The Anatomy of power in Guyana (Pt 2)

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The Anatomy of power in Guyana (Pt 2)
Photo : Ravi Dev

Last week, we discussed the difference between “authority” – which an elected government gets – and “power,” which depends on the latter’s control of the coercive arms of the state - the army, police, bureaucracy, etc, and certain groups within a society which can exercise “disruptive power”. We posited that in and out of office, the PNC controls these institutions and it is why there was no effective protests following the firing of 7000 sugar workers, and with the refusal to accept the consequences of the NCM. The second part of the 1993 piece follows.

“A second set of resources, which may confer power on individuals or groups, is “economic”: in fact, some, noticeably Marxists, maintain that the holders of economic power ultimately control even the state. Be that as it may, there is another widespread perception that “Indians own everything” and thus also have economic power to buttress the political power they recently captured. This myth is so pervasive that even some Indians believe it. Now firstly, it has been demonstrated that most Indian businesses are in petty retailing, small-scale rice farming and the independent professions. They were forced into these sectors when the state sector was closed off to them during their historic movement out of the sugar plantations. It is a myth that Africans do not own businesses – it is just that the Indian is more dominant in the more visible small mom-and-pop operations that demand huge inputs of time. Secondly, even if all these businesses were combined, their total worth would not equal the value of African-Guyanese controlled corporations. Control of assets is even more beneficial than ownership since one has all the benefits of, but none of the headaches from, the latter. Thirdly, the ownership being so diffuse, the Indian-Guyanese businesses cannot act in concert, as do the other economic entities that actually dominate the economy. Fourthly, and lastly, because of the size and intrusiveness of the state, even the Indian Guyanese businesses that are significant only exist at the sufferance of the real power holders and most of them are reduced to offering bribes to survive.

Nkrumah’s dictum was thus fulfilled in Guyana for African Guyanese: “Seek ye first the political Kingdom and all else will be added unto it.” Indian businessmen may have some influence in some instances, and over some people, but this is totally different from power. With influence, one depends totally on the other acquiescing on his own, without the “influential” party having the ultimate sanction of force, which a true power holder possesses.

               However, there is another base of power that is not apparent to most commentators and observers; and this one is certainly not in the hands of either the PPP or Indian-Guyanese. This is the hegemonic power of the group(s) that control the major socialization institutions of the country – the churches, the schools, the media, especially the newspapers etc. This group basically controls what the populace or the Government will or will not put on the agenda, by defining for all of us what we should consider to be the important issues we ought to discuss and debate, much less decide upon. This group even determines the Government’s agenda but does not ever have to face the inevitable resistances and rebellions that state coercive and private economic power, engender. With their subtle control of these “cultural institutions”, they actually manipulate us to do what they want against our own interests if necessary. When Indian Guyanese complain of racial discrimination in hiring 16 African Guyanese PS out of 17, they were dubbed “racists”. But with most being oblivious to this reality, this group has the best of both worlds. The rapist has convinced the raped that the latter actually enjoyed the rape and it was even for his/her own good.

               The point is that as one may believe them to be. It thus behoves all of us to ferret out the power relations in our society so that we may truly discern who really controls us – who really has power. For those of us who do not have it but think we do, we would be saved from potentially disastrous initiatives. For those of us who do not have it but realise we do not, it points the way for the implementation of a program to ensure an equitable distribution in the power relations of Guyana for all groups.

After all this is the goal of all well-meaning Guyanese isn’t it?”