In my column of Tuesday, October 15, 2019, “History of the PNC: Part 1,” I indicated that there would be a brief five-part history of both parties. Here now is the first segment for the PPP. I will do a three-part series of the AFC, the first one to be done within days.
The analysis begins from the separate PPP under Cheddi Jagan, distinct from the PPP under Burnham and Jagan at the beginning of the 1950s. I will start with Jagan in power in 1957. But a caveat is in order.
The negative reactions to the government of Premier Jagan were born in the circumstances of the 1957 elections. Both Jagan and Burnham fought under the PPP banner but separate parties, but it was the role of a man named Sydney King (long known by his legally changed name, Eusi Kwayana) in the election drama that has changed Guyana’s future for the worse, the past 65 years.
It is outside the scope of this article to describe the seeds of discord between Jagan and Kwayana that has tormented successive PPP governments between 1957 and 1964. After the split between Burnham and Jagan and the racial suspicions that accompanied the schism, Kwayana remained with the Jagan faction of the PPP; the two were always close and Kwayana was never big on Burnham.
Kwayana declined nomination for the Jaganite PPP in the election, preferring to run as an independent. Some historians attributed Kwayana’s action to Jagan’s critique of a group in the PPP referred to as the “ultra-leftist” which included Kwayana himself (for the best account of that Jagan versus ultra-leftist battle, see Jay Mandle’s, “Cheddi Jagan and the “ultra-leftists” in Guyana,” paper delivered at Moray House, Georgetown, Guyana, February 2019.)
Kwayana also accused Jagan of subtle appeal to racial consciousness in his 1956 congress speech. Those who are researchers on Kwayana’s legacy, claim that Jagan promised Kwayana that the PPP would not field a candidate against him, as the Burnhamite PPP did not, but Jagan reneged and put Balram Singh Rai to oppose Kwayana in the Central Demerara constituency.
Jagan aggravated the chasm between him and Kwayana when the PPP filed a court case against the validity of Kwayana’s nomination papers. Kwayana won that case, but lost to Rai. This was to be the birth of a racial sore that has not healed as yet. Burnham campaigned for Kwayana and the two who were never close became close, with Kwayana doing the unthinkable that drives home the point that in politics the incredible happens – Kwayana became the General-Secretary of the party Burnham founded – the People’s National Congress.
The PPP from 1957 until it lost power in 1964 was bedeviled by a number of misplaced and twisted instincts. First, Jagan relied too heavily on a non-Guyanese person to help shape his party’s philosophy – his wife Janet Jagan. For a brilliant account of the terrible role Mrs. Jagan played in the weakening of the PPP in this period, see the analysis of the iconic Trinidadian scholar (deceased), Lloyd Best in “The People’s Progressive Party of Guyana, 1950-1992: An Oral History” by Frank Birbalsingh.
Secondly, Dr. Jagan was a devotee of Leninist thinking, not the type of Marxism that came from the founding father himself – Karl Marx. He could not see that the dialectics do not necessarily work themselves out in linear modes. His could not and did not want to understand that class struggle could be vitiated by nationalist and ethnic rivalries.
The PPP governments of 1957 and 1961 locked out from its world view, the brutal reality that half of the working class did not appreciate the PPP. The PPP had itself to blame for the heightening of racial tension. Why put a devoted Hindu to run against a popular Black politician – Kwayana – that was well respected among Blacks and was not seen as hostile to East Indians, and to crown it all was a protégé of Jagan himself.
Thirdly, the PPP for all its Marxist knowledge was foolish not to understand the nature of the class forces ringed around it from 1957-1964. The economy was in the hands of the Europeans and Portuguese. The working class was divided along race lines. The imperialist forces were far stronger than the USSR and were close geographically to Guyana. Living in such a Hobbesian nightmare, the PPP sought to do the impossible – confront rather than strategise.
Obviously, great nuances in this period in the PPP’s evolution will have to be omitted because of space. Part 2 will take up from 1964 when the PPP became the major opposition party. Sorry for the severe truncation, but these are just brief research notes.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper)
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