What’s 100 years of the Russian Revolution to the Caribbean Masses?

 

Socialists cannot achieve their great aim without fighting against all oppression of nations. – V.I. Lenin

 

One hundred years ago the working masses of Russia shocked the world when they carried out a successful revolution against their capitalist ruling class and established a workers state based on the councils (soviets) set up in the course of the struggle. The response of the ruling capitalist nations was as swift as it was vicious and reactionary forces in Russia were backed by the main imperialist powers resulting in a civil war between the revolutionary forces and those who wanted the restoration of capitalism.

The initial triumph of the workers revolution in Russia and defeat of the counterrevolutionary forces in the civil war acted as a beacon to the workers and oppressed around the world. The establishment of the Russian workers state showed clearly that not only was it possible for the working class to overthrow its exploitative rulers, but also that workers in the more backwards parts of the world need not await salvation from workers in the more economically advanced countries.

Importantly, in Czarist Russia where the capitalist mode of production had not wiped away vestiges of feudalism as effectively as in neighboring Germany, the Russian workers showed decisively that the stagist theory of revolution, where the workers first had to establish a bourgeois democratic republic as a stepping stone to socialism, was historically unnecessary. The October revolution took many some leading Bolsheviks by surprise, nonetheless Leon Trotsky, who would go on to lead the Red Army, had laid the theoretical foundation for such an advance with his theory of permanent revolution.

Revolutionary Internationalism

One of the most enduring legacies of the Russian Revolution is the spirit of internationalism fostered amongst the working people of the world. Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin roundly denounced those socialists who would fight for a better world while discriminating against others for their national origin. For example, he called American socialists who would support immigration restrictions, “jingo socialists.”

Lenin also importantly understood that for the workers’ revolution to successfully spread around the world socialists needed to embrace the struggle for national liberation in the colonial world. Upholding oppresed nations’ right to self-determination, independence and, their right to secede at times became a critical weapon in the Marxist arsenal.

In the early 20th century the various Caribbean nations were still under colonial rule by the British, French and other imperialist powers. The anti-colonial movements in these countries were greatly boosted by the Russian revolution and contacts were made between trade unionists and nationalists and Russian revolutionaries. Caribbean radicals traveled to the United States and Europe and shared their radical tradition with the burgeoning world socialist movement born with the success of the Russian revolution.

While it is important to note the assistance provided to workers, anti-racist, women’s and national liberation struggles in the 3rd world by the Russian Revolution, it is equally important to note that the comrades from the Caribbean carried with them a distinct tradition of revolt and radicalism exemplified through events like the victorious Haitian Revolution. In fact one of the best histories of the struggle, The Black Jacobins, was authored by CLR James, the Trinidadian Marxist who would go on to write one of the most authoritative histories of the Communist International and collaborate with Leon Trotsky and the US Socialist Workers Party on the theory and program of Black liberation.

Claudia Jones while a member of the CP-USA

Besides James, other noteworthy West Indian radicals who contributed to and helped define the socialist tradition include Claudia Jones who left Trinidad and worked with Communist Party-U.S.A. on issues related to women and Black liberation. Pan-Africanist George Padmore, left Trinidad for America, became a communist and when he visited Russia was asked to stay on at the head of the Negro Bureau of the Red International of Labour Unions. Labor activist Cyril Briggs and author Claude Mckay are also giants in this tradition.

Internationalism Betrayed

Holding such figures as inspiration for a new movement also requires a critical reexamination of the struggle for socialism in the Caribbean around the world. It is important to note that as worker’s revolutions were defeated in Germany and the surrounding states the leadership of the Russian revolution passed from the old Bolsheviks into the hands of a bureaucracy alienated from the masses headed by Josef Stalin. Stalin’s newly proclaimed policy of “Socialism in One Country” was eventually accompanied by policies on the international scene which betrayed the previous commitment to internationalism and alienated Black radicals like Padmore who ended up quitting the Communist movement as a result.

The second generation of socialist radicals in the Caribbean came to have more critical views of the Russian state given its Stalinist degeneration evident in the post-WWII years. Guyanese revolutionary Walter Rodney, for example, gave a series of lectures on the 1917 revolution which will soon be available in book form, but even before him C.L.R James, along with his political partner Raya Dunayeskaya, questioned the orthodox view of Russia as a socialist state with their theories of state capitalism.

Given the history of various regimes in the third world which have proclaimed themselves socialist, especially in Guyana and the Caribbean, it is very important to interrogate those claims. Living under the authoritarian rule of Forbes Burnham’s fraudulent “Cooperative Socialism,” Rodney and the Working People’s Alliance (WPA) were able to explain the role of nationalizations by neo-colonial governments under a socialist veneer:

“Continuing control of the state gives the new rulers the juridical base from which they seize the social surplus to divert it not only to personal consumption, but to private accumulation with the aim of building indigenous capitalism.” (Towards a Revolutionary Socialist Guyana pg. 6)

Now that private sectors of the Caribbean nation’s economies have been sufficiently developed the petty-bourgeois nationalist parties, such as the People’s National Party in Jamaica, Guyana’s People’s Progressive Party, and People’s National Congress have done away with the pretense of socialism and have moved to privatize previously nationalized property as was the case with bauxite and now the sugar industry in Guyana.

Parties that were previously anti-colonial in their rhetoric are now the staunchest allies of the imperialist powers. Even those who rhetorically oppose imperialism betray their real aims with their deeds such as repaying imperialist debt by imposing austerity measures which cut salaries, pensions,  and health benefits for the masses of the Caribbean.

