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OPINION: A Fanonian Analysis of the WPA

Frantz Fanon and Walter Rodney are two of the most formidable thinkers on problems of race and racism. Fanon, a psychiatrist from Martinique, and Rodney, a Guyanese historian, were both world class scholars, anti-colonial activists, and champions of the poor and the powerless. Anti-racism was an integral dimension of their respective intellectual and political endeavors. Both men were central figures in the Pan-Africanist movement. Rodney, of course, returned to Guyana in 1974 and contributed to the founding of the Working People’s Alliance (WPA).

Between 1974 and Rodney’s assassination in June 1980, the WPA played a significant role in the fight to remove PNC which by 1968 had set the ground for the deep institutionalization of authoritarian rule. Rodney and the WPA drew heavily of critical political economy and what this author sees as Progressive Black Nationalism (PBN) as their main ideological foundation in attacking the PNC’s undemocratic rule. The key to Progressive Black Nationalism is a historically informed critique of economic, cultural, and political domination with the aim of building an open, democratic, and multiracial society. The WPA during this period was based on critical multiracialism.

Since 1992, the WPA increasingly moved away from the PBN, and of recent, it has gone to the exact opposite, something I call Regressive Ethnic Nationalism (REN). The key ideological component of Regressive Ethnic Nationalism is that instead of white historical supremacy being the foundation of postcolonial social structure, it is the sons and daughters of indentured servants who are blamed for all distortions. This ideology also assumes a monolithic, undifferentiated mass of people, all of them lumped into guilt through the WPA’s racial rhetoric of exclusion.

To understand the WPA’s politics of guilt by ancestry, we need to turn to the work of Fanon. In contradistinction to most theories of conflict, most of which are based on frontal opposition, Fanon theorized that conflict is based on separation. He illustrated this with reference to colonial society by showing how all the institutions of those times were marked by complete compartmentalization, meaning that the colonized and colonizer were made to live in their own zones.

One distinctive aspect of postcolonial Guyana is the significant cultural intersectionality across most institutions of the country. Living space has been fully democratized. Unlike the centuries of colonial society when the world was divided between Europeans in their fenced-off compounds, and all others’ elsewhere, today living space is highly random. The demographic organization that emerged during the “troubles” of the 1960s is quickly disappearing. This is in no small measure due to the deliberate housing policies of successive PPPC administrations.

The current WPA is bending history backwards. Its rhetoric is one of dividing society, or rather how we imagine and represent society, into the saved and the dammed. The WPA’s strategy is neo-colonial in so far as it believes its best bet is to divide the country into racial and ethnic compartments.

One of the most troubling developments today, is the extent to which the PNC has been cornered into adopting the ideological rhetoric of the WPA. This is happening because the PNC does not have an intellectual class as it once did. The PNC is now dependent on a handful of WPA intellectuals from Arizona, Toronto, New York, and London to provide how it sees the world, how it explains the society to itself, and how it goes about its politics of division. In important ways, the PNC has been infected by the WPA’s Regressive Ethnic Nationalism. Better must come.

Dr Persaud is also employed by the Office of the President

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