By Annan Boodram
Anyone following the Ravi Dev’s series of articles on revisionism with an open mind cannot help but conclude that, for once, a columnist/analyst has been able to stitch together an almost objective rendering of the practice of politics in Guyana. For one Ravi’s juxtaposition of three conclusions – that Burnham and Jagan “must be judged within their contexts”; that, Jagan’s rejection of violence during the Burnhamite years was premised on his firm belief that “political violence, no matter how justified theoretically, would lead to interracial warfare of the most vicious kind that would certainly destroy our country beyond redemption” and that CLR James “concluded that Rodney had been politically naïve” – reflect a position that differed significantly from that of ROAR and Jaguar in the early nineties.
I recall long and often vehement debates with Jaguar operatives in North America who, in failing to locate Jagan’s politics contextually, simplistically concluded that Jagan was absolutely and comprehensively wrong in his politics and that by rejecting violence against Burnham, Jagan had betrayed the Indians in Guyana. These Jaguarites pointed to Rodney’s experience to support their conclusions that violence was the way to have gone and refused to accept that Rodney was politically naïve.
This refusal was and continues to be even more pronounced among Rodneyites and WPA members/supporters, many of whom have, over the years, waxed eloquently about Rodney’s political legacy. Yet when, on a radio program in New York City, I asked Eusi Kwayana to itemize Rodney’s legacy in concrete terms in the context of Guyana’s politics he was unable to do so. And when I pointed out that if the WPA was the manifestation of Rodney’s legacy then that legacy was an awfully abject one, Kyawana responded that the WPA had done ‘some things’ after Rodney’s death. Bereft of emotionalism, the conclusion remains that Walter Rodney, the brilliant historian, academic, essayist et al, was a political novice of the first order and it was this naivety that made it so easy for him to be so sadly and tragically assassinated. Furthermore, as a political entity, the WPA was a one-man show and when that man was taken out of the equation the WPA, flailed, floundered and flapped.
Incidentally, assertions that the huge crowds drawn by Rodney was evidence of the kind of electoral support he would have received is nothing more than mere supposition, not borne out by historical experience. Those crowds, in fact, were drawn by a combination of factors: Rodney’s rhetoric, the novelty factor, curiosity, an opportunity to anonymously express their frustrations without being targets, crowd pull factors, attendance encouragement from many quarters et al. Many politicians subsequent to Rodney made the same mistake of thinking that crowd attendance would automatically translate into electoral support only to face reality checks at the polls.
Furthermore, Rodney did not build any political entity that endured with viability; did not lay down any policy/program that was visionary or impactful; did not establish a cadre of leaders that forged ahead with any degree of political success. His appeal was transient and personality-centered rather than premised on the potency and message of the political entity – the WPA.
But back to Cheddi: Mr. Editor, Jagan’s embrace of Marxism in the immediate pre and post colonial days was neither radical nor extremist. In fact, as Vishnu Bisram pointed out in a recent letter, Marxism was seen by colonial revolutionaries worldwide, as the vehicle through which emerging nations would be able to develop and thrive. However, unlike most others, Jagan’s embrace of Marxism was not dogmatic and deterministic as anyone who objectively analyzes the PPP governance in the fifties and sixties will conclude. While ideologues saw Cheddi as a champion of the working class, his grassroots supporters, rightly or wrongly, saw him as Bapu, the father figure a la Mahatma Gandhi and therein lay one contradiction of the PPP – that while the party styled itself a ‘vanguard’ workers’ party, the loyalty of its Indo-base was neither won nor kept by ideology.
