Eyewitness: Look back in anger…

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…with Cheddi Jagan

Contrary to what some Guyanese may believe, Amitabh Bachchan – who hit the big time in Indian cinema and, therefore, Guyanese consciousness in the 1970s – wasn’t the original “angry young man”. Of course, in Guyana there was plenty for young men to be angry about! What with Burnham banning basic foodstuff, ruining the economy, putting his picture on exercise books and forcing school kids to march up and down in the hot sun and University Students into the National Service!!

The phrase actually originated from a realist John Osborne play from the 50s about the life of a young working-class bloke in post-war Britain, dealing with classism in his family circumstances. Richard Burton, as the star of the movie of the same name, stamped the phrase in the minds of the literati. But here in Guyana, we had an angry young man who preceded Osborne –- Cheddi Jagan, who’d returned from the US in 1943 while WWII was still going on.

Cheddi had plenty to be angry from his life in Guyana and his stay while at university in the US. Your Eyewitness has been following the hot and sweaty debate about Cheddi’s role in Guyanese early politics that’s playing out in some of the newspapers. He does believe that in ignoring the critical point about Cheddi’s anger at the circumstance in which he found himself in his early life, the debaters are missing the crucial point. To wit, that while history may be driven by underlying structural contradictions, those contradictions work through people. And most critically, PERSONS. Persons like Cheddi.

We have to start with Cheddi in the plantations where the White manager’s wife threw coins for the boys to scramble for on the ground. Decades later when he wrote about it, you can feel his anger. Then there was his two-year stint at Queens where he would’ve been the country bumpkin among the elite upper-crust white/Coloured 1930s Georgetown before the open scholarships. As he said, he was now a small fish in a big pond. Then to his chagrin, he felt he faced CASTE DISCRIMINATION from his own ethnic group in Georgetown!!

Then, of course, he studied in segregated America, where even though as an East Indian he slipped through the cracks of racial discrimination he couldn’t remain unmoved by the inhumanity of White America. The problem, however, is that unlike Osborne and his anger at the British Class system within his family, Jagan decided to channel his anger at the entire colonial system.

The advice from the old-line middle-class political types he found in Guyana to “Pat tiger head when yuh haan in tiger mout’” didn’t resonate!!

…at racist provocateurs

Moving back into the present, Guyanese have to see that we’re facing a critical inflection point in our race relations. We’ve got to ensure that it doesn’t head further south. Granger did what he had to do as a new PNC leader brought in to be the face of a “kinder, gentler” PNC to coalesce with the multi-racial AFC. But he destroyed all of that within a couple of years. Your Eyewitness doesn’t have to reprise all the times he shot the PNC in the foot – all the way to the West Berbice ethnic riots.

Now, as the PNC once again tries to reinvent itself in the fast-evolving political landscape, there are some political Neanderthals still fighting battles from the Stone Age. Not trying to eke out some lessons for the present as the debaters on Jagan are doing – how we should view the US’s involvement in our politics once again.
But actually, using clubs of racial boycotts of Black Pudding vendors, etc, to fight for “Justice”.

…at recolonisation

The Neanderthals will ensure that we’re so divided in our country that the old Imperial “divide and conquer” strategy will once again play out.
By the time the oil’s all gone, we’ll be left holding “wood”!