January 24, 1923
Brindley Horatio Benn was born in Kitty, British Guiana, and attended Central High School, where he was successful in the Junior and Senior Cambridge exams. Before entering politics, Benn was a teacher in Georgetown, the capital city, and was motivated to become involved in politics as a result of his interest in social work and youth work, and in finding solutions to the problems the citizenry confronted. He joined the People's Progressive Party (PPP) the nation's first mass-based political party, which came into existence in January 1950, and was editor of Thunder, a publication of the party. By the time the PPP was elected to office in the wake of the March 1953 elections—the first under universal adult suffrage—Benn was an executive committee member of the party.
Consequent upon the suspension of the constitution in October 1953 and the removal of the PPP government from office, Benn was restricted to an area of about one mile in radius in New Amsterdam in the county of Berbice and required to report to the police daily. In 1954 the leadership of the party split, and in 1956 three of the most important African-Guianese members of the party defected. These events were occasioned in part by the about-face of the party's Marxist leader, Dr. Cheddi Jagan, regarding the question of joining the West Indies Federation. After these events, Benn remained with the PPP despite his personal feeling that the party should not have changed its position on federation. Benn held this position although his assessment that the crisis in the leadership of the party was between the "left," comprising the Marxists who favored more rapid changes, and the "right," who advocated a softer pro-Moscow line.
Following the PPP victory in the 1957 general election, Benn served as a member of parliament from 1957 to 1964. As minister of education and community development, he coined the slogan "One People, One Nation, One Destiny," which became the national motto. During his tenure as minister of agriculture, the Guyana School of Agriculture was established. By 1960 he had become disenchanted with the PPP leadership, which he felt was abandoning its class concerns. He also believed that the leadership was more concerned with winning elections as a way of maintaining itself in office than with providing gradual improvement in the education of the masses—which was essential to preparing the colony for political independence—in accordance with espoused socialist principles and with developing viable policies geared to the achievement of the government's goals. By the 1964 elections Benn had risen to the position of deputy premier, and in the second PPP prenomination-day broadcast to the nation, titled "The PPP and Human Rights," Benn not only specified the human rights to which every Guianese was entitled (freedom of organization and association, of movement, to give and receive information, of religion, of assembly and demonstrations, of the right to recognition of trade unions, and of equality before the law) but also the party's record in the field of civil rights while it was in office from 1953 to 1964.
In 1964, also, Benn was detained by the British government as a political prisoner under the Emergency Regulations at the Sibley Hall Detention Center in the county of Essequibo. Then in 1965 he formed the Working People's Vanguard Party and printed a weekly mimeographed account of the political and economic scams that were occurring in the country. He maintained friendly relations with other political parties through the Patriotic Coalition for Democracy.
After the PPP regained power following the 1992 elections, Benn won a seat in parliament, which he subsequently relinquished to become Guyana's high commissioner to Canada from August 1993 to November 1998. In 1994 Benn was awarded the Cacique Crown of Honour, a national honor, for his contribution to the restoration of democracy in Guyana. From 1999 to 2002, he served as chairman of the Public Services Commission and as a member of the Judicial Service Commission and the National Archives Board. In 2003 he became chairman of the Guyana Lotteries Commission and of the Internal Revenue Board of Review.
Although Benn previously favored Guyana's entry in the West Indies Federation, he now feels that despite previous strong support from other West Indian leaders, such as Trinidad and Tobago's Dr. Eric Williams, Barbados's Grantley Adams, and, for a time, Jamaica's Norman Manley, it was "a colonial-style institution" that was "being foisted on the Caribbean by Britain" (Benn, 2004), and, moreover, "an artificial attempt at regional unity, and a hurried arrangement created by the British in an area of emerging Third World Countries" (personal communication with author).
Benn, Brindley. "Legacies of Cheddi Jagan." In Caribbean Labor and Politics: Political Legacies of Cheddi Jagan and Michael Manley, edited by Perry Mars and Alma Young. Detroit, Mich.: Wayne State University Press, 2004.
St. Pierre, Maurice. Anatomy of Resistance: Anti-Colonialism in Guyana, 1823–1966. London and Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1999.
maurice st. pierre (2005)