Tributes to Cheddi Jagan - Remembering CJ
by Ralph Ramkarran
In 1991 Vidya Naipaul, the Trinidad born Nobel Prize Winner in Literature, visited Guyana for the second time. He had first come in 1961 and had met Cde Cheddi and Cde Janet. On this second occasion he visited them both again and spoke at length with Cde Cheddi here at his home. This is how he described the scene:
It was of his early days, and especially of his time in America, that I wanted to hear when I next met Cheddi Jagan. He came for me at the hotel one Sunday afternoon, and we drove to his house. It was the house he had built after he had left the premiership in 1964. It was a plain, new-style, two-story Georgetown house, well-fenced, with a watchdog.
We sat upstairs. The afternoon breeze blew through the open doors on both sides. Beyond the wrought-iron rails of the balcony the garden was all green, with mango trees and coconut trees and banana trees.
It was in this peaceful atmosphere that Cde Cheddi worked and relaxed for the last forty years of his life. The life he created here, while the afternoon breeze blew, where all was green, with mango trees and coconut trees and banana trees provided exercise, ensured tranquility, facilitated meetings, the entertainment of visitors and allowed for his creative impulses to soar. It was in this atmosphere that he read, researched and wrote.
I well remember 1966 when this house was built. The land had been acquired by purchase by my father from Bookers a few years earlier. Our family had lived on this plot of land from about 1920, shortly after my father was born, and on this plantation since 1875, when my great great grandfather came here as an indentured labourer.
The construction of this house was undertaken by Cde Cheddi in the manner that he did most things – hands on. He designed the house. He obtained the materials. He brought the carpenters from Berbice. He supervised them. And when they ran out of groceries, they pestered my mother next door. I spent many hours here befriending the carpenters and looking on as they worked. Only a couple of years ago I was in Berbice for an event and a comrade came up to me and challenged my memory, asking if I knew him. He turned out to be one of the carpenters who had worked on this house as a young man. Our conversation took me back to 1966, more than forty years ago.
It was a landmark year in the history of Guyana. Inasmuch as the colonial power was in the final stages of the destruction of democracy in then British Guiana, Cde Cheddi was in the beginning stages of the construction of a home which was to provide the comforts to enable him to produce his celebrated study, The West on Trial, published in 1966, and to sustain patient effort for near three decades always confident of the justice of his case.
I must stress, however, that Cde Cheddi, as far as I know, was always comfortable, wherever he was, with basic amenities to enable him to do his work. All he ever needed were the bare comforts so that he could read and write and sleep.
Cde Cheddi spent a great deal of time in his garden which provided both relaxation and exercise. All the trees here, and many more which no longer exist, were planted by him. Breezy, green afternoons under a blue sky followed by cool, starlit evenings provided the quiet and serene backdrop for him to survey the world and Guyana and interpret their history and current developments. It is here that he researched and wrote his masterpiece, The West on Trial, that I mentioned earlier, a political biography of unfinished business, which not only set out his credo but argues his case for Guyana and his struggle against world poverty and, as he argued, an economic system which ensures it. The West on Trial is the best known of what he wrote here. But he also wrote endlessly and voluminously. In this brief exposition it would be impossible for me to do justice to the range and quality of Cde Cheddi’s writings which are already well known. One series that I remember well because I was particularly attached to it, anxiously awaiting my Sunday Mirror to read what he had to say was Straight Talk, a weekly column on a subject of topical interest. One particular piece was headlined Trade not Aid. I have unsuccessfully searched for it ever since to prove that he was a man before his time, speaking about these matters before anyone else.
In this, the only home that Cde Cheddi’s owned, there was always a hive of activity and ferment of ideas generated by endless formal and informal meetings, discussions, consultations and conversations with and among the Party Executive, Party colleagues, comrades and other visitors. From what I have learnt, the same atmosphere existed at all of the places where Cde Cheddi’s lived and worked. It was at his homes, and particularly this modest one which I know about, that many momentous political decisions were either discussed or taken. Many of us met here regularly to discuss all kinds of issues, particularly at weekends. For me this went on from the early 1970s up to 1992. I am sure that the same situation existed in the earlier period. My father told me that as far back as 1947, already a member of the Political Affairs Committee, he led a delegation to persuade Cde Cheddi to contest the elections of that year and they had met him in his dental surgery.
Thus from his earliest days in politics Cde Cheddi had no personal space which he protected from intrusion, as is such a great fashion nowadays. For Cde Cheddi the cause on which he had embarked was more important than his personal comforts. It was a single cause, pursued single mindedly for his entire life. Vidya Naipaul was puzzled about his persistence and sought to explore it in 1991. He explained the reason why he went to meet Cde Cheddi: I wanted to know how he had endured since 1964, what internal resources he had drawn on, why he hadn't given up, like many of his followers. Naipaul did not discover the motive force behind his dedication. It probably had the simplest of explanations – just that he was simply a good man. That we know and that is probably the key to understanding what drove him on. It is no surprise that Naipaul could not fathom the source of his commitment and persistence. Cde Cheddi himself did not seem to know. After asking him Naipaul concluded: He appeared not to understand the question. Like most selfless people he was clearly not a man given to personal introspection and this explains the reason why he appeared not to have understood the question.
