The electoral success of multi-racial parties in Trinidad and Tobago and in Guyana.
Resume. Les deux seules victoires electorales de partis multiraciaux au Trinidad et Tobago et en Guyane sont analysees comparativement pour determiner les conditions de leur succes dans l'environnement extremement racialement competitif de ces deux pays. La these de l'article veut que de nouvelles formations de classes dans le contexte d'ouvertures politiques ont precipite l'emergence de nouveaux agendas politiques de classes. Ces agendas ont pu promettre des benefices du developpement a un grand secteur de la population. Les nouvelles classes politiques etaient composees de la " classe ouvriere " en Guyane et la classe " professionnelle moyenne " au Trinidad et Tobago, ce qui explique la difference marquee de leur propositions de developpement.
Caribbean scholars and activists have long been concerned with the racialized patterns of voting by Blacks, or Africans, and East Indians or, simply, Indians, in the neighbouring countries of Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana. (1) In both countries, major political parties have developed which have strong ties to these racialized communities. Election cycles (as well as the withholding of elections by the government) have been linked to the rise of racial insecurity, tension, and violent conflict, as the two communities regularly compete with each other for political power. This competition shows no signs of abating.
Widely held stereotypes rooted in, for example, colonialism, patriarchal fears, religious differences, competing nationalisms, economic competition, and racial insecurities contribute to the bifurcation of the polity (Brereton 1974; Moore 1995; Munasinghe 2001). But it is political parties, acting through their leaders, organizers, and campaigners, that are frequently granted a central role in the popular and scholarly explanation of racialized division (Premdas 1972; Hintzen 1989; Ryan 1989). The discursive context within which parties have worked to racialize the polity is thus relevant.
"Race" and racial discourses have worked at a national level in these countries in the post-independence period largely through discourses of "reparations" and of "natural succession," discourses that state, for example, "Our time has come." In one political discussion in Guyana in 1959 it was asked, "Who has the right to govern?" In Trinidad it was commonly stated, "We are not ready for an Indian [Prime Minister]." (2) These discourses have reinforced competing politicized racial identities which are deeply shaped by the zero-sum political logic always in play, that is, if one party wins, the "race" wins, and, therefore, the other "race" loses. Racialized politics has been deeply hostile to certain mixed race identities such as "dougla" which obviously transcend or displace any singular Black or East Indian identity (Reddock 1999; Puri 2004). (3) A multi-racial party worker in Guyana has remarked with humour to me about people's response to his party--"But, there is no multi-race."
In the present time of increasing racial tension and even violence, it is often forgotten that a party that is "multi-racial" and able to overcome the racial legacy has been envisioned as necessary and desirable at multiple points in the histories of these countries. The Socialist Party and Butler's party in the 1940s-50s, the Workers and Farmers Party in the 1960s, the United Labour Front in the 1970s, and the National Alliance for Reconstruction in the 1980s are the best-known such attempts in Trinidad. In Guyana, the early People's Progressive Party in the 1950s and the Working People's Alliance in the 1970s-90s are the major ones. Each of these parties has had a fascinating history and colourful popular leaders, and each has had an important impact on subsequent political developments. One party has actually seen electoral victory in each country.
The National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) in Trinidad and Tobago and the early People's Progressive Party (PPP) in Guyana not only won the elections, but won in a landslide. The NAR in Trinidad and Tobago won 33 out of 36 seats in 1986; the PPP in Guyana won 16 out of 24 elected seats in 1953. These victories have been the singular exceptions to what has become the rule of race-based party competition. This article explores how these victories occurred. The central argument of this article is that the victorious multi-racial parties formed in periods of party flux were based in new electorates and offered benefits for all the major oppressed populations through the promise of a major economic shift. These were not small or limited promises; the parties appeared to actually have the understanding and the capacity to expand the range of limited local economic opportunities, hitherto produced by the dependent and racialized economy. The broad popularity of the ambition to break with structures of dependency at least briefly overcame the appeal and strength of partisan ethno-racial identities. The victories of multi-racial political parties are important because they represent a breakthrough in a zero-sum political game and thus challenge the dominant consensus. The majority of studies on formal party politics accept the premise of "racial competition" (Bahadoorsingh 1968; Ryan 1972; Premdas 1972, 1973, 1974) based in part on its regular appearance and on the beliefs of cultural pluralist analyses which suggest that conflict is inevitable and normal in plural societies. They have maintained an analytic silence about the constant alternative: multi-racial practices and possibilities.
These early analyses were critiqued, largely by scholars influenced by Marxism (Cross 1968; Mars 1980-81; Rodney 1981; Bolland 1997b). Focusing on the structural role of East Indians and Africans in the plantation economy, they and others suggested that the two groups were placed in economic competition with each other, leading subsequently to distrust, but also to struggles of unity against the plantation order. Yet, labour struggles of unity did not develop seamlessly into unified political struggles, and therein lay the rub. Political party competition did come to break nascent worker unity from the 1950s. This division, in turn, has been explained as the manipulation of racial symbols by elite groups anxious in an era of mass suffrage to continue to hold power.
Scholarly strategies to undermine the "inevitability" of the racial conflict thesis have generated other kinds of arguments as well. Bolland (1997a) uses Belize to show the possibility of multi-racial parties in an ethnically plural(istic) society. Raymond Smith argues for the need to study the "tissue of everyday relations (which) involved individuals severally identified as African, East Indian, Chinese, Portuguese and so forth" (1995, 239) to undermine the schematic nature of scholarly depictions of separate communities as well as the macro-structural and largely abstract category of "class." Feminists in the region have highlighted the equally vulnerable position of Indo- and Afro-descendant (and Indigenous) women and their shared invisibility in public politics (Reddock 1993; Peake and Trotz 1999). These truths have not, however, displaced the reality of racialized political competition in these two countries nor women's active involvement in it at times (Trotz 2004).
The focus on competition, therefore, continues to dominate more recent studies with quite different methodologies and approaches to the earlier studies. In two contemporary ethnographies of villages in Guyana and Trinidad, respectively, Williams (1991) and Munasinghe (2001) explore in great depth the negotiated and symbolic bases for the continuing construction of ethnic differences and boundaries between group members linked to enduring folk categories connected to political conceptions of "race." The latter study is the most comprehensive treatment of a political-cultural identity (Indo-Trinidadian) in either country, and is worth a quick summary.
Munasinghe (2001) identifies the two racialized groups in Trinidad as definitionally incommensurable, based on the region-wide understanding of the Afro-Creole culture as indigenous and the Indo-Creole culture as foreign (hence my earlier reference to the statement about the country not being ready for an Indian PM). With the Indo-Trinidadian as external to the Afro-Creole core, there is a constant imbalance and struggle to redefine the core itself. Shifts with time, and the structuring principles of region, class, and gender, modulate the nationalisms, but do not create new, central political identities. Munasinghe also argues for the creolized nature of Indo-Trinidadian culture and politics itself. There are thus two creolized populations, the Afro- and the Indo-, still posited with divergent interests. The framework of "two cultures" also under-girds Ryan's analysis of the NAR in The Disillusioned Electorate (1989), this time to explain the break-up of the NAR after its victory in 1986.
A key difficulty with such a conceptualization is that it does not serve to "bridge difference" (see Reddock 2001), and thus it leaves no theoretical grounds to discuss multi-racialism. Further, the culturalist framework does not permit a parsing of political and economic causal factors for the rise or failure of multi-racial coalitions which are, after all, political entities. My substantive disagreement with Ryan is that he does not believe that social and economic transformation occurred with the NAR election (1989, xvi, 94-106). In other words, Ryan argues that racial politics persisted and that multi-racialism was a mirage. Some details Ryan offers could lead to a different conclusion. For instance, he states with ample evidence, "the elections of 1986 had given rise to a renewed outburst of Hindu assertiveness" (157). The evidence I have amassed in this article suggests that a significant economic shift also occurred.
