The Formation Of The PPP

Odeen Ishmael

SOME EVENTS OF 1947-1949

During the 1940s Caribbean unity began to be discussed with some seriousness. In September 1947, representatives of the Government of British Guiana joined others from the British Caribbean at a conference in Montego Bay, Jamaica, to examine the proposal of a West Indian federation. After intense discussions, the conference established a committee to look at various proposals and to present a report by June 1949. The report that was issued expressed strong support for a federation with independent dominion status in which each member country would have internal self-government.

Meanwhile, the Government was expanding its relations internationally, and was establishing friendly relations with a number of countries. As a result, by 1949, the United States, China, Netherlands, Portugal, Haiti, Panama, Venezuela, France Belgium and Sweden had set up consulates in Georgetown.

Throughout Guyana, the social conditions were deplorable. The Ten Year Planning Report of 1948 showed that 25 percent of all school children suffered from nutritional deficiencies. The infant mortality rate was as high as 86 per 1000, as compared with 32 per 1000 in the United Kingdom.

Housing conditions were extremely poor. Slums were widespread in Georgetown, which at the end of the 1940s, accounted for 20 percent of the country’s population. On the sugar estates, where 18 percent of the people lived, most of the residents were housed in barrack ranges, many of which dated back to the days of slavery. In addition, the level of sanitation in both the urban and rural areas was sub-standard, and contaminated water flooded housing areas for many days after periods of heavy rainfall.

Education was also undergoing a crisis. In 1947, Guyana had a literacy rate of 30 percent, and to combat this problem, the Government instituted a literacy campaign with the assistance of volunteer organizations in various parts of the country.

Primary and secondary education was almost totally controlled by the Christian Church which itself was a staunch supporter of the existing colonial Government. Primary education was free, but almost every school was understaffed, overcrowded and under-equipped. Further, thousands of children of school age were not accounted for in schools. The Ten Year Planning Report revealed that about 13,000 children between the ages of six and fourteen years were not registered in schools. This problem was emphasized by the Venn Commission of Inquiry in the sugar industry in 1949, when it pointed to severe overcrowding in existing primary schools, the prevalence of child labor, and of the obvious need for more schools to be constructed in various communities.

The sugar industry continued to dominate the economic and social life of the country. The Venn Commission reported that the then 21 sugar estates covered an area of 155,000 acres of which 25,000 acres were covered by buildings, foreshore, bush, water, and swamp. Another 20,000 acres were being fallowed at any one time, 18,000 acres were under rice, ground provisions, coconuts, and other crops, and 30,000 acres were used for grazing. At any one time the area under cane was no more than 60,000 acres and the yield was about 180,000 tons of sugar.

After the elections in November 1947, the legislators (who began to receive monthly payments from January 1948) were of the general view that improvements in the constitution were necessary. Eventually, in 1949 Governor Woolley announced that an independent Commission would be appointed by the British Government to examine the constitution and to make recommendations for reform.
But it was apparent that Governor Woolley himself had no intention of promoting democracy. He attempted to reverse the results of the November 1947 elections by nominating defeated candidates to serve in the Legislative, Executive and Legislative Councils, and even to the chair of advisory committees. Among the defeated candidates the Governor appointed to the Legislative and Executive Councils were Frederick Seaforth, the head of the Booker Group of Companies, and the attorney Lionel Luckhoo, a staunch supporter of British colonialism.

The country also had its share of political scandal and racial politics during the period. In January 1948, Eustace Williams, a supporter of a defeated candidate, Mrs. Frances Stafford, filed an election petition against Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow accusing him of illegal practices in the 1947 elections. Critchlow had defeated Frances Stafford who was of European ethnicity. Williams claimed that Critchlow, during the campaign, repeated false statements slandering the character of Mrs. Stafford. One of Critchlow’s campaign managers, R.B.O. Hart, had claimed openly that Mrs. Stafford had kicked an African child and had been convicted and fined five dollars by a magistrate for this offense. However, this incident never occurred, but Critchlow, during the campaign, frequently used this misinformation in his campaign against Mrs. Stafford. The petitioner argued that Mrs. Stafford was a victim of racial politics, since many Afro-Guyanese who might have supported her decided not to vote for her because they genuinely believed what Critchlow told them.

The election petition was upheld and Critchlow’s election was declared null and void. In the subsequent by-election for the vacant seat, John Carter defeated Mrs. Stafford.

