Articles by Premier of British Guiana (1961-1964)
by Cheddi Jagan,
Premier of British Guiana
The text of an Address to the National Press Club, Washington, D.C, USA October 1961
I am told that I am a controversial figure. I think therefore that my first duty today is to put my personal position before you as briefly and clearly as I can.
I am, I believe, generally dismissed in this country as a Communist. That word has a variety of meanings according to the personal views of the man who makes the charge. Some people, for example, said that General Eisenhower was a Communist. To others a Communist means simply a person who is in favour of a certain pattern of economic organization in which the State plays a direct and active part. Still others mean when they call you a Communist that you are a dedicated agent of what they call an "international conspiracy". During your own struggle to get rid of colonialism your leaders were called all sorts of names. For example, if the term had been known in his day General Lafayette would almost certainly have been called a Communist. Tom Paine whose writings fired the blood of your revolutionaries and inspired me during my student days here, was charged for seditious libel for publishing the " Rights of Man". An ex-colonial American Chief Justice John Reeves set up an organization in England called the Society for the Preservation of Liberty and Property against Republicans and Levellers. And the leaders of your revolution were charged with conspiring with a foreign power - Jacobin France. I draw attention to these aspects of your history because I think it will help you to understand why I have so often been called names and had my views misrepresented and distorted. Let me now tell you where I stand.
First of all I am a passionate anti-colonialist. I, like your forefathers, believe that colonialism is wicked. I believe so strongly that colonialism is utterly wrong that I would gladly accept any help from whatever quarter to help me in my fight against it.
My country is about the size of Great Britain or the State of Minnesota. It is a poor country but it has considerable unused resources and great possibilities for development. At the moment, however, most of its half a million people barely eke out a living on a narrow low-lying coastal strip of land which accounts for only four per cent of our land area. Although the country is mainly agricultural we still have to import many agricultural products. This is not the only paradox in our situation. In a country so largely unoccupied, there is also grave land hunger, for it takes great sums of money to reclaim and then protect cultivable land from floods, the sea and the jungle, and we have never been able to afford enough of these works.
There is almost no industry. My country depends on three or four main products - sugar, bauxite, rice and timber - the exploitation of two of which is in the hands of foreign companies. Indeed these two industries, sugar and bauxite, between them account for seventy-five per cent of the exports of the country.
British Guiana today in fact presents the typical pattern of a colonial economy. It is little more than a raw material base and a market for industrial products with the drain of wealth abroad which perforce results in stagnation and poverty.
I am dedicated to the task of changing this pattern. I wish to see my country prosperous and developing, its people happy, well-fed, well-housed, and with jobs to do. Too many of them at the present time lack these elementary essentials. Second only to my passion for the independence of my people is this dedication to their economic advancement, so that their lives may be more abundant. Now, in this I am a socialist. By this I mean that I am in favour of the workers reaping the full fruits of their labour through public ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange. I believe that it is only by planning on this basis and with a scientific assessment of our situation that I can rapidly modernize our economy and provide my people with the higher standards of living they want and have a right to expect.
I believe ideally in the nationalization of all the important means of production, distribution and exchange. This will ensure a fairer distribution of a country's wealth than any other system. But I also have to recognize things as they are. While I reserve our right, as any sovereign nation does, to nationalize whatever industry we think should be nationalized in the public interest we have explicitly stated that we have no intention of nationalizing the existing sugar and bauxite companies. These companies today dominate our economy, but British Guiana is still largely under-developed. We are resolved to diversify our economy and to industrialize it rapidly so that as we launch new enterprises the proportion of our national income produced by expatriate enterprise becomes smaller and their present command of our economic life weakened. If on the other hand it ever became necessary to nationalize any industries, fair and adequate compensation would be paid.
In carrying out our program of industrialization the state will play an active and direct part. In this, our policy is, I believe, similar in aims to those followed by many other countries of the world, such as India, Ghana, Yugoslavia and Israel, all of which have received generous aid from America.
I place myself in company with other nationalist leaders of Asia and Africa. I believe like these nationalist leaders that the economic theories of scientific socialism hold out the promise of a dynamic and social discipline which can transform an underdeveloped country into a developed one in a far shorter time than any other system.