Thus I suggest that, while deep stereotypes, the two-party game, campaign strategies of division, the numbers game, and cultural politics and sub-nationalisms, as well as clientilistic politics, go a long way in explaining the system of conflict, the system also unravels, and the reasons for this are important to understand. This understanding requires moving from cultural politics to understanding the political and economic logics or rationalities of what makes formal party politics happen. It also requires unraveling the ways that formal party politics happen. I argue that economic pressures are central to this process of unraveling. (4)
Caribbean countries fall into the heavily dependent region of the world system. A single sector or at most two sectors of the economy provide the majority of revenue. Booms and busts--and really only busts in the agricultural sectors--heavily determine the (mis)fortunes of workers in the two economies. These economic circumstances have made local struggles, for instance, over land for subsistence farming, only sharper. More generally speaking, greater economic insecurities, and not just political campaigning, make racial insecurities more intense. At the same time, they also demand remedy and political accountability. Thus, we see that all the bitterly opposed major parties in Guyana have been "socialist." Trade unions in key sectors of the economy were significant partners in shaping developmental policy in both countries. Development strategies of nationalization were forced onto the governments by popular unrest and revolt. Voters in both countries defected from the failing governments of the 1970s, even when they had no alternative political home, leading to the unravelling of the political logic and to the raising of renewed popular demands for "decolonization."
By thus drawing out the economic dynamics and the consequent shifts in relations between class fractions in the society, I attempt to move the discussion away from focusing on cultural and racial frames, however grossly accurate they might be, to the shifting economic and political frames within which identities are also constructed in postcolonial societies. This approach developed out of a class structural analysis of both societies and, as I empirically observed, the formation of new class groupings expressing new interests and looking for new political identities and homes. My argument rests on the observation that the prior constellations of class/racial identity no longer held at the time of the multi-racial breakthroughs, allowing in this "opening" for the rise of untested popular hope for social advancement.
Moreover, election campaigns are fluid and active periods of a powerful attempt at re-organization of prior affiliations, and always with some success. Racial identities grossly captured in the categories of "Indian" and "African" change in these periods, and consolidate around new meanings. It is then an error to see the collapse of multi-racial breakthroughs into post-election racial hardening as a relapse requiring a questioning of the multi-racial moment itself. In both countries, in the post-election period, societal breakdowns in racial trust were precipitated and then fueled by divisions at the top in the absence of any societal or constitutional mechanisms to reverse these processes. But the society itself had also changed, and new identities were mobilized into a new racial hardening. In Guyana, for instance, the onset of general elections in 1953 moved the dominant Indo-Guyanese political imaginary from India and religion (see Seecharan 1993) to "Guyana," with all its consequences. With a deeply felt Trinidadian-ness grounding both Indo- and Afro-Trinidadian identity in the 1980s, the slogan of "one love" resonated as a long deferred promise. Yet its moment had already passed. Thus, in the post-election expulsion of their chosen leadership from the multi-racial coalition, many Indians responded in a new and more aggressive political identity, as captured in Ryan's quote above. (5)
Having said all this, I should state that this article is not about shifting racial identities, but rather the political and economic frames which peer into "the community" to observe the rise and formation of new classes and class fractions. New class interests, always interested in their own emancipation, were able to pitch their desires at the level of the public good. I argue that the euphoria of transcendence that accompanied the multi-racial party campaigns and victories was linked, centrally, to the promise of a substantive breakthrough in the country's developmental impasse. The breakthrough was only secondarily linked to racial transcendence grounded in hybrid, creole, class, or other cultural poetics.
Why would competing groups come together to put forward a platform of unity in a multi-racial party? The only satisfying rationalist response is that, first, they need each other numerically, and, second, they perceive that they have a shared interest or need that can be met. That they need each other numerically cannot be stressed enough, though it is not the major subject of this article. It can be shown through a study of demographics and constituencies. In both these countries Indians and Africans have accounted for at least 30% of the population, going as high as 50% Indians in Trinidad and Tobago and in Guyana. If an incumbent party had 80% of the vote of one ethno-racial group, a multi-racial party might well be necessary to defeat it. (A multi-racial party might not be necessary when the incumbent is the smaller ethno-racial group, though this situation is arguably more unstable.) Obviously these calculations would also have to factor into the nature of the electoral system (e.g., first past the post or proportional representation). The actual processes of coalition building in these two countries also included the decline of the incumbents, the rise of new voters, and the popularity of the multiracial leadership (Abraham 1999).
To answer the different question of when they would come to need each other numerically, I suggest that party flux provides the political opening for multi-racial coalition formation. In Guyana, it was the period before the first general elections and before the onset of the two-party system, in the 1950s, which offered such a political opportunity. In Trinidad, it was in the decline of the hegemonic nationalist party, in the 1980s, that a new coalition of opposition parties could be put together.
Within these openings, political entrepreneurs of all racial backgrounds offered a platform that spoke to shared interests of the population. The domination of these two economies by the sugar plantation sector, and the bauxite (in Guyana) and oil (in Trinidad) sectors, is well known. Narrow, stagnating economies, with poor jobs for the majority of the population and with increasing unemployment, is characteristic of a sugar-dominated economy. Bauxite and oil can generate large sums for the economy under the right conditions of ownership and investment. As it was, however, the reliance on one or two sectors made these two economies sharply vulnerable to world market prices, markets, and investment decisions made elsewhere, even after independence, suggesting a strong continuity between the colonial and post-colonial political economy. In this context, the shared interest of the working population was, and is, "decolonization" of the state and economy.
The successful multi-racial platforms addressed this concern centrally. The platforms focused on restructuring the effects of the key industrial sectors of the economy, with restructuring defined by Shafer as "deliberate state-led efforts to reallocate resources and reorient economic activity by altering the sectoral composition of the economy to reduce a country's vulnerability to the risks associated with its current leading export sector, or to seize greater or safer opportunities presented in other sectors, or both" (1994, 11). This economic alteration became the focus around which domestic politics were re-organized and new alliances were forged.
The comparison between the two countries is instructive. In Guyana in 1953, the political targets were the colonial politicians and the state, both of which were closely tied to sugar plantation interests. The newly enfranchised electorate was largely drawn from the population of multi-racial rural and urban workers, including Indians and Africans. An anti-colonial politics was the centrepiece of the platform of the only mass organized party, the PPP. Its leadership stressed the class basis of the narrow national economy, the need for land reform, and economic diversification. Its plan for restructuring relied heavily on labour organizing, especially in the sugar industry.
Thirty years later, the developmental state was the political target in Trinidad and Tobago on account of its inefficiency and corruption, partially linked to windfalls from oil. The "new electorate" was the new multi-racial middle class, created by educational opportunities and benefits of the oil windfall of the 1970s, who now desired greater economic and political opportunity (see Lewis 2001). The members of this class were not tied to the hegemonic party; further, they did not yet have an experience of the "liberalization" which promised to liberate the country from its dependency on oil. The financial sector and a liberalized export-oriented economy was the promise of the future.
This argument generally supports Lewis' belief that in the Caribbean periodically, "new forces from the middle strata arise to implement and direct alternative policies in the process of institutionalizing change" (2001, 140). More precisely, I would suggest that it is the politics of the key industrial sectors in relation to the prevailing balance of class forces that created the multi-racial party platforms, and that brought them crucial electoral support during a period of party flux. As a corollary to this argument, the multi-racial victories did not embody the end result of an organizing thrust towards building a sustainable racial unity, but were the consequence of top-down developmentalist strategies in periods when the populations were vulnerable and open. It is no surprise, then, that with the developing play of partisan politics, the parties split or expelled key ethno-racial leadership (depending on the perspective) within a couple of years, and racial lines of opposition only hardened in subsequent elections.
