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As Guyana marks the 50th anniversary of its independence from British rule today, May 26th 2016, many Guyanese are in a joyful mood. Coupled with the celebration of our golden anniversary is a sense amongst many Guyanese for a brighter future given the election in 2015 of the A Partnership for National Unity-Alliance for Change (APNU-AFC) government and the ouster of the People’s Progressive Party/ Civic (PPP/C) after 23 years in power.
Since we gained independence from the British in 1966 Guyana has been ruled by either the PPP or the PNC (which later became the PNC-R and later changed its name to the APNU and formed a coalition with the AFC, becoming the APNU-AFC of today). The older of the two major parties, the PPP, was founded in 1950 in the heat of the battle for independence from Britain and came to be led by Cheddi Jagan and Forbes Burnham.
Those of us who attended Guyana’s public schools will know that very little about the radicalism of the early PPP is taught in our history classes. While the curriculum of texts such as “The People Who Came” provide a pan-Caribbean survey of the arrival of Europeans, their decimation of indigenous populations and the later importation of slaves and indentured laborers, not much is taught about the struggles that led to Guyana’s independence from Britain. One reason is because the PPP, which was initially representative of the Guyanese masses yearning for independence, suffered a split along racial lines during the fight for independence. The American government through its Central Intelligence Agency (C.I.A.) and the British Government through Scotland Yard supported the defection of Burnham from the PPP in order to keep the PPP from power because they considered Jagan too radical and feared he would forge ties with Cuba and other Communist countries.
To the generation of people born in the mid 1980’s and who grew up in the Guyana of the 1990s and early 2000s it is always fascinating to learn that the two major political figures in the nation’s history, Cheddi Jagan of the PPP and Forbes Burnham of the PNC were at one point allies in the fight for Guyanese freedom from Britain. Beyond fascination, however, the previous alliance of the Indo-Guyanese Cheddi Jagan and Afro-Guyanese Forbes Burnham presents brilliant insight for overcoming the racial strife which has plagued Guyana since colonial times.
To understand how the early PPP came to represent a multi-racial alliance for Guyanese independence it is best to first understand how racial strife came to exist in Guyana. The counties of Essequibo, Berbice and Demarara were initially claimed and settled by the Dutch. Once European discovery of the “New World” began with Columbus’ 1492 journey, various European powers jostled to control the land, resources and people of this region. In the case of Guyana, the first colonists were the Dutch, which accounts for the many Dutch names of current cities and towns in Guyana such as Vreed-en-Hoop and Betterverwagten.
The Dutch, however, did not have the military might to defend all their claimed territory against other European powers. The Dutch also lacked the people needed to settle their colonies and in the colony that would become Guyana, encouraged settlement from British farmers to the point that the British began to outnumber the Dutch. Influenced by wars against each other in Europe, the British and the Dutch would also fight over what was to become Guyana and the territories traded hands a couple of times before the British united them in 1831 into British Guiana.
The renowned fertile coast land of Guyana and its many rivers provided prime land for cultivation. In need of labor to work the land and unable to attract their own citizens to toil in the mud, the Dutch first tried to enslave the Amerindian population living on the coast. The Amerindians fought enslavement and escaped to the hinterland regions beyond the reach of the Dutch slavers.
The Dutch and the British were both major players in the transatlantic slave trade and paid for enslaved Africans to be transported to their colonies to work agricultural crops. African slaves who were sent to work in brutal and exploitative conditions with the aim of reaping profits for the Dutch and then the British planters. The slaves did not meekly submit to bondage and staged two massive rebellions, first in 1763 in Berbice and then in 1823 in Demarara. Both rebellions were viciously put down by the Dutch but the slaves’ desires for freedom became an issue that threatened the normal operations of the colonies.
By the time the British were able to consolidate their rule in 1831, slavery had begun to become unpopularly viewed in Europe due to the influence of slave rebellions, abolitionists and the fact that slavery held back the advancement of the industrial revolution. The slaves earned emancipation in 1834 and after a four-year period of “amelioration” on the plantations achieved complete freedom and left the plantations in droves.
