The churches and the Cold War: A case study of Guyana
History This Week
By Lloyd Kandasammy
June 16, 2005
The Churches were significant players in the Cold War, but scholarly research into their role has not so far been extensive. The University of Helsinki has a project on the Churches and the Cold War, which focused on how European churches dealt with the Cold War. The results of the project have not yet been published. There are some references in the literature to the US National Council of Churches and its role in the Cold War period. A book published in 2000 claimed that the World Council of Churches (WCC) was "infiltrated" by Eastern European intelligence agents during the Cold War and that one of its former presidents was a KGB agent. The scholarly literature on this topic is rather sketchy.
The colony of British Guiana, now independent Guyana, was the focus of important Cold War attention on the part of American and British authorities, especially between 1953 and 1966 and some church organisations were very much at the heart of the 'anti-Communist' campaigns there. Briefly, the British and American governments accused the leadership of the People's Progressive Party (PPP) of being communists. In 1953 the British government ejected the elected PPP government from office after 133 days in office. Although it was subsequently re-elected into office, the American Government was determined that it should not lead British Guiana into independence. Accordingly, the British and American governments concerted their efforts to keep the PPP from gaining elected office in 1964.
Before and after 1953 some church organisations in British Guiana were involved in anti-Communist activities and some church organisations stoutly resisted the efforts of the pre-independence PPP Government to do away with denominational schools. This article will seek to trace the role of church organisations in British Guiana to 'keep out communism.' It will look into the activities of a local church organisation, 'Sword of the Spirit,' in the second half of the 1940s and the first half of the 1950s. It will then examine the memoirs of a prominent church leader, Father Andrew Morrison, who, in the mid 1990s published a book, Justice. The Struggle for Democracy in Guyana, 1952-1992. It will also look at the activities of a leading Guyanese publication, The Catholic Standard, which took a leading role in the fight against communism. To begin with, we look briefly at the Church's stance against communism generally.
1. The Church's Stance Against Communism
In British Guiana, the Church, especially the Catholic Church, followed the line of the international Catholic Church against communism. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, a local Catholic grouping, the Sword of the Spirit, as we shall see later, organised behind the scenes to counter the communist threat. With the entry on to the scene of the People's Progressive Party of Dr Cheddi Jagan in 1950, the churches had more reasons to be concerned. "You can't stop Communism" was the slogan of the PPP hardliners. One of the early activists boasted, "You can more easily stop tomorrow than stop Communism." In British Guiana, the Catholic Standard "in the fifties and sixties showed the Church in constant conflict with the PPP Government over its support for Communism." To quote Fr Morrison, "Communism was seen as the worst evil, which had to be opposed by all freedom-loving citizens."
Fr Morrison notes, however, that as shifts took place in the Universal Church's attitudes to social injustice in different parts of the world, this was reflected in British Guiana which, in 1966, became independent Guyana: "In Guyana, this change in the Church's attitude to Communism was accelerated with the arrival, in 1968, of Fr Michael Campbell Johnson S.J., a leading authority in the Church's social apostolate, who had closely followed movements in the Church." Father Campbell-Johnson founded the Guyana Institute for Social Research and Action "which greatly influenced the Church's work on development in Guyana and the rest of the Caribbean." In 1976 the Caribbean Bishops, in a Pastoral Letter, provided the following guidance on the various forms of socialism in the region:
* Where the socialist movement was considered benign, such as seeking a more just society, or greater independence and equality, they considered this fine and in the Church's spirit.
* Where socialism was presented as an ideology giving a complete and self-sufficient picture of human beings, such as Marxism did, they condemned it: "We cannot accept an ideology which denies God or the supernatural destiny of man, promotes violence or absorbs human freedom into the collectivity of the State."
* Whether a Catholic could support a socialist movement would depend on how closely it is linked to atheistic and materialist ideologies and what methods are employed by it. Christians could support parties and movements which called themselves socialist "in so far as these safeguard the values, especially those of liberty, responsibility and openness to the spiritual, which guarantee the integral development of man."
