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Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Dr. Cheddi Jagan, Guyana, Marxism, Race, Politics and the USA (Part 4)

(…continued from Part 3)

Ramdath Jagessar continued:

The black trade unions were also seen as weak and tired. In contrast to them was young Cheddi a spellbinding, compelling leader, his wife “Bhougie” Janet, a major asset to pull in Indian women. Janet was the very opposite of the racist, snobbish white women in Guyana, who would have nothing to do with humble countryside Indian women. Forbes Burnham was a fabulous speaker with great appeal to urban blacks.

But there were negatives as well. The British colonial office had made it clear they would not hand over any colony to communists. The Americans, after the Cuban revolution, had doubled their hostility to any Russian-styled government on their turf. The tag of godless communists was a major problem in Guyana of the fifties where the entire population was either Hindu, Muslim or Christian.

It seemed that Cheddi never understood Indians; they voted for him and his working class socialism which they did not understand. He could never accept that Indians saw him as an Indian leader who would do good for his people. He did not understand blacks either; they supported his political party in the beginning, and left from 1957 and never returned. Cheddi chased after his black working class comrades all his life after the break with Burnham and could never figure out why they stayed away.

Cheddi himself was inflexible, a poor strategist and poor judge of character, for example, in forcing Burnham as chairman of the PPP despite protests from his foundation members that they didn’t like or trust Burnham. Very strangely, he was offering nothing to petty bourgeoisie enemies such as farmers, business people, cattle herders, lawyers, doctors, taxi drivers, fishermen, pundits, none of whom would exist as independent in his socialist paradise.

Cheddi and his crew made no attempt to disguise themselves and deceive the enemy in the days before independence. Most critically, they had no paramilitary force to defend the revolution and the PPP, in times of danger. Even Hitler had his brown-shirt paramilitary before he became Chancellor. Cheddi never had his strong men.

I traced the rapid growth of the young radicals into the PAC, a seat in the legislature for Cheddi, the People Progressive Party, political victory in 1953, 1957 and 1961 and disastrous errors made, which prevented the PPP from governing or achieving its aims.

Cheddi suffered major losses like the split with Burnham and blacks, and committed enormous blunders such as admitting his communism to the Americans on a visit to ask JFK for development funds. An even greater catastrophe was being tricked by colonial secretary, Duncan Sands, into accepting proportional representation for the 1964 elections. It was obvious from the 1961 elections that the PPP had only 42% of the votes while the combined PNC of Burnham and the United Force together had 51%. The PPP could win a first-past-the-post-election, but would definitely lose in a proportional representation election. Yet unbelievably, Cheddi let Duncan Sands choose PR. He had put the hangman’s noose around his neck and handed the rope to Sands to hang him.

Cheddi was consistently outmanoeuvred and played like a yo-yo by Burnham forever. He never understood that Burnham was never a socialist, but only an opportunist who was waving a socialist flag in his face to neutralize him.

Probably Cheddi’s worst weakness was that he could never make any defence against mob violence by his former black working class comrades. Even when his Indian supporters were being killed and driven out of their homes, when black mobs were burning Indian homes and businesses, Cheddi would put up no defence. He could never see the reality of black rioters but only black working class people he had come to liberate.

The rest of the story is well known. Riots, trade union strikes, CIA tricks, inability to control the police and civil service brought down the PPP governments and caused the exodus of the majority of the Indians, the destruction of the tropical paradise that had been Guyana.

Dr Ragbeer asked the question at the start of his book. “In the last forty years over 400,000 people have fled from Guyana, mainly to the USA, Canada and the UK, when a US-supported Marxist dictator, Forbes Burnham, methodically began to savage their businesses, farms, shops, professions and persons …. Was Burnham the only culprit?”

Clearly, Cheddi Jagan was the other culprit. Mohan Ragbeer’s final judgment, which I supported, was, “Jagan had himself created the difficulties in his transit, and could have avoided others, including the treacherous Burnham, had he been less driven, less blinkered, more circumspect, and possessed the wisdom to listen, and in listening, to learn … He was convinced that the ardour of his feelings, the justice of his cause, the backing of his wife and the approbation of his followers … were enough to give his movement validity and inspire his actions and decisions.

My conclusion was that the emperor, Cheddi, has no clothes. He achieved none of his great plans. He led most of Indian followers into bitter exile. He led them not to a socialist paradise, but to what is now Cheddi Jagan Airport from whence they departed to foreign lands forever.


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Dr. Kumar Mahabir
Dr. Kumar Mahabir, Assistant Professor University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) Chairman, Indo-Caribbean Cultural Centre Co. Ltd. (ICC) E-mail: [email protected]

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