“Sitting at the apex of this world was the plantation manager. At Port Mourant, the premier plantation in Berbice, the manager during my boyhood was J.C. Gibson. His reputation extended far and wide, he was a czar, king, prosecutor and judge, all in one. Almost everyone looked upon him with awe and fear. One particular event shows the authority which he wielded. The roadside parapet and timber rails of the road bridge across the main trench which drained the water from the estate to the sea constituted a regular meeting place, a kind of social centre. Young and old alike sat on the rails, but not when Gibson passed. As soon as he was spotted half-a-mile away, we either had to scamper away or be prepared to do obeisance”.
In so far as we are all, in one way or another, seeking to escape the restrictions placed upon us by the past, to move from the shadows of slavery and indentureship, to shatter the straight jacket of the plantation, the progress of Cheddi Jagan from Port Mourant to Georgetown, to the U.S.A. and back, typifies both the limitations and the aspirations of the West Indian. But Jagan’s career has more than personal interest. The self-conscious country boy not only became a spokesman for his people, he also devoured whole a “universal” philosophy. Indeed, it is the interplay between Jagan the product of the plantation and Jagan the ‘Marxist’ which is the key to the strengths and weaknesses of the man.
Seen in a West Indian context, he was only one of the parcel of island leaders (Guyana is an island in many ways) thrown up by the pre and post war upheavals in the area. These upheavals and the leaders that emerge from them were to lay the internal foundations for political independence – Bustamante, Adams, Manley, Williams, Jagan. The fact that, in some cases, others were to reap the glories of formal Independence hardly detracts from their contributions. Cheddi Jagan, the nationalist, had more in common with the others than we realise (though this was partly hidden by differences in age and stages of development).
He also differed from all of them, however, in that he was an Indian and a “communist”.
It is not entirely coincidental that the East Indian community in Guyana, not Trinidad, produced Jagan. The Indian professional class in Guyana had always been more receptive to internal political advance (universal adult suffrage, self-government and, until 1964, Independence). This was no doubt, particularly alter 1945, partly due to the difference in numerical strength in relation to the respective national populations – the Guyanese Indian community coming upon the prospect and reality of political power and office at a much earlier stage.