Ignoring Burnham’s totalitarian legacy

In the run-up to the PNC leadership elections, there have been several exposes about the US assisting Burnham to build the party and rig elections during the Cold War. The candidates have been called to take a stand on these foundational party issues in light of their denunciation of the US, which helped stymie their attempt to rig the March 2 elections. I have been writing for decades about Burnham’s post- 1968 creation of a totalitarian state in Guyana, but, for some reason, no PNC defender has sought to rebut my analysis. Maybe the present candidates would?
I used Friedrich and Brezinski’s “six-point syndrome”, which distilled the experiences of Stalinist Russia, Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy to offer the most authoritative exposition on totalitarian regimes, and applied them to Burnham’s rule. In his paper, “People’s Power: No Dictator”, Walter Rodney also dissected Burnham’s “megalomaniac” dictatorship, but noted: “Hitler’s megalomania was backed by the powerful German economy and the might of the German army. Burnham’s megalomania is closer to comedy and farce.” His assassination by Burnham proved otherwise. The explicated syndrome was as follows:
A single mass party, led by a dictator. While Burnham allowed other parties to exist during the electoral-rigging era, those parties never threatened the PNC’s rule, and Guyana was effectively a one-party state. That is: while other parties were permitted to exist, they were never allowed to compete effectively with the PNC. If they ever posed a real threat to the regime, as the Working People’s Alliance (WPA) did briefly by 1979, the totalitarian “sharper steel”, in the words of Burnham, was bared. In 1980 (not coincidentally when Rodney was assassinated), a new Constitution confirmed Burnham’s absolute control over Guyana.
A system of terroristic control. The House of Israel; “Kick down the door” bandits; arbitrary search and seizures by the Police; Police informers in every locality; assassinations; ostentatious marches by the army through Opposition strongholds, etc. kept the Opposition under control, and their supporters in terror. Indians responded to the pressure by mass migration: joining the earlier wave of migrants – primarily Portuguese – who had fled the PPP “initiatives” during their 1957-1964 terms. Soon half the country was abroad. For those who remained, corruption was institutionalised, and became the avenue of relating to, and dealing with, the system. Corruption was power, and absolute corruption became absolute power.
A near monopoly control over mass communication and education. The Government’s nationalisation of, and PNC control over, the media (radio and newspapers; television was not permitted), and establishment of the GPSA in tandem with a programme of harassment of the Opposition newspapers through libel suits and bans on newsprint consummated this imperative. Schools were all nationalised, and Mass Games were introduced to brainwash the young.
A near monopoly control over the “coercive” apparatus of the state. The Guyana Disciplined Forces — Army, Police Force, Fire Service, National Service, People’s Militia and National Guard Service — were expanded exponentially and staffed with a ninety percent African membership. All officers swore personal loyalty to Burnham, to provide — along with the similarly constituted Police Force — the coercive basis for the PNC’s rule. David Granger was in charge of their ideological training.
The central control and direction of the economy. By the PNC’s boast, they nationalised eighty per cent of the economy by 1976, and gave their middle-class supporters sinecures. PNC membership and support for the party’s position became prerequisites for getting and keeping a job. The co-operative, supposedly the cornerstone of the economy, was to be the vehicle for making the African Guyanese “small man” into the “real man”.
A near monopoly over all civil organisations. Trade Unions, religious organisations, schools, cultural organisations, and social bodies were all either subverted or controlled by the PNC intimidation through buying off compliant leadership (like the Maha Sabha), or the creation of paper organisations, which were given governmental recognition and a place at the Government’s trough. Indian Guyanese leaders were placed in highly visible but essentially powerless positions to create a façade of a “non-racial” Government.
An official ideology. The PNC announced in 1974 it was a Marxist-Leninist party, and was reorganised as the “vanguard of the masses”. While there have been interminable discussions as to the “sincerity” of Burnham in his avowal, at a minimum, Marxism-Leninism gave the PNC an appropriate vocabulary and methodical postulate for its innovations and excesses.
This is the Burnhamite legacy that Granger had promised to continue. Will the new leader follow suit, or help the PNC join the democratic world?