The Guyanese historian Walter Rodney was murdered forty years ago, at the age of thirty-eight. Rodney is probably best remembered for his classic 1972 work How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. But he was also a political activist and one of the leaders of the Working People’s Alliance (WPA) in his native country. That put him at odds with the demagogic, authoritarian regime of Forbes Burnham.
Although it claimed to be socialist, the Burnham dictatorship maintained good relations with the US, which supplied aid and training for its security machine. As historian Manning Marable observed: “The Carter Administration viewed Guyana in the same political league as Somalia and Communist China, a nominal socialist regime which outlawed democratic rights at home and was willing to become a junior partner with US imperialism.” Burnham held power through repression and rigged elections, clamping down on parties and trade unions that opposed his rule, while allowing bizarre cult leaders like the Reverend Jim Jones to set up shop on Guyanese soil.
When asked about his personal safety, Walter Rodney insisted that he could not afford to go into exile: “There’s only one way to bring about basic changes in Guyana or any Third World country, and that’s by working with the people in the country. I have to run the same risks as everyone else.”
On June 13, 1980, a booby-trap bomb killed Rodney. The leading figures of Caribbean socialism — Jamaica’s Michael Manley, Grenada’s Maurice Bishop, and Cuba’s Fidel Castro — all denounced his murder. For Manley, it was “a wanton and brutal action and an assault against humanity.”
In the below essay, composed shortly before his death, Rodney analysed the nature of the Burnham dictatorship, denouncing its corruption and incompetence, and setting out a political strategy for its overthrow. As Trevor A. Campbell noted: “The style of presentation bears the stamp of lucidity and unambiguity which was characteristic of all of Rodney’s written and spoken words, whether writing for an academic journal or delivering a speech at a mass political meeting.”
Forbes Burnham died in 1985. An official report published in 2014 concluded that Burnham “knew of the plan and was part of the conspiracy to assassinate Dr Walter Rodney.”
‘The Struggle for Democracy in Guyana’ – 1980
Men in the past have boasted of being dictators. Some have even pretended to be benevolent autocrats, ruling in the interests of those over whom they exercised absolute control. Recently, Somoza of Nicaragua went down fighting as an unrepentant dictator. But nowadays, hardly any rulers admit that they are dictators. The demand for freedom has become universal, and repression feels the need to camouflage itself.
Thus the Pinochet regime in Chile rigged a referendum to tell the world that the Chilean people voted for a dictatorship! Idi Amin claimed to have had the support of the Ugandan masses whom he was butchering! The world has come to shun racist regimes, military dictatorships and all dictatorial governments. This climate of international opinion offers the first explanation as to why the Forbes Burnham dictatorship prefers to remain disguised.
The Burnham dictatorship presents itself as its own opposite — that is to say, it presents itself as a democracy. This pattern has been determined by the manner in which Burnham achieved political power. Some dictators seize power by violence, as frequently happened in Latin America. Some inherit from a previous strong-man, as in the case of “Baby Doc” Duvalier who succeeded “Papa Doc” Duvalier of Haiti.
Occasionally, a dictator can arrive on the scene as part of an electoral process before taking the steps of brazenly undermining the self-same electoral system. This was the case with Hitler who subverted German bourgeois democracy in the 1930s. Burnham has taken a similar road to power — subverting the democratic system of which he was part in 1953.
We cannot say that Guyana today has reached the same stage as Germany under Hitler’s rule, because that would be to lose a sense of proportion. Burnham as a dictator is petty because ours is a nation of less than a million people. Hitler had a mad wish to rule the world. For this reason, he is generally described as a megalomaniac. Hitler’s megalomania was backed by the powerful German economy and the might of the German army.
Burnham’s megalomania is closer to comedy and farce. It takes the form of wearing a General’s uniform and hoping that the army will conquer his own people. In the long run, however, every dictator is like any other dictator. Burnham certainly has the capacity to make life miserable for the entire population of our small nation.
Like all classic dictatorships, that which exists in Guyana has fostered the cult of the personality. The minority People’s National Congress (PNC) regime has used all manner of tricks and gimmicks to make the “Comrade Leader” appear to be a demi-god. Some of the gimmicks were inherited from our past of colonial oppression. Thus on the exercise books of school children, the face of the reigning English monarch was simply replaced by that of the Prime Minister, even though there is a President as constitutional head of state in Guyana.