My comparative methodological approach is based on a search for a common causality to explain multi-racial electoral victory in the context of zero-sum racial politics in the two countries. With only two cases, the argument is not watertight. Moreover, there are so many common variables--the historical origins and development of these countries, their location in the world economy, the particular racial groups, the common period of de-colonization, and the advent of party politics creating two-party racialized competition--that a comparison of contrast might be expected. Why do different events happen in such similar countries? These multi-racial parties could indeed be compared on that basis. Why does one occur in the 1980s and one in the 1950s? Why is one based in working class interests and the other in business class interests? Yet, the answers here are not that complicated. Much more interesting, in my view, is to ask what explains multi-racial politics at all, given their uniqueness, in both countries? My interest, hence, is really in the conditions of their emergence and popular support. This is a topic ever-present in political discussion in these countries, and is a consistent political call, but it is usually pitched with only a single country in mind. I suggest that a systematic comparison of both countries can shed light on this question.
To substantiate this argument I have relied on secondary sources such as dissertations, newspapers, books, and articles. I have conducted key interviews with trade unionists and party activists of all the major parties, though for this article I have restricted my use of interviews. I have also used archival sources, political party publications, and governmental reports and surveys.
The argument is laid out, firstly, through tracing the link of the key sector historically to shaping a wide cross-section of identities and interests. Thus, I explain the local development dilemma, its impasses, and the strategies offered by the new party platform in resolving it. This involves detailing, in the case of Trinidad and Tobago, the relative balance of power between labour and capital in shaping the debate at the time of the transition.
The 1953 elections in which the multi-racial People's Progressive Party (PPP) swept to a majority were the very first general elections with a universal suffrage held in Guyana. There was thus a scope of action permissible in organizing and campaigning as the elections occurred without precedent and without prior political commitments for the vast majority of the population. The sheer numbers of the hitherto disenfranchised working-class population made popular a progressive nationalist anti-colonial agenda that included organizing the key sector of the economy under militant and representative leadership. The commonality of the experiences suffered by formerly enslaved and indentured African and Indian workers on the plantations and in union struggles in the 1920s and 1930s made for some political commonalities. There had also not been significant inter-racial conflict over the previous hundred years. All these factors were essential.
Determining, however, for the PPP's success was the skewed industrial structure of the country, the huge size of the agricultural class, and the support of sugar workers who comprised the largest sector of the working population and therefore the largest voting bloc. The key industrial sector in Guyana in 1953 was sugar. The industry in Guyana was dominated by Booker Brothers, McConnel and Co. Ltd., a company based in the UK. The sugar industry in 1954 produced 54% of the colony's exports. In 1956, 45% of the government's revenue from income taxes and excise duties was derived from the sugar industry (Reubens and Reubens 1962, 10). The industry locally owned extensive tracts of land and controlled the labour, land, and housing market to a great degree. It was estimated to indirectly support about 80% of the entire population of the country.
The poverty and powerlessness of the workers and their communities provided a clarity of purpose in the struggle against the inordinate influence of the foreign-owned sugar industry over the legislature, over landownership, over residence, and over curbing alternative investment and productive opportunities, affecting every other aspect of the economy. Profits left the country; workers locally were impoverished; cultivable land was monopolized. In other words, all national factors of production were severely underdeveloped as a consequence of the structure of the sugar industry. This was the developmental dilemma. The political field was open to a movement against this domination.
A comparative perspective can throw some light here. (6) In the 1940s, the Caribbean Labour Congress (CLC) was at the forefront of engaging with and contributing to the de-colonizing current of thought in the region. The origins of the CLC lay in a regional trade union conference hosted in British Guiana in 1926, though the CLC itself was founded in 1945. As Bolland describes it, "The broad coalition of labor leaders and politicians who constituted the CLC in its first years represented a socialist spectrum from social democrats of Fabian complexion to Marxists who wanted working-class control and regional economic planning" (Bolland 1997a, 102). Parties began organizing on platforms of home rule, gaining electoral majorities, and boosting local productivity. This progressive regional trade union federation, however, lost the initiative to middle-class political leadership by the late 1940s, especially since the quest for de-colonization in the Caribbean became linked to taking sides in the Cold War. In Guyana, alone of all the Anglophone Caribbean countries, there was growing support for the radical party leadership. I suggest that the widespread popularity of the PPP for Africans and Indians lay in its particular leader with his roots amongst the sugar workers, its more radical stances, its anti-colonial analyses of the sugar industry, and especially its extensive organizing in a stagnating but vast workforce.
The Local Debate on Development
Sectors of the local elite and middle class of Guyana by the 1920s included members of the Indian, Black, Portuguese and Chinese populations along with Whites. Increasingly politically active, these individuals had no difficulty in identifying that they were struggling against the domination of the sugar industry over the members of the legislature, its control over land and irrigation, and its drain on the revenue from the country towards its subsidy. In the historical memory of this class, it had been protesting since 1843 the domination of the small European elite, whose interests were bound up with sugar, in directing the political affairs of the country.
In 1928, colonial intervention clamped down on the steady rise of popular protest led by this group through imposition of a Crown Colony government. With the truncation of legislative possibilities and political careers, the reformers turned towards the nascent labour movement, for it had a dynamic independent of colonial machinations. (7) Whether or not the elite alliance with the working class encouraged the strikes that shook the industry, the political capital of being an Indian or Black aspiring leader was enhanced by numerous strikes in the 1930s. The bulk of the sugar proletariat came from these origins and were strongly conscious of the treatment meted out to them as mere labourers in a colonial economy. Class and race were not just conflated by the colonial officials; they were also closely linked in popular perception among the White elite. In a matter of two decades, between 1928 and 1948, the Portuguese and White independent politician could no longer claim to be a "representative," a term which was coming to replace "respectability" as the political standard. In 1953 Governor Savage noted, "The European Guianese have not yet recovered from the shock of the elections but they are not prepared to enter politics and indeed anti-white feeling is growing, fed by propaganda, and soon no white candidate will stand a chance of being elected." Notwithstanding the racial panic in his words, the political space was indeed becoming defined by Indian and Black political identity, but also by an anti-colonial analysis and movement. The prior race-class contract had come to an end.
The 1946 Census of Guyana revealed that nearly 42% of workers were in agriculture (xlv). This agricultural class lived on and near the sugar estates that ran almost the length of the colony. A large number of non-agricultural workers were also resident on the estates. In 1946, 49% of the workforce lived on the estates (Report of a Commission of Enquiry into the Sugar Industry of British Guiana [Venn Report] 1949, 15). At least half of the rural workforce was Indian, formerly indentured workers, now free wage labour, but still resident on or near the estates. This dependency on the estates, with their monopoly over drainage facilities, housing, and good land, continued to proletarianize a substantial proportion of the Indian workforce even while it allowed them to diversify their activities into rice growing and the production of other provisions. Within these structures of dependency, strong bonds of solidarity grew between Indian workers and their families.
The rural location of the African population also persisted into the middle of the twentieth century. According to the 1946 Census, 39.3% of Africans were located in the urban areas of Georgetown and New Amsterdam, which meant a full 60.7% were in the rural areas, islands, and forested hinterland of the country. I can reasonably assert that the conditions of life for peasant African families and individuals was not better than for the majority of Indian peasants who did not own substantial pieces of land, and possibly worse without income gained from working in the rice sector. Memories from the time suggest that most rural Africans were small or subsistence farmers, doing occasional task work on the estates. Overall, the vast majority of the workforce, urban and rural, in Guyana were desperately poor in these decades (David 1969, 23). Reubens and Reubens noted that "55% of the self-employed males and 72% of the females either had zero earnings or sub-standard earnings" (Reubens and Reubens 1962, 6). This drastic situation made imperative an argument for radical reform.
