A re-evaluation of the communist label of Cheddi Jagan is needed – by Harry Hergash

A re-evaluation of the communist label of Cheddi Jagan is needed

May 19, 2018 – In Letters: by Harry Hergash | Stabroek News
Dear Editor,

During his lifetime, Dr Cheddi Jagan was skewered, humiliated, and removed from government in 1953 and again in 1964 after being labelled a “communist”. More recently, in his article captioned, Cheddi Jagan, Communism and the African Guyanese (Stabroek News, March 22, 2018), Professor Clem Seecharan writes “… Having graduated in dentistry in the United States, he (Cheddi Jagan) and his Chicago-born wife, Janet Rosenberg (1929-2009), settled in British Guiana in 1943… They were both communists…”      

The brief bio-sketch preceding the article notes “He (Professor Seecharan) is working on a book on Cheddi Jagan and the Cold War to be published by Ian Randle Publishers”. One may ask, why another book on Cheddi Jagan? After all, his life and times have been documented in numerous articles and several books, including Stephen Rabe’s U.S. Intervention in British Guiana: A Cold War Story, and Colin Palmer’s Cheddi Jagan and the Politics of Power: British Guiana’s Struggle for Independence.

Why not a book on the life and times of Forbes Burnham? And why was Mr Burnham never labelled a “communist”? He was the one who recognized and supported the communist USSR, China and Cuba with exchange of ambassadors; welcomed the US arch-enemy, Fidel Castro, into the country; made the economy almost totally state controlled; and proceeded to de-emphasize Christmas. Yes, Jagan did support some of these initiatives, but he was not the initiator, and Burnham remained in power while the Cold War still raged.

In labeling Cheddi Jagan as “communist”, Professor Seecharan may be relying on Dr Jagan’s qualified answer to a question from his long-time nemesis and prominent lawyer, Lionel Luckhoo, at the Wynn Parry Commission hearing into the disturbances of February 1962. Jagan was badgered by Luckhoo into giving an answer, and what is often missing, in restating Jagan’s admission to being a “communist”, is (Jagan’s) his definition of communism and commentary. Incidentally, Jagan’s definition of the communism he believed in, has its origin in the Biblical Book of Acts 4:32-35. Also, it was the basis of the Liberation Theology preached by many Latin American Catholic Bishops in the 1970s who were protesting against the poverty in their countries.

Of the heated exchange between Luckhoo and Jagan at the hearing, in a July 3, 1962 letter by Sir Ralph Grey, then British Governor, to the Colonial Office, regarding a dinner-party he hosted for a visiting US State Department Official for Caribbean Affairs, Governor Grey writes “…Lionel Luckhoo was there and I purposely teased him a little about his cross-examination of Jagan before the Commission and said that while it might have been a forensic triumph it did not seem to have any particular purpose, that it had wrung out of Jagan admissions that would be widely publicised in their simple form but that were in fact much hedged about with qualifications, etc., and that this would do the country no good abroad…” US declassified documents have now proved the accuracy of the Governor’s view about “doing the country no good abroad”. It gave the US the rationale for covert action in the country which not only led to the ultimate removal of Jagan from government, but also to the racial polarization which haunts the country to this day.

With the availability now of official documents previously kept secret by the British and the US governments, a re-evaluation of the communist label of Cheddi Jagan is needed. In a February 12, 2007 article captioned,The ‘coup’ in British Guiana, 1963 (http://markcurtis.info/2007/02/12/the-coup-in-british- guiana-1963/), Mark Curtis, historian and former Research Fellow of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, writes “The US files vary between describing Jagan’s PPP programme as ‘communist’ and ‘nationalist’… The British believed, according to the US files, that ‘Jagan is not a communist’ but ‘a naïve, London School of Economics Marxist filled with charm, personal honesty and juvenile nationalism’… Therefore, the threat posed by Jagan’s PPP was essentially a radical nationalist one, replicated on numerous occasions throughout the postwar era, but invariably described as ‘communist’ for public relations, as in the 1953 overthrow.”

Earlier, in 1990, Victor Navasky, in an article, Schlesinger & the Nation, Remembering an eminent activist historian whose passing has left the public sphere much poorer (https://www.thenation.com/article/schlesinger-nation/), states that at a luncheon hosted by the Nation magazine, Arthur Schlesinger Jr, Harvard’s history professor and key member of President Kennedy’s staff who had plotted against Cheddi Jagan, apologized to Jagan for what he called “a great injustice” he and his Kennedy colleagues had helped to perpetrate. Subsequently, in a 1994 article, A Kennedy-CIA Plot Returns to Haunt Clinton (https://www.nytimes.com/1994/10/30/world/a-kennedy-cia-plot-returns-to-haunt-clinton.html),

Tim Weiner states that Schlesinger “acknowledges” that his account of the Kennedy-Jagan meeting of 1961 as documented in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, A Thousand Days, “is incomplete” and the history should be revised. Further he quotes Schlesinger as saying “We misunderstood the whole struggle… He (Jagan) wasn’t a Communist. The British thought we were overreacting and indeed we were. The CIA decided this was some great menace, and they got the bit between their teeth. But even if British Guiana had gone communist, it’s hard to see how it would be a threat… The one duty we owe to history is to rewrite it.”