Other practices which promote the cult of the personality have been adopted in flagrant violation of our culture. It is on record that one Hindu Pandit insulted his co-religionists and Guyanese as a whole by stating that Burnham is a re-incarnation of Lord Krishna. All Guyanese can attest to the many maneuvers of the PNC regime to glorify and deify the man Forbes Burnham. We have been afflicted with his face, his name, his voice everywhere.
This obscene and vulgar behavior eventually had a damaging effect on our entire artistic production, including the strangling of our calypso tradition so the calypso crown could be won by whoever shouted the loudest praise to the dictator. When Burnham could not pretend that he was the greatest, he sought to attach himself shamelessly to the shirt-tails of those who had proved their greatness in one field or another — ranging from Fidel Castro to Muhammad Ali. Most West Indians were totally disgusted by the ridiculous practice of Burnham laying personal claim to Clive Lloyd and the West Indian cricket team.
For a small nation, Guyana has produced a discouragingly large number of lackeys and stooges who hide in the shadow of the “Comrade Leader.” Guyanese constantly complain of “square pegs in round holes.” The square pegs are the misfits and soup drinkers who flourish because each one is prepared to be his master’s voice. This is a double tragedy in this situation.
First there is the tragedy (with some mixture of comedy) of the incompetent, the mediocre and the corrupt making a mess of things. Secondly, there is the tragedy in which men and women of ability and integrity have been dismissed or they have run away or they have been reduced to silence. This part of the tragedy involves honest police officers who must condone corruption, doctors who must heal without drugs, managers who are not allowed to manage and workers who are not permitted to produce and are then forced to consume a diet of lies and deceit. And all of this, incidentally, is carried on in the name of socialism.
The smallness of our society also draws attention to the highly personalised nature of the dictatorship. The dictator and his cronies make it their business to hire and fire. They interfere with major management decisions and they intervene in the most trivial affairs. The ruling clique can be vindictive with appointments at the supposedly independent University of Guyana as they can be vindictive with regard to businessmen applying for licenses for imports controlled by the Government.
The dictator can personally intervene to stop a soldier from going on leave, to prevent a junior clerk from getting a promotion, to victimise a casual worker for failing to “toe the line.” Decisions as to who to prosecute in the courts should normally be made by the director of public prosecutions. Many of these decisions are made by the dictator himself in Guyana and are influenced not by the well-being of the state but by personal spite. It is said that the “Comrade Leader” boasts of his long memory and marks down persons for victimisation even if he has to wait for fifteen years before he can vent his wrath on them.
When Guyana achieved independence in 1966, the PNC was a minority government which had come to power through dubious means. Ten years later, it had become a dictatorship in which state control over the economy was the main weapon used to keep people in line. Burnham and his cronies consider themselves powerful and clever men when they successfully threaten and intimidate a mother by bringing threats against her children.
The Italian writer, Machiavelli, is famous for his analysis of politics as the art of manipulating power. Machiavelli’s best-known book, The Prince, was written some 450 years ago as advice to a ruler with absolute power. We have it on the authority of the late Jessie Burnham that her “Brother Forbes” was a firm disciple of Machiavelli. In his own words, Burnham has described politics as the “science of deals.” He likes to wheel and deal and to treat persons as through each can be bought and sold.
Burnham encourages around himself individuals who are weak or corrupt because he then exercises vicious control over them. According to Burnham’s thinking, the ends justify the means, and the only means which matter are those which have to do with achieving and holding on to power. Any means are acceptable if they allow him to keep control over the state machinery. This is the ultimate in cynicism and fully reveals the Machiavellian strategy which has guided Burnham in his pursuit of absolute power in Guyana.
A Thief in the Night
On the international scene, Burnham could never be a powerful force. But he has proved crafty and cunning in achieving his ends within Guyana. An old woman at Bourda shouted at a recent political meeting that “Burnham mek Satan cry!” This remarkable piece of wit from the Georgetown streets was in response to the deviousness of a man who has worked out a long-term plan for dividing and ruling the Guyanese people — all of whom he holds in deep contempt.