The first major sugar union in the industry, the Man Power Citizen's Association (MPCA), was founded in 1937. The support for it was overwhelming, and between 1938 and 1943 its membership rose to over 20,000 (Chase 1964, 85). Yet, the MPCA's popularity declined sharply as charges were made that its leadership had been bought off by the Sugar Producers Association. The union, however, was "recognized," and collective bargaining became the method of resolving worker grievances. A number of accounts stress that the leadership of the MPCA lost popular credibility by the mid 1940s (Shahabuddeen 1983; Jagan 1966, 61). When Estate Joint Committees were first formed in 1945 with the agreement of the MPCA to mediate on-estate conflicts, there was a sharp drop in union membership (Venn Report 1949, 95). Workers were extremely suspicious of the attempt at negotiating with management outside of their scrutiny.
Struggles for recognition of a rival union led by People's Progressive Party nationalists from the late 1940s became one of the most significant attempts at challenging the hold of Bookers and the sugar monopolists over the economy of Guyana. The PPP organized extensively in the sugar estates, had the support of sugar workers and urban workers, and launched a vigorous critique of the exploitation of the sugar industry to boost its popularity. Its leadership was active in all the major trade unions. It was fortuitous that in Guyana at the time, the sites for struggle were easy to identify, and a general elections was in the cards.
The PPP Platform and Organizing in Guyana: Radical Developmentalism
In 1950, with the promise of universal suffrage for the first time in Guyana, the People's Progressive Party was launched. Its program read, "The PPP will strive for unity of workers, farmers, cooperatives, friendly societies, progressive businessmen, professional civil servants, and cooperation of all racial groups." Ideologically, the PPP cast its vote with socialism. The multi-racial leadership of the party, while emerging from the professional class-in-formation at the time (they were lawyers, doctors, trade unionists, journalists) were generally the first-generation members of that class. In a stagnating economy and a small urban sphere, their class interests were those of political entrepreneurs in the service of working people, and against middle-class ethnically based leadership.
Cheddi Jagan, an East Indian, the party leader, and a founding member of a study group and then the PPP, was the most prominent. By all accounts, he was hugely popular among different groups of people because of his commitment to liberating Guyana from colonial oppression. Jagan had already gained visibility through being elected to the legislature in 1947. He was revered by poorer East Indians as his own upbringing had been on a sugar estate. His direct and simple style of communication, his rhetoric, and his roots in their community made him widely trusted by sugar workers.
Forbes Burnham, an African lawyer, came to stand for the other major thrust within urban nationalism, for Black leadership. African leaders were, however, generally regional in their popularity. In the large African village of Buxton, many Indians and Africans turned out to support Sidney King, rather than Burnham, as the party leader (Interview 1). Ashton Chase was popular among the urban workers. The party calculations were strategic: Indian representatives mostly ran in Indian-dominant areas and similarly with Africans. The opposition were clearly identified as either supporters of "Bookers" (Interview 2) or of a Black and Indian elite (see below) that was not committed to social progress.
The party introduced into political debate a critique of the foreign capitalist stranglehold on the economy and the impoverishing legacy of large plantations, the human waste generated by a monocrop economy, and the perils of a non-diversified economy--issues that went to the heart of the organization of economic life in the country. As suggested earlier, these were not original arguments, but drew from Fabian socialism, Marxist theory, and the growing popularity of the idea of a mixed economy in third world contexts. But the critique drew as well from the long tradition of working class struggle and demands in Guyana. (8)
Locally there was ground for the PPP's program to catch interest. The elite and middle class dating from the 1920s was not interested in mass politics. In their perception, the disenfranchised masses were as a collective only "mobs" or "strikers" or, alternatively, "destitute." Groups such as the League of Coloured Peoples and the British Guiana East Indian Association did not seek to challenge the colonial political economy. In fact, in a memorandum to the Governor the leader of the MPCA trade union stated the need to "make" workers of this very dissolute, drunken population (East Indian) through cultural instruction (MPCA Memo). (9)
The PPP campaign, in clear contrast, attempted to build on the historic struggles of the town residents, the villagers, and the sugar workers, to win support and to force the colonialists' hand to grant independence quickly to this restive population. This labour force, long before the arrival of the PPP, had been militantly opposing the conditions of work and pay and the conditions of village upkeep and support. The party consciously drew upon working-class organizations such as friendly societies, farmers' organizations, villages, social clubs, and ratepayers' associations in its organizing.
The PPP also attempted to fill the role of the "general union" (as opposed to the sectorally based union) which the first general union, the British Guiana Labour Union, had been struggling to build in the 1930s. Struggles of urban workers were thus actively supported by the early PPP. Part of PPP strategy was to win leadership in every trade union and federation in the country. By 1953, Cheddi Jagan was president of the Sawmill Workers Union (mostly African workers), and Forbes Burnham, who came to be the most prominent African PPP leader, was the president of the British Guiana Labour Union (the first union established in the country in 1921 extending across urban workers). Cheddi Jagan had earlier been treasurer of the BG Labour Party and the MPCA. Jocelyn Hubbard represented the Clerks' Union.
The base of the PPP extended beyond unions to all "working people." Clusters of radicals, middle class and lower middle class in origin, became attracted to the party and helped to shape some of its development. The party itself operated through local groups which had their own elected officials. Party leadership visited the rural areas regularly and held public meetings, and the local group signed up new members. The party organized educational classes on world and local politics, and distributed its newspaper widely. Many in fact joined as a result of what they read in the paper (Drakes 1989, 17). The youth organized their own regional conferences.
The PPP leadership represented and spoke a language of change and militancy that resonated with people's experiences and struggles in the first half of the century to form trade unions in the face of trenchant opposition by planter interests. (10)
In the 1953 elections, support for the PPP was widespread and included cross-racial support in a number of areas and for a number of candidates. The great upset was not just in the percentage of the voting electorate won by the PPP, 50.6% out of a 74% turnout, but in its domination of the legislature. The PPP won 18 seats out of 24. This meant that the PPP could elect all six Ministers of the Lower House. It would not control the Upper House where the nominees of the Governor outnumbered the elected (the Upper House could only delay financial expenditure, not prevent it).
The PPP victory, with a clear majority of seats from urban and rural, African and Indian strongholds, was an astounding fact for colonial and US observers who had until then not understood the depth of organizing and popularity that the party had attained. The agricultural base and the illiteracy of the voting base had not led them to expect the degree of solidarity and unity that the victory represented. Moreover, the leadership could not be controlled, and even as parliamentarians and Ministers they began to foster strikes on sugar estates in order to force recognition of the rival union, the guyana Industrial Workers Union.
The counter-revolution began. The PPP was ejected from office by British troops 133 days after entering the legislature. An interim administration was established. The PPP returned to office after elections in 1957, this time, however, no longer embodying a coalition of ethno-racial groups, but primarily representing Indians.
To summarize, the PPP in the early 1950s projected a scathing critique of the domination of the economy and polity by foreign commercial and sugar interests. This simple platform resonated with the recent experiences of large numbers of the Indian sugar proletariat, the African villagers struggling with the costs of drainage infrastructure and subsistence farming, as well as the largely African urban dwellers who faced limited mobility and commercial domination, again by Bookers. The professionals who also supported the party had frequently faced racial discrimination by the colonial state and were aware of limited opportunity within the colony.
The majority of the electorate had not voted before and had no prior political allegiances. There was no widely organized opposition to the party. The party itself organized extensively, raising a new layer of leadership from the rural areas. In this context, the mood between Indians and Africans was "fraternal" by most accounts. It was an election both for the PPP and against Bookers. The party leadership succeeded in making these fundamental yet general issues the heart and soul of the campaign.
The leadership included individuals that were well-known organizers and came from both major racial groups. Their sincerity was evident in their post-election attempts at restructuring the balance of class power through unionizing and legislative struggles. The racialized competition that was to later develop and engulf the country can in retrospect be seen to require both deliberate racialized campaigning as well as two-party competition, and in fact took a full decade to develop. The movement of 1953 pointed to an alternate racial future, to the creation of a hegemonic nationalist party dedicated to radical economic restructuring.