Rebuilding an Internationalist Alternative

The current political parties leading the Caribbean governments reinforce the capitalist imperialist system as willing partners by ensuring the masses at home stay passive or when failing to ensure this passivity by deploying the armed fist of the state to smash protests and strikes. When the local ruling classes prove themselves unable to hold back struggle, the imperialist USA, which treats the Caribbean as its own backyard, deploys its political agents and military forces as was the case with the crushing of the Grenadian revolution in the 1980s.

The Caribbean masses’ lived experience makes it clear that the current system of capitalism, dominated by the imperialist states with the assistance of local ruling classes, has nothing to offer to them. The Caribbean’s working people have nothing to lose but their chains in a fight for a better world. To achieve this task we need to dedicate ourselves to building political organizations which can fight for a theory and program.

The Socialist Workers Alliance of Guyana hopes to network with other radicals in the Caribbean, Guyana and the diaspora towards this goal. We hope to take practical steps towards forming united fronts of action on issues such as debt repudiation by encouraging the working masses to use their power to withhold labor and shut down societies.

Capitalism Storms into the Caribbean

Climate change is a prime threat to Caribbean islands. In addition to dealing with the effects disastrous of a warming planet, Caribbean islands also face a yearly barrage of storms every Hurricane season in late August to early September. The fact that most of the Caribbean countries are economically underdeveloped  by the capitalist imperialist system and do not have the financial resources to erect infrastructure to weather the storms makes hurricane season in the Caribbean much more dangerous.

Moreover, the fact that the inhabitants of the Caribbean are predominantly the descendants of people forcibly transported to the islands through the trans-atlantic slave trade and schemes like Indian-indentureship is significant for understanding why residents of the various Caribbean countries are unable to easily escape the wrath of the storms. Given how inherent racism is to the capitalist system, the lives of Black and Brown peoples of the Caribbean are treated with utter disregard.

The Caribbean islands occupy a place in the world where they are seen as tourist playgrounds for European, American and tourists from more affluent places, as a result, it is expected that a resident population stays in place to serve as low-wage workers in the hotel and resort industries. Very little thought is given to these residents in the world imagination with regard to the yearly hurricane season or the way in which the warming of the world may have intensified the storms during hurricane season.

The 2017 hurricane season featured massive storms such as Harvey, Irma, Jose, Katia and Maria which wreaked record devastation across the Caribbean and parts of the southern US. The impact of hurricane Harvey in Texas, the resulting flooding and loss of life are indicators that more than mother nature is at play. The storms themselves, inflict one level of damage, the lack of infrastructure to address the effects and aftermath of the storms point to the man-made disaster that is capitalism. The impact of hurricane Irma in Florida, where the roads became jam packed with residents trying to flee the storm drove home the point that the social and economic organization of our society around the principle of profit accumulation has left those people who toil in the name of such profits behind.

As catastrophic as the impact of Harvey and Irma were on Texas and Florida, it pales in comparison with what was in store for the Caribbean. Islands of course are more exposed to the effects of the storms and this hurricane season they came one after the other with a previously unmatched ferocity and resulting devastation. In addition to the geographic factor, the fact that the Caribbean Islands are poorer countries which are in the shadow and under the domination of imperialist nations like the United States exacerbated the devastating impact of the storms.

This is no abstract theory but a sad reality of life. These contradictions are playing out in the most brutal way in the Caribbean Islands after they were hit by Irma. According to CNN, in addition to leaving at least 44 people dead in the region,

Anguilla, Barbuda, the British Virgin Islands, St. Martin / St. Maarten, the US Virgin Islands, and Turks and Caicos were hardest hit, with up to 99% of structures at least partly damaged.”

Haiti, Puerto Rico and Cuba also sustained heavy losses from the Irma. As the recovery effort begins, one thing that is coming into clearer relief is the extent to which the Caribbean region is held back by its lack of integration. The fact some islands are politically independent neo-colonial states such Antigua and Barbuda, Haiti and Cuba while others, like St. Martin, the U.S. and British Virgin Islands are administered by imperialist nations like France, the U.S and Britain complicates the relief effort since there is no single entity which can coordinate evacuation, rescue or the distribution of supplies to those most in need across the islands.

On the contrary, the divisions capitalism has made in the world, between nation states, between the working class and the ruling class, and oppressions such as race and gender are the prism through which relief efforts are coordinated. These divisions are also responsible not just for the people of the Caribbean being put in the eye of increasingly powerful annual storms, but also for the fact that these island residents are unable to flee to unaffected islands or to the mainland due to restrictive immigration policies. The clearest example of this being Haiti’s membership in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) which guarantees freedom of movement for citizens of member states and that fact that Haitians are routinely denied entry or detained upon arrival in other CARICOM countries as was the case in Guyana as recently as June, 2017.

Furthermore, the political divisions of the various nations leads to a situation where the imperialist countries belatedly create aid packages for the countries under their rule in the Caribbean, as President Trump has been doing in Puerto Rico, while countries like Antigua and Barbuda are left to fend for themselves and to rely on charity through international aid groups like the Red Cross which has a track record of misusing funds intended for victims of natural disaster like they did in Haiti after the earthquake in 2010.

Imperialist Business As Usual

Despite the catastrophic loss of life, the imperialist system has made it clear that nothing has changed. A large part of the reason that countries like Antigua and Barbuda are unable to make the infrastructural developments to protect itself from hurricane season is the crushing debt owed to institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. In the wake of Irma’s devastation, the IMF made clear that they would not even convene to discuss a moratorium on the repayment of Antigua and Barbuda’s US $15.8 million debt to the IMF or the US $3M payment currently due to the IMF. Every dollar which Caribbean countries pay to imperialist IMF takes away from resources that could be dedicated to Irma’s victims.