In the period up to mid-1948, Dr. Cheddi Jagan allied himself with the six Labour Party legislators. Like them, he firmly opposed the Governor’s nominations of defeated candidates to the Executive Council, and also to municipal and village councils. The TUC and the East Indian Association supported this position of opposing these nominations. The PAC also championed this position throughout the country.

Dr. Jagan broke from the alliance with the Labour Party members after they refused to give support to demands for adult suffrage. In June 1948, he moved a motion for the introduction of adult suffrage in local government elections. A member of the Labour Party seconded this motion, but when the vote was taken, only Dr. Jagan supported it. In another instance, Dr. Jagan introduced a motion to allow electors to recall a legislator who was not giving honest representation. The motion was seconded by Daniel Debedin, but when the vote was taken, only Dr. Jagan voted for it; Debedin voted against it!

These unprincipled positions taken by some legislators were common. Despite the fact that some of them were elected as part of a political party, they showed little loyalty to their party once they took their seats in the Legislative Council. Frequently, they voted against each other and even opposed some the programs they championed during the election campaign.

Despite these setbacks, Dr. Jagan waged a strong battle in the Legislative Council on behalf of the workers and the disenfranchised people of the country. He raised issues relating to employment, housing, drainage and irrigation, wages, education and health, among others, after meeting with the people in various parts of the country to listen to their concerns.

Dr. Jagan was also especially concerned over the aftermath of the Enmore shootings. On 29 April 1949 he enquired in the Legislative Council whether or not the Government would take action against those who were responsible for the shootings at Enmore the year before. To this, the Colonial Secretary replied that the Government had no intention of doing so. On the first anniversary of the Enmore shooting, a massive rally organized by the PAC was held in Georgetown, and Dr. Jagan was one of the main speakers.

Industrial relations were unsettled during the period. In April 1947, bauxite workers at Mackenzie and Ituni went on strike for 64 days. Among their grievances were racial discrimination and segregation practiced by the European and Canadian management staff of the Demerara Bauxite Company. The workers, represented by the MPCA, also demanded increased wages and the right to have Union meetings. When the strike finally ended in June, the Government appointed a committee headed by C.W. Burrowes to enquire into the causes of the strike and to make recommendations. As part of the settlement, the workers were granted a small wage increase, in addition to the right to hold Union meetings. Nevertheless, staff segregation continued in the following years, and accusations of racial discrimination continued to be made by the bauxite workers against the management staff.

In Georgetown, there were some strikes, but the most significant work stoppage occurred at the Transport and Harbours Department (T&HD) in late February 1948. This action seriously disrupted steamer and railway services along the coastland area of the country. The four-day strike by railway and steamer workers and sailors protested acts of victimization against workers by the general manager of the T&HD, Colonel Robert Teare, an Englishman. Teare behaved like a tyrant, showed no respect for the workers’ trade union, and imposed harsh discipline on the employees. He also dismissed a number of workers, including Boysie Ramkarran, a railway worker, who was later to become a leading member of the PAC.

A commission appointed by Governor Woolley investigated the causes of the strike, but while it did little to admonish Teare, it recommended that the dismissed workers be reinstated. Teare, shortly after, departed for Bermuda where he was offered a job to manage the railway service.

The effects of the Cold War were felt very early in Guyana. The first Guyanese to feel the effects were Dr. and Mrs. Jagan while they were on a holiday visit to St. Vincent in December 1948. Dr. Jagan’s passport was seized by the immigration authorities, while Mrs. Jagan was declared a prohibited immigrant. However, she was allowed to stay provided that she did not address any public meetings. This act was bitterly condemned throughout the Caribbean, particularly by the Caribbean Labour Congress led by Grantley Adams and Richard Hart. From the responses to queries about the action by the St. Vincent authorities, the Colonial Secretary of the British Guiana Government gave an indication that the latter urged the former to carry out such an action. No doubt this behavior by the St. Vincent Government came about because of the strong anti-colonial and socialist stance of both Dr. and Mrs. Jagan.

But this act of victimization only helped to increase the local and international stature of the Jagans and other persons associated with them. The Sawmill and Forest Workers’ Union, which represented workers in the sawmills, stone quarries and forest grants, made Dr. Jagan its president in 1949. Meanwhile, Forbes Burnham, who returned from England later in the year, became president of the British Guiana Labour Union.