The Guyana story as told here is straightforward, though many omitted details came to stick. These details included answers to a number of questions. What did people really desire for themselves as opposed to what the party leadership claimed was the way to emancipation? How significant were rural-urban tensions? Why, later, could the leadership not find ways to work together? How latent was Indian-Black competition as a dynamic in the society? Given the importance of these details, the Trinidad and Tobago story becomes more intriguing. How could a multi-racial electoral victory occur there in 1986 in the circumstances of a long history of racialized competition and betrayal, of a weak and fragmented trade union movement, and with a long history of Indian political exclusion?
Trinidad and Tobago (T & T): An Introduction
In the 1980s T & T was in the world economic system on terms somewhat of its own making. It was now nearly 40 years after the first election with universal suffrage and a full 25 years after formal political independence had been won. Having one of the highest GDPs and per capita incomes among developing countries, the nature of its economy also had a complexity far above what existed in Guyana 30 years previously, despite similar historical origins. Nonetheless, politics in T & T, as in Guyana, was heavily determined by the country's dependent status and, as in Guyana, economic nationalism was the orthodoxy. In 1969 the third national development plan attempted to tackle head-on the main structures of ongoing weakness identified as unemployment, a non-diversified economy, and economic dependency (Robinson 1986, 261). The Budget Speech of 1969 addressed the "localization" of the banking sector that was entirely foreign owned at the time. Foreign banks were urged to sell local shares and to be locally incorporated. This was the beginning of regulation of the financial sector of the country.
The implementation of these plans was, however, overtaken by a rapidly changing international and local political context. Black Power struggles and street marches by unionists forced a political response to the hitherto "technical" matter of development. On the heels of this political turmoil came the oil windfall that threw all planning out of gear, such that there was no development plan from 1973 until 1982. In its place, an Energy Based Industrialization program was launched during this time to reinvest oil revenues in an attempt at diversification.
The social conditions of T & T by the mid 1980s were complex. First, the industrial base was centred on the oil industry, spin-off industries, and petrochemical industries established with the oil windfall money of the early 1970s. Second, the labour movement, which had centred on the struggles of oil workers, had risen to its political peak in the mid 1970s and then subsequently declined. The movement had suffered cutbacks from the drop in oil prices in the early 1980s. Third, a multi-racial movement of Indian and African workers that had developed with the expansion of the labour movement had also declined owing to infighting and with a renewed rise of competitive party politics by the early 1980s. Wages and savings in T & T had risen in the post-war years, and had begun to decline again by the early 1980s. With these factors working together, it could be said that the post-war social contract of wages indexed to high oil wages, growing unionization, and expanding industrialization was falling apart.
It was within this crisis that the National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) party organized to win a multi-racial breakthrough in the zero-sum racial political game in 1986. The NAR comprised a coalition of parties: the opposition party of Indians, the business sector anxious to enter the export-led world, and the new professional middle class. The NAR promised a new social contract, one pegged not to oil but to "growth." The new politics was partly linked to the political rise of the financial sector.
Key Industrial Sector
In 1932, steadily replacing the importance of sugar and cocoa, petroleum products accounted for 57% of export revenue. Petroleum products only increased in importance over the decades. By the early 1970s petroleum extracting and refining accounted for almost 75% of exports and 20% of the GDP. By 1974, with higher prices, total petroleum income increased from 25% to more than 69% of total revenue to the government.
In the 1960s three giants dominated the industry in T & T: Shell, British Petroleum, and Texaco. The big three expanded on land along with a joint marine venture, Trinmar, in the Gulf of Paria. Amoco acquired a large portion of the marine area off the East Coast and began production in 1972. Due to labour contracts and new tax regimes implemented in the 1970s, however, the three giants gradually withdrew from ownership of refineries and investment in T & T.
By 1985 all the refineries in the country were state owned. Yet the decline in world oil prices meant that revenues from the oil industry now had a purchasing power similar to the pre-boom period of 1971 (Boopsingh 1990, 389). At the same time, the Oilfield Workers' Trade Union (OWTU) reported in 1987 that the most lucrative areas of the industry were dominated by foreign ownership (OWTU 1987). Amoco and Texaco owned 80% of all marine production in the country, and this represented 59% of total crude production (OWTU 1987, 42). A lot was still the same, yet a lot had changed, especially among the key players and in the discussions on development.
The Local Debate on Development
The local debate on development assumed the centrality of the oil industry to the economy. The debate made many twists from the 1930s, and during the following decades was shaped sometimes by trade unionists and left-leaning intellectuals, sometimes by technocrats, sometimes by the industry owners. While there was often a consensus on the need to restructure the oil sector as the key to breaking through the legacies of skewed development, the degree of reform and the method of reform were the substance of the politics. The debate took a turn with the decline of labour from the late 1970s coinciding with the decline in oil prices, and the rise of anti-state corporate interests holding the balance of class power in the country in a rocky transition period from the early 1980s.
Trinidad and Tobago had three post-independence development plans, 1964-68, 1969-73, and 1982-86. The key goal in all of the plans was diversification of the economy away from its dependence on oil (Ryan 1989, 7). The industry had started retrenching in the early 1960s and the government was aware of the growing number of unemployed. By the 1970s the solution was thought to be downstream development in the hydrocarbon industry and the promotion of heavy chemical and metal industries. Direct taxes were imposed on the industry as a supplement to corporation taxes during the boom in order to finance this development. The political context of this development was crucial.
The oil industry had been retrenching from the early 1960s, and an enormous amount of union resources went into establishing the demand for severance pay, negotiating voluntary retirement schemes, and struggling against dismissals (Ramphal 1988). The principle that the powerful oilworkers' union, the OWTU, worked with was "Not a Man must Go" (Ramphal 1988, 82). Thus, the union was not willing to negotiate settlements. Street protests, frequent demonstrations by a number of unions against the failure of the post-independence state, the jailing of union leadership, a Black Power movement, and a coup within the military combined to create a climate demanding radical social change in the early 1970s.
In this context of struggle that spread from the oilfields to the capital city and all over the country, Prime Minister Eric Williams now had leverage to push the petroleum companies into agreeing to the restructuring through taxation of the industry. (11) The high revenues of the 1970s noted above, hence, accrued to the government. The "windfall," as it is called, was 27% of non-oil GDP in 1974 and it rose to 45% in 1980 (Hilaire 1992, 46). The legacies, however, were very uneven as the international economy still dominated the environment of success.
In 1979 OWTU called for nationalization of Tesoro and Texaco. This call, however, was not heeded by the government. From 1982 labour suffered waves of retrenchment. This was a long and bloody process, with significant changes in the collective bargaining and wage structure. The social contract with oil workers had come to an end (Interview 3). At the same time, the slightly expanding manufacturing sector along with the construction sector continued to rely on dynamics set up by the oil industry, suggesting the continued domination of the oil sector in national importance (Ramsaran 1993). The verdict from the developmentalists (intellectuals and technocrats) was that the strategy to challenge a single sector in the attempt to bring about "national development" was flawed in a complex multi-faceted economy, despite the domination of revenue generation by the oil industry. Hence, there developed a concern with general macro-economic management and the diversification into finance as possible strategies to avoid structural bottlenecks in the economy.
