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Articles by Cheddi Jagan  - Opposition Leader (1964-1992)

Race, Class and Nationhood: The Indo-Guyanese Experience

by Cheddi Jagan

The following article consists of a Paper delivered by Dr. Cheddi Jagan to the Genesis of a Nation Activity in May, 1988, on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the arrival of Indians into Guyana:

Overseas Indians in the underdeveloped countries, on the 150th Anniversary of Indentureship, experience grave difficulties. Guyana, and now Fiji and Trinidad and Tobago, highlight their plight. This can best be illustrated by a question put to me in Toronto not too long ago. "Dr. Jagan," I was asked, "what is the second largest city in Guyana?" I answered: New Amsterdam. No. he said, it was Scarborough, a suburb of Toronto.

As we commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the arrival of Indians in the New World, we are faced with the stark reality of another migration, what in Guyana some call "going to regions 11 and 12", meaning Canada and the United States of America. It would be funny if it were not so tragic.

Indentureship was another form of slavery. In many respects, it was equally brutal. On 9th January, 1839, the BRITISH EMANCIPATOR, the official organ of the Anti-Slavery Society of Great Britain reported that "the British Public has been deceived With the idea that the coolies are doing 'well'; such is not the fact; the poor friendless creatures are miserably treated." 1 Governor Henry Light, in a dispatch to the Colonial, Office wrote that "the immigrants had suffered much sickness and were in a filthy state".2

On 15th February 1840, he stated:

I confess I should be unwilling to adopt any measure to favour the transfer of labourers from British India to British Guiana, after the failure of the former experiment. Admitting that the mortality of the Hill coolies first sent may have been accidental, I am not prepared to encounter the responsibility of a measure which may lead to a dead loss of life on the one hand, or, on the other, to a new system of slavery. Corporal punishment is not unknown to those poor people, and I have heard no argument used in favour of enabling the crowded population of India to take ad the high wage of Guiana, which remove the danger I apprehend… 3

Elizabeth Taylor, a worker of Plantation V Hoop, told a Commission of Enquiry:

The coolies were locked up in the sick house next morning they were flogged with a cat-o-nine-tails; the manager was in the house, and they flogged the people under his house; they were tied to the post of the of the gallery of the manager's house; I cannot tell how many licks; he gave them enough. I saw blood. When they were flogged at the manager's house they rubbed salt pickle on their backs. 4

A Royal Commission in 1870 pointed out that indentured Indian immigrant was trapped by the law "in the hands of a system which elaborately twists and turns him about, but always leaves him face to face with an impossibility." 5

Stoppages of wages were "everyday occurrences". Severe penalties were imposed for absenteeism. The indentured labourer's movement was restricted. The Vagrancy Law required a "pass" before he/she could travel more than two miles beyond the boundaries of the estate.

And like the slaves in the "Nigger yard", the indentured immigrant was forced to live in the "Coolie yard", or "Bound yard" in low-lying ranges, which were not uprooted until the 1950s.

I recall my mother, who slaved for 8 cents in the canefields and never had a chance of going to school remarking: Bhaiya, ahwee prapa punish, meaning: Brother we greatly punished. Under the plantocracy, sugar was really bitter. Though entitled to return to India at the end of his or her 5-year indenture contract, only a small percentage of the immigrants could afford the return passage.

The plantocracy created not only a wage differential, but also a division of labour. Cheap muscle power was needed. So the Indians were relegated to the "Backdam", the caneftelds. To ensure an abundant supply of even children's labour, the "Swettenham Circular'' stipulated that Indians were to be exempt from the compulsory provisions of primary education.

And whenever the source of cheap Indian labour was threatened, the sugar planters wielded their considerable power. On more than one occasion, they used their legislative power to block salaries for the Governor and the top administrators. This was their way of demonstrating their power and displeasure with the British Government, which at times contemplated the ending of indentureship because of the scourge of malaria and the brutalities of the system.

But exploitation was not all. The new wage-slaves were also resented and despised. They were resented because they had been brought by their colonial/plantation masters to undercut the position of the freed African population. The Africans had the feeling that "the coolie takes bread from the Negro labourer and lowers the price of labour".6

The indentured Indians were also despised because they brought a culture alien to Western customs and values. The epithet "coolie" depicted the Indian immigrants' situation.

Indentureship finally came to an end in 1920. But not before there had been numerous demonstrations, skirmishes, riots and uprisings against starvation wages, appalling conditions and the abuse of women. And the workers paid with their blood; for instance, in British Guiana at Devonshire Castle (September 1872) - 5 killed and 6 wounded; at Non Pariel (October 1896) - 6 killed and 58 wounded; at Friends (May 1903) - 5 killed and 7 wounded; at Lusignan (September 1912) - 1 killed; at Rose Hall (March 1913) - 15 killed; at Ruimveldt (April 1924) 13 killed; at Leonora (1939) - 4 killed; at Enmore (June 1948) - 5 killed and 8 wounded.

Those events clearly explode the caricature that Indians are uncultured and docile. Far from it, their culture was rooted in struggle - struggle for the common good. And the massacre of 13 at Ruimveldt in 1924 clearly demonstrated their proletarian intelligence. Despite their lack of formal education, their proposed peaceful march to Georgetown, the capital, signalled their realisation that the amelioration of their own abominable conditions depended on unity and solidarity - unity of rural and urban workers and solidarity which transcended the narrow confines of race. They were marching to the capital to lend support to the struggling urban Black workers on strike under the leadership of the working class champion, Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow. To them, Critchlow was "Black Crosby", named after a white Immigration Agent General.

Indian/Black unity at the working people's level in Guyana was manifested on several occasions when exslaves and Indian immigrants struggled together against the colonial exploiters and oppressors. It was shattered in the mid-1920s not only by police brutality, but also by imperialist "big stick" methods.

The disrating of the Constitution which had been inherited from the Dutch, and the imposition of Crown Colony rule in 1927-28 with unlimited gubernatorial powers led to the undermining of the Critchlow Movement by opportunist middle class Blacks. This was divide-and-rule in new conditions. It resulted in Black/Indian cooperation, based on working class solidarity, degenerating into Black/Indian rivalry and confrontation.

The Black middle class, which had emerged earlier historically, was generally content with their "junior partner" role, and saw the emergent Indian middle strata as a threat. They perceived the lower rungs of the colonial administrative ladder as their preserve. In Trinidad, Marxist historian Dr. Gordon Lewis referred to them as "the white collar proconsuls of the colonial structure".7 In this sense, they tended to be conservative wanting a maintenance of the status quo. And so, they assumed, for instance in Guyana, increasingly a conservative political posture and opposed reforms for adult suffrage and self-government.

In the Caribbean region as a whole, Black cultural nationalism manifested itself in both opportunist/reactionary and progressive stances. In the Indian middle strata three trends developed - opportunist/ conservative, nationalist/reformist, and radical/ revolutionary. These were reflective of the top, middle and bottom positions of the petty-bourgeois class. Like the "Black White men", there were the "Brown White men". Indians in this category, in return for "crumbs from the table", were prepared to defend the colonial system.