Another significant paradox of the PPP is that while its policies in government, whether in the fifties, sixties nineties or beyond have never been encompassed within a Marxist framework, the party itself has and continues to be hobbled by a structure and modus operandus that characterized communist movements of the Cold War era. Thus democratic centralism, which is a connotative and denotative contradiction, has been used to stifle independent thinking within the ranks and to ram down the throats of the mass membership, the inviolable decisions of the cabal at the very top of the totem pole, in whom all wisdom reside. Then there is the concept of revolutionary morality to which lip service has been paid but which has been used by the leadership as a strategy to cover up a myriad of immoral, unethical and criminal acts at the top level. But the icing on the cake is criticism and self-criticism, which in reality translated/translates into no public criticism of the party and its leaders and total acceptance of criticism from the leadership of and by those lower down the rungs. It is this reality of the PPP that prevents those opposed to Jagdeo’s third term from publicly speaking out, as the PPP has always made it clear to members that nothing should ever be done to publicly make the party look bad, internal dissensions or otherwise. From Balram Singh Rai to Khemraj Ramjattan, those who have gone against this practice have suffered the wrath of Freedom House.
Mr. Editor, anyone who intimately knows Cheddi Jagan will speak of a human being who was warm, caring, honest, approachable, humble, moral, and ethical, a man for whom ostentatious displays of wealth had little attraction. That same person will be the first to also admit that Cheddi had his imperfections but that these flaws did not detract from a man who lived the conviction of his beliefs – an unwavering belief in the capacity of Guyana to be a successful nation and an abiding interest in the welfare of the Guyanese people.
Furthermore, Mr. Editor, those who, with the ‘wisdom’ of hindsight, choose to flay Cheddi for his embrace of Marxism, must also flay the likes of Frantz Fanon, Agostinho Neto, Amiclar Cabral, CLR James, Trevor Munroe and a host of others who embraced Marxism pre and post colonialism.
However, those of us, like myself, who butted heads with the cabal, are of the view that Cheddi was deliberately insulated from the daily maneuverings and manipulations of the party and that he was fed only what those within regular access to him, wanted him to digest. It is also known that many who disagreed with the leadership in general and Cheddi in particular, choose to remain silent rather than voice their views because the nature of the PPP and their personal aspirations led them to accept that this was the strategic to do. As one now retired, former senior party functionary told me many moons ago, “how you gone go against the old man?”
These two realities in particular, are the underpinnings that catalyze the attitudes and actions of the current crop of leaders, resulting in the range of pathologies that inform the PPP’s behavior and performance. To therefore blame Cheddi for the current state of affairs is to display a perspective that is ill informed, illogical and insidious.
And that brings us, Mr. Editor, to the point about negative and positive revisionism. With all respect to Ravi Dev, the books he referenced by Dr. Baytoram Ramharack and Dr. Clement Seecharran are not as objective and unbiased as he and others would want us to believe. In fact, given what is known about the authors, one could argue that each publication started with a thesis and then research was scouted to support this thesis, although, of course, the authors would stoutly deny this. The truth about Balram Singh Rai, for example, paints him neither as Ramharack’s angel nor the PPP’s devil and questions as to whether he was racist do not carry black and white answers. I daresay that any scholar could start out with an opposite thesis about Rai and find the evidence to support that thesis as well.
In effect then while Cheddi may not be the faultless heroic figure of PPP homage neither is he the despicable demon that his detractors’ rhetoric make him out to be. And attempts to revise history will always be suspect once this latter is the ultimate aim. Thus one has to applaud Ravi Dev’s position that revisionism must not be enveloped within the framework of ‘us’ versus ‘them’, if it is to provide a more accurate picture of historical reality and also that such revisionism must be premised on all the evidence, contextually analyzed.
This brings us back to post-Cheddi’s Guyana. Judging by the caliber of those who have been leading the PPP since Cheddi’s final departure, a number of things have become pellucidly clear: all their talk about ethics, morality, values and transparency was mere lip-service; the working class has been jettisoned while a literally untouchable political nobility has become enshrined; the culture of fear has become institutionalized; social and normative pathologies stalk the land and political micro-management has become the order of the day.
And so as we enter yet another new year, one that is pregnant with the possibilities for change, those who would be the purveyors of this change must eschew the ‘us’ versus ‘them’ mentality; work to be as inclusive as possible, even embracing differences in pursuit of the same goal; display the critically needed moral compass; and be willing to harness all Guyanese – at home and abroad – in firstly bringing about change and subsequently shaping and manning nation building.
PS: This was first published in December 2009 but is still as relevant now as it was then.