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Tributes to Cheddi Jagan

Dr. Cheddi Jagan 66th Anniversary Entry into Parliament

by Ashton Chase Dec 2013

Opening Remarks

Today we will be dealing with history.

I thank the Cheddi Jagan Research Centre for having invited me to speak to you on the observance of 66 years since Dr. Cheddi B. Jagan entered our Legislative Assembly.  The Centre is so modern that it used term ‘Parliament’ but there was no Parliament here in the days I will be dealing with.  I interpret this to refer to how he came to be elected to the Legislative Assembly, the vital issues for which he stood and the things he advocated.  Put differently this relates to his career from his return to British Guiana in December 1943 after completing his studies in the U.S.A, the bodies he helped establish here and those with which he was associated.  This by itself is a formidable task, so it would be going beyond the real mandate to treat with matters after the termination of the Legislative Assembly in 1953.  In any event this period provides vital information from which we can learn and benefit from what have transpired.

Nowadays many people do not pursue history.  They take the view the events connected to the concerned period have already passed and there is nothing they can do about them.  Often the persons concerned have long passed away, and nothing can be done to influence them in vital matters at hand, nor can any consultation with them take place.

But the reality is acquaintance with history can point us to the advancement, if any, that has been made or alternatively to the backward step we have taken, and in general point out the lessons we can learn that may be used or can be used to avoid pitfalls of the past or help us in securing a better future.  And in some instances give us an inspiration to move forward.  It also gives us an opportunity to honour and praise those who have contributed to our advancement.

When Cheddi B. Jagan was born on the 22nd day of March, 1918 at Port Mourant, a sugar plantation, British Guiana was a Colony of the Great Britain and today’s Parliamentary democracy was not in operation here.  The Country was subjected to the British and ruled by them.

We had what was cited a ‘Court of Policy’, later followed by the Legislative Council/Assembly.

Apart from nominations thereto by the Government, the qualifications for membership of those bodies and for participation in the elections thereto were very limited.

Generally speaking, for membership in the Court of Policy the candidate primarily had to have inter alia -

  1. Ownership of immovable property valued not less than $5,000.00; or
  2. Ownership of not less than 80 acres of land of which not less than 40 acres were actually and bona fide under cultivation; or
  3. Ownership or possession under lease for 21 years and upwards of house and/or land here the annual rental or value of which was not less than $1,200.

To qualify as a voter in elections to those bodies our Countrymen apart from being literate and 21 years of age or over had to have inter alia -

a)         Occupation or tenancy during the six months previous to registration of house or land of annual rental or value not less than $120.00 secured by lease or document in writing for one (1) year upwards; or
b)         Possession or enjoyment of annual income or salary not less than $300.00; plus residence in the District for six months previous to registration or
c)         Payment during 12 months previous to registration of direct taxes to the Colonial Revenue for $20.00 upwards plus the above residence.

The amounts just mentioned have absolutely no relationship today’s values.  To mention that the wage-earners in those days were earning less than the then $1.00 per day would clearly point to the correct conclusion that the working class was clearly excluded from voting or having seats in the Legislative Assembly.   Put differently, the working class was disenfranchised.

By the time Dr. Jagan returned to British Guiana in December 1943 from his studies in the U.S.A and was seeking elections in 1947 to the Legislative Assembly those qualification(s) had been markedly reduced on the recommendation of West Indies Royal Commission.  They were nevertheless still relatively high and excluded much of our working class from participating in elections to those bodies.

The Legislative Council in the 40’s was therefore, apart from officials and nominees, a body of planters and their supporters, capitalists and professionals.   It was the former who mainly comprised the membership of that body.

As I have elsewhere said, since the bourgeoisie owned the means of production and distribution and at the same time controlled the State apparatus (the police and the judiciary for example) they used their positions of strength to suppress the working class and to ruthlessly contain and subjugate uprisings by this group.

As Dr. Jagan himself put it in an interview with Frank Birbalsingh – “The Legislature was then like a hallowed chamber where gentlemen would sit and debate in leisurely fashion, without concern for the people at the bottom.  The function was limited and generally only people from the business or professional class could become elected.  So I was, let us say, a maverick in those days”.           

