An important symbol
July 18, 2002
The Working People’s Alliance, though it never achieved much electoral success or political power, has played an important role in our history. In the first place, Walter Rodney, Rupert Roopnaraine, Eusi Kwayana, Andaiye, Clive Thomas, Maurice Odle, Omawale and others stood up in the seventies to the then dictatorship at a time when that involved putting one’s physical safety in real jeopardy. They were a symbol of democratic resistance. But equally important, they represented an explicit commitment to multiracial politics and were severely critical of both main parties which had become dependent primarily on ethnic support with all that that entailed. This gave them an appeal to younger people which far transcended the left-wing ideology to which the party was originally committed - the party described itself in its constitution as marxist-leninist.
The assassination of Walter Rodney in l980 was a massive setback from which the party never really recovered. Rodney was the charismatic figure who had captured the attention of the people as a person who rejected ethnic allegiances and was linked to a vision of reform and development. He was, personally, far from dogmatic and wide open to intellectual discussion.
Since his death the party has continued to make a useful contribution, in and out of parliament, to the national debate and to constitutional reform. Before the 200l elections it entered into an alliance with the Guyana Action Party led by Paul Hardy and that alliance has two seats in the current parliament, both held by women.
With the extended absence of Dr Roopnaraine who has been doing some work overseas the profile of the party is not as high as it once was. But it retains an office, takes a full part in parliamentary debate, and puts out press releases from time to time on issues of the day.
Though it became clear long ago that the electorate was not ready for its message of ethnic brotherhood, the WPA has stuck honourably to that cause. Indeed, one has always seen as one of its core values that transcendence of limited ethnic ties that has so bedeviled our society. For that reason, despite its failure at the polls it kept alive for all Guyanese the flickering flame of a broader nationalist vision.
It has recently been suggested that there has been backsliding and that some senior members have strayed from that narrow path and found refuge in the ethnic trenches. The clearest evidence would be needed to establish this as it would involve nothing less than a betrayal of the vision Rodney had for a politics free of ethnic bias. Indeed, were such a thing to happen it would have to be said that the WPA had lost its moral compass and perhaps its reason for being. The strong statement recently issued by Eusi Kwayana and David Hinds condemning attacks on Indians is convincing evidence that these two senior party members still have their priorities quite clear.
There have, of course, been many changes since the WPA was founded. The free and fair elections for which it had fought so long have been restored. But the problems of ethnicity and ethnic division are as acute as ever. It is in that area that one has always looked to the WPA for leadership and guidance, and still does.