Professor Seecharan also writes “Jagan’s ideological inflexibility and his limitations of statesmanship (particularly during his meeting with President Kennedy in the White House on 25 October, 1961), eventuated in the American saddling Guyana with the increasingly dictatorial regime of Forbes Burnham, from 1964 to his death in 1985”. This is the account (which is now accepted as fact) that was stated by Schlesinger in A Thousand Days, an account he “acknowledges” to Tim Weiner that “is incomplete” and should be revised. The released documents show that the US was pressuring the UK to prevent Jagan from winning the elections held on August 21, 1961 as can be seen in this extract from a telegram dated August 11, 1961 (i.e. just ten days before the elections) from the US Secretary of State to the British Foreign Secretary: “… we do believe that Jagan and his American wife are very far to the left indeed and that his accession to power in British Guiana would be a most troublesome setback in this Hemisphere. Would you be willing to have this looked into urgently to see whether there is anything which you or we can do to forestall such an eventuality?”

The October 21 meeting was thus a “cover” for public relations purposes for what was to follow later, i.e. covert action resulting in the removal of Jagan from office and preventing him from leading the country into independence. Professor Seecharan should not be gullible now that the relevant documents are in the public domain.

With his planned new book on Cheddi Jagan, one hopes that Professor Seecharan will fulfill the duty to history by rewriting it, as suggested by a repentant Arthur Schlesinger Jr, a former History Professor at Harvard and plotter against Cheddi Jagan, who conceded “He (Jagan) wasn’t a communist”.

Yours faithfully,
Harry Hergash

Article printed from Stabroek News: https://www.stabroeknews.com
URL to article: https://www.stabroeknews.com/2018/opinion/letters/05/19/a-re-evaluation-of-the-communist-label-of-cheddi-jagan-is-needed/

Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  • Rosaliene Bacchus  On 05/19/2018 at 3:47 pm

    “Why not a book on the life and times of Forbes Burnham?”
    ~ While I have no objections to yet another book on Cheddi Jagan, I would like to see a well researched/documented biography of our nation’s first Executive President.

    • Albert  On 05/19/2018 at 7:50 pm

      Rosa I would love to read an accurate account of the life of Burnham……or even Jagan. The people who really know about Burnham are dead, old, or would not talk. His biography would be a great challenge.

  • Ram Jagessar  On 05/19/2018 at 5:50 pm

    I doubt Rosaliene Bacchus would like a well researched/documentary biography of Forbes Burnham, as opposed to another book on Cheddi Jagan. You see, Cheddi was a naive simpleton in the hard world of anti-colonial and Cold War politics, but he was honest and trusting to a fault. His grasp of strategy and tactics was piss poor, he didn’t take advice well, and he didn’t understand black people or the colonial system, which made it easy for others to use and outmaneouvre him. Those were his virtues and faults, well known to all.
    And what of Forbes Burnham? He was the very opposite of Cheddi, to a very big fault. He was ruthless, nasty, corrupt, racist and plenty more. He did terrible things, horrendous things which are well known to thousands of people still alive today. To recount those things, which would be easy enough, would make the man Burnham look like a demon. He had some virtues too, but his faults tower over them like a colossus. In his time Guyana went to the depths, becoming the second poorest nation in the hemisphere, the country with the biggest exodus in modern times. the dream of El Dorado extinguished forever. I wouldn’t like to read a true account of Forbes Burnham, and I doubt Rosaliene Bacchus would either.

  • Albert  On 05/19/2018 at 7:41 pm

    “He (Burnham) did terrible things, horrendous things which are well known to thousands of people still alive today”

    Could you tell us some of the terrible things that Burnham did. Curious person is listening..

    • Ali...  On 05/19/2018 at 9:45 pm


      He stole money. He encouraged racism. He rigged elections. He appointed cronies to high offices.

      To name a few.

  • Ram Jagessar  On 05/19/2018 at 11:54 pm

    I am astonished. A true innocent appears. But curious. I take it all back, Albert, for your peace of mind. Forbes Burnham was a good man, a great national leader, certainly not a racist, and Indians and Africans alike loved him! Guyana would be blessed to get another like the Kabaka!

  • Albert  On 05/20/2018 at 12:11 pm

    I know a little of a lot of things about Burham and am always looking for those with factual knowledge to fill in the blank. Are we to believe you guys don’t have much factual information for say those who may want to write a biography.

