Working Notes Towards the Unification of Guyana (Part III)

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  1.      In the light of the brief notes set out in Part II, changes in the character of the political situation in B.G. over the period 1953 – 62 have to be considered against the background of:
  • the substitution of the U.S.A. for Western Europe as the leader of Western Imperialism in the Caribbean and related to this the emergence of the Soviet Union as a rival imperial interest in the region.
  • the persistent underlying drive of popular forces in the New World towards a restructuring and reform along democratic lines of the social order established in 1500.


  1.      Looked at this way the period as a whole may be regarded as one in which the final breakdown of the British Imperial System in B.G. and the emergence of two new sets of imperial interests proceeded rapidly while the popular drive towards decolonisation and democracy was halted.


  1.      At the beginning of the period in 1953 the P.P.P. was decidedly a coalition of popular interests as Appendix II suggests. It is true that no systematic analysis of the voting behaviour has been undertaken and that, owing to the low poll and the novelty of Adult Suffrage, “systematic” analysis can be misleading. Nevertheless, there is good ground for believing that P.P.P. support (voting as well as non-voting) came from:
  • Small farmers (rice and provision).
  • Sugar workers (field and factory).
  • Industrial workers (bauxite) and artisans.
  • Small shopkeepers.
  • Domestic workers and miscellaneous labourers (waterfront, etc).
  • Wage paid Government workers.
  • Some young professionals.
  • Some local businessmen (clandestine).
  • Young Civil Servants.
  • Some clerical workers.
  • Unemployed

13. Yet the stability of the coalition depended much less on the identity of interest in social reform of the participating groups than on their joint desire to force the final breakdown of the British Imperial System (at the constitutional level). The interest in reform was important and a prime motive force but it was largely an inarticulate and intuitive interest. The demands for the transfer of power were clear and precise.

14. If the interest in social reform was expressed in obscure ideological terms rather than in the form of a concrete and executable programme it was no accident. A general ideological formation of the goals (anti-imperialism, socialism, democracy, etc.) was in the context historically necessary and operationally sufficient.

15. Necessary for two reasons. The domestic social order relied on the imperial presence as its main prop and the attack on the imperial power had to be formulated in internationally comprehensible terms if the blows were to tell. Secondly, too concrete a programme could have sharpened conflicts over strategy[*] and priorities between the participating groups in coalition where highly visible characteristics (economic specialisation, race, cultural patterns) tended to be divisive.

16. Sufficient, because in any case, the local leadership did not have full power and responsibility for the national programme.[†]

17.  The point is that although the P.P.P. of 1953 was ultimately and fundamentally an expression of the popular drive towards social reform it was nevertheless largely inherent in the situation at that time that the movement should be sustained and unified more by the desire to achieve the pre-condition for reform (the transfer of power) than by the programme of reform itself. The total bankruptcy of the imperial system as a framework for national development, its distorted conception of educational needs, of the necessary character and function of the Civil Service and the public sector, the cold insensitivity of the institutional framework to the popular aspirations for change, all, induced the leadership to concentrate on driving the imperial power out rather than on formulating the constructive programme which alone in the long-run could hold the movement together. What is more, the imperial system itself (its education, its restriction of popular participation, its criteria for personal mobility, its demands on the Civil Service) positively discriminated against the types of creative individuals who would produce the programme.


18. Small wonder, then, that when the imperial power under pressure of international developments, decided to withdraw finally, the national leadership was caught without a programme which could hold the popular movement together.


19. Actually, as it happened, the major split in the popular movement was precipitated, paradoxically. not by the imperial decision to withdraw but by the decision temporarily to put the clock back and rule with complete autocracy (after the fashion of 1500). It was the suspension of the Constitution which threw the movement back onto its internal resources and props which were of course inadequate to bear the strain.


20. Characteristically (evidence of the total bankruptcy of the colonial society, intellectually and all) these events have come to be interpreted as manifestations of the behaviour of heroes and scoundrels, of incompetents and competents, of communists and democrats, of national messiahs and imperialist stooges, (depending on the position taken in the ‘split’). These interpretations have undoubted therapeutic value – the society has to main­tain its self-respect. But they are a poor substitute for the serious analysis which must be undertaken if the road back towards national unity is to be found.

21. The ‘split’ followed on the suspension of the Constitution. Undoubtedly it was in part a split between personalities, rivals for power. Every important split is. The crucial questions are:

  • How important was personality rivalry, as distinct from, for example, differences of strategy (at the level of leadership) as factor in the split?
  • Why did the popular movement support the split?

22. A split which divides a popular movement 50/50 or 60/40 cannot be explained on the basis of a hero-scoundrel analysis.

23. Part of the explanation may be that basically the popular movement for social reform did not split at all. So long as the basic objectives (independence in the short-run, social reform in the long) continued to be expressed in general terms (anti-imperialism and ‘socialism’) the popular forces could not perceive conflicts of strategy in the programmes of action and the bonds of unity, in so far as they existed, remained. Differences over strategy were to some extent discussed by the leaders only and, given the personal rivalries, helped the split among them. (See footnote to 15).

24. The popular movement ‘permitted’ the split because no real split occurred so far as the mass of the people were concerned. In two senses:

  • Both factions continued to canvass independence and socialism, so that the vague ideological content of the movement remained unchanged.
  • Organic unity had never been achieved in any case.

25. The fact is that the P.P.P. of 1953 had never been a homogenous unit but a coalition. It had come together to spearhead the final attack on the imperial power and had had to set out the elements (but only the elements) of a universalistic vision (‘socialism’) so as to energise the latent drives of the colonial people. Nothing had to be stated too precisely. Every man in the street knew after 450 years who the real enemy was and what had to be done. The leaders had no serious problem in bringing the disparate sections together. But following from the colonial condition itself the unintegrated nature of the movement (due to economic specialisation. imperial population policy, differential acculturation) was a naked fact which did not have to be stated.

Everybody knew it was a coalition. This P.P.P. coalition was only a factor hastening the unification process which the internal and unconscious dynamics of the imperial system (e.g., deculturation of immigrants and exertion of social pressure on them to ‘dignify’ themselves by aping European culture and behaviour patterns) had started. The coalition represented an advance along the road to unity, it was not a unity.


[*]              There were conflicts over strategy between the leaders from the beginning. Consider the following:

…. Within the party itself there had been almost from the beginning a marked difference of opinion over strategy. The Jagans headed a faction that was extremely idealist, dedicated to the acceptance of a bitter light which they believed should be carried on as part of a wider struggle against capitalism and colonialism. It seems unlikely that they were absolutely clear or consistent in their views but they maintained as many contacts as possible with world socialist and communist organisations and took a keen interest in the affairs of other colonies … Other members of the party, while not necessarily considering these activities to be in any way sinister or wrong, thought them at least ill-advised in a situation where they could be seized upon as a possible means of proscribing the party or denying the country that political independence they all sought. This danger became particularly acute with the wave of anti-communist hysteria, launched by the now discredited Senator McCarthy, that was sweeping the United States in the early 1950s. It was unfortunate that this difference of opinion over tactics should run partly along racial lines, and introduce a strain between Dr. Jagan and Mr. Burnham that was naturally aggravated by their very human competition for leadership of the party.” – CHAP. VII “Government and Politics” from BRITISH GUIANA by Raymond Smith p.169 – O.U.P. 1962.


[†]              The time was soon to come when power and responsibility would be transferred by the device of internal self-government and the insufficiency of a general formulation of goals would lead to crisis.