Again we should refer to the pamphlet by Jessie Burnham, entitled Beware My Brother Forbes, in which she describes his racist attitude to Indians, his absolute selfishness and his limitless ambition to hold others in domination. Jessie Burnham also provided evidence as to the stealthy manner in which Forbes Burnham went about his objectives.
The Burnham dictatorship crept up upon Guyanese people like a thief in the night. His violations of human rights were frequent, but they were sufficiently gradual that many persons did not realise what was going on until it was too late. Take, for example, the end of freedom of the press. This was not achieved by any single action or by any single law. First, one national daily newspaper was nationalised and the second followed later. The two were then merged. One radio station was taken over by the government while the second was kept under manners. Eventually the two became government-owned and came under one management.
Meanwhile, the opposition press was being restricted even at the level of one-page duplicated sheets. The nationalised press and radio are of course maintained by revenue produced by all Guyanese; but step by step they became the personal tools of the dictator and his clique. Press and radio journalists lost all independence and professional dignity. Today, the Chronicle newspaper is proud to announce itself as the “Sister” of the New Nation publication which is the official organ of the PNC party.
Many Guyanese of good will are wondering whether there was a point at which they should have taken a stand to defend the freedom of the press. The best time to fight for a freedom is when it exists and is first threatened. But few Guyanese were prepared to step forward in the early years of the Burnham dictatorship because they were simply hoping for the best. Burnham recognised this attitude as a weakness of our people and he made the most of it. Today, there is no press freedom to defend; this is only a freedom destroyed which has to be rebuilt.
The fate of the army and police can serve as other examples of the trickery which built the Burnham dictatorship. According to the Guyana Constitution, each soldier or policeman takes an oath of loyalty to this country symbolised by the Head of State. Each soldier or policeman is expected to be loyal to the commands of an elected government representing the people. Little by little since independence, loyalty to the country became loyalty to the PNC and then personal loyalty to Burnham.
The uniformed forces helped the PNC to beat down the majority opposition in 1973 and then by July 1978 they were helping Burnham to steal the rights of 90 percent of the population — including the rights of many former supporters of the PNC. One wonders whether the soldiers and police realised when they stopped being loyal to the country and started being the watch-dogs of a dictator?
In the old days, the “Three Card” con game was very popular in Georgetown — especially in Lombard and Water Streets. The “Three Card” deals used to announce “the more you watch the less you see,” as they cunningly flicked their cards from side to side. Forbes Burnham is our national champion “Three Card” con artist.
There is another side to the gradual way in which the Burnham dictatorship was established. Guyanese were dealt blow after blow without being knocked out. But we certainly became dazed and stupefied. Our national poet, Martin Carter, was one of the first to comment publicly on this process. He mentioned how the senses of Guyanese were being dulled. Martin Carter called this the “paralysis of the spirit.”
Many decent Guyanese were tricked into doing dirty things, believing that these acts would contribute to their own welfare. Instead, each dirty deal simply confirmed the power of the dictator and allowed him to turn around and insult even former supporters. As we would say in Creole, people get use and then they get ’buse.
Burnham is well-known for his flowery language. Unfortunately some of our people fell victim to the sound of words without examining the meaning. “Paramountcy” is one of Burnham’s fancy words. He announced the doctrine of PNC paramountcy or domination over Parliament, the Courts, the Press and everything else. In fact, “Paramountcy” was the official statement that a minority party which was growing smaller and smaller intended to maintain dictatorial rule over the majority.
At the same time, Burnham made it clear that he was “paramount” over the PNC. The PNC party constitution gives Burnham so-called reserve powers which are greater than the reserve powers of the old colonial governors over the legislature. The PNC Constitution states as follows:
If the leader . . . is of the opinion that a situation of emergency has arisen in the Party, he shall have power . . . to take all action necessary to correct such a situation; and for this purpose he may assume and exercise any and all the powers of the Biennial Delegates’ Congress, The General Council, the Central Executive Committee, any other Committee, Group, Arm, Organ or any other Officer of Official of the Party.
Burnham the dictator is paramount over the paramount party!