  • Veda Nath Mohabir  On 05/20/2018 at 12:42 pm

    This is what Guyan’s best equivocator said:

    ” As Forbes contended in May 1957, before the general elections, when his party was also called PPP: ‘I am for unity not domination or liquidation. Jagan must convince me of a change of heart and approach…The national movement whose aim is political independence will not benefit from unity with adventurers – dogmatists whose aim is communism and who abuse everyone with whom they do not agree’.”

    Click to access cheddi-jagan-communism-and-the-african-guyanese.pdf

    As Harry H. pointed out, It was the said ‘equivocator’ who befriended the “communists”:

    “And why was Mr Burnham never labelled a “communist”? He was the one who recognized and supported the communist USSR, China and Cuba with exchange of ambassadors; welcomed the US arch-enemy, Fidel Castro, into the country; made the economy almost totally state controlled; and proceeded to de-emphasize Christmas.”

    Also, Seecharan argues in the (link) article Harry is responding to ‘the African Guyanese (who gravitated to Burnham’s party as a counter-weight to the PPP) were not too enthusiastic about parting with the colonial masters.’ Yet, the equivocator, in his new party claimed: “The national movement whose aim is political independence…”

    Reminds me of the scene from Macbeth:

    “Faith, here’s an equivocator, that could swear in both the scales against either scale; who committed treason enough for God’s sake, yet could not equivocate to heaven. O, come in [into HELL], equivocator. (Porter)(3.2.9-12).


  • dhanpaul narine  On 05/20/2018 at 9:11 pm

    There is not a single policy that Cheddi implemented which bears any resemblance to Marx, Engels or Lenin. Cheddi was a communist in his dreams only. But his friendships with Russia, Cuba and the Eastern Bloc came at a time when communism was a bad word. Once the label stuck he could not disentangle himself. He tried to wear the ‘socialist’ badge but socialism was seen as another name for communism.

  • Albert  On 05/20/2018 at 10:14 pm

    “Cheddi was a communist in his dreams only”

    Make sense. Under cross-examination by Luckhoo at the hearing after the disturbance in Georgetown, he gave the impression of not knowing much of what he allegedly wrote about socialism in his book. Some believe the book was dictated by others.

  • Ron Saywack  On 05/21/2018 at 9:16 am

    The British, with the enthusiastic, unbridled assistance of the CIA and the U.S. gov’t, agreed to allow a system of proportional representation (PR) to be used in the 1964 Guyana election when it (Brits) had previously vehemently opposed its implementation elsewhere.

    The primary reason for breaking with a hitherto steadfast policy of opposition to the PR electoral system was to eliminate, once and for all, the ‘Marxist’ Jagan and install their ‘boy’ Burnham in power. Burnham would later embark on a blatant, overt campaign of manipulated, rigged elections to ensure that he remained in power for life — he died in office in 1985.

    In the overseas voter-registration list (in England), horses, dead people, ghosts, children, derelict buildings, and much, much more were able to cast a ballot in the 1968 election.

    See the following:

  • Veda Nath Mohabir  On 05/22/2018 at 2:36 pm

    There are lots I can comment one on these topics, both well-established facts and personal anecdotes.

    Guyana Elections Fraud

    The electoral riggings under Burnham/PNC are common knowledge around the world but we still have ‘innocents’ and blatant racists who refuse to learn/admit the established facts.

    Here is one of my experiences:
    In the video, the Chief Electoral Officer, Ferreira, had invited me to a 1968 Elections party, to celebrate the completion of the Electoral List at the Civil Service Assoc hall. Why I was invited? Because at the time I was in charge of the Government centralized IBM Data Processing Ctre in the Treasury Dept. and my ‘punched-card machines’ were needed to input all the electoral data. (In the video you will see the high barbed-wire fence – the huge security needed – that was the home of the Elections Office; and my assistant was seconded by edict from Minister, Llewelyn John, at midday one day.)
    Ferriera would regularly be in contact with me and I with him when he wanted my machines in an evening shift to supplement those at the Elections Office; and I would immediately call him next morning to have his staff come and collect any lists or cards ‘forgotten’. (I often wondered how many were inadvertently left back or were planted to see what I would do).

    So, as it happened I was the ONLY outsider invited to the party as he would have seen my conduct was above-board. I attend late in the afternoon, out of courtesy (as I had nothing in common with them and I knew that much rigging was taking place); and as I was going up the stairs the Minister was leaving and Ferreira introduced us telling the Minister how ‘helpful’ I was to them.
    Then, my assistant (who was seconded to them) took me aside after the party was breaking-up and he was in ‘terror’ at what he was asked to do in preparing the padded lists. He said he wanted to divulge to me what was happening (which is now common knowledge world-wide) even though he knew I was not a PNC supporter, but he felt I was the only person he could talk to, and ‘I will understand’ but couldn’t talk to me there. I took him to El Globo (my favourite haunt at the time) but the darkened atmosphere got him more nervous – feeling he was followed. Finally, we went to another bar and he disclosed what pressure he was under to pad he lists.

