A GINA Publication
SPEECH BY THE HON. CLEMENT J. ROHEE
MINISTER OF FOREIGN TRADE & INTERNATIONAL
COOPERATION IN THE NATIONALASSEMBLY ON THE
OCCASION OF THE 50th ANNIVERSARY OF THE ENTRY OF THE
FIRST ELECTED MEMBERS TO THE HOUSE OFASSEMBLY
AND THE ELECTION OF MINISTERS OF GOVERNMENT
IN 1953 BRITISH GUIANA
Monday, May 18, 1953 was a day of great political significance and achievement for the
working class and farmers of our beloved country.
It was on this day that, following the sweeping and unprecedented victory for the PPP at
the first general elections held under Universal Adult Suffrage on the 27th of April 1953 that
their democratically-elected representatives numbering 18 out of 24 elected Members, each
and everyone representing the PPP took their seats in the First Session of the First House of
On that same day Mr. Speaker, the true representatives of the people elected their six
representatives to the Executive Council, heralding the first expression of the popular will of
the Guyanese working people in the highest decision making forum of the Colony.
Mr. Speaker, I believe it will be appropriate if only for the purpose of observing the 50th
Anniversary of this historic event, that I mention the names of these persons as they appear
in the Minutes of the Proceeding: of the Inaugural Meeting of the House of Assembly of the
Colony of British Guiana held in the Chamber of the Legislature of the Public Buildings,
Georgetown, Demerara at 2.00 p.m. on Monday, May 18, 1953;
Mrs Janet Jagan
Mr. F. Bowman
Mr. Jai Narine Singh
Dr. J.P Latchmansingh
Mr. A. Chase
Miss J .I.S. Burnham
Mr. F.O. Van Sertima
Mr. L.F.S. Burnham
Mrs J. Phillips Gay
Mr. C.S. Persaud
Mr. S.M. Latchmansingh
Mr. Ajodha Singh
Dr. R.S. Hanoman Singh Members of the PPP during the early days including
Dr. C.B. Jagan Dr. Cheddi Jagan, Janet Jagan and Forbes Burnham
Mr. M. Khan
Reflecting on the antecedents that co-mingled at that juncture of the country's political
history, Cheddi Jagan in his famous "West on Trial" had this to say; "The 1953 election
campaign roused unprecedented enthusiasm throughout the country. For the first time in
our history the people were really involved; it was their first election under universal adult
suffrage. So great was interest that the percentage (74.8) percent who turned out to vote
was higher than in Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad, where the figures ranged between 53 and
And writing in his booklet 133 Days Towards Freedom in Guiana, Ashton Chase had
this to say: "April 27, 1953 will remain ever green in the memory of many of us. On this
day, several thousands of Guyanese quietly but resolutely struck a fierce blow at the forces
of imperialism. In a clear and decisive manner the people expressed confidence in the
People's Progressive Party.
They elected us because of the militant stand which our Party had taken on matters
affecting the working class. Our Party was strong and its unity unshakeable. We had
brought together for the first time politically the two major racial groups in the country -
the people of Indian and African origin. Above all, we presented a dynamic programme."
Mr. Speaker, based on the recommendations of the Waddington Commission which were
accepted and incorporated into law and enshrined in a new Constitution on March 8, 1952
and April 1953 respectively, not only were elections held for the first time under Universal
Adult Suffrage and a House of Assembly consisting of elected representatives established,
but in addition, the first House of Assembly was called upon to elect six (6) persons from
among the elected Members to be Ministers. These six (6) Ministers were to be Members of
the Executive Council.
Mr. Speaker, allow me to describe the proceedings that culminated in the election of the
PPP Ministers by referring to the Minutes of the Inaugural Meeting of the House of Assem-
bly which read as follows; "The Honourable Member for the Corentyne River (Mr. Khan)
then moved the following motion.
