Thomas J. Spinner has written a fairly well documented account of the political history of the formerly British colony of Guyana. His primary focus is on the period between 1945 and 1983. While much of what he presents has been covered in numerous publications elsewhere, the book’s importance is that it serves as a reflection, during this period of increased involvement by the United States in the Caribbean and Central America, on the long-term political, social, and economic havoc that foreign intervention can wreak upon the small states of the Less Developed Countries.
The book is a detailed historical account of the post-World War II politics of the country, no more and no less. As such, the title proves somewhat misleading since there is very little emphasis upon the sociological component of that history. The reader is treated to an account of the emergence of a multiracial, progressive though ideologically eclectic, nationalist movement in Guyana during the late 1940s and the cold war era of the early 1950s. We get the impression that this movement, if it had survived, presented the best hope for the eventual political and economic development of that country. This was not to be. We see how the movement was destroyed by the machinations, political chicanery, and outright intervention of Britain and the United States out of irrational fear of the radicalism of some of its top leadership, particularly, one of its co-leaders, a young dentist named Cheddi Jagan.
The result of the actions of these two superpowers was the splitting of the nationalist movement into competing racial factions and the politicization of Guyanese society along conflicting racial segments. This ushered in a period of civil disorder in the early 1960s, again with Britain and the United States as active and primary instigators.
Spinner proceeds to trace the political and economic consequences of all the above into the 1970s and 1980s. The result was the emergence of a virtual dictatorship, a state of absolute economic and political crisis, and the absolute dependence of the regime (which came to power as a result of the efforts and actions of the United States and Britain) upon the armed forces and upon patronage to maintain itself in office.
The book lacks theoretical focus and makes little attempt at analysis. In some instances, information is presented and assertions made without documentation. Relatedly, there is some tendency to resort to local political gossip in accounts of political events and of the behavior and motivations of the participants. Finally, the narrative tends to be disjointed at times. All these problems may well be inevitable given the nature of the book as an account of the political history of Guyana after World War II. They do not detract from the worth of the book as a case history of the politics of a country where deliberate and blatant intervention has produced severe consequences for economic and political development.