    I knew he wasn’t all paranoid because another friend who had gone on a PNC scholarship and on return worked for the PNC. He would visit me at the Treasury and would cautiously point out a fella in dark shades (LOL) who supposedly was his bodyguard, but he was sensible enough to know that the fella was also spying on him. That friend had a white girl friend who was given a few days to leave the country. So my friend thought he would ‘screw them’ and so married the girl. I signed as witness, making me ‘persona non grata’. My friend soon followed his girl fried out of Guyana.
    I then because worried for my own safety as a result of these two incidents and my outspoken views. In less than two months I left for Canada!

    On a second issue:
    In the Video, there is the ‘equivocator’ Burnham(Kabaka) claiming the PPP is a “terrorist” party. How he came to say this? All part of the PNC and its collaborators to keep the PPP out of power. In July 1964, Thirty six (36) supposed ‘terrorists’ were grabbed and sent to Sibley Hall on the Mazaruni. Thirty five were PPP and one, Chippy Graham, was PNC!
    With all the PPP so-called terrorists in Sibley Hall the cops still couldn’t understand why there was still bombings and other violence around the country. Finally, they grabbed Batson, a PNC terrorist, with guns and explosives and then there was Plan X-13, among the PNC terrorists.



    • Ron Saywack  On 05/23/2018 at 6:24 pm

      Thanks for sharing that, Veda.

      It is always a pleasure to read your anecdotal gems of that era – the 1960s. Your photographic memory and encyclopedic knowledge is a rarity and I’d encourage you to share more of it for posterity.

      Cheers, Ron.

  • Ram Jagessar  On 05/23/2018 at 8:29 am

    There are really no communists at all, since communism is defined as a society in which all property is publicly owned and each person contributes according to his ability and is rewarded according to his needs. In Cheddi Jagan’s time there was no such society and his communism could at best be theoretical. You can’t judge Cheddi as a communist.

    You can judge Cheddi as a Marxist-Leninist, however. You can judge him as a revolutionary socialist of the Marxist Leninist brand of the time.

    I would say Cheddi was a poor Marxist Leninist, a pathetic revolutionary, and abysmal socialist, and in all three I would give him a double FF for fail. Someone like a political/social leader must be judged by the balance of his achievements against his failures. in short define his legacy. .

    And what was Cheddi’s achievements? He organized the sugar workers and developed the PPP as a political party, won elections several times and then lost them very quickly, all except for the last one when he became president. People loved him, he was honest as the day is long, and he was an all round nice guy.

    Now look at his failures and they are big. He failed to bring about working class unity, he failed to united the races, he failed to deliver independence, his early governments were trashed. He forced Forbes Burnham onto the PPP as chairman and allowed Burnham to split the party and take away most of the Africans to form the PNC. He never understood Burnham and was outmaneouved by Burnham all his political life.

    Under his watch as PPP leader the political tension turned into race war, attacks on Indians and Indian properties, and Cheddi failed to protect either of them. Under his watch there was an exodus of 400, 000 people from Guyana, half the population and the majority of the Indians. We tend to blame Forbes Burnham and the PNC for all that, but Cheddi and the PPP must share some of the blame as well. Guyana is finished, will never be a developed nation in this century, the dream of El Dorado Guyana the food basket of the Caribbean, the land of gold, diamond and bauxite riches, is over and Cheddi cannot escape his responsibility for that.

    Cheddi never understood that his Indian supporters were not voting for him because of working class unity, but just because they foolishly thought he was fighting to improve Indians. He took the money from his Indian business supporters and at the same time criticized them as petty bourgeois capitalists, until they mostly abandoned him and the PPP. He never realized that Burnham was no socialist but just a racist and opportunist, and even gave “critical support” to his enemy Burnham.

    Cheddi refused to accept the advice of veteran political activists to cool it on the revolutionary socialism until he got independence for Guyana, when he could do what he wanted. Instead Cheddi flaunted his ideology and support of the Soviet Union in the face of the British colonial office and then was outraged when they dropped the hammer on him. He went to America to meet John Kennedy and openly admitted to the press that he was a communist, and then was outraged that the CIA and the colonial office conspired to throw him out of office. Cheddi accepted the Soviet model of development against all advice that it was not applicable to Guyana.

    In short, Cheddi had no appreciable grasp of strategy and tactics for Guyana in the cold war/colonial era. He refused to take suggestions that he build up a rural militia to counter the hostile African dominated police. When PPP members and offices were being openly attacked by black mobs, Cheddi refused to allow his military group to retaliate against the mobs. What kind of revolutionary socialist was this who never understood how revolutions take place?