Some, resentful of barriers to the entry of Indians into the Civil Service and lack of promotional opportunities, championed universal adult suffrage. They saw, in this reform, more Indians becoming enfranchised and more Indians becoming parliamentarians. This was seen as a means for Indians, individually and collectively, wielding greater influence. Those Indians, seeing not only inequality of opportunity but also national/cultural oppression, saw the need for change. They linked the call for adult suffrage to that of self government.

And lastly, there were some who saw that in the culturally-plural, multi-ethnic society, the separate racial categories were not uni-class, that race and class were interacting factors in politico-ideological reality. For instance, in the Indian population, there were landlords and tenants, capitalists and workers. The need was seen therefore for national, as well as social liberation. And so, for some Indians and parties, there developed a socialist perspective -social-democratic and Marxist-Leninist.

The Black/Indian rivalry and confrontation was manifested in different attitudes and political positions. With Blacks in office in the colonial period, the middle-class Indians generally opposed federation of the West Indies in Guyana and Trinidad; in Suriname, they opposed independence, as the Blacks in Guyana with the PPP in government in the 1957-64 period.

Indian/Black confrontation gave way to co-operation through class collaboration at the petty-bourgeois and bourgeois levels. In Guyana, the middle strata-led East Indian Association and the League of Coloured People made an accommodation in the Labour Party in 1947 for the general elections that year.

In Suriname, the Indian-based Progressive Reform Party (VHP) linked with the Black Creole-based National Party of Suriname (NPS) and the Javanese-based Party for Unity and Harmony (KTPI) to constitute the current ruling Front for Democracy and Development.

In Trinidad and Tobago, the Black petty-bourgeois nationalist People's National Movement (PNM) made an accommodation with the wealthy Christian and Muslim Indians. This was facilitated by the one-time Leader of the Opposition, big businessman Bhadase Maraj, being at the same time the President of the Hindu Maha Sabha.

PNM founder and long-time leader, the late Dr. Eric Williams, writing of the Independence of the twin-island Republic in 1962, said: "Two races have been freed, but a society has not been formed".8 It can be justifiably argued that the integration of the Black bourgeoisie with a section of the Indian big businessmen under PNM's political pragmatism was not the way to build "a society".

Indian/Black unity of a qualitatively more democratic and fundamental character was achieved by the People's Progressive Party (PPP). It deepened the process started by the Critchlow Movement by bringing together Indian and Black workers, farmers and Intellectuals, and attaining a popular victory of 18 out of 24 seats in 1953. But after 133 days, history was to repeat itself with the imperialists using force to destroy the government and the Constitution and, with middle class opportunistic collaboration, to split the Party and abort the unity process. As journalist Carl Blackman noted, at the 35th Anniversary of the suspension of the Constitution, that brutal action was the root of all the problems we experience today.

A decade later, the racial problem was exacerbated by foreign intervention. The Insight Team, in a London Sunday Times (22nd February 1967) story "How the CIA Got Rid of Jagan" wrote: "As coups go, it was not expensive: over five years the CIA paid out something over £250,000. For the colony British Guiana, the result was about 170 dead, untold hundreds wounded, roughly £10 million worth of damage to the economy and a legacy of racial bitterness."9

Racial discrimination and "second-class" status have been the lot of Indians. Like Blacks in the USA, they suffer doubly: from discrimination because of their race and culture; from exploitation as members of the working class and peasantry.

In Guyana, after more than two decades of rule by the petty-bourgeois Black-dominated People's National Congress (PNC), the vast majority of Indians feel "left out". Through electoral fraud and military intervention in elections, they have been virtually disenfranchised. And through political and racial discrimination under the doctrine of "PNC paramouncy", equality of opportunity is denied. Consequently, many Indo-Guyanese see their salvation in emigration mainly to North America.

In Trinidad and Tobago, under the slogan of "One Love", the 4 party multi-class and multi-ethnic National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) generated great expectations. But in the context of a deep economic and financial, crisis and the long-entrenched institutional framework of a Black bureaucracy and a capitalist ruling class, it was too much to expect decisions for change in favour of the working people and racial equality.

It is yet to be seen what will emerge from the interracial unity at the 3-party petty bourgeois-led Front for Democracy and Development in Suriname. It is doubtful that within the context of dependent capitalism, real racial harmony and peace can emerge. The deep and prolonged general, cyclical and structural crisis of the world capitalist system is aggravating socio-economic problems of the working people including growing unemployment and underemployment.

The metropolitan capitalist countries have been trying to solve their crisis by exporting it to the third world. The vast majority of the latter countries, which have taken a dependent, capitalist-oriented course, are faced with underdevelopment, manifested in the debt crisis, and a vicious circle of poverty. As the crisis of world capitalism deepens, further disintegration will take place. The U.N Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), in a study for the 1985-95 decade, pointed out that the 130 million living in conditions of total poverty or critical poverty in 1980 will rise to 170 million by the year 2000; the 80 million unemployed and under employed in 1980 will reach 112 million in 1995. The foreign debt of 360 billion dollars in 1985 will grow to 672 billion dollars by 1995.

The UN Commission said that a 7 per cent economic growth rate was necessary for progress, but it averaged only 1 per cent during 1980-85. A bleak future can be foreseen from the fact that already in 1980, 10 per cent of the population, the super-rich, appropriated 40 per cent of the national income, whilst 40 per cent, the poor, existed on only 8 per cent.

Specifically for the Caribbean, the "Group of Twelve Wise Men" had warned, in the early 1980s of the alarming situation, especially in relation to the growing number of the unemployed. Since then, the situation has greatly deteriorated. The traditional props of the economy - sugar, bauxite, oil, cocoa and bananas - have been giving way to tourism and drugs, thus increasing the dependency on the crisis-ridden imperialist North.

In the developed capitalist states, where "Welfarism" has been and is being scuttled, the immigrants are becoming the scapegoats, in the same way that the Junker capitalist class under Hitler fascism singled out the Jews. Alarmingly, in the recent French elections, significant gains were made by the National Front on a blatant anti-immigrant platform.

In many third world states, with deteriorating socio-economic conditions under dependent underdeveloped capitalism, racial discrimination and national/cultural oppression is becoming more accentuated. Regrettably, Indians are becoming the scapegoats. The BOMB of Trinidad and Tobago recently wrote that "there is a visible anti-Indian movement sweeping the Eastern Caribbean Caricom countries."10

Consequently, many Indian youths fall victim to frustration, alienation and an inferiority complex, especially as they become more and more urbanized, jobless and discriminated against. This leads them, especially after constant bombardment by North America satellite/TV programmes, to cosmopolitanism and drug/alcohol culture. Alarmed, middle and upper class Indian parents, especially in Trinidad and Tobago, foster the growth of "Indian fundamentalism".

Great care has to be exercised not to unleash racial emotionalism. Some, bent on fanning Indian/Black animosity, blame the recent rupture in the right-of-centre Alliance for Reconstruction on the Indians. What is not seen is that the NAR is a coalition of right and left, pro-capitalist and pro-labour forces, and the two major ethnic groups. As I see it, the Basdeo Panday faction, which included the non-Indian John Humphrey, was fighting not only for racial equality, but also for a pro-labour dispensation. It is ironical that whilst Panday is now on the left of the NAR ideological spectrum, he was assumed to be on the right of the powerful 4-union-backed left-of-centre United Labour Front in 1976!