Those former slaves who did not leave the plantations would sell their labor as part of work gangs. While the plantocracy was compensated in the millions for the loss of their “property” the newly freed slaves received nothing and had to start from scratch to establish themselves in society. While there were many reasons that led to the emancipation of the slaves chief among them the rebellions and threat of rebellion the slaves had no direct input in the terms of their freedom. As a result freed Africans were left to find their own way in a society which only yesterday considered them property. In this way the possibility of a new society, as established by the Haitian Revolution, was not in the cards because emancipation came from above .
A narrative of African inferiority came about in British and other colonial circles to justify the enslavement of Africans. This anti-Black racism continues to exist today. Anti-Black racism was first used to justify enslavement and after emancipation was used to exclude freed Blacks from equal rights in colonial society. In the postcolonial era, anti-Black racism is a tool in the hands of those advocating internecine warfare between Blacks and Indians.
This is not a case of the chicken or the egg where there is room for debate as to which came first. The Europeans developed anti-black rhetoric to justify the enslavement of Africans because their search for labor elsewhere was unsuccessful. Eric Williams’ Capitalism and Slavery makes it clear what drove the enslavement of Africans:
“The reason was economic, not racial; it had to do not with the color of the laborer, but the cheapness of the labor. As compared with Indian and white labor, Negro slavery was eminently superior. The features of the man, his hair, color and dentifrice, his “subhuman” characteristics so widely pleaded, were only the later rationalizations to justify a simple economic fact: that the colonies needed labor and resorted to Negro labor because it was cheapest and best.This was not a theory, it was a practical conclusion deduced from the personal experience of the planter. He would have gone to the moon, if necessary, for labor. Africa was nearer than the moon, nearer too than the more populous countries of India and China. But their turn was to come.”
Facing a severe labor shortage in the wake of emancipation the British would turn to Europe and then Asia to fill the gap. Their turn had come as Williams puts it. The British introduced Portuguese and Chinese indentured laborers to work in the colony, however were unable to generate the adequate supply of labor needed on the plantations. Those Chinese and Portuguese laborers who remained in the colony left the plantations and went into small business ventures. The British next turned to its Indian colony to fill their demand for labor on the plantation and between 1835 and 1917 over 230,000 Indian indentured laborers arrived in British-Guiana.
Indentured Indian workers labored under conditions as brutal and exploitative as those of the former African slaves. Those freed Africans who sold their labor on the plantations were put directly into competition with indentured Indians. Many former slaves who wanted nothing to do with plantations entered the small business arena where they faced competition from Portuguese and Chinese former indentured laborers.
The post emancipation period, from 1838 until World War I in 1917, sowed the seeds of racial strife in Guyana by putting former slaves in direct competition for work with the Indian indentured laborers. Many freed Africans pooled their monies together and bought bankrupt plantations and established free villages. Many in the villages sold their labor on the plantation as part of organized work gangs, bargaining with the planters for the best possible rate. The work gangs were put into direct competition with Indian laborers who lived on the plantations and undercut the pay of work gangs due to the pittance they were paid through their contracts.
The racial situation took on a new dimension with the end of indenturship in 1917. The majority of indentured laborers remained in the colony and this created a situation where, Eric Huntley described, “…no longer did the working masses consist of free and half-free citizens.”. The majority of people in the colony were now laborers who were no longer separated by the fact that some were bound to the plantation. Black and Indian laborers now also shared the same history of being tied to the plantations and now being free. This commonality and the threat of cross racial struggle was a threat to the colonial regime which they fought by stoking racial divisions.
Racial animosity between Blacks and Indians was no mere accident and certainly not a consequence of human nature, as some would have us believe. Racial animosity can help to deflect united and interracial struggles by Afro and Indo Guyanese people. It was the prospect of indentured Indians laborers and freed Africans united in struggle that threatened the social order of the colony. Racial strife was encouraged by the planters and the appointed Governor of British Guiana in their race to get the cheapest possible labor. From the point of view of the planters, the threat of work stoppages by the former slaves and Indian laborers seemed to dissipate due to the building of racial tensions. During a social upheaval in British Guiana in 1848, one planter remarked:
“The presence of a few Africans, Coolies, Portuguese, have on this occasion (of the strike) proved the salvation of the colony? – I think entirely; the planters themselves attribute the preservation of their lives to it. From one of the letters it is clear that the different races in the colony is one great cause of the confidence they feel in their personal safety. They look upon the Portuguese and Coolies as their friend in any struggle which might take place.” (Mars, p. 8, 2002).
