There is currently an accusatory but essentially pointless discourse in some of our dailies, which, if memory serves correctly, began between John da Silva and Donald Isaacs (KN 3.2.09; 6.2.09), and taken together may best be entitled: ‘Who underdeveloped Guyana the most: the PNC or PPP?’ The originators appear to agree that over the decades Guyana’s potentials have not been optimized, but they each argue that their side did the best it could given the extant political circumstances and disagree on the weight of the contribution of the other side. Of course, others have since joined the fray, and while recriminations abound and there is much made of some aspects of the errant circumstances that have given rise to our present condition, there is little as to how these may be transformed.
Concurrent with this debilitating discussion is another that seeks to juxtapose and compare some of the qualities and capabilities of Forbes Burnham and Boysie Ramkarran (SN 23.2.09; 25.2.09). What has struck me in relation to these two discussions is that the political context, of which the former complained, is so corrosive and omnipresent that it leaves no aspect of our lives untouched. It seems impossible to speak of simple issues of wit and humour without recourse to irrelevant and destructive political externalities.
Forbes Burnham has more than sufficient detractors and defenders, so let me say a few words about Boysie Ramkarran that may throw light on the man and his leanings.
I came back to Guyana in late 1974 and in 1975 began working at the Office of the General Secretary of the PNC and Ministry of National Development, from where I made regular visits to the Michael Forde Book Shop at Freedom House, which was in those days managed by Boysie Ramkarran. I struck up a friendship with Boysie that lasted up to his death in 1990. Our discussions were enervating because we held almost totally different political world-views.
So far as I was − and still am − concerned, while I had some sympathy for Marx, Marxism/Leninism and its Soviet explication as then supported by the PPP was tyrannical nonsense. And to talk about dialectical materialism as scientific history was even more absurd. The entire fabric of Soviet socialism resulted from a misreading of Marx by Lenin and his ilk and was destined to end in Stalinist extravagance and atrocities. To suggest that even the mildest form of such an abomination should be implemented in Guyana was totally unacceptable.
Peppering his rejoinders with his usual wit, Boysie would say that I either did not understand or had some bookish notion of Marxism/Leninism, and co-operative socialism was utopianism at its worst. Burnham and the PNC (which I took to include me) were American-backed political brigands who regularly hijacked the democratic right of the Guyanese people and cloaked their nefarious activities in garbs of racial and class exploitation.
The imposition of a PPP-led democratic working class government would provide the solution. Variations on this essential argument went on for years.
In around 1987 Boysie was very ill and I went to see him. In discussing the house I was building, I indicated that given the existing shortage, I was out of cement. By this time the PNC had fallen out with me and Boysie told me he had a friend who was in charge of government-sponsored cement imports and might be willing to help. I said that if he phoned the friend I would go meet him. He insisted that a phone call would not do: the situation required a personal touch and I should pick him up the next morning so we could go together. I tried to persuade him that his going was unnecessary, particularly given his condition, but he was adamant. I finally gave in but agonized about our outing until we had returned safely and successfully.
This is something of the Boysie Ramkarran I knew: always friendly, open and willing to help. Was Boysie as intellectually accomplished as Burnham? Was he a better wit than Burnham?
Had he been Prime Minister, would he have done better for Guyana than Burnham? I know enough about both of them to have an opinion on these questions, and if properly situated without the underlying political rancour, these would all be valid and possibly enjoyable topics of discourse. However, our circumstances seem unable to allow this. Why is it that the destructive brush of Guyanese politics passes across even the most human landscape?
Henry B Jeffrey