THE SPLIT IN THE PPP
Close this window to return to the main menu
Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Shortly after the ousting of the PPP Government, numerous reactionary elements in Guyana and from abroad spent a considerable amount of time and energy working on the so called "moderates" to seize control of the Party. Open appeals were made to Burnham in the press to take the leadership of the PPP from Dr. Jagan and the "extremists". Apparently, those who made the appeals saw Burnham as an opportunist who would follow the suggestions made by the Robertson Commission.
The British were already viewing Burnham as an outright opportunist. Patrick Gordon Walker who led a British Parliamentary fact-finding trip to Guyana in 1954 declared that Burnham's whole political approach was opportunistic, and that he would "tack and turn as advantage seems to dictate."
By the end of 1954, it was clear that some party leaders had been influenced by the British authorities to seize control of the PPP from Dr. Jagan and his supporters. At a meeting of the Party's Executive Committee held at that time, Burnham, as Chairman, used his casting vote to approve a motion for the holding of a congress on 12-13 February 1955. Five members could not attend the meeting because they were in prison and three others were restricted to their home districts. At a next meeting when only 6 of the 16 members were present, a decision was taken to hold the congress in Georgetown, instead of Berbice, as was agreed upon at the previous congress. Dr. Jagan objected that this decision was unconstitutional since seven members were required for a quorum of the Executive Committee.
In mid-January, Burnham announced that the congress would be held on 12-13 February in Georgetown. Meanwhile attempts to convene meetings of the Party's General Council to discuss the issue failed for lack of a quorum. The General Secretary, Mrs. Jagan, then announced that there would be no congress unless the General Council ratified it. The majority of the members of the Executive Committee, shortly after, decided to hold a series of meetings to resolve the differences over this issue. However, some members were still in prison and others were restricted from moving out from their residential districts and therefore could not attend.
The majority of the members of the Executive Committee felt that the proposed congress should be cancelled because the situation in the country had worsened. However, Burnham argued that members would abandon the Party if the congress was called off, and suggested that the Executive Committee should agree on the persons to be elected at the congress. The majority disagreed indicating that such a process was undemocratic. However, there was no doubt that Burnham and his supporters were intent on getting rid of the so-called extremists. One of his supporters on the Executive Committee, Ulric Fingal, along with Jessie Burnham, was actually enrolling new members into the party free of charge and supplying them with membership cards which were not issued officially by the Party.
At one of the meetings, Dr. Jagan suggested that instead of a congress, the Executive Committee should hold a special conference with a fixed agenda. However, discussions on this suggestion broke down.
Finally, on 5 February, the General Secretary issued a statement indicating that no annual congress would be held in February since it had already been agreed by the Party at its congress in 1953, that the next congress would be held in Berbice during the month of March.
Later on the same day, Burnham circulated a handbill insisting that the congress would be held on 12-13 February. By the following day, a leaflet circulated by the assistant secretary of the Party, Sydney King, called on party members to struggle for the lifting of the state of Emergency saying that only after this was done could a genuine congress be held.
On 7 February, the General Council of the Party issued a statement declaring that according to the Party's constitution the holding of a congress in February was illegal and unconstitutional. Fourteen members signed the statement; five others (Burnham, his wife Sheila and sister Jessie, Dr. Lachmaningh and Ulric Fingal) refused to sign. Three members were absent - Ashton Chase was in London, Eric Huntley was in prison and Clinton Wong had resigned in 1953.
A meeting of the Executive Committee in 8 February decided that Dr. Jagan and Burnham should meet to work out a solution to the impasse. Following these discussions, the Party issued a statement on 11 February signed by Burnham, as Chairman, and Janet Jagan, as General Secretary, declaring that the meeting to be convened on 12-13 February would be a special conference and not a congress.
Despite this clear statement, two of Burnham's close supporters, Dr. Lachmansingh and Jai Narine Singh, circulated a leaflet on the evening of 11 February urging people to attend the "congress" to be held at the Auditorium on Charlotte Street on 12 February and at the Metropole Cinema on 13 February. Burnham claimed he was not associated with this leaflet, even though his supporters were openly distributing them. These persons were openly urging party members to disregard the statement issued by Burnham and Mrs. Jagan and were announcing that elections would be held at the "congress". As a result of these developments, seven of the thirteen available members of the Executive Committee, including Dr. Jagan, boycotted the first day of the conference. They, however, attended the sessions on second day at the Metropole Cinema.
Shortly after the meeting started on the second day, Burnham's close associate Clinton Wong, who had resigned from the Party in 1953, requested the suspension of the standing orders on the grounds that he wanted to move a motion of no confidence in the Executive Committee and for the holding of new elections. Even though the majority of the members of the Executive Committee disagreed, Burnham allowed the motion. Immediately, the majority of the Executive Committee (Dr. Jagan, Janet Jagan, Rory Westmaas, Fred Bowman, Martin Carter, George Robertson, Naipaul Jagan and Lionel Jeffrey) and 200 other members - the majority - walked out from the meeting.
Burnham's action, which breached the decision he agreed to only two days before, decisively spit the PPP. The splitters "elected" a new "leadership" which comprised of Forbes Burnham as leader, Dr. Lachhmansingh , chairman; Cheddi Jagan, senior vice-chairman; Clinton Wong, junior vice-chairman; Jai Narine Singh, secretary; Jessie Burnham, assistant secretary; Janet Jagan, treasurer; and as general council members Sydney King, Rudy Luck, Ulric Fingal, E. Bobb, A.P Alleyne, R. Mitchell, Surajballi, H. Sargeant, Pandit Misir, Pandit Ramoutar, Jagnarine, Mohamed Khan, R. Fields, Jane Phillips-Gay and M. Edinboro.
Some of these persons "elected" were not part of the Burnham faction, but Burnham and his followers wanted to create an impression that they were in control of the united PPP. However, since the great majority of the PPP membership refused to follow the splitters, Burnham's group was clearly another entity.
Burnham's group also called itself the People's Progressive Party which also began publishing a newspaper - also given the name Thunder. (This situation was to continue until 1957 when the Burnham group merged with the UDP and named itself the People's National Congress and changing its paper's name to the New Nation).