The Political Affairs Committee 1946-1949 By Mellissa Ifill

Stabroek News
February 8, 2001

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The Political Affairs Committee (PAC), which was formed in 1946 by Cheddi and Janet Jagan, Jocelyn Hubbard and Ashton Chase, represented what many analysts see as the first genuine effort to establish an organisation that would reflect all interests in the nation, with particular emphasis on those of the working class. The name Political Affairs Committee was obtained from the Political Action Committee of the Congress of Industrial Organisations of the United States.

The PAC was not created as a political party, since initially it was a small discussion group. Nonetheless, it was the foundation and forerunner of the original People's Progressive Party (PPP). The creation of the PAC as a discussion group and not as a political party in 1946 was deliberate. It was expected that it would be instrumental as an organisation to "assist the growth and development of the Labour and Progressive Movements of British Guiana, to the end of establishing a strong, disciplined and enlightened party, equipped with the theory of scientific socialism".

Quickly after its formation, the PAC was successful in making a significant impact on the Guianese public, particularly through the distribution of its Bulletin which first appeared on November 1946. As time evolved, the impact of the bulletin was intensified through the increasing popularity of discussion circles, which facilitated the improvement and clarification of opinions, and ideological beliefs that were subsequently introduced to the Guianese citizens. To further stimulate the consciousness of the people and to convince them of the veracity of their arguments, the PAC leaders also hosted a number of public meetings. Through the Bulletin, discussion groups and public meetings, the PAC leaders addressed a number of issues pertaining to both international and domestic affairs, using the ideological lens of communism. The PAC's explanations for the prevailing unjust local conditions in the society were received with enthusiasm and they were successful in convincing a significant segment of the society that the destruction of colonialism and the adoption of socialism would ultimately result in a resolution of many of the societal problems.

The PAC was formed within specific international and domestic conditions that largely coincided with its agenda. With respect to the local conditions, a number of them are critical to note. While many organisations and leaders had long fought for progress in Guyana and had achieved many gains, material and otherwise, some were constrained because they were working on behalf of workers in specific sectors, others because their objectives were to promote the interests of the newly emergent middle class. Other leaders were meanwhile unsuccessful due to their tendency to support the maintenance of the status quo and their inability to recognise the disadvantages and exploitation that workers faced under the capitalist-oriented economy. In other words, although engaged in useful work, these organisations did not address the problems in the society from a national perspective. The domestic political culture was essentially characterised by conflicting sectional interests. Some organisations, including the British Guiana Labour Union (BGLU), the Guiana Industrial Workers Union (GIWU) and the Man Power Citizen's Association (MPCA), were primarily concerned with certain sections of the working class and were therefore unable to communicate, with all. In addition, other organisations, such as the British Guiana East Indian Association (BGEIA), the Portuguese Club and the League of Coloured People (LCP), were based on ethnic groups within the Guyanese society and were therefore also unable to represent or communicate with them all. The PAC therefore sought to address a number of divisive issues, including race, from a national perspective and this attracted a number of individuals, among them young intellectuals who also disagreed with the available narrow sectoral political menu.

In addition to the political strategies practised by local political players, increasing numbers of Guyanese were also dissatisfied with the political structure and were campaigning for change. By 1946, the administration of British Guiana was still managed by Britain under the Crown Colony system. The franchise was still limited, being confined to individuals who either owned property or were in receipt of incomes amounting to no less than $100 per month. Moreover, most of the individuals in leadership positions in both the public and private sectors were either European or expatriates. The latter also headed most social, religious and cultural organisations, not to mention the media outlets.

The leaders of the PAC were able to begin to convince the masses that the real enemy, the force that was responsible for keeping the masses poor and exploited, was colonialism perpetrated by Britain. They sought to explain the manner in which colonialism was responsible for the political and economic exploitation of the masses. They therefore condemned what they deemed instruments of British capitalist control and exploitation - such as the Governor, the colonial legislature and the sugar and bauxite companies.

The PAC's activities were strengthened with the return home of a number of Guyanese who also rejected colonialism. These persons, who had enlisted in foreign armies and had interacted with other individuals from vastly differing cultures, were desirous of seeing the principles of democracy and freedom that they had fought for in Europe, implemented in their societies. Returning students from metropolitan countries also joined in the call for freedom and democracy and the implementation of the principles guiding the Atlantic Charter. Essentially therefore, at the same time the PAC was emerging, the political climate in Guyana on a number of levels was intensifying.

Coupled with these domestic forces that demanded change after the end of the Second World War, a wave of agitation was sweeping the world and colonies in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean were pressing for increasing degrees of or complete self-government. This global decolonisation effort gave impetus to the movement here and indeed, the leaders of the PAC were collaborating and sharing strategies with their counterparts in other parts of the world, in particular with those in the Caribbean.

The PAC Bulletin was one of the more successful mechanisms used by the PAC leaders for communicating its agenda. Even though not many copies of the Bulletin were printed, the issues were generally accessible and inexpensive (the initial issue was distributed free). Newspapers comprised one of the major sources of information for many Guianese. However, the available newspapers were widely seen as promoting the agenda of those who owned and controlled them - the representatives of sugar and other big businesses. Prior to the introduction of the PAC Bulletin, there was no newspaper that examined issues from a non-capitalist ideological perspective. Consequently, the Marxist-Leninist language used in the PAC Bulletin and the application of this ideology to Guiana's socio- economic conditions were unprecedented.

The PAC Bulletin analysed a diverse range of issues plaguing the Guianese and other colonial societies including poverty, class conflicts, capitalist exploitation and colonialism. Discussions were also conducted within the Bulletin on the limitations of available political groups, which catered to narrow sectoral interests, lacked permanence and national appeal; the control of leadership positions by a specific group of businessmen and professionals; the need for a national development programme that would address all the groups within the society, particularly the poor and dispossessed; the need for the implementation of the principles of equity and justice in all aspects of national life; and the need to end apartheid, segregation and discrimination, particularly against Africans in a number of societies such as South Africa.

The language used in these discussions was simple enough in order to effectively communicate with a wide audience since the leaders of the PAC were convinced that in order to achieve their objectives, it was necessary to enhance the consciousness of the masses and their grasp of basic political and economic issues in the colony.

The PAC's activities did not go unchallenged. The planters and those who wanted to ensure the maintenance of the status quo were continually calling for the PAC to be banned. These demands even emanated from the British House of Commons. A nominated legislator, Vincent Roth, condemned the PAC in 1949, contending that it might well symbolize "Push All Communism".

Despite these criticisms, the PAC was successful in achieving one of its main aims. The leaders were able to foster a particular climate within the society and stimulate debate. Therefore when they launched a political party, which promoted national unity, radical economic restructuring and socialism, it was well-received. By 1950, both the masses and the leaders of the PAC had been prepared for the forthcoming PPP. The PAC leaders had gained valuable political and organisational experience and most became members of the PPP leadership, while, on the other hand, the consciousness of the masses had increased significantly and they appeared prepared to support a nationalistic socialist development programme.