Race-Class Structure and Politics
By the early 1980s, the class structure was markedly different than what it had been a decade earlier. Attempts to institutionalize and productively use oil monies from the 1970s' boom created large projects of energy-based export industrialization which, however, did not prove to be profitable. Report after report noted the waste of oil money and the lack of anything to show for it. These hard-hitting criticisms were not entirely true. Many working-class families made considerable amounts of money from the spin-off activities from the oil boom, especially in the sector of construction. Real wages more than doubled in non-tradeables between 1975 and 1985 (Hilaire 1992, 65). The revenues generated economy-wide effects due to a greatly increased governmental role. The "cost of living allowance" was institutionalized in 1974, leading to steady rises in public sector real wages (25% between 1974 and 1976, 27% between 1977 and 1980, 46% between 1981 and 1983). The sugar industry was nationalized in 1975 and there was a 100% increase in sugar worker wages. The Cane Farmer Act was modified to allow for a new union in the field. Subsidies were given to petroleum products, cement, and food items. Guaranteed price programs for agricultural products were established. Purchase taxes on durable consumer goods were reduced between 1974 and 1979. The expanded university system created the largest number of post-graduates in the history of the country. Real estate speculation boomed. A middle class employed in the expanded public sector was consolidated as the government became the largest employer with 24.6% of total employment by 1985.
By 1990, 46% of the population was engaged in the service sector, of whom about 40% were professionals. The identification of T & T as a regional banking and finance centre (the Wall Street Journal noted that the TT Stock Exchange had the fifth highest growth in 1997) led to growth in hotels and restaurants, which expanded the number of service sector workers from the mid-1980s. The average income in 1982 was US $8000, giving Trinidad and Tobago the third highest annual per capita income in the developing world. In 1980 the figures reveal the relative equivalent status of the African, mixed, and Indian populations within the class structure, and the continued dominance of the Chinese, Syrian, and White sectors (Ryan and Barclay 1992, 144). The income distribution was at the same time not extremely skewed, suggesting indeed that there was a substantial portion of the population within a middle range as measured by income if not a comfortable middle class.
The Politics of the Middle Class
The trade union movement had dominated critical analysis in the 1960s, and radical critiques of the economy were given prominence up until the mid 1970s. These radical analyses were tied down in factional fighting as the trade union movement engaged in ideological dispute. The credibility of the nationalization and anti-imperialist doctrines which had been widely shared was now diminished. By the early 1980s there began to be greater visibility and airing of views of a new and more assertive voice on the upswing, the middle and professional class in Trinidad. This was a multi-racial grouping. The context of its rise included the decline of the incumbent political party and the social contract that it had implemented over the previous decade.
The Afro-Trinidadian professional-managerial class had been at the forefront of the country's 1970s development strategy (Friday 1989). This class ran the state enterprises established with petro-dollars. These were the state functionaries and intellectuals who were beneficiaries of the major transition that had been brought about through the Energy Based Industrialization initiatives which had established with dollars-dollars major new state-owned export industries in the country based on chemicals, gas, methanol, fertilizers, and steel. These state entrepreneurs increasingly had conflicts about excessive political interference in appointments and in the running of the enterprises and the inability to convert themselves into "capitalists" in their own right (Friday 1989, 233). If the idea was to be like the private sector in terms of private capital accumulation, that was not happening.
The indigenous capitalist class, mostly White, had been largely left out of these developments since they were seen to be interested only in commerce and banking and not enterprising enough to invest in new manufacturing enterprises. This class felt that the new state-run projects would never be successful, though they looked forward to all the spin-off activities of increased services, distribution, construction, and real estate development (Friday 1989, 210). Their program was put forward as early as 1972 by the Chamber of Industry and Commerce in response to nationalization. It associated "localization" (selling shares locally by banks and insurance companies) with "expropriation," reflecting the justified paranoia of the small White elite who were threatened by the tide of Black Power protest. The formation of the United Labour Front (ULF) trade-union-based party in the mid 1970s only accentuated the fears of a "communist" takeover. However, this class also gained tremendously from the oil boom and grew in economic strength. It began to build political alliances with the disillusioned professional class in a shared commitment to the private sector (albeit no longer necessarily White-dominated) in response to the ongoing governmental attempts to maintain control over the management of the economy.
Analyzing the chairmanship of the state boards, Friday (1989) notes that the majority was Afro-Trinidadian and the rest Euro- and Sino-Trinidadian. There was almost a complete absence of Indo-Trinidadians on the state boards. Therefore, it is no surprise that the other allies for the coalition forming in opposition to the government were Indian professionals. At a broader and more diffuse level, the new political thrust overlapped with a forming Indian identity not associated with support for government or workers, but rather with a university-educated class who wished to acquire political power to buttress their economic and credential strength and newfound cultural confidence.
By the 1981 elections a new political party, the Organization for National Reconstruction (ONR), including many members of these groups, was formed. It contested the elections on a platform of getting rid of the statist government. As a new player politically, it had the benefit of fresh energy and it ran the most "American" of campaigns with a sophisticated public relations front "like the country had never seen before." The ONR won over 84,000 votes but no seats. An opposition Alliance, which did not include the ONR before the elections, now included the party for the local government elections in 1983, and together they swept the elections.
With the general elections approaching, the choice of leader from this Alliance was most important. A. N. R. Robinson, who had been Finance Minister from 1962 to 1970 in the incumbent People's National Movement (PNM) government and who was the most popular candidate among African and mixed voters, became the Alliance leader. The polls showed that Basdeo Panday of the ULF was the favourite for Indian voters. At the same time, a greater proportion of Indians, long excluded from power, supported the idea of a coalition than did Africans (70% compared to 48% according to Ryan 1989, 46-47). The ONR ran the organizing campaign. It was a classic coalition of differing interests, brought together in opposition to a declining incumbent.
The slogan of "one love" struck a note of a sentimental and yet hopeful politics. One interviewee recounted, "I supported the NAR because it was the first party in my mind that had a vision for the society." The person went on to explain that he had been brought up in a middle-class multi-racial neighbourhood of Port of Spain and his schooling was also integrated. After this stage in his life, he did not experience such harmony again. This statement, of course, cannot be generalized across the many ethnic and regional communities of the country, and the lack of regional ethnographic data also cautions us not to speculate on the results of the electoral campaign on reorganizing ethnicities. Moreover, his occupation as a money manager did not bring him into economic competition with Indian middle-class aspirants. Election results do reveal the new voters who came out in every constituency as a primary factor in its success, and this included "the non-ethnic voter," hitherto largely absent in the active electorate and an important voter base in a racially mixed Trinidad. (I suggest a list of reasons for the wide popularity of the party at the end of the next section.)
As these alliances in the Opposition were being negotiated, the PNM in the person of Prime Minister Williams continued with his selective nationalizing thrust, "localizing" banks and insurance companies and spreading shares across the population. The stalemate between the government and private sector interests was thrown wide open with the death of Williams in 1981 and the declining oil revenues from 1982. It was a debate of concern to all as to whether the state enterprises should continue to be subsidized. It was estimated that the major industrial projects were all running at a loss (Pantin 1987). Loans taken out for them were coming to payment time. Through a number of corruption scandals the PNM had lost all credibility as an honest manager of the nation's money. In a standard statement of class attack, the size and wages of the public sector workers were held responsible for the decline in the fiscal condition. (12)
From 1983 the governing People's National Movement, following discussions with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), was forced to cut back heavily on the kinds of expenditures it had invested in through massive state enterprises, loans it could not regain, and public sector wages it could not sustain. The internal and external debt started rising rapidly. By 1986 funds for long-term projects were gone. The PNM removed subsidies it had established in the 1970s. In 1983 rates of purchase tax were raised by 30% across the board. Between 1983 and 1985 excise and motor vehicle taxes were also hiked. Access to foreign exchange was limited. Quotas on imports were reduced and tightened considerably (though rents increased as a result of the greater premiums on holding an import license [Hilaire 1992]).
While many small and a few large companies went out of business in the 1983-86 recession, the major conglomerates run by White Trinidadians continued to make a profit. Finance houses closed down, causing thousands of investors to lose their savings, but banks still turned a profit, though smaller than during the years of the oil boom (Friday 1989). Foreign banks did better than local banks. In sheer monetary terms, then, the large business class was more resilient than were the state enterprises. Yet, it looked like the state was going to continue to hold the business class under control, this time without popular support.
