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Saturday, May 27, 2006

Dr Rupert Roopnaraine has been criticised for appearing on a political platform with the PNCR. The argument is that the PNC was responsible for the murder of his close political colleague Dr Walter Rodney and that to appear with them amounts to a betrayal of his memory. Is the criticism valid?

The Working People's Alliance (WPA) was according to a brief party history prepared by Dr David Hinds founded in 1974 as a pressure group comprised of four organisations, the African Society for Cultural Relations with Independent Africa (ASCRIA), the Indian People's Revolutionary Associates (IRPA), RATOON and the Working People's Vanguard Party (WPVP). The WPVP left the alliance in 1975. ASCRIA was an Africanist or Black Power organisation led by Eusi Kwayana, a former leading member of both the PPP and PNC, IPEA, the Indian equivalent of ASCRIA, was led by Moses Bhagwan, a former leader of the PPP's youth section and a leading party member. RATOON was a leftist radical organisation based at the University of Guyana and led by economist Clive Thomas; and WPVP another leftist group, was led by former PPP chairman Brindley Benn. Historian Walter Rodney joined the WPA in 1974 upon his return to Guyana.

The WPA was launched as a political party in 1979 and declared itself an independent Marxist party. However, the history says, since 1984, when it rewrote its programme to reflect a more broad-based and inclusive party, it has referred to itself as Rodneyist, a reference to the philosophy of its slain leader, Walter Rodney. "Although it has espoused socialism, the party never developed close ties with the socialist bloc countries, opting instead to be a member of the Socialist International.

"The WPA is Pan-Caribbean in outlook. Its allies in the region have been those socialist groups that evolved out of the Black Power Movement such as the New Jewel Movement (NJM) of Grenada, and the Antiguan Caribbean Liberation Movement (ACLM) of Antigua. According to the party's original manifesto, its aim is to bring about an alliance of the working people, farmers and progressive professionals and to strive for genuine Caribbean unity.

"The most distinguished feature of the WPA, and perhaps the main reason for its influence in Guyana, has been its commitment to multi-racial politics."

During the authoritarian period, Dr Hinds noted, the WPA treated "the PNC as the single biggest obstruction to Guyana's progress. Consequently, it did not seek compromises with the government and expended a lot of energy to bring about opposition unity. The party's attitude to the PNC regime was largely confrontational, leading to a virtual war between the two entities. In the process, the WPA's most influential leader, Walter Rodney, and two other party members, Ohene Koama and Edward Dublin, were assassinated. Other members and supporters were imprisoned, victimised and harassed by the government."

The WPA led the struggle against the PNC for the restoration of democracy and bore the brunt of that party's repressive measures at a time when the PPP had offered 'critical support' for the nationalisation of the sugar and bauxite industries. However, it never enjoyed any measure of electoral success. This was usually attributed to the fact that the electorate were not ready for a multi-ethnic appeal which was too sophisticated and fell flat but at least one shrewd analyst has put forward the very plausible suggestion that it was the WPA's left-wing politics and policies that confused and alienated the electorate, given the fact that both the major parties already had left-wing agendas which had clearly not succeeded. If that analysis is accurate it would suggest, for example, that the multi-ethnic appeal of the Alliance For Change may gain a better reception.

The WPA was never the same after Rodney's death in 1980.

In 1992 the PNCR lost power and the PPP took office. The WPA remained in opposition in parliament. A core value of the party continued to be its multi-ethnic approach. Some of its leading members including Mr Kwayana were also members of the African Cultural Development Association (ACDA). This was not seen to be incompatible with the WPA's position and was indeed entirely in keeping with earlier affiliations by Mr Kwayana and other members. However, some of the positions taken by ACDA in the last few years appear to be in clear conflict with the WPA's original commitment to "the genuine multiracial power of the working people."

In the last year, the WPA entered into discussions with other opposition parties to explore 'third party' options. Its own alliance with the Guyana Action Party (GAP) has been severed. More recently it has been part of a joint parliamentary opposition group which has taken a common position on certain electoral issues. At a public meeting held by some of the parties comprising that group, which is of course dominated in terms of political support by the PNCR, Dr Roopnaraine led the call for street protests against what is perceived to be government's intransigent position on opposition electoral demands. Some people see this as evidence that he has linked up with or is about to link up with the PNCR and believe that this is unacceptable, given his party's history.

One imagines that Dr Roopnaraine has thought long and hard about what he is doing. He may have concluded that the PNCR is now a different, more democratic party to the one he had fought against so courageously and which was responsible for the death of his close colleague. He may also be unable to accept the fact that the government is not willing at this stage to discuss shared governance, which the PNCR now supports (it did not up to the year in which Mr Hoyte died, when he changed his position) and which the WPA feels is the only solution to Guyana's problems. In the circumstances, he may see working with the PNCR for certain shared objectives as the only viable option.

There is no evidence so far that he is contemplating an alliance with the PNCR as part of a big tent electoral coalition. This is not impossible though it had been said a while ago that his clear position was that the WPA should not contest these elections for various reasons, not least of which is that they threaten to be a replay of the usual ethnic voting patterns which promote division.

Political positions are never set in stone, historically here and elsewhere many politicians have changed their parties and even their ideologies where they believe these have failed or become irrelevant. The WPA played an historic role but its future has for some time been a matter for conjecture. Dr Roopnaraine is obviously doing what he thinks best in all the circumstances, presumably with the full backing of his party.

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