MAINTENANCE OF DEMOCRATIC WAY OF LIFE
We may differ from you on the way we organize our economic life. You have as your dominant philosophy private enterprise but let us not forget that your development took place in a different historical epoch when conditions - economic and technological were not as they are today. It is however generally agreed now that in an under-developed country and in the face of the rising expectations of the people the State must play a more pervasive role. But we certainly do not differ from you in our political objectives which is the establishment and maintenance of a democratic way of life.
I have won my place in the political life of my country in three successive general elections. I have not come to power by revolution or coup d'etat. I believe in parliamentary democracy, by which I recognize the rights of opposition parties, freedom of speech, freedom of worship, regular and honest elections, an impartial judiciary and an independent civil service. I have been accused of plotting the destruction of freedom in my country. The truth is that those who accuse me of this have themselves been responsible for the denial of freedom to the broad masses of our people. I have struggled for these freedoms and it was I who first proposed that a Bill of Rights guaranteeing every citizen his fundamental rights, including the right to hold property, buttressed by an appeal to the courts, be entrenched in the new constitution of British Guiana. It was I who saw to it that these provisions which are unique in the region and which are not part of the British parliamentary tradition but which are based on your own constitution were inserted in our new British Guiana constitution. I intend that the same rights shall be similarly entrenched in the constitution of an independent Guiana.
To carry out the program of social and economic reform I have in mind for my country, I need both trade and aid. I have already pointed out the need for large scale industrialization if there is to be an improvement in the living standards of the Guianese people. Because of the small population and limited home market a programme for industrialization must be tied to export markets previously explored and secured. It is obligatory on us therefore to make trade agreements either on a government level or with privately-owned agencies wherever we can find markets.
PLACE IN THE WORLD
Finally, may I touch briefly on the place we hope to take in the world when our independence is achieved shortly. I mean to pursue a policy of active neutralism. Because of the immensity of our problems I am forced like India and some other under-developed countries to seek aid from all possible sources. I have however made no secret of the fact that I will not accept any aid upon conditions which limit the sovereignty of my people. We do not intend to be a bridgehead or a base for anyone. I am not the agent for what some call an international conspiracy. I take no orders from anyone. I am concerned only with the urgent problems of the social and economic development of my country. I am not interested in the cold war in which in any case my small country can play no effective role. Sensational headline writers sometimes lose their sense of proportion when they forget this.
That is not to say that I will not interest myself in the many problems of our twentieth century world, some of which are bound to affect us. We look forward indeed in due course to taking our place in the United Nations which represents, particularly for small nations, their guarantee of independence and their hope for the future. We will look at all the world issues, each in turn, and will make up our minds on the evidence presented to us without committing ourselves in advance to any side. I have sometimes been asked where I stand on issues. To this my reply is that a foreign policy in not developed in a vacuum. We are not yet independent. We have no foreign policy at the moment or the diplomatic resources on which sound judgements can be based. At this stage I cannot answer such hypothetical questions. I can only give you the principles which will guide me. I do feel that my country can in our contemporary world of blocs and groups play a part in bringing about a better understanding among nations. In a sense we should not be unqualified to do so. We are a small people mainly of Afro-Asian descent. We are situated in Latin America but we speak the English language and have strong ties with North America and the British Commonwealth.
In a recent speech Professor Rostow described American policy thus:
" We are dedicated to the proposition that this revolutionary process of modernization shall be permitted to go forward in independence with increasing degrees of human freedom. We seek two results: first that truly independent nations shall emerge on the world scene; and second that each nation shall be permitted to fashion, out of its own culture and its own ambitions the kind of modern society it wants ".
That is also my ambition for my country.
TEST OF BASIC PRINCIPLES
In a sense our visit to this country, our request to you for aid, is a test of basic principles. The Government of the United States has stated clearly that their concern is to foster and preserve democracy, that the internal affairs of democratic countries are their own concern. What then happens when a people by an admittedly genuine popular vote opt for a socialist economic system? Will the United States respect this decision? Will she give aid and succour to preserve that democracy? Or will she withhold her aid at the very real risk of that democracy. being overthrown by a dictatorial uprising based on the people's poverty? Will the United States Government give in to pressure groups that exist within it as within all governments and so act as to preserve capitalism by sacrificing the democracy it has so long championed?