Puerto Rico, likewise, labors under a tremendous debt burden and their fiscal crisis had already led to catastrophic cuts in wages and social services across the island prior to the devastation wreaked there by hurricane Maria. This situation was worsened by the imperialist Jones Act which restricts vessels not registered in the US from bringing goods to Puerto Rico. Under intense pressure as the images of devastation from Puerto Rico hit the media, Trump temporarily suspended the Jones Act, however, his recent statements about the Puerto Ricans needing to help themselves and his photo-op of tossing rolls of paper towels to a crowd of displaced residents make clear that the the American government intends to offer nothing but crumbs to the people of Puerto Rico as they hunger for relief from the impact of Maria. FEMA has even declared that it is not their responsibility to distribute supplies in Puerto Rico.

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Trump shows that scraps is all on offer for the victims of Maria in Puerto Rico

We must be clear as to who the culprits are here. This is not simply an act of mother nature. The colonial powers, the ones most responsible for climate change, are the ones still exploiting and impoverishing Caribbean nations. Meanwhile those who are least responsible for CO2 emissions, people in impoverished countries like those in the Caribbean, are facing the brunt of climate change.

The local ruling classes of the Caribbean should not be let off the hook either. The horrific devastation wreaked upon the nation Dominica by hurricane Maria should not lead us to forget that in February, 2017 protests broke out in Dominica over the country’s Citizenship Investment Program (CIP), which grants citizenship to foreigners based on a US $100,000 cash investment and a US $200,000 investment in real estate. After it was discovered that Dominica’s Prime Minister Skerrit had granted citizenship to an Iranian national, Ali Reza Halat Monfared, who was later arrested for embezzling Iranian state funds, a mass protest was organized against the government which was met with brutal repression from state police.

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Hurricane Maria’s devastation on Dominica

Empty promises from Guyana’s president Granger to resettle victims of the hurricanes in Guyana remain just words and are unlikely to be acted upon given the government’s inability to house its own citizens and the forcible removal of squatters and their homes in Sophia currently underway. While Guyana is not susceptible to hurricane and typhoons like other Caribbean countries, Guyanese are still very vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Around 90% of people live in coastal plains that are significantly below sea level. The majority of economic activity, 75%, is in coastal areas. Flooding along the coast remains a danger given the lack of infrastructural development and the aging sea defense system.

Which Way Forward?

Caribbean nations must band together to survive climate chaos. Attempts at a federation of nations in the Caribbean have been made before, notably the federation of nations formerly under British colonial rule. However, that federation fell apart as the various nations gained independence from the British. What the British exit from the European Union shows is that federation under the capitalist banner will always be strained by the role of each nation state.

What is needed is a federation of Caribbean states which bands together the countries, regardless of which nation was the former colonial leader, recognizing the inherent power of the working people of the Caribbean as the producers of wealth who should not leave the administration of our societies to a minority ruling elite or foreign imperialist leaders. This may sound like a fanciful vision, however, there are tangible steps that can be taken towards this goal. The most concrete of which would be to advocate for the non-repayment of all debt to the IMF, World Bank and other financial institutions which keep the Caribbean financially subjugated through a cycle of debt repayment.

Even countries unaffected by natural disasters are under the burden of imperialist debt repayment because this is the price they are forced to pay for economic and infrastructural development. The ruling class of these countries live well based on their exploitation of the local working people and the benefits accrued in their role as compradors with the imperialist ruling classes, however, to repay the loans they have imposed austerity measures which cut back on the standard of living of the working masses.
The French Guianese masses showed the way forward earlier this year when they launched a general strike against the poor standard of living created by austerity measures. A movement in the Caribbean and Latin American to repudiate the imperialist debt can be a powerful weapon in the fight against the system which leaves the Caribbean masses to the whims of powerful storms. This movement would be especially strong if we made it clear that should our current governments prioritize debt repayment over storm prevention, disaster relief and raising wages and improving social services, we will engage in work stoppages and mass protests to show the true power of our class, which knows no borders.

Walter Rodney & Guyana’s Social Cohesion

Two years into the rule of Guyana’s A Partnership for Unity/Alliance for Change (APNU-AFC) coalition government, the “Good Life” promised on the campaign trail has not come to fruition for the masses of Guyanese people. One enduring feature of Guyana’s society, which underpins this lack of progress, is the racial divide between Indo-Guyanese and Afro-Guyanese .

The government formally acknowledges this divide and through the Ministry of Social Cohesion seeks to heal it, however, the government’s vision of social cohesion sees former President Burnham as the “Father of Social Cohesion.” A cursory look at Guyana’s history shows that Burnham was the chief architect in the split within the multi-racial People’s Progressive Party (PPP) and his rule of Guyana from 1966 until his death in 1985 led to deep political divisions which took on racial overtones as his party, the People’s National Congress (PNC) came to be supported almost exclusively by Afro Guyanese while the PPP was supported almost exclusively by Indo-Guyanese.

Not only is the coalition government’s vision of social cohesion out of touch with the reality of Guyanese history, the practice of the government while in power, has led to the reinforcement of the racial divisions within the country. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the treatment of Guyana’s sugar workers. As the S.W.A previously explained,

“The APNU-AFC government and President Granger are not currently bold enough to try to privatize the government industries all at once; instead they chip away at them little by little. The chisel has fallen hardest on the sugar workers because the government feels that they are not risking the loss of political support from Indo-Guyanese sugar workers and their unions who are traditionally supporters of the opposition People’s Progressive Party.”