    When one of his supporters Dr Mohan Ragbir asked Cheddi why he didn’t lie to the Americans and say he was not a communist, Cheddi replied that it was against his integrity! The fool couldn’t even lie to his enemies, and handed them the club to beat him over the head. Unfortunately the enemies also beat up hundreds of thousands of Indian supporters of the PPP. Cheddi never got even a tiny sliver of African support after the split with the PNC, but he continued all his life to deny the interests of Indians in the hope of getting that sliver of African support.

    Yet in many quarters Cheddi Jagan is hailed as some kind of hero and great leader and they get very angry with people like me who ask what was his heroic achievements. In truth Emperor Cheddi has no clothes, and in death has been made into some kind of socialist saint. Guyana doesn’t need more people like Cheddi. Even one of him was too much.

    • Ron Saywack  On 05/23/2018 at 3:52 pm

      Overall, a fair comment, Ram:

      The German thinkers, Karl Mark and Friedrich Engels, had both fled from Germany to England because they were considered serious political threats at home. In their day, they saw industrial societies (ruled by the bourgeoisie, the upper class) as the exploiters of the working class masses (the proletariat, the ‘lowe’r class). They aimed to end such a society.

      In their view, the ideal system of government is the egalitarian society (the elimination of the various classes), one in which the nation’s wealth is fairly and equitably distributed. The1948 Communist Manifesto explains.

      “In Cheddi Jagan’s time there was no such society and his communism could at best be (described as) theoretical.” Ram J.

      I agree with the latter part of that sentence and disagree with the first.

      Vladimir Lenin’s Bolshevik Party, during the Russian Revolution, was the first to establish such a society when he created the Soviet Union in 1917. Thus, such a society did exist during Jagan’s time.

      I agree with the bulk of your commentary:

      a) Jagan was not a good tactician or strategist; he was consistently outsmarted by the opportunist Burnham;

      b) Cheddi’s meeting with Kennedy in October 1961 was an epic disaster that effectively sealed his fate. When he thought that the U.S. gov’t would send aid to Guyana, they instead sent in CIA operatives;

      c) Duncan Sandys conned him into signing a document when he didn’t know exactly what he was signing. He would later bitterly regret that mistake.

      Although Cheddi was a good and honest man, he was not a good fighter in the political arena, arguably. Your allusion that he should have waited until he had secured his country’s independence before revealing his (poker) hand is spot on. Unfortunately, he failed to play it close to the vest.

      Cheers, Ron.

  • Veda Nath Mohabir  On 05/23/2018 at 8:52 am

    Ram: You expect Cheddi to be RAMA (Ramayana) the ideal man, ruler etc.
    He was a decent human being who trusted Burnham, inter alia. He hoped Socialism would unite the Guyanese but as Seecharan rightly points out Burnham tapped in to the African coolness towards Colonialism and were more worried about Indian ascendancy.
    Jagan had very little time to set policies into action ( eg Kaldor budget). He was under the gun all the time by the US and Britain. Burnham in collusion with them set the Afro Guyanese apart.


  • Ram Jagessar  On 05/23/2018 at 5:03 pm

    It’s fine to be an honest fool, Veda, but not when you are leader of a country or leader of a major political party, and the fate of hundreds of thousands depends on your choices.
    No, I did not expect Cheddi to be Rama, but I did expect him to have some common sense, and a little political savvy and good judge of character ability. Saying he was a decent human being who trusted Burnham is as demeaning a putdown as I can imagine. A simpleton with an honest face and little judgement does not belong in the chief minister or head of state chair. What do we tell the hundreds of thousands who were forced to flee Guyana because of Cheddi’s follies- in the end he was honest and trusting? A honest donkey belongs in the pen, not as head of the PPP or the Government.
    Oh yes, Cheddi trusted Burnham, he trusted Duncan Sandys in the colonial office, he trusted the black people who left the PPP, he trusted the Soviets, he trusted the Guyana police, he trusted the PPP executives who sold out to Burnham, he trusted the trade union congress. Never before were so many rogues trusted by the honest man Cheddi.
    What did the rumshop sign say? In God we trust, in Cheddi we bust! Oh, it was in man we bust! Same difference….

  • Veda Nath Mohabir  On 05/24/2018 at 12:07 am

    Ram: I lived the hectic days of the 1960s in GT; and worked directly under the Legislature in the Treasury in the Public Bldgs compound and saw first-hand, ‘blow-by-blow’, what was taking place. I was even one of two people who turned up for work, ‘forcing the opening’ of the main gov’t dept, the Treasury, during the 80-day Civil Service1963 strike. 1n 1962, there was an earlier Civil Service strike for wages but more importantly against the Kaldor Budget (which was deemed socialist and anti-business). In all of this beatings, burning, bombings and looting were the order of the day. Then in 1964 was the 144-day sugar Industry strike for the more favoured (but PPP-supported) GAWU union recognition (during which the Wismar cleansing took place in a non-sugar industrial town).

