Greetings to the 11 Annual Symposium of The Walter Rodney Foundation
The 11th Symposium of the Walter Rodney Foundation meets at a dramatic moment in his life or afterlife. On behalf of a consenting partner, Tchaiko and our absent offspring, Alaf and Iyabo and Andaiye, our Sister in struggle and in humanity and in constancy, in a way the Conscience of politics in Guyana I greet the Symposium and wish it organic cultivation and a rich, plentiful harvest of life-giving ideas.
The eleventh meets at a time when at the eleventh hour there are preparations for a Commission of Inquiry into the violent dispatch on June 13, 1980 of a potential 21st century change-making resource, committed ti the rise and empowerment of all the oppressed. The brothers who met in New York on September 1 2013 and those sisters and brothers who were present in spirit will not forgive me if I failed to proclaim their our purpose in the Commission’s process to this assembly: It is to uphold and defend the political record of Walter Rodney over the short, permitted six years of his activity in Guyana.
People’s power! No dictator!
On this the 10th Anniversary of the Walter Rodney Symposium, I am extremely happy to send these greetings on behalf of Walter’s siblings – his brothers Lawrence, Albert (Eddy), Hubert, Keith, and Donald, and sister Kathleen (Babs); his nieces and nephews, great nieces and nephews; and numerous cousins.
On occasions like these, I like to remember those who have gone before us, as they made our success possible. As we celebrate Walter, I want to acknowledge two of the most important persons in his life- his parents. His father, Edward Percival (1901-1979), and his mother, Pauline Agatha, born 1913. This is her centenary year. Happy birthday, brother, Dad, Mom.
Now for those who are still among us, and for you who are present. I do not want to delve into Walter’s accomplishments or my memories of him. I would like to share with you the contents of an article that a friend sent to me a few months ago. The article was captioned “Belgium to Probe Murder of African Hero Lumumba”. The article was posted on Thursday December 12, 2012. The world learned of Patrice Lumumba’s murder on January 17, 1961. A period of 50 years. My immediate response was WOW, At Last!!. The news was gratifying. It gave me hope. At the same time, it made me acutely aware of the fact that we still have a lot of work to do.
I am sure that all of you would agree that we would like to read an article one day with a caption that reads “Government To Probe Assassination Of Guyanese Hero Walter Rodney”. Brothers and sisters, we have to work for this. The task so far has not been easy. His son Shaka could attest to this. In 1993 he mounted a one-man mission in Guyana in pursuit of this goal. To date, to the best of my knowledge, that goal has not been achieved. But, it is not a ‘task impossible’. It would have to be as untiring as the one undertaken on behalf of Patrice Lumumba. It is a task that must be undertaken on behalf of Walter’s children and his grandchildren. It is a task that must be undertaken on behalf of his brother Donald, whose life was forever disrupted because of this tragedy. It is a task that must be undertaken on behalf of the hundreds of young Guyanese men – particularly those of African descent – who became victims of the drug culture as it developed in Guyana in the opening years of the 21st century. It is a task that must be undertaken by those of us who earlier this month re-dedicated ourselves to ending Violence Against Women everywhere; and equality and justice for all. It is a task that must be undertaken if we want to hold true to keeping Walter’s legacy alive. Most of all it is a task that must be undertaken because we all cared so much for Walter.
▪Kathy Scott, Sister
Mine is a tribute to Walter, the husband, the father, the friend, the comrade and compassionate freedom fighter for the downtrodden and underprivileged.
Walter was a friend, a mentor and a hero and I will always regret that fate and dastardly deeds robbed the Caribbean and the world of this great revolutionary and visionary.
I first met Walter in the 60s in London, fresh from his stint at the Mona Campus of the University of the West Indies, and we became members of the CLR James Study Group, a band of young, passionate, and committed persons. The group comprised Walter, a Guyanese; Selma James, a working class Jewish American and CLR’s wife; Stanley French, a St. Lucian playwright and engineer; Norman Girvan, a Jamaican economist, who also graduated from the Mona Campus; and there were the two Jamaican committed lawyers, Richard Small and Adolf Edwards; and, of course, there was yours truly, a writer of sorts.
We respected and adored Walter, but we were also a little in awe of this fierce, bearded young man who dared to challenge CLR in debates on Marxism and the interpretation of the history of Africa and the Americas. These two titans also clashed over the role of Europe in the underdevelopment of Africa, a thesis that Walter later produced as a major work.
I described Walter as fierce, but that was only in debate, for in temperament he was the most gentle and gentile of men , a quality which he has passed on to his son Shaka, whose success as a businessman owes much to his gentle manner of dealing with the most difficult client.
