The promise of 1950

This is an appropriate time, on the occasion of the celebration of Guyana’s 48th Independence Anniversary, only two years before age 50, to begin the assessment of our condition as an independent nation and try to assess the future. Such a discourse is even more urgent at this time when it must be clear to all that Guyana’s post-independence political dispensation is poised for a transformation. While politicians contend with the pressures of managing, or even acknowledging, new political developments, leaving frustration in their wake, there is no doubt that change is upon us – change so dramatic that it will transform our political landscape.

The discourse could begin by asking the question: What did a shovelman (Fred Bowman), a Hindu Priest (Pandit Misir), a lawyer of Chinese heritage (Rudy Luck,), a dentist (Cheddi Jagan), a lawyer and a Guyana Scholar (Forbes Burnham), a transport supervisor and trade unionist of mixed but dominant European extraction (Frank Van Sertima), a school teacher (Sydney King), a mixed heritage transport worker (Ivan Cendrecourt), a woman optician (Sheila La Taste), an American-born woman (Janet Jagan) and a trade unionist (Hubert Critchlow), mostly young people, have in common? These are 11 of the 22 General Council members of the PPP of 1950, chosen at random.

The General Council laid the foundation for our modern political development by mass mobilization, demanding universal adult suffrage, independence and socialism. As the true founding fathers and mothers of our nation, by merely coming together from such disparate backgrounds, they sent a message that a successful political movement in Guyana and genuine economic and political liberation and progress and prosperity for our nation, could only be achieved by ethnic unity and broad class solidarity. It is the fiery denunciations of oppression, the soaring rhetoric of liberation, uttered with purposeful intent by young professionals and workers of all heritages, men and women clad in red and white, that inspired the poor still living in urban ghettoes and rural logies. It is such inspirational language, never heard before, from people of all colours and classes on a single platform, that resonated so deeply within our psyche, which created the first stirrings of independent nationhood, and which have led us to celebrate tomorrow.

so140112ralphThis narrative needs to note the cataclysmic events after 1950. These did not shatter the promise of 1950 but merely postponed its realization. At times it has been hard to hold on to, such as through the violence of the early 1960s and the era of rigged elections and economic decline, led by some who articulated the dream of 1950 with stirring oratory. The promise was not shattered because the tenacity of our people, who survived slavery and indenture, did not then and will not now, allow it to slip from our grasp. The centuries of pain have taught us the lessons of sustaining our dreams of freedom, and of forgiveness, without which we could not have survived. A demonstration of this lesson was the silent embrace between Cheddi Jagan and Forbes Burnham on May 26, 1966.

In the heat of the early 1960s the PPP proposed a coalition government and elicited the help of Eric Williams and Kwame Nkrumah to help to persuade the PNC. In the depressing period of the late 1970s with election postponement and constitutional imposition in the air, the PPP proposed a National Patriotic Front and a government based thereon. During the period of authoritarian rule these initiatives kept alive the promise of 1950. The PNCR in 2002 under its leader, Desmond Hoyte, accepted the promise as the way forward for Guyana, restoring this severed promise.

As if fate conspires to postpone the realization of the promise of 1950, the elections of 1992 brought home to the PPP a 52 per cent absolute majority and the then rejectionist posture of the PNC, both pre and post-election, together with the mood of post-election triumphalism within the PPP, ruled out any initiative toward political unity.

Now, once again, Guyana is on the cusp of profound political developments of such an historic nature that they will transform our nation and its role in the region and the world. It now has to be within the contemplation of the top leadership of the PPP, what the broad leadership already knows, that a minority government cannot be sustained. This, of course will never be admitted, unless the next attempt which is likely to be made sooner rather than later to obtain an absolute majority at new elections, is unsuccessful. If so, there is no doubt that our current leadership possesses the experience, will and statesmanship to guide the difficult process of reconciling enormous differences. Dogged insistence on minority rule a second time around will only temporarily postpone the inevitable.

It is a distinct possibility, if statesmanship prevails, that the beginning of the second half of the first century of Guyana as an independent nation, two years from now, will be marked by the continuation of the effort by Guyana’s political leadership, in conditions of national unity, to realize the promise of the founders of modern politics and of our nation of social justice and economic development. The people of Guyana paid tribute to this idea of 1950 on the passing of Cheddi Jagan in 1997 by their tens of thousands – man, woman and child, rich and poor, of every age, colour and class. A national unity government by Guyana’s 50th anniversary will truly celebrate Cheddi Jagan’s lifelong commitment to the ideals of 1950.

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