Socialist Worker

Remembering Walter Rodney

As a contribution to the discussion of Walter Rodney's legacy on the 25th anniversary of his death, Socialist Worker is publishing Horace Campbell's appreciation of the activist and writer, who was assassinated for his radical beliefs.

Issue No. 1955

illustration by Tim Sanders

illustration by Tim Sanders


“Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds.”
Marcus Garvey, put to music by Bob Marley

“The emancipation of the working class must be carried out by the working class themselves.”
Karl Marx, message to the First International

Introduction

This month marks 25 years since Walter Rodney, the scholar and revolutionary was assassinated in Guyana on the northern coast of South America. A pseudo-socialist government led by Forbes Burnham became concerned because Walter Rodney had become a leading force in the Working People’s Alliance (WPA). This was a political movement in Guyana dedicated to social transformation and unity of the Indian and African workers.

This year there will be many tributes and meetings to commemorate his life and work. One of the principal objectives is to introduce Rodney’s ideas to a younger generation. Walter Rodney made his contribution to revolutionary thought by establishing new thinking on questions of fighting racism and racial domination, the humanisation of the planet and the self emancipation of working peoples. These three aspects of change were all interconnected with the conception of the creation a new person.

Subsequent to his death while the traditional left retreated it was the organised women of the movement who placed new demands in the struggles against male domination and against violence everywhere. These women organised in various formations inside the Caribbean struggled for the emancipation of women and the humanization of the male.

Walter Rodney devoted his life to the struggles of the oppressed, especially those considered The Wretched of the Earth. He had written a manuscript on the Russian Revolution hoping to draw out the lessons of this revolution for those in Africa, Asia and Latin America who were struggling against colonialism. In this unpublished manuscript, Rodney pointed to the problems of seeking to build socialism in a world of imperial powers armed and organised to defeat the socialist project. Not only did Rodney point to the capitalist encirclement but he also pointed to the internal weaknesses of the Russian experiment and alerted revolutionaries to the ways in which the political machinations in Russia after the death of Lenin deformed the socialist project.

While castigating Stalinism and vanguardism, Rodney was careful to risie above the sectarian squabbles of academic Marxists. He noted, “There are many popes in the Marxist world who ordain and excommunicate this or that person or organisation as true or false Marxists.” As one who was dismissed as simply a black nationalist, Rodney sought to avoid this dogmatism in his work because he was acutely aware of the false dichotomies between Marxists and Pan Africanists. He devoted his life to building links between working peoples everywhere. And for this struggle he was assassinated.

In the introduction to the book, Walter Rodney Speaks, Howard Dobson said of him, “Those who most appreciate his intellectual contributions play up his scholarly record of publications, while those who are more inclined to his political role emphasise his ideological contributions and his activism. Those of a Marxist persuasion place greater emphasis on his commitment to socialist theory and practice, while those of a Pan African orientation principally embrace his strong racial identification along with his position on black power and his advocacy of African Liberation.”

Dobson went on to point out the complexity of Walter Rodney who was “a self defined Marxist, a leading Pan Africanist, a revolutionary and a scholar.”

I want to emphasise the fact that Walter Rodney was all of these but, much more than that, he was a decent human being who respected humans everywhere. He always sought to highlight the positive and, even as an undergraduate, he wrote of the enslaved who in the midst of the most brutal period of bondage, developed means of maintaining their dignity. It is the dignity of the human, the emancipation from bondage and elaborating conception of free humans that distinguished Rodney in his writings. The fact that he grounded with the Rastafarians long before they were accepted by middle class society had shown that he was primarily concerned with humans and not atomised categories of beings. Newtonian physics had influenced a variant of scientific inquiry that placed distinctions between spirit and matter and between rational human beings and emotional beings.

It was Albert Einstein who elevated scientific thought back to the level of the essence of the human spirit and the advances in scientific thought broke down the barriers between materialist thinking and spiritual thinking. In this the one hundredth year of the celebration of relativity and the work of Einstein, Marxists have the opportunity to rethink the categories of dialectical materialism that was predicated on the Newtonian principles of predictability, simplicity and determinism. Walter Rodney was acutely aware of the pitfalls of determinism.

