offer of "critical support" by the PPP
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Worsening political and economic situation after 1973
After the rigged 1973 elections, the political, economic and social situation in Guyana continued to further deteriorate. The PNC regime slogans never became reality. For example, the promise that "the small man will become the real man" under its cooperative socialism fizzled out, and the ambitious plan to "feed, clothe and house the nation by 1976" failed miserably. Progress was seriously hampered when the $1,150 million development plan for 1972-76, which had been introduced for the election in 1973, was also set aside in 1974. All of these factors bred dissatisfaction and worsened the political, economic and situation in the subsequent years.
Faced with poor working conditions, workers in various industries and services launched a series of protests, mainly in the form of strikes. The result was that in 1974, there were 571,000 more man-days lost on account of strikes than in 1973. The industrial situation further worsened in 1975 when inflation and high taxation resulted in longer strikes causing a considerable increase in man-days lost.
Economic pressures mounted when the government, in its 1974 budget, imposed a record-breaking $19 million taxation on the population. For that year, too, a sugar levy which had been introduced was expected to yield $30 million, but in fact it yielded $131 million - a huge windfall to the government - but which was not used to improve the social and economic conditions of the people. In 1976, this levy yielded almost $250 million!
Sugar workers across the country protested this huge levy on the grounds that it robbed the workers of their fair share of profits under the profit-sharing scheme established since 1968. In addition, it provided the sugar producers with an excuse to pay the sugar workers less than half the wages and salaries sugar workers in the English-speaking Caribbean territories were earning.
The GAWU strike for recognition
Faced with this situation, the Guyana Agricultural Workers Union (GAWU) called a strike in the sugar industry in 1975. The strike had a three-fold objective: to remove the sugar levy; to fight for better wages and improved working conditions; and to demand official recognition for the union to be the bargaining agent for sugar workers. At that time, the Man Power Citizens' Association (MPCA), widely regarded as a "company union" was the recognised union whose call to the striking workers to return to work went totally unheeded. The MPCA itself was heavily backed by the PNC.
The sugar workers maintained their strike for seven weeks during the "spring" crop and then again for six weeks in the "autumn" crop. They made tremendous sacrifices but they received support in food and finance from workers and farmers all over Guyana. In the end, after a loss of nearly $150 million in foreign exchange and $50 million in revenue, the government was forced to order a poll among sugar workers to choose the union to represent them in the industry. This was a big victory for the workers since the government had stubbornly refused to apply this measure for many years.
In the poll which was held at the end of December 1975, the sugar workers voted overwhelmingly for the GAWU giving it 98 percent of the votes cast. This poll, in which 83 percent of the workers turned out to vote, demonstrated three facts: first, that the GAWU had the confidence of the majority of sugar workers, as it had always asserted; second, the PNC's claim that it had made inroads into PPP strongholds (especially the sugar estates) was spurious - a claim based on the 71 percent votes which it took at the 1973 general elections with the help of the army; and third, it clearly exposed the fact that the PNC rigged the 1973 elections since the PNC-backed union could not obtain more than 2 percent of the sugar workers' votes.
More workers' protests
Meanwhile, at the Guyana Bauxite Company, the most important feature of nationalisation was the replacement of the expatriate Canadian and American managerial group by an administrative PNC elite. The non-compromising position taken by this new elite forced confrontation with the bauxite workers. The number of man-hours lost by strikes increased from 21,609 in 1972 to 34,348 in 1974. A rebel workers' movement which had been suppressed in 1971 with force - including tear-gassing of workers on strike on May Day and the arrest of 26 of the strike leaders - resurrected itself again in 1975. This rebel movement which demanded democracy and improved working conditions attempted to win executive posts at the Mine Workers Union elections, but the PNC, using its political machinery, applied harassment and intimidation, and rigged the union elections in favour of its loyalists in the union.
Other categories of workers including civil servants and timber and waterfront workers were also seriously affected by escalating prices, increasing transportation costs, and the government's refusal to make automatic wage readjustments to cope with the increased cost of living. The result was that these workers showed their dissatisfaction by unauthorised strikes and go-slows.