So we see that the planters and the colonial government used racial strife between Afro-Guyanese and Indo-Guyanese beginning in the 19th century as a tool to suppress rebellion against the oppressive conditions in which the masses of people lived. However, stoking racial tensions to maintain the status quo is a tactic that has been used throughout Guyanese history and continues to the present day.
The ruling class and their representatives in government have never been able to significantly alleviate the suffering and misery with which the majority of the population lives. Historically the Guyanese people have always risen up against oppression. In the 19th century, it was not uncommon to see large groups of indentured Indians, armed with cutlasses and other tools, marching in a show of force to register complaints against their planter bosses to the colonial officials. The previously mentioned Demarara and Berbice slave rebellions showed the rebelliousness of Africans to the conditions of captivity and forced labor. Africans and Indians united against the government and businesses that run our society has always been a haunting thought for the Guyanese ruling class. The Guyanese revolutionary Walter Rodney put it this way:
“….the colonial regime trembled whenever African and Indian workers moved together and…. I would say that when African and Indian workers move together the local exploiting classes will have a very short leash on life”
Interracial unity of the workers posed to a mortal threat to the existing colonial order. It should come as no surprise that as Guyana struggled for its independence from the Britain in the post World War II period, the colonial office, aided by American imperialism, sought to destabilize the independence movement through racial division. The Americans felt they had a stake in Guyanese independence because they were trying to stop the spread of radicalism in the region especially in the wake of the Cuban revolution of 1950. The openly Communist Cheddi Jagan leading the interracial PPP alongside radical Afro-Guyanese Forbes Burnham caused great alarm for the Americans and British.
In 1953, the first election, with universal sufferage the PPP was victorious and the British responded by suspending the constitution for four years in an attempt to disempower the PPP and prevent them from holding office. To ensure that their message was heard loud and clearly the British also sent an occupying force of troops to Guyana to maintain order. This again shows the power of the Guyanese masses when Blacks and Indians unite for a common cause.
In 1957, when the constitution was reinstated and elections held, the PPP prevailed again but the British occupation and suspension of the constitution had served to create a schism between the PPP’s two iconic leaders, Cheddi Jagan and Forbes Burnham. When Burnham’s faction was unable to wrestle control of the PPP from Jagan, he decided to form his own political party. This was the genesis of the racialization of the electoral and political process, as it exists in Guyana to this day.
The outcome of the 1961 election, contested chiefly by the PPP and PNC led to a victory for the PPP. However, with Guyana still an official colony of Britain, the rule of the PPP was significantly curtailed. Jagan’s open association Communism at the time also meant that the Americans and British were not willing to let the democratically elected PPP take the Guyanese into independence. Burnham and the PNC were thought to be a less threatening alternative.
It is important to note that, when Burnham split from the PPP in 1957, it was a rightward drift in politics. Burnham’s departure from the PPP with his core of supporters weakened the independence movement by creating the same racial divisions between Blacks and Indians that the British had been using since the 19th century. It should come as no surprise that Burnham incorporated two pro-capitalist political parties, the United Democratic Party (UDP) and the National Democratic Party (NDP), into the PNC to counter the PPP. This move was necessary for Burnham to counter the PPP which was supported by the majority of the Guyanese working masses.
Much more damning than the PNC and Burnham’s collaboration with the UDP and the NDP, however, were the overtures Burnham made towards the colonial powers to reshape the electoral process to allow a PNC victory. In the aftermath of the 1961 election many parts of Guyana were rocked by riots and imperialist influenced strikes, which were supported by the PNC. The Americans had a clear hand in the disturbances by funding the striking unions through its support of the pro-capitalist United Force (UF) party.
