by henry jeffery

‘Practice without theory is blind. Theory without practice is sterile. Theory becomes a material force as soon as it is absorbed by the masses. …. The Germans [Marxists who moved to the USA] have not understood how to use their theory as a lever which could set the American masses in motion; they do not understand the theory themselves for the most part and treat it in a doctrinaire and dogmatic way, as something which has got to be learned off by heart but which will then supply all needs without more ado. To them it is a credo and not a guide to action.’ (Marx, Karl (1872) Das Kapital. Vol. I. Preface).

future notesI am the kind of Marxist who believes that while nearly all of Marx’s political praxis is outdated, he did make some observations, such as the one above, that are most apt given the manner in which the issue of national unity is at present treated in Guyana. The citizenry of this country is arguably more divided now than ever and must be getting pretty jaded with the perennial talk by the government, and indeed, the president himself, about the necessity for national unity/a social contract and so on.

Who among us will deny that ‘We can be one nation only if all sections of our population feel that they are an integral part of and share in our country’s development’ and that we need to ‘seize the opportunity to work for greater national unity (President calls for deeper unity, stronger communities in Republic Day message. SN 23/2/2016)? These are hackneyed exhortations that take us nowhere.

Neither can the ministries of social cohesion and communities, which go about regaling the masses in a similar liturgical manner, make an iota of difference, for it is the structure of our ethnic political relations that needs to be fixed. If the regime does not do as Marx suggested and outline studied theoretical and practical positions, if it continues to treat the conceptual underpinnings of this issue more like a credo and does not formulate and transmit to the populace a more precise vision of what it is it has in mind, its exhortations will not become a material force that can guide our day to day actions.

As such, it is the regime itself that needs to heed the president’s call and ‘seize the opportunity’ to benchmark where we are at present in terms of national unity and say what are the required inputs and what are some of the discernible outcomes so that we can make adjustments along the way. Then, at least in the medium term, the president will have more than rhetoric with which to regale the population.

I believe that it is partly because a collective vision of what national unity entails in terms of practical action has not yet been embedded in the leadership, much less the masses, that some missteps have been made that could set the drive towards unity even further back.

For example, the central idea in any process which seeks to ease the division in an ethnically divided society must be that in social planning of any sort no effort should be spared to timely and equitably involve the representatives of all stakeholders in the decision-making process and premium must be given to encouraging broad ethnic participation.

Had such an idea been properly entrenched in the national leadership, the ruckus over the closure of the Wales sugar estate would most likely not have occurred. Very few would deny that the sugar industry is in deep trouble and some form of radical action is necessary. One cannot possibly be producing sugar at three times the world market price and hope to survive on subsidies forever.

However, in an ethnically divided society where a decision is likely to disproportionately affect one ethnic group, premium must be given to its timely participation in the decision-making process. One cannot make a decision out of the blue that is likely to put nearly 2,000 people on the breadline and then glibly speak of the need for national unity.

Furthermore, had there been a proper understanding of what striving for national unity actually entails, it is unlikely that the flag-raising ceremony for the 46th Republic Anniversary would have been organised in a manner that drew justifiable criticism. ‘The location of the ceremony is not on mutual ground in terms of political demographics, and therefore it implies an exclusion of a large part of the PPP base…’ (`While the flag-raising was the right thing to do, it was not done right.’ SN 26/02/2016).

Spare me the contention that the PPP/C has shown little willingness to cooperate, for this cannot explain the absence of a comprehensive government position. Indeed, that party’s refusal to cooperate demands a greater effort and clarity from the government.

The PPP/C is vital to the process and if national unity is as important as the president repeatedly proclaims, then he and his government should bend over backwards to bring it on board. Ralph Ramkarran ended one of his last pieces on this subject by advising that ‘The PPP must not be handed on a platter the opportunity to cause the failure of a drive for national unity’. However, once the regime has made creditable and transparent efforts to bring the PPP/C on board and it refuses to participate, the work can begin with other stakeholders.

This country is locked in a structural ethnic formation that is gradually transiting but still leaves its mark on almost every activity. The regime needs to stop boring us with its credo-like attachment to national unity and start actually doing something about moving the nation out of the present suboptimal structure of governance.