In response to a complaint by Dr. Terrence Campbell that higher wages and salaries by government and foreign companies areattracting workers away from local businesses which cannot compete, Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo responded that “people want the vestiges of socialism still to hang on…” (Dem Waves Jan 9). It appears that the Vice President meant that the plea for the protection sought for local business is tantamount to relying on the ‘vestiges of socialism.’
Dr. Campbell, a successful businessman, was probably relying on the State’s duty to protect local business, a principle of capitalist development, until it was swept away in the developing, not the developed world, by globalization. He may have been au fait with the policies of the governments between 1957 and 1964 which were noted for their promotion of local business development. Symbolic of this policy was the front page photograph of Cheddi Jagan, who hated the taste of alcohol, courageously drinking from a bottle of Banks beer when Banks Breweries opened production in 1961 to demonstrate his government’s support for local business.
There is no way that local business can compete with established foreign companies with deep pockets. The historic efforts to limit the grip of foreign companies on local economies have resulted in violence and regime changes. Mossadeq was overthrown in Iran when he attempted to nationalize the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company in 1953, which refused to pay reasonable taxes. Arbenz of Guatemala was overthrown in 1954 when he sought to implement moderate land reform policies to aid local development to counter the economic dominance of the American United Fruit Company. Neither was socialist. All over the developing world local business was, and still is, stifled by foreign domination and competition, and sympathetic politicians have struggled against it much to their detriment. However, no consequence befell President Biden when the US Government recently gave $50 billion dollars in aid to the domestic chips industry.
Dr. Campbell’s plea for assistance to local business against foreign competition is one that has been articulated in different forms throughout modern history, although the nature of the assistance sought by Dr. Campbell, namely, limiting wages and salaries and employment opportunities of government and foreign business is rather unusual and, perhaps, outside the scope of government intervention or assistance. But it has nothing to do with adhering to or promoting socialism of the commandist or even democratic type.
The word ‘leftist’ is applied by the West to governments of Brazil, Venezuela, Columbia, Chile, Nicaragua, Bolivia,Argentine and, until recently, Peru. These governments, most of which are elected in free and fair elections, have agendas that can be deemed, to a greater or lesser degree, to be ‘socialist,’ or ‘democratic socialist.’ This is the philosophy of all the social democratic parties in Europe and many politicians in the US, particularly one of its most popular Senators, Bernie Sanders.Without exception, these parties and governments, wherever they are in office, seek to encourage foreign investment while protecting local industry. There has been a consistent drive in the US recently to encourage US companies to return tomanufacturing, which have been lost to China, Mexico and other countries.
Encouragement for and protection of local businesses is therefore a foundational principle of capitalist economic development. But for developing countries, wracked by the imposition of neo-liberal strategies by Western financial institutions, of which globalization is a part, have had to abandon policies which promote local business development. What will happen eventually to businessmen like Dr. Campbell is that foreign businesses will eventually take them over or foreign competition will close them down. That’s the iron law of capitalism.
‘Socialism’ was on the agenda of the PPP since its inception. At the time socialism of the commandist type was dominant and grew in popularity as the Soviet Union became stronger and war was waged against national liberation movements, deemed ‘communism.’ But the commandist type of socialism, with which the PPP was identified, crashed spectacularly in 1989. A bastardized type of ‘commandism’ with a state-owned economy was attempted in Guyana in the 1970s and 1980s but did not take root and was eventually reversed in 1985 with imposed neo-liberalism prescriptions that had emerged with Reagan/Thatcher.
By 1992, Jagan, then beholden to the West, had to recognise the power of the financial institutions over an economy that was still struggling. Not long after 1997 the ‘market economy’ was overtly extolled. Now ‘socialism,’ in its post-1989 manifestation, can enrich social and economic justice, equality, the rule of law, democracy and ethnic harmony in a market economy. This was the PPP’s raison d’etre. Its founders would surely be happy to see their vision being at least partly realisedby the social spending of Vice President’s government.
The liberal, progressive, ideals of social and economic justice contained under the umbrella of socialism, as opposed to commandist state control under dictatorial rule, will continue to inspire people around the world as it did the PPP. Maybe at some future time, the recognition of the philosophical foundation of the PPP’s historical quest for ‘socialism’ through social and economic justice will be recognized as the potent historical force that it was and still is.