BE IT RESOLVED that, in accordance with the provisions of Section 9(1) of the British
Guiana (Constitution) Order in Council, 1953, this House hereby approves of the election
of the following Members, viz: Dr. C.B. Jagan, Mr. L.ES. Burnham, Mr. A. Chase, Mr.S.King,
Dr. J.P. Latchmansingh and Mr. Jai Narine Singh to be Members of the Executive Council
in and for the Colony as provided for under the provisions of Section 5 of the British Guiana
(Constitution) Order in Council, 1953.
The motion was seconded by the Honourable Memberforthe Berbice River (Mr.Ajodha
Singh) and carried"
Ashton Chase describes this new, historic development in the evolution of Constitu-
tional and governance arrangements in British Guiana as follows: "The Ministerial system
is new to British Guiana. It is the first time it was introduced. In British Guiana like in all
Colonial territories, Ministers are vested with some sort of responsibility. We do not have
full responsibility for our departments or subjects, like the Ministers in the United King-
dom for example. Ours is a subordinate position. We have quasi responsibility. We have the
shadow, not the substance of power. We are creatures of British Constitutional experimen-
Mr. Speaker, we can clearly discern from this statement the high level of political and
ideological awareness and sophistication that was to be found among the political leaders of
Small wonder why Sir Gordon Guggisberg, the biographer of the then British Governor
Sir Alfred Savage, could confirm this when he wrote: "The new Constitution was a typical
colonial one, with an African pedigree, and the Colonial Office seem to have been insensi-
tive to the effect of this on a relatively sophisticated people".
Mr. Speaker, it is clear that the backward and miserable socio-economic conditions ob-
taining at the time in the Colony helped create the objective conditions for the acceptance of
the PPP by the urban working class and the farmers in the countryside.
Under the astute and dynamic leadership of the best representatives of the Guyanese
working people, a nationalist, democratic and progressive platform had been formulated and
articulated. Its main pillars were the demand for Universal Adult Suffrage, Constitutional and
socio-economic reform and self-government leading to national independence.
Under this broad banner everyone, including nationalists, patriots, democrats, revolu-
tionaries and communists all had a role to play in the struggle against colonialism and its
A perusal of the records of that time shows that the over-arching consideration of the
PPP and the new Government was to bring about improvement in the living and working
conditions of the workers and farmers.
Karl Marx in his Seminal work "A Contribution to the Critique ofPoliticaLEconomy
wrote: "Mankind always sets itself only such problems as it can solve; since looking at the
matter more closely, it will always be found that the task itself arises only when the material
conditions for its solutions already exists or at least in the process of formation."
Mr. Speaker, a perusal of the literature reflecting the views of the leaders of the PPP at the
time, testifies to the fact that that era can be characterized as a period of intense political
debate, sharp polemics and political activism of a new kind never witnessed before in the
history of the colony.
Further, it was an era in which there was a constant and relentless struggle between
radical and progressive political thought and action as exemplified in the stand adopted by
the PPP on the one hand and the conservative, backward and reactionary positions adopted
by the privileged colonial elite, the plantocracy and big business interests on the other.
Mr. Speaker, reports reflecting developments at the time suggest that the political land-
scape was inundated with a plethora of so-called "independents" fellow travelers, opportun-
ists, bandwaggoners and flyby-night politicians, all pursuing their narrow self-interests and
political agenda and at the same time vying for the crumbs thrown to them from the Masters'
table. Many were also severely afflicted with red carpet fever.
Mr. Speaker, the era under which the momentous events of May 18, 1953 took place was
one that was marked by the beginning of the national independence movement. A movement
that roused the masses of working people, raised their hopes and aspirations and provided
them with a greater awareness of their rights as individuals and as a people.
Mr. B.H. Benn, the then Secretary of Guiana's Pioneer Youth League, the forerunner of
the Progressive Youth Organization, writing an article entitled: "Why thepeople votedfor the
People Progressive Party" had this to say: "The people heavily backed the PPP, they
attended meetings of the House and listened to the debates. Those who could not gain access
to the Chamber stood outside and cheered the Members as they left or arrived. They called
the Ministers "People's Ministers" and went to Ministerial buildings in their scores to lay
their grievances or to be given the Ministers' advice"
Mr. Speaker, the victory of the PPP at the polls in 1953, its entry into the House of
Assembly and the election of six of its Members to the Executive Council signalled the
beginning of the end of the colonial era and the dawn of the age of enlightenment for the
Guyanese working man and woman as well as the poor farmers in the country side. Apolitical
awakening, nay renaissance had begun.
