About PPP/Civic



In 1991, the People's Progressive Party (PPP) declared that it would fight the general elections later that year as the PPP/Civic and since then much discussion has taken place as to the nature and relevance of the Civic. Although the direction of the discourse has changed slightly since the PPP/Civic won the October 1992 elections, it has, if anything, become more intense. It may appear trite; but it is nevertheless useful to point out that the Civic is the outcrop of a specific combination of social factors which it has also come to affect. This short paper seeks to analyse the development of the Civic in this dynamic context with a view of saying something of its future.

Alliances in Prospective

Coalition and alliances come about when the parties recognize that as currently constituted they are not sufficient to the task they have set themselves. Largely because they tend to disintegrate, there is a general feeling that coalitions are
unstable. Since each party to an alliance usually has its own ideology, programme and membership developed over years of interaction, dissolution should not give rise to much surprise. However, alliances are frequently formed to removed entrenched processes which are usually considered evil by many and as they disintegrate, great expectations are replaced by even greater disillusionment.

Of a truth, not all coalitions are formed to achieve "high" purpose or does their breakdown cause much concern. The Italian political scene provides a good example of this. Indeed, some would argue that in contemporary times, Italian politics has played a major role in destroying our faith in alliances. The recent quarrel and disaffection within the National Alliance for Reconstruction in Trinidad has done little to build our faith in alliance politics in this region and the Trinidadian experience is one of the examples provided who have argued that the PPP/Civic alliance will not survive.

But alliances do not necessarily disintegrate and our own experience in Guyana is indicative of success as even as failure. The People's National Congress (PNC)/United Democratic Party (UDP) coalition of the 1950s endured while the PNC/UF (United Force) alliance of the 1960s broke down. However, an analysis of these two experiences would indicate that a perceived common enemy, which affects the parties as a fundamental level, is an important factor making for the formation and solidification of alliances.

Formation of the Civic

I indicated at the beginning of this paper that to understand the Civic one must grasp something of the factors which led to its formation and the kind of impact it has had on our changing political scene.

Briefly put, by means of various forms of constitutional and geo-political manipulations, the West succeeded in removing the PPP and placing the PNC in government and the PNC succeeded in keeping itself in government until the disintegration of the Soviet system. The major reason for this action on the part of international capital was a belief that Jagan and the PPP were communists bent upon constructing a communist bridgehead on the South American mainland. Within this context, and given the political/racial bifurcation to which it gave rise, the PNC could have done almost anything to keep itself in power once it did not make any serious alignment with the Soviet Union.

But this political context resulted in steady socio/economic decline. In the era of Soviet Marxism, the issue for those who sought to arrest this deterioration and put in its place some kind of democratic mechanism, was how to craft an alternative acceptable to the West knowing that to be successful that alternative would have sufficiently reduce the influence of the PPP to a point where it would not appear a threat to Western interests of the social groups whose induced negative ethnic identification was central to keeping the PNC in office.

Almost from the day it was ejected from government, the PPP and others, recognizing the above problematic, have been advocating various forms of alliances (some including the PNC) in an attempt to return the country to democracy and development. A major stumbling block to any such unity in the era of the Cold War, was the PPP's position that it had a sizeable following and that while it did not wish to dominate any alliance, it would not allow itself to be dominated. Yet its domination, not only in any initial government but moreso, as a historical political force, was precisely the crucial factor in making for a coalition acceptable to international capital: if not necessarily to internal political forces.

In 1985 Forbes Burnham died and the new leadership of the ruling party (PNC) set about making itself more acceptable to the West to eliminate much of the international pressure which had been leveled at the regime in the later Burnham years. The new leadership also continued the process of elections manipulation knowing that Western support, coupled to the induced negative racial perceptions of the PPP, would keep it firmly in government.

Some opposition groups, recognizing that the change in leadership and even in the ideological direction in the PNC, did not usher in change in the election process, formed the Patriotic Coalition for Democracy (PCD) after the 1985 elections. The coalition laboured under the same disadvantages as had the previous attempts at national governments. The Cold War, not yet over, the PPP had to be sufficiently submerged before a credible challenge could have been hoisted against the PNC. The PPP rebuffed all such efforts.

