We commemorated our 57th anniversary of our 1966 independence from Britain, which in 1814 had taken over from the Dutch who had arbitrarily carved out colonies, starting in 1621, from lands occupied by our Indigenous Peoples. The tragedy at Mahdia brought the plight of those still-colonialised peoples to the fore by exposing the conditions under which their young “best and brightest” are schooled in the 21st century. But colonialism does not linger just for them – it envelops all of us Guyanese.
If nothing else, our history should have taught us that we are operating within a historical world system that developed from Europe’s even earlier colonization of the world, starting from the 15th century. After WWII, the dominant Liberal paradigm that promised political, economic and cultural independence after our long “tutelage” was challenged within a “Cold War” between the USSR and USA. The former promoted a socialist/ communist mode of socioeconomic development, while the latter pushed its modernisation theory with its Rostowian “stages of growth” economic component.
Burnham’s socialist co-operative experiment from the 1960s imploded through its racial and economic contradictions, exposed by the communist PPP and the Marxist/Black Power-influenced WPA. Guyana had to adopt the neo-liberal “Washington Consensus” prescriptions of privatisation, stabilisation, and liberalisation of markets by 1989.
As we are on the cusp of an incipient Cold War between the US and China, the world system still constrains our policy choices, and this absolutely must be factored in our deliberations/policies going forward.
One synthesizing critique which I have frequently adumbrated was presented by the Latin American theorist Anibal Quijano, which he called the “Coloniality of Power”. He demonstrated that while “colonialism” might have ended, its structural features, dubbed “coloniality”, remain firmly in place. Quijano posits that we were all conscripted by a European-defined “modernity” that began in 1492 with the conquest of the Americas. It has developed and extended the structures of power, control and hegemony that emerged during the era of colonialism. He demonstrated that the Coloniality of Power takes three forms: systems of racial hierarchies, systems of knowledge, and systems of culture.
“Race” was created by Europeans to justify African enslavement by using Christian myths, including a “Great Chain of Being” with God on top, followed by his angels, then mankind – with Europeans on top and Africans at the bottom. Other non-European groups, like Indians and Chinese, were placed into intermediate positions – over which they still fight to exchange their ultimate subaltern statuses. In Guyana, Indentured Indians were relegated to the bottom of the racial ladder, and their subsequent efforts to challenge the ironic racism from the African and Coloured elite precipitated violence against them. “Race” still matters in every country in the world – even where there was no African slavery. Consequently, our local efforts to eliminate its effects must be joined globally.
“Race” always had a material base. Quijano asserts: “The other process was the constitution of a new structure of control of labour and its resources and products.” This was achieved through the development of the capitalist world system, with the global racial/ethnic hierarchy of Europeans and non-Europeans being an integral part. It included transitional forms such as Indentureship, which was an important cog in the extension of coloniality from slavery. Presently, immigrants to the West from the rest is the latest manifestation.
The Eurocentric “Systems of knowledge” should be taken into consideration as we tinker with our institutions and culture to deal with our unique contingencies. Quijano writes, “Europe’s hegemony over the new model of global power concentrated all forms of the control of subjectivity, culture, and especially knowledge and the production of knowledge under its hegemony.” In attempting to create liberating Guyanese cultures and institutions, we should be aware we will be using “the tools of the master”.
We therefore all live within a multiplicity of colonialities: conquest and modernity; race; the nation; sexuality; gender; the hegemonic and hegemonized mind etc. For us to create sustainable plans to alter our status quo positively, we need to appreciate the constraints at the individual, group, state/ nation and global levels. For instance, why should we denigrate other groups racially/ethnically when we ourselves are suffering from that scorn from others through hierarchies of race? Then how do we deliver equity and equality of opportunity for all groups in our country within a neo-liberal paradigm that systematically generates inequalities?
Cognizant of our constraints, we have suggested a Nordic-type socialist democratic system.