THE DUNCE MOTION
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The PPP, as part of its ideological education campaign from 1950, distributed thousands of publications (books and pamphlets) which were produced mainly in England. Almost all were anti-imperialist, while some were socialist and communist in their content. By 1952, at least half a million books and pamphlets were bought into the country and sold by the PPP, which by this process, initiated one of the greatest onrushes on intellectual life Guyana ever experienced.
It was natural for those who opposed the PPP to call for the banning for what they called the "subversive" literature of the Party. In 1951, as a result of the anti-communist hysteria whipped up by these elements, nine crates of books imported by Dr. Jagan from England were seized and burned on the pretext that he had not obtained an import licence.
Eventually, a motion calling for the prohibition of subversive literature was presented in the Legislative Council on 13 March 1952 by the arch-rival of the PPP, Lionel Luckhoo, a nominated member who failed to win an elected seat in 1947. It was obvious that this motion, part of the anti-communist hysteria, was aimed at containing the growing popularity of the Party. It called for preventing the "entry into the colony of literature, publications, propaganda or films which are subversive or contrary to the public interest."
Luckhoo's motion became popularly known throughout the country as the "Dunce Motion" for obvious reasons. During the debate, Luckhoo was the chief supporter of his motion. He expressed the opinion that "communism is consumingly attractive" and therefore it must be curbed. Strong support for Luckhoo's "Dunce Motion" came from John Fernandes and George H. Smellie, a spokesman for big business who stated that "socialism is evil when it destroys private enterprise"
Dr. Jagan who carried the attack on the "Dunce Motion" questioned the ability of Luckhoo and his supporters to speak for the "public", as they had claimed. He declared that it was apparent that through his motion, Luckhoo Adoes not want the people of this Colony to change their ideas at all; they must keep the millstone of capitalist ideas tied around their necks as long as they live; they must not imbibe any new ideas and thereby try to change the system of Government which they have. . . We in this Colony - the PPP - want to educate the people of this Colony - to make them politically conscious after evaluating all the facts from all sides - the sides of the capitalist, the socialist, the liberal and the communist. That is the way in which we are building the foundation of our Party."
Also opposing the motion were John Carter, Rudy Kendall and Theo Lee, and they along with Dr. Jagan voted against it on the following day. However, it was carried when 16 other members voted for it.
Throughout 1952, the police continued to seize literature distributed by the PPP. In December of that year, books and pamphlets imported from Britain by Dr. Jagan and deemed "undesirable" by the colonial authorities, were confiscated by the authorities and destroyed.
As a result of Luckhoo's motion, the Undesirable Publications (Prohibition and Importation) Bill was presented to the Legislative Council on the 27 February 1953. In a six-hour speech opposing it, Dr. Jagan asked whose freedom the supporters of the Bill were considering when they spoke of it being in the "public interest." He demanded that Guyanese must be allowed to read what anyone could buy in Britain. He also made several attempts to amend the Bill but these did not win support from the other members.
In the end, this Bill was passed when 11 members voted for it; only Dr. Jagan and Kendall voted against it. John Carter also opposed the initial motion the year before, was absent at voting time, and Lee abstained. By passing this law, Undesirable Publications Ordinance, the British colonial authorities legally allowed the violation of a basic human liberty as expressed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the UN.
Ironically, at the same time the ban was implemented, the British Government declared in London that it was extending to all its colonies the rights enshrined in the UN Convention of Human Rights, which particularly affirmed the right to receive and impart ideas through any medium!
The Undesirable Publications Ordinance specified that anyone who sold or distributed material that the Governor-in Council felt was "subversive" could be fined up to 500 dollars and/or imprisoned up to one year. Anyone who already owned and kept such work in his possession was subjected to a fine of 250 dollars and /or imprisoned up to six months. Banned material, all of which circulated freely in Britain, was to be surrendered to the police.
Through this spiteful piece of legislation, thousands of books by progressive writers, some of whom were not even socialists, were seized and burned by the authorities.