To put Dr. Jagan’s first Legislative Council contest in proper perspective it should be noted that just over a year before he entered that Legislative contest he was a principal founding member of the PAC (Political Affairs Committee).  Among other things, this body published a bulletin monthly in which he figured in an exemplary manner.  The bulletin exposed what was taking place in the Legislative Council, it supported the struggles of trade unions and brought about a tremendous awakening of working class consciousness.  So his entry into the 1947 contest was preceded by widespread knowledge of his deep and sincere knowledge and concern for the British Guyana’s people and his unsurpassed interest in promoting the welfare and independence of our Country.                  

Before that he was also the Treasurer of the (MPCA) Manpower Citizens’ Association in 1945 a post from which he resigned in about the following year as he was unable to get the leadership of that trade union to vigorously and purposely fight for the rights of the workers.

The first of the above contests that he entered was to be the representative for Central Demerara Electoral District in 1947.  This Constituency included Buxton and the sugar estate plantations on the lower East Coast of Demerara.  His contestants were Mr. John I. D’Aguiar, a Capitalist who previously held a seat in the Legislative and Executive Councils; Mr. H.L. Palmer of advanced age but with a reputation in the field of Local Government, and backed  by the L.C.P (League of Coloured Peoples) and Mr. Frank Jacob, a lawyer from the Labour Party.

Dr. Jagan defeated them all having a close margin over Mr. D’Aguiar.

He had the full support of those sugar workers who were enfranchised for this election.   As stated above, this was due to recommendations of the West Indies Royal Commission popularly called the Moyne Commission which came here and in the West Indies in the 1940’s to investigate the disturbances of the 1930’s.  Qualifications for voters were reduced to earning $10.00 per month and for candidates to $100.00 per month.

In his campaign Dr. Jagan had the full support of Mr. Sydney King a teacher of Buxton (now Eusi Kwayana).  He spoke at several of his public meetings.  Our hero’s manifesto advocated Constitutional change and vital improvements in the fields of Agriculture, Education, Medical Services and Labour Legislation.   In respect of the latter it canvassed a 40 - hour week without reduction in pay, Minimum Wage Legislation, two weeks annual holiday with pay, time and a half for overtime, Sundays and Public Holidays being double pay and equal pay for equal work.   

Dr. Jagan shortly after the elections joined the Labour Party, but this was a Party without ideological groundings.  Only three (3) of its candidates were elected at the 1947 elections, but they never operated as a team.  In less than two years after the elections, the Labour Party (of which I was Assistant Secretary sans a vote) disintegrated.

In my 1964 publication I said and I still maintain –

“In Dr. Jagan, the workers found an outstanding champion of their rights.  The solemnity of the Legislative Council was rudely shaken by his vigorous advocacy of the cause of the workers.  He had a passion for statistics.  He used these in his pungent and forceful arguments to expose reaction and to lay before the workers, the vicious system that exploited them.  At sitting after sitting, he assaulted the vaunted privileges of capitalists.  On many occasions singlehandedly, but nevertheless most heroically and inspiringly he fought for the workers rights”.

He had laid down for the elections four criteria that candidates should possess; they were –

  1. Full awareness of working class conditions and problems;
  2. Thorough knowledge of the theory and practice of comparative governments with special emphasis in Labour Legislation.
  3. Open and continuous identification with labour’s grievances and aspirations; and
  4. Sincerity and honesty of purpose.                   

The weight and importance of Dr. Jagan’s contribution must be also viewed against the background that Mr. Hubert N. Critchlow and Mr. Ayube Edun (MPCA) were nominated members of the ‘long Legislative Council’ but they did not stimulate the general public interest and following as did Dr. Jagan.  Further Mr. Crtichlow had contested and won in 1947 a South Georgetown electoral seat.  His election was very shortly thereafter ruled by our High Court in an Election Petition as invalid and consequently he lost a seat therein.

Dr. Jagan took his seat in Legislative Council on 18th December, 1947, at age 29.  He was then the youngest member of the Legislative Council.