    In my dangerous perch at the Treasury, and virtually daily having to go through large anti-Jagan crowds around the Public Bldgs which also housed Jagan’s office, I heard and saw much, much more than you can read about. It wasn’t just ‘communism’ but blatant anti-Jagan and anti-Indian racism stirred up by Burnham’s party. (I also lived in GT at the time, making me doubled exposed. One of the boys was badly beaten – bled through his ears. Funny thing was he was and looked mixed – Chinese and Indian).

    The other issues than “communism” which you do not take into account are: (1) to ensure that the ‘Indian’ Jagan did not lead an independent Guyana. This is the main reason why the Afro-Guyanese were his main supporters. Then, (2) there was his massive ego. Even his dear sister, Jessie Burnham, warned against him. When he split the Party (because he wanted to be leader and knew that the Colonial power was against the PPP and would support him), his sister went with his faction and two years later returned to the Jagan’s PPP fold (and became a staunch supporter of Cheddi)

    (1) . About Burnham’s massive ego:
    The industrial town, Mackenzie has been renamed “Linden”; and the street in Enterprise/NonPariel where my aunt lived is renamed “Forbes, both first and second names of Burnham. But there is much more:
    I wrote in my earlier book “UNDER ATTACK! THE CARIBBEAN INDIAN” (p69) on the link between:

    “…the national festival, Mashramani, and the late President for Life, Forbes Burnham, …”
    The Caribbean Education Online: The Education Portal of the Caribbean, teaches about the Guyanese national festival, Mashramani, which was inaugurated by Burnham as follows:
    “Mashramani, sometimes referred to as ‘Mash’, is usually observed on the 23rd day of February – Guyana’s Republic Day – to commemorate the ‘Birth of the Republic’. It is probably the most colourful of all the festivals. There are spectacular costume competitions, float parades, masquerade bands, and dancing in the streets to the accompaniment of steel band music and calypsoes. Masqueraders frequent the streets performing acrobatic dance routines, a vivid reminder of Guyana’s African heritage. Calypso competitions with their witty social commentaries are another integral part of ‘Mash’, and this culminates in the coronation of a King or Queen for the particular year.” http://www.caribbeanedu.com/kewl/almanac/almanac07.asp

    While Mashramani is an Amerindian word, the description provided speaks only of “Guyana’s African Heritage”. Some commentators have labelled the festivities as a predominantly African festival which is consistent with the above description and which ignores any reference to other races/ethnicities.

    Then again, the overwhelming opinion would hold that, in his notoriously predictable imperious and egotistic manner, Forbes Burnham, who wrangled from Britain the ignominous (Rape-of-Wismar-Indian-women-and-girls) date, May 26, for Guyana’s independence, installed Guyana’s Republic Day unabashedly to coincide with his birthday. He was born on February 20, 1923. So, he would have combined the “February” month and, with just the Burnhamite-modest modicum of subtlety, the year “23”, in 1923, to establish Guyana’s Republic Day as February 23, as well as, the date of the national festival, Mashramani, to commemorate the said “Birth of the Republic” and, simultaneously, the said Burnham’s birthday, as a psychological emblem to the then populace and to posterity of his assumed primogenitor status to the Republic of Guyana.
    (End of book excerpt)
    (2) . Sister, Jessie Burnham on Forbes:
    “That his love for personal power is so great he will trade anything to achieve it. That nothing is safe, no person, no liberty…that stands in his way.

    That is why I say, in all sincerity, “BEWARE, MY BROTHER FORBES.”

    Behind that jest, that charm, that easy oratory is a certain dark strain of cruelty which only surfaces when one if his vital interest sin threatened. There are two Burnhams; the charming and the cruel. I saw BEWARE of both.

    I do not want to see my country become a police state, where power-hungry man can sacrifice our liberty for his personal gain. Many men are selfish. Many men are cruel. Many men love power. The world can tolerate such men as individuals. But our beloved country cannot tolerate such men as LEADERS. I have said enough. I end with the hope that it is not too late for me, for my friends, and most of all, for my GUYANA.

    By speaking as I have, I risk much, even perhaps life itself. For we live in lawless and dangerous times. But if what I have said can save our “world” from chaos, then any risk is worth taking.

    On December 7, when you mark your ballot box, remember carefully what I have said and “BEWARE.”

    Click to access BewareFinal.pdf


    Finally, from a philosophical angle:
    In the great Mahabharata epic, Burnham can be cast as Duryodhana and Jagan as Yudhisthira (Son of Dharma – ethical and righteous). For readers who don’t know what I am talking about you can of course google it. Or, get hold of Sharon Westmaas (Aruna Sharan) “Sons of Gods – The Mahabharata retold”.

