Published Feb 17, 2005 9:58 PM
"We must understand that we are still locked in struggle. And
we are reaffirming our commitment to struggle, and we are
saying we are ready to proceed. We are moving forward, we are
not intimidated, we recognize the pressures, but we are far
from bending under those pressures." -- Walter Rodney, June
6, 1980, Georgetown, Guyana
This June will mark the 25th anniversary of the assassination
of Walter Rodney--an African-Caribbean Marxist revolutionary
activist, theoretician and internationalist.
Born in multiracial Georgetown, British Guiana (now Guyana)
to working-class parents in 1942, Rodney was involved early
on in political activity as a result of his father's
participation in the anti-colonial movement with the People's
Progressive Party (PPP), led by the Indo-Guyanese leader
Cheddi Jagan. Rodney's mother was a domestic worker and a
seamstress. His grandparents were farmers.
As a result of this upbringing Rodney was introduced to class
relations in Guyana and to an intimate understanding of
Britain's (and later the United States') artificially created
divisions between different nationalities, including South
Asians, Africans, Portuguese, Indigenous people and Chinese.
Under the British colonial system, working-class and peasant
students had to win scholarships to attend school beyond a
few initial grades, if they attended school at all.
Rodney attended the University of the West Indies at Mona,
Jamaica, majoring in history. He received his undergraduate
degree in 1963. He then received a scholarship to study
African history at the University of London. He earned his
Ph.D. in 1966 at age 24.
To research his dissertation, "A History of the Upper Guinea
Coast, 1545 to 1800," Rodney learned to read Spanish,
Portuguese and some Italian to decipher the slavery records
of these former colonial powers.
Globalizing the struggle
During his short life, Walter Rodney lived and worked on four
continents and in several areas of the Caribbean.
He became a Marxist in London, learning the science of
dialectical and historical materialism in study groups with
leading West Indian Marxists, often led by C.L.R. James.
The London group's work was grounded in works by Amilcar
Cabral, Aime Cesaire, Frantz Fanon, Marcus Garvey, V.I.
Lenin, Marx and Engels, George Padmore and W.E.B. DuBois.
Rodney also traveled to the USSR and China.
Rodney first taught history at the University of Dar-es-
Salaam, Tanzania, from 1966-1967. He returned to Tanzania in
1969 after a year in Mona, Jamaica, teaching courses in
He applied his Marxist teachings and activities on-and-off
campus in Jamaica. He worked with Rastafarians and the super-
exploited in the shantytowns and elsewhere. This resulted in
the government banning him from the country upon his
attempted return from a Congress of Black Writers in
Montreal, Canada, in October 1968, which sparked massive
demonstrations and a parliamentary crisis for the ruling
Jamaica Labor Party.
Living in Tanzania from 1969-1974, Rodney taught courses on
the African Diaspora and was a key figure in the socialist
movement in Tanzania, where he collaborated with President
In 1972 Rodney's best-known book, "How Europe Underdeveloped
Africa," was published. This work was an earth-shaking
analysis of the economic and social underdevelopment of
Africa by European powers, mainly through the slave trade.
Rodney's work refuted the racist bourgeois argument that
slavery existed on a large scale in Africa before the
Europeans invaded. This fallacy was an attempt to deflect
responsibility for the development of the African slave trade
from the Europeans to Africans.
Expounding on Eric William's "Capitalism and Slavery", Rodney
introduced a Marxist analysis "and the concept of the
penetration of Africa by, and its subordination to, the world
capitalist system of production," wrote Edward A. Alpers
in "Weapon of History in African Liberation."
Rodney left Tanzania in 1974 to assume the chair of the
History Department at the University of Georgetown, Guyana.
[However, he was never allowed to assume his faculty
position.] He formed the Working People's Alliance with the
goal of developing a new independent revolutionary party to
help build a true Guyanese socialist republic.
Throughout the 1970s Rodney traveled periodically to the
U.S., lecturing at many colleges and universities.
He connected the Black liberation movement and other
oppressed people's struggles to the struggle against
imperialism. He also worked closely with progressive and
revolutionary leaders in the Caribbean, such as the
assassinated president of Grenada, Maurice Bishop.
And in his homeland, Guyana, Rodney always worked shoulder-to-
shoulder with the working class, be it in the sugar cane
fields or bauxite mines or other work and cultural spaces.
Rodney was assassinated on June 13, 1980, in Georgetown by a
bomb explosion. Some say the political forces involved in the
bombing were linked to the CIA. There was never an inquest
into Rodney's death and to this day no one has been held
Rodney's funeral cortÃ¨ge was attended by thousands of
mourners from inside Guyana and internationally who felt the
deep loss of one of the most potent Marxist revolutionaries
to have lived.
Marxism--a weapon for the oppressed
Rodney was an internationalist. He understood working-class
and oppressed people's need for their own party for self-
emancipation, one that has flexibility in tactics and
strategy and that is attempting to build socialism.
And as his "Marxism and Liberation" talk at Queens College in
1975 attests, Rodney rejected racist and bourgeois assertions
that Marxism couldn't be applied outside of a European
context, which was one of his greatest contributions.
"They seem not to take into account that already that
methodology and that ideology have been utilized,
internalized, and domesticated in large parts of the world
that are not European.
"That it is already the ideology of 800 million Chinese
people; that it is already the ideology which guided the
Vietnamese people to successful struggle and to the defeat of
imperialism. That it is already the ideology which allows
North Korea to transform itself from a backward, quasi-
feudal, quasi-colonial terrain into an independent industrial
power. That it is already the ideology which has been adopted
on the Latin American continent and that serves as the basis
for development in the Republic of Cuba.
"That it is already the ideology which was used by Cabral,
which was used by Samora Machel, which is in use on the
African continent itself to underline and underscore struggle
and the construction of a new society.
"It cannot therefore be termed a European phenomenon; and the
onus will certainly be on those who argue that this
phenomenon, which was already universalized itself, is
somehow not applicable to some Black people..." ("Yes to
Marxism" pamphlet, February 1986, People's Progressive Party
As Alpers wrote, "...What stands out is that to the very end
of his life Walter Rodney recognized and used history as a
weapon in the revolutionary struggle for liberation."
Sources for this article include: Rupert Charles
Lewis, "Walter Rodney's Intellectual and Political Thought";
Walter Rodney, "Groundings with my Brothers; History of the
Guyanese Working People, 1881-1905," "History of the Upper
Guinea Coast, 1545-1800," "How Europe Underdeveloped Africa,"
and "Walter Rodney Speaks: The Making of an African
Intellectual"; Edward A. Alper and Pierre-Michel
Fontaine, "Walter Rodney, Revolutionary and Scholar: A
Tribute" (includes appendix of Rodney's writings and
lectures); Kwayana, Eusi, "Walter Rodney."