Many people would fail to understand the full implications of my description of Cde Cheddi as a “good” man because it is an overused word that has lost much of its power. I really mean that he was a good man in the true sense and in every respect of the word. For example, he was kind. He would stop his car in the mornings at the bus stops and fill it with people waiting for transportation to take them to town. He was friendly, polite and respectful to everyone he met, even when they were hostile. In meetings he listened to everyone; he often called on comrades to speak to hear what they were thinking. He discussed everything, sometimes more than once when he was uncertain of his own position. He was honest, famed for his integrity and respected for his frankness. He never took offence and rarely showed anger.
These qualities enabled Cde Cheddi to be deeply reflective and completely cerebral, with no time for gossip or small talk. Divorced from the personal, he was able to focus on the larger picture outside of himself in the quietude of his home here in Bel Air. These reflections produced The New Global Human Order, his now famous treatise, adopted by the United Nations, on measureswhich can eliminate or substantially reduce world poverty. The ideas in the NGHO are more relevant now than ever before with the world in crisis and a financial shortfall of $700 billion in developing countries, according to the World Bank. It estimates that 200 million people will enter the ranks of those afflicted by poverty as a result of the crisis.
I had the privilege of making a presentation on The New Global Human Order in 2006 at Red House. It is uncanny how throughout his life Cde Cheddi was in the forefront of new ideas on development issues. I mentioned his call for free trade in the 1960s. He championed the environment and equality for women as far back as the 1960s and 1970s, long before these issues became popular. It was his advanced knowledge of the causes of poverty and exploitation in Latin America that enabled him to predict the failure of President Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress in the 1960s, which was a programme to eliminate poverty in Latin America.
He was one of the leading pioneers against payment of the debt by developing countries, advocating that it be forgiven, starting before most in the 1970s when the issue had not yet gained momentum. In the NGHO, bringing together in one document a number of already existing but disparate proposals, which he himself had been advocating for many years, he formally joined the struggle, then in its infancy, for the reform of the international financial institutions. Among his wide ranging proposals were that: the United Nations system should play a more central role in global economic management and should have access to large financial resources; the IMF and World Bank to concentrate on human development as distinct from the means of development and return to their original roles; providing for equitable international trade both in goods and services to accelerate global growth and allow a more equitable distribution of its benefits. These are all accepted as worthy and desirable goals today but at the time when they were proposed they were frowned upon. Proposals for reform of the international financial institutions to treat with the type of crisis now being experienced have now gone far beyond what Cde Cheddi had suggested. This is the originality of the intellect of the founder of our Party as we reflect on these ideas at his home where many of them emanated.
Many of us wonder at what leadership Cde Cheddi would have given in relation to the crisis which now threatens to grow into a depression unless the appropriate measures are taken by the developed countries, particularly by the United States. To arrive at an analysis he would have advocated, we need to utilize the intellectual resources he would have used.
Even though it is now not fashionable to talk about Marx, who along with Adam Smith and John Maynard Keynes, contributed the most to our understanding of how capitalism works, Cde Cheddi in his lifetime frequently referred to them. As regards the current crisis he would have pointed to Marx’s discovery and analysis of the cyclical patterns of economic growth, which are now afflicting the developed world and would have urged the adoption of Keynes’s prescriptions for solutions. These theories are accepted by many mainstream, non-Marxist economists today. Many serious economists were influenced by Marx, and this is attested to by John Kenneth Galbraith, one of the most famous of American economics professors, in his work, The Affluent Society.
Cde Cheddi would have relied on Marx’s analysis of the cyclical pattern of economic growth of capitalism is contained in Volume 1 of Capital in the chapter entitled The General Law of Capitalist Accumulation in which he makes an extensive analysis of the issue.He concludes his analysis as follows: The course characteristic of modern industry, viz., a decennial cycle (interrupted by smaller oscillations), of periods of average activity, production at high pressure, crisis and stagnation, depends on the constant formation, the greater or less absorption, and the reformation of the industrial reserve army or surplus population. A prominent non-Marxist economist, Meghnad Desai, a Professor at the London School of Economics, describes the theory in more simple terms in his work, Marx’s Revenge, as follows: Capitalists employ workers to make profits, but as they employ more workers, unemployment goes down. This puts pressure on real wages. As real wages, as well as employment, go up, the share of profit goes down, and there is a squeeze on the rate of profits. At this boom stage of the cycle, capitalists retaliate by investing in labour-saving technology, thus slowing down the growth of – even reducing – employment. As unemployment increases, the pressure on real wages eases, and they may even go down. This is the slump. Profitability improves; this encourages capitalists to expand their business now, with the new technology, and the cycle continues its upward course.
In relying on this and similar analyses,Cde Cheddi advocated in the past, and would have done so now, that the periodic crises of capitalism are inherent in the system, crises which experts like Alan Greenspan, the former US Federal Reserve Chairman, Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister of Great Britain and Ben Bernanke, the current US Federal Reserve Chairman, and himself an expert on the Great Depression of 1929, all in recent times, announced were at an end; and these statements were made while we have been in the midst of the asset bubble of unprecedented proportions, which Greenspan, in evidence to the Congress, while he was Chairman of the Federal Reserve, described as irrational exuberance.