He moved several motions in the said Council that were in conformity with his Manifesto, but they were all defeated.  In the field of industrial relations these included a National Minimum Wage, two weeks Annual Vacation Leave with pay, time and a half for ordinary overtime, double time pay for working on Sundays and Public Holidays and equal pay for equal work.  They were all defeated.  Equally so rejected were his Motions to alleviate conditions in the Sugar Industry.  More particularly these touched on one to get the Government to take steps to ensure that two of the main recommendations of the Venn Commission were implemented, viz. a Wages Board and a Contributory Pension Scheme.  The other important one was in respect of Cut and Drop v.  Cut and Load on the sugar estates.  If his recommendation in respect of the latter had been accepted it would have averted the four and a half months strike that took place over that issue in 1948 and the ensuing slaughter of four Sugar Workers at Enmore who became the Enmore Martyrs.

He advocated the rights of Rice Planters in the Legislative Council.  The State’s efforts to subjugate them to the Sugar Producers were stoutly opposed by him.  His efforts to block loop holes in the 1945 Rice Farmers Security of Tenure Ordinance could not escape attention.

He stood firmly on the side of the poor and disadvantaged.  It was his advocacy in the Legislative Council that exposed the application of the Landlord and Tenant Legislation to certain limited areas like Georgetown, New Amsterdam, Bartica and in due course that law was extended to other areas particularly in what were called country districts.

Drainage and Irrigation, Pure Water Supply, when there were some who were drinking water from trenches, dilapidated ranges on the Sugar Estates, Education of the  masses were fields that engaged his attention.  And although Motions touching these matters were not successful, the observant could notice that after his exposures some adjustments and changes were made in some of these fields.  State expenditure and acts in the field of Drainage and Irrigation were directed towards mainly benefiting the Sugar Producers, for example like the Scheme at Bonasika which was really designed to help the Sugar Estates on the West Coast of Demerara.

Apart from issues like the foregoing, it was Dr. Jagan’s participation in the Budget debates including the exposures and publicity thereto that secured wide public attention for his struggles on behalf of the working class.

Right from the Budget in 1948 to those he encountered up to 1952  the standard of debates thereon was significantly raised and his contributions thereto were exemplary.   He had a passion for statistics and used these to great advantage in his presentations.

In 1948 the Colonial Treasurer proposed an export tax for 30 cts  per ton in place of the 1 ½% tax on the value of bauxite exported from British Guiana.  To him this was far from satisfactory and he exposed and showed how we were being exploited by the Demerara Bauxite Company and the huge profits it was making from its extraction of bauxite here.  The links between Alcoa and Alcan were made public and he showed how Canada was making huge financial gains through the Company’s extraction of bauxite from our Country.   He pointed to price manipulations between 1937 and 1947 and the huge sums we lost and from which Canada benefited immensely through the financial arrangements in operation then.  And these were independent of the humiliation and degradation that our Country men faced at Mackenzie – the segregation, marginalization and exploitation they suffered in that colonial era.  Dr. Jagan proposed a different form of taxation of immense benefit to this Country for bauxite based on the crude, chemical and calcine ores  that were mined.  Needless to say, that was almost unanimously voted down by the Legislative Council.

Similarly the Budget presentations gave him golden opportunities to point to and condemn the exploitation by the Sugar Producers of our Country.  Of course they were the Colonial Masters and through the Minister of Colonial Affairs in United Kingdom and their local controls directed and determined financial matters here.  Notwithstanding his exposures in 1951 he failed to block the Government’s proposal to abolish certain taxes on sugar.  He magnificently demonstrated the wide divisions or gaps between the rich and the poor in this  Colonial outpost.

Their authority was so great that after the 1948 killings at Enmore, and even though he was elected to represent lower East Coast Demerara that the Sugar Producers imposed a ban on his visiting the Sugar Estates within this constituency.  The Sugar Producers served him with Trespass Notices to enforce this ban.  The Government collaborated in the enforcement of this ban.  What a ridiculous position our Country was in.  Here was a representative of a Constituency who was barred from visiting and inter- relating with some of his Constituents by the dominating Sugar barons.