As result, as the sugar workers fight to stop the government’s plan to shut down the sugar industry, they have been left isolated from other sectors of the Guyanese masses. The coalition government has pushed the narrative that the country is suffering economically because of the subsidies paid to the sugar industry to keep it afloat and Guyanese people who support the current government have been unsympathetic with the struggle of the sugar workers as a result.

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GAWU banner protesting estate closure

The coalition government is in fact exploiting racial and political divisions while masquerading under the theme of social cohesion. The divisions, however, are not purely the work of the ruling party, the PPP has also had a significant role to play in upholding these racial divisions. For example, in July of 2016 the PPP’s leader and former president Bharrat Jagdeo made false allegations of racism against Indo-Guyanese,

“…there’s an assault on our democracy, there’s an assault on people of Indian origin, there’s an assault on supporters of the PPP (People’s Progressive Party). What we thought would never return to Guyana, in just one short year has returned with full force, and even worse in some regards than the Burnham era.”

To this day Jagdeo has been unable to substantiate those remarks to show where there have been attacks on Indo-Guyanese people or supporters of his party. This is significant not just because it shows the opposition party engaging in racial politics, but because the main target of the APNU/AFC government’s austerity attacks, the sugar workers, are organized by the Guyana Agricultural Workers Union, whose leaders and members are strong supporters of the PPP. In the recent past GAWU has referred to Jagdeo as both a “comrade” and the “champion of the people.”

If Jagdeo is a champion of the Guyanese people, then the implication is that he is champion of Indo-Guyanese people only since he is willing to throw other Guyanese people under the bus by making false allegations of attacks on Indians and the PPP. While it is regrettable that the masses of Guyanese have not rallied to their cause, the sugar workers association with Jagdeo and the PPP certainly provides an explanation. It was Jagdeo after all who presided over Guyana as its government was infiltrated at the highest levels with drug money, which led to the creation of death squads, which targeted and summarily executed Afro-Guyanese young men.

In the fog of the pipe dream of social cohesion pushed the current government and the racial politics of the PPP, the ideas of the Guyanese revolutionary Walter Rodney are a beacon which show the way forward through racial strife. According to Rodney,

The principal task of our generation is to break the division in the ranks of the working class. To create a unity based on struggle, not a hypothetical unity, or a theoretical unity, but a unity based on struggle.”

It has been 37 years since the assassination of Rodney in 1980 during the reign of the PNC, which currently leads the coalition government, however, Rodney’s words are as true today as they were then. Overcoming the racial divide in Guyana cannot be achieved simply through mealy-mouthed appeals for unity, but through practical unity of the working people united in struggle against the common enemy. It is through such struggles that the Guyanese masses have been able to win their demands for economic and social betterment.

From the times of colonialism to the present day, the prospect of a militant, united and multi-racial Guyanese working class has sent shivers through the rulers of the country. The colonial planter class openly celebrated racial divisions saving them from ruin during strikes and in the 1950s the British sought to accelerate the racial divide within the multi-racial PPP in the anti-colonial struggle. Indo-Guyanese sugar workers and Afro-Guyanese bauxite miners marched side by side not just in the anti-colonial struggle against the British but also against the PNC government in the late 1980s/early 1990s when the PNC began to implement austerity measures.

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Mine workers and sugar workers stage joint protest against colonial rule

Today, as thousands of sugar workers stand to lose their jobs, Guyanese workers in other nationalized industries, especially the bauxite workers should rally to their cause. However, given the current political situation this is unlikely. It is then incumbent upon the sugar workers to reach out to other workers suffering under the government’s cutbacks. School cleaners, for example, have recently staged protests to highlight that as the back to school season approaches, the cleaners, who are predominantly Black women, do not have the ability to afford uniforms and supplies for their own children because they are paid below the minimum wage, do not get paid in the summer months and are not afforded pension contributions.

If the sugar workers were to take up the struggle of the school cleaners, they would be bringing Rodney’s ideas to life and showing how workers united in struggle can begin to dispel the racist notions of each other on which the PPP and coalition government rely. Accomplishing this task requires building a political alternative to Guyana’s traditional ruling parties. The Socialist Workers Alliance seeks to build such an organization which can serve as a voice for working people of all racial backgrounds, united in struggle, join us.

The Mighty Sparrow & Guyana’s Independence

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British occupying forces

May 26th, 2016, Guyana’s 50th independence anniversary, presented a perfect opportunity for the APNU-AFC coalition government to revel in Guyanese nationalism. The 50th independence anniversary also closely coincided with the APNU-AFC’s 1-year anniversary in governance. To take advantage of this confluence of occasions, the government held a grand flag raising ceremony and government was able to rally the country to celebrate a half-century of self-governance and independence from the former colonial masters in Britain. To this day many Guyanese have their homes decorated in the commemorative memorabilia from the 2016 independence celebrations.

On the occasion of the country’s 51st anniversary, partially due to it being less of a momentous milestone and partially due to the many scandals the government has found itself in since last year, the celebrations have been more muted. It is in this somewhat more sober atmosphere we must try to understand what independence means for a country like Guyana. To do so we must return to the tumultuous period of Guyanese history which led up to our independence on May 26, 1966.

The Socialist Worker’s Alliance recently republished Martin’s Carter’s article “No Separate Salvation” that was published on the eve of the racial split in the People’s Progressive Party in 1955. To understand independence we must then ask what happened in the period between 1955 and 1966 that led to Forbes Burnham and the People’s National Congress (PNC) instead of Cheddi Jagan and the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) taking the country to independence?

