Walter Rodney: 41 Years Later

Walter Rodney. Credit: Walter Rodney Papers, Atlanta University Center Robert W. Woodruff Library Archives.

A Statement from The Black Radical

Walter Rodney’s legacy endures 41 years after his assassination primarily because as a Marxist his life and work exemplified the dictum of ruthless criticism of all things existing. In famous works such as How Europe Underdeveloped Africa & Groundings with my Brothers, Walter took the colonialist and imperialist ruling classes of the United States & Western Europe to task for their oppression and exploitation of African and non-European working masses.

Rodney did not stop with the colonialists and the imperialists, however, and had a keen eye to the ways in which the leaders of newly independent African and Caribbean governments reproduced patterns of oppression and exploitation while leaning on the legacies and infrastructures of the old European masters in a developing process of neo-colonialism. Rodney’s ruthless criticism led him into conflict with Tanzania’s Julius Nyere while Rodney lectured at the University of Tanzania and when Rodney worked at the University of the West Indies, the Jamaican Labor Party government led by Hugh Shearer profiled and surveilled Rodney and eventually banned him from re-entering the country in 1976.

In 1980, Rodney would pay the ultimate price, his life, for challenging the supposedly “cooperative socialist” government of the People’s National Congress led at the time by Forbes Burnham in his native Guyana. Since his assassination both of Guyana’s dominat parties, the People’s National Congresss and the People’s Progressive Party have worked to erase Rodney’s legacy. For example, in 1988, the PNC published findings from a probe into Rodney’s killing which alleged that his cause of death was “misadventure” and which also listed his professions s “unemployed.” The PNC government also falsely prosecuted Walter’s brother, Donald Rodney, for crimes related to his assassination leading Donald to flee to Trinidad in exile.

For their part, the People’s Progressive Party did very little to reverse the perverse findings and rulings of the PNC government when they assumed power in 1992. In fact, it wasn’t until their power was threatened in 2014, that the PPP, under president Donald gave way to advocacy from Rodney’s family and supporters and launched a Commission of Inquiry (COI) into his death. Despite launching the COI into Rodney’s deaths be taking extraordinary measures such as the proroguing of parliament, Romator was unable continue the PPP’s reign in office and after 22 years the PNC led A National Partnership for Unity- Alliance for Change (APNU-AFC) government defeated the PPP at the polls during the May 2015 election.

Thus it was under the APNU-AFC government that the Rodney Commission of Inquiry was held and longtime PNC member and Attorney General Basil Williams argued that the PNC’s 1988 findings were factual and that Rodney was alleged to be part of a plot to violently overthrow the Burnham government in 1980. Veteran activists from Rodney’s Working People’s Alliance, such as Eusi Kwyana, testified to rebut the government’s allegations. However, Basil Williams continued to allege Rodney was hell bent on a violent overthrow and even cited a memorial essay by CLR James, Walter Rodney & the Question of Power, to make his case. 

In the end, when the COI concluded, it was found that  “Dr.  Walter  Rodney  was  a  man  of  large  and  significant  stature  both  in Guyana  and  beyond  at  the  time  of  his  death.  He  could  only  have  been  killed  in what  we  find  to  be  a State  organised  assassination  with  the  knowledge  of  Prime Minister  Burnham  in  the  Guyana  of  that  period.” In response, the APNU-AFC government both disputed and ignored the findings of the COI. The APNU-AFC event went so far as to summarily remove Walter Rodney’s name from Guyana’s National Archives in an attempt to tarnish his reputation. Rodney’s family and the Rodney Foundation started a petition to push the David Granger led APNU-AFC government to follow through with the recommendations. Unfortunately the APNU-AFC never followed through and conceded electoral defeat to the PPP in August of 2020.

It is in this context and background that Guyana’s current government, led by the People’s Progressive Party, through current Attorney General Anil Nandlall announced on June 10th, 2021 that Rodney’s death certificate would be amended and there would be attempts to integrate Rodney into the nation’s curriculum. This is of course a welcome development and all credit should go to Walter’s wife Patricia Rodney, his brother Donald and activists who have been fighting for justice since 1980.

This gesture by the government is a fitting tribute on the 41st anniversary of Rodney’s assassination. However, in the spirit of Rodney’s ruthless critical pedagogy we must also take it with a grain of salt given the political machinations at play with the PPP and we must keep up the pressure to ensure these are not just empty words meant for good PR around Rodney’s death anniversary but that concrete actions are taken in a definitive timeline to bring justice for Walter Rodney.

We join with all progressives forces and the Rodney family celebrating this victory across the world especially in Guyana, the wider Caribbean, Africa and the wider diaspora.