No Separate Salvation by Martin Carter

martin carter
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.

1953 PPP cabinet
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.

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.)