Walter Rodney [1942-1980]
Walter Rodney was born in Guyana on 23 March 1942. He died under questionable circumstances on 13 June 1980 near his birthplace and childhood neighborhood on Bent Street in Georgetown, Guyana.
Dr. Rodney was a teacher, writer and political activist. His first studies were at Queens College. He fulfilled his undergraduate studies at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona campus in Jamaica, where he received his Honors Degree in History in 1963. He had traveled to the Soviet Union and Cuba during this time.
Rodney went on to receive his Ph.D. in History at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London University, on 7 July 1966 at the age of 24. During his time in London, Rodney was involved with a study group which met with C.L.R. James and his wife Selma.
After his graduation from SOAS, Dr. Rodney taught [1966-1968] in Tanzania, at the University College of Dar-es-Salaam.
In February, 1968 he returned to Jamaica where he lectured on African History at (UWI), Mona, Jamaica. At this time Rodney met with Rastafarians, facilitating the talks which resulted in his book “The Groundings with my Brothers,” published in 1969. Rodney taught in the depressed communities of Jamaica.
According to Sanford in “New Jewel:”
“In October 1968 . . . tensions boiled to the surface when the government of Jamaica [the Hugh Shearer Jamaican Labour Party, JLP] declared Walter Rodney, a left-wing Guyanese lecturer on African history at the University of the West Indies campus there, a prohibited immigrant. Shock waves of anger reverberated throughout the West Indies, particularly on the other campuses, and helped to touch off black power riots and a soldier's mutiny that rocked the government of Trinidad.”
Rodney influenced his followers,according to Tafari:
“In his powerful ‘Black Power’ synthesis, Rodney brought together the Rastafarian and Marxist theses in a new ideological trinity of race, class and culture; i.e., a rejection of white imperialism (race); the assumption of power by the black masses (class); and the redefinition of the society in the image of the blacks (culture).”
What Rodney did was attend a black writers conference in Montreal, Canada. All the while he was being followed by government security in Kingston and outside so that when he went to return on 15 October 1968, his entry to Jamaica was denied.
Reaction to Rodney's banning was explosive and started with the students who used a variety of disruptive tactics. These actions spread to the streets off campus with a series of riots in Kingston city. The University was closed for a couple of weeks and debates raged on in Parliament.
In the 1970's, former Grenada Prime Minister Eric Gairy took note of the concept of 'Black Power' - by way of demonstrations led by Walter Rodney. On 10 May 1970, Maurice Bishop led a Black Power demonstration in Grenada. Waves of Rodney's influence spread over the islands. Michael Manley's PNP government replaced Hugh Shearer's JLP in the 1972 elections.
Rodney went back to Tanzania to lecture from 1968-1974 after his his entry to Jamaica was barred. He returned to Guyana in 1974 to take the position Professor of History at the University. After the Burnham government countermanded his appointment, he taught for a semester in the United States at the Africana Studies and Research Center at Cornell University [January-May 1975].
Guyana was Rodney's base of operations from 1974 until his death. He lectured and organized. In 1974, when Rodney joined, the Working People's Alliance (WPC) of Guyana was an emerging force that became an independent Marxist political party in 1979.
A brief example below, reflects Rodney's eloquence. In 1976 at a public street meeting in Guyana, Rodney spoke about race:
“You see, we have had too much of this foolishness of race. I'm not going to attempt to allocate the blame one way or another. I think more than one political party has been responsible for the crisis of race relations in this country. I think our leadership has failed us on that score. I think external intervention was important in bringing the races against each other from the fifties and particularly in the early sixties. But I'm concerned with the present. If we made that mistake once, we cannot afford to be misled on that score today. No ordinary Afro-Guyanese, no ordinary Indo-Guyanese can today afford to be misled by the myth of race. Time and time again it has been our undoing.”
“Does it have anything to do with race that the cost of living far outstrips the increase in wages? Does it have anything to do with race that there are no goods in the shops? Does it have anything to do with race when the original lack of democracy as exemplified in the national elections is reproduced at the level of local government elections? Does it have anything to do with race when the bauxite workers cannot elect their own union leadership? Does it have anything to do with race when, day after day, whether one is Indian or African, without the appropriate party credentials, one either gets no employment, loses one's employment, or is subject to lack of promotion?”
“It is clear that we must get beyond that red herring and recognise that it is intended to divide, that it is not intended in the interest of the common African and Indian people in this country. Those who manipulated in the 1960s, on both sides, were not the sufferers. There were not the losers. The losers were those who participated, who shared blows and who got blows. And they are the losers today.”
“It is time that we understand that those in power are still attempting to maintain us in that mentality - maintain us captive in that mentality where we are afraid to act or we act injudiciously because we believe that our racial interests are at stake. Surely we have to transcend the racial problems? Surely we have to find ways and means of ensuring that there is racial justice in this society? But it certainly will not be done by a handful of so-called Black men monopolising the power, squeezing the life out of all sections of the working class, and turning around and expecting that they will manipulate an issue such as the Arnold Rampersaud affair and get the support of ordinary black people because we will say, ‘After all; is only an Indian. We could hang him. No sweat.’”
“Because, as I said before, you start with one thing, you end with another. The system doesn't stop at racial discrimination. Because it is a system of class oppression, it only camouflages its class nature under a racial cover. And in the end, it will move against anyone irrespective of colour. In the end, they will move even against their own. Because, don't believe if you are a member of that party today, that you will be protected tomorrow from the injustices. Because when a monster grows, it grows out of control. It eats up even those who created the monster. And it's time that our people understood that.”
Walter Rodney visited Grenada 12 June 1979. He gave a talk at the Anglican School about the liberation process in Southern Africa. People were turned away, the event was so crowded. His Grenadian visit continued until 16 June. Again, early in 1980, Rodney was in Grenada.
After two government offices burned, Walter Rodney was arrested in Guyana with seven others on 11 July 1979 and charged with arson.
Rodney was killed in a car explosion on 13 June 1980 when a remote control bomb was detonated in his [Rodney's] lap in a back street of Georgetown, Guyana. According to Rickey Singh in the 'Guyana Chronicle' of 21 March 1999 " . . . the primary suspect in his killing, a soldier of the Guyana Defence Force, continues to live in exile in French Guiana . . ."
Walter Rodney was mourned by people around the world; specifically, his family - his wife Pat; his son Shaka; a daughter Kanini and another daughter Asha, plus his mother. In late June of 1980, the People's Revolutionary Government (PRG) expressed their unhappiness with the Burnham PNC government of Guyana. The PRG accused Burnham of entanglement, even assassination, concerning the turn of events causing the death of Walter Rodney.