Between 1985 and 1991 when the Civic formula was announced by the PPP, numerous power sharing formulae were proposed, but development was slow. The PPP was the boogieman which continuously had to give ground to groups it thought had marginal support. It reached a point where Dr. Cheddi was prepared to concede the presidency and had the geopolitical status quo persisted, slowly but surely, the PPP would had had to make more concessions if it wanted to remove the PNC from government.

However, in the midst of this process in 1989/90 the Soviet Union collapsed. The
opposition parties which confronted the PPP did not properly grasp the demands of this new reality. Although the American anti-communist mind-set would not change overnight, with sophisticated nudging it could be made to change quickly enough to
view the PPP as non-threatening. Once that could be achieved the entire nature and direction of alliance politics had to change, but the parties to the alliance continued as if little had happened, although one could detect some subtle adjustments.

Their new position was that Cuba was still a threat; the United States was still concerned about the effect a PPP Government could have on American investments; Afro-Guyanese would still not accept a PPP victory; there would be mass violence and the PPP's leadership was still unqualified to govern.

In short, they continued to make the kinds of demand on the PPP in the postcommunist period that they could, with justification, have made before. Since the PPP was unable to convince them that the political context had radically altered, the Civic was constructed to address the points made in the preceding section.

The Nature of the Civic

We have so far been using the words "alliance" and "coalition" interchangeably, but some distinction is possible. In political terms, a coalition may be said to take place when the parties agree to the total merger of their identity: structure, membership, ideological programmatic positions and all. An alliance on the other hand may imply the continuation of separate identities within a combination of convenience. Of course, these are subtle differentiation which only need to be borne in mind as we proceed.

In the late 1980s, President Hoyte invited a group of non-PNC people ("citizens of quality") who supported his regime to help in administering the municipal system. This group was not successful in arresting the deterioration in the municipality, but it may be considered the first publicized use, in Guyana, of a Civic kind of group; although quite a few members of the Hoyte government had for some time before tended to dissociate themselves from the PNC. The Civic is made up of the individuals who were brought together by the PPP from various ideological, ethnic and other backgrounds who the party knew were sympathetic to its bids for power. At present, it is made up of some 30 persons (the number is continuously being added to) of whom the half of dozen in ministerial positions are the best known. There are no application forms or membership cards. People seem to be bale join on the recommendation of standing members of the party or the Civic.

The Civic does not have a separate forum but meets once a month or as is necessary, in combination with the leadership of the PPP. There is normally a formal agenda which can include all aspects of governance: ministerial reports, questions on matters of major importance, motions to investigate any issue of national life, etc. The President and Prime Minister are present at all Civic meetings. The Civic, then, is not a static handful of people, but a growing institution with major access to power. An important question must be; to what extent can the PPP/Civic be considered al alliance; much less a coalition as defined above?

As indicated, in politics when one speaks of an alliance it is usually between established groups. This had not been the case with the Civic and in this sense it does not bring an articulated political programme to bear upon the PPP, this is normally an important aspect of any alliance. This is not to deny that by throwing together individuals from different walks of life and by allowing them to fully participate in processes leading to programmatic outcomes, new dynamic orientations cannot result. What it does say is that the major backdrop of a more or less cohesive competitive grouping which can be a major leverage in the struggle for programme outcomes is absent.

Indeed, the issues and forces which drove the alliance together appear to have been in some respects similar to those which resulted in the creation of the broad-based combination of the early 1950s. In that time also, there was a need for ethnic balance to successfully mobilize the Afro-Guyanese in the urban areas and this was one factor in the recruitment of Burnham. This leadership of nationalists united disparate forces of workers, professionals and business persons.

The Civic idea was to place, within the policy-making forum of the PPP, a group of people who by their ideology, individuality and general collectivity could eliminate some of the shortcomings the party was though to have. The members of this group were to be people who would inter alia, be nationalist, support private enterprise, physically and intellectually provide a vision of a nonracial Guyana and fill such leadership gaps as were though to exist.

