Aug 28, 2016 Kaieteur News Features / Columnists, Peeping Tom

forbesburnhamPresident Granger has committed the biggest blunder of his political career in his first address, since assuming the Presidency, to his party’s biennial Congress. The President may have gone a bit too far and may have been too vague in his remarks, thereby leaving the door open to speculation and unwarranted inferences as to what he meant.
It has always been the practice of leaders of the PNC and PNCR, at every Congress, to lionize the contributions of Forbes Burnham to the party and to Guyana. At times, leaders have strained to do this because of Burnham’s reputation as a dictator, a tyrant and the monumental economic failures associated with the ideology he professed.
Burnham was obsessed with trying to be seen as a better socialist than Jagan. He dedicated his entire foreign policy to the pursuit of political legitimacy, which he lacked at home, and to demonstrate that he was more a socialist than Jagan. His whole political life was spent in a futile and wasted attempt to prove that he was better than Jagan. Even when it must have even been clear to him that socialism could not work in Guyana, he persisted because he wanted to show that he was a better socialist that Cheddi.
The economy, under his rule, ran into the ground and there was no way out for Desmond Hoyte, who succeeded him, than to embrace more liberal economic policies. The country, in Hoyte’s own words, was “marking time” and the only way forward to reverse course and dump Burnham’s cooperative socialism. Hoyte was also socialist, but he understood that the political survival of the PNC meant that he had to let go. Burnham never did this.
Hoyte and none of his successors have ever defined the PNC ideologically. The party, as such, has been in an ideological vacuum, pursuing policies when in office that were perfectly opportunistic, and when in opposition, that were intended purely to be critical of the ruling party, the PPP.
The lack of an official position ideologically has rendered the PNC spiritually dead. The party has lacked a core body of ideas systemized to give it direction and solid purpose. This task, unfortunately, has fallen to the present leader of the PNCR, David Granger. He has the task of doing what all former leaders of the PNCR after Burnham were too circumspect to commit towards. His job, one that he has volunteered to do without any prompting, is to give the PNCR a set of defined principles and beliefs to guide it into the future.
Granger is a Burnhamite. He obviously has great admiration for the Founder Leader of the PNC. He was instrumental in establishing the Guyana National Service, one of Burnham’s failed pipe dreams whose demise is now, quite ingeniously being blamed on the PPPC, but which was long dead before the PPP came to power. The PPP merely administered the last rites.
Since coming to office, the Granger administration has done as much as it could to keep the Burnham vision alive. It has tried to do the things that Burnham did and acted in the same way that it believed that Burnham would have acted. The whole manner in which, for example, the controversy with Venezuela was handled, was a reliving of how Burnham dealt with his own difference with that country.
Unfortunately, Burnham cannot be reinvented. He belonged to a different era. The problems he faced, the ideology which informed how he approached those problems, are far different from the problems of modern day Guyana.
President Granger’s mistake is not that he is trying to revive socialism. He is not trying to do that. He is trying to vindicate Burnham. The PNC has been trying to do that all its life.
President Granger is trying to pluck the key things that Burnham stood for and ensure that these are part of the PNCR’s ‘ideology’. His project of vindicating Burnham is being used to give an ideological foundation to an anchorless PNCR.
Burnham stood for egalitarianism. But egalitarianism today does not carry the same meaning as it did thirty years ago. Egalitarianism is, today, not about making society more equal. It is about making society less poor. The whole concept of egalitarianism has changed and Granger needs to wake up to this reality.
The institutionalizing of Burnham has only been done on a limited scale. It cannot be attempted on a larger scale. In other words, Burnham will remain respected within the PNCR for what he stood for, but what he stood for cannot be applied to today’s problems. Granger should learn that lesson.