Taken from Ideology and Change by Perry Mars pp 73-77

While the element of class has usually been taken for granted in the Left analysis of Caribbean politics, the issue of race and ethnicity has been generally neglected, often to the peril of Leftist prospects for political mobilization and change. Even in multi-ethnic Caribbean societies such as Trinidad, Guyana and Jamaica, where the ethnicity issue is pivotal to the understanding of the political process, this issue has invariably been subordinated to class considerations among the promi­nent Leftist groups. This subordination of race to class is a classical Marxist response to the problem, and therefore was more prevalent among the more orthodox Marxist Left in the region. 

The relative neglect of the racial issue by the Caribbean Left has been observed by Trevor Munroe, leader of the WPJ, who contended that in Jamaica, the Marxist Left “has clearly failed to deal adequately with race, to take up and consistently carry forward the positives of Garveyism”.4’ That the class issue was consistently made to supersede the racial issue is reflected, for example, in the contention of Janet Jagan of the PPP in Guyana that while race cannot be ignored in Guyanese politics, the “decisive factor” as she put it, was “not race but economics”.42 It was also this typical Marxist “base-superstructure” argument that led Cheddi Jagan to conclude during the early part of his political career, that “race is only skin deep.” 

This ‘base-superstructure’ subordination of the race issue was equally reflected in the ultimate argument of the Marxist Left that the racial problem would eventually disappear with the advent of socialism and classless society. Caribbean Dialogue, for example, argued that “the solution to racism” lies ultimately in the ‘abolition of the social system” which oppresses the working classes when socialism is eventually realized.43 

The realities of the Caribbean struggle for change have nevertheless brought home to political analysts the central importance of race and ethnicity in the determination of certain critical outcomes, such as voting patterns and group violence, in the Caribbean political process.44 Because of these realities the Left could not have totally ignored the race issue although it was usually made subordinate to the class issue. Over the years, however, discussion of the race issue shifted from its very subdued position to a more prominent focus among the Caribbean Left.45 

The earliest considerations about the special place of race in the Leftist political spectrum were expressed outside the Caribbean region by a group of Caribbean intellectuals residing in the United States who constituted themselves into the African Blood Brotherhood (ABB) during the 1920s. Many of these were initially Garveyists who championed the glories of their African origins and the development of African consciousness among the black masses in the United States and beyond. The ABB also recognized the special place of Blacks in the Marxist revolutionary schema, since Blacks were doubly exploited, first as Blacks under White domination and additionally as occupants of the lowest rungs in the capitalist class structure.46 C. L. R. lames, during the 1930s, extended the ABB argument to embrace Trotskyist perspectives. James held that blacks have a historical mission to make common cause with the entire Third World proletariat in their struggle against white-dominated imperial­ism.47 During the 1940s, Richard Hart, one of the founders of the socialist movement in Jamaica was equally concerned about the race issue within the Marxist framework of analysis. Munroe noted that Hart recognized the revolu­tionary significance of both black resistance, particularly during slavery and the cultivation of racial self-respect —two factors which were necessary to break the historical dominance of whites over blacks.48 

It was natural that most of the progressive forces in the Caribbean would support the Garvey Movement, since it was the earliest movement to champion anti-colonial nationalism and the democratic inclusion of blacks in the Caribbean political process. While the progressive forces agreed with the identification of colonialism with white racism, not all, however, agreed with the ‘Back to Africa’ content of Garveyist programme. The 1950s, however, saw an upsurge of inter-ethnic conflict and violence in several Caribbean territories including Trini­dad and Guyana, which brought the racial issue once again into prominence on the Left political agenda in the region. The split in the Marxist PPP of Guyana in 1955, for example, was attributable to race, first in the perception that the cause of the split related to the personal ambition and racist objectives of Forbes Burnham, the author of the split,49 or to the entrenched racism within the PPP itself;50 and secondly to the racial ‘divide and rule’ manipulative policies of the colonial authorities who used race to stem the potential tide of Marxist political development in Guyana and indeed the Caribbean region as a whole.51 

It was not until the 1960s, following a series of intensively violent racial events in Trinidad, Jamaica and Guyana that the issue of race became firmly placed on the Left political agenda. Focus on the race issue took three distinct forms: first, it was conceived and utilized particularly by the older Leftist groups as basically a tactical instrument in electoral competition for political power; secondly, it became, mainly with the more recently added radical third parties within the Caribbean Left, a predominantly moral issue, usually in the form of blaming the older parties for the escalation of the problem, or in appeals for unification of the subordinate classes and ethnic elements of the population; thirdly, the racial issue became elevated on the Left agenda into the more academic issue of seeking appropriate means toward conflict resolution. 

The classic case of using race as a tool of political mobilization is that of the electoral competition between the PNC and PPP in Guyana. This sinister devel­opment followed the split in the PPP-led nationalist movement in 1955. Much of the analysis of race by these two parties centered around the need to mobilize ethnic constitutuences for electoral victories, and casting blame on each other for causing the racial conflict in the first place. At the same time, however, both parties neglected consideration of the wider roles that racial consciousness can play in a revolutionary situation, whether against colonialism or in the construction of socialism. A similar programmatic neglect of the racial question has been ob­served in the case of the PNP in Jamaica where, as Trevor Munroe argued, race consciousness played a crucial role in the electoral campaign which brought Michael Manley to power in 1972. 

The Left parties which emphasized the more positive politicization of race were mainly drawn from the new radical parties which emerged during the 1970s. These parties included NJAC and the ULF in Trinidad and Tobago, the NJM in Grenada and the WPA in Guyana. For these parties, race mobilization was positive to the extent it aimed at imperialism, but negative when used as a necessary means in the competition for power in the domestic political arena. Their argument on the positive side of race politics was that the development of race consciousness was as of much significance as class in countering the foreign, white-dominated, capitalist (or imperialist) system in the Caribbean. The concept of ‘Black Power’ was introduced by these parties to foster the solidarity of the non-white races, particularly the working class blacks and East Indians, against white-dominated imperialism.53 Secondly, these parties attacked the conventional Left and ruling parties in the region for introducing a localized variety of racial domination which favored the advancement of foreign capital. For this reason, the Eric Williams’ PNM regime in Trinidad, the Eric Gairy regime in Grenada and the Burnham PNC regime in Guyana were seen to represent a special brand of African middle class domination of localized politics to the detriment of the other non-white races, particularly East Indians and Amerindians, who constitute two of the main elements of the subordinate classes in the region.54 Finally, these parties attacked the racial mobilization strategies of conventional parties in the electoral contest for power, as essentially divisive and inimical to the realization of socialist objectives. 

It was mainly from these very radical quarters that a perception of conflict resolution with regard to the racial divisive issue was introduced in the Left agenda during the 1970s. The main manifestation of this conflict resolution approach was the necessity for multi-racial solidarity as against either white-dominated impe­rialism, or internal dictatorship which was seen to oppress the subordinate working classes comprising the major ethnic groups, such as blacks and East Indians. The WPA in Guyana talked about “multi-racial power” as necessary for both effective opposition to the Burnhamite dictatorship and the institutionali­zation of a more inclusive democratic process.55 Similarly, NJAC in Trinidad advocated the need for “unity of the oppressed” classes and races comprising both Blacks and East Indians.56 It was within this context also, of opposition to imperialism and promotion of working class (East Indian/black) solidarity, that the PPPs offer of “critical support” for the PNC against imperialism and its proposal for a “National Front government” must be understood.57 Ultimately, these unification efforts went far beyond the simple racial issue and became a concerted movement toward economic development and socialist transforma­tion. In this case, ethnic conflict resolution became only one dimension in the movement toward resolving class contradictions and divisiveness within the Left movement itself.

