I wish to refer to the letter ‘Was Jagan a communist?’ published in your issue of May 27, and to offer a few comments. It is not my intention to get embroiled in a debate between Mr Oscar Clarke and Mr Clement Rohee. In relation to their issue however Dr Jagan had said that the split in the PPP in 1955 was “plain opportunism.” On his part, Mr Forbes Burnham attributed ideological reasons for the split.
My next comment is about the signature on the letter. I have grown accustomed to Mr Rohee’s letters carrying a designation as ex something ‒ ex Minister of Home Affairs, ex Minister of Foreign Affairs. Accordingly I expected this letter to carry the designation ‘ex General Secretary of the PPP.’
The focus of my interest is on the title which you ascribe to the letter. Dr Jagan is reported to have said at one time that “the word communism means different things to different people. This explains why I have consistently refused to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the question. The term ‘Marxist’ is a more apt description of my position.” He explained that for him, Marxism “neither was nor is a dogma, but a scientific guide to action.”
When Dr Jagan met President Kennedy in 1961 his ideology arose during the discussions. The US Memorandum of Conversation records the following: “Premier Jagan described himself politically as a socialist; that while professing to be a follower of Aneurin Bevan he was evasive on all ideological and doctrinal issues claiming that he was not sufficiently familiar with theory to distinguish between the various forms of socialism within which he appeared to include communism.” Of interest in this regard is an opinion by Lloyd Best who worked with Dr Jagan in 1962. Best said “he [Jagan] always saw Guyana in the context of the Cold War… You cannot understand Cheddi’s errors and stubbornness unless you understand that. He saw the world in two camps and he was in one camp. There was nothing you could do to get him to adopt another perspective.”
I wish now to recount a personal experience. In 1964 when I joined the fledgling Department of External Affairs then housed in Premier Jagan’s Office, I found that Dr Jagan caused to be circulated to certain members of staff clippings selected by him. The clippings were informative but invariably they were critical of the USA and supportive of the Soviet Union. The point is that in so many ways Dr Jagan made no secret of his being enamoured by Soviet activities and developments; and his party participated in the Soviet led group of Communist parties. In any event at the 1991 PPP Congress held after the collapse of the Soviet Union and at a time when the eminent US lawyer Paul Reichler was retained as a lobbyist, Jagan said “we intended to follow Soviet foreign policy. We remained silent even when we disagreed on some questions. We now recognise that that position was wrong.” Was it only Soviet foreign policy the PPP ‘intended to follow’, some may ask?
Recent research done by the Wilson Center of the USA in the Czech National Archives has drawn attention to a letter written by Dr Jagan in 1951 to the Czech Communist Party seeking assistance for his party. In the letter Jagan wrote “balance of power in Executive Committee of the Party is with the Communists.” Was he one of them? Be that as it may.
No one doubts that Dr Cheddi Jagan was a socialist. In my view, the real question to be considered now is what programmes Dr Jagan intended to pursue in Guyana as a socialist if he had the opportunity. In this respect, the revulsion of the present General Secretary of the PPP to ‘isms’ notwithstanding, I would welcome Mr Rohee’s thoughts.
Rashleigh E Jackson
Former Minister of Foreign Affairs