A commentary on “Stasis in Belize”
During my study of Belizean history at the University of Belize, we often talked about “why are things the way they are? And how can we make a change?”
In our history sessions, Professor Iyo would often make reference to “stasis” as a way of understanding the Belizean status quo (i.e. the existing state of affairs). As his students, he would recommend that we read his co-authored paper with Michael Rosberg entitled: ”Theoretical Perspectives on the Stasis of Class Relations in the Caribbean: the Belize Case Study”.
I recall that Prof. Iyo would employ two analogies to introduce us to the concept of stasis. He once drew a spiral on the board. A spiral he would remark is a gradually progressing curve which emanates from a central point. For the spiral to take shape, it encircles the path of its previous inscription. Therefore, the spiral has a directional flow but it is non-linear, gradual and apparently redundant.
The second analogy he often used was comparing stasis to the movement of the earth. The earth sits on an axis. It gradually spins, completing its axial rotation and revolution, only to do so again and again.
Like the earth and the spiral, the Belizean society has been moving (changing) but has been constrained by an axial positioning which is theorized as the economic mode/relations of production (e.g. slavery; relationship between “master and slave” or capitalism; relationship between employer and employees).
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, stasis is “a state of static balance or equilibrium; a state or period of stability during which little or no evolutionary change in a lineage occurs.”
Stasis then is both a description of a complex and changing social formation (society) and also a specific approach of analyzing the formation (by analyzing historical periods, party politics, education system, etc.).
The argument put forth is that both social structures (e.g. legal, educational, religious, political, economic institutions) and social actors (e.g. Belizeans’ participation in “Wednesday clinic,” support of the PUP/UDP, participation in PUP/UDP rhetoric) contribute to stasis, where the mode of production (e.g. slavery, capitalism) plays a crucial role.
“Stasis” is informed by the theoretical perspectives of functionalism (E. Durkheim) and conflict theory (K. Marx). The functionalist perspective holds that each social sphere (religious, education, symbolic, cultural, etc.) exists in a formation (society) to contribute to social cohesion and stability. Durkheim is said to have made the analogy that society is an organism. In this line of reasoning, society is the creation of something that is beyond the individual. Indeed, religion, language, party politics, and cultural forms, all exist prior to our individual existence. We enter (i.e. are born or migrate in) a society where the division of party politics, ethnic stereotypes, religious denominationalism, political victimization, clientelism, etc., exist as “social facts” (taken for granted norms). It is suggested that through the process of “socialization” we come to accept and re-enact these social facts.
In the conflict perspective, there is the belief that a social formation (society) is fundamentally structured by the mode of production (e.g. enslavement, wage-labor, service-labor). In this scenario, the previously listed “social facts” are treated as ideologies which facilitate a notion of “false consciousness” that limits the masses from openly observing their economic oppression (e.g. education limits critical thinking, party politics discourages unity, religion discourages political activism). It is hypothesized that not until the masses become conscious of their exploitation will there be the possibility of change. The masses must gain control of the means of production (land and industries) to alter the mode of production which would lead to changes in the superstructure. (NOTE: This is a classical interpretation of Marxism, which does not reflect the depth of Marx’s writings. Additionally, religion, education, like other ideologies/philosophical domains can become forces of resistance).
The dominant political parties in Belize (the PUP &UDP) both enunciate that their respective parties are the solution to Belizean status quo (i.e. the solution to stasis). They persuasively propagate that the current status quo is due to the mismanagement of either the previous or current government in power, depending on which casts the blame on the other.
In the past decades, there has been increased poverty, unemployment, and limited opportunities to land, higher education, and health-care for most of the population. This has contributed to consequential effects such as the high rates of crime, low economic productivity, and an increasingly higher cost of living. And despite the fact that both parties have failed to change the status quo, there remains a high-support for these political parties. These are fundamental contradictions of contemporary Belize.
But why do significant inequalities persist? It is argued that resistances have only occurred when Belizeans gained consciousness of the unequal opportunities given to them. It is asserted that the masses and the elites are currently gaining sufficient advantages which “prevent either side [from] opting for change.”
There are “powerful and immediate incentives and constraints which make it more logical to resist change than embrace it” both for the masses and elites.
Though it was not the central discussion of the paper, the possibilities of change were ultimately conceived in a classical Marxist fashion: it is not until there are severe economic conditions that Belizeans will advocate for change. While the authors did recognize that harsh economic conditions do not necessarily cause a resistance, it was the common argument for future possibilities of change in Belize.
But why should we wait for economic conditions to become worse? If the current status quo is the creation of human actions, why shall we assume that things will get better in the long run? And why should we leave it to future generations to transform it? And what guarantee do we have that they will do so?
Are there any current ideologies (nationalism, multiculturalism, communism, human rights) which can be re-articulated to mobilize Belizeans? These are some of the questions we may begin to ask to further the perspective of “stasis” and stimulate a project of political re-thinking in Belize.