OPINION: Where is the Race and Class Analysis of the PPP-State?

Last Updated on Monday, 4 September 2023, 7:11 by Denis Chabrol

Dr. Nigel Westmaas

Dr. Nigel Westmaas

It is a remarkable display of duplicity and contortionism to pass judgment on the racial, social, and ideological composition of specific political parties, social organizations, and individuals (along with the strange preoccupation with groups they consider small, irrelevant or dead) in Guyana without subjecting the same critical race and class analysis to the political party currently in power – the People’s Progressive Party.

However, this is precisely the approach taken by ideological commentators, and other government-appointed pundits and columnists when assessing anything related to the opposition. Unsurprisingly, they neglect to apply these evaluative tools to the very party that not only sanctions but also sustains their activities.

Let us summarise the history and present configuration of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) as the incumbent holder of state power, positioning itself as a dominant force veering toward authoritarianism.

First Phase, 1950s: Anti-colonial, nationalist, Marxist
Second phase, 1957-1964: “In office but not in power” amid Western, anti-communist pressure and destabilization
Third Phase, 1960s-1980s: Marxist-Leninist, national patriotic front; opposition alliances
Fourth Phase, 1992-1997: Perpetuating hegemonic control and pragmatic alignment with the “West”
Fifth Phase, 2000s: Hegemony and ideological jettisoning of socialist tenets: rise of the free market and free-for-all in the economics of the state.
Sixth Phase, 2020 – present: Expanding party hegemony into the state, and the cooptation of the oil & gas economy towards authoritarian control. In essence, party paramountcy by another name.

The defining thread across these phases since the late 1950s has been the utilization of ethnic-based support to consolidate an electoral base and the subsequent replication of this pattern within the state machinery once power is attained. This strategy has often been bolstered by both subtle and overt fear tactics.

So, how can we contextualize this dynamic ideological framework within the PPP’s current control over a state fueled by Exxon’s resources?

The intricate phases of the PPP’s history and its present course is toward increased dominance, marked by power consolidation, ideological adaptation, and authoritarianism buttressed by an oil economy. The term REPEE “Repressive Ethnic Paramountcy Energized by Exxon” offers a snapshot of this strategy of paramountcy in name and substance. While this term may somewhat oversimplify the intricate evolution of the political landscape and the nuanced shifts in ideology over time, it does generally embody the essence and tactics of the political party in power.

REPEE is characterized by several features:

Co-optation of swathes of opposition figures (note – the worst types that comprised the former regime in power) with Exxon money and through fear-mongering. So, while pronouncing on the “evil” opposition and election rigging, etc., they still find time to fully embrace these dubious characters without even a requirement of contrition.
The deliberate delay or cessation of any progress on long-promised constitutional reform.
The erosion of democratic participation in the National Assembly in favor of unilateral directives from the chosen government speaker of the House.
Constant ranting at the “opposition” press and selective isolation and repression of media organizations and personnel. One commentator explicitly identified the PPP/State’s approach to the media: “an unwillingness and almost instinctive aversion to cultivate cordiality and fellowship with the media. In fact, the opposite seemed to be the modus operandi, whereby antagonisms, disaffection, and antipathy were nurtured and openly expressed against media practitioners and media house proprietors.”

The establishment of rival economic institutions led by party officials or senior members of the cabinet. These forays into the economy will see state assets being used to facilitate parallel economic institutions that vie with and eventually overtake traditional economic institutions of the country, including fiber optics and telecommunications, security firms, medical institutions, logistics companies for oil and gas, and legal apparatuses. These analogous institutions are also possible sources of funding for the PPP.
The establishment of a spy agency ostensibly for national security, but one that will likely be used for intelligence gathering on opposition parties, organizations, and individuals opposed to the state, thereby subverting normal police and army functions.

A singular focus on infrastructure and wealth creation aimed at pacifying supporters and sections of the population but at the expense of attending to and building upon the human aspects of Guyanese culture and development. The other question is, how will the state officials, now redolent with fancy cars and gated communities, address the concerns of the rural and urban poor?
Pressure on and the buying out of the private sector.

The introduction of the concept of “One Guyana” appears to be an attempt to forcefully align the entire society with the PPP’s interpretation of this concept. Essentially, it implies that you must support with their viewpoint, or you will be excluded from the idea of “One Guyana.” This approach can be seen as a form of manipulative rhetoric and sophistry of the crassest kind.

The creation of a fictive multiracial party through vote buying and coaptation of individuals and small groupings as against genuine, organic development of a truly multiracial base that brings with it frank interaction about racial and cultural differences as against slavish entry into the PPP with uncritical declarations of loyalty.

The ruling party has alternatives to its current REPEE course, including demonstrating inclusivity and fostering national unity for a democratic dividend. It is quite possible that members of the PPP, especially the old guard, might be uncomfortable with the new architecture of a growing state-party capitalist class toward economic oligarchy. However, the behavior of senior officials exemplifies a consolidation of authority and intolerance within the PPP, potentially trading short-term control for long-term trouble. Particularly striking in this regard is the demeanor of a Vice President who exudes an increasingly acrimonious, irritable, and intolerant disposition, epitomizing the hermit-like consolidation of authority within the PPP and a concurrent image of intolerance toward society at large. This VP rarely attends sittings of the National Assembly unless his vote is necessary.

A pressing question for pundits and critics who once criticized the actions of the PPP in the 2000s but now voice their support for the same regime is whether they will scrutinize the present ruling elites’ class orientations and the emerging authoritarian tendencies. Their visible and unquestioning declarations of loyalty to the ruling regime imply that there may be little willingness to openly discuss the class and race dynamics that is bending the country towards authoritarian rule under the current leadership. Again, the ruling party in power is trading in short term cosmetic “support” of certain sectors, for long term trouble.

A poignant, far-seeing remark made by a former ideological talisman of the PPP, V.I. Lenin, places the situation in perspective: “Decades pass and nothing happens, then weeks pass, and decades happen.” This statement underscores the inevitability of change in all societies facing repression or authoritarian inclinations.