In this year, throughout the world, there will be many meetings, conferences and ceremonies to commemorate the political and intellectual legacies of Walter Rodney. These commemoration events offer another opportunity to reflect on the tasks of freedom and emancipation. These tasks have been sharpened by the political, military, economic and cultural challenges of our time. The celebrations of Walter Rodney are not meant to canonise him but to rekindle his ideas and introduce him to a new generation who are in the struggle for another world.

Who was Walter Rodney?

Rodney was born in Georgetown, Guyana in 1942 in the midst of the second global imperialist war of the twentieth century. He grew up in the midst of the anti colonial ferment of the society when the British colonialists landed troops in Guyana in order to short circuit the decolonisation process. British and American imperialism had feared the influence of the leader of the anti colonial movement, Cheddi Jagan. Jagan was a leader of the Peoples Progressive Party, and a declared socialist. The British troops landed in 1953, establishing a precedent of Anglo American military intervention that has spanned the last fifty years. Rodney attended primary and secondary schools in Guyana before proceeding to study in Jamaica at the University of the West Indies. He then proceeded to London to do a doctorate at the School of African and Oriental Studies. He completed his doctoral work when he was only twenty-four years old.

When he went to study in Britian the dominant theme of nationalist historiography was the study of plantation societies in the Caribbean. Walters’s enquiry for his thesis turned attention from the plantations to the place from where the enslaved had been taken. He did not accept the European version of those countries hence he sought to reconstruct the history of the West African coast before the destruction of the slave trade. Walter Rodney’s thesis was published in 1970 by Clarendon Press, Oxford.

Entitled, the History of the Upper Guinea Coast 1545-1800, this work was path breaking in illuminating the impact of the triangular slave trade on the West African communities from the 16th century. He had earlier published some findings of his research which had elaborated the forms of African Slavery and other Forms of Social Oppression on the Upper Guinea Coast in the context of the Atlantic Slave Trade. Of the numerous journal articles written by Rodney in this period of his career, the question of the Atlantic slave trade and slavery occupied a significant place. Up to that point the history of the transatlantic slave trade had been written in the main by historians, who, in his word, “set out to do it violence… Men like Carlyle, Trollope, Froude — have written West Indian history with the sole aim of peddling their conception of the innate racial inferiority of the negro. Others appear under the guise of apologist for the slavery system and for colonialism”

More than fifty years after Rodney castigated the orientation of colonial historians and ten years after apartheid, it is now clearer that no section of humanity can move beyond the traditions of genocide and barbarism until there is a retreat from the basic ideas that justified slavery and racism. Rodney was aware of this fact and he was in the forefront of those scholars who noted that the transatlantic slave trade constituted a crime against humanity.

Despite the fact that the World Conference against Racism (2001) registered this reality of the crimes against humanity in the United Nations, in the main, the left in Europe and the US have failed to realign their thinking to place the question of reparations at the forefront of revolutionary politics. One of the unfinished tasks of revolutionary politics is to see racism and colonialism as hindrances to human transformation and to retreat from the celebration of so called modernity. Zygmunt Bauman had alerted the European academia to the relations between modernity and the Holocaust but this warning has not trickled down into the educational systems of Europe. Hence, schools routinely teach of the modernising and civilising roles of slavery and colonialism.

The reality that the issues of capitalism and slavery and the slave trade preoccupied Rodney emanated from the fact that the experience of slavery is embedded in the deep racial memory of Africans in the West. Karl Marx had understood even more than his contemporaries that white workers could not be emancipated while black workers were exploited and enslaved. In the midst of the civil war in the US, Karl Marx wrote to his comrades in the US to note that, “Labour cannot emancipate itself in the white skin when in the black it is branded”. This admonition still holds and Rodney was acutely aware that there must be anti racist struggles simultaneously with anti capitalist struggles. He wrote simply that, capitalism stood in the path of further human development.