It was not only the Catholic Church that mobilised against the dangers of communism in British Guiana. The Christian Social Council, a grouping that included the Anglican, Catholic, Congregational, Methodist and other churches, mobilised particularly against the PPP government's moves to place denominational schools solely under the authority of the Government. They saw in this the dangers of communism. They also sought to protect private property as a bulwark of freedom. As Fr Morrison wrote:
"In 1960 the PPP Government declared its intention to take over denominational schools that had been built with public funds. If a school was Government-built, it argued, it should be Government controlled. The denominations represented on the Christian Social Council were immediately up in arms, seeing in this a Communist threat to impose total State Control, not only of the schools, but also of the means of communication and all private property. Starting in April (1960) the editorials of the fortnightly Catholic Standard waged an increasingly outspoken campaign against Communism, and strongly supported the retention of dual control of the schools."
Against this general background of the Church's stance against Communism, we shall now proceed to look at the activities of a Movement dedicated to fighting totalitarianism, the Sword of the Spirit.
II. The Sword of the Spirit
The Movement, the Sword of the Spirit, was founded in England in 1940 by His Eminence Cardinal Hinsley to unite all Catholics in a crusade of prayer, study and action for the establishment of an order of peace and justice; to combat any false ideas or principles which undermine human society and Christian civilisation, to spread Christian social principles and to advance truth, liberty and justice. The British Guiana branch of the Sword of the Spirit was established in August, 1943 and announced in the newspaper, The Daily Chronicle, on 5 September 1943. The first meeting of its Executive Council was held in Georgetown on 26 August, 1943, and it continued meeting more or less fortnightly thereafter until the mid 1950s at least. The author has consulted the minutes of the Executive Council, handwritten through the 1940s and early 1950s, and thereafter typewritten until the mid 1950s.
From its very first meeting on 26 August, 1943, the anti-totalitarian nature of the movement was recorded in its minutes: The Rev. Fr Fenn "began the business of the Meeting by explaining that the first thing to know is the purpose of the 'Sword of the Spirit' Movement, which briefly is to combat the totalitarian forces and to spread the knowledge of Christian principles and ...to fight the powers of evil trying to overcome justice and the rights of individuals." The minutes of the Executive Council meeting held on May 10, 1945 records Fr Sellier deploring the low attendance at prayers after mass: "Some Catholics did not even know that the intention of the prayer after mass was for the return of Russia to the Church."
Since its establishment of 26 August, 1943, the Sword of the Spirit in British Guiana organised discussion groups on Christian principles, held public meetings to warn of the dangers of communism and arranged public lectures and the publication of articles intended to counter totalitarian influences. In this section we shall look at some of these activities.
In the discussion groups that it arranged, the Sword of the Spirit paid attention to issues being used by communists and extreme socialists internationally to win popular support among working people. Attention was thus paid to issues such as assuring a 'sustainable living wage'; 'the Church and the worker'; and 'Catholic social principles'. At a meeting of the Executive Council held on 16 April, 1948, it was decided to hold a 'Catholic Workers Rally' on Sunday 2 May, 1948, at which the topics to be discussed were "The Church and the Worker" and "Catholic Social Principles."
The rally was accordingly held and, at a subsequent meeting of the executive committee, the opinion was recorded that "There was no doubt in the minds of members that this would have given excellent publicity to the Catholic answer to Communism." Still, a member of the Catholic Church thought that some of the statements made at the rally were too soft and challenged the speakers on some of the things they had said. A letter published in the Catholic Standard in September, 1948, carried such a challenge and the response of Fr Guilly under the title, "Catholic Action Faces Communism."
In the same vein, the Sword of the Spirit organised a 'Guyana for God Campaign' with a prominent article on this subject in the Catholic Standard. The article addressed Employer-Employee relations as follows:
"We believe that the payment of a wage sufficient for a man and normal family to live in decent comfort is a matter of strict justice if the employer can afford it, and that an employer who could afford it and deliberately refused to pay such a wage would be bound to make restitution to his employees before his sin could be forgiven.