The People’s Struggle
When Guyana gained its independence it inherited what is called the bourgeois-democratic system of Britain. Socially and economically, the population remained divided into different classes; while politically everyone had a right to help elect a parliament which had one or more parties. The constitution of independent Guyana was the product of class struggle waged partly in Europe and partly inside Guyana itself.
It was the people’s struggle inside Guyana which contributed most to political freedom in our country. The efforts of slaves and indentured bondsmen made the question of liberation both a national and international issue. Given our background of slavery, the question of freedom can never be ignored in Guyana and the Caribbean.
Today, we take for granted the freedom of worship. But it was not a freedom readily granted by our oppressors. When a few non-conformist ministers of religion first suggested that slaves should have access to Christianity, they were resisted by the slave masters. Those slaves who wished to practice the Christian religion ran terrible risks in order to insist on their right to worship as they chose — just as thousands of slaves had earlier fought to continue holding their African beliefs.
Under indentureship, the situation was not very different. It was usually after the end of their five-year bond that our Indian foreparents were able to turn to the temple, the mosque or the church as the case might be.
One of the most bitter struggles in the history of Guyana has been the struggle to establish the right to work. That is to say, the right to be offered employment which would provide a decent living. The right to work means the right to eat and the right to live. After slavery, the free population was willing to work. But they demanded fair conditions; and planters brought in indentured labourers to undercut the demand for better wages and conditions.
The indentured labourers themselves soon grew aware of the situation. They too demanded better conditions and the result was that they were refused employment while fresh indentured labourers were brought in. The right to employment in crop time, the right to employment out of crop season, the right to employment in the public sector — all of these were at least partially won by the end of the colonial period.
Alongside the right to work was the right to housing. Acquiring a house depends on what one earns and is therefore linked to the right to work. Plantation labourers were housed in logies from slavery days. When labourers became free, the planters told them they could enjoy the privilege of staying in the plantation logies if they worked on the estates without protest. Right up until recent times, estates have ejected tenants who exercised their right to strike.
That is why our people have always preferred houses in a village instead of houses on estates. On the sugar estates, in the villages and in the towns, workers have organised to demand decent housing and to demand housing with no strings attached. Housing is not a favour which the dictator has granted to the people. The right to housing is an internationally recognised and fundamental human right. It is one for which the Guyanese people have struggled in the countryside and in the towns.
In the colonial days of British Guiana, rural workers and farmers made the magnificent contribution of establishing free villages — like Buxton on the East Coast, Demerara, Queenstown in Essequibo and Fyrish/Gibraltar in East Berbice. The village residents fought the planters and the colonists in order to practice democracy at the local government level.
The urban working class led the way in establishing trade unions and in exercising the right to strike. Stevedores were amongst the most abused and exploited workers in the colonial system. Yet it was the stevedores and other dockworkers who sacrificed to make trade unions possible.
Our middle classes identified themselves with popular campaigns against dictatorial governors, against corruption in the public service, against planters manipulating elections, and against the misuse of the authority of the courts. All classes in the colony of British Guiana fought to promote freedom of expression in public places and in the press. The end result of all this was the election of governments of their choice.
Popular struggle in Guyana won concessions which were partial and temporary. Clearly, there could never be full justice under colonialism, capitalism and imperialism because of deep-rooted class inequalities. The hope of the majority was that elected governments and national independence would revolutionise the economy and society so that justice would prevail.
Most Guyanese live on the coastlands. These coastlands were once desolate swamps flooded by the sea and the savannah waters. The dams and the canals, the roads and the houses, the fields and the factories, the schools and the churches, the words and the gestures — all these represent our common heritage.
Our foreparents planted their strength, their seed, and their intelligence in a country which is now ours. Neither the land nor the rights of the people are gifts of the Burnham dictatorship. On the contrary, that dictatorship has placed the nation in reverse gear. It is destroying the economy and it stealing the rights of the people.
Exposing the Dictatorship
We have said before that the Burnham dictatorship would prefer to hide under the disguise of being a democracy. Elections have not been abolished; instead they have been rigged in such a way as to become a complete mockery of the most fundamental of rights — the right to self-determination and free choice of one’s government.