The NAR Platform in Trinidad and Tobago: Private Sector Developmentalism
An attempt at a new social contract to pull the country out of recession and simultaneously release the controls on the private sector was in the platform put forward by the National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) in 1986. The NAR had been built out of the alliances formed with the ONR, as described above. The platform called for economic diversification, but for private sector growth as well. It broke from the old social contract in that it did not see the redistribution of oil revenues as fundamental to facilitating this process. Rather, the opening of the country to world financial markets was preferred. The expansion of the private sector with the removal of import licensing requirements was promised. At the same time, labour was to have its place on tripartite boards, and local economic development plans were intended with community participation.
The international context of restructuring, liberalization, was crucial to the new direction. By the 1980s, the internationalization of the world economy had begun, through dismantling state-owned sectors created in the previous two decades, through financial bank-induced encouragement towards building greater import and export capacity, and the hitching of economies to IMF-directed recovery plans. The IMF report for the country noted that the slump in oil prices raised a number of critical turning points in the management of the economy (World Bank 1988). In particular the commercial bank debt of state enterprises needed to be sorted out. The report advocated diversifying the economy in the direction of greater export promotion of industrial goods and greater emphasis on tourism. Noting that the new NAR government of 1986 had the right idea in promoting private sector development and curbing state expenditure, the report also advocated a cut in income and company taxes. The report also noted that the traditional method of promoting industrial development was by granting protection and import duty exemptions (basic import substitution measures), but that these discouraged export initiatives. The report advocated granting "free trade" status right away to export industries. It is most interesting that the IMF report saw unemployment as a serious issue, but as a social problem and not a structural problem. Its solution therefore lay in "the recovery of the economy." These suggestions, coming from the World Bank team, were typical of the kind of liberalization reform package suggested to numerous developing countries in the 1980s.
Policies that were put in place from the 1987 post-election budget no longer depended on the potential for the natural recovery of oil prices or on building state power, but rather were intended to stimulate savings in the financial markets, relax controls on business, depress consumption, and curb state public sector expansion. There was little in the aforementioned IMF report which contradicted the policy direction evident in the first Budget Speech of 1987 delivered by A. N. R. Robinson. He stated that the country was still vulnerable to oil shocks. There was also a bunching of repayment installments now due. Robinson implored that a rejuvenation of national spirit must be combined with sacrifice.
A number of struggles were waged to achieve the change that was being forecast. The private sector desired status equivalent to foreign companies to operate foreign currency accounts. The service companies in the oil industry detailed this position in meetings and letters to the Ministry of Finance, stating that within the first three months of the year the foreign exchange allocation had been depleted. This meant that companies would start losing business to foreign concerns, leading to retrenchment of local workers. And in due course, despite Central Bank caution, under IMF conditions controls on foreign exchange began to be removed and were completed under the next government.
In 1989 the NAR government cut income and corporation taxes from 59% to 45% while instituting the regressive value added indirect tax, privatized a number of enterprises, and revised the Aliens Land-holding Act to permit foreign purchase of Trinidad and Tobago land. The revision of the act had been a long-standing demand of the local business class, who deplored any attempt to criticize foreign ownership (Friday 1989, 340). EC Zero, which had been an attempt under the previous PNM government in 1983 to restrict imports through ceilings or quotas, was dismantled by 1988 by the NAR with an annual allocation of local currency to importers. Subsequently, the foreign exchange controls began to be completely eliminated (Central Bank 1994, 7). (13) The Industrial Development Corporation produced a document, Investment Policy of Trinidad and Tobago, which stressed a movement away from imports to "production for export markets" (Friday 1989, 355) with a number of suitable incentives and tax breaks, and this is indeed what occurred (National Income of TT 1981-1991, 36). Export-oriented production increased, leading to a 1992 current account surplus, only the second since 1981 (Central Bank 1994).
Without any bargaining strength behind them, some labour members opted out of this process within a year, and discussions were left at the elite level among technocrats, professionals, and businessmen. The discussions themselves were overtaken by the crisis in the economy. The size of the inherited deficit and the external public sector debt was underestimated by the NAR, who were forced by the IMF to continue the harsh austerity measures started by the PNM in order to negotiate a new payment schedule of a stand-by loan agreement. The new schedule was undertaken in the 1987-90 budgets and within months brought people out on the streets in protest of the party's economic program. The dream turned sour in a matter of months. Multi-racial civil society groups began organizing a popular opposition. A coup was launched in 1990 by the Jamaat-i-Musilmeen, a radical Black Muslim group with urban and rural support, hoping to cash in on the unpopularity of the government.
So, who did benefit from this multi-racial government? (14) I ask this question in order to identify some of its key supporters. Certainly the climate for investment in the country improved with the reduced emphasis on state-owned enterprise through reduced credit, the interest in joint ventures, and the decline in state-based granting of contracts as favours and patronage. Speaking more generally of the impact of structural adjustment policies in the Caribbean in the 1990s, Kari Levitt has noted that "this economic model has favoured trading and financial services over productive activity. Banks and insurance companies have done very well, while the mass of the population has suffered a substantial decline in real income" (1990, 161). While there was consumer and business pressure to lower the interest rates, banks convinced the Minister of Finance that this would lead on a run on the banks if the rates were lower than that of inflation, and that reduced bank profitability would mean closure of some banks altogether (Ryan 1989, 102-3). There has been a concentration of assets in the insurance industry with 10 firms accounting for 78% of total assets (Central Bank 1994, 11). In addition, the beneficiaries have been disproportionately foreign companies who have moved in as joint partners in most of the key industries.
The largest corporations expanded across the Caribbean. In 1992 Trinidad's Neal and Massy merged with Jamaica's T. Geddes Grant to form the largest and most diversified (note the irony in this usage of this term to apply to a corporation and not a country) conglomerate in the Caribbean, with a total of 7,000 employees in more than 100 companies across the region. Within the country there is an intensification of takeovers, mergers, holding stock in rival companies, and a centralization of control by the largest business players, led by insurance companies, conglomerates, and banks.
The losers were disproportionately the "average" people. The public sector deficit was reduced through wage freezes, and revenues were raised through the VAT. "Compensation of employees" as a percentage of GDP declined from a high of 63% in 1986 to 51% in 1991 (National Income of TT 1981-1991, 360). There has been a net outmigration of the labour force from Trinidad and increased importance of remittances from 1988 (Balance of Payments of TT, 1990-1991). The jump in the unemployment rate--from 16.6% to 21.6% nationally between 1986 and 1987 (Appendix 22, Review of the Economy, 1988), and from 10.6% to 23.7% in the capital, Port of Spain--was tremendous. To generate employment, the NAR policy that made the most headway, until women's groups opposed it, was to set up an Export Processing Zone in south Trinidad. Subsequently the Free Zones Act (1988) was passed. Freed from relying on burdensome patronage, the NAR was able to implement these fundamental changes in the organization of investment and distribution of assets in the country.
Given the general knowledge that the business class supported the NAR for their own gain, why did people put their hopes in it? There are a number of answers, and they all have relevance. There was, first, the political opening. The old regime had lost political, moral, and economic legitimacy, and there was a chance to displace it. Second, the old social contract of wages linked to oil revenue distribution had come to a close with the decline of labour. Third, the NAR included the main representatives of the Indian population, the ULF, who were now almost 50% of the population, and who had not yet been in the ruling government. Fourth, the coalition represented truly a multi-racial array of interests, including White and Coloured business interests, African management interests, and Indian professional interests, and this was extremely attractive to the non-ethnic voter. Fifth, technocrats who were leading members of the coalition were considered "beyond race" in their knowledge of economics and their promise of restoring financial strength and productive growth to the economy (see Hintzen 2001 for a general discussion of this point). Finally, for the few "radical" individuals in the coalition, the NAR offered the promise of "a true political democracy," with its emphasis on widespread participation (Interview 4). (15)
All this might then offer a conclusion quite opposite to mine, for the "developmentalist" solutions offered were ultimately quite opposed to working people's interests. I would here make the distinction between the reasons the coalition was built (the restructuring agenda) and the reasons for its electoral success (which had to do with race as enumerated above, electoral organizing, a political opening, new cooperative ideas, and the rest). What was visible to the public was a strong sense of the transformative possibilities for better "development" with a "national" coalition bringing together familiar voices that had long struggled against the incumbent government. While the trade union movement was hostile to the proposed direction, it was racially segmented, and hence not a strong threat to the new multi-racial political leadership.
