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Cheddi Jagan’s involvement in politics, it should be recalled, did not commence in a serious, profound way in the country of his birth. Whatever influence his parents, especially his father (Jagan) would have had in the political sensibility would have been one where ‘mati’ solidarity was contrasted with the principle to “work hard” and make the life different to “s-tate”.
It was whilst he lived and worked as a student in the United States at Howard and thereafter the Northwestern University Dental School, that the Guyanese radical embarked on his political activities.
JAGAN & DIALECTICS
When Dr. Ishmael asserts, “It was Cheddi Jagan who started the fight for the political Independence of the colonial territories in the Caribbean”, he is in fact reminding us that the colonial project was a gigantic hemispheric experience. That the “colonial powers” reproduced imperialist systems that were carved out of monopoly capital, its financial cartelization, industrial revolutions as well as massive plunder and bloodshed.
That system was designed to keep the ‘natives’ in bondage. And Cheddi Jagan chose consciously to link his ideas with those of the most advanced thinkers and intellectuals who he could become associated with.
Throughout his political life even the phase after 1992 he would refer to dialectics. A term that he used to define and analyze phenomena and complex change processes.
At another level his studies of Darwinian concepts of biology coupled with the historical perspectives of the American historian Charles Beard, would have created a vast reservoir of scientific as well as quasi-scientific and petit bourgeois philosophy and functionalism.
Cheddi Jagan, it should be noted, did not study in British institutions. This fact may have had at least a certain influence in the way the British ruling class regarded Jagan’s Marxism.
The British government and the Colonial Office (Churchill/McMillan - Duncan Sandys and Peter Thorneycroft etal) may have had the authority of the Westminster system; a trait that clearly was the force majeure for most people. But not Cheddi Jagan.
He always understood that these political leaders represented the interests of imperialist conglomerates such as Unilever, British Steel, ICI, Tate & Lyle and British Petroleum (BP). He understood the role that the Bookers transnational played in support of the colonial elite - all of whom were bitterly opposed to any notion of political rights and power for the working class.
JAGAN AND AMERICAN LIBERALISM, CONSERVATISM AND DIXIECRAT ATTUTUDES
Dr. Odeen Ishmael as this country’s UN Ambassador would have been at the very centre of the efforts to restore and stabilize the functions of his heart and other vital human organs; two - three weeks after February 14, 1997. Other tributes and accounts of this final period of Cheddi Jagan’s life have referred to how the hospital staff - doctors and nurses at the Walter Reed Army Medical Centre endeared themselves to Cheddi Jagan.
Dr. Ishmael describes aspects of that final phase in the Guyanese leader’s fight.
“As his physical strength waned (the attending physicians) could not help admiring the fighting qualities of our legendary leader - qualities that his political friends and foes alike can attest to.”
Again to learn how profound this experience would have been for these physicians many of whom would have accumulated professional attributes in similar traditional disciplines separated by the generations as those that sustained Cheddi Jagan at Howard and Northwestern University, we must probe how Cheddi Jagan viewed the “objective circumstances” that determined life in the United States.
In many ways the kind of life contributions of intellectuals and social activists such as Claude Mckay (Jamaican born poet, writer and civil rights personality), Paul Robeson, whose greatness demonstrated how it was possible to overcome official ostracism and persecution, as well as Langston Hughes and WEB Dubois, would have shaped the way Cheddi Jagan interpreted the realities that he himself experienced whilst living and working in different ethnic communities in America.
Whilst at Howard University, the leading black educational institution of that period, Cheddi Jagan never failed to become involved in what were actually ‘campus debates’. There were also off-campus activities that enriched his understanding of American society.
He had the opportunity to come under the influence of professor Sinha, an Indian exile (Nadira Jagan, 1998:33). From all accounts including that provided in The West On Trial, Dr. Sinha enabled the young Jagan to master the art of building and elaborating a political programme. It is not known whether Sinha was Marxist.
However it is very clear that in the final analysis Cheddi Jagan came to understand what it meant to make that historical option and chose the Marxist option - the scientifically socialist view of World civilizations.
At the theoretical level Cheddi Jagan studied the methods of recording factual data as practised by Prof. Herbert Aptheker, perhaps the most erudite of all America professors of Negro history. In fact when I read Cheddi Jagan’s “Straight Talk” as well as his “Forbidden Freedom” and “Bitter Sugar”, there is that ‘scholasticism’ and influence that Aptheker represented in his regular articles; many of which were published in journals such as Opportunity and the Journal of Negro History in the 1938 - 42 period prior to America’s entry into WW11.
Perhaps after the collapse of the 1950s West Indian Federation Cheddi Jagan realized that the very same perspective he had set out to his amigo Orrin Dummett in September 1942 had to be revisited if his people were to gain liberation.
This anti-colonial element of Cheddi Jagan and his understanding of the historical value of solidarity in the struggle against that oppressive social system is brought out by Dr. Ishmael when he writes:
“His epic struggle against the might of the British Empire is legendary and he was glorified by anti-colonialists and freedom fighters all over the world.”
This is certainly true. However as Cheddi Jagan himself has recorded it, the initial confrontation between the young (Hegelian) Jagan took place inside the United States during the Depression years of the 1930’s. This was the period of Roosevelt/Wallace years that led to the New Deal as a political and eco-social instrument for reform in American capitalism.
It was here that he experienced racial discrimination; learnt what it was like to be victimized by institutionalized racist legislation and had to evolve a “survival strategy adequate to meet the demands of the pre-Mc Carthyite period in the US.
POSSIBILITIES FOR GANDHISM
Nadira Jagan-Brancier in her researches of her fathe5r’s life work has observed his private expressions of solidarity in a correspondence written to his friend Orrin Dummett. It is dated September 4, 1942.
“At present I am brushing up on a book of pulmonary tuberculosis. I agree with you that the South and its prejudices will have to go. Now is the time for the Negro population to demand equality, and to see that the Atlantic Charter materializes and bear fruit at home. Now is the time for all suppressed and minority groups to demand not only theoretical but also practical equality, so that the common foe will be resisted by all on an equal footing. It is only in this light can the civil disobedience campaign of Gandhi be viewed. How can a country or people be asked to fight for something they do not possess? To ask the Indians or for that matter anyone else, to fight for the four freedoms, when those principles of the Atlantic Charter are denied them is morally invalid. Britain is fighting to liberate Poles, Czechs, Greeks and what not, but the liberation or countries under its own clothes are out of the question. Yes my friend, war is more murderous and bloody but at the same time, it initiates changes - changes that are necessary for us. History is in the making whether anyone likes it or not.
There has been an awakening - the status quo that was, is gone. Yes, now is the time for us to organize, to lobby, and to make propaganda and demands for new changes can be most rapid and to our benefit. To be poor is a crime, but to be ambitious is a sin. You have to do things which you otherwise do not care to do. Finance, social and economic status have influenced me so much that were I to write an autobiography, I would perhaps call it ‘The Struggle of Complaisances’.”
Nadira Jagan-Brancier, 1998:34
Was the young Cheddi Jagan so much impressed by the autobiography of Jawaharlal Nehru “Towards Freedom” that he had already chosen an anti-British model that could be reference point for his own subjugated countrymen?