There are not lacking, even within this country itself, writers, thinkers, scholars, who hold that when the Government of the United States uses the word " democracy" they really mean capitalism. If these men are right, then we can expect no help, for while we are an admittedly genuine democracy we are also admittedly socialist.
Sooner or later this issue had to be squarely faced and clarified by your administration. History has chosen my own small country to be the focus of this problem. The decision must now be made and demonstrably made.
Indeed, gentlemen, it is not our concept of democracy which is now on trial, but yours.
Copyright © Nadira Jagan-Brancier 2000
I have come to address you in the name of the people of British Guiana. As you know, my party, the People’s Progressive Party, won the elections in August 1961 and I was appointed Premier. I have come in the hope that you will be able in some way to assist in bringing about the immediate political independence of that colony. The right of peoples and nations to self determination and independence is an inalienable right, a right that must be enjoyed by all if mankind is to fulfil its humanity and all the peoples of the world are to truly reap the benefits of this great scientific era in peace.
Only independence, I humbly submit can give the necessary dynamism for rapid economic growth and development. Countries like Ghana, India, Israel, etc., have demonstrated how rapid progress can be after independence. Did not the distinguished Indian delegate, Mr. Sahni, recently tell the United Nations of India's rapid rate of progress in the decade after independence as compared with the fifty years before independence?
I have myself seen the rapid strides being made in Israel. Incidentally, the Mayor of Jerusalem told me that prior to independence, one high-ranking British adviser declared that so hopeless and bleak was the outlook of that country that it could not accommodate one additional cat! That country then had a population of about half a million, the same as ours; today it has over two million.
I had hoped that my recent trip to the United Kingdom to discuss this vital issue of my country's independence would have denied me this unique privilege of addressing this august Assembly. I am aware that I am speaking to those who have perhaps walked this very road beset with barriers and pitfalls, and because of your bitter experience, I feel confident that you will lend your invaluable aid to the cause of freedom and democracy for the Guianese people.
In no other civilization has there been greater extremes between the rich and those who have been condemned to poverty and backwardness. We live in a period unsurpassed in all human history for its abundance and scientific achievement. Yet the gap between the rich and poor countries is widening. The colonial-imperialist Powers, who have in the past repressed and still continue now to repress the legitimate aspirations of millions of people, are primarily responsible for this disgraceful injustice that threatens to rock the fabric of our civilization asunder. Consequently, it behoves all peace-loving nations to declare total war against any system which enslaves the colonial peoples. It is indeed the duty of colonial Powers to examine their consciences, to stop making excuses and grant immediate independence to the many peoples whom they now hold subject throughout the world.
I know that Africa has been a main preoccupation recently. Please permit me to bring to your attention the fact that in the Western Hemisphere there are yet colonial territories where over three million people still yearn for freedom.
Some people are obsessed with the fear of intervention by external Powers in the affairs of the American Republics. But they ignore the three European countries which still subject people in this hemisphere to the degrading status of colonials.
The colonial Powers in their retreat boast about the number of persons to whom they have granted independence as if these people did not fight and suffer imprisonment and other rigorous treatment. Lord Dundee, speaking to the sixteenth plenary meeting of the General Assembly spoke of the "well-known" record of his country in following the principle of self-determination for the countries for which it was responsible. He further stated that it was proud that it had been able to help so many people in such a short time to enjoy self-government. I say to Lord Dundee in all seriousness, what then of British Guiana?
We have repeatedly been told that it is the declared policy of Her Majesty's Government to lead the colonial people to freedom and independence as soon as possible. The past decade has taught us that we cannot rely on those pious declarations, that British policy takes a zigzag course based not on altruism, not on high floral principles, but on self-interest and the protection of privileged positions of vested interests.
In 1953, British Guiana was granted what was then regarded as one of the most advanced constitutions in the British colonial empire. The major assumption by the constitution makers was that the democratic popular forces were too weak to be able to gain control of the Executive. This constitution was thus short-lived. After four and a half months in office, it was suspended. The strong, popularly elected government based on a united people was forcibly removed from office. We were victims of imperialism and the cold war, like the Gallegos Government of Venezuela, the Mossadegh Government of Iran and the Arbenz Government of Guatemala which were overthrown by force in 1948, 1951 and 1954, respectively. The usual campaign of slander and witch-hunt was unleashed against us. Incidentally, Madam Chairman, as Delegate to the last Conference of the Economic Commission for Latin America, I was pleased to see that the main recommendations for the economic well-being of Latin America recited the necessity of economic planning, for rapid industrialization, efficient agricultural development and land reform. These were deemed communist ten years ago when I advocated them.