So it was then, so it is now. The revolution against capitalism and the transition to a new mode of human organisation requires a fundamental assault on the ideas and practices of capitalism, patriarchy, racism and white superiority. These ideas of Newtonian physics, domination over nature, male chauvinism and the superiority of the capitalist mode of production are reproduced in all parts of the globe as the cultural basis of imperialism. In the present period of the so called war on terror there is additionally a conservative brand of Christianity that supports the most conservative ideas of individualism, the oppression of women and homophobia.

The left in the metropolitan centres have been trumped by the conservative forces who continue to mobilise the masses of the white working classes on the basis of chauvinism and Eurocentrism. So widespread is this brand of chauvinism that the conservative forces have been able to dismantle state structures that support social services such as health, education and the delivery of water supplies under the banner of privatisation and liberalisation. In order to promote this brand of conservatism international non governmental organisations are then deployed as veritable Christian soldiers and humanitarian workers.

There is a new branch of international capitalism called the non governmental sector. This is the area of imperial rule that seeks to erase the gains of the self determination project of the peoples of Africa, Asia and Latin America. So pernicious is this industry that even when there are conscientious efforts to support the struggles of the people of the Third World there is the unconscious racial assumptions that deny a voice for the African peoples themselves. The Live Aid initiatives of Bob Geldof reveal this reality. In Latin America and Africa, the local counterparts of the NGO sector serve to promote the ideas of liberalisation.

Walter Rodney in Tanzania

When Walter Rodney was in Tanzania he was among those revolutionaries who believed that the African revolution must be carried forth by the African peoples. Rodney did not believe in the mechanical stages of revolution that believed that the revolution in Africa had to await the struggles of the European working classes. This provided room for healthy debates with members of the orthodox Communist parties who took the writings of Progress Publishers for gospel. These Marxists believed that it was necessary to develop the productive forces and to produce a capitalist society before revolution could take place in Africa. The clearest example of this kind of thinking was in the communist parties of Europe that did not support decolonisation. The example of the negative attitude of the French Communist party to the decolonisation project of Algeria bore out this chauvinism of so called Eurocommunists.

In his autobiographical statements made in the book Walter Rodney Speaks, he shared with the reader the journey that he made from the textbook analysis of Marxism that was in vogue in Britain to the day to day struggles against colonialism and brutal exploitation. Upon completion of his doctoral work, Walter Rodney taught briefly in Tanzania before going on to teach at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica.

At the University of the West Indies Walter Rodney made a radical break with the traditions of the Caribbean intelligentsia and carried his knowledge to the most oppressed of the society, including the Rastafari. This episode of his intellectual work is contained in the book The Groundings with my Brothers. While mainstream sociologists mobilised concepts of outcast, escapist, millenarian, cultists and criminals to describe the Rasta, Rodney recognised the deep yearning for freedom and dignity among this force. The influence of Walter Rodney on the lyrics of Bob Marley can be seen from reading Groundings and listening to the album Survival by Bob Marley. In seeking to respect the culture of the people, Rodney participated in numerous sessions teaching the history of Africa in poor communities. For this, he provoked the wrath of the Jamaican government, which claimed that he was a threat to national security.

While he was in London, Walter Rodney had been one of those students who had been influenced by the research on the Haiti slave revolt which had been documented in the seminal work of CLR James, The Black Jacobins. This work exposed the revolutionary potentialities of the enslaved. Additionally, James had brought to the forefront the limitations of a revolutionary process in France that did not include the manumission of the enslaved. The study of the Black Jacobins had been written at the height of the depression and served to inspire the African leaders who were contemplating the struggles against fascism, war and militarism. It is this tradition that registers the fact that the abolition of slavery and the end of slavery were not gifts to the African people.

Walter Rodney taught in the history department at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania at a time when the questions of African liberation influenced the discourse on the trajectory of liberation and anti-imperialism. Prior to returning to Tanzania in 1969, Walter Rodney visited Cuba for the second time after he was banned from Jamaica. While he was in Cuba, the leadership asked him to recommend a good book on African History. This request brought home to him the need for scholarship on Africa that could support struggles for socialist change. Walter Rodney embarked on writing such a text when he returned to teach in Tanzania in 1969.

