On Saturday, Guyana celebrated the 52nd anniversary of its “Independence” from Britain. But some analysts, including our own Walter Rodney, have pointed out that in the post WWII era, “independence” for the colonies was little more than a “briefcase revolution”, wherein leaders acceptable to the British were taken up to Lancaster House in England and granted a constitution pulled from a drawer, and allowed to adopt “national” insignias: flag, motto, anthem, etc.For most of the leaders in the Caribbean, except Dr Cheddi Jagan, it was best to “go along to get along”. In Guyana, however, the national leaders after 1950 were united in rejecting this path, and proposed that “independence” had to mean something more fundamental – something that demanded “root and branch” change in the trajectory and direction of national life. “Independence” should mean the freedom to determine both the form and content of political, social, economic and cultural life.It was on this question that the national movement – represented by the Peoples Progressive Party – split in 1955, with Forbes Burnham, chairman of the party, deciding to go along with the “briefcase revolution”. Taking his African Guyanese supporters with him in the Peoples National Congress (PNC) he formed, he bequeathed to Guyana the ethnic/racial political mobilisation that has since characterised – and paralysed – our politics.Burnham’s choice was explained by Dr Tyrone Ferguson as one summarised in the title of his book: “To Survive Sensibly or to Court Heroic Death”. With the constellation of global forces existent at the time, this might be seen as a “pragmatic” choice, but what it led to in practice was “independence” becoming a nightmare for Guyana. Given a free hand – internally, because of the militarised state he immediately created, allowing him to rig elections; and externally, because of the PPP communist bogeyman — Burnham’s PNC moved Guyana from a position of parity with most of her fellow ex-British Caribbean neighbours to one where she hovered just above Haiti as the “poorest” country in the Western Hemisphere.His economic policies are illustrative of the logic of the choice he had made to communalise Guyanese politics. Sugar was Guyana’s largest industry, and its largest generator of foreign currency; and employed mostly Indian Guyanese who were supporters of the PPP. After prices spiked to historic highs in 1974, Burnham’s PNC imposed on the commodity a levy that absorbed all the windfall profits, and even ordinary profits in the succeeding years. He proceeded to nationalise the industry, but by starving it of recapitalisation in modern factories or mechanisation, he increased the cost of production, for instance, and made the industry non-viable. It was not surprising that, by 1990, sugar production had collapsed and sugar workers were barely eking out a living. For sugar, “independence” meant destruction and increased ethnic/racial polarisation.The rice industry is Guyana’s largest industry. It was developed entirely through native efforts, and not to fulfil the imperial mandate as a producer of primary products. It provided the staple to satisfy the domestic market, and raked in substantial amounts of foreign exchange – not to mention providing employment for a huge number of Indian Guyanese, who had pioneered the industry. Burnham’s PNC immediately mandated that all paddy be sold to the Government, which would then mill same into rice to be sold on both the domestic and foreign markets by the Government. The paddy was purchased cheaply from the farmers, but rice prices on the world market provided the Government an annual windfall that amounted to a 118% implicit tax on rice farmers. Not surprisingly, by 1990, the rice industry had also collapsed. For rice, independence meant destruction and greater ethnic/racial polarisation.The PNC had also nationalised the bauxite industry, and primarily because of its politically-appointed managers, ran that into the ground by 1990. Because of the strength of the ethnic divide, however, the solidly African-Guyanese workforce remained behind the PNC, and the racial/ethnic divide did not diminish. For bauxite, independence meant just destruction.What has changed in the PNC’s second iteration?