Much has been made of the credit squeeze in the United States arising from the puncturing of the housing bubble as one of, or even the main direct factor, creating the recession. Cde Cheddi lectured again and again on the inherent contradictions in the social relations of production within the capitalist system that makes these crises inevitable and to Marx’s explanation that the expansion of credit accompanies capitalist development. Marx said in his usual caustic manner: The superficiality of Political Economy shows itself in the fact that it looks upon expansion and contraction of credit, which is the mere symptom of the periodic changes of the industrial cycle, as their cause. Marx predicted that the system of credit will grow into “an enormous social mechanism for the centralization of capitals.”(Marx, Capital, Volume 1 pp. 777-8)
The complexity of developed market economies today means that the manifestations of the crisis are more complex. For example, the technological developments during the Clinton Administration of computer technology, ushering in the information age, temporarily obscured from public view the loss of manufacturing jobs and growing contradictions marked by speculation, financialization, securitization, the enlarging asset bubble, all facilitated by low interest rates and a wild expansion of credit, natural outcomes of capitalist growth which itself created a significant number of new jobs. The housing bubble was a mere product of this speculation. It encouraged millions of good people, who could not afford it, to take credit to purchase homes on floating mortgage rates which could only go upwards because of the low rates during the Greenspan era. It was this upward movement which increased monthly payments, which could not be afforded, that devastated mortgage holders and triggered the crisis.
The development of financialization and securitization of the US economy, where it was producing credit rather than goods and services, in a constant and inexorable drive to produce, an integral feature of capitalism, noted by Marx and supported by Galbraith, took place in the face of declining industrial competitiveness. The growth of the share of profits generated by financial investments against a weak regulatory background which allowed untrammeled speculation, gambling and greed, presaged the inevitable collapse we are witnessing. While Marx predicted the growth of credit, Lenin was in a better position by 1916, because of the growth by then of large monopolies and banks, to note the power of finance capital and its capacity to influence developments. This was built on from Marx who had said, as I mentioned earlier, that credit was an enormous social mechanism for the centralization of capital.
Cde Cheddi was very familiar with all of this and would have relied on this tract by Lenin written in 1916, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism and in particular the chapter, Finance Capital and the Financial Oligarchy. Cde Cheddi’s consistent advocacy of a full, and not an intellectually truncated, understanding of market economies, taking into account Marx’s analysis of capitalism, which Wall Street and US academia pay closer attention to than they reveal or most people believe, has enabled us to get a more rounded picture of developments and of some of the market factors underlying the financialization and securitization of the US economy.
The first economist after Marx who made an impact by his study of the cyclical pattern of capitalist economies was John Maynard Keynes. Though not an enemy of capitalism, he was also a critic, who discovered and advocated solutions to recessions in his main work, The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money. A simplified explanation of Keynes’s theory is that where the private sector is not investing enough, and the economy goes into recession, full employment can only be maintained and eventual recovery return by government spending. He had challenged Say’s Law (Jean-Baptiste Say 1767-1832) which divined that supply creates its own demand (John Bellamy Foster, A Failed System – The World Crisis of Capitalist Globalisation and its Impact on China).
Keynes himself said: I find the explanation of the current business losses, of the reduction in output, and of the unemployment which necessarily ensues on this not in the high level of investment which was proceeding up to the spring of 1929, but in the subsequent cessation of this investment. I see no hope of a recovery except in a revival of the high level of investment. (John Maynard Keynes, The General Theory and After: Part I, Preparation; Collected Writingsof John Maynard Keynes, vol. 13, pt. 1, Donald Moggridge, ed., (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press)).
President Obama of the United States, against great and continuing resistance, shrugging off the post–Keynesian neo-classisists, such as Paul Samuelson and Milton Friedman, the latter of whose ideas drove economic policy since at least the 1970s, including the Reagan/Thatcher Revolution and the Washington Consensus, now discredited, has overturned decades of supply side policies and has returned to the application of partial Keynesian policies in order to stop the bleeding in the United States. The question is whether he will be able to sustain his course because economists such as Paul Krugman, a recent Nobel Prize Winner, who have embraced some elements of Keynesianism, have argued that Obama is not doing enough and have suggested that another stimulus package will soon be necessary (Paul Krugman, The Return of Depression Economics and the Crisis of 2008). Already Krugman is complaining about the dilatoriness in moving to resolve the credit crisis because of fear of grappling with the politics of having to nationalize some banks.
The lessons of the past are important. President Herbert Hoover did nothing when the Great Depression hit in 1929. The US economy deteriorated. President Franklyn Roosevelt was elected in 1932 and adopted Keynesian methods. He stimulated the US economy by large scale government spending which alleviated the crisis and restored some buoyancy to the economy. However, the crisis was not completely resolved until the vast spending generated by the Second World War. This has led some experts to conclude that the stimulus packages implemented by President Roosevelt were inadequate as there were great pressures against him by conservatives and the wealthy just as there are against Obama today. John Bellamy Foster and Robert W. McChesney in an article entitled A New Deal under Obama? in Monthly Review of February 2009, demonstrated by analysis the inadequacy of public spending in the Roosevelt era which the necessary spending in the Second World War had to resolve, and the danger of the same thing happening in the Obama era.
Cde Cheddi accepted Keynes as a great scholar and believed that he had arrived at the appropriate conclusions to deal with recessions. He was therefore very much impressed by the policies undertaken by Roosevelt in The New Deal and repeatedly referred to then approvingly during his lifetime. He also regarded Roosevelt as a very progressive leader. He praised the social policies he adopted including social security and pro trade union policies adopted for the first time in the US.