The 1948 sugar strike provided invaluable organizational experience for the PAC. By holding meetings with workers of different ethnic backgrounds in various parts of the country, it saw the increasing need to bring and keep all the ethnic groups together under its umbrella. The membership also decided to step up the plans to organize a disciplined political party to champion the cause of all the people of Guyana. Thus, in 1949, the PAC which was now much expanded in terms of membership, but which no longer included Joceyln Hubbard, began serious discussions for the formation of the political party which would champion the cause of the Guyanese masses at all times.

By mid-1949, the members agreed that Dr. Jagan would be the leader of the Party to be named the People's Progressive Party (PPP). The pro-worker militant Progressive Party formed by Henry Wallace and Paul Robeson in the United States influenced the selection of the name. Dr. Jagan and his colleagues also decided to pattern the new party’s constitution, organization and structure after that of the People’s National Party (PNP) of Jamaica. It was also the general consensus that Ashton Chase would be the Chairman. Towards the end of the year while discussions were going on, Forbes Burnham returned to Guyana after completing his law studies in England. Based on his reputation as president of the West Indian Students Union in London, where he was also a member of the British Communist Party, he was invited to become an executive member of the new political party. It was felt that his charisma, which was attracting attention among the Afro-Guyanese, would help to win greater support for the PPP. At that period, many educated young Afro-Guyanese were still looking to the racially-oriented League of Coloured Peoples for leadership, and it was felt that Burnham would draw them to the PPP. Despite not being a member of the PAC, Burnham himself was eager to participate in the work of the new Party. Late in 1949, he was sent by the PAC leadership to Jamaica to study the operations of the PNP, since it was expected that the PPP would pattern its work after that of the Jamaican party.

The members of the PAC were of the opinion that Dr. Jagan and Burnham, working together, would be able to mobilize more than 80 percent of the people, in the form of Indo- and Afro-Guyanese multi-racial unity, to support the policies of the new party. It was therefore decided that, instead of Chase, Burnham would be offered the chairmanship, a position he readily accepted. Janet Jagan was named Secretary of the Party.

The final edition of the PAC Bulletin came out on 26 December 1949. On the 1 January 1950, the PAC dissolved itself and formally announced the establishment of the People’s Progressive Party. Among the members of the new party were some of the members of the now defunct Labour Party. The first headquarters of the Party was Dr. Jagan’s dental surgery at 199 Charlotte Street, Georgetown. The initial issue of the Party’s organ, the Thunder, was published to coincide with the Party’s launching.

The aims of the Party were clear. It stood for self-government, economic development, and the creation of a socialist society. The party also pledged itself to the task of winning total independence for Guyana.

The Party set out its program as follows:

1. Self Government
a) Universal adult suffrage.
b) Wholly elected Legislative Council.
c) Increase in the number of electoral districts to 21, having due regard to population and territory.
d) Executive Council elected by the Legislative Council with full ministerial powers.

2. Acceptance of Federation under these conditions
a) Dominion status.
b) Internal self-government.

3. Local Government Reform
a) Universal adult suffrage.
b) Wholly elected Village and City Councils.
c) Development of County and Area Council system.

1. Effective and democratic control of all major industries.
2. Land reform and land settlement.
3. Adequate compensation for exploitation of natural resources.
4. Reduction of indirect tax and increase in direct tax.
5. Planned development of industries to provide work for all. Establishment of secondary and minor industries.
6. More economic export price for primary products.
7. Elimination of waste in public expenditure.

1. Housing rent control, slum clearance, Government housing schemes.
2. Education – free and adequate primary, secondary and technical education for all.
a) Removal of dual control.
b) Better trained teachers.
3. Medical æ Improvement of public hospitals, sanitariums, health clinics.
4. More emphasis on preventive medicine.
5. Social security in old age and sickness.
6. Unemployment insurance.

1. Improvement in Trade Union laws.
2. Improved minimum wage legislation.
3. Equal pay for equal work.
4. Industrial injuries insurance.

From the beginning the PPP was labeled as “communist” by the conservative press in Guyana and the Caribbean. This was no doubt due to the anti-colonialist policies outlined by the party and also to the fact that many of the leaders, including Cheddi and Janet Jagan and Forbes Burnham, openly expressed pro-socialist views in their writings and speeches. Indeed, Cheddi Jagan, as a legislator, had already become well known throughout the Caribbean region for his anti-colonial and socialist views.

With the establishment of this political movement, the showdown to bring an end to colonialism now entered a new and decisive stage.