Even in our Interior where mainly the Amerindians lived, the Colonial power maintained their supremacy and control of this part of our Country.  The main Company operating there was the Rupununi Development Company, a cattle company that was dominated by the Sugar Producers.  Dr. Jagan was the first non-Amerindian that voiced protest and opposed the degradation of these compatriots of our Country.

At this juncture, permit to point to another incident that shows how Dr. Jagan stood closer to the working class than other politicians of that era with which I am now dealing.   In 1951/2 there was the dumping of large quantities of milk by the Government.  There were protests against this spearheaded by the Federation of Unions of Government Employees (FUGE), which sponsored a demonstration in Georgetown in March 1952 ending at the Parade Ground.  The public was invited to the protest meeting at the Parade Ground.  There leading trade unionists including Mr. Andrew Jackson and Mr. Ivan Edwards addressed the large gathering.  Several organizations were invited.  Towards the end the Chairman invited persons to speak for their organizations.  He called for someone from the NDP (National Democratic Party) to address the gathering.  No one did.  He then invited legislators to speak.  The only one present was Dr. Jagan and he addressed the gathering condemning the Government’s actions.  The Minister for Colonial Affairs whom FUGE invited  to set up a Committee of Inquiry into this matter later responded making an excuse for the dumping but undertook that there would be permanent improvement in the methods of collecting and  distributing powder milk.

Another important matter with which Dr. Jagan had to deal in the Legislative Council was what was publicly portrayed as “subversive literature”’.  These were basically publication made in the United Kingdom touching socialism and communism.  Because of the leftist bearing of many of the key players in the PPP and the indoctrination they were spreading, the capitalist class and their supporters were on a campaign and using whatever action they could contemplate in an attempt to suppress the development of leftist ideology. Senior Counsel Mr. Lionel Luckhoo was a nominated member of the Legislative Assembly. He successfully moved a Motion in the Assembly to ban the entry into the colony of publications, propaganda or films that were subversive or contrary to public interest.

Dr. Jagan made a very long speech about six hours against this motion. Strangely a few Legislative Members who spoke in the Assembly against it were not present when  the vote was taken and the Motion was passed with only Dr. Jagan dissenting. 

Needless to add, the Government speedily introduced and had passed a Bill to prohibit sale or distribution of what the Ordinance termed as “undesirable” publications, recordings or films.  Fines and imprisonment  were specified for breach of the Law.
Consequently all such matters which could be freely sold and viewed or read in the United Kingdom by anyone could not be likewise treated with in British Guiana. Instead they had to be handed in to the Police.

My final but necessary statement on this which takes me beyond the period I am covering in this presentation is that on the PPP securing the Government in  1953, it had a law enacted repealing (i.e. striking down) the Undesirable Publication Ordinance.

Dr. Jagan also advocated  Law Reforms.  He participated in the important role of seeking changes in our electoral law and called for a change in our colonial status to that of an independent State.   The United Kingdom Government turned a deaf ear to the calls and demand for independent status.  However it established the Waddington Commission which came to British Guiana in 1950 and took evidence from several organizations and individuals.

Dr. Jagan with others represented the PPP (Peoples Progressive Party) before this body.  Among other things, he urged universal adult suffrage for both local and general elections, he denounced property and literacy qualifications for voting and other features then in force for Elections, and he also proposed a dramatic change in our status.  

It was following this Commission’s Report in the early 1950’s that our electoral system was changed. Universal Adult Sufferage was first introduced here in late 1952 for the 1953 elections. It was also as a result of this Commission’s report that the Ministerial System was first introduced in this Country in 1953.

This is where my review ends but I could be found grossly lacking if I did not record that the role performed by Dr. Jagan during his membership of our Legislative Council from 1947 played a very significant part in the results of the 1953 Elections. I have pointed to some of his work, and repeat some and not all, but it was his role in this field and his struggles for the working class that in my view in a large measure were responsible for the PPP’s success at those Elections.

