Today is the 53 Anniversary of Britain granting Independence to what was then “British Guiana” when then renamed itself “Guyana”. The Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant observed that one cannot separate means from ends: the latter being simply “consummated means”. We, the inheritors of that “independence” can attest to the perspicacity of that statement as we review our history since. Burnham saw politics as “the science of the deal” and our Independence under his PNC was simply the result of a deal he cut with colonial Britain to prevent the PPP from collecting on their promise for independence to be granted to the party that won the 1961 elections – which was the PPP.
Some, including ironically the British, saw Cheddi Jagan essentially as a harmless, well meaning Marxist; a type they knew very well from their domestic post-war politics, whose bark was worse than their bite. But the new liberal US president John F. Kennedy could not afford to risk another Cuba in the western hemisphere after the disastrous Bay of Pigs expedition. The PNC under Burnham went along with a coup on the cheap through CIA-inspired riots and a condign tweaking of the electoral rules from “first past the post” to Proportional Representation. The rest, literally, was history.
But using the “means” of riots with two parties that were ethnically based, left Guyana with a more polarised political system than any in the Caribbean, because the genie of violence to “resolve” political differences was let out of the bottle. Our independence became the “fruit of a poisoned tree”. After WWII, the British had accepted they could not hold on to their empire and was more than willing for the US to fill any power vacuum created by their withdrawal. Burnham, however, knew that with Jagan and his PPP as the alternative, he had the US between a rock and a hard place.
His electoral “innovations” to remain in office through rigging was ruefully accepted by the US as Jagan gravitated closer into the Russian ideological orbit. Burnham was alarmed after an attempted coup by some “progressive” young army officers in neighbouring T&T in 1970, who were inspired by the Black Power Movement as well as socialist ideas. He moved ideologically “leftwards” to pre-empt a similar movement here but pragmatically chose “co-operative” Socialism, as his philosophy. This, he claimed, was based on the African “Ujaama” socialism of Tanzania, and not on classical Marxism so as not to irritate the US.
The incoherent melange of policies, which he declared in 1976 would “feed, house and clothe” the nation within five years, inevitably led to the collapse of the nation politically, economically and socially. Politically, Burnham declared the “paramountcy” of the PNC over the government and indeed over the entire state with its party flag flying over the Court of Appeal – then our highest court. The need to practice boondoggle politics intensified as the PNC supporters became restive after the formation of an alternative political force, the WPA. Economically, the country was unable to pay its international debts and Burnham refused to accept the ministrations of the IMF and World Bank. Printing of money to satisfy its internal debt precipitated the highest rate of inflation the nation had ever seen and this wiped out the savings of the salaried class. Socially, the supporters of the PPP were discriminated against leading to even Dr Jagan protesting against “racial discrimination”. The spectacular failure was epitomised by the largest mass suicide the world had ever seen at Jonestown in 1978.
It was only the fall of the communist USSR in 1989 that made the US look a bit more benignly at the PPP and facilitated its return to office in 1992 via “free and fair” elections. In their 23 years at the helm, they heroically attempted to clean the Augean Stables left by the PNC.
And we arrive at the present iteration of the PNC under David Granger, who is delivering on his promise to “fulfil the legacy” of Burnham.