By Dr. David Hinds
The recent proposal by Professor Clive Thomas and the WPA that cash transfers to Guyanese households be considered as part of government’s plan for distributing the imminent oil revenues has once again brought that party into the spotlight. Instead of intelligently discussing the proposal, some politicians and commentators have resorted to attacking the WPA. I have long concluded that the continued presence of the WPA, even in a less than vibrant state, disturbs part of the Guyanese elite political psyche.
In many respects I think the WPA is the embodiment of the Guyanese complexity—it is not a straightforward formation. Every society must grapple with its complexities at one level or the other. After all, societies are made up of and defined by the activities of humans who are ultimately complex beings.
Whatever the shortcomings of Guyana’s media, it is characterized by vigorous political advocacy, debate and commentaries. The letter sections of our newspapers, for example, are about the most vibrant you will find anywhere in the world. We have some of the most erudite and enlightened columnists and commentators who often manage to put their fingers on the pulse of our politics.
Yet, these very commentators find ways to undermine their own enlightenment when faced with our complex political realities. In the end, Guyanese politics have remained imprisoned by our collective insecurities and fears. The sometimes-enlightened public discourse has not been translated into a lasting enlightened politics.
I think a large part of it has to do with our readiness to fit our thinking about the national condition into fixed models. It is as if we, as a nation, are mortally afraid to explore and expand our horizons. It is amazing, how even when we are armed with the breath of and distance afforded by history, we find ways to get ourselves stuck in old ways of understanding social and political reality.
Sometime ago a young man asked me to explain why, if the WPA is no longer a vibrant party, do commentators spend so much time discussing and analyzing it. He wanted to know if there is something hidden about the WPA that the general public does not know. Another young person enquired whether I would respond to the incessant charges that the WPA now supports the PNC, a party that it once fought.
These two queries reflect how our public discourse could misinform and confuse our younger generations. I have said before that the problem analysts have with analyzing and situating the WPA is that the party upsets the framework which we have used to explain Guyanese politics. In other words, in the context of Guyanese politics, it’s an atypical political formation. The framework we have used explains our politics as a persistent struggle for power between the PPP and the PNC which is occasionally disturbed by a third-party that bursts unto the scene, wins a few seats at an election, and then fades away. This scenario is grounded in our almost permanent and unchanging ethnic condition, in which our major ethnic groups behave as racial enemies.
So, the United Force came on the scene, representing mostly Amerindian and Portuguese interests, won seats at both the 1964 and 1968 elections, went into government as part of a coalition with the PNC and was eventually consumed by PNC hegemony. The AFC followed the same pattern—it burst on to the scene in 2006, attracted largely PNC dissident voters and won some seats. This scenario was repeated in 2011–this time with dissident PPP voters.
In 2015, it went into a coalition with the PNC-dominated APNU and many commentators have anticipated a similar fate to that of the UF five decades ago. While the UF and the AFC have electorally disturbed the two-party ethnic electoral system, they failed to inflict permanent damage and ended up helping the PNC to assume power in place of the PPP.
The above scenario represents a relatively straightforward framework in which to explain our otherwise complex politics. The problem for the analyst is to figure out how to fit the WPA into that framework. Like the UF and the AFC, it’s a third-party, but unlike them, it never did well at elections. Yet its influence on the overall Guyanese post-colonial political praxis is as indelible as the two titans—PPP and PNC.
I submit that this has to do with the nature of the WPA’s intervention and its threat to the status quo. Unlike the UF and the AFC, the WPA’s intervention threatened and at one point rattled the status quo in a deep, radical manner that pushed the country into the sphere of revolution. And those of us who have studied revolutions know that that phenomenon haunts the society in permanent ways. Societies eventually forget elections, but never forget revolutionary moments and those who facilitate those moments.
That’s why the WPA never goes away, even when some people kill it, read the obituary and seal the tomb. It’s why the PPP rails at Clive Thomas over Guysuco and SARA or at Ogunseye or Hinds or even former WPA members, over any and everything they say and do. It’s why the leadership of the present government tries at every twist and turn to contain the WPA both as a party and as individuals. It’s why the PPP uses Walter Rodney to beat the PNC and the PNC seeks to assassinate him every day and render him invisible. It’s why no other party in our modern history is reminded so much about its roots.
There is a lot that WPA has in common with the larger political culture, but there is a lot about that culture that it has stood on the other side of. Sometimes we are too quick to get in front of history. Sometimes we want it both ways—we want to declare an organization irrelevant or dead and at the same time want to blame that same irrelevant organization for the ills of the country. How many times we hear the WPA being asked why the party has not spoken on this or that issue? While other parties can be silent, the WPA is expected by some to speak out on everything.
Time moves on. The world changes and so do Guyana and its politics. But, in the end, if the PPP and the PNC represent the hegemonic instincts of our two major ethnic groups, and the UF and AFC represent moments of electoral revolt against that hegemony, the WPA, despite its failings and its greatly reduced activism, represents a radical resistance praxis that always threatens to manners the entrenched political culture. Give thanks to the WPA.
More of Dr. Hinds ‘writings and commentaries can be found on his YouTube Channel Hinds’ Sight: Dr. David Hinds’ Guyana-Caribbean Politics and on his website www.guyanacaribbeanpolitics.news. Send comments to [email protected]
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