Ferguson comes close to propaganda

Guyana Chronicle
August 3, 1999

(Frederick Kissoon reviews Tyrone Ferguson's `Management of Guyana's Political Economy, 1965-1985'.)

I NEVER met Forbes Burnham; I regret that.

Burnham twice sent to call me and I refused to go.

When I think of those missed opportunities, I say that if it did happen, the first thing I would have said to Burnham was why do you think you are so great that you can con everybody? Well, you can't con me.

Even in his grave, LFSB is up to his tricks, the latest victim being Dr. Tyrone Ferguson.

Ferguson's book on Burnham's rule in Guyana is either a lost opportunity to present Guyana with a piece of scholarly diamond or a brazen endeavour to emulate Burnham himself and fool the nation.

Lacking in the use of theoretical frameworks, varied methodological approaches, and a profound familiarity with the historical dynamics of anti-colonial leadership styles, Ferguson's work is both irritating and boring.

No study of Third World politics, political sociology and political economy can be undertaken without a knowledge of the dominant role of charisma in the struggle for freedom from European hegemony.

There was no such thing as Congress Party rule in India; it was the order of Nehru and his daughter Indira.

There was no PNM domination in Trinidad; it was the rule of Eric Williams.

There was no communist party control in North Korea; it was the rule of Kim-il-Sung.

There was no TANU control in Tanzania; what Nyrere said was gospel. In Cuba, Fidel is Cuba, Cuba is Fidel.

This is the history of post-colonial politics in the Third World.

This is the essential nuance that Ferguson misses so miserably in his book.

There was simply no party rule in Guyana from 1968 to 1985; it was the power, passion and purpose of one man who all others in his party feared and admired to such an awful extent that this man was the party and the party was him.

Ferguson, subtly, and sometimes shamelessly, substitutes the party for the man so most of the time you hear about party policies and the problems facing the party.

The author could have at least come up with a more plausible presentation if he had devoted at least a part of a chapter to the biographical study of Burnham.

There can be no doubt that Ferguson's volume would have been a more scholarly work had he ensured that some attention was paid to the shaping of Burnham's character and the evolutionary forms it subsequently took.

This would have better enabled him to understand PNC policies and the programmes of the Government of Guyana from 1968 until the death of Burnham.

We can highlight one example of this vacuum in Ferguson's research.

The author said that given the political nature of Burnham, it was unlikely that he would have contemplated killing Dr. Walter Rodney.

Here Ferguson is either naive, academically limited or plainly propagandistic. Rodney had to be killed because Burnham's time was up; a new leader had come and this new leader was about to overthrow Burnham and have him imprisoned.

Burnham reacted like most authoritarian leaders throughout history.

The book's crucial fault is that it does not locate its content within a known theoretical framework which would have made for a more comprehensive analysis of that period of contemporary Guyana.

What framework did Ferguson use? Was it Hamza Alavi's Overdeveloped State; Guillermo O'Donnell's Bureaucratic Authoritarianism; Franz Fanon's Freudian Displacement; CLR James' Middle Class Betrayal; George Beckford's Plantation Economy; M.G. Smith's Plural Society Theory, Lenin's Transition to Socialism or Carlyle's Great Man Theory?

To be fair to Ferguson, he did comply with the laws of the use of theory to study social phenomena. He situated the difficulties of the PNC (mind you, not Forbes Burnham) against the backdrop of what the colonials left the independent administration with - nothing.

Having to start from scratch, the PNC (again, not Burnham) was faced in the beginning with a Sisyphean task complicated by race.

A good excuse for the diabolical tendencies of the worst leader the CARICOM region ever saw.

Finally, a footnote on Ferguson's methodology. And again we reiterate, faulty approaches lead to faulty content.

Of the 18 persons the writer interviewed, 16 owed the high level positions they occupied to Burnham, 10 were/are high level members of the PNC, and only two are critics of the politics of Forbes Burnham.

One wonders why Ferguson didn't seek out older, wiser heads like Janet Jagan, Reepu Daman Persaud, Moses Nagamootoo, Andrew Morrison, Joseph Pollydore among others.

But more importantly, he could have talked to the family of Walter Rodney.

Now that account would have been the most interesting section of the entire book.

A © page from:
Guyana: Land of Six Peoples