Having accepted IMF conditionalities for Guyana, Cde Cheddi called for structural adjustment with a human face, in line with an approach that Roosevelt’s would have pursued of a social safety net for the poor. Cde Cheddi’s call was eventually realized in the Millenium Development Goals adopted by the United Nations and incorporated in US aid policies under the Millenium Challenge Account. Unfortunately Cde Cheddi’s lifelong admiration for much in the US, its revolution, its democracy, its vibrant Congress, its libertarian traditions and their responsiveness at critical times to the call of the working people, was obscured by the cold war and the early attack on progressive leaders in the 1950s such as Cde Cheddi himself in 1953, Arbenz of Guatemala and Mossadeq of Iran.
The World Bank has estimated that for the first time since the Second World War the world economy will contract. It also estimates that developing countries will face a financial shortfall of US$700 billion, as I mentioned earlier. These predictions, coming one on top of the other, are getting more and more dire.
Caricom countries cannot sit by and allow what is in effect an economic tsumani to create destruction in our economies. Their challenge is to take measures to protect their economies with a united approach to save Clico, the establishment of an early warning mechanism, identification of industries or businesses at risk and measures to alleviate such risk, ensuring that financial flows to the Region continue, fighting against protectionism by developed countries, encouraging measures of public spending by developed countries to deal with their recession, for the longer term to reform the international financial institutions and to coordinate their own policies in dealing with issues arising within the region. The track record so far in relation to Clico, an authentic regional conglomerate, which has been willing to support development projects in Guyana and the Region, has not inspired confidence. Mr. DeLisle Worrell, in a paper, Saving Clico, (February 2009) for the Caribbean Centre for Money and Finance advances the arguments in favour of Clico and suggests the measures which ought to be taken, though perhaps many of these might be too late. Hopefully, the situation will be corrected in relation to the entire gamut of economic and financial policies in order to reduce the impact of the recession in the developed world. The decision of Caricom Heads at the 20th Inter-Sessional Meeting in Belize on March 12 establishing a Committee of Central Bank Governors to provide Heads of Government with proposals on how the Community could collaborate to tackle the current international crisis is a start in the right direction and the appointment of a College of Regulators to trace the assets of Clico are some steps are being taken.
In Guyana, the performance of the economy was the focus of attention during last month when the Minister of Finance, Dr. Ashni Singh, presented his budget. He demonstrated that the economy grew by 3.1 percent last year, a respectable figure by any standard, having regard to the difficulties of an exogenous nature being experienced. And had it not been for the difficulties in sugar resulting in reduced production, the growth rate would have been 5.9 percent. The Minister actually said that without the anticipated increase in the production in sugar, the expected growth rate would be 1.8 percent. The Minister’s projection might be optimistic in view of the world situation. But it is wholly reasonable having regard to the Guyana situation at the time when the Minister spoke. But we must understand that the world situation is changing all the time for the worst. For example, the projections of the US budget are based on an unemployment figure of 8.1 percent during this year. A mere few weeks after the budget was presented to Congress, the unemployment figure was already there and predictions are that it would reach double digits. For Guyana, bauxite price fell by 50 percent during last year. Rice price is going down. Commodity prices generally are going down. So no one can accurately predict what the position will be at the end of this year in a rapidly deteriorating international environment. But the Minister’s job is to make these assessments and he can only do so on the basis of the facts available at that time. In my view he has done the best he could with the information which was available to him at that time.
The Government’s commitment, as announced by the President was reiterated by the Minister of Finance, and again in Parliament last week, to ensure that pensioners and policyholders will not lose as a result of the difficulties of Clico (Guyana). This commitment demonstrates the nature of our approach, which is one that devotes 30 percent of its budget to social spending and is determined that Guyanese people, particularly the poor and vulnerable, are not disadvantaged by the situation at Clico (Guyana).
I believe that these are the conclusions Cde Cheddi would have made as he contemplated these issues here at his home and these are the positions that he would have wholeheartedly supported, mindful of the fact that these can only be temporary until a social system emerges which can resolve or is more responsive to the contradictions which give rise to the difficulties we face.
The question always arises as to whether Cde Cheddi was a successful person or not. There are many ways of judging success. Different criteria are used by different people. Utilising some criteria, particularly those defined by critics, he was a resounding failure because, as they argue, socialism has failed. Many of the proposals made by Cde Cheddi since his early days in politics, have more to do with independent economic development and measures to eliminate poverty within the context of market economies which he analysed with great precision and perspicacity, even though he believed that the developed economies had and could easily set aside the resources to eliminate poverty in our lifetime, as in clear in his proposals for a New Global Human Order. By my standards and on my assessment, Cde Cheddi was a great success. Many of the ideas which he advocated have been adopted or accepted. Many of the programmes he criticized have failed. Again and again his vision has been vindicated. But then I may be accused of bias.
I started with Naipaul and I should let Naipaul have the last word. He cannot be accused of bias. One of the reasons for his visit to Guyana was to assess Cde Cheddi. Having regard to his own expertise, work and achievements, he is supremely qualified to make a judgment. This is his conclusion, after being at home with Cheddi: The house, with its books and family pictures, felt calm. Thinking of that, thinking of the Jagan children settled abroad, and thinking of the journey that had begun in 1936, I wondered whether it couldn't be said that Cheddi Jagan, in an essential personal way, had been a success.
In three days from now, March 22, Cde Cheddi would have been 91. Let’s join together and wish him a Happy Birthday!
