I read with great interest Ian on Sunday’s ‘Thinking, already, about the next general election’ (September 3, 2017).
I have rarely missed any of Dr McDonald’s weekly features. I find them highly educational, enlightening and entertaining. ‘Ian on Sunday’ provides readers with a sort of pleasurable but relaxing digression from the humdrum Guyanese everyday political repertoire.
To those who may not be au fait with what DrMcDonald has to say, his writings provide readers with fresh, but insightful perspectives into the field of literature, poetry, sports and world politics, especially international affairs and, of course, sugar.
Dr McDonald is worried that we Guyanese are thinking much too early about the next elections due in three years’ time. He is worried that “All this is terrible for a nation which needs such fears like it needs knives at its heart.” But the real question is, why? What is the basis for Guyanese thinking so far ahead and in such a complex manner? Is that Guyanese are by nature a complex people and strategic thinkers?
The answer to these questions can be found in a very brief reference to the Guyanese psyche and other factors influencing their psyche.
The Guyanese people’s awareness of unfolding events in their country, real or perceived, ensures their prevision of events and consequently, the need for them to plan actions in advance to confront those events. Moreover, their interactions within their surroundings allow them to find their bearings, politically and otherwise.
Dr McDonald suggests that, “in a vibrant democracy elections should be a cause for celebration, an ever welcome occasion regularly marking the successful outcome of what in any country’s history has always been a long struggle to overcome authoritarian and often brutal, rule.” I fully agree with him, save for one caveat: I am doubtful whether Guyana today is, as he described it to be, a “vibrant democracy” in the classical sense.
To determine whether a vibrant democracy exists in Guyana, we need to examine the nature of the state, identify which class and/or social strata controls the state apparatus and whose interests they serve. The state of Guyana, like any society, is an instrument of class rule. In Guyana’s case the state is controlled by a petit bourgeois, urban middle-class bureaucratic elite, whose aim, from all indications, is headed in the direction to entrench de novo, authoritarian rule in our country.
An inherent feature of authoritarian rule is the clamping down on the civil and political rights of the working people and a zeal to exercise control over constitutional bodies to make them, more often than not, an instrument of the policy of the ruling elite. Moreover, the urban bureaucratic elite’s control over the National Assembly, and use of its slim parliamentary majority to bulldoze its legislative agenda through that august body, is a manifestation of its control of at least two of the three arms of the state.
The use of bodies such as the State Assets Recovery Agency (SARA) and the Special Organized Crime Unit (SOCU) as a political tool against political opponents is an uncharacteristic feature of a vibrant democracy; in fact it is characteristic of a state that is fast becoming reactionary and anti- working class in nature.
The rising up of the ogre of discrimination in a society that is characterized by its multi-ethnic and multi-cultural architecture will result once again in social dis-cohesion rather than cohesion.
It is unfortunate that these realities were not taken into consideration in the Ian on Sunday column when it was said that Guyanese are worrying about general elections three years before they are due, as a consequence of the delay in the appointment of a Gecom chairman; the tensions that will sharpen further arising from the oil bonanza; and suspicions in some quarters that rigging in some form is contemplated and even now being plotted.
The fact of the matter is, this is the real world in which a large number of Guyanese live, and not a bubble far removed from the realities of the rumble and tumble of everyday life in Guyana. In any event, if these worrisome events were not a reflection of the happenings in Guyanese society, why would the media carry statements by political leaders in and out of government on these very matters? Are they so irresponsible as to repeat fears that are too futuristic? The truth is there are real preoccupations and fears affecting sugar workers, rice farmers, fishermen, miners, entrepreneurs, taxi drivers, vendors, single parents and young professionals. They are disappointed that the ‘good life’ that was promised to them is not forthcoming.
In the circumstances, it is only fair that the fears, as well as the hopes and aspirations of the Guyanese people, however early or late, be articulated by their political and trade union leaders as well as by their respective social and faith-based organizations, lest the people perceive their leaders as having abandoned them.
To ask that we invoke the name of Voltaire in the interest of tolerance is all well and good.
But the rationalism of Voltaire versus the naturalism of Rousseau should not be viewed in abstraction from their passion to open the mind to experiment and change. Although Voltaire didn’t agree with Rousseau he was committed to defend his right to say what he believed in, and together they became the forces that seethed and surged beneath the political and social surface of French life: “They were the accompanying light and brilliance of the volcanic heat and conflagration.” (Will Durant The story of philosophy)
Dr McDonald chose Voltaire, but I choose Rousseau who had a preference for action; the risks of revolution did not frighten him. He relied on the sentiment of brotherhood to re-unite the social elements scattered by turmoil and called for the uprooting of the old order.
Dr McDonald appeals to us to have faith as regards the necessary ingredients for holding “free, fair, efficient, unflawed and trouble-free election acceptable to all.” He calls on us not to despair but to have faith in our endeavour to achieve our goals. The problem with faith is to recognize something as true without proof. There is no difference between faith and superstition. Faith stands at the opposite pole of knowledge; the two cannot be reconciled. Neither should faith be passed off as knowledge. The historical experience of the Guyanese people’s struggle for free and fair elections cannot be reduced to the need for them to have faith this time around. As in the past, free and fair elections will be achieved only with the growth of the political consciousness and mass struggles of the Guyanese people.
Unless faith becomes a material force nothing will change.
In contrast to Dr McDonald, I close with something Rousseau had to say: “Let laws be removed, and men would pass into a reign of equality and justice”.
Clement J Rohee