It would appear very few Guyanese want to discuss this period, however, it suffices to say that under British military occupation, with collusion from the American Central Intelligence Agency, Burnham and the PNC allied with the United Force to beat the PPP at the polls under a new system of proportional representation. This form of “independence” helped to reinforce the partisan and racial divide in Guyanese politics, which remains with us to this day.

Interestingly, President David Granger, in his remarks on the 51st independence anniversary paints Guyana’s independence in much rosier language,

The ‘free state’ that we established on 26th May 1966 recognised our commitment to social cohesion through which we learn to accept and respect each other’s values and beliefs and to share the common space we call our homeland. The ‘free state’ is one that is free from discrimination; it is one that is built on the basis of respect for cultural diversity, political inclusivity and social equality.

 Maybe the president understands the extent to which a neo-colonial nation exists under the dominance of imperialist nations like America, Britain and Canada and this is why ‘free state’ is put into quotation marks. What is more important here, however, is the concept of social cohesion. This has been an oft-repeated theme from president Granger and his administration and under their rule a Ministry of Social Cohesion has even been created.

Why do we need social cohesion though? It must mean that something is adrift in the ‘free state’ where “cultural diversity, political inclusivity and social equality” are supposed to be respected. Incredibly, president Granger often cites former PNC president Forbes Burnham as the “father of social cohesion.” If independence is to have real meaning, it is about time we tackle this assertion.

It is hard, of course, to speak in an objective manner about the racial and political divide in Guyana. Criticism of the PNC is taken to mean implicit support of the PPP and vice versa. So before talking about Burnham’s role in social cohesion and independence, and to assuage the minds of the readers who see implicit support for the PPP, it is important to note that the country’s racial divide in politics cannot be placed on any one party.  It is well known that Cheddi Jagan did not do enough to combat the “Apan Jaat” ethnocentrism of Indo-Guyanese in the PPP. This of course led the basis for the more open ethno-centrism of the current leader of the PPP and former president Bharat Jagdeo who in his “Apan Jaat” as he alleges, without evidence, that Indo-Guyanese people and businesses are under attack since the rise of coalition government.

Returning to Burnham’s role in the independence movement, we must tackle the assertion that Burnham was the father of social cohesion. How can the man who engineered the split of the multi-racial PPP be thought of as the father of social cohesion? The answer, oddly, lies in a song by the Mighty Sparrow called B.G. War. Chronicling the rioting which erupted in the era preceding independence in 1966, Sparrow sings,

Well they drop a hydrogen bomb in B.G., Lord Have Mercy,

Riot in town mama, I hear the whole place on fire,

From Kitty to the waterfront, all that burn down flat flat

Sparrow pivots then pivots from describing the violence in leading up to independence to the military occupation by the British and Burnham’s role in ending the disturbances.

They send for soldiers quite up in England, with big confusion,

They bring down warship with cannon like peas, to shoot Guyanese,

But Burnham say alright now, I’m the only man to stop this row,

He give we the signal, and that was the case,

Now we have peace and quiet in the place.

 As Guyanese people celebrate our 51st anniversary of independence from British rule we need to ask what power Burnham had that he could just give a signal and end the disturbances. Moreover, why did the US and British ruling class see Burnham as a better option than Jagan and the PPP? Moreover, how can the man who had the ability to end riots with just a signal, but allowed them to continue until ending them was politically advantageous for him be called the father of social cohesion? Keep in mind this Guyanese saying: “Teacher don’t beat for the question, but the answer.”

No Separate Salvation by Martin Carter

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Martin Carter, Guyanese Poet & Politician 1927-1997
Note from the Socialist Workers Alliance: We republish below an editorial by renowned Guyanese poet Martin Carter which was written on the eve of the split in the People’s Progressive Party in 1955 between Cheddi Jagan and Forbes Burnham. Carter skillfully investigates the role of race and racism under British colonialism and provides insight to overcoming the racial and political divide in modern day Guyana which has only grown wider since the document was written.

Source: Editorial from Thunder, Vol. 6 – No. 48, Organ of the People’s Progressive Party, March 5, 1955, p.  1 Georgetown, British Guiana.

Everybody living in this colony ought to know that people of African, Indian, Portuguese and Chinese descent dwell here only because in the past the sugar lords found it necessary to bring their ancestors to this part of the world to work in the cane fields. While Indians, Chinese and Portuguese came as indentured immigrants, the Africans came as slaves. All of this is well known, but some people behave nowadays as if they simply do not know these facts, or that even if they do know them, they still do not realize what these facts signify.

There are some people who are using the split in the P.P.P. as an opportunity to foster racial feelings among the mass of people. Some of these people claim that the Party has broken into two sections – an Indian and an African. And some on the one hand call upon the African element to support that wing led by Mr. Burnham while others call upon the Indian element to support that wing led by Dr. Jagan. Presumably both of the groups of racial minded people believe they are acting in the best interests of the particular racial group in which they belong. But far from acting so, these people are only acting in the interests of those who brought them here and who have kept them down ever since. All of this without being understood, in the same way as people may know a man is dying without understanding what he is dying from.

Before going further let us see the racial composition of the leadership in the two Wings. On the one wing we have Mr. Burnham, Dr. Latchmansingh and Mr. Jai Narine Singh and on the other Dr. Jagan and Sydney King. Looking at it we can observe that on both sides are Indians and Africans working together, unless of course, Sydney King has mounted overnight like some grass bird, or Dr. Latchmansingh has suddenly been transformed into another man.