Dismay has been expressed at the support for the Pakistani Team by Indians during the recent Pakistani/ West Indian cricket test match. This was seen not only as disconcerting, but also as downright disloyal. It 'is wrong and dangerous to blow up these incidents. They must be understood in proper perspective: the social psychology of Indians; their second-class status; the discrimination meted out to them.

A comparable attitude is demonstrated by West Indians domiciled in Britain at MCC/West Indies cricket matches. Even more vociferous was their support for the West Indies team. And we do not blame them.

It must not be forgotten also that Marcus Garvey, suffering under second-class status for Blacks in the United States, idealized Africa and started the "Back to Africa" movement. Though hounded at the time, he is today regarded as a West Indian hero.

If Indians glorify India's civilization and culture, celebrate joyfully the independence of India and Pakistan, and rally for the Indian and Pakistani cricket team, it must be seen as compensation for a sense of persecution, an inferiority complex which has been forced an their psyche over the years.

As regards Indian so called disloyalty and racism, certain facts must be noted. Firstly, very few Indians opted for citizenship of India and Pakistan on their independence from Britain. Secondly, a few Indians who wanted to make India their home felt like "fish out of water" there. One prominent individual went from Guyana to India, but left soon after to settle in England. Thirdly, looked at from a class perspective, Indians in Guyana supported non-Indians on several occasions:

In 1924 when Indian sugar workers supported Hubert Critchlow; in the 1950,s, when in a predominantly Indian populated constituency, the Indians twice voted for white Janet Jagan in preference to the resident Indian landlord, shopkeeper, money-lender and rice-miller; in 1953, when again in another predominantly Indian-populated constituency, a black sugar worker, Fred Bowman, on a PPP ticket defeated an Indian legislator, Dr. J. B. Singh, of more than 20 years standing; in the late 1970s, when sections of Indian youths were avid supporters of Dr. Walter Rodney.

Federation is often used as a yardstick to judge the commitment of Indians to West Indian nationhood. This, I submit, is superficial. Indians for various reasons - social class, ideology, social psychology - had different positions. The majority of middle-class Indians opposed Federation. Was this disloyalty? Or was it a reflection of their preoccupation with "second-class" status to which they had been reduced?

On the other hand, there were Indians who supported Federation - "Jimmy" Ramphal, Rahman Gajraj, "Sonny" Ramphal, Kamaludin Mohamed. Did that qualify them as patriots? As nominated members in the Legislative Council of the "Interim Government" (1954-57), the monstrosity set up by the Colonial Office after the ouster of the PPP Government in October 1953, Jimmy Ramphal and Rahman Gajraj were merely reflecting the views of the British Government when they voted for Guyana's entry into the West Indies Federation.

At that time the British ruling class saw federation as a means of containment of progressive/revolutionary countries or provinces in the British Empire - such as in British Guiana, Singapore, Nigeria, etc. It is instructive to note that the plantocracy strongly opposed Federation up to the time of the PPP victory in 1953; thereafter, they became equally strong supporters.

Kamaludin Mohamed, in supporting the Federation, was only reflecting the views of the ruling People's National Movement government led by Dr. Eric Williams. Indian tokenism was demonstrated when he did not rise to the Prime Ministership after Dr. Williams’ death, despite the fact that he had acted in that position on several occasions.

Shridath "Sonny" Ramphal, the son of "Jimmy" Ramphal, returned from Jamaica to serve in the Burnham-led government, which had been installed by the CIA in December 1964. He had served as deputy Attorney General of the Federation and was regarded as one of the principal architects of the Caribbean Free Trade Area (Carifta) and the Caribbean Common Market (Caricom).

Advocacy of integration, whether political and/or functional-economic does not per se lead to nationhood, and the building of a cohesive society. Nationalism divorced from a proletarian or progressive internationalism can become a reactionary and divisive force.

We must not forget that political federation and regional integration of the Carifta/Caricom type with an "open door" to foreign capital was also the demand of the spokesman of imperialism. George Ball, a former Under-Secretary of State and a one-time chairman of the big investment banking firm, Lehman Bros., let the cat out of the bag when he said:

"The multi-national US corporation is ahead of, and in conflict with, existing world political organisations represented by the nation-state. Major obstacles to the multi -national corporation are evident in Western Europe, Canada and a good part of the developing world".

Taking a world outlook and class approach, my stand on regional integration was different from that of the Indian proponents and opponents of Federation. In the late 1940s, before the formation of the PPP, I wholeheartedly supported the call of the militant Caribbean Labour Congress (CLC) for a West Indies Federation with dominion status and self government for each unit territory. At that time, the predominantly-Black Caribbean leaders and I saw West Indian nationhood from a common anti-colonialist, anti-imperialist and socialist perspective.

But a few years later, we parted ways. Reneging on their CLC commitments, the majority of the Caribbean leaders accepted in 1958 a Federation with a crown colony status - a Federation which we called "collective colonialism". This was after they had aligned themselves with imperialism and had assumed Western cold-war postures.

The tragic consequences of this turnaround were the scuttling of the CLC, the witch-hunting of the left and the isolation of, and attacks on the PPP. In October 1953, L.F.S. Burnham and I were prevented from passing through the Caribbean on our way to London to protest the suspension of the Constitution in 1953. And in the House of Commons, we were flabbergasted to hear the reading of telegrams from some of those Caribbean leaders praising the British government for its "gunboat diplomacy".

Caribbean nationhood will not emerge from neo-colonialist dependency. Even now, quite a significant number of Caribbean patriots, Blacks and Indians, see in the call for a Caribbean Security System (CSS) and a political union of the Eastern Caribbean states the stamp of Washington.

In this regard, there is an interesting parallel with the mid-1960s. Soon after the US military intervention in the Dominican Republic in 1965, President Lyndon Johnson called for an Inter-American Peace Force on the basis that independence must give way to interdependence, that sovereignty with its concept of "geographical frontiers" was obsolete and should be replaced by "ideological frontiers". This, he argued, was necessary for the preservation of freedom and democracy. As under the Truman Doctrine, democracy and peace were equated with the free enterprise capitalist system. "The American way of life" was presumed to be what the Caribbean and the Americans needed, and there must be a collective force to defend the "collective community".

After the US invasion of Grenada in 1983, the Caribbean Security System became the counterpart of the Inter-American Peace Force for Latin America and the Caribbean as a whole. And what is more, the present-day Caribbean leaders are ideologically/politically more linked to Washington than their counterparts in the 1950s and 1960s. A substantial majority belong to the conservative Caribbean Democratic Union, which is associated with the International Democratic Union, led by US President Reagan, British Prime Minister Thatcher and West German Chancellor Kohl.

For us in the PPP, it is necessary to view Caribbean reality and nationhood from a world perspective and with a class approach. Class is more fundamental than race. This does not mean that there is no such thing as ethnicity, that there is no racial problem. There is a problem. And it must be addressed. It must be neither underestimated nor over-estimated. It must not be swept under the carpet, with the pretence that it does not exist. At the same time, it must not be seen as an unsolvable problem.