This is a very touchy period in Guyanese history. Burnham was able to convince the British to amend the constitution to create an electoral process of proportional representation, which would favor a PNC victory. This undemocratic process made Guyana’s first election, which would lead to independence, a hollow victory in light of the century long struggle against colonialism. History shows that the PNC colluded with the British colonial office, American Imperialism, and members of the Guyanese ruling class in the United Force to create the communal violence of the early 1960’s, which rocked the country and put united working class struggle that much further out of reach.
During elections held under the new proportional representation system in 1963 the PNC took their betrayal of the independence struggle even further by siding with the pro-business United Force party to ensure an electoral majority over the PPP. The British and Americans initially looked favorably upon the PNC and Burnham and content that the threat of spreading Communism in the region was contained, granted Guyana independence from Britain in 1966 with Burnham as Prime Minister and the PNC as the ruling party.
By making common cause with the British and agreeing to terms favorable to them for Independence, the mass struggle of the last hundred years had been betrayed being swept into a form which left existing power structure intact. While both the PPP and PNC sought to establish independence through negotiations with the British it was Burnham who made the better deal.
What is important to note is that both the PPP and the PNC disavowed the strategy of mass struggle to show the British that they could contain the threat of revolution in the colony. By relying on negotiations with the colonial powers and giving up on the mass struggle in the streets, the PPP and PNC ensured that Guyana’s Independence would come from above and not below. Independence from below, which is won through mass struggle would have forced the question of who rules society and for what end.
Criticism of the PNC is in no way intended as support for the PPP. While the PPP initially represented an interracial coalition of Guyanese masses yearning for independence from Britain and an improved standard of living, it quickly degenerated into playing up racial tensions as well. The fact that in present day Guyana the two major political parties are still split along racial lines is indicative of the fact that the PPP has indulged in anti-Black racism and has built itself into the party of Indo-Guyanese people.
While neither the PPP nor the PNC openly claim to be political organizations for one race or the other in Guyana, everyone knows that historically the has PPP courted the vote of Indians and the PNC (and its successors PNC/R and APNU-AFC) have courted the votes of Afro-Guyanese. When the PPP was initially formed 1950, however, what was important was not race but class.
Anti-Black and anti-Indian racism are scourges to be fought tooth and nail by anyone who wishes to see a prosperous and united Guyana. As mentioned throughout this document, racism is a tool of the ruling classes to divide and conquer. It follows that the liberation of the Guyanese people from the oppressive yoke of capitalism and imperialism flows from an interracial struggle of the masses. Only authentic socialism can deliver this. Socialism as proclaimed by both the PPP and PNC was always a socialism-from-above in which the leadership of both parties wielded their support from the working class and associated trade unions as a tool in their fight for state power. In contrast, Karl Marx’s socialism, socialism-from-below, emphasizes that “The emancipation of the working class must be the work of the workers themselves”.
Through the process of struggle the working class can make itself fit to rule and in doing so undo divisions like anti-Black or anti-Indian racism. When Indian and African workers fight together against the ruling class their experiences challenge the racist ideas used to pit them against each other. Through the process of struggle Indian and African workers can undo a life time of racist ideas promoted by the ruling class. Cross-racial working class solidarity has always been and remains our most powerful weapon in the fight for socialism.
In the year 2016, the word socialism has entered into the public vocabulary in a way that has been unprecedented for decades. American presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is a self avowed socialist and has garnered the support of many millions of Americans with his pledges of free college tuition, single payer healthcare and a greater role for government in regulating the banks. Additionally, struggles over the last few years have shown us the potential which exists in challenging the status quo and fighting for a better world. Examples of such struggles in other nations include the Arab Spring, European Union anti-austerity movement, and Black Lives Matter. In Guyana, the protests against the closure of the Wales sugar estate is just one recent example among many.
Currently in Guyana there are no openly socialist political organizations on the scene. During the historic 2015 presidential elections, which led to the victory of the APNU-AFC and the election of president David Granger, there were no parties openly advocating for socialism. For anyone familiar with Guyanese history, the lack of an openly socialist party in Guyana should come as a surprise since both the PPP and the PNC at their formation made socialism a central orientation.
