|Guyana Table of Contents
The 1957 elections held under a new constitution demonstrated the extent of the growing ethnic division within the Guianese electorate. The revised constitution provided limited selfgovernment , primarily through the Legislative Council. Of the council's twenty-four delegates, fifteen were elected, six were nominated, and the remaining three were to be ex officio members from the interim administration. The two wings of the PPP launched vigorous campaigns, each attempting to prove that it was the legitimate heir to the original party. Despite denials of such motivation, both factions made a strong appeal to their respective ethnic constituencies.
The 1957 elections were convincingly won by Jagan's PPP faction. Although his group had a secure parliamentary majority, its support was drawn more and more from the Indo-Guyanese community. The faction's main planks were increasingly identified as Indo- Guyanese: more rice land, improved union representation in the sugar industry, and improved business opportunities and more government posts for Indo-Guyanese. The PPP had abrogated its claim to being a multiracial party.
Jagan's veto of British Guiana's participation in the West Indies Federation resulted in the complete loss of Afro-Guyanese support. In the late 1950s, the British Caribbean colonies had been actively negotiating establishment of a West Indies Federation. The PPP had pledged to work for the eventual political union of British Guiana with the Caribbean territories. The Indo-Guyanese, who constituted a majority in Guyana, were apprehensive of becoming part of a federation in which they would be outnumbered by people of African descent. Jagan's veto of the federation caused his party to lose all significant Afro-Guyanese support.
Burnham learned an important lesson from the 1957 elections. He could not win if supported only by the lower-class, urban AfroGuyanese . He needed middle-class allies, especially those AfroGuyanese who backed the moderate United Democratic Party. From 1957 onward, Burnham worked to create a balance between maintaining the backing of the more radical Afro-Guyanese lower classes and gaining the support of the more capitalist middle class. Clearly, Burnham's stated preference for socialism would not bind those two groups together against Jagan, an avowed Marxist. The answer was something more basic--race. Burnham's appeals to race proved highly successful in bridging the schism that divided the Afro-Guyanese along class lines. This strategy convinced the powerful Afro-Guyanese middle class to accept a leader who was more of a radical than they would have preferred to support. At the same time, it neutralized the objections of the black working class to entering an alliance with those representing the more moderate interests of the middle classes. Burnham's move toward the right was accomplished with the merger of his PPP faction and the United Democratic Party into a new organization, the People's National Congress (PNC).
Following the 1957 elections, Jagan rapidly consolidated his hold on the Indo-Guyanese community. Though candid in expressing his admiration for Josef Stalin, Mao Zedong, and, later, Fidel Castro Ruz, Jagan in power asserted that the PPP's MarxistLeninist principles must be adapted to Guyana's own particular circumstances. Jagan advocated nationalization of foreign holdings, especially in the sugar industry. British fears of a communist takeover, however, caused the British governor to hold Jagan's more radical policy initiatives in check.
Source: U.S. Library of Congress