Alexander further obfuscates Burnham’s history

Dear Editor,

I refer to Mr Vincent Alexander’s letter of Thursday, April 11, correcting an editorial of the Stabroek News about Forbes Burnham’s alleged relationship with the British Guiana Labour Party (BGLP) in 1949-1950. Mr Alexander denies that Burnham was the leader, but leaves us clueless as to whether he was a member. At the same time, and for no discernible relevance to the subject matter of his letter, he asserts that Ashton Chase was a member of the BGLP.

Mr Alexander is at pains to emphasise that Burnham did not join an existing PPP. He said as follows: “Burnham was a co-founder of the PPP and its first chairman.” And again: “Burnham’s role as co-founder/chairman of the PPP was essayed before his return home when Ashton Chase, a founding member of the BGLP and the PAC, declined the offer and eminent Caribbean leaders proposed Burnham as being best suited, in view of the potential that he portrayed as a student leader in the West Indian community, in London; and his political and progressive activism, while in London.”

In Mr Alexander’s corrective effort, he further obfuscates Burnham’s history.

For example, it is not clear what Mr Alexander means when he says that Burnham was a “co-founder” of the PPP. One would normally assume from this that there were two founders of the PPP and that Burnham was one of them. It could not be that this is what Mr Alexander meant because he knows the history as well as anyone with his own history. Neither Cheddi Jagan nor any of the early leaders or officers of the PPP ever claimed to be a “co-founder.” The precursor to the PPP was the Political Affairs Committee (PAC) (1946-1950). The PAC’s leadership collectively decided to found the PPP, with Ashton Chase as its Chairman, before the PAC even heard of Burnham. By 1947 the PAC had expanded its leadership (Boysie Ramkarran and the then Sydney King, according to Ashton Chase) and membership (Georgetown, Kitty, Buxton, Enmore and elsewhere) and was motivated by revolutionary events such as the Teare Strike and the Enmore Strike and killings in 1948. These and other labour confrontations at that time triggered the decision to form a political party. The late Billy Strachan, a Jamaican-British activist and militant, of the West Indian Students Union at that time and later, of the Caribbean Labour Congress in London, had been in contact with PAC leaders, particularly Cheddi Jagan, and was following events closely. It was he who recommended that Burnham should replace Ashton Chase as Chairman because Burnham had just graduated as a lawyer and his professional status would be useful. Ashton Chase agreed to stand down in favour of Burnham and PAC leaders agreed to postpone the announcement of the formation of the PPP until Burnham’s return. This history is or should be known to Mr Alexander and most of it is available in print for anyone who wishes to investigate. I would assume that Mr Alexander meant that Burnham was a co-founder of the PPP only in the sense he was a co-founder along with many other stalwarts, who all became its first leaders. Incidentally, Strachan, Burnham and other Caribbean activists in London at the time were all students in their twenties and were certainly not “eminent Caribbean leaders.”

Yours faithfully,

Ralph Ramkarran

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