The PPP proposal for a National Patriotic Front

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PPP-PNC talks

In August 1975, the socialist People's Progressive Party (PPP) changed its political line from "non cooperation and civil resistance" to "critical support" for the ruling People's National Congress (PNC) regime. This, it declared, was because the PNC regime had shifted its policies from pro imperialist to anti imperialist.

The PPP, in the face of some criticisms mainly from pro-Indian groups, insisted that its new line was correct and that this became clear in early 1976. For instance, on the eve of the nationalisation of the Bookers empire, the British conglomerate, a strong political campaign was launched against Guyana particularly in the United States and Brazil. The Brazilian press wrote about disorder in Georgetown and that White and Amerindian people ware being molested in the streets. The American print media also wrote about the presence of Cuban and Chinese troops in Guyana concentrated in the interior on the borders of Brazil and Venezuela.

No doubt, this propaganda campaign was aimed at influencing the PNC administration either to abandon its plans for nationalising Bookers or to enable the monopoly to obtain more favourable compensation terms than the one dollar which the government offered. This campaign produced some results since Bookers was finally given compensation of more than $100 million for its nationalisation.

The PPP's decision to end its boycott of the rigged Parliament and its support for nationalisation eventually led to formal talks between the PPP and the PNC with the intention of "critical support" leading to a political solution. However, the PNC was not too much interested in a political solution and often voiced the view that the PPP's "critical support" was "more critical than supportive". At the very beginning the PPP stated that the talks should deal with the political situation comprehensively. But the PNC had limited objectives and its approach was narrow and based on self interest and it wanted to deal with issues one at a time.

Faced with such a situation, the talks eventually collapsed on 3 December 1976. At the meeting that afternoon, the PNC leader and Prime Minister, Forbes Burnham, demanded that the PPP must retract an editorial in the Mirror of 28 November, headlined "Guns Instead of Bread". The PPP had opposed the mini budget in October 1976 which placed further burdens on the people. These included nearly $15 million for military, paramilitary and security forces, cuts in the subsidy of poultry feed which had caused the price of chicken and eggs to rise. There were also suggestions of further cuts in subsidies in 1977. It was after the PPP refused to retract the editorial that Burnham immediately decided to discontinue the discussions.

By trying to force the Party to retract the editorial, the PNC was hoping to pressure the PPP not to oppose the cuts in subsidies in the forthcoming 1977 budget. As a result of public agitation supported by the PPP, when that budget was finally presented all the subsidies were not removed.

But even before Burnham jettisoned the talks, no agreement was reached on matters which were being discussed. These included the local government elections, People's Militia, National Service, discrimination, and appointment of PPP representatives to the Public Service Commission and the Police Service Commission.

The PNC, however, put a different slant on why the talks collapsed claiming that the PPP was more interested in sharing power than in finding solutions for national unity. Immediately after the talks collapsed, the Chairman of the PNC, Cammie Ramsaroop, stated:

We made it clear . . . . that we were at all times willing to work out a basis for co operation but not to subvert the electoral process by handing over in this way to the PPP the task of governing the nation. From the talks it was clear that the PPP was more interested in sharing power, than in showing a genuine concern for national unity. (Quoted in Guyana Chronicle, 25 July 1977)

Commenting on Ramsaroop's allegation, the PPP responded that it was indeed strange that the PNC which intensively rigged elections in 1968 and 1973 should talk about subverting the electoral process.

The National Patriotic Front proposal

Despite the political road-blocks against democracy and national unity, the PPP was still determined to engage the PNC in finding a solution to the political and economic problems affecting Guyana. The PPP felt that since the two Parties commanded the support of the vast majority of the Guyanese people, they had to be involved together to find acceptable solutions to the existing problems.

The idea to work on a plan for a political solution in the form of a national front government was initially raised by PPP leader Dr. Cheddi Jagan in the Party's Central Committee. The proposal was thoroughly discussed at meetings of the Central Committee on 6 and 19 June 1977, and then afterwards at regional conferences of members of the Party. A decision to launch the proposal was finally taken at a meeting of the Central Committee on 7 August 1977.