A living wage for all employees is the first charge on any industry or business, that is, before profits are considered."
The minutes of the executive committee for September 9, 1949 carried an entry, "Propaganda," which recorded a suggestion by the Catholic Bishop, Fr Guilly, that a "series of lectures be given on social subjects. It was decided that ... these lectures be held on the third Monday each month starting in October with a lecture on human rights." The Catholic Standard, in September, 1948, carried the text of the lecture delivered by Fr Guilly. The lecture began:
"At the outset, it is important to make it clear that while Communists and others can and do enforce their dictates at the point of the gun or by sending dissidents to concentration camps, the Catholic Church can only invoke moral persuasion based largely on things unseen." It proceeded to spell out Christian values that, by implication, would be endangered by Communistic ideas.
The Catholic Standard's anti-Communist efforts will be discussed in the second instalment of this article.
The first installment of this article, after a brief introduction, dealt with two issues:
I: The churches' stance against Communism and
II: The Sword of the Spirit, a movement which was established in British Guiana in August 1943.
This second and final installment will address four other aspects of the subject and present some conclusions observations.
III: The Catholic Standard's anti-communist efforts.
In the preceding section we saw how the Catholic organization, Sword of the Spirit, sought to mobilize behind the scenes and publicly against totalitarianism and Communism in British Guiana. This was more or less a fair reflection of the attitudes of the wider Catholic Church in British Guiana. The role of the Catholic Standard, the fortnightly magazine and later weekly newspaper of the Catholic Church in British Guiana, was to serve as the voice of opposition to what it considered a pro-Communist PPP. It pursued strategies similar to those of the Sword of the Spirit related earlier: spreading Christian values, giving a Christian perspective on economic and social issues, highlighting the situation in countries that had fallen to the Communists, and coming out openly against policies of the PPP.
We have consulted the Catholic Standard, as available, from March 1946, until December 1965 in the Guyana National Archives in Georgetown. One finds in the Catholic Standard from the second half of the 1940s, through the 1950s and 1960s, articles covering the plight of Christian Churches in Russia, China, Yugoslavia, Cuba and elsewhere. The articles covered, using titles used, the suffering of Christians, questions about Russia, suffering of Catholics in Yugoslavia, life under the police state in Slovenia, Russian workers, communists in French unions, Why communists got so many votes in Italy, the church in Romania, Christians and Marshall Tito, British Reds on the way back, Communism in India, The Berlin Wall: What it means, Lies and terror impose red regime in Cuba, Chinese clergy gave way to torture, Cuban priests offered mass in secret and The cross still shines over Moscow.
The March, 1957 issue of the Standard carried an article about the persecution of the Church in China and elsewhere in the Communist world:
"The persecution of the Church in China is only part of the tremendous attack upon the faith in the world today. Old Christian lands of Europe have been engulfed and Communism seeks as its final goal the domination of the whole world. Mouthful by mouthful it is biting off bits of the free world to covert them into its own substance. It might well be that it will be stopped only when all of us begin to live the Faith after the example of our persecuted Christian Chinese. By sin we put ourselves in the enemy camp. By devoted Christian lives we arm with the Sword of the Spirit to defend our Christian heritage. There is a frightful urgency about our deciding."
The March, 1961, issue of the Standard carried an Open Letter of the African students union in Moscow, reportedly addressed to the United Nations Secretary-General. The letter stressed "the great danger Communism is to true Africanism" and claimed that a "new colonialism is being advanced subtly by communist-caused violence in Africa." The letter concluded: "One thing is clear - we do not want Communism...Are we winning our freedoms to sell it to the strategists in the Kremlin? God forbid!"
The Catholic Standard also paid attention to socio-economic questions, seeking to give alternative visions to those offered by communists. Articles covered issues such as catholic action faces Communism, From Communism towards Catholicism, cooperatives and religion, the church and social questions, social justice and incarnation, rich and poor, capital and labour, a just living wage, religion in school, Christian education principles, the right to vote, Christian education in the family, Our inalienable rights, Human rights and a Christian outlook on society.