    Yudhisthira trusted his cousin, Duryodhana and agreed (twice) to a game of dice (which were loaded) and so lost his kingdom, wife (who was humiliated by being stripped until Krishna came to her rescue) and all the brothers became slaves to Duryodhana until his King-father intervened and instead they were exiled. In all of this, Yudhisthir maintained an incredible and exasperating evenness of temper (perhaps this is whom Gandhi emulated) even in the eventual catastrophic World War (causing Indian dispersal and ideas to be found in many ancient cultures, such as Mesopotamia, Greece, Rome and Egypt…)

    The point is, as far back as this 7,000-year old (5,000 BC per astronomical dating) great Indian epic we see a real semblance of Cheddi’s ‘trusting’ of Burnham.

    Furthermore, when Yudhisthir arrived at ‘Heaven’ he couldn’t enter because he wanted his faithful dog to enter heaven also. After lots of wrangling with Lord Indra, Yudhisthir argued that if the faithful dog couldn’t enter, then he too will forgo Heaven. At that moment, the dog changed his form into the God of Dharma – Yudhisthir’s putative father, and thus Yudhisthir was allowed to enter. It was the final of three tests Yudhithir had to pass to ensure he was worthy of ‘Heaven’.

    So, (while I am not like Cheddi) I understand and empathize with the predicaments he faced and thus with his approach.
    Now, I’d like to return to my much delayed book rebutting Clem Seecharan’s ‘El Dorado Complex’.

    • Ron Saywack  On 05/24/2018 at 5:17 pm

      “On December 7 (1964), when you mark your ballot …, remember, carefully, what I have said and “BEWARE (of my Brother Forbes).” ” Jessie Burnham.

      Jessie was prophetically right. Perhaps she should have instead been installed as the PNC candidate and spare the country the impending nightmare.

  • Veda Nath Mohabir  On 05/24/2018 at 2:37 pm

    Mea Culpa:
    When I made the last post (at midnight) I went back to the text and confirmed I was wrong. Yudhisthira’s test with his faithful dog at Heaven’s door was not the final test.
    When got into Heaven, he found his enemies there but not his brothers, joint wife, Draupadi, and elders. He enquired and was told that they were in Hell. So, he went to Hell because he reasoned that it was more comforting in Hell to be with his beloveds who also needed him to comfort them, than in Heaven with evil people.
    This was the final test! It turned out it was another illusion to test his resolve and dedication to morality, righteousness and ethics. His beloveds were in fact, in ‘Heaven’.


  • Ram Jagessar  On 05/24/2018 at 10:37 pm

    I don’t think you understand what I am trying to say about Cheddi Jagan, Veda. Which is that Cheddi was a fine human being, honest, motivated, sincere and many other good things. But in the role of political activist, political leader of the PPP, and head of government he was out of his depth and clearly incompetent. He failed dismally at those jobs, and hundreds of thousands of people paid dearly for his failures. Cheddi had risen to his level of incompetence and couldn’t handle those positions he wanted so much.

    To bring it down to nuts and bolts, Veda, here is how I would put you in the Cheddi hot seas. I know you as a man, I like and respect you plenty. But if you are the driver of a bus in which I am travelling, and I see you are not a good bus driver and will probably run the bus off the road and kill everybody, then I will demand you get out of the driver’s seat and let somebody competent drive the bus. In that situation it doesn’t matter to me how sincere and respectable you are as a human being. As a bus driver you suck big time.

    You have to stop making excuses for Cheddi’s monumental failures and showing how many difficulties he faced. The man is a fake hero. Throw him under the bus.

    • Ali...  On 05/25/2018 at 12:03 am

      Damn: What are you, the big bad sheriff in town?