At this time, The University of Dar es Salaam was a magnet for all of those in Africa thinking through the issues of liberation and freedom. These ideas were debated at the University of Dar es Salaam. It was in this intellectual milieu when he published his best-known work, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. This book broke with the Eurocentric conceptions of African history and immediately the book became one of the most widely-read and influential books on Africa and the third world in general.

The book exposed the arrested development and backwardness in Africa induced by the slave trade, colonialism and neo colonialism. Through six chapters this book detailed the dialectical relationship between capitalist development, technological innovation and capital accumulation in Europe on one side and on the other depopulation, the extension of genocide, exploitation and plunder in Africa. It is now easier for scholars to document the genocidal acts of the colonialists in Africa. (for example, Adam Hochschild’s, King Leopold’s Ghost.)

In addition to his scholarly pursuits, Rodney was deeply involved in working with those guided by the African liberation process. Revolutionary leaders from South Africa, Zimbabwe, Angola, Namibia and Mozambique lived and organised from the Tanzanian headquarters of the Liberation Committee of the Organisation of African Unity. There were lively debates within the society on socialist transformation and the requirements of political mobilisation and organisation in order to defeat colonialism. Rodney plunged himself into the activities of strengthening the University of Dar es Salaam as a space for new thinking while working in the wider society. He gave classes to the workers at the Urafiki Textile Mill near the University and travelled on weekends to communal villages. Tanzania was then undergoing a revolutionary experiment, and it also served as the

Headquarters for many liberation movements from various parts of Africa. Rodney, who considered study and struggle inseparable, was involved in all of these activities. He was central to the development of an intellectual tradition that became known as the Dar es Salaam School. His numerous writings on the subjects of socialism, imperialism, working class struggles and Pan Africanism and slavery contributed to a body of knowledge that came to be known as the Dar es Salaam School of Thought.

Issa Shivji, Mahmood Mamdani, Claude Ake, Archie Mafeje, Yash Tandon, John Saul, Dan Nabudere, O Nnoli, Clive Thomas and countless others participated in the debates on transformation and liberation in the University. He travelled extensively throughout East Africa and was one of the founders of the History Teachers Workshop of Tanzania. This workshop assigned themselves the task of rewriting the text books for high school students in Tanzania. One of the results of these debates was the effort of the World Bank and western donors to prop up a conservative brand of economic theory in the University.

By the end of the eighties, World Bank thinkers and consultants were blaming Walter Rodney for the radical thinking in the University of Dar Es Salaam. While the bourgeois historians have castigated and denigrated the scholarship of Rodney, younger scholars gravitate to his ideas instinctively when looking for an analytical framework outside of the straightjacket of Euro- American imperial intellectual culture. Of his work in Africa Ngugi Wa Thiongo said, “It is very difficult to think of Walter Rodney outside of the African revolution, in fact outside of the framework of the physical existence of Africa itself.”

While in Tanzania, Rodney had to grapple with the question of the African liberation struggle and the differing path to liberation and revolution. Tanzania was at that time experimenting with the idea of a path to socialist transformation called Ujamaa. T his was a path to transcend capitalism which drew on the positive aspects of social collectivism of the African village community. Rodney worked hard to support and celebrates the positive aspects of the Tanzanian experiment while isolating those aspects of this move that depended on imperial philanthropy and petty bourgeois obfuscations that suggested that there were no classes in Africa before colonialism.

Walter Rodney was walking a tightrope between those Marxists on one side (who castigated the Tanzanian experiment as metaphysical and idealist) and on the other the nationalists (who rejected Marxism as European). In a short article, Tanzanian Ujamaa and Scientific Socialism, Rodney drew attention to the potentialities for revolutionary change in the context of the African revolution as long as the struggle for socialism was led by the working poor. Rodney drew on the correspondence between Karl Marx and Vera Zasulich to point to the importance of peasant struggles in the context of a wider revolutionary struggle on the world stage.

As a self declared Marxist, Walter Rodney sought to develop independence of thought and action. He was an independent Marxist and the actions of the so called socialist states at that time reinforced to him the need for independent thinking away from all forms of orthodoxy. It is important to remind younger readers that the period of the sixties and seventies was one of intense rivalry between the then Soviet Union and China. In Africa, it meant that the orientation of liberation movements was dictated in large measure by their relationship to China, the Soviet Union or members of the Eastern bloc. There were many dictators such as Mengistu of Ethiopia and Idi Amin of Uganda who were supported by the leaders of the Soviet Union. Rodney argued that the bona fides of a regime could not be dictated by its foreign policies and by its relationship with so called socialist countries.