The Catholic Standard was unrelenting in its mobilization against the dangers of PPP-inspired Communism in British Guiana. In 1962, in the midst of a prolonged general strike against the PPP Government, now known to have been supported by US agents, the second such strike in successive years, the Catholic Standard took a public stance against the Government. It considered the strike as a protest by the unions against what they considered as an attempt by the Government to destroy the free unions in British Guiana and went on to state the following:
"...The evil consequences of a General Strike are so serious that the action of the Trade Unions can be justified only if this is the sole method left to them to defend their rights.
"It is the considered opinion of this paper that this is a just strike."
IV Church mobilization against the takeover of denominational schools.
One of the great stances of the Christian church in British Guiana, Anglican, Catholic and others, was in the defence of denominational schools. Already in 1953, the short-lived PPP government had indicated its intention to remove schools from the administration of the churches and to place them under government administration. Church organizations already at that time had expressed their opposition to this. The PPP, back in power, returned to this issue at the beginning of the 1960s. This drew a comment even from the Pope John XXIII himself who cautioned that "The Universal Declaration of Human Rights says: Parents have a right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children".
The Anglican, Congregational, Methodist, Roman Catholic, and Presbyterian Churches all rallied against the PPP's efforts to take over the schools, which they considered as a manifestation of communism. The British Governor reported to London that the Churches were speaking with one voice in condemning the PPP as communist. In defence of religious education there was a show of strength among the various Christian denominations at a rally in Georgetown on 15 January, 1961. The various Christian church denominations, appearing together for the first time on a public platform, attacked the PPP government and charged it with being communist. Prayers were offered in the Christian churches throughout the country against a 'godless government'.
The Anglican Archbishop of the West Indies, Dr. Alan John Knight, in a speech to the rally pressed three objectives: "to witness to the right and necessity of religious education; to stress the need for partnership between the Government and the Denominations in educating our children for nationhood; and to protest against the Government's plan to take over 51 denominational schools."
The intensity of the Churches' fight against the government's takeover of the schools is captured by Fr. Morrison:
"In Guyana, the Catholic Standard in the fifties and sixties showed the Church in constant conflict with the PPP government over its support for Communism. Fifty-one denominational schools that had been built by the Churches, though rebuilt when they were in disrepair with public funds, were taken over in 1960, and the government let it be known that it intended to take over all the others. This the Churches fiercely opposed, convinced that the Government's intention was to remove religion from the schools, only to replace it with Marxist indoctrination. Communism was seen as the worst evil, which had to be opposed by all freedom-loving citizens."
Fr. Morrison further elaborated:
"Cheddi Jagan made no secret of his intention to establish in Guyana a communist state in accordance with his Marxist-Leninist ideology. Communism at the time was fully believed by most Christians to be the ultimate evil. It was godless and whenever it came to power, as in the USSR, religion was attacked and every effort was made to erase it from the minds of the people, starting with the schools. The Catholic Standard, edited by Fr. Francis Fenn, had become increasingly outspoken in condemning the party's declared policy of taking over all Church schools. The paper had also taken issue with the communists' attack on private property. In his 1962 New Year message, Jagan had used language calculated to instill fear: 'You cannot make an omelet without breaking eggs', he said. 'The people, however, must not feel afraid, as there was no need to fear. The only people who feel threatened', he said, 'are the privileged few.' Businessmen were warned that the PPP would assume control of 'the commanding heights of the economy.'
The sword of the spirit was fully at work! Foreign missionaries would also join in the act, as we shall see next.
V. Mobilization by foreign missionaries
In the first half of the 1960s when there was a determined push by the American Government, in particular, to oust the PPP of Dr. Cheddi Jagan from power, and to prevent it from leading the country to independence, American church denominations put on special campaigns in British Guiana as part of the movement to rally the Christian church against Communism. In the Canal No. 1 Polder district on the West Bank of the Demerara River, where the author grew up, for example, the American Baptist church came in numbers doing proselytizing work among young people. Sunday school lessons were organised, using the bottoms of houses on stilts, which were also used to conduct church services. Numerous youth activities were organized and talented young people were given six weeks' training in the capital, Georgetown, in order to become Deacons so that they could carry out Missionary work in different parts of the country.
