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PNC POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY PREVAILS

 

The emergence and success of the People's National Congress (PNC), as a major political influence in Guyana is predicated on the uncompromising attitude or perhaps the philosophical differences between Dr. Cheddi Jagan, a perceived communist and Forbes Burnham, a pragmatic politician and consummate statesman.

The origins of the People's National Congress (PNC) began in October 1957, following a split in the People's Progressive Party (PPP) which was formed seven years previous in Georgetown, Guyana. The constitution of the PNC states that it is a Socialist Party, committed to the achievement of its objectives through the mechanism of the Co-operative.

One of the objectives of the PNC is: To provide every Guyanese the opportunity to work for and share in the Economic well being of the Country and to ensure that there

is Equality of opportunity in the political, economic and social life of the country.

The Mission of the Party states: We want a Guyanese Nation which knows where it is going, which understands its objectives, which is prepared to struggle at every level for the attainment of these objectives, and the safety and preservation of our sovereignty.

The People's National Congress believes in the democratic process, and recognizes the fundamental freedoms enshrined in the Constitution and is committed to the preservation of these freedoms. The PNC is also resolute in its defense to uphold parliamentary democracy, the right of dissent, the right of association including the right to form and support a Political Party of one's choice.

The history of the PNC could be divided into three phases; in the first phase of its

existence, the Party was engaged in the anti-colonial struggle, which ended with the attainment of independence. The second phase was a period of political construction. Unfortunately during the final phase of economic construction the policies, strategies and tactics associated with economic development were inapplicable, more often introduced for short-term political expediency and therefore impeded economic growth.

 

MEMBERSHIP

 

The PNC has an open door policy towards membership; individuals are recruited from every district by the Party foot soldiers. In all regions of the country, the PNC has established groups where both adults and young people hold regular weekly meetings to be informed about Party activities and when necessary some political gladiators elucidate on policy implementation and programs of interest to members. In this way the Party has become broad based, all-inclusive and truly representative of the people. Every Party member is expected to participate actively in election campaigns, assist when called upon to promote and disseminate relevant Party information, as well as its platform.

The word comrade is used to describe every Party member, who is expected to be

committed to the socialist revolution. Of-course, each comrade must display self discipline and patriotism at all times. Concomitantly, comrades are dedicated to the ethos that renders their cause of realizing an egalitarian society possible. The PNC has played and continues to play a vital role in the life of the entire Guyanese nation. It has promoted orderly, democratic and in many ways balanced development in the country. The PNC derived its prestige and influence from the nature and quality of the work rendered in the society since its inception. As a vanguard Party, the PNC has consolidated its proletarian base and brought decisively other sections of the working class as well as peasants into its fold of convinced and faithful supporters.

 

PARTICIPATORY DEMOCRACY

 

In December 1974, the PNC held its first Biennial Congress in Georgetown. At every such forum delegates from friendly and fraternal overseas Parties, PNC delegates and representatives of affiliates of foreign countries, as well as local delegates drawn from across Guyana, gather together for extensive discussions, meaningful proposals and serious planning. Generally, delegates in attendance determine all major policy positions, programs and activities of the Party. 

These Congresses are organized by the party Secretariat, regional, district and group officials, who over a span of several months, work unceasingly to ensure the success of every Assembly. Through these interactions, many rank and file members share their ideas and suggestions with members of the Executive Committee, General Council and the Party Leader. It affords members the opportunity to discuss problems, both national and local, which concerns them and fellow citizens.

 

CONTEMPORARY POLITICAL PARTIES

 

Politics is, and has always been, the dynamic of human society. The political life of modern States is characterized by the existence of Political Parties; a Party is both the typical form and the hub of contemporary political organization. A Political Party aims chiefly at the control of political power, and at the same time it aims to gain and hold power by giving effect to certain doctrines and beliefs.

In all modern States, it is only through a Political Party that the masses of people can best articulate their concerns and pursue their aspirations in a coherent, methodical and effective manner. In addition, it is only through a Political Party in government that changes deemed to be desirable in the society could be brought about.

Every Political Party, properly constituted, is inspired and solidified by a set of principles and objectives, which determined its ideology. A Political Party functions for several reasons, these include but are not limited to among other things: to allow people to engage in political socialization, to contest elections general or by-elections when they are called. Political Parties also form governments or perform the role of opposition.

Political ideology is defined by Edmund Burke, as a group of individuals united for promoting by their joint endeavors, the national interest upon some particular principles in which they all agree.

In Leo Epstein's definition, he describes a political party as, any group that is organized, seeking to elect government office holders under a given label for promoting national interest.

In our contemporary world, modernization has dictated that a methodical approach in all sphere of life is germane to stability and progress. The modern Political Parties like all other aspects of human civilization have evolved over many centuries. They did not emerge under the same circumstances or time; there were differences in their ideologies and methodologies.