We must differentiate between individuals and the process. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this approach to enhancing the party although there were possibly many better persons who could have been chosen but bearing in mind that many such persons were reluctant to be associated with the PPP in the then prevailing circumstances.

In this regard there is a contention that the PPP has gone back on its promise to share power at least with the other opposition parties. Broadening the base of government is one good way of enhancing legitimacy and mobilizing for development. But one would have had to be extremely naiVe not to recognize that once the Civic was created, the PPP could rightly say that it had had institutionalized the process of participation even before the elections. I suspect that most people closely associated with politics did recognize this, but thought that the PPP would not win a clear majority, and that if it wanted to come to government, it would have to make major concessions even if that meant jettisoning the Civic and some of its own longstanding members.

There is also a feeling in some quarters that the PPP should have given prominent positions to people with a long history to struggle against the PNC dictatorship. Sometimes the argument is taken to a point where it is claimed that the Civic contributed little or nothing to the actual vote (particularly to racial aggregation) of the PPP/Civic.

Even if the latter point is conceded one should bear in mind that the results of the 1992 elections indicated that the PCD parties would not have contributed much more. (And here I am aware of the scholasticism of quantity leading to quality and all that.) indeed, in not nearly such a scholastical fashion, it may be questioned whether persons who have been directly rejected by the people at an election should, by other means, be allowed to govern. Again, I am aware of the covering argument that the small parties were not really rejected: the electorate simply made the conscious decision that the PPP offered that safest bet of ridding themselves of the PNC! That argument would have had more force-if the PNC did not gain some 40% of the votes and was strongest precisely in those areas where many of the smaller parties expected to do well.

Whiter the Civic?

Has the Civic fulfilled the condition which brought it into being? The nature of the problems the Civic was intended to solve are not amenable to one-shot solutions. They are issues of perceptions and actuality which must be dealt with historically.
I believe that the Civic did lessen the flake a PPP standing alone would have had to withstand. By introducing persons of differing ideological persuasion in the decisionmaking process, the PPP at least complicated the discourse and made it impossible for it to be simply attacked on its history as a Marxist/Leninist party. At best, since it
had the opportunity, the Civic could have made some serious inputs into policy making.

On the ethnic front, the Civic helped the PPP to demonstrate that it was prepared to make major concessions and was a party of all the races in Guyana. Regardless of what one think of the individuals and of notions of window dressing (remember when Burnham joined the PPP there were also this kind of attack from the UDP and the League of Coloured People and such notions are always bandied about in these circumstances), again the Party showed capacity and willingness to broaden it base and allow another input into the policy process. The doubts about the PPP's capacity to rule were considerably reduced by the presence of the Civic.

The PPP/Civic is now in government and thus the acquirement of adequate personnel of various degrees of ideological, intellectual and even ethnic background, is no longer a major problem. This does not mean that the PPP can simply replenish all levels of its ranks from such people. Politics is about a complicated array of perceptions, loyalties and interest which allow no such simple transference.

In my opinion the Civic did a good job in aiding the PPP in developing an image, programme and approach, and in winning government. Given the kinds of perceptions which feed the political process, there is still the need to demonstrate that the PPP, given our historical context, is not out there alone. In this context the Civic section is important and may continue to grow as its organic interlinking with the PPP develops.


Much of the concern expressed about the Civic has to do with notions of political participation and representation. As I have to argue, while in terms of political horse trading there are disadvantages associated with the manner in which the Civic was constituted, to a considerable degree it has fulfilled its purpose. I have also conceded that in the interest of added legitimacy and development mobilization, broader levels of participation should always be the aim.

More importantly what the Civic discourse forces us to consider is our view of governance. For example; what are the appropriate levels of democratic association in any area of social life? After decades of autocratic rule answers to such questions do not come easily but are vital to social cohesion and progress.


. Good historical discussion of the period may be found in: Simms, Peter (1966) . Trouble in Guyana, Allen & Unwin London; Jagan, Cheddi (1966) The West on Trial,
. Seven Publishers, Berlin; Jeffrey, Henry B. & Colin Baber (1986) Guyana: Politics, Economics and Society, Frances Printer, London.

(This article was first published in the Thunder (official Organ of the PPP) First Quarter, 1994.)