The rigged elections of 1968 and 1973 and the amazing referendum fraud of July 1978 all indicate that Guyanese people have not chosen the PNC clique. The regime holds power by armed force. Guyanese are finding from their own experience that the dictatorship hates to be reminded that it is a dictatorship. To expose the dictatorship, the first step is to denounce the government as illegal and illegitimate.
Dictators have a way of building statues in their own image. When a dictator is overthrown, the population seizes the chance to destroy or remove the various things which were meant to glorify him. But it is equally important that some of the symbols of the dictator’s power should be destroyed before his fall. Psychologically, the domination of the dictator has to be rejected.
The population must learn to despise the falsehoods which surround the man; they must refuse to accept that he has any halo of greatness around him. They must remove any confusion in their own minds and see the dictator clearly for what he is — a villain and a monster, the principal enemy of the people.
Certain verbal attacks have been made on the dictator. Dayclean, the organ of the Working People’s Alliance (WPA), first called him “Big Jim” so that people should not forget Jim Jones and the 914 dead of Jonestown. Burnham has blood on his hands from that horrible atrocity. We call him the “Crime Minister” to let the people remember the corruption, electoral frauds and the recent murder of Father Bernard Darke.
In Latin America, the dictators are known as “gorillas” — as distinct from the freedom fighters who are “guerrillas.” We want it known that Guyana too has its “gorilla,” and that he is appropriately named “King Kong.” The strength of which Burnham boasts is the strength of the ape, and besides he is a make-believe character — straight from Hollywood.
The Burnham Touch
Our language must express not only ridicule but anger and disgust. The dictatorship has reduced us all to such a level that the situation can be described only in terms befitting fifth, pollution and excrement. Even our deep-rooted sense of modesty in Guyana cannot stand in the way of rough words to describe the nation’s shame.
That is why the WPA repeats the legend of King Midas who was said to have been able to touch anything and turn it into gold. That was called the “Midas Touch.” Now Guyana has seen the “Burnham Touch” — anything he touches turns to shit!
Many beautiful ideas have suffered from the Burnham Touch — socialism, cooperatives, free education, nationalisation, solidarity with Afro-Americans, support for freedom fighters. Burnham tries to intervene personally in everything — from road building to the administration of sports. He has touched a great deal in Guyana. Many formerly decent Guyanese are walking around doing dirty things or compromising with the evil of dictatorship. They have been touched.
Of course, exposure of the dictatorship requires far more than mere words. The entire population must be committed to action. Each action in the popular interest is bound to reveal the dictatorship in its true colours.
Mass public meetings sponsored by the WPA have recently been used by Guyanese to show their opposition to the PNC clique. The apparatus of the police state was brought down on the heads of peaceful citizens attending these meetings. From time to time, the police denied permission for the use of loud-speaking equipment in defiance of the Constitution. Peaceful pickets and gatherings without loudspeakers have been broken up with tear gas and baton charges. In this way the dictatorship feels that it is gaining a physical victory but the people are moving forward in their understanding. No one can now pretend that our rulers protect the freedom of assembly.
As criticism of the regime grew in all quarters, the dictatorship came into the open on the question of press freedom. They tightened the noose around the People’s Progressive Party’s Mirror newspaper, strangling it through denial of newsprint. The government has intensified its search for duplicating machines and typewriters. Duplicating equipment was seized from a political group (the Working People’s Vanguard Party) and also from a trade union (the National Association of Agriculture, Commercial and Industrial Employees). No one can now pretend that our rulers believe in freedom of the press.
Determined working-class efforts have once again exposed the Burnham dictatorship on the question of the right to strike. When the sugar workers went on strike for a memorable 135 days in 1977–78, the government called it a political strike. Now every strike is called a political one —which means that the strike undermines the power of the dictatorship.
Workers have to learn not to fear when their strike action is called “political.” If the power of the people undermines the power of the dictator, then let our strikes be political! The real issue is not whether a strike is called industrial or political; it is whether that strike is in the interests of the workers concerned and of the working people as a whole.