As all of you may doubt be aware at those elections - the first in our Country under universal adult sufferage - the PPP won 18 of the 24 seats in the National Assembly. As a result of this ascendancy the PPP secured the six Ministerial appointments and formed our first Ministerial Government in 1953.

Again, as you all know Dr. Jagan was the Chief Minister and head of that Government.
I do not have to itemize the conclusions to be drawn from his struggles but standing out clearly must be fact that rejection of his Motions and other proposals did not frustrate him. He carried on nonetheless and his efforts bore fruits with the cooperation and help of others.  He deserves our praise.

I also take the view that I will be remiss in not stating that throughout Dr. Jagan’s political career he had the unstinting and firm support of his wife - Mrs. Janet Jagan who fully shared his political views and ideology. It was a perfect duo working in this area. She was with him in the formation in the PAC and was also one of the co-founders with him of the PPP. He also had the full support of other members of his family.

The rest is crucial and very important history which in keeping with my interpretation of the assignment  I leave for others to tell.  Thank you!


The radical in the legislative assembly in the 1940’s

(July 16, 2012 | By KNews | Filed Under Features / Columnists, Peeping Tom)

Guyana has had many persons with claims to be champions of the working class. But there is only one who can lay claim to being the radical of Guyana‘s workers and its supreme working class hero.

Cheddi Jagan is not just the champion of the working class of Guyana; he is the ultimate radical of the western hemisphere. Long before Jacobo Arbenz was removed by a military coup, long before Salvador Allende was toppled in a military coup, long before Fidel Castro led his revolution, Guyana had its own radical, its own champion of the working class. He was named Cheddi Jagan.

He was the ultimate radical. He had no time or stomach for the reformist tendencies which other leaders of the Caribbean were prepared to pursue after the end of the Second World War.

He saw the pitfalls of that approach, pitfalls which were equally known to the leaders of the English speaking Caribbean. But those leaders lacked the courage and radicalism of a Cheddi Jagan and this is what set him apart from everyone else.

He understood the limitations of trying to change the system. Unlike so many of the other leaders of the Caribbean and unlike many local political leaders, he was not prepared to follow an approach that would frustrate him achieving tangible benefits to the working class.

In the 1940’s and 50’s, he took the radicalism from fields and streets into the Legislative Assembly. He, more than anyone else in that Assembly, pressed for independence even when he was fighting a losing battle.

Thus any review of that period and any review of Guyana’s legislative history in its formative years would have to credit Cheddi Jagan for his role in fighting for the political and social liberation of this country.

It does not matter when he is designated Father of the Nation. It does not even matter if Forbes Burnham is given that title over him. They were once pals and their breakup must have bothered them deeply.

It was Cheddi who gave Burnham his political break and Cheddi never envied Burnham for leading Guyana to independence even though Burnham once opposed this happening under Jagan. So if it pleases those he mentored, give Burnham the title of Father of the Nation.

But do not trample upon history by trying to write Cheddi Jagan out of the history books. And do not especially try to write him out of that very period when Burnham was not here and when Cheddi stood head-above everyone else; when he was the ultimate radical of the Region.

You cannot discuss the Legislative Assembly of Guyana after 1940 and not give recognition to Cheddi Jagan. It is unpardonable for anyone to try to diminish Cheddi’s standing in Guyana legislative history. But to write him out of our history with the claim of deconstructing the myth of father of the nation is a slap in the face of history.

Even Desmond Hoyte who when he was President said he was dedicating himself towards ensuring that Cheddi never returned to power was gracious enough to acknowledge that Cheddi’s place in Guyanese history was assured.

There is so much that we can learn from Guyana’s legislative politics after the end of the Second World War. It is therefore highly unfortunate that instead of dealing with the two main threads of political activism that was evident during that period, that so much attention was paid towards arguing that all workers are the fathers and mothers of the nation.

There is a need for the PPP to begin to correct that revisionism which is aimed at erasing the role of Guyana’s radical working class champion during that period.

If every working class person were either a father or mother of the nation, then we had in those days a working class where everyone was a hero or heroine. And by extension therefore it means that all workers were complicit in the split which divided the working class. Even the imperialists did not attempt this sort of revisionism.