In the rural areas, farmers suffered from loss of crops due to floods and the government's unsympathetic attitude generally. Farmers were not allowed to voice their discontent by peaceful demonstrations. Their truly representative organisations such as the Rice Producers Association (RPA) were by-passed for unrepresentative and bureaucratically-run bodies, affiliated to or associated with the PNC. These bodies, such as the Rice Action Committee, which displaced the RPA, misused the farmers' money, and coercive methods were employed by the PNC to force the farmers to join and support them.
Cooperation among opposition forces
Ideological matters also took centre stage during the period. From 1974, the governing PNC began to propagate the idea that it was a socialist party based on the ideas of Marxism-Leninism. At the same time, it also publicised that it was "cooperative socialist", a situation which the PPP, also an established Marxist-Leninist party, said was causing ideological confusion among the masses. The PPP also pointed out that despite the socialist sloganeering of the PNC, the regime was still propagating reactionary and utopian ideas through its "cooperative socialism".
Faced with an anti-democratic PNC regime, the opposition political groups began to work in a closer alliance. In late 1974, the PPP established relations with the Working People's Alliance (WPA) which had been constituted by four small groups-Ratoon, African Society for Cultural Relations with Independent Africa (ASCRIA); Indian Political Revolution Associates (IPRA); and Working People's Vanguard Party (WPVP). Up to the July 1973 general elections these groups had a hostile attitude to the PPP categorising it as revisionist and non-revolutionary.
In 1970, Eusi Kwayana of ASCRIA had broken away from the PNC and had brought two ministers before the Ombudsman on charges of corruption. Later in 1972, Moses Bhagwan's IPRA was formed on the basis that Indians needed a revolutionary organisation. Starting from the premise that the PPP and the PNC were the same, non-revolutionary and reactionary racial blocs, ASCRIA and IPRA declared that they would work in close cooperation but separately at the beginning to forge later a revolutionary alliance of Indian and Africans - IPRA working among the Indians and ASCRIA among the Africans. However, this objective was never achieved since the Indian, most of whom supported the PPP, paid no heed to IPRA. At the same time ASCRIA was widely regarded as an Afro-Guyanese cultural organisation but it made no significant political inroads among the Africans, most of whom gave political support to the PNC.
Three main factors caused these groups to change their political stance towards the PPP. Firstly, lacking mass support, the Ratoon Group despite its revolutionary utterances, could not take any positive action after the attempted assassination in September 1971 one of its members, university lecturer Dr. Joshua Ramsammy who was also head of a group known as Movement Against Oppression.
Second, there was disillusionment with Maoist China over its relations with the PNC. All these small groups had more or less a Maoist orientation and were worried about China's praise of the PNC government which they neither regarded as socialist or anti-imperialist.
And thirdly, the refusal by the Board of Governors of the University of Guyana to confirm the appointment of Dr. Walter Rodney, as head of the History Department led to an invitation by ASCRIA to the PPP to take part in joint protest meetings. The PNC attempts to break up these meetings which attracted huge crowds.
Actually, the PPP, through its youth arm, the Progressive Youth Organisation, was already participating in protest demonstrations to support Rodney. Also, some form of cooperation between ASCRIA and PPP had already started when they jointly organised their supporters to squat on Booker's land for house lots.
Obviously, the PNC saw this new development as one which could lead to the creation of a broad united front linking together not only the different ethnic groups, but also the workers, farmers and intelligentsia.
PNC's leftward shift and PPP's critical support
While the joint opposition activities were taking place, contradictions deepened within the two wings of the PNC leadership - the petty-bourgeois and the radical-intelligentsia sections - and also between the leadership and its working class members and supporters.
Subsequently, the PNC regime began to take an anti-imperialist direction which taking a progressive role in the non-aligned movement; establishing trade and diplomatic relations with the socialist countries; participating in the Latin American Economic System (SELA); and breaking diplomatic relations with Israel.
The regime further condemned Zionism as racism, came out in active support of UN resolutions on the Middle East and the cause of the Palestinian people, supported after some vacillation the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) and nationalised the trans-national monopoly, Booker Bros, McConnell and Co., Ltd.
