It was on October 9, 1953, 66 years ago last week, that the Conservative British Government of Winston Churchill suspended what was known as British Guiana’s Waddington Constitution. It did so by passing an Order in Council which it enforced by sending to British Guiana an invasion army of 700 British troops. The intention was not merely to ensure that the 133-day old Government left office. It was to smash the democratic opening that British Guiana had achieved by destroying the Peoples’ Progressive Party (PPP) which had spearheaded the campaign for universal adult suffrage with the ultimate objective of ending colonial rule. The PPP was democratic socialist, progressive, militant, impatient and intent on eliminating the intense poverty that gripped the majority of the Guianese people. The British Government had been persuaded by local reactionary forces that had travelled to London after the April elections in which the PPP won 18 of the 24 seats, that the PPP represented the forces represented the existential threat of ‘international communism.’
The Waddington Constitution that the British Government suspended had granted universal adult suffrage to British Guiana for the first time, eliminating property qualifications. It also allowed a modest measure of democratic rule by permitting an elected Legislative Council and a Cabinet comprising Ministers appointed by the party commanding the majority of votes. The PPP formed that Government, which had little authority, having to defer to the Executive Council of unelected officials headed by the British Governor. This did not stop the PPP Government from immediately setting about to alleviate the atrocious conditions of workers.
February is African History Month originally designated to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas on February 12 and 14 respectively. It is noted and marked in Guyana.
The African people of Guyana have contributed the most, not only to making Guyana the habitable place that it is, but also to the historical narrative of revolutionary resistance to oppression that is now our common heritage. This heritage bequeathed by our ancestors from Africa has inspired Guyana’s quest for freedom and justice. While it is important to bring the story of Guyanese of African origin to public notice, as I have done in the case of Jack Gladstone and the pivotal role he played in the 1823 rebellion, there are many others from other countries who filled my teenage and early adult years and inspired me.
The annual Babu John memorial rally for Cheddi Jagan is to be held on March 3. At this time of year Jagan’s life, work and ideas are promoted by rallies, lectures, seminars and discussions. Athletic events and essay competitions are held in commemoration. While he was alive and the PPP was in opposition, there was usually a small, internal, annual birthday event in his honour. After his passing, numerous public lectures were delivered on his work and ideas both at Freedom House and at his home. Many comrades spoke to the work and legacy of Cheddi Jagan. This continues today.
The legacy of Cheddi Jagan has been lost or abandoned by the PPP. It is one of the main reasons why the Party fared so badly at the last general and regional elections. This is not a secret and it is not something that has gone unnoticed. It is discussed with dejection among Party members all over Guyana and with resignation among Party leaders. Except for the courageous few, it is not a matter which many would dare to raise officially. To do so would imply criticism of the recent past, not a career enhancing move, rather than be seen as the collective failure that it is.