The rivalry between the Chinese Communist leadership under Mao and the states aligned with the Soviet Union had a detrimental impact on the African liberation process. This was best exemplified in Angola where the Soviet Union and China supported different factions of the liberation struggle. (The Soviets supported the MPLA and the Chinese for a short while supported UNITA led by Jonas Savimbi). In the specific case of Jonas Savimbi, the Chinese leadership at one time supported this leader on the basis that he was struggling against Soviet social imperialism. The Angolan liberation process never recovered from this division. US imperialism and South African apartheid intervened to support Savimbi in a war that destroyed millions of humans in Angola and Central Africa.

As a historian, Rodney wrote passionately on the need for African Marxists to start their analysis form the African point of view. He was to return to this theme most clearly in his study of the importance of the Russian revolution for humans everywhere.

Walter Rodney and the Russian Revolution

Rodney’s thinking on revolutionary change was clearly articulated in his in depth analysis of the Russian Revolution. His unpublished manuscript, Two World Views of the Russian Revolution: Reflections from Africa was a thorough analysis of the strength and weaknesses of the Russian revolution of 1917. Written at the height of the cold war, the chapters considered the impact of bourgeois writing and cold war hostilities to revolution.

Walter Rodney was warning the African freedom fighters that they could not depend on the Russian émigrés or the bourgeois writers for their analysis of the Russian revolution. Covering over fifteen chapters the manuscript took on the lessons of revolution in general before taking on proper the question of the Marxism and the October Revolution. Drawing from the historiography of the French Revolution, he pointed to the differences between several interpretations, that is to say, the “Liberal“ Thiers, the ‘Conservative’ Taine, the ‘Social Democrat’ Jaures and Marx himself.

What Rodney wanted to do was to point out that just as there were many differing interpretations of the French Revolution, so there were differences between the Bolshevik analysis, the Trotskyist, the academic Marxists and the bourgeois interpretations of the Russian revolution. In many ways going through these interpretations was a clearing ground for a critical assessment of the problems of building a revolutionary movement and carrying forward the transformation of society. The chapters on the problems of peasant collectivisation and issues of industrialisation brought to the fore the fact that whatever the context, transformation could not be carried forward with dictatorial tendencies.

It was in this section of the book that Rodney developed the critique of vanguardism and the party form that celebrated the virtues of democratic centralism where there was a lot of centralisation but no democracy. In conclusion, Rodney sharpened his point of the need for an African point of view on the Bolshevik revolution by noting that the African point of view on the Bolshevik revolution had to be radically different from the bourgeois or the Marxist view that was distorted by bourgeois lens. In the last paragraph of the book Rodney wrote,

“Ours clearly could not be that of the bourgeois. Is it that of the Soviets? They have their national interests, their great power interests and historiography reflects that – but we are likely to be very close because of the similarity of our present and past with their past in the period under study. Current developments might complicate the issue of taking a stand with the Soviets; but essentially what we need to do is define our own stand first and see where it coincides. Assuming a view springing from some Socialist variant not necessarily Marxist but anti capitalist, assuming a view that is at least radical humanist – then the Soviet Revolution of 1917 and the subsequent construction of socialism emerges as a very positive historical experience from which we ourselves can derive a great deal as we move to confront similar problems.”

Rodney returned to a Guyanese society where at the official level, variants of Marxism and socialism were claimed by both the government and the opposition. The government of Guyana under Forbes Burnham had established itself as a Cooperative Socialist Republic. The official opposition party, the PPP led by Cheddi Jagan articulated a Marxist view of the world and was officially aligned to those parties in the Soviet camp. It was into this ideological situation that Rodney returned in 1974 when he left Tanzania.

At the end of the cold war both parties in Guyana have retreated from this state centred Marxism.

