of democratic governance this requires a mass movement. My questions to Mr Lewis, which he failed to answer in his last missive are, can he please tell us where is this ‘we’ who are to hold our politicians accountable? and in the absence of a united public political opinion, how does he intend to hold government accountable? Quite apart from persistent, largely futile, moralising, how does he intend to get the government to actually act in a responsible manner?

Let me close by baldly recognising a few points made by Mr Lewis that have been dealt with ad nauseam in these columns. Our political system is in transition, but it would take perhaps decades for it to become meaningfully so; any future arrangement to facilitate national cooperation will have to give proper representation to all ethnicities and contain the necessary checks and balances against autocratic rule, and please note that, to avoid any confusion, the Constitution is not the focus of this letter.

In passing, given the lost lives and opportunities our social/ethnic disfunctionality has caused, I take it that his recommendation, in relation to our warring political parties, that follows was intended to be a joke, for it certainly indicates that his stance may have run aground. “Let them be separate as required by the constitution/structure and serve as checks and balances to each other. What we are certain of, given what is taking place, is that since thief man doesn’t like see he mattie thief man with bag, they will scream on each other and help us to keep them in check”!

Yours faithfully,
Henry B Jeffrey

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