What needs to be done is a recognition of the racial problem and the implementation of certain reforms. Apart from constitutional guarantees, these should include a Race Relations Board, an equal opportunity law, fair employment practices and Affirmative Action as in the United States.

The service commissions - public, police, judicial, teacher - concerned with appointments and promotion, must be completely independent and free from political control. And they should be empowered to deal with all appointments, including those by the state corporations. They should not be forced to function, as in Guyana, in an environment where the ruling party and the state have become indistinguishable, where under the doctrine of "paramouncy", the government is deemed as the executive arm of the party, and critics of the ruling party are deemed enemies of the state. This doctrine, which fostered the accentuation of political and racial discrimination in our plural multi-party political system must be scrapped.

These reforms must pave the way for a revolutionary approach to the problem. Fundamentally, the way forward in multi-racial, multi-religious and multi-cultural developing countries is a new socio-economic order; a national-democratic, socialist-oriented way leading by successive steps ultimately to socialism.

Only socialism with a planned economy can bring an end to unemployment, underemployment, hunger and insecurity; only socialism with its moral and ethical principles and values can bring an end to exploitation of man, national chauvinism, racial and political discrimination. Only under socialism can national unity and rich culture representing all ethnic groups be developed. In one Caribbean country, this is becoming a reality. Socialist Cuba points the way to racial harmony, a rich culture and economic and social well-being.

It is short-sighted to see the "Caribbean man" only as a "Black man", and Caribbean culture as African culture. Apart from the different countries of their origin, both our Black slave and Indian indenture ancestors watered the sugar cane with their blood. Through their struggles and sacrifices, they have made valuable contributions to our historical and social development.

They have both achieved great successes in all fields of endeavour – professions, literature, art and culture. The Indo-Guyanese journalist and author, Peter Ruhoman noted that "the Negroes are a great people; they have been so from the earliest times" 11 , and called on the Indians to emulate the successes of the Black and Coloured people as educators, politicians, doctors, lawyers and other professionals. About the Indians, the famous Caribbean writer and patriot, George Lamming wrote:

"… those Indian hands - whether in British Guiana or Trinidad - have fed all of us. They are, perhaps, our only jewels of a true native thrift and industry. They have taught us by example the value of money; for they respect money as only people with a high sense of communal responsibility can".12

And studies in the Caribbean have shown that Blacks and Indians have evolved: they are not exactly the same as the roots from which they sprang; indeed they have many things in common and more that, unites than divides them. They must find the means of co-operation, including political power-sharing.

The "Uncle Toms" that the Caribbean revolutionary patriot Maurice Bishop fought against, be they the Black bureaucratic capitalist and/or the Indian materialistic-minded comprador bourgeoisie, are not the ones who will build our new society. They are merely the modern-day slave-catchers and harkaatis. It is only under the leadership and guidance of the working class, the peasantry, the radical intelligentsia and the patriotic capitalists that we will be able to forge a new Caribbean man and a true integrated Caribbean culture - a culture socialist in content, diverse in its national forms and internationalist in spirit; a culture based on the achievements and original progressive traditions of our Black and Indian ancestors.

A new people's culture is needed; it cannot be imposed from above. It will spring from the struggle for fraternity and equality as opposed to individualism and greed, for the appreciation rather than the contempt of human labour. It will come with genuine democratisation and the working people's meaningful involvement in all spheres of public and social life. We have a nation to build and a destiny to mould; in the words of Guyana's motto: Let us together build: "One People, One Nation, One Destiny".



1. Cited in Dr. David Chanderbali, "Some Major Characteristics of Indian Indenture",  Thunder, Guyana, first quarter 1988, pp 26-27.

2. Ibid.

3. Cited In Dr. Cheddi Jagan, The West On Trial, Seven Seas, Berlin, 1980, p 27

4. Ibid.

5. Quoted in Shridath Ramphal, "Roots and Reminders" New Nation, Guyana Ist May.1988, p 3.

6. James Rodway, "Labour and Emigration", Timehri, Vol. VI September 1919 p 36.

7.  Quoted in Ron Sanders, "Indian Indenture: The legacy in Guyana and Trinidad", Stabroek News, Guyana, 9th April 1988, p 8.

8. Ibid.

9. Cheddi Jagan. op. cit. p 379.

10. Kamal Persaud, Racism Against The Indians in The Eastern Caribbean, Battlefront Printers San Fernando, Trinidad & Tobago, 1988, p 2.

11. A. J. McR. Cameron, "Joseph Ruhoman and the Growth of East Indian   Consciousness," Stabroek News, Guyana, 16th April 1988, p 7.

12. George Lamming, "The West Indian People", New World Quarterly, Vol 2, No 1, 1966, p 69.

Copyright © Nadira Jagan-Brancier 2000


Race, Class and Nationhood: The Afro-Guyanese Experience

by Cheddi Jagan and Moses Nagamootoo

(This paper was written in 1988 for the 150th Anniversary of the ending of Apprenticeship and the beginning of Indian Indentureship.)

In the Caribbean, the mere mention of sugar elicits another word - slavery. The switch from tobacco to sugar as the main crop in the Caribbean ushered in the socio-economic system of slavery. And the slave trade in the Caribbean meant trade in African slaves, 15 million of whom were shipped across the "Middle Passage" to the so-called "New World" between 1518 and 1807.

This period of early colonial expansion signalled the dawn of the era of capitalist production. Karl Marx wrote of it as " the discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins."1

In the name of wealth and capital accumulation, unspeakable crimes were committed by slave-traders. Africans suffered in many ways - as victims forcibly uprooted from their land of birth, as chattel slaves inhumanly exploited on the plantation, and as Blacks whose culture, features and colour were used as rationalizations to justify the despicable trade in " human cargoes" from the African continent.

The chains of slavery were galling. In The Black Jacobins, CLR James refers to the "crack of the whip, the stifled cries and the heavy groans of slaves...who saw the sun rise only to curse it for its renewal of their labour and their pains."2 On the plantations, slaves were worked like animals, cruelly punished and constantly terrorized. They received the whip with more certainty and regularity than they received food, according to CLR James.3

Slavery was a life from which few really expected to escape. The Guyana experience, as was the case elsewhere in the West Indies, showed a prevailing pattern of a vicious circle of punishment, resistance, escape, punishment. The masters acted in the only way they knew: more cruelty and more punishment; the slaves reacted in the only way open to them: sullenness, non-cooperation, passive resistance and escape which alternated with sabotage and revolt.

