Ronnie Sookhdeo Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Ronnie Sookhdeo

Burnham Regime Shaken by Mass Revolt

(October 1979)

From Militant, No. 475, 19 October 1979, p. 10.
Transcribed by Iain Dalton.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

‘Burnham must go’. This was the slogan last month as the many thousands of Guyanese workers and youth defied the police and hired thugs to protest at the government’s criminal economic policies and increased repression.

Strikes, demonstrations, and a national disobedience campaign has brought this tiny country in South America to a standstill and, importantly, united for the first time the Indian sugar and bauxite workers.

In the last two weeks the capital, Georgetown, has been the scene of bitter and ugly fighting. The offices of the PNC were fire-bombed, together with several government buildings and the dreaded House of Israel headquarters.

The House of Israel – a pseudo-religious group led by ‘Rabbi Washington’ and better known as David Hill, a wanted American criminal – have already murdered a British Jesuit priest photographing a demonstration and attacked members of the opposition with impunity.

Hill has openly boasted of his close links with the government and of his assistance in crushing the 135-day sugar workers’ strike last year.

The House of Israel and the infamous Jonestown community have been deliberately cultivated by the Burnham government to work as scabs and perform the other obnoxious tasks essential for his survival.

Another, more ominous development has been in the increasing dissatisfaction of the army over their role and the dismissal of their commander.

This came to a head when they were asked to swear allegiance to the ruling PNC and to Birnham personally. The commander – Brigadier Clarence Price – had earlier warned the government they were not prepared to work as strike-breakers.

He and his two deputies were immediately replaced with members of Burnham’s family. A further 33 officers have since submitted their resignations.

Unconfirmed reports in the last week have claimed that the army has given Burnham just one month to resign.

The crises were serious enough for Burnham to cancel his planned attendance at the Commonwealth Conference in Lusaka.

Burnham has since condemned the opposition as counter-revolutionaries out to destroy his “socialist gains”. He had even compared the present plight of Guyana as being similar to revolutionary Russia in 1917 under attack from counter-revolution.

Calling his policies ‘Burnhamist-Leninist’ the former stooge of US imperialism, Burnham, has described his party at various times as Marxist-Christian and Co-Operative-Socialist.

He has resorted to demagogic slogans in order to mask his reactionary policies.

At no time has Burnham attempted to get to grips with the fundamental problems.

The discontent within the sugar industry – the country’s largest foreign exchange earner, highlights the dangers of not implementing socialist policies.

Burnham first granted and then rejected a £50 million profit-sharing scheme which would have brought the sugar workers – who are mainly of Indian origins to that of their counter-parts in the Caribbean.

Their dissatisfaction is indicated by the levels of strikes between 1973–76: there were 416 strikes with the loss of 1,424,000 man days.

The government reacted viciously by drafting in 6,000 strike-breakers, seizing the strike funds and food parcels. The strike lasted 20 weeks and cost the government $200 million.

The government, desperate for aid for an economy already bankrupted through paying for the huge oil increases and foreign goods, negotiated from the IMF, the World Bank, W. Germany and Japan.

The repayment on these loans is now higher than the new loans at present being sought.

When the crisis of capitalism in the period 1973–75 destroyed the fragile basis of the economy, Burnham was compelled by the pressure of the masses to nationalise the foreign owners bauxite and sugar monopolies: 80% of the economy is now in the hands of the government.

But the racial divisions and the absence of a clear Marxist leadership capable of cementing unity amongst the Negro and Indian masses, together with the absence of workers’ democracy and a plan of production has resulted in chaos in the country.

Economy tied to world prices

The country’s principal foreign exchange earners – sugar and bauxite have both declined dramatically due to a combination of strikes, mismanagement, adverse weather conditions and a slump on the world market.

For the second year running the government has had to scale down their sugar targets from 360,000 tons to 300,000 tons.

Similarly, bauxite production is expected to decline by 18% reducing the target from 1.14 million tons to 950,000 tons.

The 27% drop in bauxite production was responsible for the massive foreign exchange deficit of £50m.

The IMF continues to exert a stranglehold over the economy. The government was compelled to carry through savage cuts to public expenditure and to adopt deflationary policies in order to curb the spiralling inflation.

As a consequence, unemployment has rocketed to over 50% with a further 30% underemployed. In the last year over 4,000 people have been dismissed from the public services whilst a further 15,000 young school leavers join the job market each year.

Also, serious food shortages and escalating price increases on basic food stuffs have precipitated a wave of violence throughout the country.

These events have demonstrated on the one side that capitalism is incapable of showing a way forward in a backward country like Guyana. The pressure of the situation compelled Burnham to declare himself a ‘Marxist’.

But without a programme capable of cementing unity between the masses, turmoil and instability is inevitable.

Only a genuine workers’ state with complete nationalisation of the remaining big firms can eliminate the wanton bureaucracy and chaos that is at present stultifying the economy.

A plan of production of workers and small farmers councils, management of the economy, right of recall with regular rotation and controlled wage differentials will not only abolish the racial divisions but provide the basis for better living standards, acting as a beacon for the establishment of a Socialist Federation of the West Indies.

Ronnie Sookhdeo Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 9 August 2016