The period 1954-1956 was the moment of truth for both the Guyanese movement and its leader. It encompassed so many things – the period of constitutional suspension and the reimposition of direct colonial rule, restrictions on the party leadership, the posthumous ‘dethronement’ and exposure of Stalin, the Hungarian revolution, the Federation debate, the party’s altitude lo (seems this should be “attitude to” ) the colonial constitutional process, the crisis over the leadership.
Some of these crises Cheddi Jagan met and some of them he evaded. Some were due to external events and some to internal. All in various ways contributed to the disintegration of the movement. In all of them Jagan tried to act as he’ considered a ‘Marxist’ should. Yet we do not always succeed in filling the role we set for ourselves. Jagan sees himself surrounded by opportunists at the time of the split, sees the movement as being split by ‘bad’ guys who sold out to imperialism.
Even granting these somewhat questionable assumptions, these ‘bad guys’ eventually succeeded in moving the ENTIRE Afro-Guyanese population out of the P.P.P. and into the newly formed P.N.C. led by Forbes Burnham. To do this they had to use material more potent than mere fabrication, to take advantage of suspicions (about Jagan’s leadership) that were more than ephemeral nightmares. This mass exodus that covered a period of approximately six years (from the split in 1955 to the 1961 election which consolidated the division of the movement) may have been based on the unscrupulous manipulation of half truths; but why did the halves that were true exist?
Some see Jagan’s reaction to federation in the 50’s as proof of his ‘hypocrisy’ and ‘Racialism’. If only politics were that personal – and simple. As a matter of fact there is abundant evidence to support the contrary contention – that Jagan was a good deal less ‘racial’ in his political approach than any other contemporary Guyanese political leader. But definitions such as “racial,” “good,” “bad,” and so on do not get us very far when discussing Guyanese reality – compounded of so many social, economic and cultural phenomena. Indeed, they only help to obscure what is perhaps the central lesson of Jagan’s rise and fall – the fact that a man so patently full of ‘goodwill’ could contribute to such a disastrous train of events.
The Indian community in Guyana was afraid of Federation. Jagan, as a political leader, could hardly ignore that fact. That is understandable. He could neither however, as a national leader, transform it. That was the beginning of disaster. And yet the fault hardly was Jagan’s alone. For if the East Indian saw no place for himself in a West Indian Federation, it is at least doubtful whether the middle class creole ‘federationists’ of the ’50s (or the ’60s for that matter) saw any dignified place for the East Indians among themselves. It was to be a federation of civil servants – and the civil service was a bulwark of the creole value system – a bulwark that had, under great pressure, partially accommodated to the influx of middle class Africans, but which had not even begun to accept the mass incursion of less accultured Indians. And yet the P.P.P. faced a real choice whether to stay out or to go in and try ‘to transform the colonial office Federation into something more meaningful.