The PPP though strongly supportive of and committed to the Trade Union struggle for
bread and butter issues and for the advancement of the rights and demands of the working
class, was determined to elevate the struggle on the industrial front to the political level,
since this was the only way the workers and farmers could realize their political aspirations.
Mr. Speaker, it was in this context that national and working class unity were achieved for
the first time in our country's history.
It was an achievement, if not an experiment of such great significance that historians,
politicians, trade unionists, men of letters and students of political science in years to follow,
would seek to draw lessons and inspiration from and take as a point of reference for critical
analysis, in the constant but elusive search to bring about once again, national and working
class unity that obtained in our country in the early 1950's.
Mr. Speaker, as we reflect on such political processes it is apposite to recall the words of
Karl Marx who in his celebrated work; The E, i i..... r i Brumaire ofLouis Bonaparte had this
to say; "Hegel remarks somewhere that all facts and personages of great importance in
world history occur, as it were, twice. He forgot to add, the first time as tragedy, the second
Mr. Speaker, for the purpose of the record, allow me to quickly refer to some of the more
important initiatives taken by the PPP Ministers during their 133 days in office
(i) The Labour Relations Bill
"The Labour Relations Bill was to secure by law and practice the right of Freedom of
Association and the right for workers to organize and bargain collectively with their
employers. It was aimed at minimizing inter-union rivalry and preventing periodical dis-
putes from halting production in industry. It included two important provisions one seek-
ingto prohibit victimization of workers and two, the right of trade union officials to visit the
place at which their members are engaged".
Ashton Chase, Minister ofLabour, Commerce and Industry.
(ii) The Education Bill
"One of the first acts in this sphere was to award twenty four (24) additional scholar-
ships. The Education Minister announced these as People's Scholarships in commendation
of the overwhelming victory that we won on April 27. The announcement by the Minister of
theAbolition of Dual Control brought down the Tower of Babel on us. The hullabaloo which
was created then, should have been created before the day of elections, as our, intentions
were in bold print in our manifesto. So also were our intentions as regards re-modelling
our educational system itself".
L.ES. Burnham, Minister ofEducation.
(iii) Repeal of the Undesirable Publication Ordinance
"The atrocious "Undesirable Publications Ordinance" was the first to be repealed on a
Bill moved by our Minister of Education. Thus our first legislative act, was a direct mandate
from the electorate".
In addition, there were initiatives treating with lifting of the ban on West Indian
leaders, an amendment of the Rice Farmers' Security of Tenure Ordinance of 1945, passage of
a resolution requesting the President of the United States of America to exercise Amnesty in
the case of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg; Local Government Reform, Social Security and
Workers' Compensation and the appointment of working people's representatives to Boards
Mr. Speaker, against tremendous odds the PPP Ministers worked hard to push through
important reforms that would benefit the Guyanese working people.
Capturing the mood that prevailed at the time and the atmosphere in which Ministers
were performing their duties, this is what Chase had to say: "It is even more noteworthy
when one takes into account how busy Ministers were. We never lost the common touch.
Many a night we spent at group meetings or addressing gatherings or locked in the by-
election battle of Georgetown North. We never shirked from hard work as we thought
especially in the absence of a daily orweekly paper, it was our duty to go all overthe country
explaining our point of view and the reasons for our various acts as well as getting the
feelings and opinions of others to guide us in our work.
Few would deny that the People's Ministers worked hard in their brief spell of office. It
was a common feature to find Ministers at work on Saturday afternoons and on Sundays. It
was even more common to find lights burning in the Ministers' office until 11 p.m. and 12
midnight with Ministers delving into files and reports."
