By GHK Lall
As the PPP and PNC struggle with their mutilating histories and presences, I believe that both can learn, if they so desire, and adapt, if they are bold enough, from the English and the Americans. Their records and lessons of history are instructive.
The British and Americans fought a war; relations can’t deteriorate to a worst place. One hundred years afterwards, all the way to 1898, the relationship between the two powers – one established, the other growing – was characterized by occasional partnership and cautious watchfulness, reciprocal suspicion, mutual distaste, and hard animus. In 1898, the prize was Cuba; the US had designs, and so did the British. The former got there first and stayed. In China, the British led the way with gunboats and opium; the Americans came after with their legations, traders, and missionaries; one carved out a promising piece here, and the other a juicy segment over there.
There were other sharp proving grounds: meddling in Mexico and seeking to undermine America’s march into the Pacific Northwest, and a side was taken with the Confederacy in the Civil War. But despite these thorny flashpoints, and distrust as to the imperialism of one and the expansionism of the other, these foes of the flesh managed to coexist within an intensely competitive arena at crucial times. All the time it was about military power, trading power, and economic power. Sometimes the fierce competitive spirit prompted the thinking that war could erupt between them and plans were constructed accordingly. The two persevered each in delineated spheres.
Even a cursory examination confirms that the two domestic political big dogs, the PPP and PNC, have neither interest nor use for working together. It is always about power for self, and of knowing what is best for all else. There is refusal to work out differences, to create a common operating philosophy and space, and to settle for what is constructive for both selves and the broader national interests, that is, circumstances where both get some of the action.
Just like the Americans and the British, there is this ungiving, unthinking local reality that flies in the face of all that is pragmatic and beneficial. This is what moved the British and Americans to make their mutually-enhancing world work. Many times, it was not comforting; still satisfactory understandings – some compulsory, some from flexibility, and some from commonsense – were forged.
When crises came, as in the two Great Wars in the European theater, both sides managed to suppress their worst instincts about empire and colonialism on the one hand, and ascendancy and expansionism on the other. Thus, the baton was passed, while retaining the jewels in the family. The Anglo-American Axis became official. It was official through the distaste, condescension, hubris, and aspirations of both, and towards each other. Clearly, this fits the bill of what could be described best as a shotgun marriage for purposes of continuity.
Look carefully and patiently, and the local political past and present possess some of the same parallels as to how Guyana’s two major groups view each another. Save that the local weaknesses and issues serve to drag down both and trap everyone in a nightmarish quagmire, neither side is willing to be flexible, thus, nothing doing. Instead of what could be furthering the record has been of what has caused tottering.
Today, the great local development that has to bring the parties together – no matter how reluctantly, forced, or nuanced – is the challenge of oil. Cast a glance at the map, and because of the varying external forces involved the challenge is an existential one. Whereas the local poison in the blood is race, the differentiating factor between the English and Americans is about class and (still) who is a spent force and who is not worthy. Who is worthy of being the supreme? And who was the weaker before and the definite junior now? Of course, it is of enormous value that a wide ocean separates this uneasy, sometimes warring, Anglo-Saxon (Anglo-American) heritage and alliance. It is a partnership diluted by the ongoing “mongrelizing” through elements from out there and everywhere else. Everywhere except the original Mayflower roots.
Now, whether openly acknowledged or not, and regardless of whether class or race is the determinant, both the British and Americans, as well as the black PNC and Indian PPP are marshalled, commanded, and powered by elites. Wherever they are, elites are about self-preservation and the self-centered. The British and Americans are resigned to keep the association ticking and working. Remember Bush-Blair (Iraq)? Go back a little and there was Reagan-Thatcher (Argentina), and through the same sharp rivalry and disgust and disrespect. That disgust deteriorated into the disputations over the Suez Canal in 1956 between Eisenhower and Eden. They patched up; they ensured that future interests were not jeopardized. They learned.
Both the PPP and PNC must learn and grow, too. That is, if both are as bright and conscientious as each believes. This calls for wisdom of a profound and groundbreaking nature. The problem is that there is a brick wall here; a vacuum exists where such thinking and conduct are demanded.
The Anglo-American hegemony has survived despite internal and external pressures. This dominance came about because both know how to manage themselves, and overcome odds and opposition, through grave crises and great challenges between them; they have outlasted all. The PPP and PNC can learn; they should imitate, if only to overcome.