The 1974-75 period also saw an intensification of the Venezuelan claim to Guyanese territory in Essequibo accompanied by reports of intermittent Venezuelan and Brazilian military manoeuvres in the border regions. In consideration of the PNC's anti-imperialist moves and in anticipation of destabilisation attempts, attacks, and even counter-revolutionary intervention by the reactionary forces, the PPP at its 25th Anniversary Conference in August 1975 at Annandale changed its post-1973 general election political line of "non-cooperation and civil resistance" to "critical support". The Party stated that it was its patriotic duty in the national interest and that it wanted all Guyanese to know that in defending national interests, the PPP would always be at the front.
In a report to the conference, PPP leader Dr. Cheddi Jagan stated that "critical support" did not mean that the PPP was joining with the PNC and supporting the government completely. He declared:
"It means giving support for any progressive measure, opposing any reactionary moves and criticising all shortcomings. Above all, it means giving a firm message to imperialism and its lackeys that we will not tolerate any meddling in our domestic affairs, that despite the differences between the PPP and the government, we are prepared to unite our forces with the PNC forces to fight against intervention so as to safeguard our national independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity."
Clearly, the United States was not happy about these new anti-imperialist positions taken by the PNC. Even though it felt betrayed, it was not prepared to give up the PNC and support the PPP. The United States still saw the PPP as a communist party, despite the PNC's proclamation that it was "Marxist-Leninist". The PPP was still regarded as a powerful enemy. This was made clear by Nelson Rockefeller, who in the report of the special Mission he headed in Latin America in 1975, stated:
"Guyana is not a politically stable nation. Its political sphere reflects both the strength of a Communist Party and the depth of racial tension. A Communist victory would completely change Guyana's foreign policy. It is therefore of crucial concern to the United States and other nations of the Western Hemisphere as well as Great Britain... Brazil in particular has indicated its concern in this area."
The Brazilian "threat"
The PPP offer of "critical support" was also meant to show that it intended to display its patriotic duty to stand in defence of the nation's territorial integrity, and to struggle against any pro-imperialist destabilising forces threatening the country's territorial integrity. During this period the PNC regime gave great publicity to information that Brazilian military forces were being built up on Guyana's border to the south and were therefore posing a real threat to Guyana. Such incessant "information" in the hugely state-controlled media created genuine fears in Guyana that Brazil - then strongly anti-communist and pro-American - would have staged a military intervention on Guyana's southern border with the main intention of forcing the PNC to reverse its then pro-socialist tendency and to follow again the capitalist path of development.
Two scenarios were developed as a result of the propagation of the so-called Brazil threat. One view was that pro-imperialist forces in Brazil were trying to influence the PNC to refuse "critical support" from the Marxist-Leninist PPP. The other view was those who were frightening Guyanese about a Brazilian invasion were trying to create a crisis situation to force the PPP to show greater sympathy and even open support for the PNC regime. This was what the PNC regime wanted.
Significantly, inside the PPP the deputy Secretary General of the PPP, Ranji Chandisingh, exaggerated the so-called Brazil threat and tried to pressure the party leadership to give unilateral support, instead of "critical support" to the PNC. He did so shortly after he returned from a visit in early 1976 to Cuba where he held consultations with the leadership of the Cuban Government. At that time there also existed very close relations between the Cuban and the Guyana Governments and most likely Chandisingh was convinced by the Cubans that the PPP, as a party having strong links of friendship with the Cuban Communist Party, should render unilateral support to the PNC Government. But after Chandisingh failed to get the PPP to support his stand, he, soon after, resigned from the party and joined the PNC.
In reality, there was no serious evidence that Brazil was expanding the strength of its border outposts, even though there were some minor reports in the Brazilian press that this was being done. However, these reports were so insignificant that they could not be classified as a "threat" as was being purported by the PNC regime in Guyana.
Views of PPP critics
As happened in the early 1950s and 1960s, the PPP on announcing their new political position was faced with vicious campaign of slander to spread confusion. The rightist forces, particularly the Indian petty-bourgeois professionals, landlords and capitalists, launched their campaign on a slogan of "'PPP sell-out". Fearing socialism, they claimed that with "critical support" for the PNC, Guyana would become "communist" and a "second Cuba". Some of them used racial and religious incitement, and even called for partition of the country.