So by writing Cheddi out of history we are not celebrating working class glories; we are indicting them for the greatest failure in our country’s history, one which we have not yet overcome.

Note: Read another article on this topic just below.


THE ISSUE OF FATHER OF THE NATION - Granger’s dislike for Cheddi Jagan is greater than his love for Forbes Burnham

Written by Ramnarine (Tuesday, 17 July 2012 21:29)

DAVID Granger began a discussion on the issue of ‘father of the nation’ when he made his speech at a Parliamentary lecture. (Don’t know what Parliament is getting into by sponsoring such events). His great bias against Cheddi Jagan came to the fore.
In trying to destroy the image of Cheddi Jagan being called the ‘father of the nation’ he had to, he was forced to, also rule out Burnham as such a person. That is the price he had to pay. It shows his dislike for Cheddi Jagan is greater than his love for Burnham.

This is not surprising. Granger spent his most impressionable years in the Army. At that time the PNC dictatorship had to demonise Cheddi Jagan to prevent the Army from listening to Jagan’s message. Demonising the messenger to nullify the message. Bias against Cheddi Jagan is deeply rooted in his psyche.

Granger took that propaganda hook, line and sinker. He even developed into the head lecturer and chief brain washer in the Army.

However, the issue he raised is really a non issue.

There is no official title of ‘Father of the Nation’. So such a title cannot be bestowed on anyone.

That Cheddi Jagan is often referred to as the ‘Father of the Nation’ is a reflection of the affection and love that people had and have for him.

After all, no one doubts that he was one of the first, if not the first, to make a call for Independence.

That was not all. He worked tirelessly to see that happen. He built organizations, he was the foremost contributor to the emergence of a national consciousness. He walked the length and breadth of the country learning from people, understanding their conditions and teaching them.

For him, Independence was a first step towards social liberation. In that project he saw the working class as playing a leading role.

That is why he never sold out. That is why the colonialists and later the US cold warriors could not buy him out. He was loyal to the people of Guyana. He was exemplary in this regard.

An examination of his life and work would reveal that at every stage of this country’s development during his life time he influenced developments and explained new phenomenon so that all could understand what was taking place.

He also made much sacrifice in the struggle. Cheddi Jagan faced jail, even with the threat of death he was resolute and stood firm. He had no other agenda than the welfare of the people.

The debate often comes around about the split and some say that he was too inflexible. That, of course, was not true. Cheddi Jagan had one of the most creative minds we ever produced; he was one of the most flexible persons you could have known. Just read the Political Affairs Bulletin and see how flexible he was, even though he was still so young.

In Government in the 1960s and 1990s he worked with the private sector, the IMF and World Bank, in the interest of the country. To develop the productive capacity of Guyana, Cheddi Jagan was creative and was willing to create partnerships and alliances. Growing the economy was in the interest of all.

For Jagan, the interests of the nation and that of the poor should not necessarily collide. They can go together.

However, he was inflexible and stood firm on principles. He warned them that the compromises which some of his colleagues were pushing to make with the oppressors after the suspension in 1953 Constitution and the removal of the PPP from office was tantamount to selling out the working people in particular and the nation as a whole.

We can only judge things in practice and, in time, pronounced on who was right and who was wrong.

Those who compromised on principle got their reward. They were put into government before independence. What did they achieve?

They had to work to divide our people; they had to sign agreements that were anti-national in content to use against the PPP. For example they opened talks on border issues with Venezuela when that matter was signed and sealed. This still haunts us today.

Instead of building our country they destroyed it when they acquiesced with foreign interests and stamped democracy to the ground.

Whatever good intention they may have had did not materialize because they compromised on principles.

That Cheddi Jagan is so loved is because he always stood on the side of the people, he organized the struggle and he educated masses.

Cheddi don’t need any official to bestow such a title on him, the broad masses of grateful people consider him as such.

So down the corridors of time the name Cheddi Jagan will be heralded because he was a loyal son of Guyana, teacher of the people and yes, father of the nation.

This will happen despite the huge prejudice of Granger and others of his ilk.

Note: Read another article on this topic, also on this page.