This was all part of a campaign to fight against the atheistic Communists and to promote 'god-fearingness' among the people. Church groups such as the Baptists helped young people who professed Christian beliefs to find jobs as primary school teachers or clerks. After the PPP was engineered out of power with the introduction of proportional representation in 1964, these special campaigns were gradually phased out as the feeling grew that the 'communists' had been eased out of power.
Other church denominations, including from Canada, also carried out similar activities as those of the Baptists related above. The Canadian Churches had a special interest in British Guiana since several schools were Canadian mission schools. The mobilization of the churches in the fight against communism was self-propelled as well as externally generated, as we shall see next in the attempts of M16 to "recruit" Fr. Morrison.
VI MI6's attempted recruitment of local priest in the fight against communism
Fr. Andrew Morrison, S.J., in his memoirs, Justice: The struggle for Guyana's freedom 1952 - 1992, recounts at some length the involvement of the Catholic Church in British Guiana and the wider Caribbean in fighting Communism. As was seen earlier, there were grounds for concern inasmuch as leading activists for the People's Progressive Party indulged in slogans such as "You can't stop communism". Fr. Morrison states that at the height of the struggle against the PPP in the 1960s, the British Intelligence Service, MI6, sought to recruit him in the fight against communism. In 1963, during a prolonged general strike against the PPP Government, supported by the Governments of the UK and the USA in an effort to oust the PPP from power, he was invited by the Jesuit Superior in Britain to fly to London to discuss the communist threat with British officials. In London he was introduced to MI6 officials who "over a period of two weeks conducted sessions explaining the seriousness of the threat to the country and introducing me to his workings of the Intelligence Organization". He goes on to tell how he was asked to assist in setting up a clandestine wireless communications system in the bush. He commented, "I then realized to my amazement that the British were seriously considering the possibility of having to 'take to the bush' should a Castro-like government be set up by Cheddi Jagan after the country becomes independent." He politely declined the request since he considered it incompatible with the role of a priest.
At the end of this essay, the following conclusions may be offered about the role of the Churches in fighting Communism in British Guiana. First, the Catholic Church, in particular, organized itself to spread Christian faith and principles in opposition to Communist doctrines. The Sword of the Spirit Movement was a good example of this.
Second, the Catholic Church in particular, sought to deal with issue on which communists usually appealed to working and poor people, such as a minimum living wage, the rights of workers, and the duties of employers.
Third, the Catholic Church set out to offer Christian values and a Christian vision for British Guiana such as the 'Guyana for God' campaign.
Fourth, the Churches, Catholic and Anglicans, fought hard for denominational schools in which Christian values could be taught - as opposed to communist dogma.
Fifth, the Churches took the side of anti-Communists in the political struggles in British Guiana.
Sixth, foreign missionaries descended on Guyana to rally Christians in the fight against Communism.
Seventh, at least one, unsuccessful, effort was made by a foreign intelligence service to recruit a priest into its service. He declined, but it would be reasonable to think that there were others who accepted.
Eighth, as the thinking of the Catholic Church evolved on social issues, the Catholic church in British Guiana became more attentive to issues of social justice, as was to be seen in the establishment and functioning of the Guyana Institute for Social Research and Action (GISRA).
Research material on the Church's role in fighting communism in British Guiana is not readily available and needs to be pieced together. This essay has sought to commence that process based on documentary materials that are fast disappearing. The hand-written minutes of the Sword of the Spirit movement were found by friends in the attic of the Central Garage in Georgetown and are now in private hands. The back issues of the Catholic Standard are fighting a brave battle with the vagaries of the tropics. A vital part of the history of the Cold War thus risks being lost. This piece has sought to capture at least a part of the story and to give a picture of the nature of the struggle on the ground in remote places like the then colony of British Guiana.