For example, it is reported that during the first congress of the PPP held in 1952, Burnham, who was the chairman of the party, stated, “This is not a Party of big shots. It’s a Party of the working class people of British Guiana.” It was also well known that Cheddi Jagan, the leader and chief founder of the PPP as well as his wife Janet Jagan were sympathizers of the Communist Party USA while Cheddi studied dentistry in America. As previously mentioned, the American imperialists and British colonialists were very reluctant to let the PPP come to power because of what they viewed it as a radical socialist party.
Both the PPP and the PNC would go on to officially adopt socialist views of convenience in their constitutions during the 1970s. Former PPP supporter Ralph Ramkarran explains:
“The Constitution of the PPP was adopted in 1977. It was designed to entrench the ideology of Marxism-Leninism and assist in the transformation of the Party to a Leninist party of the new type. The objectives were to officially adopt and promote Marxist-Leninist ideology and organizational methods.”
Burnham and the PNC, whose political origins lay in the PPP, also took a leftward turn in the 1970s. To lead Guyana into independence Burnham and the PNC had to initially convince America and Britain that they posed less of a threat than the seemingly radical PPP. However, by the 1970s, the PNC government took a sudden turn towards nationalization of the economy and development of international relations with Communist nations such as Cuba, China and the U.S.S.R. Concurrent with the seizure of the sugar and bauxite industries and establishing relations with Communist nations, the PNC codified socialism into its constitution as well as into the nation’s constitution.
In an attempt to solidify his political control over the state Burnham instituted the doctrine of the “Paramountcy of the Party” which meant that the Guyanese state was subordinate to the interests of PNC. This ‘Paramountcy of the Party’ also included the national police force. Burnham explained at a police academy graduation ceremony, “The police force must be political, it must understand socialism and its basic tenets.” The PNC also expelled their former business allies from the United Force, which led to the United Force becoming bitter opponents of the PNC.
The PPP’s move in 1977 to adopt Marxism-Leninism into its constitution can be seen as a response to the leftward swing by the PNC, whereas, the PNC’s move towards socialism was made by the Burnham government to solidify its power and rule of the state. As international pressure mounted against the PNC after what were universally understood to be rigged elections, Burnham understood that his administration was slowly losing the support of its western imperialists backers (America, Britain, and Canada). So he turned to the Soviet Union and its Communist allies. Burnham’s nationalization of the economy and the new “socialist” constitution were meant to show his new international allies that he was really on their side.
The fraud of both the PPP’s and PNC’s socialism is inherent in the opportunistic reasons they turned to these ideologies. The PPP made Marxism-Leninism a tenet of its program to counter the leftward turn of the PNC government while the PNC began to espouse socialism as a way to switch sides in the Cold War. Even more damning is the speed with which both parties would disavow socialism in practice and policy by adopting neo-liberlaism and denationalization of the economy which required intensified attacks against the working class as dictated by the imperialist debt plan.
Burnham’s timing in adopting a state controlled economy was very poor. Internationally, state run economies from Russia to China were coming under great strain to denationalize in order to become competitive with the American and other western economies. Burnham’s nationalist economic policies, especially the turn towards self-sufficiency, led to mass food shortages and general misery for the Guyanese people. In the PNC’s own version of these events on their website, they claim:
“… had it not been for the quadrupling of oil prices between 1973 and 1979 the PNC would have transformed Guyana in significant ways. The sharp and sudden oil prices triggered the worst global recession and the consequences for Guyana’s fragile and open economy were devastating, as they were for even the more developed and matured economies.”
While it is true that the global economic downturn in the 1970’s wreaked havoc on Guyana, an economic and political program of authentic socialism would have been the only solution to these capitalist woes. If the PNC was genuinely a party of Guyana’s working people and poor then it would have been able to develop a program to shepherd Guyana through these tough times. Instead the PNC capitulated to these economic pressures and in the wake of Burnham’s death in 1985 worked with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank to impose austerity measures on the masses and privatization of the economy which worsened the Guyana’s economic suffering.