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Before the Split: Burnham (third from left) seated next to the Jagans and other PPP Cabinet members in 1953

When we come to the broad masses of the people the situation is somewhat different. For example, among the people of African descent there has been a history of a feeling of superiority over the Indians because it was felt that the Indians came to Guiana to do the work the slaves refused to do after Emancipation. On the other hand there has also been a history of feelings on the part of the Indians that the people of African descent were inferior because at one time these people happened to be slaves. Further, the cultural position of the two groups is important in this matter. Indians proudly retain certain ties with India in religion custom etc. while the people of African descent, torn form Africa as they were with bleeding roots had to build right up from the ground. These positions give confidence to the Indians while to the Africans they lead to a certain self pitying attitude and consequently an emphasis on rather to a resolution of the problem.

Further to all this is the social and economic grudges which exist. It is claimed for instance that Indians occupy all the big positions in commerce and the professions. So therefore, the argument goes, Indians are getting on while those of African descent are stagnant. This argument seems to ignore the fact that Indians are the majority in this country and that although some seem to be doing well, thousands are seeing hell. Nevertheless because Indians happen to be in the majority there is a tendency for some of them to believe that of necessity they must assume the dominant role in everything. While little argument can be brought against the fact of numerical strength, Indians must realise that under colonial rule only the British Government dominates. Indians on the other hand complain that the Africans dominate the Civil Service, the police force and the teaching profession and that appointments are limited where Indians are concerned. Witness the appointment of all Negro interim ministers and realize the trick in the thing.

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Forbes Burnham and Cheddi Jagan

But repeating these facts is one thing. We can see quite easily as shown above that historical circumstances and social accident have more or less laid a foundation out of which serious racial antagonisms could emerge. Instead of contemplating this reality we must master it. And the achievement of the PPP in the past gives us hope for the future.

The PPP succeeded in uniting the people of Guiana because it showed that only unity among themselves would make them strong enough to fight the imperial government effectively. This was demonstrated at the General Election when the P.P.P candidates of African descent won seats in decidedly Indian constituencies against Indian candidates. That means that if the people would only understand the major issue of the people’s struggle against imperialism some good will be done. Thus it would be better for a person of Indian descent to support Mr. Burnham for ideological reason for the same person, while agreeing with Mr. Burnham to support Dr. Jagan only because he happens to be an Indian. The same holds good for a person of African descent. For this would mean that the action was dictated by reason and not by racialism. In the long run reason would lead to truth while racialism would lead to disaster.

There is no separate salvation for Indians in Guiana, no separate salvation for Africans. There is only salvation for a united Guianese people fighting as a people against imperialism for National Independence. Let those who advocate racialism in any form among the people confute this. (M.C.)

French Guiana: General Strike against Austerity!

French Guiana: General Strike against Austerity!

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Popular slogan “French Guiana, rise up, rise up! It’s time to rise up!”

What started off as local demonstrations and strikes organized by the “Collective of 500 Brothers,” a coalition of organizers created earlier this year as a reaction to the high levels of crime and worsening economic conditions, has turned into a nationwide General Strike. The strike includes 37 unions and community groups, under the umbrella of the Guianese Workers’ Union (UGT). On March 27, the UGT unanimously voted for an “unlimited general strike” and a “dead day” as a show of force prior to the arrival of the negotiators from the French government.

The movement has been able to effectively shut down the entire country since Monday, March 27th. Barricades currently block the main roads into neighbouring Brazil and Suriname while the airport, schools, Guiana Space Centre, and roadways into the capital remain closed. Tuesday’s “Dead Day” by some estimates put the number of demonstrators close to 40,000, for perspective the capital city has 57,000 residents.

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Barricade notice | @joelgaly

The quick response from political figures in France to the general strike shows the power of working people. General strikes pose the question of which class rules society. If everything is brought to a halt when working people withhold their labor, then the question as to who makes society run is put on the table.

 

French Guiana: Abandoned by France 

Originally colonized by France in 1504, French Guiana (pop: 250,000) is located in the northern coast of South America between Suriname and Brazil. Politically, French Guiana is a “department” of France which means all of its inhabitants are French citizens and, in theory, have the same rights and guarantees as their counterparts in the mainland. However, in practice a different story is told as French Guiana’s Senator, Antoine Karam, relates:

“….nearly 30% of the population does not have access to drinking water and electrical energy while we have a space station….” 

The disparities between France and French-Guiana are not accidental. Through centuries of French colonial rule, the indigenous community and descendants of slaves were brutally exploited and oppressed to build French wealth. This already terrible situation has exacerbated in the last few decades since the population of French Guiana has doubled since 1990 while levels of investment for social services have stagnated and, in several cases, health care has actually declined. In Kourou, the main hospital, originally built for French astronauts, is being privatized while tens of thousands are without access to health care. As one nurse explains, “Some strokes are not treated”. Hospital workers who started their strike ahead of Monday’s General Strike recognize the dead-end of privatization as a health care strategy:

“….the fee-for-service principle is insane here…Medical practices, poverty and low turnover of hospital beds make this system based on profitability incompatible with the realities of the field.”

The scars of over 30 years of austerity and disengagement by the French state are plain to see in French Guiana. Unemployment is at 22% (50% for youth), the murder rate is 13 times higher than in France, food is 45% more expensive, and education is so undeveloped that only 13% of youth have a High School diploma and with over 10,000 children out of school. French Guiana like many of its neighbours in the region is a powder keg which has finally exploded.