With the onset of racial politicking overlapping the onset of party politics from the 1950s, ideology has mattered increasingly less to these particular Caribbean societies than has their perceived racial quality. All the major Guyanese parties have been socialist with explicit Cold War alliances. The two major Trinidadian parties have been nationalist. Both party systems have, rather, been locked down by partisan racial campaigning and voting. Reparations, through inclusion into hitherto exclusionary areas of the state and economy, thus also occurred in partisan fashion, compounding the alienation of those "not in power." I have argued that the unravelling of this system, in one case, and its lack of consolidation, in the other, facilitated by international shifts, opened the possibility for middle-class political entrepreneurs to put forward an alternative multi-racial class-based agenda of restructuring.
There was one other moment in both countries, after the failures of the first decade of independence, when a major shift in development strategy became necessary, resulting in the nationalization of key sectors of the economy in the 1970s. Restructuring in this case did not require a coalitional force for its implementation and was undertaken by the incumbent African-led party of both countries. It did so in the face of Black Power protests in Trinidad and in the context of a growing dictatorship in Guyana. Nationalization of the sugar industry and the related strengthening of its union directly benefited Indian sugar workers and their leaders, who were not in power. How do I explain this, given the argument of this paper which suggests that "a coalition" or unity party is needed to represent multi-racial and class interests in the society?
I suggest--and these are not original arguments--that the strategy of nationalization reflected, in part, the governing parties' ambitions to become hegemonic and all-encompassing, and to undercut the struggles of the opposition. The racial party itself attempted to become multi-racial. What occurred was quite different. The revenues derived from nationalization as well as the increased control over key sectors greatly increased the power of the state which, in turn, became linked to a declining democracy. A popular multi-racial movement then developed in both countries in response to the crisis in political democracy. Economic and political reform were central demands of these multi-racial movements (which saw no electoral victory), whereas, as we have seen, the successful multi-racial parties we have studied did not make political reform central to their platform.
Finally, this study suggests that, while developmental dilemmas are only heightened under globalization, a study of the distribution of power and political reform might need to be the thrust of a multi-racial politics of the future, for we have seen that the two multi-racial parties organized successfully only when the party system was in flux: in Guyana when it was in formation, and in Trinidad when the hegemonic national party was in decline. Given this, the two-party system cannot avoid closer scrutiny and a call for reformation. We do see an increased discussion of power-sharing formulas in both countries, and "integration" does seem to be the key ingredient to maintaining ethnic peace as persuasively argued in a recent study of Muslim-Hindu violence in India (Varshney 2002).
But does this solution not keep alive the problematic of "who is in power?" Will power-sharing by existing racialized parties only further disempower the majority, including third parties? A well-known activist in Guyana, with over 30 years of experience in the political trenches notes,
... there is no more urgent work in Guyana than crossing the divisions of race, all the divisions of race; but, of course, they express themselves in a particularly violent way between Indo- and Afro-Guyanese. I think that that's most urgently done--I really do--by women. I'm not interested in crossing the divisions of race meaning that you add the PPP and the PNC. In that case, one and one is likely to make minus two. I really would like something healthier than that, and less contrived than that. (Andaiye 2004, 216)
There is, therefore, also much more relevant analysis to be done.
(1.) The majority of the populations of these two countries comprised men and women of African and Indian descent who worked in the colonial export plantation economy. The remainder of the populations hailed from China, Portugal, Spain, England, France, and other Caribbean countries, including Amerindian peoples corralled into the forming of nation-states.
(2.) The party of the first Indian Prime Minister was elected in 1995, 39 years after the first general elections. See Munasinghe 2001 for an extended discussion of this sentiment.
(3.) "Dougla" is seen by some as an Africanization of the Indian.
(4.) See Hintzen 1989 for the only systematic theoretical attempt to link economic, political and racial dynamics in these countries. I critique his argument later. He too does not focus on the multi-racial victories.
(5.) I have focused here on Indian political imaginaries as a result of my own greater familiarity with them; one might and should make related arguments about African political imaginaries and the related construction of masculinities on both sides.
(6.) I draw for this discussion on Bolland 1997a.
(7.) This transition of the elite or the emerging elite to forming alliances with workers occurred comparatively early in Guyana, before the Caribbean-wide labour struggles in 1937, and this was unique.
(8.) Reform of the sugar industry was not a new idea. It had been part of the public debate since the turn of the century with the formation of urban working people's associations who resented the huge public subsidy of the industry. It was an issue with middle-class radicals in search of capital for investment in other sectors of the economy in 1928. It was politically an explosive point, as had been seen in the strikes of the 1930s. It launched the popularity of the PPP leadership with the sugar worker population in the Enmore strike of 1948. It was still an issue for radical dissection in 1970 in the research of Clive Thomas: "It is clear that arguments which ask us to forget sugar and bauxite are pure propaganda. We must remember them because the transformation of our economy cannot proceed anywhere without adjustments in these areas" (n.d., 4).
(9.) See Cooper 1996 on the problem of creating "workers" in African colonies.
(10.) Percy Hintzen (1981) has a different assessment of the structures of class power in the country. He suggests that the fact that the major operating sugar and bauxite multinationals were both highly dependent on their production in Guyana allowed for a strong Guyanese bargaining position facilitating the autonomous nature of "political decision making." The "radical" nationalist orientation of the 1953 PPP coalition government was facilitated by the "symbiotic dependence" of the key multinationals and the state in Guyana at the time (181). We might call this a structuralist interpretation of party power.
It was true that tremendous profits in both industries were reaped in Guyana at the time. Yet, what did the PPP do as radical nationalists? The PPP did not call for nationalization (as evidence of a challenge) of the sugar or the bauxite sectors of the economy in 1953 (Chase 1954, 8). President Jagan made a point of saying that he was not going to "nationalize" bauxite on three separate occasions between 1950 and 1964 (Girvan 1976, 165) in order to allay fears of the industry.
The leadership of the PPP did expect to bargain but only after building class power across the country. The error of Hintzen's argument about the motivation for the radical program of the PPP in 1953, I suggest, lies in his scant attention to its organizing efforts and the sources of its support. There was no meaningful structurally based autonomic stance independent of the party's social base, the power of which was premised on its numbers
(11.) Labour struggles resulted in other companies also being nationalized. See Parris 1979.
(12.) From the Governor of the Central Bank's speech quoted in Free Enterprise, published by the Chamber of Commerce, n.d.
(13.) In Interview 5, David Williams, one of the leading businessmen in Trinidad, cited this as the biggest accomplishment of NAR in relation to business.
(14.) I move the discussion into "general" class terms here. For details on various proposals and policies of the NAR, leading to specific racial discussions and consequences, see Ryan 1989.
(15.) Most radical groups such as Tapia were not in the coalition.
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Interview 1 with Rampersaud Tiwari, Cabinet Secretary, 1960-62, Guyana.
Interview 2 with Eusi Kwayana, Founding Member WPA, Former Minister in the PPP and PNC. Many interviews and conversations. The first 5 May 1993, the latest 6 November 2004.
Interview 3 with Willock Pierre, Labour Relations Officer, OWTU.
Interview 4 with Asad Mohammed, NAR, ULF member.
Interview 5 with David Williams, CEO, Chairman, Century Elson Ltd.
Department of Sociology, University of Toronto
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|Publication:||Canadian Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Studies|
|Date:||Jul 1, 2005|
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