The modus oprandi of most Parties vary but of the 500 political groups that currently exist around the world they all find origins from 4 theories:

-Institution theory: In most developed countries this is applicable, following the fall or demise of the monarchy (absolute). The parliamentary system of government engendered introduction of inter alia-elections, people seeking power, ideological differentiation, solidarity/alignment emerged as well as many organized groups formed to perpetuate their ideas and principles.                         

-Historical situation theory: The present framework of Political Parties modified over the years had its embryotic manifestation in Africa and Asia. Following the increase of imperialism, colonialism and neo-colonialism, the expansionists claim to territories, gave rise to many nationalist movements and political parties.

-Developmental theory: The culmination of World War 11 brought about a renewed sense of nationalism and political consciousness the thrust towards urbanization, a proliferation of technology and the effectiveness of mass communication. In Thailand and Ethiopia the influence of neighboring countries and the demise of absolute monarchy intensified political development.

-Revolutionary theory: In China and Russia political parties emerged following the revolutions.

 

STRUGGLE FOR POLITICAL LIBERATION

 

Guyana, a former British colony, emerged from almost two hundred years of colonial domination to attain its political independence from Britain on May 26, 1966 and four years later on February 23, 1970 became the first Co-operative Republic in the world, severing all formal ties with the British monarchy.

The drive towards national liberation in Guyana began on February 23, 1763 with the Berbice Slave Uprising. This drastic action culminated years of minor revolts induced by bottled up anger and revenge after suffering inhuman treatment imposed by European planters.

Following the official abolition of plantation slavery on August 1, 1834, opposition to colonial manipulation continued over the deteriorating social and economic conditions experienced by the inhabitants. It was only during Sir Henry Irving's governorship that the issue of constitutional reform and his policies of rural improvement gained favorable public support against the European planters.

In June 1887 the British Guiana Political Reform Club was formed and became the first organized political group to compete with the Europeans for political power. But, regrettably it took until 1922 before Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow, considered by many people to be the father of trade unionism in Guyana, launched a significant mass organization. The British Guiana Labor Union was expected to defend and protect Guyanese workers from colonial exploitation and bring about socio-economic change within a democratic society.

 

THRUST TOWARDS SELFİGOVERNMENT

 

In many ways the colonial domination continued unabated until 1950, when the thrust towards self-determination was accelerated. The formation of the People's Progressive Party headed by an Indo-Guyanese Dr. Cheddi Jagan and its chairman an Afro-Guyanese Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham; this was seen as the first serious challenge to remove the colonial oligarchy from office.

The PPP successfully garnered support from a wide cross section of the population and soon became a national party and a threat to the white elite.

 

Following the recommendations of the Waddington Commission there was a major revision of British Guiana constitution in 1953. The constitutional changes were intended to place the country on a path to eventual self-government by giving elected members increased responsibility for government.

The first general elections under the new constitution were held in April 1953 and the PPP swept to power, winning eighteen of the twenty-four seats. The victory was due in large part to the Party's leadership and its attractive program, which had placed emphasis on economic development, improved social services, independence and the creation of a socialist State.

The election campaign revealed the contrasting styles of the two leaders. While they both agreed in political conception, Dr. Jagan and Mr. Burnham differed on strategy and consequently an uneasy partnership began to fester. Both men had seen the struggle for independence in the context of a worldwide struggle against imperialism. The two leaders had similar concomitant aims for the Party; namely self-government and the creation of a socialist society, but their appeal to the constituents were contrasting in style and intonation. Jagan was perceived as uncompromising and a left wing ideologist, on the contrary Burnham was seen as being more pragmatic and accommodating.

 

SUSPENSION OF CONSTITUTION

 

In October 1953 the triumph of the PPP was dealt a severe set back when the British Government perhaps, overreacted and suspended the constitution after the Party had been in power for only 133 days. During that time the British Guiana constitution was considered to be the most advanced in the entire English-speaking Caribbean.

It appears this measure was taken in response to a situation, which superficially appeared to be the danger of an apparent communist subversion. Between 1953 to1957 an Interim Government administered national affairs in British Guiana with unwavering (carte blanch) support from nominated ministers. Politicians who did not receive any endorsement from the electorate occupied the entire legislature.

The British intervention was a reaction to Jagan's inflammatory remarks during the election campaign and his open pronouncements of having ties with communist organizations abroad. Maybe, Dr. Jagan's rhetoric, which was perceived as seditious should be viewed in the context of the early 1950s Cold War atmosphere. Many people in the PPP saw Jagan's public postulation or highly charged comments as injudicious if not extremely dangerous.

As the crisis escalated it created divisions between those who believed that the objectives of the Party could be achieved by conflict, as opposed to others who saw the need for Guyanese to solve their own problems by peaceful means, through diplomatic negotiations.