The decision was then made public by Dr. Jagan two days later at a press conference held at Freedom House, the headquarters of the PPP.

In its proposal titled For a National Patriotic Front Government, the PPP declared that a political solution based on the creation of a National Patriotic Front and a National Patriotic Front Government was a dire necessity. It stated that the proposed National Patriotic Front and National Patriotic Front Government must include all parties and groups which are progressive, anti imperialist and wish to see Guyana take a socialist oriented or non capitalist path of development. Such a front should bring about a revolutionary alliance of the working class, the peasant farmers, the revolutionary intellectuals and the progressive businessmen and middle strata. It would exclude all reactionary, pro imperialist, racialist parties or groups. The PPP added:

A national Government must be based on democracy - political, economic and social. At the political level, there should be full exercise of democratic freedoms and free and fair elections for the central, regional and district governments. At the economic level, there should be workers' control with the fullest involvement of the workers in management, and decision making. At the social level, the people must have the right not only to form associations - trade union, cultural, religious, sports, etc. -- but also to have due recognition and respect.

In keeping with the realities of Guyana, it is necessary to devise a system where 'winner does not take all' and the two major parties and their allies are involved in the process of governing.

The Constitution should provide for an executive President, a Prime Minister and a National Assembly elected every five years. To ensure that elections are free and fair, new voters' lists should be compiled by house to house enumeration under the impartial supervision of representatives of the ruling and opposition parties; proxy, postal and overseas voting should be abolished; and ballots should be counted at the place of poll.

The President shall be elected by the people as in the United States and France or by the members of the National Assembly. He shall have the right to send messages and proposals to, and to address, the National Assembly, and to exercise the right of veto. The National Assembly will have the right to override the veto by a two-thirds majority vote, after which the measure would automatically become law.

The Prime Minister will be drawn from the party or parties which have majority support in the National Assembly. He will preside over a Cabinet or Council of Ministers drawn from each party (which is revolutionary and agrees to a socialist oriented programme) in proportion to its strength in the National Assembly.

Whichever party wins the election should not oppose the candidature for the Presidency from the other major party.

At the local level, district councils should be directly elected and be based on small historically evolved, culturally homogeneous communities. Regional Councils, indirectly elected through the district councils, should be given a substantial degree of autonomy. (For a National Patriotic Front Government, 7 August 1977)

Based on the prevailing non-democratic situation, the PPP felt that its proposal for a solution to the two-decades-old political crisis was fair and reasonable, and was confident that all patriotic Guyanese would agree that it offered way out of the existing political impasse. The Party envisaged that the main political groupings in the proposed National Patriotic Front would be itself, the PNC and the newly formed Working People's Alliance (WPA).

Rejection by the PNC

But the PNC responded negatively to the proposal at the second biennial congress held on 12-20 August 1977 when its leadership launched an attack on the PPP and totally rejected the idea of a National Patriotic Front and Government.

Burnham, in an address to the Congress, described a National Front Government as "an understanding and coalition between leaders as superficially attractive". He claimed that the PNC was the "vanguard party" and that it was the duty of that Party "to achieve unity in the socialist sense." The PNC leader, attempting to apply Soviet history to the Guyana situation, added that "if the Bolsheviks had sought unity with the Mensheviks on coalition terms the history of the Soviet Union would have been differently written."

The PNC, in its organ, the New Nation, on 4 September 1977, stated its position more clearly:

The real purpose behind the so called "line of critical support" was revealed when Jagan proposed a National Front Government. The (PNC) Party has no interest in this proposal. Discussions with Jagan at the inter party meetings proved conclusively that "critical support" was a mere ruse, a policy to obtain a share of political power.

There existed no basis - and none still exists - upon which such a Government could be founded. For the (PNC) Party, the real issue is national unity.

This cannot be achieved by a mere power sharing deal by political leaders. Jagan showed no interest in promoting national cohesion on a class basis.

