THE OLIGARCHIES AND POLITICAL POWER IN GUYANA
The PPP was originally a Marxist-Leninist party. It is no longer such a party.
From its inception Marxism-Leninism was the PPP’s guiding creed. There are many scholars who wrongly conclude that the PPP changed from a nationalist party to a Marxist party only after it was a victim of US imperialism.
The PPP as a nationalist party always had a Marxist outlook, arguing that what was needed was a change in the relations of production since reforms would not bring an end to colonialism.
Marxism holds that the ruling ideas in any society are the ideas of the ruling class, and in non-socialist societies the ruling class governs in the interest of the dominant capitalist class.
From its earliest days, the PPP made it clear that it was not seeking mere reform. It was seeking radical change. Cheddi Jagan was the ultimate radical having the foresight and vision to see the futility of trying to reform the backward colonial system that existed then.
For him there was only one answer towards improving the lot of the working people of Guyana and this was radical change based on the power of the working class. He was betrayed by those close to him and eventually became the victim of an imperialist conspiracy that removed him from power.
When Burnham took over as Prime Minister in 1964, he became instantaneously ingratiated in the foreign elite class that controlled the economy and in the local business class. He was comfortable with this grouping and for the first six years of rule he did not opt for radical change in the relations of production or in the social relations of the country.
All of this changed after the Black Power riots in Trinidad in the early seventies. Burnham realized then that the model that he was pursuing was not delivering benefits to the working class and fearful that he would become victim of internal dissent by his own supporters moved the country towards cooperative socialism.
He moved aggressively against both the foreign and local capitalist classes, who quickly closed shop, repatriated their profits and flew out to New York and Toronto, never to return.
What remained was a diminished class of landowners, industrialists and family owned businesses which combined to form a local bourgeoisie, taking the form of a traditional oligarchy.
Despite Burnham nationalizing the main pillars of the economy- sugar and bauxite- this small oligarchic class still managed to exert great influence on the regime. And in return for its support, enjoyed benefits and exerted a telling influence in many areas of national life.
However the members were mainly a subservient class and were more interested in self-serving profits and survival than in uplifting the suffering masses and when Desmond Hoyte took over this grouping actually rallied behind his reelection bid.
For twenty-eight years, the local capitalist class wanted nothing to do with Cheddi Jagan and the PPP, preferring to jump into bed with the then PNC. But when it became clear that the PPP was likely to win the elections, there were astute and opportunistic maneuvers.
Not knowing exactly how the 1992 elections would go some family-owned businesses decided to play it safe by having one of their members become chummy with the PPP while the other members of the family stayed close to the PNC.
By this time the suffering Guyanese working class wanted change and in Cheddi Jagan’s PPP and with free and fair elections being supported by the international community, they saw the possibility of change.
When the PPP won the elections, the local capitalist class dropped the PNC like hot cakes and jumped straight into bed with the PPP. Cheddi saw through all of this but he faced a more serious problem because many of his acolytes were so smitten by the attention and favors that were lavished on them by the local bourgeoisie class that they became entrapped by his class.
The local capitalist class realized that by feting some of Cheddi’s staunchest helpers with drinks and good food, they could win their affection. This eventually happened. The same local capitalist class also, as they did in the early days of the PNC, defected to the PPP.
In this way they exercised influence over the direction of the government.
Because this class was small it became known as the traditional oligarchy. It protected its interests by lobbying the government. It thrived under the PPP and gained an important foothold within the government which it would exploit to the hilt after Cheddi Jagan died.
This old oligarchy survived under the PPP but was to have a rude awakening when a new oligarchy suddenly sprung up. The distinctive feature of this new oligarchy is that it is almost exclusively comprised of cronies of the ruling class and there is even a belief in some circles that some members of the ruling elite are silent partners in many of the businesses run and controlled by the new oligarchy.
Guyana is small economy and two oligarchies cannot co-exist together. What therefore happened is that the new oligarchy saw the opportunity of owning almost all of Guyana.
They have set about carving out important sectors of the economy for themselves. This has therefore brought them into direct conflict with the old oligarchy and much of what we are seeing today is really a war of the oligarchs.
(To be continued)