The Cayenne Masses Begin

In the classic, The Black Jacobins, CLR James demonstrated through the history of the Haitian Revolution that the revolutionary process is not restricted by national borders. Both the slaves fighting for freedom in Haiti and the Paris masses fighting appalling living conditions made common cause against the single source of their oppression: the French aristocracy and the merchant class which exploited on both sides of the Atlantic.

As James explains,

“What has all this to do with the slaves? Everything. The workers and peasants of France could not have been expected to take any interest in the colonial question in normal times, any more than one can expect similar interest from British or French workers today. But now they were roused. They were striking at royalty, tyranny, reaction and oppression of all types, and with these they included slavery. The prejudice of race is superficially the most irrational of all prejudices, and by a perfectly comprehensible reaction the Paris workers, from indifference in 1789, had come by this time to detest no section of the aristocracy so much as those whom they called ‘the aristocrats of the skin (slave owners)’.”

A struggle which started in Haiti spread to a France in crisis which resulted in the Paris masses and the Haitian slaves declaring war on their common enemies–the “aristocrats of the skin”.

The Sarkozy government, which provoked mass demonstrations and strikes against pension reforms in 2010, was the same government which provoked General Strikes in the French departments of Guadeloupe, Martinique, and almost in French Guiana and La Reunion Island in 2009. Hollande’s labour reforms provoked mass resistance in France a year ago and that government’s indifference to French Guiana has led to the current revolt today.

A victorious movement against austerity in the departments has the potential to strengthen movements in the mainland, and any successful movement in the mainland will bolster those in the departments. If the French Left and labour unions elevate the demands of their counterparts in French Guiana it could have a massive effect on the struggles in both countries.

And The Paris Masses Complete?

The wholesale abandonment of the French departments by the Sarkozy and Hollande governments has resulted in a situation where faith in French mainstream political parties has rightfully diminished. The response by most of the French political establishment has so far been one full of indifference and gaffes with one notable exception: The proto-fascist National Front.

Marine Le Pen has acknowledged that the territory receives a “cruel minimum service”, which is true, but she places the blame on immigrants. Le Pen offers the solution of removing the law which grants citizenship to anyone born on French soil. To her, the enemy is the 35% of French Guiana’s population which are of foreign nationality, and not the wealthy Béké minority (descendants of French settlers), nor the colonial relationship with France, which has resulted in extremely uneven development in the department. Her promise is that by throwing out immigrants and restricting citizenship in the departments, the inadequate financial support French Guiana receives will alleviate the current crisis.

In La Reunion Island, Le Pen is polling at 25% up from 5% and while French Guiana doesn’t reflect this sentiment in December Le Pen was met with protests during a visit. The danger, however, is that come election day the National Front may capture the anti-austerity content of the revolt in French Guiana and repackage it to reinforce their racist and anti-immigrant agenda in mainland France.

Just as in the case of Brexit and Trump where by acknowledging popular discontent while their opponents carried on as usual, the ultra-right was able to advance their political agendas. Marine Le Pen’s acknowledgement of the crisis in the departments is no different.

The risk now is that the space Hollande and Sarkozy occupied could be seized upon by the National Front and Marine Le Pen whose acknowledgment of a crisis, no matter how opportunistic, resonates more than the current government’s denial of one.

The French Guiana general strike also shows the possibility of bridging the divide in France between the labor movement and sectors immigrant population who are racially segregated into the suburbs of Paris and are subjected to the worst economic austerity and social oppression, especially in the form of police brutality. The recent struggles for #justicefortheo regarding the young Black man who was raped by police in France and the current struggle for justice for Liu Shao, a Chinese man murdered by police in his home, highlights the racism which underpins French capitalism and imperialism. The General Strike in French Guiana is a struggle against this racism as well and in the same way it can also inspire anti-racist struggles there and more crucially provide a link between the two struggles.

Underdevelopment and Solidarity

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Barricades in Kourou on March 25, 2017 | Photo: AFP

French Guiana’s current situation is a result of capitalism’s tendency to develop only the resources and infrastructure required to generate profit while leaving everything else underdeveloped and lacking. In the case of small countries, departments, or colonies this can produce extreme examples which highlight the anarchy of the capitalist system itself. Only through capitalist planning, which puts profits ahead of human need, can you have an advanced space center in a colony while water, electricity, education, and healthcare barely exist for the masses.

Walter Rodney, a Guyanese revolutionary explained that:

“…an indispensable component of modern underdevelopment is that it expresses a particular relationship of exploitation: namely, the exploitation of one country by another. All of the countries named as ‘underdeveloped’ in the world are exploited by others; and the underdevelopment with which the world is now preoccupied is a product of capitalist, imperialist and colonialist.” How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. Walter Rodney 1973

Owing to its small geographical size, population, and extreme underdevelopment there is no situation where, under the terms of capitalism, French Guiana will ever be able to develop and escape its torturous existence, which is similar to almost all of its regional neighbours. Only under socialism, where borders are just “lines on a map” and planning for human need dictates development, will the region as a whole escape the anarchy of capitalism which divided it into so many territories.

The French Caribbean General Strike in 2009 where a General Strike against “super exploitation” spilled over national borders from Guadeloupe to Martinique, and almost to French Guiana and La Reunion Island. This showed how, through struggle, the divisions of capitalism can be bridged and how any struggle against poverty has the potential to be generalized into a struggle against all poverty in the region.