 

 

SPLIT DEVELOPS IN PPP

 

In 1953 the two leaders parted company to lead separate groups. The two entities were referred to as the Burnhamite and Jaganite factions of the PPP. Ideological, racial and personal reasons were contributing elements in the split, though not along racial lines as many Indo-Guyanese followed Forbes Burnham, a young lawyer of African descent.

More constitutional changes occurred in 1957 that restored the elective principle. Later that same year both factions of the PPP contested the elections. The faction headed by Dr. Jagan won 9 out of the 14 seats, while the other led by Burnham gained only 3 seats. Of the remaining two seats, one was won by Mr. Stephen Campbell, who became the first Amerindian to enter a Legislative Assembly in Guiana, and the U.D.P. a fringe Party captured one seat. The PPP split was formalized in October 1957, when Burnham changed the name of his Party to the People's National Congress.

 

PNC CREATES IMPACT

 

After the elections it was acknowledged that a lack of campaign skills had contributed to the PNC defeat. Nevertheless, there was reservation that the Party could become a major political force in future. This was reinforced when Mr. Burnham, leader of the PNC attended the 1960 Constitutional Conference that was held in London

When the 1961 election was held the PNC had established a well organized party and despite winning only 11 seats it had captured 41 per cent of the popular vote compared to the PPP's 20 seats and 42.6 per cent of the vote. The United Force (UF), led by a prominent businessman, Mr. Peter D'Aguir, obtained 4 seats with 16.4 per cent of the vote.

As Dr. Jagan and his PPP regime pursued social and fiscal reforms, considered by many as reasonable but because of Jagan's communist leanings the changes were opposed and dubbed as acts of a dictator. The PPP austere budget, which was presented on Wednesday, January 31, to the Legislative Assembly, perceived as harsh on the working class, resulted in general strike and mass demonstrations. The wide spread violence and chaos forced the Governor to declare a general Emergency, British troops arrived and the situation was brought under control.

Notwithstanding the disturbances, leaders of the three main Political Parties attended another Constitutional Conference in Britain during October 1962. The PPP had demanded a single-member constituency, voting at age 18, and no elections before Independence. It was not surprising that the PNC and UF held a contrasting position, which insisted on proportional representation, voting at age twenty-one, and elections before Independence. As the Parties failed to reach a compromise the Conference was adjourned.

Unable to compose their differences the leaders requested the British Secretary of State for the Colonies to settle the outstanding issues on the authority of the British Government. In his ruling Mr. Duncan Sandys recommended that new elections be held under the system of proportional representation, with the voting age set at twenty-one.

 

FIRST COALITION GOVERNMENT

 

In 1964 industrial unrest escalated and racial clashes across the country caused many people to be killed, scores injured, some 1,400 homes destroyed by fire and approximately 15,000 persons were forced to relocate in communities where people of their ethnic group predominated.

Despite the continuing violence, the Governor proceeded with arrangements for the General Elections. In December 1964, the initial results did not produce a clear winner, the PPP had captured 24 seats and 45.8 per cent of the votes, while PNC won 22 seats and 40.5 per cent popular support, and the UF 7 seats secured 12.4 per cent of the total votes cast.

The Governor called upon Dr. Jagan to form a government but he was unable to get Burnham's consent. With support from the United Force (UF), a new PNC

Government came into existence. This coalition became the first in Guyana's history and was headed by Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham.

During its twenty-eight years in power the PNC transformed the country's political orientation, by removing all vestiges of colonial domination and foreign influence. The economic policies, which the Party pursued, reflected the Socialist ethos, which were embraced by the PNC leadership. In April 1970, the PNC enunciated at its 13th Annual Congress a basic and fundamental principle: Ownership and Control of the country's natural resources. In other-words locally elected leaders must dictate Guyana’s internal affairs and manage the economic levers for national development. Subsequently, there followed the nationalization of all major industries within a six-year period.

Guyana hosted the conference of Foreign Ministers of the Non-Aligned Movement in 1972, also during that year the country played host to Carifesta, a regional exhibition of arts and crafts. The Party and government contributed financially to the African Freedom Fighters and supported them in their struggle against colonialism and the despicable system of apartheid.

Over the years PNC leaders have played prominent roles at the United Nations and were instrumental in bringing about changes at many international forums like UNCTAD, the Committee of 77, and the Commonwealth. Following the demise of the West Indian Federation, Guyana has played a vanguard role for Caribbean integration and economic union.  

 

POLITICAL CONSCIOUSNESS

 

The PNC has provided regular seminars and teach-ins, aimed at educating and raising the consciousness of its members and the general public. The Cuffy Ideological Institute has been used for training members of the Young Socialist Movement (YSM), youth arm of the PNC.