PPP response

In response to the PNC's rejection of the National Patriotic Front proposal, the PPP said it was significant that the PNC formed a coalition Government (1964 1968) with the reactionary United Force to serve capitalism and imperialism, but was unwilling to enter into a Patriotic Front Government with left and democratic forces to build a socialist Guyana and to serve the interests of the working people.

The PPP also denounced the PNC for claiming the status as a vanguard party of the working class based on Marxism Leninism since the ruling party's "co operative socialism" was utopian rather than scientific socialism. The Party added:

Secondly, it is almost a sacrilege to compare the bureaucratic and petty bourgeois nationalist PNC with the Bolsheviks (communists) both ideologically and numerically. The Bolsheviks represented the majority and were revolutionaries; the Mensheviks represented the minority and were reactionaries. The PNC's position is not unlike that of the Mensheviks. (PPP press statement, 3 September 1977)

The PPP also questioned the PNC on the issue of national unity:

One cannot, on the one hand, talk about national unity and spread it in big headlines in the newspapers and radio, and, on the other hand, rig the electoral process at all levels, pass detention laws and set workers from one sector and region against those of another sector and region. The majority of people in Guyana are aware that this type of 'national unity' which the PNC calls for is nothing but a ruse. (PPP press statement, 3 September 1977)

It was clear that the PNC was not prepared to agree for the holding of free and fair elections, as set out in the PPP's proposal, since the ruling party was totally aware that it could not win majority support. Most likely, this was the main reason why it rejected the idea of a National Front Government.

The rejection was also indicative that the right wing within the PNC was at that period in full control of the Party. This right wing represented the more privileged section of the ruling party which wanted to maintain all the privileges it was enjoying and was afraid of any measure which would curtail them.

This section of the PNC was not interested in the suffering masses enduring severe hardships under the deteriorating socio economic conditions in Guyana. The economic crisis, then wreaking havoc in the country, was certainly affecting the great majority of the Guyanese people including the PNC's own supporters.

Therefore, the PNC's rejection of the National Front proposal was a clear indication it was not interested in national unity and democracy aimed at alleviating the economic pressures on the people.

Other reaction

The National Patriotic Front proposal received a generally favourable response from rank and file Guyanese. It created some optimism that a long-awaited political solution to Guyana's problems was in the offing. But this evaporated as soon as the PNC announced its disinterest.

The WPA, with which the PPP worked together in political cooperation, welcomed the idea of a National Patriotic Front, but felt that the PNC, which had imposed itself on Guyana through rigged elections and the suppression of democracy, should not be included in it. On the other hand, the WPA declared that all political parties and groups opposed to the PNC dictatorship should form the basis of the National Patriotic Front.

But the rejection by the PNC of this effort to foster national unity was a disappointment for the PPP leadership who felt that influential members of the left wing in the PNC could have helped to formulate an agreement. But it was apparent that the leftists in the PNC were politically too weak to cause any shift towards unity with the PPP and other opposition political forces.

As 1977 drew to a close, the PNC regime stepped up its harassment against its political opponents. In September of that year, during a general strike in the sugar industry called by the Guyana Agricultural Workers Union (GAWU), it hurriedly enacted legislation giving the Government the right to withdraw the basic rights of the people enshrined in both the Constitution of Guyana and the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. It also reactivated Part II of the National Security Act, which gave the regime the right to detain citizens without trial, restrict their movements and institute curfews. The PPP and other opposition parties saw such repressive legislation as forms of intimidation, and feared that the PNC regime would use these new powers to arbitrarily detain trade union and political activists and leaders. This fear became a reality when numerous PPP and GAWU activists were arrested and detained on trumped-up charges and many heavily fined in the courts.

With this new situation confronting the anti-PNC forces, the PPP could no longer press for political cooperation with the PNC. General elections were due in 1978 and the PPP stepped up its activities to confront the new wave of political repressions while at the same time campaigning locally and internationally to win democracy for Guyana through free and fair elections.

31 October 2006