THE PPP IN 1951-1952

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The PPP, shortly after its formal establishment, decided to challenge the status quo by contesting for positions in decision making bodies. As its forerunner, the PAC, had done, it participated in the Georgetown Town Council elections in December 1950 by contesting for seats in three wards. The elections were conducted under a limited franchise which excluded thousands of persons who did not meet the property and financial requirements. The three candidates were Dr. Jagan, Mrs. Jagan and Forbes Burnham. However, only Mrs. Jagan was successful when she won the Wortmanville-Werk-en-Rust ward from three other candidates. Dr. Jagan, who was on behalf of the Legislative Council attending the West Indian Conference in Curacao at the time, lost to the incumbent Mayor, C. Vibert Wight, while Burnham lost by only seven votes in the Bourda ward.

The first Congress of the PPP held in 1951 established a disciplined and organised approach to the political struggle in Guyana. A programme published by the party in April 1950 was adopted by this Congress. It showed that the Party was organising itself to wrest concessions for the people from the colonial rulers. The organisation of its propaganda work, its campaign among trade unions, and its influential work in rural communities, in particular, would eventually win it more support within the next two years - even more than it actually estimated. The programme enunciated that the main objective was the winning of independence for Guyana.

The Party instituted a programme of mass political education for the people of Guyana by holding public meetings all over the country. In the capital, Georgetown, and in New Amsterdam, the main centres of business and government, it launched public demonstrations to highlight local and international issues. Many of its protest activities opposed the rising cost of living and the growing unemployment rate. These activities were stepped up from September 1951 and were very successful. Large numbers of workers participated, and leaders of important trade unions spoke from the PPP platform. These unions included the British Guiana Labour Union, the Transport Workers Union and the Federation of Unions of Government Employees. The PPP and the Trades Union Congress (TUC) also mounted joint protests exercises in Georgetown.

The struggle for self-government and a progressive constitution had become reinforced just before the holding of the Party's first Congress, and this was intensified following that historic event. The Congress which was held in Georgetown on 31 March and 1 April 1951, adopted the Party's constitution, and the delegates who travelled from all over the coast of Guyana, elected the following officers: Leader - Cheddi Jagan, Chairman - Forbes Burnham, First Vice-Chairman - H. Aubrey Fraser, Second Vice-Chairman - Clinton Wong, General Secretary - Janet Jagan, Assistant General Secretary - Sydney King, Treasurer - Ramkarran; and General Council Members - Ashton Chase, Rudy Luck, Frank O. Van Sertima, Ivan Cendrecourt, May Thompson, Hubert Critchlow, E. Kennard, Theo Lee, Ulric Fingall, Jainarine Singh, Sheila La Taste, Joseph P. Lachmansingh, Cecil Cambridge, Fred Bowman and Pandit S. Misir.

By the time this Congress was held, the Party had already set its aim, according to its declaration, "at dislodging the older style political movements which appeared and disappeared equally quickly before and after each election." The Party also emerged after this Congress as "a different kind of political party with a strong organisational apparatus, a guiding ideology and grass roots support, . . . . the first mass party to appear in Guyana".

Forbes Burnham, in opening remarks at the Congress stated: "This is not a Party of big shots. It's a Party of the working class people of British Guiana. It is a Party that has come to stay as a permanent institution."

From the early days, the party was challenged to enforce a disciplined approach in its work. Just three months after the Congress, Dr. Joseph P. Lachmansingh who was elected to the General Council, was expelled for anti-party activities. He was, despite being a leader of the PPP, heading a steering committee to establish a Labour Party made up of trade unionists. However, during 1952, Lachmansingh was readmitted to the PPP.

In 1951 Dr. Jagan made his first trip to Britain where he met with Secretary of State for the Colonies Alan Lennox-Boyd and other officials at the Colonial Office to discuss independence for Guyana. From London, he sent a petition to the UN Human Rights Commission setting out the PPP's demands for Guyana's independence. He also spoke at a public meeting in London where he called for immediate independence for Guyana and the other British colonies in the West Indies. He then went to Berlin, the capital of the German Democratic Republic, to attend the World Youth Festival. There he also participated with thousands of internationalists in clearing World War II rubble in sections of the city.

In February 1952, shortly after Dr. and Mrs. Jagan announced their intention of visiting Trinidad, the Government of that island announced that they would not be allowed to enter the island. Strong protests erupted across the Caribbean over this ban and similar bans against other pro-socialist Caribbean politicians. These were seen as violations against the fundamental rights and civil liberties of these persons and the organisations that invited them.

Throughout 1952, the PPP carried out a political campaign across Guyana to inform the population of the new constitution expected to come into force in 1953. It also educated the masses about adult suffrage, and by establishing groups in villages, it began to make preparations to get its supporters registered to vote. In the meantime, Dr. Jagan continued to champion popular issues in the Legislative Council.

The second Party congress was held at the Auditorium in Charlotte Street, Georgetown on 29-30 March 1952. A wide range of issues was discussed, and the delegates passed resolutions condemning, inter alia, apartheid in South Africa, the ban on Dr. and Mrs. Jagan by the colonial authorities of Trinidad and Grenada, and the unpopular Undesirable Publications Bill introduced by Lionel Luckhoo in the legislature.

The party again contested the Georgetown municipal elections in December 1952. Burnham won the Bourda ward but Mrs. Jagan failed to win re-election when she lost to Claude Merriman as a result of a strong campaigning against her by some Christian denominations.

With the anticipation of the general elections in 1953, the PPP, more than any group, was prepared for the contest. It had organisational preparedness, and with its strong teams of campaign workers, it worked assiduously to win the support of the people of the country. Both the major ethnic groups, the Indo- and Afro-Guyanese, were united under the leadership of the Party which they saw as their only salvation for the future.