After the death of Burnham, Desmond Hoyte came to lead the PNC and was elected president in 1985. As Hoyte sought to liberalize the economy and institute austerity, through the New Economic Policy, he and the PNC became less popular and Guyana’s international and economic allies also began to pressure for open and fair elections. The 1992 elections were overseen by former American president Jimmy Carter and were found to be free and fair by the international community. The PPP, with Cheddi Jagan as president, won a majority of the votes and seats in parliament and became the ruling party after decades of one party PNC rule.
One would think that a party that went out of its way to make Marxism-Leninism central to its political approach would be fighting against the imperialist austerity program being pushed in exchange for high interest loans. To get into power, the PPP took advantage of the unpopular PNC government, which was protested and weakened by the united struggles of bauxite workers and sugar workers. Once in power the PPP continued Hoyte’s work in privatizing the economy. When the PPP took control of Guyana in 1992 it was the poorest country in the western hemisphere. The PPP worsened the situation when they agreed to the debt relief package which left Guyana owing $2.1 billion(US) to foreign banks. This was no coincidence but a requirement in being allowed to take power by imperial interests.
While the PPP formally kept Marxism-Leninism in their constitution well into the 21st century, their actions in government made it clear that they were a capitalist party in spite of their working class origins and base amongst the sugar workers. The first indicator, outside of their endorsement of the austerity program, was their alliance with the business community in the formation of the PPP/Civic (PPP/C). The Civic party, led by Afro-Guyanese Sam Hinds, who would serve as prime minister, merged with the PPP in a manner analogous to the way the United Force had built a coalition with the PNC in the 1960s to prevent a PPP electoral victory.
In the 1992 elections the PPP presented an interracial ticket of Indo-Guyanese Cheddi Jagan and Afro-Guyanese Sam Hinds for prime minister. Hinds, who was the leader of the Civic party, would serve as prime minster until Jagan’s death in 1997 when he would assume the presidency. Tellingly the PPP did not run Sam Hinds as their presidential candidate in any subsequent elections. Instead they first turned to Janet Jagan and when she stepped down the former finance minister Bharrat Jagdeo. That the PPP/C did not run a Black man as president, despite his years of experience as prime minister and then president is indicative of the extent to which the PPP/C had come to endorse racial politics. Simply put, a party which courts the Indo-Guyanese racial vote cannot do so with an Afro-Guyanese as the presidential candidate. Likewise the APNU-AFC (the former PNC) which courts the Afro-Guyanese racial vote cannot do so with an Indo-Guyanese presidential candidate.
The PPP/C was in power in Guyana from 1992 to 2015. Their time in power was characterized as chiefly by corruption, continuing racial politics, and record high crime rates due to their associations with the drug trade. As a result the PPP/C became increasingly unpopular and in the 2015 national elections were narrowly defeated by the APNU-AFC coalition. The economic situation during the the reign of the PPP/C was marked by the continued privatization of the economy. The privatization of the the economy fed corruption in the PPP/C especially in light of their alliance with the country’s business interests embodied in the Civic party. As the PPP/C government liberalized more and more parts of the economy, government contracts inevitably flowed to their favored friends in the business community.
Socialism for both the PPP and the PNC became a convenient cover during the anti-colonial struggle. For the PPP and during the post-colonial period for the PNC, socialism represented political pragmatism. One oral history project identifies both Jagan and Burnham as socialists which demonstrated the pragmatism of their views, first Jagan:
“On the question of whether Dr. Jagan was an avowed communist, or was he just a socialist, Professor George Belle in his interview with Birbalsingh states “I never had any perception of Cheddi Jagan as unapologetically communist… [he was] a Marxist in a liberal, democratic framework… The British who identified him as a communist did not believe that a communist could operate within a liberal, democratic political system. This explains why he purged the party in its birthing stage of ultra leftists. Obviously, geo-political concerns made the British, under pressure from the Americans, to paint Cheddi Jagan and Fidel Castro with the same brush.”
In light of the above revelation that Jagan was not fully committed to socialism or communism we can begin to understand why the PPP sought to become more overtly socialist with their turn to a Marxist-Leninist constitution. This was done to counter the PNC’s leftward swing. The PPP’s endorsement of business interests in 1992 and their alliance with the business community in the Civic party shows that the PPP’s founding “socialist” platform and their 1977 adoption of Marxism-Leninism were ideas of convenience not principled views meant to guide the Guyanese masses to liberation. In 1987, with the Cold War coming to an end and the ideas of socialism becoming more unpopular, the PPP came to an agreement “in the spirit of compromise, agreed to drop it’s previous insistence of a socialist orientation.”
