President Granger has corrected a historical wrong –by naming Clive Thomas as his adviser

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Dr. David Hinds

WHEN President Granger appointed Professor Clive Thomas as his Economic Adviser, many in the academic and policy worlds expressed their appreciation. Professor Thomas earned that appointment by the sheer weight of his accomplishments. He has distinguished himself as an economist, academic, intellectual, political activist and thinker and trade unionist. Earlier this year, he retired as an academic at the University of Guyana after 50 years of outstanding service to that institution and others around the world. As a member of the Government, the people of Guyana have one of their most accomplished sons at their disposal.
Professor Thomas belongs to what I call the radical generation of the Caribbean. This generation includes our own Walter Rodney, Andaiye, Maurice Odle, Bonita Harris, and Rupert Roopnaraine among others. Further afield in the Caribbean there were Lloyd Best, Tim Hector, Phyllis Coard, George Odlum, Maurice Bishop, and Trevor Monroe.
Theirs was the first independence generation; the first sons and daughters of our Guyanese and Caribbean Independence. Many of them, like Clive Thomas, came from the working classes, bringing with them an inherent quest for social justice. It is not surprising that after they were done with their studies, they immediately put their thoughts and energies to the service of the nation.
This would bring them into conflict with both the outgoing colonisers and their allies, and with the indigenous post-independence leaders. Clive Thomas’ generation was asking serious questions about the nature of our new independence; they invariably were challenging the post-independence order that was being fashioned by their political fathers, the Burnhams and Birds and Gairys. It is this conflict between our independence fathers and their children that would characterise what calypsonian, Brother Valentino called the “Roaring 70s”.
Here in Guyana, that engagement would be reflected in the clash between the WPA and the PNC Government of the day, led by Forbes Burnham. I continue to argue that that clash arose out of the very historical development of our Caribbean civilisation. Our younger scholars must study that defining moment in our Caribbean Journey. It was more than Burnham versus Rodney.
Clive Thomas was a leader of the WPA. As the leader of the Ratoon group at the University, he, along with Eusi Kwayana of the African Society for Cultural Relations with Independent Africa (ASCRIA), and Moses Bhagwan of the Indian People’s Revolutionary Associates (IPRA), were the founding leaders. Rodney, Roopnaraine, Andaiye and others would join later. If Kwayana was the sage and Rodney was the ultimate public revolutionary, Thomas was the theoretician.
I remember, as a boy in Buxton, wondering why we the youth were eager to hear Rodney, while the older farmers listened intently to Thomas. I later realised that he was talking sugar economics and labour relations and land issues, which were central to the lives of the farmers. Not that the others did not deal with these issues, but Thomas was the expert. Throughout the contentious politics of the 1970s and 1980s, Thomas remained a scholar of the highest quality. This is a distinction he shares with Rodney and Kwayana. Their political activism did not interfere with their intellectual productivity. It is an attribute that most do not possess.
As was the case with most of his comrades, Thomas has been a Marxist. But his Marxism was never of the dogmatic mould. He, for example, never dismissed western democratic norms such as free and fair elections as non-revolutionary. He got into trouble with fellow Marxists for this, including the Grenadian Revolutionaries. His answer was simple: Working people died for those rights.
When the Grenadian Revolution died and Caribbean Revolution was pushed unto the back foot and most revolutionaries ran for cover, Clive Thomas remained constant. As the WPA of the 1970s and 1980s lost its political vigour in a post-PNC regime, Clive Thomas never lost hope. He continues to function in the now miniaturised WPA.
His last herculean effort was to lead the WPA truce with the PNC, which gave rise to the APNU, which, in turn, mothered the now ruling Coalition. It was no easy task. It could not be easy; these were political adversaries trying to form a joint movement.
I worked closely with Clive and others during this process. Often when the going got tough and some of us in the WPA felt the process was stalling, Clive Thomas was a settling influence. It was his moral leadership and influence that often was the clincher. We respected Clive and his political judgement; he has a superior understanding of the political DNA of our partners that many of us lack. He passionately believed that Guyana could be saved by partnership politics, and that the PPP would be uprooted by a partnership. I am glad we listened.
In naming Clive Thomas as his adviser, President Granger has corrected a historical wrong. While Thomas’s colleagues have always been engaged by their governments, he was the odd man out. Successive governments have failed to utilise his expertise. Except for a small engagement with the early PNC Government, he was persona non grata. The PPP, with which the WPA were allies, never engaged Thomas. Now Granger has corrected that wrong.