While not every slave was a Spartacus (a rebel slave during the Roman Empire) or even potentially one,4 and the system bred many collaborators 5(as the imperialist capitalist system did in more recent times), slaves throughout the West Indies rebelled when they could.6 Such resistance, Melville Herskivits asserts in his Myth of the Negro Past, may be traced as far back as the slave ships.7 Michael Craton insists that there is a continuum of slave resistance from the moment of capture in Africa to the overtly bloody Afro-Carib revolts in the West Indies.8

If the first skirmishes took the form of White-Black confrontation, the pattern that subsequently unfolded was underlined by class considerations. The fact of the matter is that there was an "antagonistic and irreconcilable relationship" between the two main social classes under slavery - masters and slaves.9 One Jamaican slave described that relationship as "the life of a dog,"10 while the Jamaican martyr of the 1831 revolt, Samuel Sharpe, poignantly demonstrated the irreconcilability of the relationship when he defiantly said: " I would rather die upon yonder gallows than live in slavery."11

Throughout the West Indies, African slaves shared a popular ideology of freedom sometimes referred to as the politics of slave resistance. The Afro-Guyanese experience - the 1763 Berbice and 1823 Demerara slave revolts - proved Herbert Aptheker, US Black history scholar, correct when he submitted that "resistance, not acquiescence, is the core of history."12 Our experience could also locate struggles within the context of the inherited tradition of Amerindian resistance.13

In some cases, as in Berbice and Haiti, the object was the total seizure of power and the replacement of the European controlled state by a Black state. Other rebellions, like the Maroons of Jamaica and the "Bush Negro" of Suriname, had a more limited objective: the establishment of autonomous village committees within an overall White-controlled territory.

In the face of great odds, superior forces and arms, our early revolutionaries proved they could not easily be intimidated. Leaders such as Cuffy in Berbice, Quamina in Demerara and Damon in Essequibo laid down their lives in heroic struggles for freedom.

Slavery and apprenticeship could not endure the test of time. The deep-seated class contradictions and the dynamic processes of society were forces which the various facets of the slave system could not contend with and resolve. And those who would wish to deny the role of internationalism and solidarity in the struggle should analyse the impact of the American, French and Haitian revolutions, the selfless campaigns of English humanitarians and White missionaries, etc on the abolition of slavery, the vicious system which did not proceed beyond the 19th century in the Caribbean.14

The emancipation which came about by the ending of Apprenticeship was a great historical event. But it did not mean the complete liberation of the slave. The "chains" of domination and exploitation changed forms but were nonetheless exacting.

The ending of apprenticeship in 1938 in the Anglophone countries did not herald an end to slavery in general or to the plantation system in particularly. African slavery as a system had embraced the tropical zone of the Brazilian northeast, the south of the United States and the Caribbean Basin. And the plantation system was based on the large-scale production of a single crop (sugar, cotton, tobacco, etc) for export to Europe - food for the urban masses and cheap primary products and raw materials for industrialization and development. This system still required an abundant supply on cheap labour.

The Anglophone plantation owners saw themselves at a disadvantage as emancipation did not come about everywhere at the same time. They had with freed paid labour to compete with slave labour everywhere in the Americas. In the United States, the Emancipation Proclamation was signed by President Abraham Lincoln only in September 1862 and became effective on January 1, 1863. In Brazil, emancipation came later in 1888.

The plantocracy attained its objectives of unmitigated exploitation and primitive capital accumulation by various means and stratagems. Above all was the creation of a racist ideology - white superiority and non-white inferiority.

Plantation slavery in the Americas was based on race, caste and class. According to Dr Norman Girvan: "at the top were the white masters, in the middle the mulattoes, and at the bottom the black slaves... As in the case on Indian slavery too, an ideology of racism was generated and systematically applied to legitimise the outright exploitation of one race by another."15

Girvan points out that racist ideology was expressed in cultural as well as physical terms:

It was certainly the case that African speech, religion, mannerisms and indeed all institutional forms were systematically denigrated as constituting marks of savagery and cultural inferiority, in order to deprive Black people of a sense of collective worth…16

The very colour of the African's skin was held to be the first and the lasting badge of his inferiority; as were the characteristics of his mouth, nose and hair texture. The desired consequence on extending the ideology of racism from cultural to physical attributes was to ensure that the African, whatever his degree of success in assimilating white culture, was permanently imprisoned in his status as a slave inasmuch as he was permanently imprisoned in his black skin.17

Cultural whiteness gave the slave some advantages such as a job as headman or a house slave. The badge of inferiority due to physical attributes was something that Cheddi Jagan experienced as a student at the black Howard University in Washington in 1936-38, long before the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s.

That the abolition of slavery and the ending of apprenticeship was not a revolutionary transformation, but only a change in the basis of exploiting labour was manifestly evident. According to Brazilian sociologist, Florestan Fernandes, in Brazil, "the 'negro' remained almost at the margin of this revolution. He was negatively selected, having to be content with what now came to be known as 'nigger work': unstable or difficult jobs, as miserable as they were underpaid.18

After emancipation in the United States, the Blacks who migrated to the north found themselves enmeshed in ghettos where they were confined to dirty, unskilled, low-paying and unstable occupations. Today, Blacks are second-class citizens and some of the gains made earlier are being eroded.

In Guyana, as late as the 1940s when a virtual "colour bar" existed in the civil service - Blacks could not rise beyond a certain point in the administrative/executive ladder, with a few exceptions in the professions. A Junior Civil Service Association agitated for the abolition of the colour bar. A similar bar existed in insurance, banking, mines and plantations.

It was against this ethno-cultural racism that Marcus Garvey and his Universe Negro Improvement Association developed in the early part of this century. Because of its strong appeal against oppression and exploitation, this Black nationalist movement gained widespread appeal in North and Central America and the Caribbean. It constituted a Pan-Black struggle against colonialist exploitation and plunder and a call for Pan-African regeneration.

The plantocracy not only used racist ideology for subjugation and exploitation. It also resorted to methods which were intended to undermine the very basis of emancipation and to divide and rule.

Immigrants were brought from Europe and mainly from Asia not only to work for less than what was demanded by the freed ex-slaves, but also to create a surplus labour force in and around the sugar estates. It was expressed that it " the East Indian under indenture who fixes the rate of wages rather than the free labourer."19

The flood of immigrants, in the context of a lack of alternative employment, brought pressure for work and thus no incentive for improvements in the estates. By 1884, the supply of "free" labour was "so abundant that the market rate fell below the statutory rate for indentured immigrants."20 And what seemed more obnoxious to them was generally taxation by custom duties and export levies to finance immigration costs, as well as medical services on the estates, the immigration department and the recruiting office in Calcutta.

The People's Association, which included 7 out of the 14 members of this Combined Court, reported:

... the race to whose detriment the coolies were being introduced were made to contribute to the cost of a scheme of immigration designed either to supplant the Negro or to coerce him into service with the planters at a wage inadequate for his proper maintenance.21

The People's Association rightly felt that the charges for immigration, etc, should be a direct charge on the sugar plantations.

At the same time, the Afro-Guyanese were subjected to other restrictions and difficulties. The planters adopted a deliberate policy of denying land to the freed ex-slaves. The People's Association noted that the Land Code of 1839 not only set a high price for land but stipulated that only a minimum of 100 acres of Crown Lands could be acquired. It was only on January 14, 1890 that Crown Lands, which had cost $10 per acre, were reduced to $1. According to Malcolm Cross: "it was only after the first change in 1890 and the subsequent one of 1898, when the sugar industry was in decline and the battle to retain labour became, for a brief period, of lesser consequence that the planters acquiesced to the possibility of a landed peasantry."22

"Even then the settlements which could be opened up, and the encouragement given by the Government, were almost solely for rice growing - an occupation peculiarly suited to the Indians, but one which was regarded as anathema by the Blacks."23

In contrast, the policy in Trinidad was more enlightened. Large tracts of land has been given out for cocoa and cane farming to both freed ex-slaves and immigrants leading not only to the development of an independent peasantry, but also to lessened racial tension as a result of reduced direct competition in the sugar plantations. Trinidadian land settlers did not also face the same problems as their counterparts in British Guiana, whose lands were subject to inundation from the sea and floods and drought.