The recent bauxite strike is a high point in the history of the Guyanese working class. For six weeks, bauxite workers stood firm to force management to implement their collective labour agreement. The Guyanese dictatorship has consistently attacked the living standards of the working class. It is not surprising that the bauxite strike attracted the support of workers everywhere in Guyana.
Positive leadership from the four progressive trade unions gave bauxite workers nationwide backing, especially within the sugar industry. Sugar workers and clerks who came out in solidarity also seized the opportunity to advance their own just demands, such as the demand that the government respect a $14 a day minimum wage. The entire nation got a feel of what united working-class action could mean.
Following the strike, the dictatorship has unleashed victimisation. This is further evidence of their determination to eliminate the right to strike and the right to work. Yet the dismissal of the strikers itself is the next major point around which workers will rally. As is the fashion with apes, King Kong beats his chest and threatened to slaughter indiscriminately, but united labour actions can always call his bluff.
United strike action teaches us how the dictator can be exposed and how he can be deposed. The regime panicked at the thought of anything looking like a general strike. Burnham knows that no amount of violence or military force can replace the labour power of workers. He has tried cutting cane with the militia, the national service and so on, and this was a dismal failure.
He did not even waste time trying to introduce scabs into the bauxite industry because he knows that there is no way that would have been accepted. The dictator requires the population to produce so as to sustain himself and the clique of parasites who dominate Guyana. That is why mass withdrawal of labour is the ultimate weapon representing the power of the people.
The Burnham dictatorship needs the cooperation of workers to buy guns to keep down the very workers! This is the fantastic contradiction which points the way towards a policy of non-cooperation and civil disobedience.
Non-cooperation means simply that citizens will refuse to cooperate in their own oppression and in the oppression of others. It may be hidden or open, individual or collective. The instances are increasing of individual Guyanese resisting or ignoring the notorious “instructions” given by the dictator.
Each publicised example of personal resistance helps lift the spirits of the entire population. Other individuals are going about their personal rebellion in a quiet manner. However, non-cooperation will be most effective where it is based on collective or group action.
In India, Mahatma Gandhi organised millions in his campaign of non-cooperation and civil disobedience against the British colonialists. One of Gandhi’s campaigns brought about the boycott of cloth imported from Britain. In the USA, the modern civil rights struggle started with a famous bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama in 1954. Thousands of black people refused to use the bus until the bus company ended racial discrimination.
Here in Guyana, several persons and organisations have called for a boycott of the lying and vicious publication called the Chronicle, which uses the people’s money to abuse the people. Such a boycott would represent an example of non-cooperation. It has to be agreed on and implemented as a collective action.
Civil disobedience is also a matter which is best approached by large numbers acting at the same time. It means a readiness to disobey the government (otherwise known as the civil power). In Guyana, the civil power is itself disobeying the laws and the Constitution — for example, in relation to the freedom of assembly, the conduct of local and national elections, the right to picket or to march, and the rights which citizens have when arrested.
The WPA has made a public commitment to challenge the illegal and arbitrary behavior of government forces such as the police. In relation to public meetings, this challenge has thoroughly exposed the nature of the Burnham dictatorship; and it has done so because masses of people have got the message and have turned out in numbers.
The regime had two choices. One was to allow us to exercise our democratic rights and let the majority show its true feelings of opposition to the dictatorship. The other choice was to drive the people off the streets by force. But the second choice backfired because it showed people both at home and abroad how much Guyana had become a police state.
Bringing out the Steel
Civil disobedience goes beyond the point where the civil power breaks its own laws. One can suggest disobedience of the law because of the fundamental fact that the government is illegal. Citizens have a right to be guided not by the unjust laws or an unjust state but by what Gandhi called “the higher law of justice.” There are some laws such as traffic regulations which are relatively free of political interference; but citizens will decide when laws offer safety and which ones can be broken as a part of a rebellion against the dictatorship.
Civil disobedience has always been met by threats, by beatings, by imprisonment and ultimately by loss of life. This process has already begun in Guyana. The lessons from other countries show that a determined people cannot be turned back. Certainly, blows and imprisonment are bringing out the steel in the Guyanese people and the dictatorship will be taught whose steel is sharper. The murder of Father Darke failed to intimidate; instead more decent men and women rallied to protest the appalling state of the nation in Guyana.
