The Constitution of the PPP was adopted in 1977. It was designed to entrench the ideology of Marxism-Leninism and assist in the transformation of the Party to a Leninist party of the new type. The objectives were to officially adopt and promote Marxist-Leninist ideology and organizational methods. The need to create a more disciplined movement was also dictated by the increasingly authoritarian conditions under which the Party was operating. We believed that in the conditions we were then facing where open, democratic, activity was becoming difficult and we might have to function in conditions of illegality, the constitution had to be adapted to enable us to survive with a structure. It was our belief at the time that the party of the new type was ideally suited for these conditions.
Whatever may be said about the constitution which was adopted, the PPP remained intact and largely united in the difficult years. It built the best organized political movement in Guyana, won over Amerindian support after decades of painstaking work, resumed political work in Linden in difficult conditions after the 1960s, made alliances or collaborated with other groups throughout the 1970s and 1980s, maintained dialogue with the trade union movement and civil society and played a major role in sustaining opposition to authoritarian rule in Guyana. Many argue that Burnham needed an intact PPP to ensure continuing American support. Whether that was true or not, PPP supporters died, were tortured, imprisoned, beaten and harassed and the democratic movement was suppressed. No PPP member or leader could take seriously the argument, at that time, that Burnham did not intend to cripple, if not destroy, the PPP.
To carry out its ideological work the Party leadership maintained a Party school, called Accabre College of Political Science, which taught Marxism-Leninism and related subjects. Members were sent to the Soviet Union and other socialist countries on short courses to study the basics of political science and party organization. These comrades formed the core of the Party’s organizational effort and many proved to be dedicated, courageous and talented. They helped to build the Party and defended it during the hard times. They were also promoted with the result that a large majority of the leadership of the Central Committee were trained in Marxism-Leninism. Most of them are now gone.
In twenty years three dramatic events have transformed the PPP. The socialist world collapsed, the PPP attained political office and Cheddi Jagan died. The reality of political power and our economic and political place in a unipolar world, combined with deliberate political choices, loosened the Party from its ideological moorings. It abandoned the promotion Marxism-Leninism. Its Central Committee and Executive Committee are now under the increasing control of members who have no understanding of or interest in socialist or Marxist principles. Espousal of socialism, even of the social democratic variety, has ceased. The Party has become afraid of even the shadow of its ideology, is embarrassed by it and makes no mention of it. The Marxist-Leninist constitution is still in place but no one dares to bell the cat. The current leadership is in a dilemma and does not know how to get out of this conundrum lest they be accused of tampering with the legacy of Cheddi Jagan.
The fact is that the Party Constitution is hopelessly out of date. There is no current ideologically oriented leader commanding intellectual respect in or outside the PPP, though there is a sprinkling that may be sympathetic. The reality today is that within a broadly acceptable economic and development direction, the PPP’s detailed economic policy choices is subject to the influence of the growing and increasingly powerful entrepreneurial and bureaucratic class who benefit enormously from procurement and other government activities. The Party is in the grip of these forces and that grip is tightening. Everyone in the Central Committee and beyond is aware of this and talk about it but dare not say so publicly.
In these circumstances it is vital to fashion a new constitution for the Party which realistically defines policies, removes power from the leadership elite and restores it to the membership in order to mount a resistance to the encroaching control of negative forces hostile to the ideals of the PPP. Such a constitution will abjure ideological pronouncements but outline fundamental economic, social and political principles which define the Party, its place in the political spectrum and its vision of the future based on the empowerment of working people, progressive ideals and promotion of a sound business culture. It will also ensure that these principles can be enforced. These can be fully in line with a Marxist outlook, but without sterile ideological formulations and which realistically accepts our place in the world and its dominant economic and political trends, while promoting progressive ideals and policies.
Such a fundamental revision of the Party constitution which empowers its membership must, as a matter of course, examine and propose changes to its governance structure and methods and this is where the problems will arise. The current system gives tight control of the Party to its leadership and this control it will not want to relinquish. The democratization of the Party is a major project. The lack of democracy is responsible for much of the problems which are being encountered at this time and if the leadership grip is not slackened from the membership, not only will its electoral problems become worse but it will be completely taken over by the forces which are beginning to threaten its existence as a progressive political force with high ideals.
If the leadership is serious about reforming the Party and preparing it for winning the next general elections, it should announce in its Central Committee Report that it will appoint a committee to propose a draft constitution after appropriate consultation with Party members and will convene a special conference to discuss and approve it.