The fact that he failed does not mean that Cheddi Jagan was not transformational

Dear Editor,
In ‘Does the PPP really have a fear of the PNC?‘ (SN, Jan 20), Mr Freddie Kissoon stated that Dr Jagan was not “a transformative (sic) leader.” ‘transformational leadership‘ is a concept commonly used in political science and political sociology (and to some extent in

psychology) to describe outstanding leaders who have helped shape or have the capacity (appeal) to shape political movements leading to revolutions, independence, etc, reshaping (transforming) an entire society.

Transformational leadership was made popular by American presidential historian MacGregor Burns whose book is a must-read by Political Science students in graduate school.  The great German sociologist Max Weber also wrote on transformational leaders focusing on “charisma.” Mr Kissoon’s own definition – “capacity and rare talent to fundamentally reshape an entire nation which accepts the wisdom, sincerity and greatness of that person” – would qualify Dr Jagan as a transformational leader. Every one of the criteria posited by Mr Kissoon to qualify one as a transformational leader was attained by Jagan.

As MacGregor Burns noted, a transformational leader is an inspirational person who motivates people to support him or his party for a great cause like independence, in the case of Jagan. Burns described a transformational leader as energetic, enthusiastic and passionate in his beliefs going all out to achieve them. A transformational leader articulates a great vision of society where people would live a much better life. The leader truly cares about people and wants a better society. The leader seeks to bring about positive change through his own life as an example advocating and fighting for what he believes in. He is a role model for his followers and is viewed as a person of honour, integrity, decency, etc.  He earns respect and his followers believe in him and would go all out to support him and aspire to be like him.

Psychologist Bernard M Bass expanded on Burns’s theory pointing out that followers feel trust, admiration and loyalty for the leader and are motivated to work hard to realize the leader’s vision. For Bass, “the leader offers followers something more than just working for self gain; he provides them with an inspiring mission and vision and gives them an identity. The leader transforms and motivates followers through his or her idealized influence (Weber’s charisma) and intellectual stimulation. In addition, this leader encourages followers to come up with new and unique ways to challenge the status.”

Dr Jagan met all the criteria enunciated in the theories of Weber, Bass, Burns and even Mr Kissoon.  He wanted independence for Guyana and an egalitarian society in which wealth would not be concentrated in the hands of a few.  Thus, he was a transformational leader although some people chose to describe him as a “revolutionary” leader. Dr Jagan failed in his mission to transform society because forces were stacked against him.  But that does not mean he was not a transformational figure.

Mr Kissoon is on record as an avowed critic of Jagan and as such one expects him not to include Dr Jagan among the great political figures in the 20th century. Mr Kissoon’s comment that half of the nation did not vote for Jagan does not vitiate the fact that he was a transformational figure. Consider that Barack Obama presided over America where 47% voted against him in 2008 and 49% in 2012.  The Republicans blocked him from achieving his goals and his approval rating is less than 50%. Yet Colin Powell described him as a “transformational” leader.  And while it is true that Jagan was confronted with “internecine political and industrial confrontations,” made reference to by Mr Kissoon, one must utilize a balanced analysis by not leaving out the fact that those confrontations were financed by the US and Britain. Thus, these cannot be used as evidence to negate Jagan’s achievements or leadership abilities. Where Jagan failed was in his inability to understand geopolitics and the power of ‘ethnicity‘ in multi-ethnic societies. He felt the races could live in harmony.  That has not been the case some 60 years later.

Jagan, like Obama, was viewed as an individual who had the ability to transform his society and who could bring people together or who could win over opponents.  The fact that they both failed to effectuate those “transformations” does not negate the fact that they were transformational. Obama won over Whites, Indians, Asians, Arabs, and Hispanics and a lot of Republicans. Jagan won over Africans in 1953 as well as businessmen despite being a Marxist revolutionary.  He succeeded in putting together a multi-class and multi-racial coalition to win a landslide majority in the 1953 elections.  He failed in his objective of creating an egalitarian society because he was politically naïve believing that he could successfully challenge The British-American axis in their own backyard and he paid the price. But he truly believed in his vision of a great society where people wouldn’t be judged by ethnicity and all would enjoy a high and an almost equal standard of living. The fact that he failed does not mean he was not “transformational.”
Yours faithfully,
Vishnu Bisram



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