            These cadres receive a six-week period of orientation, grounded in ideology at the practical and theoretical levels. After graduation hundreds of recruits are absorbed in the party structure-groups, districts, regions and other Party agencies. Some staff members have received training in foreign countries while others that have achieved a high level of competence; experience and consciousness are involved in lecturing and teaching.

 

PARTICIPATION OF WOMEN

 

            The PNC subscribes to the principle of equality; women have made considerable gains in political life over the years. In the past they accounted for 24% of the Party’s member who serve on Municipal Councils, 30% in the National Assembly.

            Much of the progress made by Guyanese women can be related to the unremitting efforts of the Women’s Revolutionary Socialist Movement (WRSM). This Movement has played an influential role in fostering a better appreciation of the legitimate claim of women for recognition and pre-eminent status in the society. The valuable work and efforts for promoting the welfare and interest of women have enhanced the image of the Movement.

 

YOUTH INVOLVEMENT

 

                The PNC party has relied upon the Young Socialist Movement (YSM) to undertake the critical responsibility for working among the young people. In this regards the YSM is treated as an integral organ of the Party.   

 

COMMUNITY ACTIVITIES

 

                Members of the PNC have assisted fellow citizens in building schools and bridges, community centers and hospitals, river and sea defenses, among other works. The Party has rendered a significant role in mobilizing people in various communities for tasks, whether small or large projects.

 

CONCLUSION

 

                From its inception the Peoples National Congress (PNC) has played and continues to play an essential part in the life of the entire nation. It has promoted orderly, democratic and in many ways balanced development in Guyana. The Party derived its prestige and influence from the nature and quality of the work rendered in the society subsequent to its formation. In every region there is a Party group, whose members are fully committed to uphold the basic ideals and principles, which the Party fervently espouses.

            As an egalitarian Party, it is deeply rooted in the notion that racial unity transcends all national predicaments. The racial divisiveness prior to Independence May 26, 1966) serves only to reaffirm in the minds of progressive minded-people, political power at any price is extremely dangerous.

            During its tenure in office the PNC has never wavered from the fundamental principles of Socialism, while this approach has manifested in critical socio-economic difficulties, its ideology remains entrenched in the society. For many years opposition supports and detractors of Forbes Burnham have compared him to some nefarious dictators. Only time will determine as Guyanese witness various governments demonstrate either a capacity to bring about positive change or consolidate on the foundation created by the PNC administrations.

            History will certainly reveal whether the unfounded criticisms leveled at the Party and its leaders were indeed legitimate. The strength of this Party and its ardent supporters were tested in 1985 following an unexpected death of Forbes Burnham (founder leader). He was until his death the only leader of the Party. It was not surprising when five months later Guyanese re-elected the PNC for another five-year term to govern the country.

            After decades of uninterrupted rule the PNC finally lost power in 1992. What was the overriding issues or circumstances that contributed to this defeat? Why did Dr. Jagan fail in his attempts to keep a myriad of opposition groups united against the formidable PNC administration? And finally was Sam Hinds’ candidacy for Prime Minister a strategic move to capture Linden where resentment against the PNC was at an all time high or did Dr. Jagan inject race into the election campaign for political expediency?

After months of acrimonious debate and dissension a plethora of fringe groups, which dwindled as the election date got closer formed a coalition.  The PPP/Civic coalition gained power trumpeting pledges and promising a brighter future for all citizens.

                However, apathy and complacency certainly characterize the attitude of the PNC supporters during voting day. Further, it should be noted that Mr. Hoyte’s commitment to the international community to hold free and fair elections, weighed heavily on his mind. Perhaps, in an attempt to satisfy international observers he decided to reject the concerns of senior Party officials over wide spread irregularities and discrepancies with the voters list. Unfortunately, Hoyte’s failure to act decisively to what has become albeit a common Election Day problem, resulted in an unexpected defeat in 1992. In fact many PNC officials were well aware of the chaos that ensued during previous elections when members were eliminated from the voters list.

Some leading PNC stalwarts even accused the Election Commission of duplicity for submitting a seriously flawed document even though it had promised to rectify the voters’ list by Election Day. In retrospect, the narrow defeat at the polls could have been avoided if the leader of the PNC had taken appropriate action either on the day in question or shortly thereafter. Of-course, the fall out from such measures and the wrath of the international community may have weighed heavily against such a decision.    

Many years later the new regime appears reluctant to implement any significant socio-economic and political initiatives, maybe the Jagan administration is resigned to perpetuate many of the very programs, policies and strategies which they had vociferously resisted while in opposition.

            Indeed, there is little denying that politics still remains the art of the possible. However, age is wisdom, unquestionably true and perhaps best reflected in the cautious approach, as opposed to the uncompromising style that the PPP adopted during the struggle leading up to independence and destructive tactics during the PNC tenure in office.        

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