People make their own history
July 14, 2004
I am not certain how many die-hard socialists we have in Guyana. I was never too sure about how many genuine socialists we ever had.
Socialism is a theory that has been discarded in Guyana. Very few Guyanese I know are willing to experience once again that dreadful and freedom- sapping period in our history when Guyana experimented with a version called Cooperative Socialism. This Stalinist totalitarian system helped to build Russia from a dog-poor country to one of the leading powers in the world in just a matter of a few short decades. But it was success that was built on the backs of millions upon millions of workers who lost their lives in the labor camps.
Guyana had its own version of labor camps - remember Hope Estate - but Burnham was unable to convert us into a Stalinist Republic, even though he used the same means as Stalin did in Russia. Burnham drove the business class out of the country, made the state the principal organiser of all economic activity, killed his political opponents, undermined freedom and forced hundreds of thousands to flee into economic exile in what we now call Region 11 - anywhere outside of Guyana’s borders.
In those days, the only opportunities that came our way were through the State. If you wanted to import an item, you needed to get permission in the form of an import license, which often came at a price both over and under the table. Even if you had the money to buy the item, government’s permission was required because of the tight control of foreign exchange. And then when it did come, you had to ask yourself how you could smuggle it past the official authorities. The State came to encapsulate everything under Cooperative Socialism. I have constantly reminded Guyanese that the greatest fear the West had of Guyana was that Cheddi Jagan would turn us into a communist nation. And I have reminded them of the irony of the West embracing Burnham to prevent this strategy only to see him bring us the closet we ever came to a totalitarian society.
Guyana is no longer a cooperative republic. In fact, as a people we cooperate on a private level for survival but when it comes to political issues, non- cooperation is more the norm than the exception. Yet, strangely, there are some people who still harbour under the illusion that somehow it is the task of government to provide them with opportunities.
I recall on May 26, there was an immigration session at the GPSU whereby some consultants came to Guyana to educate Guyanese on how to immigrate to Canada. In the course of the discussion, local immigration officers swarmed down on the place and stopped the activity.
In the disappointment that followed, Guyanese gave vent to their feelings. One particularly pretty young lady was heard saying in disappointment: “The government ain’t doing anything for nobody.” This was her way of saying that Guyanese wanted to go abroad because there were no opportunities being provided by the government.
I would like to remind that young lady that Guyanese have been migrating long before we became independent and the stream of Guyanese that leave for betterment continues unabated on to this day.
My concern has to do with the fact that close to twenty years after the death of Forbes Burnham, the guru of cooperative socialism in Guyana, people are still hooked on the thinking that somehow governments have to provide opportunities for them.
Once again I must repeat what I said many times in these columns. No amount of foreign investment, or the discovery of oil will be of much assistance unless Guyanese begin to change their attitudes and decide that their future is in their hands and not in the hands of politicians.
Ironically this was the message that I am sure the immigrant consultants may have been sending to Guyanese seeking “greener pastures”. They may have been saying to them that there are indeed “greener pastures” and it is for you to know what needs to be done.
Laissez-faire British economists like Thomas Malthus and David Ricardo had argued, “Government intervention would disturb the natural and self-regulating market.” Yet, today, after we have laid the foundations for a market economy, some are still glued to the socialist concept that the State has a great say in our future. I am afraid that those who still cling to this view are missing out on an important lesson in history. People make their own history.