Following the suspension of our constitution in 1953, there was imposed a Colonial Office dictatorial regime. Imprisonment, detention, restriction of the leaders of the national movement, victimization and terror became the order of the day. In 1957, elections were again held. But this was based on a constitution more retrograde than the one suspended in 1953. And constituencies were grossly gerrymandered. The Guianese people know all too bitterly that Britain's most precious commodity, democracy and democratic practices, are not for export.
Today British Guiana has internal self-government. But it is still a Crown colony. Britain can legislate by Order-in-Council and can at any time suspend the constitution. In many respects, we were better off constitutionally up to 1927. Under the then constitution handed over from the Dutch no such powers were conferred as are now in the hands of the British Government.
On Wednesday last, I spoke to Mr. Maulding, Secretary of State for the Colonies He categorically refused to fix 31 May 1962 or any other date for my country's independence. I may add, in parenthesis, that the 31 May 1962 date, the date fixed for the independence of the West Indies, was proposed by the main opposition party, the People's National Congress, during the election campaign. This date was supported by my party which, together with the People's National Congress, polled 83 per cent of the votes at the recent elections.
Some may ask: Is British Guiana ready for independence? As far as we are concerned the only criterion is the passion of people to be free to pursue the way of life it feels will lead to its fulfilment of peace and contentment. We share the view of the United Nations that low standards and insufficient development should never serve as a pretext for the delay in granting independence.
At one time, the British Government referred to such yardsticks as size, population, literacy, economic viability, and the ability to stand on one's own feet and defend oneself.
British Guiana is about ten times as large as Israel., twice as big as Cuba and bigger than several other independent sovereign States. Its population of 560,000 is as large as that of Cyprus, larger than Iceland, and not too small compared with other independent nations. Its literacy rate is 82 percent. Political consciousness is laudably very high At the recent election almost 90 percent of the electorate cast their ballots without disorder.
What about economic viability? Though largely under-developed, British Guiana achieved over the lasts decade an economic growth rate of 6 per cent per annum. The latest estimate for 1960 is 6 percent. Its budget, though small, is balanced. Indeed, a small surplus is ear marked each year for our development plan.
The national income per capita is about US$240, relatively higher than many under-developed countries..
As regards defence, we do not think it is sound or prudent to fritter away a large part of our limited financial resources in defence in these days of mass weapons of destruction like nuclear bombs and intercontinental missiles. We do not believe that the arms race is the way to international peace and security. We look to friendship with other countries and our membership in the United Nations offers us the collective security required to protect our national sovereignty.
These figures I have cited may be used to justify and to sing the praises of colonialism. Permit me to say that British Guiana, a country rich in natural resources is largely under-developed and there is wide-spread poverty. In addition, hunger and unemployment are prevalent or a wide scale.
What then is the reason for the United Kingdom Government's unrealistic and unprogressive attitude towards the wishes of the people whose wishes were freely expressed in three elections since 1953?
It is clear that the metropolitan Power does not agree with the openly demonstrated cause which the people have proclaimed on their banner the cause of freedom and the ending of colonialist-imperialist domination and exploitation. The response of the British Government to socialism at the ballot box in 1953 was force. Little wonder that the late Aneurin Bevan charged the British Government of giving the right to vote and then dishonouring the verdict of the electorate. Now the answer of colonialism seems to be to delay the granting of independence if the popular democratic forces with socialism as their ideology continue to win successive elections.
Madam Chairman, distinguished delegates, I must readily admit that I find great difficulty in reconciling the Colonial Office's action with the British Government's declarations and even more recently with the liberal sentiments expressed by President Kennedy in his interview with the editor of Izvestia. You will recall that President Kennedy stated that the United States Government would respect and have friendly relations with any government, even communist, which had been elected at free and fair elections. Did not President Kennedy signify his pleasure when he said that even though Marxist, I had won my position at fair elections.
Why then. I ask, the procrastination about our independence?
Our patience is at the point of exhaustion. Only the armed might of the British Government is acting as a deterrent to my people from declaring themselves an independent State with its full obligations and responsibilities to the world community.