  • Veda Nath Mohabir  On 05/25/2018 at 2:49 pm

    Ram: This will be my last response as I have to move on to the book. Both practical and philosophical ideas will be presented.
    1. Jagan was ‘selling’ an ideology: Marxism as a solution to emerging Guyana was for ALL Guyanese – which his followers freely ‘bought’. He didn’t twist their arms. Interestingly, his allies were mainly urban middle-class, mostly non-Indian collaborators; and many stuck with him after Burnham split the party for his racist and ego needs.
    2. Jagan won support because he and his wife, Janet, were grass-roots workers. The Enmore (Martyrs) killings by police of 5 striking cane- cutters galvanized him to work for the common man against the foreign owned sugar barons – fitting his Marxist ideology. (Incidentally, even though I don’t want to seem too important, I know of their grass roots involvement: I was 5 yrs old in school and we can see the tear gas, 300 yards away. Then, my father was the local Sect’y of the MPCA union and it was our logie home (former slave quarters, where I lived for my first 9 years) where the crowd later gathered; and from where bulk food came and was distributed to the people. The Jagans came there (and my family got our first toothbrushes from them. Jagan soon after pulled 4 jaw teeth a shilling apiece to pay for the freezing, according to my father). So, I know first-hand about their common touch which won over the field workers to him.
    3. The exodus from Guyana had little to do with his ‘communism’. Burnham would have ensured that he got into power, mainly by crookery and would have led to racial animosity and hence exodus. You are from T&T: Why so many T&T Indians are abroad with no communism and Jagan there?
    4. Back to philosophy: Just as you are viewing Jagan as a ‘dismal failure and incompetent’ and havening endangered the security of Indians in Guyana, Yudhisthira (Son of Dharma), as the eldest Pandava – thus leader and King of their portion of land, was regarded by his (and joint, but serially) wife Draupadi and brother Bhima as weak for first gambling away their lives and kingdom and then not intervening when Draupadi was being humiliated by the winner, cousins, led by crooked Duryodhana (Burnham’s archetype). Had he allowed his brothers intervention they would have all been slaughtered. So they had to endure another exile and the ensuing catastrophic war.
    5. Then there is the case of RAMA in the Ramayana (Valmiki’s original version). After retrieving his abducted wife, Sita, he sent her off to an ashram in the woods. Even to this day, 21,000 years later (by latest astronomical determination) there is great debate whether Rama did the correct thing. Ardent feminists, especially, see Rama as weak, ineffectual, patriarchal and misogynistic. Seecharan has weighed in his suppoesed failings, which I will take up.
    6. Gandhi is seen as the father of India. But one man assassinated him because the Mahatma (Great Soul) was seen as selling out to Muslims, who with the British, broke off two ‘wings’ of India to create Pakistan. The assassin, Godse, was not the only one with that view. Many Indians see the same weaknesses in Gandhi. Even a Judge who presided over Nathuram Godse’s retrial of why he killed Gandhi was impressed. An article stated: ‘Such was the power and eloquence of this [Godse’s] statement that one of the judges, G. D. Khosla, later wrote, “I have, however, no doubt that had the audience of that day been constituted into a jury and entrusted with the task of deciding Godse’s appeal, they would have brought a verdict of ‘not Guilty’ by an overwhelming majority”. ‘.
    So, the point is that your harsh assessment of Jagan is not new. I also knew/know people who have argued just as you do that Jagan did little for Indians. The above cases show that Jagan is not the only ‘great soul’ who was/is pilloried. Different views come about from varied knowledge of the ‘facts’ and our own samskaras (seeds from past lives, sort of Nature and Nurture).


  • Veda Nath Mohabir  On 05/25/2018 at 10:37 pm

    Ram: I was rushed so I didn’t respond to these: “ But in the role of political activist, political leader of the PPP, and head of government he was out of his depth and clearly incompetent… He failed dismally at those jobs…. Cheddi had risen to his level of incompetence… Cheddi’s monumental failures… The man is a fake hero…,” etc.
    Since he was such a dismal failure on the political front, was there anything he was competent in?

    Ram, I think you are repeating a very elitist assessment (which I have already heard) of likely Guyana’ s most notable personality of the 20th C. You remind me much of Freddie Kissoon who thinks countryside (peasant) Indians are not ready for PrimeTime – too un-sophisticated and too steeped in ‘Coolie (bottom-house) Culture’ – and who claimed a year ago that Cheddi Jagan was a ‘nobody’ on the international stage until Burnham elevated him to recognition. Most in the PNC would agree with both of you.

    FYI: Jagan led a party, from the earliest days (late 40s) which had several high profile professional, literary, etc. non-Indian Guyanese (as a T&T national, you won’t know about) such as: Martin Carter, David and Rory Westmaas, Ashton Chase, Jocelyn Hubbard, Brindley Benn, Sidney King/Eusi Kwayana, Cedric Nunes, Fred Bowman, Jan Carew (I was in his play – ‘University of Hunger’ – and Jan, who had moved to US and was lecturing there and returned briefly, would reflect on his days in the PPP, talking about Jagan). And, I knew many others in my six years in GT, but less notable. This latter were generally pilloried by the PNC guys/gals. Wouldn’t these urban, middle class heavy weights and the others have seen these monumental Jagan failings you speak of?

    In the early Seventies, Dr Jagan appeared at least twice (likely thrice) on Canadian television CHCH 11 on a one-hour program called “Under Attack” (reminds me of current BBC’s half-hour ‘Hard Talk”) where he was required to defend his views against a panel of three university students (from Ottawa U, U of Western Ontario, etc). By all accounts I have heard (including four of my non-Indian in-laws) he was superb – fluid, eloquent, facts at finger tips, convincing and impressive whether talking about Marxism-Leninism, Soviet and China models, Capitalism, and historical and current affairs around the globe.
    So, my friend: you are moving closer to Freddie Kissoon.

  • Veda Nath Mohabir  On 05/25/2018 at 10:42 pm

    Correction: That 21,000 years for the Ramayana s/b 12,000 BCE or 14,000 years ago. I transposed the 12 into 21.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: