Peter Sedgwick

Ghana, Guinea, Guiana:
Three Strikes

(March 1962)

Peter Sedgwick, Ghana, Guinea, Guiana: Three Strikes, Socialist Review, March 1962.
Taken from the collection A Socialist Review (1965), pp.327-329.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

On September 4th of last year, widespread strikes broke out in Ghana, involving railwaymen, harbour workers, busmen and, eventually, workers in the petrol and motor industry. Starting in the provinces, the wave of strikes later reached Accra. The strikers were protesting against an “austerity” budget which incorporated a compulsory savings scheme, and price increases in sugar, flour and other basic commodities. The reaction of the Ghana Government was swift. On September 6th a state of emergency was proclaimed, empowering arrest without warrant. Tettebah, the secretary of the Ghana TUC, branded the strikes as “counter-revolution.” A dusk-to-dawn curfew was imposed in the port of Takoradi. The combined effect of these repressive measures and of an appeal by Nkrumah to the strikers was a return to work on September 22nd. In October the TUC took over control of the National Union of Railway and Harbour Workers, and officials of other unions were dismissed. And in the new set of detention orders that swept most of the Right-wing United Party leaders into jail, many leaders of the recent strikes were also imprisoned. The Government subsequently published a White Paper stating that the strikes were all part of a reactionary plot fomented from abroad.

In November, it transpired that the leadership of the Guinea Teachers’ Union (in which French Communist influence has been particularly strong) had circularised a document critical of Government policies on a number of points; in particular, it demanded increases in pay. Upon a decision of the PDG (the ruling single party of Guinea), the twelve teachers’ leaders were arraigned before the High Court (November 21st). Seven of the accused were acquitted: of the others, three were jailed for five years and two for ten years, simply for circulating the document. In the course of the trial, the students of the higher educational establishments in Guinea came out on strike, partly on the specific issue of the trial, partly as a general protest against the Government, “Fewer lorries - more rice” was a popular slogan. The youngsters’ demonstrations were broken up by the use of teargas and troops. The PDG’s youth movement besieged and captured the schools, which were then closed. The ringleaders were deported into the countryside.

On December 16th, the Soviet Ambassador departed, having been asked to leave. At the PDG Congress on December 25th, Sekou Toure, the Prime Minister, spoke of the “Machiavellian” attempt at a “Marxist revolution” that had just been crushed; this was the responsibility of a “Marxist-Leninist group” in contact with “the anti-Party Guinean group in Dakar, Paris and Moscow.” The French Embassy was accused of assisting the propaganda of this Marxist-revolutionary plot. The Congress passed a resolution demanding a retrial of the convicted teachers, with the passing of the death penalty upon them.

On February 16th of this year, a general strike, accompanied by riots, paralyzed Georgetown. The immediate occasion for these troubles was a budget whose austerity measures would have hit largely (though not exclusively) at higher-paid employees and the business community. The support obtained by the strike was therefore of a mixed nature: the Gaitskellite People’s National Congress and the rabid Right-wing United Force backed the campaign: on the other hand, the proposed Budget hit the Negro urban workers seriously enough for them to respond overwhelmingly to the strike call. In the course of the riots nearly £10 million worth of buildings in the business quarter were burnt, whereupon the two Opposition parties joined with Jagan in appealing for a “return to calmness and sobriety.” The Jagan government, of course, called in British troops to quell the disturbances, and as if this action were not already liable to draw comparisons with the 1953 intervention against Jagan, spread the identical story about a consciously-planned “fire plot,” which had been put out by the Tory Colonial Secretary nine years or so previously. The difference was supposed to be that this was a capitalist and even CIA-backed fire plot (see Daily Worker for February 19th and 20th), in which the bourgeoisie had obligingly burnt down its own buildings. And (paradox upon paradox) this capitalist conspiracy was to be put down by the Tories’ prompt dispatch of British troops for use against Negro demonstrators, to the applause of our own liberty-loving Left.

It is not the purpose of these notes to answer the question: what else could Jagan have done? In passing, however, it might just be suggested that outright abdication would have been preferable to the support of imperialist bayonets. Whatever motives were behind the request for troops, it is plain that only one motive impelled their dispatch: the Tory government’s concern to have a convenient garrison in B.G. to protect Booker’s profits and the strategic interests of imperialism. On the best estimate, Jagan’s action was panic-stricken and blind: but it is doubtful whether he deserves the best estimate. The fact is that there is a world-wide Old Boys’ Network of ex-Marxist or pseudo-Marxist nationalist leaders, whose capacity for oscillating between the great powers is matched only by their skill in betraying their working class to the accompaniment of Leninist slogans. All of a piece are Sekou Toure’s “democratic centralism,” Nkrumah’s verbal anti-imperialism and Jagan’s advocacy (in a P.P.P. memorandum of 1956) of “an alliance between the working class and the revolutionary bourgeoisie” by which he means the Indian capitalists and commercial middle class). The excuses they offer, the lies they invent, the power-blocs they invoke in their suppression of the working class will all vary from leader to leader, and in any leader from one phase to the next; what remains constant is the fact of suppression. An equally constant feature is likely to be the troubled waters of working class discontent. But this should not blind our eyes, as so many on the Left have been blinded, to the jailing of strikers, the acquiescence with imperialism, the hysterical lying of a bankrupt bureaucracy.

It may be said that industrial development in an ex-colonial territory leaves very little room, if any room at all, for independent trade-union action; that all the developments outlined above are, though disgraceful, still inevitable. To this it may be replied that the workers’ resistance to such measures is also inevitable. And between the inevitability of bureaucratic repression and the inevitability of the working-class militancy no Socialist should have to ponder for an instant where he stands.

March 1962


Last updated on 12.11.2004