Nevertheless, the "push" from the plantations was so great that freed ex-slaves made great achievements not only by sacrificing and saving to found their own villages, but they worked cooperatively and initiated the establishment of a system of local government. Of the 60,000-odd Africans and Mulattoes then in the colony, about two/thirds had migrated to the villages. By 1851, they had erected 11,152 homes, and the property owned by them was worth nearly 1 million pounds sterling.

The first property bought in November 1839 by 83 former slaves for 30,000 guilders was Plantation Northbrook on the East Coast of Demerara; part of its 500 acres was renamed as the village of Victoria.

In April 1940, 128 Blacks bought plantation New Orange Nassau for $50,000 and later renamed it Buxton. Other plantations bought - Beterverwagting, Fellowship, Den Amstel, Plaisance, Gibraltar, Rose Hall and Liverpool - formed the backbone of the village movement.

Initially, an attempt was made by the ex-slaves to run the abandoned plantations as genuine cooperatives with the cultivation of provisions for their own consumption and for sale. "When the planter-dominated colonial government adopted laws which made cooperative land tenure illegal, the cooperatives' lands were divided among their members"24 in accordance with the amount of initial investment.

The plantocracy also resorted to various measures which were conducive to racial conflict and were essential for the maintenance of law and order. By conferring political and economic benefits and privileges or imposing burdens selectively and disproportionately on different subordinated ethnic groups, it maintained the status quo; a situation which was to haunt Guyana in the immediate pre- and post-independence period through the divide-and-rule politics of the ruling class.

According to Dennis Bartels: " Again, as with Afro-Guyanese farmers, the absence of a class of wealthy Afro-Guyanese merchants was a direct result of planter and colonial government policy which favoured the development of Portuguese and Indo-Guyanese businesses."25... The businesses started by Afro-Guyanese and coloureds during the emancipation period were ruined by the planters26... Ruling class wholesalers and merchants extended credit to many Portuguese retailers, while withholding credit from creoles and coloureds."27

The African gang generally had an African as a driver; it was most common for a Chinese to have a Chinese. But the Indian immigrants had an African driver.

The Africans were given cane cutting work at 60-85 cents per day, whilst the Indians were relegated to weeding at 25-45 cents a day. Indian immigrants were excluded from jobs such as engineering and pan (sugar) boiling.

The technique was employed by the planters of flooding or overdraining the land, so as to destroy the crop of the small holder. This was one way to force the freed slave-turned-peasant back to the plantation.

When land settlements were created for Indian immigrants, in lieu of return passage, beginning with Huis t' Dieren in Essequibo in 1880 and laid out in 2-acre plots, the ex-slaves were excluded. This aggravated their sense of frustration and bitterness. Their improved position after emancipation was destroyed by the planters when they "persuaded the local legislature to deny to the African the right of settling on the soil as an agriculturist."28

This was justified on the ground of irresponsibility, inability and incapacity. The Colonial Office in 1903 agreed with Governor Swettenham's views that the Blacks in British Guiana were irresponsible and affirmed that the "underdeveloped estates" could not fall into the "incapable hands" of the Blacks.

Racial stereotypes were also created by the ruling class not only to justify further immigration and exploitation, but also to foster attitudes of prejudice among the subordinated groups so that conflict instead of cooperation could continue in the plantations.

As regards racial stereotypes, Bartels says: At the same time, ruling class racist ideology allowed for distinctions between different non-White groups. Many accounts by plantation owners, plantation managers, colonial officials, and Christian missionaries characterized East Indians as (1) industrious and hardworking; (2) thrifty to the point of greed; and (3) lacking in Christian morals... On the other hand Afro-Guyanese were often characterized as (1) physically strong, but lazy, carefree, irresponsible, financially improvident, and intellectually dim; (2) physically repulsive because of their facial features, skin colour, and hair type; and (3) child-like, trusting, and easily misled by more intelligent, unscrupulous people.29

The rabidly racist and deep-seated animosity was also expressed by the famous commentator on the ethnography of Guyana E.F Im Thurn, who, when addressing the Royal Colonial Institute in London argued that " is all very well to say that a man is a man whether his skin is white or black; but it is certain that the vast majority of West Indian blacks - all but the very few really educated members of the class - are not men but children, great, strong, generally good tempered children, but almost always fickle, and essentially, though from mere thoughtlessness, cruel.30

Ruling class racist ideology and the racial stereotypes it fostered, especially in the context of ruling class power dispensing political and economic benefits and burdens, tended to foster divisions in the various subordinated ethnic groups - the Afro-Guianese, Indo-Guianese and the Portuguese. These groups in turn used the ruling class racial stereotypes to strengthen their own distinct social and economic positions, thus maintaining and strengthening ethnic divisions and conflict and preserving the interests of the ruling class.

But operating side by side with this conflict/tendency was another based on working class solidarity against the common enemy, the planters. Especially, during periods of economic crisis, this tendency resulted in unity and concerted industrial and political action against the ruling class.

As early as 1678, African slaves and Carib Indians joined in an insurrection against the Dutch planters in Suriname.

In 1847-48, recently emancipated slaves were joined by East Indian and Portuguese indentured plantation workers in strikes for higher wages.

In 1904-05 and again in 1924, East Indian plantation labourers joined Afro-Guianese workers in demonstrations and strikes against the employers and the colonial government. In the 1936-45 period, sugar and bauxite workers were organized by the Man-Power Citizens Association (MPCA).

The Political Affairs Committee (PAC) from 1964 to 1949 linked the struggles of the Indian sugar workers and the Black transport and bauxite workers. And in the 1950-55 period, Afro-Guianese and Indo-Guianese workers struggled unitedly against the plantocracy under the class-based and scientific-socialist banner of the People's Progressive Party (PPP).

In his doctoral thesis, Dennis Bartels pointed out:

The first general election under the new constitution was to be held in April, 1953. Until the formation of the PPP, most non-White politicians had appealed to voters on the basis of ethnicity, or personal reputation. Few had presented platforms which appealed to class interest, and none had carried their election campaigns to rural areas, particularly to the sugar estates... The PPP changed all this. PPP candidates in the 1953 election came from almost all the ethnic groups in Guyana (with the possible exception of Amerindians). They appealed to voters on the basis of a pro-working class, nationalistic platform and not on the basis of ethnicity. And they built party organizations in rural areas. In short, the PPP modernized politics in Guyana."

Although the success of the PPP in forging inter-ethnic unity among workers during this period is well documented, it has not received attention from plural theorists."

