PRAGOTI publishes two excerpts from the writings of Walter Rodney on the 40th anniversary of the Rodney Riots in Jamaica in October 1968.
Walter Rodney (1942-1980) was a Marxist intellectual and working class activist who inspired a materialist relook at the history of Africa and organised workers and marginalised in the Caribbean into militant action against their own neo-colonial governments and against imperialist depradations in their region. He was active in Guyana, where he was born, Jamaica and Tanzania. In Jamaica, his successful work in poor neighbourhoods of Kingston scared the Government into exiling him which led to some of the largest popular upsurges of anger and rebellion in the history of independent Jamaica. Identified as a threat to the stability of class rule and the imperialist control of the Caribbean, Walter Rodney was killed by a car bomb in Guyana in 1980.
By the late 1960s, a period of extensive popular movements and radical struggles for transformation was sweeping the world. Rodney had by then finished his doctorate from the School of Oriental and African Studies of the University of London and had started teaching at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica as well as organising working class and marginalised communities. At the young age of 26, he was already a known public figure in the University as well as a recognised organiser of the poor against oppression. So afraid was the Jamaican Government of his work that they refused him entry into the country after he attended the Conference of Black Writers in Montreal, Canada in October 1968. The Jamaican Government's refusal to grant him entry led to spontaneous protests from the University's students and in many of the poor neighbourhoods of Kingston. These protests, demanding Rodney be allowed to return to Jamaica and teach, became the biggest outpouring of popular anger at their Government's policies since independence from Britain. Reacting to these events, Rodney had said that these were only incidentally about him but more intrinsically were a vote of no confidence in the policies of the Jamaican Government which tied up the country's economy and polity to US and British Imperialism.
Walter Rodney was also an important figure in the writing of a radical history of Africa, slavery and capitalism. He relentlessly exposed the false history of Africa's underdevelopment and demonstrated the culpability of capitalism and colonialism in the underdevelopment of Africa and the third world. He was among the pioneers who showed the explanatory and emancipatory power of historical materialism as a methodology for understanding Africa's history and the history of slavery in the Caribbean. Rodney's legacy today remains as important for Marxists and radicals today as it was when he was alive.