History has shown us the great potential of what happens when the French masses make common cause with their Caribbean counterparts, at a time when the people of the Caribbean, Latin America and EU are fighting for an alternative to austerity and division, the potential for solidarity is higher now more than ever. The global crisis of capitalism is causing the imposition of neoliberal austerity policies worldwide. The French Guiana masses are leading the way in showing how to fight these attacks.

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“20,000 Brothers” Demonstrations in Cayenne on the “Dead Day” | @joelgaly

On Tuesday the headline of the French Guiana newspaper read “20,000 Freres” showing how the Collective of 500 Brothers’s movement had generalized across all of society. What’s needed now is for those in France, its territories as well as non-French speaking countries in the Caribbean and Latin America to show solidarity and make this “2,000,000 Freres”.

Guyanese Women Fight Back!

On March 11, 2017 women and their allies in 7 Caribbean nations will stage marches in observance of International Women’s Day. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution where working people, for the first time in the modern era, overthrew the capitalist state. Women workers played an integral role in the 1917 revolution and it was their strike against the lack of bread and WWI in February which led to the overthrow of the Czar and the opening up of a revolutionary situation which culminated in the October revolution where women’s rights were qualitatively advanced.

While women have always been an integral part of struggles for a better world their role has not always been acknowledged. Moreover, in addition to the exploitation and oppression the masses of men deal with as part of the working class, women face special oppression as women. Working women especially are set an impossible task, they must maintain a household and rear children unpaid while the economic crisis of capitalism also drags them out of the house and into the workforce for exploitative wages. In addition to the pressure from these economic forces, through the structure of the nuclear family women are expected to adhere to strict social roles, such as how they dress, and when they deviate from these roles they are met with the threats of violence and sexual assault.

The oppression of women takes on a particular form in the Caribbean given the recent history of colonialism and the current condition as neo-colonial nations living under the dictates of imperialist nations like the United States, England and Canada. Caribbean women, for example, have long been employed as maids and caregivers for middle-class families in the nations to which they emigrate. This has created a disparity in the level of equality women have been able to achieve in more economically developed countries like the USA and in the Caribbean.

Despite these differences, what underlies the oppression of women all around the world is the system of economic organization which is built around profit, that is, capitalism. It is capitalism which benefits from women’s unpaid labor in the home, it is capitalism which denies equal pay to women and it is the capitalist state which normalizes violence and sexual assault against women. As a result, there is an inextricable bind between the fight against women’s oppression and the fight against capitalism.

The oppression of women, is not just a series of bad ideas or laws, but built into the structure of capitalism’s warfare against working people. This oppression manifests in a division of the sexes which seems “natural” and acts to divide men and women in our society. All institutions in our society, including the government, courts and religious groups act to reinforce this division and oppression by keeping women in their place. Women’s bodies become commodities and men are raised with a sense of entitlement to women’s bodies which leads to sexual assault.

As a result of this special oppression of women there arose movements to demand improvement and equality for women. The Women’s March in January, 2017 and the Women’s Strike on International Women’s Day are examples from the USA. In the Caribbean in recent times, the women’s rights movement has come to be embodied by the #lifeinleggings movement which was founded on social media by Ronelle King from Barbados. This campaign focused on combatting the street harassment, which West Indian women experience on a daily basis, and highlighted the ways in which the seemingly innocuous and normalized harassment of women on the street underpinned the incidents of violence and sexual assault perpetuated against women.

In Guyana, the Student Society Against Human Rights Violations has taken the initiative to organize the “March for Girls” on March 11th in observance of International Women’s Day. Working with other women’s rights organizations and NGOs, the Student Society has created a platform which speaks to the spirit of Caribbean radicalism and the tradition of women’s resistance movements.

In a social and political atmosphere dealing with the legacy of colonialism, the March for Girls has boldly come out in favor of equal rights for the country’s LGBTQ population. Given the appalling fact that both the “buggery” and cross dressing laws of the early 20th century remain on the books in Guyana, and were recently upheld by the judiciary, this is a laudable stance. The struggle for women’s rights would be incomplete if it was not a struggle for ALL women and the inclusion of activist Twinkle from the NGO Guyana Trans United as a speaker for the March for Girls will highlight the particular oppression of the transgender population in Guyana.

The present political climate in Guyana and the wider Caribbean is characterized by the beginnings of a mass movement against the decades of economic austerity imposed upon working people by our governments who serve in the interest of their imperialist backers. Moves to make Jamaican public sector workers pay into their pension program and the imposition of higher levels of Value Added Tax on basic utilities and private education in Guyana are all examples of austerity.

President Granger’s APNU-AFC coalition government, despite being elected with promises to end the corruption and impoverishment of the previous PPP/C government, has fallen into the same habits. It is not a moral failing of the coalition government which has led them down the path of corruption but their commitment to the capitalist system which is based on the exploitation and oppression of the masses, especially women, in the interest of profit.

The Socialist Workers Alliance of Guyana (S.W.A.) stands in Solidarity with the struggles of women around the world, the Caribbean and Guyana for a better world. We believe full equality can only be achieved through a revolution against the economic system which breeds the social oppression of women. A society geared towards human need and not profit.

Under socialism, the tasks of domestic labor and child labor will be socialized and women and men will play a communal role in raising the next generation. We fight with women and their allies today in their struggle for equal rights while pointing out these rights can only be fully achieved and maintained under workers power because of capitalism’s tendency to increase the rate of exploitation and oppression.

Stop the Violence against All Women & Girls!      

Equal Rights for LGBTQ population!

Equal Pay and Job Opportunities for Women!    

Repeal the Value Added Tax, Now! 

Free Reproductive and Abortion Rights, Now!    

Sex Education in Schools!