At the Home of Cde Janet Jagan
65 Plantation Bel Air
East Coast Demerara
March 18, 2009
by Ralph Ramkarran
As we celebrate the 43rd Anniversary of our Independence, it is about time that someone challenges the hate campaign that is being daily waged in some quarters about Cheddi Jagan’s politics and his record of service for the freedom and development of Guyana.
The people of Guyana spoke decisively about Cheddi Jagan when he died. They recorded their judgment of him in their thousands, in a quiet and dignified surge to pay tribute, in an outpouring never seen in the known history of Guyana. They sealed that judgment permanently with their grief and it will be forever etched in the consciousness of all who witnessed it and all who come after. In the city, towns and rural communities, the Guyanese people gave final recognition to and gratitude for the life of a man who committed himself at a young age to their liberation and sustained that commitment throughout his life, without expectation or hope of reward. They thanked him for it even though some may not have supported him in his lifetime. Had it been possible he would have witnessed for himself the true, forgiving, noble character of the Guyanese people which he always knew existed and in which he had placed lifelong confidence.
The formation of the Political Affairs Committee in 1947 by four intrepid revolutionaries, Cheddi Jagan, Janet Jagan, Ashton Chase and Jocelyn Hubbard, set the stage for the formation of the Peoples’ Progressive Party in 1950 and for the demand for universal adult suffrage, independence and social justice. The daunting road to that goal did not seem to faze those in the leadership of the PPP. They were inspired and motivated by the American Revolution and the constitution it gave birth to, the principles underlying the Atlantic Charter, India and the Soviet Union. Their youth and revolutionary fervor gave them energy and confidence. They brought hope to the Guyanese people.
The astonishing success in bringing together such broad forces under the umbrella of the PPP, the winning of universal adult suffrage and the astounding electoral victory of 1953 set the stage for Guyana’s independence. The setback of the suspension of the constitution and the split in the PPP, although devastating, were temporary. As he did all of his life, Cheddi Jagan shrugged off these defeats and setbacks, focusing instead on the larger picture and the final goal. Having won the 1957 and 1961 elections, the latter under an advanced, self-governing constitution, independence was now within reach, a realizable goal. But as we know, the massive intervention in Guyana by foreign elements with the collusion of their local henchmen between 1962 and 1964, paralysed the PPP government and eventually ensured its removal.
The professional Jagan/PPP haters, motivated by nothing more than common ill-will and spite, barely capable of stringing two credible thoughts (or sentences) together, constantly whip up sensationalism, hurling epithets, in a frenetic drive to sustain a post retirement dollar. They seek endlessly to distort Cheddi Jagan’s record and history, constantly boasting of their own tarnished democratic credentials, forgetting their dedicated commitment to a “communist” regime (as described by those they now uphold) which refused to hold elections and which collapsed from its own dead weight, inviting the worst foreign intervention in this region since our countries gained independence.
Cheddi Jagan is constantly portrayed as a ‘monster communist,’ in scenes plucked right out of the discredited Joe McCarthy era of anti-communist hysteria in the US, and regularly regurgitated to us from hack writers pretending to be ‘analysts,’ ‘essayists’ and ‘theorists,’ who wouldn’t recognize a theory if you hit them over the head with one. But we are never reminded that he is the man who, in desperation at the prospect of independence being postponed, agreed trustingly to place reliance on the self-proclaimed British sense of justice and fairplay to mediate the differences between himself and the opposition, even though he recognized that he might be the loser. He placed his own political future on the line knowing that independence for Guyana surpassed every other consideration and could not be delayed, whatever the internal political consequences. This noble act of selfless patriotism has been lost on those whose motives in criticizing Cheddi Jagan are not based on honest and objective analysis but reek to high heavens, the aroma drifting upwards enshrouded in the big coat of a government television programme from which they were rightfully thrown off and now intent on mean and vulgar revenge to him, his people and his works. However, it was not forgotten by the thousands of all races, creeds and classes who, in the final moment of judgment in March, 1997, rendered a verdict for the ages.
On May 26, 1966, Burnham, then Premier, was stunned by an unfamiliar act of forgiveness and generosity - the appearance of Cheddi Jagan, no longer in power, at the National Park to celebrate with him Guyana’s new status as an independent country and the realization of his dream and pledge in 1949 at Enmore to devote himself to the liberation of Guyana. The now famous embrace between these two leaders, who have shaped so much of Guyana’s political consciousness, says nothing about Forbes Burnham, the victor, but everything about Cheddi Jagan, the vanquished. This man who, then aged 47, dedicated most of the remainder of his life to delivering the Guyanese people from the clutches of authoritarian rule, which was aided and abetted by the Western powers, is the most eloquent answer to all those of his detractors who accuse him of supporting dictatorship and of dictatorial conduct.
Cheddi Jagan’s legacy is now in the hands of history which in due course will analyse his works, including his ideological orientation, world view and sympathy with the socialist world during the Cold War. It will take into account Arthur Schlesinger’s (President Kennedy’s Special Assistant who helped to devise the US’s policy to destabilize Guyana) apology to him in 1993 for conspiring against him and his belated judgment that a “great injustice was done to Cheddi Jagan.” It will consider whether, having regard to the attitude of Western powers to Guyana and their complicity with the events of 1962/4 and 1968/1985, Cheddi Jagan had any alternative but to seek alliances with the socialist world. That history is already being written. Professor Rabe’s book, “US Intervention in British Guiana” (Ian Randle Publishers Limited 2005) chronicles the ignoring of the positive reports about Cheddi Jagan, his demonisation and the “destruction of Guyana.”
by Eddi Rodney
Accolades and tributes at a given stage assume rhetorical significance whenever the occasion is to honour an outstanding historical figure. Dialectically however, these expressions transform themselves over time and at the behest of generations. One example is Martin Carter’s poetry and prose of the 1950’s, especially his “All are involved”. This verse has become rallying cry and slogan for millions of people all over the world. Any one can be absolutely certain that not in his wildest imagination did the ‘Young’ Martin Carter visualize what impact his poetry of the 1950’s would exert once these entered the public domain.