 The PPP itself had been perceived by other Leftist groups, particularly the intellectuals of the New World Movement, as embodying both race and class contradictions in its own leadership structure.58 The fact that the PPP had ne­glected the emergence, during the l960s, of attempts to promote East Indian leaders to the exclusion of black contenders for positions within the party hierar­chy, had lent much credence to this charge. Much earlier, the party was challenged by some of its most prominent Black leadership for attempting to cultivate and recruit the rich East Indian business class at the expense of both the Blacks and the working class elements of all race groups.59

Eusi Kwayana’s contribution to this race issue within the leftist movement was most noteworthy. Kwayana, a co-founder of the WPA in Guyana, had taken up this race issue since 1956 with his attack on lagan’s apparent pro-Indian stance. However, Kwayana became even more controversial during the early 1960s, when, following the most bloody period of ethnic political violence in the country (1962-64), he recommended as a solution to the problem the geographic separation of the races, or ‘zoning’ as it was popularly called. Kwayana’s ‘zoning’ concept met with widespread criticism from both within and outside the Left, since it was seen in terms of narrow racial chauvinism, and anti-nationalist divisiveness which could further the fragmentation of so small a country (territorially and demographically) as Guyana. However, Kway­ana contended that the suggestion was recommended mainly for discussion and to be implemented only as a last resort if other more meaningful consid­erations failed.60 Within this period, also, Kwayana founded the African Society for Cultural Relations with Independent Africa (ASCRIA) which, much like the Garvey Movement before it, advocated the promotion of African self-pride and cultural development in order to strengthen the race vis-a-vis the other more advantaged ethnic groups in the system. After a sojourn which included close association with the PNC regime, ASCRIA finally became absorbed within the WPA pressure group which it helped form in 1975.

As one of the co-leaders of the WPA, Kwayana appeared to have shelved the African-centred racial issue in preference for a more multi-ethnic and class-based approach. However, Kwayana’s race-centred preoccupation seemed to have resur­faced in 1990 when he renewed his charges, this time more subtle, against the PPP for racism over the issue of ‘choice’ of a compromise presidential candidate to challenge the Burnhamite PNC monopoly at elections. The PPP had insisted that Cheddi Jagan be that presidential candidate, whereupon Kwayana and the WPA spearheaded a challenge to this choice first by supporting a counter-choice of a prominent Afro-Guyanese candidate, Ashton Chase, and second by claiming that all politicians who played principal political roles during the 1960s, the period of the bloody racial-political violence, should voluntarily disqualify themselves from competing for power positions during the 1990s.6’ Kwayana was obviously pointing to the PPP since he saw Jagan as the main contender from the notorious period of racial confrontation of the 1 960s, although both himself and Chase were also prominent among the national political leadership of the 1960s in Guyana.

The PNC’s perspective on the racial problem was as simplistic as it was contradictory. For the PNC there was only one source of the problem of racial divisiveness in Guyana: lagan. The solution, which the PNC claimed to have brought to Guyana, revolved around equally simplistic factors: effective law enforcement, the co-optation of PPP leaders, mainly of East Indian descent, and the introduction of ‘cooperative socialism’ which was supposed to trans­form race consciousness into national or socialist consciousness. Naturally, the PNC’s ‘cooperative socialist’ programmes met with forceful criticism from other Left parties and groupings in Guyana and the Caribbean, particularly since the proposals led to a series of both economic and political crises in the country. PPP supporters condemned the PNC projects as essentially anti-East Indian, since in the process the East Indian-dominated rice industry was virtually destroyed.

Also, both the PPP and WPA saw the excessive growth of the military and security forces in Guyana as a domain for ethnic, class and political repression. Further, cooperative socialism was criticized by most Left forces within Guyana and the Caribbean region as a ploy to entrench the domination of an essentially Black, petty bourgeois clique under the personal control of Forbes Burnham.62 However, mainly because of its rather simplistic approach to the race issue, and its conviction that the problem was finally solved under the manipulative proclivi­ties of the party, the PNC was the only so-called Left party in Guyana that persistently rejected calls from other Left groupings for compromise solutions toward Left unification and solidarity.