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Nigel Westmaas

THE WORKING MAN: PROFILE OF A 19th CENTURY WORKING CLASS NEWSPAPER

By Nigel Westmaas - Posted February 26th. 2002

Among the many newspapers that emerged in 19th century Guyana the Working Man was exclusively a working class publication. Editorially the paper asserted its partisan determination to represent "every person who was not an idler, of all races, black, mixed and Indian, except the whites…" It also opened "our columns to all without leaning to any." This was as clear a position as any paper could have taken in the 19th century colonial conditions when the mortality of newspapers was measured in days and months if not in hours. Indeed the plucky paper labelled itself David in face of Goliath, in this sense the powerful media and colonial interests that had no nexus with working class concerns.

Established in February 1872, the Working Man was published by Richard Charles Taylor of Lot 32 Regent and Hinck streets in Georgetown and by its own account could be "found in every village throughout the colony." It is difficult to assess this unlikely claim and it was probably a publisher's exaggeration, nonetheless, its overall impact measured by the editorial defense it constantly constructed must have been significant.

The paper's defense of the working people was varied and included reportage on general conditions throughout the colony, solidarity information from England and America, as well as letters from readers. The letter columns were also full of citizens vigorously ventilating concerns, especially working class concerns. One regular letter writer with the apt soubriquet "Mosquito" was particularly persistent in addressing working conditions in Georgetown

The working class newspaper did not hide its glee at any development that ignited progress for the working people. When for instance a 'Working Men's Club" was established in Georgetown in March 1872, the Working Man was ecstatic about the development and linked its birth to the influence of organized working class activity in England and America In welcoming the instance of early 'trade union' activity the paper noted that

"…societies of the kind, which are many, have the effect of cementing a legitimate and proper understanding between employer and employed; in fact, they have been the means of causing each to consider the interests of the other. British Guiana may be said to be out-of- the -way place in the West Indies; her people, it is well known, do not travel abroad to ascertain how things are managed; they have an adaptation of their own. On these grounds alone the formation of the "Working Men's Club", whereby uniting they may purchase books teeming with explanations on their various occupations, is to be commended…"

Moreover, the 'working people' thrust of the paper was multifaceted. It ventilated concerns of the poor across race in the colony; it reproduced the views of small co-ops; it carried free ads for poor working women, and placed notices that were testament to the paper's concerns as it was testimony of the harshness of the colonial time. In noting the plight of working women one issue contended

"There are a great many poor women who find it hard often times to procure a little tea for themselves and children in the morning; now this misery need not exist any longer…"

In addition the Working Man prided itself as well on bridging the racial divide and extended support to Indian and Chinese workers thereby upholding their initial editorial maxim. This was quite expressive in the paper. Considered one of the several black newspapers that sprung up in the 19th century, the Working Man was true to its editorial ideology in supporting the working class without reference to racial origin. In more than one instance it defended Indian labourers who were being harassed or attacked either by the colonial state or from other ethnic groups in the colony. Thus, when the Sheriff of Berbice imprisoned an Indian labourer for 14 days for drinking on the Sabbath the Working Man rushed to his defence :

'we do not quarrel with the Sheriff of Berbice for the reverent observance of the Sabbath, which he would have the public believe he entertains: but we should like to be informed the Ordinance in British Guiana that empowered him to sentence a coolie, or any other man, to 14 days imprisonment for being drunk on private property… It was our opinion until now that a man - being a free agent - could observe the Sabbath in his way, so long as he did not offend the law…this is not the age for slavery, nor tyranny…"

But this and other expressions of multi-ethnic solidarity were not linear and have to be placed in the context of the complex interplay of insecurities in a multiracial society. The same editor who was strident on the Indian labourer also declared alarm " at the dangerous anti-Negro attitude of the coolies" in an October 1872 issue of the paper. This reflected in part the convergence and divergence of ethnic solidarity depending on the moment.

Invariably, the Working Man's defense of anything 'labour' brought it up against many powerful forces in the colony. The paper's arrival on the media circuit certainly incurred the wrath of the mainstream Royal Gazette. The conservative, pro-colonial newspaper attacked the entrée of the Working Man by predicting its early demise. It gloated in one of its early diatribes that :

"we will not congratulate this bantling (sic) on its birth, knowing well from the fate of several of its kindred what a wretched existence it is sure to have and how glad it will be, in the course of a few months to step aside and die"

The Working Man conducted a vigilant defense of itself on each occasion and its editorials are replete with repartee of one kind or another with the Gazette and other interests. This was courageous in light of the fact their operational space was slim especially when advertisements signalled the difference between life and death for newspapers in that or any epoch. When an unmentioned but seemingly powerful advertiser or 'gentlemen' criticised the Working Man, the paper responded swiftly. In an editorial it decried "the gentlemen who told one of our agents that he would send us advertisements as he makes most by our class, but the Working Man was too 'plaguey cheeky', may well keep back his patronage, because we consider that there is nothing so gagging as such like advertisements".

A statement of principle and warning to the 'establishment' came immediately after with the Working Man noting: "if we accept an advertisement it must be from one who will not ask us to be gagged about the people's rights. Those who choose to stand by our 8,000 mechanics and all the other sorts of working men in the colony, from the miserably treated overseer, may send us their advertisements."

This exchange identified both the paper's strength and its vulnerability. The newspaper published Wednesdays and Saturdays failed to attract large advertisements from influential business people or companies but relied solely on small ads. Among its patrons were artisans, vat-makers, cabinet-makers, masons and other small business people and individuals. In a November 1872 issue for example the Working Man contained ads from John Allen, "master carpenter and builder Lot 48 Hadfield street"; Thomas Barnes, "cabinet-maker & upholsterer" 5 Robb street; Cummings, "vat-maker, master cooper" Lot 23 John Street; and Samuel Heyliger, Mason and Bricklayer, among others.

Yet the Working Man , even with its short life span demonstrated a lot of magnanimity to friends and foes even with the onslaught of criticism it received. This aspect of the Working Man's was evident when it devoted an entire editorial on the death George Braithwaite, veteran and intrepid publisher of the Creole another black newspaper.

Right until the end the Working Man warned of the economic and political pressures it faced with its pro-working class and frank portrayal of colonial society. This was insinuated in almost every editorial comment of the paper. In October 1872, as it neared its debacle the paper was warning its readership: "..we are perfectly aware of the danger to which we are exposed in our marked path…"

In the end, around the latter part of 1872 the Working Man succumbed like many other newspapers in the 19th century. Although little is known of what caused its final departure - one can reasonably conclude that the "danger" it always warned about contributed significantly to its all too early demise.


A Comment on Professor Clive Thomas' article in Guyana Review, March 2000 By Clarence F. Ellis

Posted March 30th. 2000

A.Conceptual Framework

I feel particularly honoured to be one of the first contributors to Dr. Hinds' web page. If Hinds' page is read at home and abroad, it should lift the level of discourse from the concentration on events to a higher conceptual plane. I remember that on my return to Guyana in 1968, I was concerned at the poor understanding of political ideology (mine was poor enough) despite the rival labels of communist, socialist, and capitalist that were thrown around by members of the P.P.P., P.N.C. and the United Force. Any attempt to discuss political ideology recoiled from a fear of being accused of subversion.

If anything, that situation has gotten worse and political discourse, if one goes by the letters in Stabroek News, remains threadbare. We are not going to reverse that situation overnight but honest debate by Guyanese and West Indians at home and overseas in places such as this web page will help to encourage less fuzzy positions in the pronouncements of our leaders.

Let me begin by giving an example. Professor David Hinds recently stimulated my thinking by asking my views on democracy. I felt I knew enough and was prepared to compare the majoritarian versus the participatory views of democracy. A discussion along those lines raises the thorny issue of the efficiency of government and the necessity for an opposition to give democracy fuller expression. Though that debate is necessary, I decided to explore a more Marxist analysis. I am mindful of the fact that West Indians are afraid to touch Marxism these days but am confident that the methodology of Marxism can be illuminating. Borrowing from Marxism does not make one Marxist or even socialist. Two writers, William M. Dugger and Howard J. Sherman (Sherman is Marxist), writing on A Comparison of Marxism and Institutionalism, make the Marxist distinction between the economic and the social structure and advance the Marxist position that the economic structure affects the social structure. The social structure consists of the non-economic institutions-the family, government, political parties, education and religion. The economic structure consists of the relations of production (the economic classes and how they relate to one another) and the forces of production (land, labour, capital and technology). Parts of the social structure are referred to these days as civil society.

The Dugger and Sherman framework provides the basis for the following analysis of democracy and for assessing Professor Thomas' discussion of our recent economic history. Marxists today concede that social structures do affect economic structures but tend to reduce the observation to empiricism and not to theory. As Dugger and Sherman put it, "class relations are quite real but must be supported by observations-not assumptions-about the individuals in those classes." There is an implicit call to investigate the facts.

B. Democracy--General

It is important in these value laden discussions to be aware of preconceptions, of those deep premises that lie quietly concealed in the argument. My premise is that the economic structure affects the social structure, not entirely but substantially. In addition, I remain committed to socialist objectives. The unwillingness to be forthright about premises and objectives often results in analysis that is inconsistent.

Being socialist does not mean that one is not pragmatic. We have to be aware of the things that we cannot change and of those that we can change. It is often a matter of how long it will take to achieve change. If a Marxist hopes that the social structure will change by adjustments to the economic structure, that goal can continue to inform her or his behaviour even if it cannot be achieved overnight. To speak then of being a Marxist in social goals but to have abandonned the argument about the importance of economic structure is fuzzy thinking

If one is pragmatic, it becomes necessary to understand the premises of market systems and what make them work. In the present world, there is no alternative but to become familiar with market systems in order to survive.

When the goals of socialism are put under closer scrutiny, however, many enlightened people will agree with them. My preference is to define socialism as equality of opportunity and to demonstrate that the nuclear family is a major institution that inhibits the attainment of equality of opportunity. That argument, however, rubs emotions the wrong way.

It is better therefore to use Thomas E. Weisskopf's definition of socialism which he suggests is committed to the following goals:

1. Equity: egalitarian distribution of economic outcomes and opportunities.

2. Democracy: economic democracy that enables people to exercise control over their own economic fate.

3. Solidarity: promotion of solidarity among members of communities extending from the neighbourhood to the whole of society-encouragement to people to develop the sense and reality of themselves as social rather than simply as individual beings.

The critical factors here are the requirements to exercise control over our economic fate and the stress on the commitment to community. As a people scattered all over the world, Guyanese yearn for that social relation to community. Its loss has destroyed us. It is pathetic to hear a few Guyanese say they have no interest in their community at home and that they will make no financial contribution to their village or community. It is an indication that they have lost their roots and their social moorings.

C. Western Democracy

Noam Chomsky, Professor of Linguistics and foremost thinker of government and governance, argues that Weisskopf's economic democracy becomes difficult to achieve in Western countries because of the great control that modern corporations exercise over the lives of almost all people. Using an analysis that bears close resemblance to Marxist thinking, Chomsky identifies two systems of power relations in Western society:

--the political system of elected respresentatives

--the economic system of private power and private empires.

Contrary to the generally held belief that it is the law of the land and the political system of elected representatives that exercise control over the private power system, the reality is more the reverse. Chomsky advances three arguments for his position.

He argues first that an authoritarian cast of mind has developed in the majority of people that largely accepts the behaviour of the corporate sector as beneficial. In general, there is no revolt against corporate excesses that widen income distributions, destroy the environment and suffocate small businesses.

Second, and this must be taken seriously, only a narrow range of decisions of the corporate sector is subject to democratic control despite the society wide implications of those decisions. Excluded from democratic control are the institutions of commerce, industry and finance. Decisions in relation to the operations of these institutions are matters for the closed sessions of corporate boards. The third factor is ominous and it relates to the power of the media to influence political decision making and to sustain the cast of mind that accepts authoritarianism. A journalist who attempts to analyse private power in radical Marxist terms will find no place in the mainstream press. She or he will find that the best researched articles will not be published and will soon realize that to survive requires that one conforms.

In addition, corporations influence political responses by their contributions to political parties and by constraining the behaviour of governments by threatening withdrawal of resources from economic activity if the politicians attempt to wield too much power.

A fourth factor surfaced after the oil crisis in the 1970s and that was the persistent efforts to limit the size of government.

It is with this framework that the much touted democracy in Western societies should be assessed. Clearly there are instances when the people's protests against corporate power secure some redress. Over time, as Chomsky himself admits, corporate power has come to accept limits to their activities. But the realization of economic democracy in the sense of workers' determination of their fate is a far way off.

Nevertheless there are instances in the industrial world where workers' ownership has crept very stealthily into existence. In many of these instances, workers have even adjusted company goals to put more emphasis on workers' advance than on profits. If these movements become more widespread, the social change will be revolutionary.

Marxist-inclined policy makers know that gradual change implies a long time horizon and are not despondent. There is little alternative but to work towards the achievement of a more democratic society by patiently nurturing such instances of worker democracy. An important presumption is that changes in the economic structure will bring changes in the social sphere. People will change their social goals to become more community oriented and more "inner directed" to enquire and to create. (Remember David Reisman's, The Lonely Crowd )

Changes in human outlook are taking place in Western society, particularly in the U.S.A. Myriads of organizations are eschewing the "six deadly" sins-greed, avarice, envy, gluttony, luxury and pride. Associated with these changes are the reduced emphasis on the domineering attributes of the patriarchal society and the greater influence of matriarchy (as distinct from feminism which sees women as replacing men in domineering patriarchal, they were reputed to be more egalitarian, more democratic and more peaceful. (See Harman and Hormon, 1990. Chapter 2).

These examples of changes in social value indicate that there is no single uni-causal approach to achieving democracy as defined above. It is na=EFve to conceive of democracy as deriving only, or primarily, from the political system of elected respresentatives. There is a shallow and a hollow ring to the acclamation that free and fair elections returned democracy to Guyana. Free and fair elections are necessary for democracy but they are not sufficient.

D. Professor Thomas' analysis of the Economies of the Co-operative Republic Professor Thomas is one of the most original thinkers among West Indian economists and has been light years ahead of his colleagues in considering economic advance in these wider terms. During some of his past inspiring formulations such as when he wrote Transformation and Dependence, Caribbean economists were dazzled by the sheer brilliance of his theoretical presentations. It has been a waste then that political considerations prevented his greater involvement in policy making.

The underlying premise in his recent Guyana Review analysis is that the economic changes of the Co-operative Republic did not "let loose the full development potential of Guyana" that was expected at the time of independence. Efforts were made to bring about changes in bottom line objectives (as noted above in the instances where workers assumed control in industrial societies). "The principal goal of economic activity was declared to be no longer profit making through the market. As propagandised, the aim was to meet basic needs for food, clothing and shelter; eradicate poverty; and 'make the small man a real man'."

Although propagandised as changing bottom line objectives, no wholesale change took place to give priority to the development of workers' councils and to pursue widespread embrace of the social goals of communities. Workers rarely perceived of themselves as managing the industries that were nationalised. Thomas noted that the fatal flaw of the design of the Co-operative Republic was that " it failed to place people at the center of the development thrust."

In terms of the foregoing analysis, therefore, the changes failed from two perspectives-(a) the restructuring of the economy to change economic goals was inefficient and (b) the workers were not re-oriented to take their place in society as socialists with a commitment to strengthening community relations.

The decision making at the center never embraced these dimensions of democratic change. Economic planning and economic management perceived the changes primarily as replacements of personnel in unchanged economic structures. State ownership had replaced private ownership but an orientation to alternative economic objectives escaped the planners and decision makers.

The Economic Recovery Programme (ERP) abandonned the worker democratic restructuring efforts, restored the original bottom line goals and attempted to return the enterprises to private ownership. In effect, an inefficient change over to the Co-operative Republic was followed by another inefficient change over to the ERP. The economy had contracted during the period of mismanagement and mere restoration of the colonial economy at a lower level of output needed to consider lingering Co-operative Republic systemic hangovers.

In addition, Thomas argues, racial / political struggles for power and control over the society had by then assumed greater importance in the second change over and needed specific attention in economic programming if democracy in the terms discussed here was to be achieved. Oversight in this latter matter can be explained by an insufficient understanding of this analytical framework. One dimensional Marxists (i.e. in their retention of Marxist socialist goals) continue to fly in the face of Marxist logic by fuzzy thinking about what social values are necessary for economic democracy.

While Professor Thomas does not spell out solutions, the circumstances warrant adaptation of conventional bottom-line goals to take account of the separate capabilities of the racial groups to achieve economic democracy. The programmes should, of necessity, provide people of all races with assets and with skills and, in a bottom up strategy, encourage their management of those assets for their own advance as well as for profit.

The conflict that will emerge with the Multilateral Financial Institutions (MFIs) is the first problem. A huge education programme will be necessary to avoid the half hearted and inefficient systemic changes that preceeded when the Co-operative Republic and the Economic Recovery Programmes were launched. Financial limits placed on the macro economic programme will not permit the education programmes that are necessary.

The second problem is even more difficult. Guyana, like the rest of the Caribbean, is an ex-plantation economy with a gap among domestic policy makers in the knowledge of how to manage and upgrade the technologies of local production. In other words, we understand neither the relations of export-oriented production nor the forces of that production. Expropriated company officials who perceived this knowledge gap in the past predicted that the nationalization experiments were doomed to fail. It is true that more economic democracy would have avoided some of the calamities of the Co-operative Republic and postponed its demise but it would hardly have prevented the eventual decline and stagnation.

In a manner similar to the patient changes towards greater economy democracy in Western industrial societies( more worker management and enlightened social goals) countries like Guyana have to be patient in striving for a world order that allows developing countries "to exercise control over their own economic fate" and that allows humane values to predominate. Progress will take place over a long time horizon but alertness and persistence will be necessary to take advantage of opportunities.

Developing countries can make an impact on the world value system, however, only when their leaders embrace community values and pursue them within their own borders. Democracy, as the Western policy makers point out, must not stop at the border's edge. Hypocrisy is seen for what it is and treated with contempt.

The associated problem that West Indian economists avoid is the need to internalize the technologies associated with what we produce. This is so self evident that it is immediately accepted when raised. However, when it is pointed out that, for reasons of economies of scale, small countries have to join their resources (as they should do in CARICOM) to upgrade the skills of the workers, sovereign sentiments take over and narrow nationalism prevails. This is because the inner impulse that propels socialists to see themselves as "social rather than as simply individual beings" is very undeveloped. In fact, it has atrophied. With the tearing down of the Berlin wall, we threw out the socialist baby of community values with the bath water of State managed social malformations.

To be alert to nudge the world order from the threatened domination by corporations of the global order and, at the same time, to be appealing to attract international investments requires leadership of exceptional ability and skill. The boast that any broomstick dressed in clothes can become a politician no longer holds. At present, Guyana has far too many broomsticks who repel investor participation from within and without as Stabroek News continually shows.

Professor Thomas' analysis did not touch on this dimension. The historical antecedents of the Co-operative Republic acquired a very left wing reputation in the early 1950s that scared away private investors. The later nationalisation of the commanding heights confirmed the earlier fears. The result was a dearth of investments in the export sector that impaired growth. Professor Thomas did not make this diagnosis but it remains relevant in that it helps to explain the present economic morass.

If this dimension is not addressed, it can be predicted with a high level of probability that economy democracy will be meaningless because the great majority of workers will have no hope for the future. Only speculators, enclave investors and narcotic traders will thrive. Correcting Co-operative Republic and racial power struggle deficiencies will improve the environment for economic democracy. But like free and fair elections, those are necessary but not sufficient. The need exists also to put in place dynamism in the export oriented economic structure-capital, management, technology and skills-and to find a way to make it work for economic democracy.

Clarence Ellis is an economist.

He is a former Deputy Governor of Guyana's Central Bank and Executive Director at the World Bank.

He is currently an Indepedent Consultant and frquent commentator on Guyanese and Caribbean political and economic issues.

References

Chomsky, Noam, Government in the Future, Audio Forum Sound Seminars,

Jeffrey Norton Publishers, 1970

Dugger, William M. and Howard J. Sherman, " Comparison of Marxism and Institutionalism" in Journal of Economic Issues, Vol. xxviii,

No.1, March 1994. Reprinted in David L. Prychitko, Why Economists Disagree, State University of New York Press, 1998.

Harman, Willis and John Horman, Creative Work: The Constructive Role of Business in a Transforming society, Knowledge Systems Inc., Institute of Noetic Sciences, 1990.

Thomas, Clive Y, "The economics of the Co-operative Republic" in Guyana Review, Vol. 8, No.86, March 2000.

Weisskopf, Thomas.E, "Toward a Socialism for the Future, in the Wake of the Demise of the Socialism of the Past," in Review of Radical Political Economics, Vol.24, no. 3&4, Winter 1992. Reprinted in David L. Prychitko, Why Economists Disagree, State University of New York Press, 1998.