What is far more important than knowledge of our past is a proper understanding of that past. A blinkered understanding of the past can lead to the same degree, if not worse, of ignorance than selective amnesia, which attempts to erase those aspects of the past which is -politically convenient to suppress.
One of the issues over which there has been either a misunderstanding or a deliberate attempt at distortion has been the issue of “critical support” which the PPP offered to the PNC in 1975. ”Critical support” must not be confused with unconditional support.
“Critical support” must not be confused either with forming a coalition of joining with the other party. When the PPP announced its position of “critical support”, the then General Secretary Dr. Cheddi Jagan went to great pains, including speaking to party groups around the country, to explain what this meant and why the PPP was offering it. He said: “It means giving support for any progressive measure, opposing any reactionary moves and criticising all shortcomings. Above all, it means giving a firm message to imperialism and its lackeys that we will not tolerate any meddling in our domestic affairs, that despite the differences between the PPP and the government, we are prepared to unite our forces with the PNC forces to fight against intervention so as to safeguard our national independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
The decision of the PPP to lend “critical support” to the PNC government caused a major division within the leadership of the PPP. Ranji Chandisingh, for example, was of the view that given the leftist turn by the PNC, that the PPP needed to encourage Burnham to push Guyana closer to socialism. He felt that the PPP should not just offer “critical support” but unconditional support so as push Burnham faster and further towards socialism. He felt that if the PPP gave such support, it would move the country further and faster along the road to socialism.
This caused a division within the leadership of the PPP because there were other leaders who felt that if the PPP went that route it would compromise itself and lose its moral authority to criticise any further deviations from socialism that may arise under the PNC.
There were other views. One of which was the possibility that this initial thrust by Burnham could have been opportunistic and therefore the party needed to be supportive yet cautious in the manner in which it pledged its support. It was also argued that the party needed to be able to condemn the many wrongs within the society, including the rape of democracy under the PNC.
All opposition parties practised a form of “critical support”. During the 10th parliament, for example, the AFC supported the government on certain issues. They condemned them and voted against the government on others. This is a form of critical support. APNU also supported the government on the issue of the Cricket Administration Bill while the AFC opposed the government on this issue. This too was a form of critical support.
What therefore, it may be asked, distinguishes this form of critical support from the one that the PPP offered to the then PNC government in the 1970’s? In trying to understand how Jagan’s “critical support” was different from the traditional role of critical support practised by opposition parties, it is important to understand context.
Burnham, despite his avowed anti-imperialists stance, was supported by the imperialist powers so long as he remained their preferred alternative to the more radical Jagan. The West had avoided condemning him for his dishonest rigging the 1973 elections.
The rigging of the elections forced a response from the PPP. After the elections of 1973, the PPP boycotted parliament and adopted a position of non-cooperation and peaceful civil resistance.
International forces had however began to weigh heavily on the PPP to reconsider its position towards Burnham given that he had established close ties with the Cuba and was moving fast to bring the country into socialism. Anthony P Maingot in an article entitled “Socialism in the Caribbean” argued that in June of 1975, the communist parties of the Caribbean at a conference adopted the non- capitalist path to development and promoted the formation of broad progressive forces to help forge the anti-imperialist struggle.
This conference was a decisive moment for the anti-imperialist movement in the Caribbean. Pressures were brought to bear on communist parties in the Caribbean to forge progressive alliance in the interest of the anti-imperialist struggle. Pressures were brought to bear on Burnham to forge a progressive anti-imperialist alliance with Jagan, and vice versa.
“Critical support” was borne out of this dynamic. It was borne out of the need to send a clear signal to imperialism that the Caribbean was entering into a new phase in the struggle for socialism. “Critical support” as offered by the PPP was therefore part of the unity of the Caribbean left and as part of the ideological weaponry of the Left against imperialism. Jagan of course also hoped that it would eventually help in finding a solution to the political crisis in the country.
Critical support was however doomed to failure. Imperialism, as we are seeing in Latin America today, is no pushover. It had Burnham on its frock tails. It knew his number and simply dialed it.
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