Working class unity had been earlier forged in the serious labour disturbance of 1905 as a result of the sugar crisis and the wage reduction of 20-35% between 1894 and 1897 by a combination of rate-cutting and speed-up. Afro-Guianese workers at Plantation Ruimveldt went on strike and some Indo-Guianese workers joined them. On December 2, 1905, police constables opened fire on a predominantly Afro-Guianese crowd of strikers, wounding some and killing others.30

On March 31, 1924, waterfront workers went on strike for improved wages and working conditions. Support was forthcoming from sugar workers on the East Bank of Demerara. A mixed crowd of nearly 5,000 plantation workers, who were marching to Georgetown to join the urban workers on strike, were stopped at Ruimveldt, police opened fire, killing 12 and seriously wounding 15, including both Afro-Guianese and Indo-Guianese. In the interval between the 1905 and 1924 upheavals and shootings, working class consciousness developed significantly under the leadership of trade unionist Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow, and the British Guiana Labour Union (BGLU).

Militant leadership was not only provided to the urban working class, but steps were taken also to improve conditions in the sugar estates. Under Critchlow's leadership, the first tentative steps were made to bring about organized urban/rural, African/Indian working class unity. Indians joined the BGLU and Critchlow was deemed the "Black Crosby," named after the White Immigration Agent General, James Crosby, who protested against the abuse of the system of Indentureship in British Guiana.

The influence of the BGLU and its support led to the election of nationalist leaders to the Combined Court.

The response by the capitalist ruling class to the emancipation struggle of the working people under the leadership of the Afro-Guianese working class and radical intelligentsia through the Critchlow Movement was brutal. The liberal Constitution inherited from the Dutch was suspended in the late 1920s and a Crown colony type of constitution imposed with the Governor having absolute powers of certification and veto. At the same time, steps were taken to destabilize the Movement by undermining the working class leadership of Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow.

This process was to be repeated in the early 1950s when, after the PPP victory of 1953, the Constitution was suspended and the Party split.

In 1953, when the working class was united, the Anglo-American imperialists used ideological anti-communist hysteria to justify the destruction by armed forces of the PPP government. Soon after, by manoeuvring and imposing unequal pressures, burdens and penalties, they engineered a division in the Party ranks in 1955. And later, when racial incitement, strikes, demonstrations and blockade resulted in racial strife and bloodshed, they used ethnic divisions as the excuse for denying independence in 1962-63. The modern-day imperialists had learnt well the divide-and-rule methods of the plantocracy.

To the advocates of the pluralist theory, this observation and critique of K.W.J. Post is pertinent:

If the allegiance to plural sections is at all times constant and overriding, how then do we explain the success of the PPP in bringing together Africans and Indians in 1950-53? The answer is, of course, the common oppression of the masses of both at the hands of the colonial system, something of which professor Despres might have made far more had he not rejected class as part of his theoretical apparatus...

Guyanese political development since 1953 has not been determined by the plural society, but by British and US policy. This has been the constant in the situation, not the plural society. At every crucial point where the allocation of political power has been involved... it has been intervention from outside which has decided the matter. It is remarkable, for example, that professor Despres has nothing to say about the role in the 1960s of the CIA and private organizations like the Christian Anti-Communist Crusade, and only an obscure footnote reference to the American Institute for Free Labour Development (1969: 91)


There were grass root upheavals for the emancipation of the working people in the late 1930s and early 1940s - Kola Rienzi and Uriah Butler in Trinidad, Bustamante in Jamaica, Boysie Skinner and Philip Payne in Barbados, Mackintosh and Joshua in St Vincent, and Critchlow and Edun in British Guiana. These events were reflective of the socio-economic problems linked to the aftermath of the Great Depression of 1929.

The developments led to the convening of several West Indian Conferences in British Guiana under the leadership of Critchlow and the BGLU, the call for the forging of a nation through a West Indies Federation with a socialist perspective, and to the formation of the militant anti-colonialist and anti-imperialist Caribbean Labour Congress (CLC).

In the pre- and post-independence period, the struggle for emancipation was influenced by various ideological currents - nationalism, fabianism, democratic-socialism and Marxism-Leninism. Until the late 1940s, these currents played a positive anti-colonial and anti-imperialist role. However, with the advent of the Cold War, negative aspects developed.

The nationalist People's National Movement (PNM) in Trinidad and Tobago aligned itself politically on the western side and embraced the reformist planning strategy, "neither Puerto Rican nor Cuban," which objectively put it in line with the "partnership" economic model of imperialism. Right-wing, reformist fabianism and democratic socialism also led objectively to an alignment with imperialism. And in the left, as a result of the division in the world communist movement, ideological differences led to confusion and disunity in the ranks of the working class.

The end result was a setback for national liberation, economic emancipation and social progress. Its manifestation was the disbandment of the Caribbean Labour Congress, attacks on the PPP government following British "gunboat diplomacy" in 1953, acceptance of a West Indies Federation on the basis of "collective colonialism," adoption of the pro-imperialist Puerto Rican model of development and a course of dependent capitalism.

These developments led to the growth of a new ruling elite - a non-white bureaucratic and non-comprador parasitic bourgeoisie - leading to the continuing "development of underdevelopment" and worsening conditions for the dispossessed Black masses. The latter remain as the suppliers of cheap, unskilled labour.

This situation saw the development of new forms of struggle for emancipation - the Rastafari movement, the Black Power movement and others.

The Rastafari grass-roots protest movement in the 1950s and 1960s was to Jamaica and the rest of the Caribbean what the Garvey movement was to the region in the early part of this century. A significant difference was that while the latter posited mainly white domination, the former was an expression of disillusionment with Black and Mulatto rule and power.

The Black power movement in the Caribbean also struggled for change. While its counterpart in the USA was chiefly centred around the struggle against second-class status for Blacks and for civil rights, dignity and equality, the Caribbean movement, led by the radical intelligentsia, was more oriented towards the revolutionary change of society. Dr Walter Rodney's great contribution to this movement was his Marxist-Leninist world outlook and class approach.

Because of differences in outlook and approach, the Pan-African movement, which wanted a united and socialist Africa, Kwame Nkrumah's dream, also faced difficulties. Some, who preached " Caribbean exceptionalism" and advocated a policy of "equidistance from the two super powers," like George Padmore, one-time political advisor to Ghanian Prime Minister Nkrumah, saw this development taking place in isolation from the socialist community. Others, however, like Dr W.E.B. Dubois and Paul Robeson, pioneers of the US civil rights movement, saw a socialist Pan-Africa emerging only in close association with the socialist states.

These differences were exposed in sharp focus in the mid-1970s in relation to support for the new revolutionary-democratic MPLA government of Angola. At a crucial OAU meeting, there was an equal division of votes, with "African socialist" Senegal and "Arab socialist" Egypt lining up with 20 other African states against Angola on the side of South Africa and the imperialists.

Similarly, in the Caribbean in 1983, the democratic-socialist government of the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) and other nationalist and Christian-democratic Caribbean governments openly cooperated with the US aggression against Grenada.

