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Cheddi Jagan and the Politics of Power

British Guiana's Struggle for Independence

By Colin A. Palmer

376 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 3 halftones, 1 maps, 14 tables, appends., notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-1501-1
    Published: February 2014
  • eBook ISBN: 978-0-8078-9961-8
    Published: November 2010

H. Eugene and Lillian Youngs Lehman Series

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Colin Palmer, one of the foremost chroniclers of twentieth-century British and U.S. imperialism in the Caribbean, here tells the story of British Guiana's struggle for independence. At the center of the story is Cheddi Jagan, who was the colony's first premier following the institution of universal adult suffrage in 1953.

Informed by the first use of many British, U.S., and Guyanese archival sources, Palmer's work details Jagan's rise and fall, from his initial electoral victory in the spring of 1953 to the aftermath of the British-orchestrated coup d'état that led to the suspension of the constitution and the removal of Jagan's independence-minded administration. Jagan's political odyssey continued--he was reelected to the premiership in 1957--but in 1964 he fell out of power again under pressure from Guianese, British, and U.S. officials suspicious of Marxist influences on the People's Progressive Party, founded in 1950 by Jagan and his activist wife, Janet Rosenberg. But Jagan's political life was not over--after decades in the opposition, he became Guyana's president in 1992.

Subtly analyzing the actual role of Marxism in Caribbean anticolonial struggles and bringing the larger story of Caribbean colonialism into view, Palmer examines the often malevolent roles played by leaders at home and abroad and shows how violence, police corruption, political chicanery, racial politics, and poor leadership delayed Guyana's independence until 1966, scarring the body politic in the process.

About the Author

Colin A. Palmer is a leading historian of the Caribbean and the African diaspora. His Freedom's Children joins Eric Williams and the Making of the Modern Caribbean and Cheddi Jagan and the Politics of Power in chronicling the history of the Caribbean in the wake of British and U.S. imperialism.
For more information about Colin A. Palmer, visit the Author Page.


"Caribbeanists and scholars of empire will find this a bracing account of colonialism's denouement in British Guiana. Its prose is fluid and enjoyable, its insights many and penetrating." --Journal of American History

“Remarkable, well written, and skillfully organized.”--American Historical Review

“An outstanding piece of scholarship.”--Journal of Cold War Studies

"Without doubt this is the most original and insightful study of that tumultuous period in the history of Guyana, then called British Guiana, presently available. Colin Palmer has a long record of distinguished publications but this exceptionally thoughtful book, frequently punctuated by strikingly insightful observations, might be his best study ever. It is a masterful exercise in archival research, and it is written with excellent clarity, accessibility, and humor."--Franklin W. Knight, The Johns Hopkins University

"This eloquent, well-written, and carefully researched book illustrates the problems with which an ideologically astute Cheddi Jagan had to govern British Guiana (Guyana) in 1953. Colin Palmer's excellent historical skills enable the reader to understand the politics of colonialism and of devolution, as well as to comprehend the attitude of the United States, its role in colonialism, and its controversial stance on the development of the former colonies. This is a very valuable study."--Selwyn H. H. Carrington, Howard University