Political Identity and Jagan
The 10th Anniversary Year in honour of the first elected President of Guyana, Dr Cheddi Jagan, coincided with the 60th Anniversary of his entry into Parliament (then the Legislative Council or Assembly) in 1947. On Friday, December 14, 2007 the National Assembly, our Parliament debated Jagan. Praise was made from every parliamentary political party. Every member of the House (or Chamber) who could be accommodated by the Speaker was allowed the opportunity to contribute. A local newspaper in an editorial (Kaieteurnews.yahoo.com) December 20, captioned Sixty Years Later, makes an important point; “every Member of Parliament was sincere in his/her contribution. Many were not even Members of Parliament when Dr Jagan moved on to accede to the Office of President in 1992, but were for the greater part aware of his works.”
For the most part this is precisely accurate. However, caution should be exercised; particularly in terms of political identity and Cheddi Jagan. Being aware of his works involves much more than reading or hearing about Jagan. What is crucial is that what he actually wrote and said at different periods must be analyzed (Navin Chandarpal and Donald Ramotar, 2003/2004). It is necessary to examine how he sought to bring meaning to his development programs through corresponding with world renown figures, how he struggled to outline the difficulties the country was experiencing as a consequence of Burnham’s connivance with both the Governor(s) of the Colony and with emissaries of the American government. Jagan must have wrote several hundreds of letters over his lifetime in addition to drafting memos, statements and official instructions to party colleagues as well as Government officials, Public Servants, Ministers and others Heads of Government overseas,.
Prime Minister Samuel Hinds communicates his own impressions as “a Civic and a Citizen” in last Thursday’s Guyana Chronicle http://www.guyanachronicle.com (20/12/07). Crafted in the immediate atmosphere of the 60th Year Anniversary, these statements could be compared to those conveyed earlier this year by Grenadian Senator Chester Humphrey (Weekend Mirror 10/11 March 2007)
Order of Liberation
Cheddi Jagan set out to restructure the political society of British Guyana at a time when Dr Malan and the Afrikaners ruled in apartheid/fascist South Africa. Africans and Indians had absolutely no rights whilst the Coloureds were regarded as potential supporters of this barbaric system. At that time also there was the US Sponsored Marshall Plan and the election in Britain of a Labour Government under the neo-Fabian Premiership of Mr. Clem Attlee (See West On Trial, pp. 127-133-136).
These were the ‘opposites’, the political markers that Cheddi Jagan had to analyze and interpret when himself and wife, long time partner Janet Jagan and others launched the People’s Progressive Party or PPP. The award of the Order of Liberation therefore is a Great Testimonial, honouring a leader who is no longer with us, but whose life-long involvement in the struggle for Freedom remains as the signal event of our era. Cabinet’s announcement of the O/L award, which is the highest national honour, was made earlier this year. A packed calendar year and preoccupations with possible local government elections registration, impacted on the Administration’s normal programming for National Awards. Last Tuesday’s State House function was a keynote event attended by several Government ministers, leading People’s Progressive Party members and representatives and public servants. These included prominent members of the Disciplined Services, Parliamentarians and a section of the diplomatic community were also present.
President Bharrat Jagdeo lauded Dr Jagan. Alluding to his tremendous political acumen and charisma, the President observed that Dr Jagan’s memory and example was reflected in the several people whose lives he touched. A similar tribute and describtion was made by Dr Amar Wahab on March 6, 2007, whilst delivering the Cheddi Jagan Memorial Lecture at Warwick University, England.
Mrs. Janet Jagan OE, former First Lady and President and Dr Jagan’s widow, reminded those present of the sacrifices Cde Cheddi made, the selfless hours he spent amongst the people he loved in his lifelong struggle to bring about a free independent and democratic Guyana.
Printed in Mirror Dec 24, 2007-12-24
by Parvati Persaud-Edwards
Cheddi's Fight For Independence
Young trade unionist and political activist, Dr. Cheddi Jagan, at Montego Bay in 1945 adopted the Caribbean Labour Congress resolution for federation with dominion status and internal self-government for each territory. He argued on this position in a debate in the Legislative Council in 1948.
The European oligarchy, however, did not want control of the colonies slipping out of their hands and saw Cheddi Jagan as their bitter enemy who could neither be bought nor persuaded to change his policies, so they decided to curtail his activities and undermine his influence at any cost, which they eventually succeeded in doing at the expense of a budding nationhood of a united Guyanese people.
The "PAC Bulletin," which was informing and educating the masses on the need for self-rule, among other issues, was the focus of much agitation by the "massas," who wanted a ban on the six-page mimeographed bulletin.
Vigorous and unrelenting lobbying had led to a new constitution being granted in 1943, with a Legislative Council comprising four ex-officio members, including the Governor, seven nominated non-official and 14 elected members. Elections had been postponed several times, but as a placatory gesture Ayube Edun and Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow had been nominated to the Council.