In the late 1968’s, the ruling Caribbean elites, when confronted with the Black Power movement had responded: We do not need Black Power; Black people are already in power. But time has demonstrated that "Black people in power" has generally meant clientele power - client neo-colonialist states, which despite revolutionary, even socialist, rhetoric are fulfilling the broad political, economic, ideological, cultural, military and strategic aim of imperialism.

Jamaica and Grenada have shown that capitalist dependency, in the context of an on-going and deep general, structural and cyclical crisis of world capitalism, only increases underdevelopment which in turn deepens the dependency. Barbados, once regarded as a model of development for the Caribbean, is now faced with grave problems.

That imperialism has no answer for the problems facing the Caribbean people is manifested by the new wave of mass upsurge. The puppet NNP government of Grenada has been split. The US-backed Seaga-led Jamaica Labour Party government is tottering; it lost all but one of the 13 local parish elections in 1986 and is faced with electoral defeat at the forthcoming general elections.

Ruling parties in Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago were defeated disastrously in recent elections. In St Lucia, the ruling party saw its majority in Parliament reduced to one. And despite a popular mandate, the ruling party in Barbados and the coalition in Trinidad are faced, within a very short period, with internal dissension due to a reformist approach and centrist/rightist policies.

As a result of capitalist dependency, underdevelopment, declining living standards, alienation and discontent, large numbers of the Caribbean working people regrettable see salvation in another movement: emigration to North America.

Hopelessness must be combated. The class struggle in all aspects, political, economic and especially ideological, must be intensified. What is needed is a revolutionary democracy with a socialist-oriented programme.

In the metropolitan countries, a broad-based anti-monopoly coalition must be forged. In the Third World, anti-imperialist unity on a regional and national basis is essential for genuine political independence and economic and social emancipation. This means unity of all left and democratic forces. In class terms, it means the forging of a broad multi-class and strata alliance, with the revolutionary-democrats (the vanguard of the working class) playing the leading and guiding role.

With growing contradictions not only within the three centres of world capitalism but also between the imperialist and imperialist-dominated Third World states, the prospects for the future are bright.

The objective situation favours revolution. At the subjective level, however, there is a lag. In multi-ethnic societies like Guyana, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago, it is necessary to fight against racist ideology and racial stereotypes which were created and fostered by the capitalist/colonialist ruling class, and later exploited by self-serving politicians. It must be recognized that whatever our racial origin, we have a common heritage. Our forefathers, regardless of ethnic, religious and cultural differences, watered the sugar cane with their blood, sweat and tears. Little wonder that Dr Eric Williams in his book Capitalism And Slavery had observed: "strange that an article like sugar so sweet and necessary for human existence should have occasioned such crimes and bloodshed."

Fortunately, in Guyana and other multi-ethnic societies, we see a growing working class consciousness from a "class-in-itself" to a "class-for-itself" approach. The grave economic and social crisis and IMF "prescriptions" are creating the objective conditions for racial and working class unity, as at specific periods in the colonial era. Though shot, killed, detained, restricted and imprisoned on countless occasions, our ancestors continued to unite, struggle and sacrifice for the common good.

On this 150th anniversary of the ending of Apprenticeship and the beginning of Indian indentureship, the greatest tribute we can pay to our ancestors is to pledge to unite and struggle for complete emancipation, which can only come from a multi-ethnic, broad-based revolutionary democracy. It is imperative for the survival and prosperity of this great nation to forge a modus vivendi, a formula for power-sharing, reflective of the composition and interest of all sections of the Guyanese people. We must return to the 1953 era of racial and working class unity and harmony, and fight for emancipation from modern-day IMF and CBI neo-slavery. Emancipation cannot be complete without the freedom of Nelson Mandela and the total eradication of the detestable apartheid doctrine and all forms of racial discrimination.


1. Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. 1, Chap. XXXI, cited in R Palme Dutt, Crisis Of Britain and the British Empire, Lawrence and Wishart, London, 1957, p. 22.

2. C.L.R. James, The Black Jacobins, Random House, New York, 1963, pp 9-10.

3. Ibid, p 12

4. Gorden Lewis quoted by Hilary Beckles, Black Rebellion in Barbados: The Struggle Against Slavery, 1627-1838, Bridgetown, 1984, p. 2.

5. Michael Craton, "The Passion To Exist: Slave Rebellion in the BWI. 1650-1832". JCH, Vol. 13, 1980, p. 11.

6. Hilary Beckles, Black Rebellion in Barbados, Op cit, p 2.

7. Monica Schuker, "Day to Day Resistance in the Caribbean During the 18th Century", African Studies Association WI Bulletin, No. 6, December 1973, p. 58.

8. Craton, op cit. p. 18.

9. V.G Afanasasyev, Marxist Philosophy, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1980, p. 211.

10. W. McGowan cited in "The 1831 Slave Rebellion in Jamaica", Seminar Paper, Queen's College, August, 1980.

11. M Craton, Testing the Chains: Resistance to Slavery in the BWI, Cornel University press, 1982.

12. Craton, op cit.,cited at p. 13 speech of H Aptheker at New York Academy of Science, May 6, 1976.

13. Robert Moore, "Slave Rebellion in Guiana", 3rd Annual Conference of Caribbean Historians, UG, April 1971.

14. Cheddi Jagan, The Caribbean - Whose Backyard? New Guyana Company, Georgetown, 1985, pp. 16-20.

15. Norman Girvan, Aspects of the Political Economy of Race in the Caribbean and the Americas, Mimeographed paper prepared for the CLASCO-UNAM Conference in Mexico. October 1974, p. 5.

16. E.G. Patterson (1967) ch. VI, Lindsay (1974) p. 10., cited in Girvan, Op.cit. p.6

17. Girvan, op cit., p. 28 cites Beckford, "At first, white people had justified slavery on the grounds that Africans were heathens. But when they had been converted to Christianity, that justification could no longer stand. And so the theory of the racial inferiority of black people was advanced."

18. Cited in Norman Girvan. op cit., p. 13.

19. Malcolm Cross, "East Indian-African Relations in Trinidad and Guyana in the late 19th Century", paper prepared for the Conference on Indo-Caribbean History and Culture, May 9-11, 1988 at the University of Warwick, England.

20. Alan H.Adamson, Sugar Without Slaves, the Political Economy of British Guiana, 1838-1904, New Haven, London, Yale University Press, p. 194.

21. Cd 5194 p. 19. Cited in Malcolm Cross, op cit., p. 26.

22. Malcolm Cross op cit., p. 24.

23. Ibid. p. 15.

24. Dennis Alan Bartels, Class Conflict and Racist Ideology in the Formation of Modern Guyanese Society, University of Alberta, Edmonton, 1978, p. 32.

25. Ibid. p. 34.

26. Ibid. p. 38.

27. Ibid. p. 109.

28. Cd 5194, p. 15 -- cited in Malcolm Cross op cit., p. 24.

29. Dennis A.Bartels, op cit., p. 44.

30. E.F. Im Thurn, "Notes on British Guiana", Paper read at the Royal Colonial Institute, London, December 13, 1892, pp. 7-8.

31. Dennis Bartels, op cit., p. 155.

32. Cited in Dennis Bartels, op cit., p. 14.

     Copyright © Nadira Jagan-Brancier 2000