Left/Marxist Political Ideology in Guyana May Be Down But Not Out


Dear Editor,

The month of March has just ended. This is an important month in the calendar of commemorative events observed by the PPP and the Cheddi Jagan Research Center (CJRC) at Red House. This is the month when the Jagans’ birthdays and death anniversaries are observed and three separate public events have been held to celebrate the life/work of Cheddi and Janet Jagan. The first attracted a large audience while the second was followed by an appreciation rally. A third took place in April due to the unavailability of the guest speaker in March. These are events where the people gathered look forward to learning about the Marxist views and radical politics of the Jagans. As I sat and listened to some of the speakers at the first two events, I couldn’t help but reflect on how much the political and ideological landscape in Guyana has changed since the deaths of Cheddi and Janet Jagan. Subsequent events were to prove their demise as “the end of an era” in the true sense of the phrase. Dr. and Mrs. Jagan were best known for their Marxist views and radical politics. In the United States and the United Kingdom, conservative and colonial circles called the Jagans “communists”, as did the PPP, the party they led with other outstanding progressive Guyanese. Nowadays, one wonders if the PPP remains ideologically and philosophically the same as in the days of the Jagans.

What bothers me is the fact that the political and ideological landscape has evolved until Marxist thought and socialist-oriented discourse has long since disappeared. There is no political party in Guyana that can be considered politically or ideologically as belonging to the radical left. As for its spread, the Michael Forde Bookstore, the only bookstore in Georgetown that sold progressive and Marxist literature, has long been closed. Universities are generally incubators of leftist and radical political ideas, but this is not the case in Guyana. Some think that we should avoid strict labeling of political parties and adopt an open attitude rather than an overly simplistic and critical view. However liberal the understanding of the nature of political parties, the fact is that we can only understand their platforms and policies if we do so from a class perspective. Marxist ideas and left-wing politics emerged during the colonial period in British Guiana. The Jagans were the first to introduce this kind of ideological politics into the colony. Its main objective was to gain political independence. These radical ideas and policies were reflected in articles published in the Political Affairs Bulletin, the forerunner of “Thunder”, the official organ of the PPP (now folded), the Mirror newspaper, and speeches at public meetings at the Street corner. Essentially, the leftist politics of the PPP at this time was practiced through its mass struggles and grassroots activism on behalf of the economically and socially disadvantaged.

During the period 1964-1985, the PPP’s struggle at home and abroad took on an anti-imperialist character, although it continued to fully support the national liberation and anti-dictatorship struggles of the peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America. This was evident in Cheddi Jagan’s books, namely ‘The West on Trial’, ‘The Caribbean Whose Backyard? and “The Caribbean Revolution”, as well as his “Straight Talk” articles published in the newspaper “Mirror”. The topics of PPP congresses and Central Committee reports presented at Party congresses and conferences were not different. But how times have changed! The somewhat rhetorical question posed is: what has become of Marxists and left-wing politicians in Guyana? In a vibrant democracy where “a thousand flowers should bloom”, parties, whose platforms and policies are considered to be on the left of the political spectrum, should occupy a reasonable amount of political space due to the vagaries and failures of a free market economy, environmental concerns and labor issues. We see for example in Europe where left and/or radical parties, such as green parties, are flourishing and occupying seats in national and European parliaments. Some, as in the case of Germany, are in

government. In Latin America, leftist and progressive democratic political parties are on the rise. They win the elections and assume the government with majorities in Congress. In some cases, their victory is hampered by political forces that are either on the rise or manage to maintain their electoral strength and political relevance. In the United States, the “Occupy Wall Street”, “Sunrise Youth”, “Black Lives Matter” and “Me Too” movements, as well as Bernie Sanders’ “Socialist Platform” which advocates a “political revolution” in the United States and Elizabeth Warren’s calls for “great structural change” in America are indicative of a leftward shift in American politics. In the UK, Greenpeace, Oxfam and the Global Justice Movement together represent left-wing movements that have managed to maintain their longevity and political relevance.

But the challenge for the left is more economic than governance since it is at the economic level, where those who are supposed to act as the “engine of growth” exert a greater influence on the executive and political superstructures. of the liberal economy. Democratic nation states. As for those on the left of the political spectrum, in a market economy contradictions between labor and capital are inevitable, except in a few whose form of governance and political economy have been referred to as “autocracies” by some in the West. Those on the left argue that while market forces are at work globally and nationally, the state is limited to playing a regulatory role as in the case of Guyana’s local content law. The vision, peddled by some, of a country soon to be flooded with petrodollars in the pockets of the people, has given rise to an increased yearning for consumerism and commodities as is the case in liberal democracies. The evolving but persistent ideological drift has contributed to transforming the political landscape in French Guiana, rendering it barren of any left-wing and/or Marxist political tendencies. The weakening of labor movement militancy and the absence of pro-Marxist intellectual discourse are pervasive. These developments must be seen in the context of changing economic and social conditions in Guyana. However, as long as economic and social inequalities, poverty and unemployment curb the market economy’s inability to solve these problems by innovating and recreating the economic structure from within, society will pursue its dreams. Neither social democracy nor liberal democracy can permanently solve the people’s problems, they can only do so temporarily by delaying a process that is inevitable. Under the prevailing conditions in Guyana, whoever remains on the left of the political spectrum should be seen as temporarily down, but not excluded.

The theory and practice of Marxist and socialist oriented politics and discourse that characterized the era of the Jagans are no longer with us, but since society is constantly on the move and changing, the resurgence and influence of this kind of ideology and politics should neither be overestimated nor underestimated. That said, it is only through compelling and factual arguments, healthy debate and constructive discussion, reminiscent of the Jagan era, about Guyana’s own economic model and form of governance, that a change in the ideological and political spectrum could take place in Guyana.


Clement J. Rohee


Comments are closed.