The history of Guyana over the last 20 years is largely a record of the birth, growth and decay of a national movement. For purposes of convenience, this record can be divided into five periods:
- from 1947 (the formation of the Political Affairs Committee, the precursor of the PPP) to the suspension of the constitution in 1953;
- from 1953 to the 1957 elections;
- from 1957 to the 1962 riots;
- from 1962 to the 1964 elections; and
- from December 1964 to independence.
The early PPP filled a vacuum in our political life which will never again exist. This experience was not peculiar to the Guyanese. Indeed, the political movements of Jamaica (PNP) and Trinidad (PNM) had inherited, at different times, the same political possibilities; and in different ways they rendered a similar service to those territories. These opportunities had been created by two closely related factors: the accumulated dissatisfaction of the mass of the population with the old colonial society, and the introduction of universal adult suffrage.
The disturbances which occurred in the 1930s, extending in the case of B.G. to the Enmore strike and shooting of 1948, coincided with the general anti-colonial movement throughout the British and other European empires. This combination of forces persuaded the imperial powers to make some adjustment which directly resulted in the adoption of the franchise for all, and the subsequent electoral victories of the PPP, Guyana’s first mass political party.
For some time, many people failed to realise that this initial success did not derive entirely from the political philosophy of the movement. There were other and more decisive factors. In 1953, the Guyanese people did not vote for Marxism. Their vote was a demand for independence and a change in the social order. But they had no clear idea of the kind of society which would emerge from this. Nevertheless, there was a national consensus. Limited and tenuous, it is true, but extremely effective.
The political identity of the party leadership was already evident in the Political Affairs’ Committee which had preceded the formation of the PPP. Rigidly Marxist, and proud of their ideological association with the Soviet Union, the early PPP contained the seeds of contradictions which would later ripen so disastrously. A rigid and passionately orthodox Marxism dominated the leadership, while the base was provided by an immature but highly expectant coalition of peoples whose ethnic and cultural origins made for profound division. The population had entered the land in different ways and at different times, and now represented different stages of cultural adjustment to their environment. And the entire process of living and learning took place in a colonial framework.