Who was the Architect of Independence?

Paul N. Tennassee*


No Authoritative Study

The foundations upon which PNC constructed its racist ideology were extremely weak. The Berbice Rebellion of 1763 is sketchily documented and superficially studied. There is no single comprehensive and authoritative publication on the historic event. In spite of the unavailability of adequate data, Daly on whom the PNC leaders solely relied wrote of the rebellion in a definitive, authoritative, rigid and dogmatic manner. Daly’s thesis which was used by the PNC leaders to develop their ideology was not based on historical facts but on psychological deductions presented as facts. On face value, one would dismiss Daly’s thesis and the PNC leaders’ ideology as “Mumbo Jumbo”, but this cannot be done since it was used by the PNC leadership and influenced public policy. Daly’s book, not the Berbice Rebellion of 1763, is an “invention” which served the purpose of developing an ideology for the PNC. It was also used exhaustively for various political objectives.

PNC Credibility Problem
After political independence in 1966, the PNC leadership was faced with several problems of credibility and legitimacy. Cheddi Jagan who was the founder-leader of the independence movement and had emerged, at home and abroad, as the anti-colonial fighter and pro-Moscow, Marxist-Leninist, wrote a book entitled, “The West On Trial – My Fight For Guyana’s Freedom”, in which he implicitly claimed to be the architect, hero and father of Guyana’s political independence. Immediately on the achievement of independence in many of the other former colonies, the foremost leader was declared hero and father of independence and a statue was constructed in his or her honor. This is true of Ghandi, Nkrumah, Kenyatta, Bustamante, Williams, Adams and others. Since Burnham contrived to claim that title, why didn’t the PNC build a statue of him at independence instead of Cuffy? Interestingly, many progressive Guyanese view the martyrdom of four sugar workers known as the Enmore Martyrs as also the heroes of Guyana’s political independence. (These were Indo-Guyanese sugar workers who were shot by colonial police in a protest march in 1948). It is claimed that this march marked the first mass mobilization which led to political independence. The PNC leaders did not recognize Jagan or the sugar workers. As far as the PNC was concerned, they were Indo-Guyanese who belonged to the opposition, PPP.

The PNC leadership, restrained by contemporary historical facts to proclaim Burnham Father of the Nation, explored the history of Guyana and identified Cuffy as the hero of Guyana’s political independence and the source of inspiration for the Cooperative Republic. Cuffy being presented as merely African did not eliminate new controversy which further undermined PNC legitimacy. Cheddi Jagan’s PPP refused to accept Cuffy as the hero of the 1763 rebellion and instead embraced Accabre who Jagan argued in his book was a true rebel worthy of being elevated to the pedestal of a national hero. The PPP even named their Marxist-Leninist ideological center “Accabre College.” Cuffy was an ex-house slave while Accabre was an ex-field slave.

The PNC ignored the criticisms about their choice and built a statue of Cuffy. The Berbice rebellion did occur and Cuffy, Accabre, Atta and Akara were foremost protagonists in the event. However, one of the most intellectually dishonest acts committed by Daly, in the absence of concrete data, was his conflation of the personality traits of Burnham into Cuffy. Cuffy had compromised at every twist and turn, to the point of negotiating to divide Berbice and take the ex-slaves into the jungle. He finally committed suicide rather than fight the imperial enemy. In spite of this, he was hailed, lauded and upheld. Daly conjured the personality traits of Cuffy and used them to justify Burnham’s contradictions. At the end of the day, one understood that Cuffy’s statue was in essence Burnham’s. While Daly used the Berbice Rebellion of 1763 to rationalize the role of the PNC in the 1950’s and 1960’s, Forbes Burnham used the distorted interpretation to mould and deepen the ideology of racism.

Atta and Accabre it is speculated had questioned Cuffy’s leadership because of his compromising attitude with the Dutch. Daly defended Cuffy by arguing that even though Cuffy was willing to surrender half of Berbice and seek refuge in the bush, he did not completely reject the original objective of the rebellion. Further, he insisted that Cuffy was a warrior who showed statesmanship through compromise. This was clearly an attempt to justify Burnham’s compromise to negotiate political independence without the participation of the representatives of half of the population. He did so to appease Anglo-American interests and to trade Guyana’s political independence under his leadership with the reopening of a settled border claim by Venezuela to two thirds of Guyana’s land space. At worse, did history repeat itself?