Of noteworthy importance was what Chase described as "Unity Unmatched". In this
regard, he states: "Another irksome matter to the officials, but one on which the success of
our Party depended, was the unbreakable unity that existed among the Ministers. We
always presented a united front at meetings of Her Majesty's Executive Council. At all
times we met privately in our Council of Peoples' Ministers (a system and term which they
despised and entreated us to change) and hammered out our differences sinking personal
opinions in the interest of a common and united front."
Mr. Speaker, it would be remiss of me nay, historically inaccurate of me if I did not refer
albeit briefly, to the international context in which the political events of 1953 occurred.
Once again, Mr. Speaker, on examination of the literature available, reveals beyond the
shadow of doubt that many leaders of the PPP were strongly influenced by international
developments obtaining at the time in Asia, America and Europe.
Of great influence was the revolution in Russia, the establishment of the USSR and
eventually the Socialist Community of States, the Revolution in China, the winning of Inde-
pendence by the people of India, the struggle for freedom and Independence in Kenya led by
Jomo Kenyata and the Gold Coast led by Kwame Nkrumah as well as the heroic struggles
waged by the people of Egypt under Nasser, in Iran under Mossadegh; in Algeria under Ben
Bella and in Guatemala under Arbenz.
Mr. Speaker, the movement for national and social liberation in Guyana led by a united
and progressive PPP leadership was not to be found wanting. The course they set for their
country, the colonial limitations notwithstanding, was clearly aimed at ensuring Guyana's
rightful place in the world-wide struggle for the right to self-determination, national inde-
pendence, peace and social progress.
In an article titled: "We planned Reform and Troops Came In" L.F.S. Burnham who had
served as Minister of Education at the time said; "The PPP consisted of several shades of
political opinion with two common bases a desire to improve conditions of the workers and
the achievement of self-government with full democratic rights. Our Manifesto showed a
realization of our limitations at this stage of development and consequently was not even as
revolutionary as the Labour Party's policy."
Mr. Speaker, on October 8, 1953, after 133 days in office, the Royal Welsh Fusiliers landed
in Georgetown. A State of Emergency was declared by the Governor Sir Alfred Savage, the
elected Ministers were dismissed, the House of Assembly was prorogued and the Constitu-
The "Communist plot to cause disorder and overthrow the Government" was the raison
d'etre offered by the British Colonialists to intervene militarily in the colony and remove the
PPP from the Government. The Guyanese working class was struck a devastating blow.
Mr. Speaker, the key player throughout the entire course of events was Cheddi Jagan.
We on this side of the House offer no apologies for calling him the Father of the Nation.
His bold ideas and the courageous actions he demonstrated at that time, continued up to
the time of his passing with the promulgation and propagation of the call for a New Global
Human Order and a Regional Integration Fund in the context of the Free Trade Area of the
At the national level, his consistent and persistent search for racial and working class
unity is to be found in his call for a National Patriotic Front and a National Front Government.
His ability to combine strategy with tactics was manifested in convincing the Party of the
need for a shift from the policy of civil resistance and non-cooperation (with the dictatorial
PNC) to a policy of critical support.
Later his efforts to create a broad-based coalition of anti-dictatorial forces with the
establishment of the Patriotic Coalition for Democracy, demonstrated how deeply committed
he was to working with all social and political forces in the country, for the restoration of
democracy and the right of the Guyanese people to elect a Government of their choice, a right
they had won since 1952.
Mr. Speaker, the legacy of the PPP is one of glorious struggle, unqualified sacrifices for
many, as well as heroic actions by so many others. We on this side of the House are proud to
belong to and be associated with such a Party.
It is important to emphasize that the moral tone and values that we upheld at that time
were our greatest weapons as they are today. Experience has demonstrated time and again,
that the diminution of these moral and humanistic values does not help nor promote human
development nationally nor internationally.
Mr. Speaker, if there is any lesson to be learnt from the 1953 experience, it is to uphold
now more than ever before, the high moral values and a deep commitment to serving the
working people as Dr. Jagan did throughout his life's work.
Members of the 1953 Government which included Ashton Chase, Cheddi Jagan, sydney
King, Dr.Latchmansingh and Forbes Burnham
Parliament in session in 1953
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Copyright C June 2003 GINA