Few individuals want to willingly invite their own death. Yet many will be found who are prepared to fight fearlessly for their rights even if their lives are threatened. The human spirit has a remarkable capacity to rise above oppression; and only the fools who now misrule Guyana can imagine that our population alone lacks such capacity.
During the famous 1763 slave rebellion in Berbice, there were numerous examples of the undying courage of our foreparents. The Dutch slave-masters captured Accabre, one of the leaders of the rebellion, and he simply laughed scornfully when they tormented him. Soon after, Accabre and eight other freedom fighters were put to death by roasting over a slow fire. Even their enemies were impressed by the fact that Accabre’s men were firm to the end and did not flinch.
The violence of the dictatorial state is always lurking ready to be unleashed when the people make their challenge. There will be more jobs lost, more bones broken and more lives sacrificed. Failure to see this would be to under-estimate the difficulties. Precisely because of the violence, the population will develop its own tactics of self-defense.
Attacks by PNC thugs and by thugs in uniforms (calling themselves police) have so far gone down without resistance. That phase is at an end. Self-defense is an inalienable human right, and the tactics of confronting the regime will change to ensure that persons defend their right to life and limb.
Nether the WPA nor any other organisation needs to produce a master plan for national struggle against the dictator. We can rely on the initiative and good judgement of our people, provided there is a spirit of resistance. Martin Carter’s Poems of Resistance were written against colonial domination. They are still relevant today. It is no accident that he was among the first to call for renewed resistance, this time against the Burnham dictatorship.
Artists have a special responsibility at this time of crisis, the task of defending creativity against the onslaughts of a regime which behaves like the Philistines of old in trampling everything of human value. The people of Latin America have found that pens and guitars and paint brushes all become effective weapons against the gorillas. Language, song and drum are also weapons within the Guyanese situation. Cultivate the spirit of resistance! Cultivate the Accabre spirit! King Kong must go!
The Eyes and Ears of the People
In the midst of national crisis, Guyanese have made some gain. The most dramatic achievement has been the consolidation of racial unity. Africans and Indians are standing side by side in a way that has not been true since 1953. Indeed, we now have a degree of racial unity greater than at any previous time in our history. The WPA has consistently argued that political unity across racial lines was most desirable and possible. The truth of that position is now obvious.
The firmest unity is unity in struggle. Guyanese are no longer divided in their struggle for bread and justice. Indian sugar workers and African bauxite workers are making common cause. African lawyers and Indian lawyers both see the need for unity to restore the rule of law. Our racial minorities are joining the new national movement without fear of domination.
The dictatorship is spreading the wild propaganda to hold back the movement of inter-racial solidarity. The PNC clique is putting out that the WPA is an Afro-Guyanese group, splitting black people so that Indians will be the next rulers! There is no need to answer such backwardness, except to ask that you look around and “see with the eyes of the people.”
What is more vicious is that the regime is using or creating incidents of racial violence on the East Coast Demerara. When the PNC sends thugs into Indian communities, we are not told anything about this. When an African is killed by Indians, this is meat for the racists on the “Action Line” program and is taken up at length on the radio by no less a criminal than the “Rabbi” cult leader. The PNC clique are even bold enough to talk about 1962 when they were in the forefront of racial violence. But we will “hear with the ears of the people.”
Before the dictatorship can be overthrown, we must solve the difficult problem of creating national unity in the face of class differences. So long as there are classes, there must be some degree of class conflict. Nevertheless, it is necessary to build a broad unity across existing class lines; and there are several factors which favour such a development in Guyana today.
The highest expression of modern capitalism is found in the multi-national companies. The power of the modern capitalist is tremendous because it is on such a scale that it dominates entire nations and sustains imperialist exploitations. Guyana is fortunate that multi-national companies such as Bookers and Alcan no longer control our economy. Nationalisation was called for by all sectors of progressive opinion in Guyana. Nationalisation of sugar and bauxite must be recognised as positive, although the nationalised industries have suffered from the Burnham Touch. The private capital which exists in Guyana can play a nationalist and patriotic role because it does not automatically represent imperialist exploitation.