Several independents contested the 1947 General Elections. It was subsequent to those historic elections, after a victorious Cheddi Jagan first took his seat in the Legislative Council, that the political landscape of British Guiana took a dynamic and dramatic turn.
The Legislative Council became a genuine forum for real debates, even though 'li'l country boy' Jagan was initially ignored by the middle and upper class 'gentlemen,' but he eventually succeeded in transforming the legislature into a forum for the pursuit of social and political justice for his people.
It was during this time that Cheddi Jagan was branded 'communist' by the colonials and the capitalists, because his politics predisposed to fighting for equal rights for the working class, arguing for the empowerment of the helpless and vulnerable in society through various measures and mechanisms he propagated, and was uncompromising in his demands, much to the chagrin and anger of the ruling elitists.
Challenging the upper and bourgeoisie class for the establishment of rights for the proletariat in the Legislative Assembly Jagan was defeated almost every time by the combined efforts of the commercial and ruling elite, but he pursued his struggles at street corners and bottom houses across the country, awakening an awareness and a militancy in British Guiana's subdued and subjugated working class masses. Throughout his lifetime of struggle this bonding with the masses was Cheddi Jagan's strength. His trademark honesty and sincerity was reflected in his blinding smile that won hearts everywhere.
Those who supported the injustices meted out to the working class were amply rewarded. The opposite held true of those who opposed the oppressive systems that had become institutionalized through various factors, all beneficial to the dominant class. Jagan was perceived as their deadly enemy who must be crushed at any cost.
Continuous agitation and protest actions against the plantocracy elicited vicious retribution and, during a 4 1/2 month strike in eight sugar estates, five labourers were shot dead at Plantation Enmore, prompting Cheddi Jagan to pledge "I would dedicate my entire life to the cause of the struggle of the Guyanese people against bondage and exploitation."
The original founder-members of PAC had by then invited several other persons to form a political party in order to provide themselves a stronger platform from which to struggle against imperialism; so it was that the People's Progressive Party (PPP) was formed in January of 1950.
Founder-member Ashton Chase, who was supposed to be chairman, gave way to new member LFS Burnham because of the latter's greater academic achievements. Other office bearers included Dr. Cheddi Jagan, who was elected leader, and Mrs. Janet Jagan, who became the first General-Secretary of the PPP because of her leadership and organising capabilities. The "PAC Bulletin" became "The Thunder," which Mrs. Jagan edited until the day she died.
Continuous agitation by the PPP resulted in the Waddington Constitution Commission visiting British Guiana in 1950. The PPP delegation argued, on the principles of self-determination as outlined in the Atlantic Charter, for the right of the people of British Guiana to frame their own Constitution by the election of a constituent assembly.
The Constitution Commission did not agree to this, and although concessionary changes were made, all veto powers were left in the hands of the representatives of the British Government.
In the meantime the outrageous injustices continued, even to the extent of the prohibition of literary material, which was being freely circulated in the UK and elsewhere, but which was denied to members of the PPP.
Cheddi Jagan was the only member of the Legislature who voted against this violation of a basic human liberty as expressed in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the UN. However, the ban stayed in place. This served as a pretext to oppress PPP members, and it was on the charge of possession of subversive literature, in the form of Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru's "Towards Freedom" that Janet Jagan was arrested at a Bhagwat in 1954 and jailed for six months of hard labour, just a few days before her husband was due to be released from a six-months stint in jail for civil disobedience of British Colonial orders.
Universal Adult Suffrage Won: Suspension of the Constitution
British Guiana's first elections under universal adult suffrage was held in 1953 and the PPP won a landslide victory, despite being unable to contest 2 seats in the remote areas due to lack of funds.
However, real rule still reposed in the hands of the colonial and entrepreneurial elite. On the day the elected majority passed in the House the Labour Relations Bill requiring employers to negotiate with labour unions selected by workers, which was deemed "another communist measure," British troops entered British Guiana and, on Friday 9th October 1953, the Constitution was suspended , ending the constitutionally-elected PPP's term after only 133 days in office, and an interim regime was then appointed.
The United States was a prime mover behind the suspension of the Constitution. A month before the PPP's removal from office US Congressman Jackson had observed that BG was within the strategic zone of the US, and Cheddi Jagan was seen as the prime stumbling block of the continued domination of the superpowers in British Guiana.
Resistance to this rape of democracy and the persecution of selected Party leaders, which included jail, detention, and curtailment of travel beyond certain boundaries, was met with a "reign of terror" by the interim regime.
However, the struggle intensified. Civil disobedience and passive resistance, along the lines of Gandhi's freedom fight, had severe repercussions. Discrimination against trade unions, eviction of leaders from sugar estates, and unlimited victimization of dissidents was the order of the day.
In May of 1954 police closed down the PPP headquarters in Regent St and a rift, started by ambitious leaders within the PPP, was encouraged by the oligarchy. Those whose ambitions created a divide in the Party were not jailed nor confined in any way. The Robertson Commission, while condemning Dr. and Mrs. Jagan, Sydney King, Rory Westmaas, Brindley Benn, and Martin Carter as having "communistic leanings, "had said in Paragraph 104 of the Report: "Mr. Burnham is generally recognized as the leader of the socialists in the Party."
