Cheddi Jagan was born on 22 March 1918. As we approach his hundredth birthday, I reflect on his contribution to Caribbean social and political thought based on his sugar plantation experience and his formulations of Marxist political strategy. Indo-Caribbean contributions to political and social thought in the region have not been given the attention and scholarly recognition it deserves. Conceptions of the Caribbean require an intellectual genealogy that situates and identifies with the indentureship experience and its implications for the shaping of Caribbean society.
Jagan’s childhood was shaped by the plantation experience, and his grandparents were among the indentured laborers recruited from India. He attended Queen’s College in Georgetown, the capital of Guyana, but he was unable to procure a job after his secondary school education. Colour, class and racial discrimination were barriers to Indian participation in the civil service and urban professional opportunity. This was a commonplace experience of a “coolie” going to school and looking for work in town.
Jagan was the eldest of eleven children and later trained as a dentist during 1936 and 1943 in the US. He, therefore, was able to draw on the experiences of the working class under British colonial capitalism and American capitalist exploitation. Upon his return to Guyana, he founded the Marxist-oriented Political Action Committee (PAC). In the form of other Caribbean independence liberation parties, he established a mass political organization, the People’s Progressive Party (PPP). In 1953, he achieved the distinction of engineering the first electoral victory for a Marxist leader in the West. However the British cut his multi-racial socialist project short after 133 days.
Guyana endures under a bipolar political structure. Political power was the ultimate prize of the “small pie of colonial resources.” Thus, an Afro and Indo rivalry ensued for political power and emboldened the already existing communal mistrust and fear of ‘the other.’ The African and Indian divide ran parallel to the urban and rural divide. For this reason, the rise of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) was necessary in order to make a case for more integrative social and political institutions in Guyana. The multi-racial party employed a Marxian analysis of class and labor struggle to propel the independence movement.
In 1955, colonial divide and rule strategies and the persistence of clashing leadership personalities and personal acclaim of Jagan and Burnham eventually led to the demise of the political project. Since then, racial politics run deep as the rivers on the continent. The two major political parties made appeals for cross-race and class alliances, but the racial motivation for voting and political support sustained. Mass politics remained, but racial unity becomes more and more of an elusive goal. Imperial politi
cal machinations and the state authoritarian approach of the ruling party in government meant