Lack of vision and blame for the failure of the rebellion was placed on the shoulders of the field slaves. The hypothesis was that, had Cuffy been given absolute control, then success would have been guaranteed. Atta’s and Accabre’s legitimate challenge to Cuffy’s house slave mentality was considered incorrect and lacking in statesmanship and a manifestation of their inability as “psychological strategists”. The fact that both leaders were engaged in consistent and open struggles and, finally, made the supreme sacrifice with their lives, invoked little sympathy or appreciation from Daly or the PNC leaders. In fact, Atta and Accabre were viewed as “irritants” at best and “upstarts” at worse. Burnham and the PNC leadership used their interpretation to justify the establishment of a political dictatorship and repression of Afro-Guyanese opposition leaders like Clive Thomas, Nigel Westmaas, Maurice Odel, Omawale, Eusi Kwayana, Tacuma Ogunse, David Hinds, Kwame Apatah, Andaiye, Bonita Harris, Jocelyn Dow, Walter Rodney, Karen DeSouza and others who opposed his dictatorship.

Under the PNC regime there was widespread discontent among both Afro and Indo Guyanese workers. Burnham had coined the slogan “eat less, sleep less and work more”. This encouraged his criticism of the ex-slaves who he claimed were unwilling to work for the new masters. Whereas, before the rebellion, all the slaves were equal after the overthrow of the Dutch, Cuffy wanted to assume the lifestyle of governor while his “kith and kin” continued to labor under neo-slavery conditions. Burnham in criticizing the ex-slaves who wanted to wear the clothes of their “former mistresses” was sending a clear message to the Afro-Guyanese community that they were duty-bound to endure hardships under his regime.

Daly conveniently developed the theme “sex in the revolution” not merely to defend a reprehensible act committed by Cuffy, but also to use it as a precedent to defend the contradictions of some PNC leaders in 1960’s. Some PNC leaders were accused as the intellectual authors of mass rape of Indo-Guyanese women and children in Wismar. The historian Nath amply documented those atrocities and British security forces published a “Terrorist Report” which documented the role of the PNC leaders in terrorism. As such, rape committed against a Dutch woman by Cuffy legitimized the rape of women in the 1960’s, and more importantly for Daly and the PNC leaders; it was merely “the derogatory weapon of the triumphant underdog.” Daly and the PNC leaders lost a grip on reality and refused to acknowledge that in the 1960’s it was two non-white groups of “underdogs” pitted against each other, while their respective racial leaders were interlocked in a struggle for political office. Rape they forgot is a crime against humanity.

The PNC leaders, independent of Daly, developed and used effectively, in speeches, the “victim concept” which was an essential component of their brand of racism. It stated that non-Afro-Guyanese (Amerindos, Indos, Sinos, Iberios) were historically exploiters and oppressors of Afro-Guyanese. The concept also assumes that the various racial groups are homogenous. It failed to recognize the differences in interest, status, color and class within the various racial groups. But perhaps, the most intellectually dishonest aspect of this interpretation and dissemination of Afro-Guyanese history is the fact that blame for the exploitation of the African in Guyana was placed on the shoulders of various racial groups to the point that it diluted and distracted the full impact of the European colonial policies on Africans. Additionally, it ignored the fact that various race groups were themselves victims of conquest, slavery, neo-slavery and colonialism. The intention of the PNC leaders was to instill a “guilt complex” in the minds of the Indo-Iberio-Sino-Amerindo-Guyanese and, as such, indoctrinate them to accept the rule of the Afro-Guyanese PNC leaders whose credibility and legitimacy problems were compounded with a number of fraudulent elections.

The PNC leadership supported freedom struggles based on strictly racial solidarity. Burnham had recognized that there were differences among Africans during the Berbice rebellion because they had come from Congo, Ghana and Dahomey. Nevertheless, he spoke of a direct biological links between the Africans in South Africa and Guyana and between the “whites” in Holland and South Africa. It is evident that the PNC solidarity for liberation movements in Africa was not motivated by a genuine concern for Africans. Rather, their causes were used to legitimize the PNC regime in the eyes of Afro-Guyanese in particular, and Guyanese in general. One way or the other, it legitimized PNC racist ideology and made it appear as if the ideology had a wholesome international dimension. PNC leaders presented themselves as “world class” African leaders at home and abroad.

In the Caribbean, the PNC leaders were successful since Afro-Caribbean leaders in the various governments and parliaments gave little or no solidarity to the struggle against the PNC dictatorship. Rather it was the Latin Americans, Europeans and North American Parliaments, Congresses, Trade Unions, and NGO’s which gave solidarity. On the other hand, Afro-Caribbean NGO’s and Unions gave diluted solidarity. With the exception of a very few, the solidarity lacked militancy. When the people of Grenada were saddled with their ‘dictatorship’, the solidarity in the Caribbean became militant and pro-active. Several CARICOM Governments literally invited and accompanied the USA military intervention in that island-state.
This contradiction is best summarized by Prof. Rex Nettleford when he stated: “We in the Caribbean are very silent on this very important factor and that is… a very strong belief that the rightful heir to the British (in the region) is the people of African ancestry…” Nettleford said this silence might well have accounted for the conspiracy of silence which attended some of the things that developed Guyana… “Because somehow people understood what [late President Forbes] Burnham was about.” (Trinidad Express, Friday August 5, 1988, page 37)

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