Throughout Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America many former revolutionaries have retreated from thinking of ways to solve the problems of the people. This can be seen in societies where former comrades of Walter Rodney have taken over the reins of state power in countries such as South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe. These experiences of former radicals betraying the cause of change have induced cynicism and pessimism among many on the left. However, a clearer reading of the ideas of Walter Rodney would point to the need for understanding the historical lessons of the politics of retrogression in order to guarantee success for revolutionary breakthroughs in the future.

Walter Rodney in Guyana

Walter Rodney returned to Guyana in 1974. When he returned to Guyana the WPA was already established as a coalition of multiethnic radical groups. He joined it and in about four and a half years of intense work this coalition was organised to the point where it was transformed into a political party. However, the process was one where this formation sought consciously to escape the pitfalls of vanguardism and leaderism.

In this political formation, the effort was to develop a multi racial alliance of Africans, Indians, Amerindians and all those who were interested in social justice. In every part of the world, Africans live in multi ethnic and multi cultural societies. Within all of these societies, there is the challenge of how to fight against racial injustice, support the ideas of Pan Africanism and Marxism while seeking to build a non racial society. This remains one of the core theoretical challenges of the politics of inclusion which is an essential element of the politics of self emancipation.

In this context, Rodney’s work in Guyana pointed to a number of aspects of the ideas of emancipation and its relationship to revolutionary change:

  1. Africans and Indian workers in multi ethnic societies
  2. how to affirm group identity and consciousness while engendering cooperation with other dominated peoples, and especially the Amerindian population
  3. the development of an anti sexist movement dedicated to ending gender oppression.

These issues affect the theory and practice of Marxism not only in Guyana but in all parts of the Americas. In the book Walter Rodney Speaks he reflected on the hostility to Marxism in the USA and the ways in which this hostility affected the black liberation struggles. Throughout his brief life Rodney developed close relations with the revolutionary movement in the USA and he wrote on the lives of Malcolm X and George Jackson. These revolutionaries were chronicled in so far as they were a part of a world revolutionary process.

His relationship with his comrades in the Federal Republic of Germany (with short visits to Hamburg) along with his meetings with members of the Palestinian Liberation Movement were all part of his concern for international solidarity with those fighting for radical change. The politics of inclusion for Rodney meant that revolutionaries had to transcend the hierarchy of humans that has developed since 1492. One of the major challenges of the left in Central and South America is to be able to develop a theory of revolutionary change which includes the indigenous peoples and the peoples of African descent.

The implosion of the Grenadian Revolution of 1983 and the reversals of the Nicaraguan experiments in social change pointed to the major tasks of revolutionary change in the backyard of US imperialism. Walter Rodney supported the Cuban experiment and saw the struggle of the Cuban process as one that bore the brunt of imperial terror. Unlike those who were pessimistic on the future of the Cuban revolution, Walter Rodney saw this revolution as the forerunner of the wider revolutionary process in the Americas. He understood that the Cubans could not build socialism in a context of blockade. Rodney was no sycophant and in his view the best way to support other revolutions was to open up possibilities for revolutionary change in other venues of struggle.

When he returned to Guyana in 1974 the government denied him a job at the university hoping that he would leave the country. The decision of the regime to veto the academic board’s decision of offer him the post as head of the department of history at the university was rejected by all the Guyanese people. It led to the first reappearance since 1953 of multiracial rallies and protests.

While working in the ranks of a political organisation, Rodney spent his time mobilising workers and small farmers wherever they were to be found in the society. He travelled and spoke to workers at every venue, on street corners, at bottom house meetings, on sugar estates, at markets and to students in schools. And still he found time to embark on a three Volume study of the History of the Guyanese Working Peoples. He was active in the discussion on the nature of social change in the Caribbean and Latin America. Before this study was completed Walter Rodney was assassinated in Guyana on June 13, 1980. He had however completed the first volume of his study The History of the Guyanese Working People. He was at the same time working on a series of children’s books to elaborate for children how the different races came to Guyana. He completed two of these, Lashsmi out of India and Kofi Baadu out of Africa.

