Whither Burnham’s totalitarian legacy?

As has been the case with all of Burnham’s successors, the present contestants for PNC leadership have announced their commitment to “fulfilling Burnham’s legacy”. Deciding to return to Guyana in 1988, I concluded Burnham had created a totalitarian, racialised state, and repeatedly but unsuccessfully asked his successors to address my contention that some systemic continuities: like ethnicised, deprofessionalised state institutions and an authoritarian leadership style, still bedevil us.
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 1979 paper, “People’s Power: No Dictator”, which I had not read in 1988, 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: <A single mass party, led by a dictator.>
While Burnham allowed other parties to exist during the electoral-rigging era, those parties were never even allowed to compete effectively to threaten the PNC’s rule. Guyana was effectively a one-party state. 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 borne. In 1980 (not coincidentally when Rodney was assassinated), a new Constitution “legally” sanctioned Burnham’s absolute control over Guyana.

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.
The ICJ’s recommendation to increase Indian recruitment was ignored. All top brass swore personal loyalty to Burnham at PNC Congresses, intensifying their historic role of protecting the ruler, rather than the people. David Granger was in charge of their ideological training.

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 locale; 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 and Chinese – who had fled the “communist” P.P.P. government during their 1957-1964 terms. Soon half the country was abroad. For those who remained, corruption was institutionalised, and “lines” became the avenue of relating to, and dealing with, the regime. Corruption was power, and absolute corruption became absolute power.

A near monopoly control over mass communication and education
The Government’s nationalization of, and PNC control over, the media (radio and newspapers; television was not permitted), and establishment of the GPSA in tandem with a program of harassment of the opposition newspapers through libel suits and bans on newsprint, consummated this imperative.
The Government decided what the people should know. Private schools were all nationalized, and Mass Games were introduced from N. Korea for schoolchildren to feed Burnham’s megalomania.

The central control and direction of the economy
By the PNC’s boast, they nationalized eighty per cent of the economy – including banks – 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 Ujama-inspired co-operative, supposedly the cornerstone of the economy, was to make the African Guyanese “small man” into the “real man”. Profits were sucked from the rice, sugar, and retailing industries to develop other sectors.

A near monopoly over all civil organizations
Trade Unions, religious organizations, schools, cultural organizations and social bodies were all either subverted or controlled by PNC intimidation through buying off compliant leadership (like the Maha Sabha) or creating paper organizations that were given official recognition and a place at the Government’s trough.
Indian Guyanese tokens 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 reorganized as the “vanguard of the masses”, with paramountcy over the state. While there have been interminable discussions as to the “sincerity” of Burnham’s avowal, at a minimum, Marxism-Leninism gave the PNC a vocabulary and methodical postulate for its experiments and excesses.
Will the new PNC leader fulfill this legacy, or help the PNC join the democratic world?