Granger Rolls out ‘Riot Act:’ Embrace Burnhamism!

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Dr Tara Singh

In an attempt to produce a parallel document to that of the Communist
Manifesto, Forbes Burnham produced the Sophia Declaration
(12/14/1974), which a noted British Professor described as a classic
case of political “exhortation.” Nevertheless, Burnham’s erudition was
likened onto the ‘sermon on the mount;’ it was a passionate call to
action, having had the burden of a rigged 1973 general elections still
tormenting his political posturing.

While his ideological underpinning (cooperative socialism) as
expressed in the Sophia Declaration (SD), lacked strong doctrinal
principles, it did have a few catchy slogans, like, “feed, house, and
clothe the nation,” and the “small man will become a real man.” At
best, it was Burnham’s conception of cooperative socialism that had
evolved into a set of disparate measures which he and his PNC had
hoped would have been tractable in terms of nation building through
centralized control.

The SD described a number of measures that were largely idealistic.
Neither did it (SD) attempt to detail how these would be accomplished
and at what level. The SD didn’t say, for example, that unemployment
would be reduced from x % of the labor force to x-y %, and that GDP
would grow from x % to x+ y % within the next 5 to 10 years.

Perhaps if the “cooperative socialism” approach had been well
articulated and also had the support of the Opposition forces, some of
those measures could have had a better chance of materialization. A
political party (PNC) could boast that it secured 2/3 of the seats in
Parliament, but it could never alter the reality that the majority of
Guyanese did not support the PNC’s nebulous ideology of cooperative
socialism and Burnham’s extravagant use of flowery rhetoric.
Furthermore, by his critique of the PPP as a communist party and his
retaining elements of socialism in his ideology, Burnham had blurred
his own vision on ideological purity. This also helped to account why
his tri-sectoral approach to development (public, private and
cooperatives) failed; a situation that allowed much of his (Burnham’s)
ideas to either falter or to remain utopian.

Burnham mistakenly believed that the engine of economic growth was
the “cooperatives;” he didn’t understand that the key driver of
economic growth is the private sector. “The Co-operative will be the
principal institution for giving the masses the control of our economy,
to emphasize the fact that we aim at making the Co-operative sector
the dominant sector and that the Co-operative is and will be the
mechanism for making the little man a real man.” Burnham chastised
the United Force (UF) for conceding that the private sector is the
engine of economic growth. His cooperative sector was based on an
illusory foundation and was therefore destined to fail.

Notwithstanding, Burnham’s protégé David Granger, in his pre-
occupation to rehabilitate his revered Maximum Leader LFS Burnham
and to restore Burnhamism as a political ideology, has recently laid out
in a speech (11/7/2017) at Atlanta, Georgia, some of the elements of
Burnhamism. The Atlanta Declaration was an impassioned call to
mobilize support for the PNC and to crystallize a coherent ideology of
Burnhamism. The PNC-dominated coalition’s manifesto (CM) also
contains a litany of promises similar to the Sophia Declaration, but
which also lacks a coherent ideology. Lack of definitional clarity leaves
one to wonder as to what Granger means by “Burnhamism.”

Like the Sophia Declaration that preceded (43 years earlier) the
Atlanta Declaration, the latter is another type of exhortation that was
filled with rhetorical flourishes, rather than with a coherent ideology of
political growth and economic development. Granger’s rhetoric: “How
did we win elections in 1964? What did we do to stay in power? Why
did we lose election in 1992? How did we recapture power in 2015?” It
is evident to any reasonable thinking person that these questions
relate to the likely PNC political maneuvers and their deftness at
electoral rigging to get into, and retain power.

Burnham’s socialism was rooted in what he, as well as others,
perceived to be the uncontrollable greed unleased by colonialism and
capitalism which had created the institution of slavery and plantation
society. As a student in London, Burnham was influenced by the works
and writings of the Fabian Society, among others. It was fashionable
for scholars, trade unionists, and politicians in the 1950s-1970s to
embrace the non-capitalist path to development. That approach offered
to them good explanations for the exploitation, poverty, and alienation
that people had experienced. All the social and economic ills of society
were attributed to capitalism. These perceived negative forces also
provided the basis around which people could be readily mobilized for
any form of political agitation.

The logic was that if people could get rid of capitalism, then they would
also be able to eliminate or minimize poverty, neglect, hunger and
despair. Both Forbes Burnham and Dr Cheddi Jagan held onto
socialism. However, once Burnham became the leader of government
by coalescing with the capitalist-oriented United Force in 1964, be
began to modify his approach to Marxism-Leninism. As a doctrinaire
socialist, he realized that the Americans would not necessarily tolerate
electoral rigging, so he skillfully engaged in revisionism and produced
what he called “cooperative socialism,” which was in direct contrast
with Dr Jagan’s embrace of Marxism-Leninism. Although the
Americans knew that Burnham rigged the 1973 elections, they took
comfort in the knowledge that Burnham was still preferred to lead
Guyana, rather than an avowed Marxist-Leninist, Dr Jagan.

Let’s see if we can get an understanding of what Granger and his elite
group mean by “Burnhamism.” The majority of Guyanese think about
Burnhamism at two levels: the material and the psychological. At the
material level, they readily think of basic food, foreign exchange and
other shortages, Guylines, restriction of freedom of press, and
electoral rigging. At the psychological level these include but are not
limited to centralized control; fear and intimidation; state’s dominance
in the economy; militarization; cronyism and patronage; creation of a
Black state: suppression of political opposition; breach of separation of
powers; substitution of rule of law with executive fiats; political and
racial discrimination, etc.

To Granger and PNC supporters, Burnhamism means party
paramountcy; mass mobilization; ownership and control of the
commanding heights of the economy; empowerment of their
supporters through redistribution of wealth via tax and fiscal
measures, awards of contracts and government jobs and seizures of
and reallocation of property; shifting expenditure from investment to
consumption; self-reliance through cooperatives; promotion of
cohesion by unifying one ethnic group first; militarization including
placing ex-army officers in strategic positions in the executive branch;
and consolidation and retention of power.

Burnhamism may not necessarily mean cooperative socialism. Neither
would it mean the same thing to PNC, compared with non-PNC
supporters. Until Granger and his ruling elites produce in writing the
essential elements of his Atlanta Declaration regarding Burnhamism,
the majority of Guyanese will view Burnhamism not necessarily as an
ideology of growth, but rather as a series of dictatorial and anti-
democratic manoeuvers. Here are the views of a random sample of
individuals within our community on their understanding of
“Burnhamism.”

(i) Enforcement of party paramountcy, where all arms of the
government are subservient to the PNC party: (ii) the utilization of fear
and intimidation (terror) to seek compliance and acceptance of
government policies and actions; (iii) the rigging of elections and dis-
enfranchisement of people; (iv) the violation of the constitution,
including the separation of powers; (v) the practice of dictatorship and
racism; (vi) and empowerment of party supporters but not through
competition and qualifications but rather through redistribution of
wealth via the tax and fiscal systems and patronage. These elements
are not necessarily exclusive; instead, these could be mutually
reinforcing.

Let’s see how Granger and his elite group will define Burnhamism, as
well as, how they plan to enforce it!

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Dr. TARA SINGH IS AN INDEPENDENT COLUMNIST. The views
expressed in this column are solely those of the writer and do not
necessarily represent the views of the THE WEST INDIAN.

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