Guyanese manufacturers and businessmen in general can participate in a movement of national unity because there is great need for an expansion of production and for an increase in productivity. Above all, there is great need for an extension of the productive forces — which means more technology, more investment, and a larger body of workers who are guaranteed employment and advancement. Through debate, discussion, and mutual respect for agreements, the national movement can offer conditions mutually acceptable to the group of local businessmen and to the broad masses of workers.
In Guyana and the West Indies, an important social role is played by the middle class. The term “middle class” or “petty bourgeoisie” is generally used to refer to professionals, small businessmen, big farmers, and civil servants from the middle ranks and above. The Guyanese middle class is in deep crisis.
The decline in Guyana’s living standards has hit the middle class very hard — because they least expected it and are unaccustomed to it. Normally the middle class thinks in terms of security and comfort. There is very little of these things left. It’s a headache to run a car, it’s a burden to pay a mortgage, and it is impossible to acquire articles of consumption because of scarcity and extravagant cost. So the middle class has come to feel some of the material deprivations which many workers had long known about — and the learning process has been painful.
Besides, the middle class has lost its sense of professional pride. There is little or no job satisfaction to be gained at any level in government service and even outside of the government. Many have been beaten down into silence; but there are individuals who travel and who know the world. They therefore know that internationally the Guyanese government is totally discredited and that Guyanese have to bear the shame heaped on them by the dictator. Many members of the middle class are therefore entering the political movement. Many are willing to be mobilised, others will commit resources and a few are prepared to take serious risks as part of the movement.
The middle class understands that it can never monopolise a Guyanese government. From 1953, that has never been possible. Thinking members of the middle class are therefore in agreement that the solution is a government of national unity. This would be a government which they cannot dominate but one in which their interests will be adequately represented and in which their views will be given honest and careful consideration.
Burnham Must Go!
The WPA stands within the ranks of workers and peasants. There is no hesitation in so doing; there are no ifs and buts about our commitments to building a society in which working people enjoy the fruits of their own labour. A united working class is the base on which national unity is to be built. It is the working class (including housewives and the unemployed) who suffer most under the corrupt dictatorship. It is the working class which has sacrificed most in the struggle for bread and justice.
A working-class interpretation must win over the progressive element of other classes and strata. It will have to be made clear that the Burnham dictatorship came forth from a particular economic system — a system rooted in inequality and exploitation. It will also have to be made clear that working people require fundamental changes in the political structure to permanently guarantee rights which they temporarily won in the face of colonialism. The Guyanese working people, who are in the immense majority, will expect to have their labour power reflected in the power of the state.
The WPA has called for a government of national reconstruction and national unity. Inevitably, the working people must play a leading role in such a government. Yet, it is proof of the maturity of our workers that they fully understand the need for patriotic compromise with other classes and social strata.
Workers know from the most bitter of experiences how hopeless the economic situation has become. Small farmers know from heartbreaking experience that it is impossible to cultivate and survive. So the vast majority of our people will surely rally around a program which restores the economy through the participation of all. They will rally round a program which restores democratic rights.
One can sum up on the national question by saying that all classes in Guyana have an objective interest in unity. That is to say, each class has suffered in one way or another from arbitrary rule, insecurity and lack of the opportunity to do an honest job. Collectively, we are faced with the threat of disintegration and the loss of commitment to Guyana as a nation-state. This is tragically seen through the large numbers lining up at the embassies and passport offices and in the large numbers who have but one ambition in life — to leave Guyana.
This is the time of calling on our resolves of patriotism. The road to recovery of national purpose lies though the restoration of democracy. All parties and all interest groups must somehow be represented and be seen to be represented in a government of national reconstruction and national unity.
Burnham Must Go! Yes, but that is only one side of the coin. There must be an alternative to replace the dictator. Let that alternative be a government of national unity. A clear alternative is a powerful political force. It gives our people something to mobilise around. It gives the outside world something to think about as the force of the future in dealing with Guyana.
In the last days of the Burnham dictatorship, a government of national unity must be declared. It will unite races and classes; it will attract civilians and uniformed personnel; it will itself contribute to speeding up the end of the reign of King Kong.
People’s Power! No Dictator! All Power To The People!