The deal offered Burnham was that elections would be allowed if the breakaway faction could garner majority support. This premise did not fructify although two factions of the PPP entered the 1957 elections under the leadership of Jagan and Burnham.
The Jagan faction of the PPP won in nine of the fourteen constituencies. However, although the Party was in office, it was not allowed to hold power. Jagan was given the title 'Chief Minister,' which was changed to 'Premier' after the Party, under his leadership, again won in 1961; but real power was still retained by the British Governor.
Cheddi's Dream Realized: Independence Granted
Lobbying for self-rule was an unending struggle by the Jaganites, but the powers-that-were had no intention to concede independence to an unmanageable Jagan's leadership. They thought that Burnham would have been more controllable.
The Burnhamites had renamed their Party the People's National Congress (PNC) and Mr. Burnham said that he would support the Party that won the 1961 elections in a bid for independence. However, after the PPP again won, strife and disturbances to derail the PPP Government followed.
In 1962, as blueprinted in the notorious X-13 Plan, forces created riots across the country in an open attempt to destabilize and remove the PPP Government.
When the demonstrations and riots intensified Governor Sir Ralph Grey openly suggested to Dr. Jagan that he resign as Premier in order to put a stop to the riots, thereby revealing the nefarious collaborative plan between the ruling faction and the subversive forces to remove the PPP Government. Subsequent de-classified US State documents, and an apology from Henry Kissenger after Dr. Jagan became President in 1992, confirmed this as fact.
British troops arrived in BG on 16th February 1962, forcing a postponement of the Constitutional Conference to 23rd October. The PNC and the UF opposed independence, however, and demanded an electoral system of proportional representation, thus paving the way to removing the PPP from Government by way of a coalition between the PNC and the UF.
Duncan Sandys forced the PPP to accept the PR system through manipulative measures which resulted in further riots in 1963. Dr. Jagan was forced to concede in order to avoid more bloodshed and destruction in the country.
The rest is history. The PPP entered the 1964 General Elections under protest and won 24 seats. The PNC and the UF joined their respective 22 and 7 seats to form a coalition government with the sanction of Governor Sir Ralph Grey.
Even out of office the PPP continued to fight the imperialist forces for independence, although the Party boycotted the London Independence Conference in protest at the detention of Messrs C.V. Nunes and Joseph Jardim; and emergency orders imposed on the nation.
However, the British, which had denied independence to a Jagan-led PPP Government, granted independence to a Government led by Burnham under the assumption that he would be more amenable to control.
The Guyana Independence Act of 1966, the Constitution of Guyana, and the Guyana Order-in-Council constituted the independence instruments.
By the Guyana Independence Act the British Government, on or after 26th May 1966, relinquished ".......responsibility for the government of the territory which immediately constitutes the Colony of British Guiana and which on or after that day is to be called Guyana,"
After the ceremonies Cheddi Jagan, who had fought long and hard for this eventuality, spontaneously hugged Forbes Burnham in a burst of exuberance at the long-last, hard-fought-for realization of a dream of freedom.
However, this was a subjective freedom, as the oppressive forces still held sway in the land. They dominated and devastated this nation with impunity as a result of one rigged election after another.
However, the forces that had conspired to defraud Dr. Jagan of the leadership he so richly deserved joined efforts with the collective freedom-fighting brigade in the land, resulting in a democratically-elected government for the first time in decades.
5th October 1992 truly heralded the dawn of a new era in Guyana.
by Cheddi Berret Jagan II
According to Webster's Encyclopaedic Dictionary, experience is defined as the knowledge or practical wisdom gained from what one has observed, encountered, or undergone. With respect to this definition, an experience I have sustained in living with my grandfather, Cheddi Jagan, the former President of Guyana, South America, for a brief, however, portentous duration. During this period, I learned both persistence and discipline.
First, my grandfather's persistent manner was evident in his basic habitual manners, such as sleeping patters, availability and the custom in which he worked. His sleeping patterns and ways which he worked were linked, in that, at the latest times of night, while everyone else in the house was asleep he would be constantly working on speeches, bills and laws and other presidential related responsibilities. Although his hard work deprived him of ample time to rest, he awoke, every single day that I can recall at 6.00 am. At breakfast, my grandfather never wasted a morsel of any type of food, and at times scolded his grandchildren, myself included, for wasting anything whatsoever, as Guyana is a poor, "third-world," country, and many are mendicant. My grandfather also followed a very strict schedule, and after breakfast, he immediately left for work, and was never tardy. His discipline can be exhibited by both previous mentions.
The most persistent instance I can recall however, although it is one of great grief, is during his illness, which led to his death, in 1997. He had suffered a massive heart attack in Guyana, and was immediately sent to Washington D.C. at Walter Reed Medical Centre for hospitalisation and medical treatment. The whole time there, my grandfather struggled to survive, constantly battling and never giving up. However, he passed away very early one morning. Although he, I guess failed at his attempt, my grandfather shocked every doctor, or medically related individual, surviving for far more weeks than they had predicted.
To see someone fight for their life, and continue their natural manner (persistence) even in the toughest situations, made me look at life differently, it made me realize the importance of never giving up and to always uphold my own identity. Therefore, living with my grandfather has both influenced who I am and has been a meaningful experience to me. My grandfather lives on in my heart, and continues to be my personal "teacher". The persistence he portrayed in everything he attempted will always influence the manner I choose to view things.
A quote, which exhibit my grandfather, by an unknown source:
"Press On: Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent."
Insert sub-heading here