But I am not without hope in this honourable struggle to free my people from the chains of colonial bondage. My hope now largely resides in General Assembly resolutions 1514 (xv) of 14 December 1960, and in resolution 1654 (xvi) of 27 November 1961, which clearly establishes a seventeen-man committee to make recommendations on implementing the 1960 Declaration on colonialism. I am also heartened by the authorization of this committee to meet outside of the United Nations Headquarters whenever and wherever such meetings may be requested for the effective discharge of its functions in consultation with the appropriate authorities. I take this opportunity now, Madam Chairman, in requesting through your Committee, the Special Committee of the seventeen, to visit British Guiana as soon as possible to examine the situation there. I shall also call upon the United Kingdom Government to give full support and co-operation in the Committee's task to bring about an early settlement for a date for British Guiana’s independence.
The Fourth Committee has rendered invaluable services to dependent and non-self-governing territories in he past. I am told that not too long ago the United Kingdom Government had opposed
in the Trusteeship Council, the setting of a target date for Tanganyika's independence as unrealistic. Now, Tanganyika is a fully independent and sovereign State. This is due no doubt to the valiant efforts of the Fourth Committee's consistent work in liquidating the vestiges of colonialism. I would wish that in n the near future this Committee's work will come to an end and it will disappear as such and release its energies to other tasks that await solutions in the United Nations Organisation.
In conclusion, I want to express my deep and sincere thanks to you, Madam Chairman, and the distinguished members of your hard-working Committee, for granting me the privilege at such short notice to address you here today. I also wish to express thanks on behalf of the people of Guiana for affording me this hearing.
(Printed in Thunder, 30 December 1961)
Copyright © Nadira Jagan-Brancier 2000
The following is a piece from 1961 paying tribute to Dr. Jagan as a "Petitioner for Freedom". This editorial was written shortly after Dr. Jagan addressed the Decolonisation Committee of the United Nations in November 1961 where he made a strong call for independence for Guyana.
When the history of the twentieth century and the fight against colonialism, for peace and socialism comes to be complied, the name of Cheddi Jagan will be found among the few who could be described as the most indefatigable and the most unyielding fighters.
Over the past three months in particular, Dr. Jagan's activity has done much to light a candle in the darkness and ignorance and has substantially changed the course of events in the battle for freedom and socialism. During his visit to the United States of America a month or so ago, in the face of reaction in this greatest of all imperialist strongholds, Jagan reaffirmed his faith in socialism and the right of people to choose whatever government they wish. As a direct result of his activities in the United States, President John Kennedy in one of the most important press interviews that he is ever likely to hold in his lifetime - we refer to the interview with the correspondent of Izvestia - said that irrespective of what Jagan was, even if he was a communist, he had been elected by free ballot and deserved respect and assistance from the United States and other countries. Who could detract from the significance of this statement, who could detract from the brilliance of this outstanding achievement on the part of the Premier of a country with a handful of people without arms without forces, without power to threaten anyone?
This statement of policy by the President of the United States will go a far way in assuring people all over the world of the recognition of the right to choose whomsoever they wish to lead them in free elections.
The other aspect that we would like to refer to is the significance of being able to address the United Nations Trusteeship Committee and to lift his voice in freedom even when he did it as he preferred to appear as a "Petitioner for Freedom".
Indeed, the British imperial government's representative attempted to prevent Jagan from speaking. And in this he was assisted by certain other imperial interests who are today joining in the destruction of the rights of the Congolese people and against India in her last minute decision to put an end to imperialist enclaves in her territory.
The Guianese people and the other peoples still under colonial rule, owe a debt of gratitude to this son of Guiana who in his own land is abused by interests who dominated this country before, and other stooges who secured decorations for their support of reaction. British Guiana has suffered much because of her fight for freedom and though Guiana is not a free and independent country, the territories of Africa and Asia who have become free have benefited greatly from the struggle for freedom, for peace and for socialism put up by British Guianese under the leadership of Cheddi Jagan.
We look forward to celebrating independence of Guiana in 1962 even if the British do not now agree. Guianese people in this last ditch struggle will have to he firm and unyielding in their determination but they have one consolation - that at the head of this struggle for freedom there is an unyielding leader, one who will not swerve one-thousandth of an inch in his determination to free Guiana and to fight for socialism and peace not only in Guiana but for the whole world.