As a historian Walter Rodney sought to gain a historical and material understanding of the peopling of his society and how industrial struggles affected the place of the different races in the colonial society. This study of the History of the Guyanese Working People became another major contribution to the understanding of the politics and economics of the Caribbean and South America. In the first chapter, Rodney articulated the relations between humans and the environment and it was in this book more than anywhere else where he developed the thesis of the relationships between the humanisation of the environment and revolutionary change. The cycles of floods, droughts and the environmental challenges of the twenty first century points to the fact that revolution must be about fundamental changes not simply the seizure of state power.

The legacies of the ideas of Walter Rodney

The challenges for us at this time are many. Our reflection on Walter Rodney cannot do justice to the richness of his life and the contributions that he made to revolutionary thinking. The biographical data on Rodney has been developed in the book by Rupert Lewis, Walter Rodney’s Intellectual and Political Thought. This author supports the objectives of all those who are using the ideas of Rodney to mobilise for political change today. In the web site established to commemorate Rodney the organisers of the Groundings are seeking,

“To bring together women, men and youth from grassroots organisations and academia in Guyana, Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa and beyond who share Rodney’s core principles to examine today’s social, economic and political environment and to renew our commitment to the struggle for another world. Walter Rodney’s main arenas of struggle and work were Guyana and the rest of the Caribbean, Europe and Africa. The core principles of the groundings are to re-examine and renew commitment to anti-imperialism, sovereignty and unity of the region; the multi-racial unity of the working people; the self-activity of the working people.”

The declared objectives of the celebration of the life of Walter Rodney as spelt out at www.rodney25.org are as follows:

  1. To remember Walter and what he fought for, and to introduce him to new generations.
  2. To promote and extend Rodneyite ideas, the method of enquiry that shaped them, and their application to the tactics and strategy of creating another world.
  3. To draw out the implications for current politics from the direction Rodney took over 25 years ago.

It is in this spirit that we seek to fully engage with each other so that as we reflect on the life of Rodney. There is a consciousness of the major struggles for peace in all parts of the world with the present war in Iraq serving as the pivot for the struggles against militarism. In his monograph, World War II and the Tanzanian Economy, Rodney had written on the organised and spontaneous activities of workers to defend their living standards in the midst of fascism and war.

Progressives and revolutionaries today must draw from the lessons of anti militarism and anti fascism to understand that peace is linked to truth, love, and justice. This means that peace, reparations, justice and reconciliation are incompatible with terrorism, revenge and war. Marx’s conception of the self - emancipation, the emancipation of the working class and revolutionary change are still relevant today. Walter Rodney affirmed this in his pamphlet, “Marxism and the Liberation of Africa.“ He drew attention to the three important lessons of Marxism: the importance of history, the centrality of class struggles and revolutionary change.

Since the assassination of Walter Rodney, feminists in general and radical Third World feminists in particular have added the fact that the emancipation from all forms of gender and sexual oppression are conceptions of revolutionary struggle that must be embraced by all. As the experience of the Tsunami of December 2004 exposed, humans can be humbled before nature. Rising above androcentrism – that is placing all nature below humans (in other words, rising above the enlightenment philosophy of domination over nature) is now a burning necessity.

Of the above elements of the principles of self emancipation, the ideas of feminism and rising above the wrong headed ness of domination over nature have been most clearly articulated by the environmental movement. In the thirty eight years that he was among the living (1942-1980), the latter two ideas of self emancipation were no as developed as they have been in the past twenty years as the radical feminists and environmentalists have joined with physicists to note that humanity must break from the certainty and predictability that is based on the so called scientific management of society. The major debates on the limitations of the scientific method and how these ideas held back human potential is now forcing a discussion of the need for humility before nature and for a break with the ideas of the enlightenment that justified genocide in the name of progress.

This author wants to affirm the statement of George Lamming:

“It is the supreme distinction of Walter Rodney that he had initiated in his personal and professional life a decisive break with the tradition he had been trained to serve… the reader is made to feel that his academic authority is always faced and humanised by a sense of personal involvement with matters at hand. He lived to survive the distortions of his training and the crippling ambivalence of his class.”

Horace Campbell is the chair of the Walter Rodney commemoration committee. For more information go to www.rodney25.org


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Sat 11 Jun 2005, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1955
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