Likewise, the socialism of the PNC reveals crass opportunism. The PNC would have us believe that “the Party sought to create a socialist society in which the poor was not disadvantaged and birth, gender or race were not a barrier to opportunity.” However, their endorsement of racial politics, using violence against political opponents, and engagement in electoral fraud to keep the PNC in power from the 1960s to 1992 shows this all to be convenient rhetoric. As the Cold War came to an end and Russia and other Communist states began privatizing their economies, the PNC, led by president Desmond Hoyte, began to dismantle the nationalized economy and opening up the country to western business interests. Tellingly, the PNC opposition in the years after 1992 made no mention of the importance of socialism while decrying the PPP government.
Guyana’s 50th independence anniversary provides the perfect opportunity to reflect on our history, assess our current situation and to plan for the future. The lack of an openly socialist party today should be a cause for concern. It has always been under the mantle of socialism that the interracial unity between Blacks and Indians was best achieved. Even though, the socialism of the PPP was a socialism of convenience, they were able to make some progress in fighting against British colonialism and improving the lives of the Guyanese people.
The Working People’s Alliance (WPA), led by Walter Rodney, went further than any other political organization to build an authentic cross-racial party for socialism in Guyana. For his efforts, Rodney was assassinated in 1980 during the rule of the Burnham regime. Unfortunately in the year since Rodney’s killing, the WPA has drifted to the right and become yet another pro-business party. Nonetheless, the WPA, especially in its early period, has left a rich intellectual and organizational history on which a future Guyanese socialist organization could be built. As such, we will not dwell much on the WPA here but will write a separate treatise to evaluate its contributions. We feel responsible to say that the WPA and Walter Rodney posed a significant threat to politics as usual in Guyana. The WPA exposed the authoritarian nature of Burnham’s “socialist” government and also highlighted how ineffectual the PPP was in opposition to the PNC.
The material conditions for a socialist society have long been laid by capitalism. The industrial revolution in countries like Britain and the United States developed the means of production to the point that humanity now has the tools necessary to provide a bounty for all. Unfortunately, capitalism was able to defeat attempts at socialist revolution in its backyard and export super-exploitation to developing countries around the world in a desperate effort to preserve its system of domination.
Capitalism, imperialism, and racism go hand in hand. In Guyana, while the ruling parties and its members have always lived well, the majority of the population toils in abject poverty with no hope for the future. This is why there are as many Guyanese living abroad as there are residing in Guyana. Developing a future for Guyana is predicated upon of the struggles of the working masses of all races fighting together against the forces of racism, capitalism, and imperialism.
Blacks, Indians, Amerindians and all other ethnic groups must rally around the workers, small farmers and vendors who make up the mass of the population to demand a better way. The Socialist Workers Alliance (SWA) believes that only socialism can deliver on this future, and we believe this socialist society can only be created from below. Socialism-from-below provides the method, namely working class self activity. Socialism-from-below also gives us a strategy, cross-racial working class struggle.
The Socialist Workers Alliance of Guyana encourages all those interested in studying the history and principles of revolutionary socialism to contact us. The working class, farming, and vending communities in Guyana make up the majority of the population. We are the ones who keep the economy moving while the local elites and their supporters in government reap the profits. The hard work of the Guyanese people has for too long subsidized those who have never engaged in it, whether the slave owners of the past, colonial overseers, local elites, or foreign companies of today.
We need a political party that doesn’t just run for election but participates in and builds social movements for the betterment of the Guyanese masses. The Socialist Workers Alliance of Guyana hopes to be the embryo of such a political party. We identify with and hope to extend the tradition of Guyanese radicalism. We stand on the shoulders of Walter Rodney who is a giant in this tradition and was Guyana’s foremost advocate for interracial working class struggle. In Walter’s memory we declare, Towards a Revolutionary Socialist Guyana!