At the racial level, they also claimed that the PPP was aware that the government was discriminating against Indians, reducing them to second class citizens and was using National Service to destroy "Indian race and culture". Despite all this, they said, the Party was giving support to the government.
The PPP responded saying that such accusation was a deliberate distortion. In its report to its 19th Congress in August 1976, it stated:
"Critical support does not mean joining the PNC or giving unconditional support to the government. It means unity and struggle - unity in defence of our independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity; struggle against shortcomings and wrongdoings; for the well being, rights and liberties of the working people; for the removal of all obstacles to national unity, such as discrimination and victimisation, and the creation of the economic, political, ideological, social and cultural pre-requisites for the building of socialism.
The PPP added that it was also fully aware of denial of rights, the vicious practice of political and racial discrimination and the various forms it takes - employment and promotion, land allocation, credit, relief, etc. - and would never stop fighting against them.
As regards compulsory National Service, the Party showed that it was the first to launch an attack against it in 1973. The PPP stated then that it saw National Service as a vehicle to distort the political history of Guyana, to brainwash the youth that the PPP was anti-national and anti-patriotic and had fought against independence, and that the PNC is the only true patriotic and revolutionary party.
The PPP also stated that it opposed compulsory National Service for women who could make their contribution to national development in various ways. The Party indicated that such contribution did not have to be in interior camps since "this offends particularly the mores and customs of the Indian community".
"Critical support" also faced opposition from some "Marxists" inside and outside the PPP. These critics were divided into two categories. One group said that the PNC was not socialist and attacked the PPP for being revisionist, for taking orders from Moscow and Cuba, and for disarming the people by offering "critical support" to the government. The second group insisted that the PPP was not Marxist and that the PNC was the only genuine party of socialism. This latter group included leading members of the PPP such as Ranji Chandisingh, Vincent Teekah, Halim Majeed and some of their supporters who, after launching bitter attacks on the PPP for not giving full support to the PNC, defected singly or in small groups over a six-month period and joined the ruling party.
Rejection of "critical support" by the PNC
The PNC's response to the PPP's new line was typical. It attempted at first to make cheap political propaganda by suggesting that the PPP was weakening and was trying to find a way to get on the PNC bandwagon. Subsequently, it began to complain that "critical support" was not support, but only criticism.
Obviously, the PNC could not understand how the PPP could take a patriotic stand, without conditions, in defence of national independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity. It was clear, too, that the PNC preferred the PPP to cease criticising and struggling against policies which were detrimental to the political, economic and social development of Guyana.
The PPP's did not withdraw its offer of critical support, but the PNC never openly embraced it. Leaders of the PNC from time to time continued to state that the PPP's policy was more critical than supportive. PNC leader Forbes Burnham obviously wanted total support for his government's policies, but after failing to obtain this from the PPP, he described the Party as reactionary "Mensheviks" in opposition to PNC "Bolsheviks" or true socialists.
Faced with this situation, the PPP continued to expand cooperation with the various opposition groups in struggling against repressive policies of the PNC regime. While the Party also concentrated its efforts on the fight for free and fair elections and the restoration of democracy in Guyana, from time to time it also threw out feelers to the PNC in the effort to initiate discussions on reaching a political situation aimed at establishing national unity.
Meanwhile, the PNC continued to propagate itself as the vanguard of the working class and constantly referred to the government as socialist. Speaking on 13 July 1976 at the "Think in" organised by the Clerical and Commercial Workers' Union, Desmond Hoyte, then the Minister of Economic Development, declared:
"Guyana has, by overwhelming national consensus, opted for the socialist system. It has a Government rooted in the working class; whose authority' springs from the working class; whose commitment is to the working-class. It has a Government which is implacably anti-imperialist and anti-colonialist. It has a Government which is socialist."
This assertion had certainly no basis in fact since it was totally untrue that the government's authority "springs from the working class". The army intervention in the fraudulent 1973 elections, by which the PNC stole the people's votes and gave itself a two-thirds majority, was still too fresh in the minds of Guyanese to swallow Hoyte's claim.
28 August 2006