I was there when Walter married the love his life, Pat, and heard him whisper in my ears, looking across at Pat, “isn’t she the most beautiful woman in the world”.
After our stay in Britain, I met him again in Jamaica where he was grounding with his brothers, and caused tongues to wag as he dared to personally sweep his veranda and clean his house, and set about working with several dispossessed people.
Years later in the 70s, after his sojourn in Africa and his jobless return to his homeland, I recall him performing the roles of mother and father while Pat was away pursuing studies in Jamaica. I vividly remember him plaiting his daughters Kanini and Asha’s hair, cooking pepper pot for days on end, managing his family and organizing the Working People’s Alliance (WPA), the political party of which he was a leading member.
When he traveled to Barbados to give a lecture at the Cave Hill campus of the University of the West Indies, accompanied sometimes by one of his children, we would sit on the popular Worthing Beach in Christ Church, and, while our children played in the sand, he would share with me his dreams for and thoughts of his beloved Guyana. His vision was a racially united Guyana, across political and ethnic lines, where all had the chance to fulfill their promise, without fear of intimidation or violence.
And, it was on one such occasion that he asked me to promise him that if anything untoward ever happened to him to bring Pat and the children to Barbados. It was as if he had a premonition that something was amiss. Unfortunately, it was a promise I kept for a ghastly act was perpetrated against him,
Of all the things that Walter was and could have been to Guyana, the Caribbean and the wider world the greatest tragedy is that he did not live to see the wonderful men and women that his children have grown into, and to love his three grand-children or see the powerful intellectual and matriarch that his beloved Pat has become, as she has worked tirelessly to keep the flame he lit alive.
Walter was a burning firmament and his passing left a political and intellectual vacuum in the Caribbean and the world which has not yet been filled, and probably never will be. But, I live in hope, cognizant of the legacy from the CLR James Study Group…. ‘never give up hope’ while working tirelessly with the promise of that legacy wherever it exists.
His memory will live on forever in the minds and hearts of all of us who were associated with him in one way or another; as well as those whose lives he would have touched and influenced.
My late husband Ramadhan Meghji and I knew Walter Rodney when we were students at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. Ramadhan Meghji was a student of economics while I majored in history the subject that Walter Rodney taught. However, we were both active in Hill politics. The name Hill was a reference to the University. We were both students there from 1968 to 1971.
I can say that I knew Walter Rodney first as my lecturer but also later as a family friend together with his wife Pat and their children. At the university, Walter taught history and I was one of his students. Walter exposed us to a lot of ideas, ideas that lingered on and influenced my whole outlook to society and political life. I did history in High school; African history. With Walters lectures I realized that we were greatly misled by our former teachers in high school showing that Africans were underdeveloped because they were lazy, not initiative and they were poor because they were poor-Africa the Dark Continent style. When I came to the University, Walter woke us up. We discussed and analyzed the draft of his book” How Europe underdeveloped Africa”. We discussed how rich Africa was in all aspects political, economic and social and how it was plundered by imperialism through his influence I became strong in my analysis and outlook whether it is to do with financial, social, economic, political or other matters.
Walter Rodney was not only a lecturer but he was a highly committed scholar, a very good and articulate speaker. It didn’t take long for Walter Rodney to be a very popular lecturer inside and outside the campus. Walter Rodney while at the university of Dar es Salaam started an informal Sunday discussion group by the name of Sunday ideological class. These Sunday classes brought together lecturers, students and activists every Sunday morning to discuss various burning issues of contemporary development. These seminars and lectures helped to deepen a more understanding on issues pertaining to class struggle, African and world politics, Marxian theory and many other issues.
At the university Walter and his wife Pat were easy to get along; it is not surprising therefore that even after we graduated Walter and his family became our family friends. Walter visited us on several occasions and gave lectures to our students at the cooperative college in Moshi Kilimanjaro where my husband and I were working now a university. He always stayed in our house. Walter was a down to earth person. I remember my first assignment when I graduated was to teach at Jangwani secondary school in Dar es Salaam. The school is still there and it is a girl secondary school. I was teaching history the subject that Walter taught me at the University of Dar es Salaam and Walter several times agreed to give lectures to my students and added great value to their understanding of African history.
On our part as students at him University we were always invited to their home which was on the campus. And after good dinner we would sit down and talk until very late at night. I remember how free and hospitable we felt with Pat ,Shaka, Kanini and Asha and their maid Mashaka, if I am not mistaken. One thing I noted on the way they treated Mashaka the helper was like part of the family very different from the way other people did. Walter Rodney will always be remembered by all of us, left a legacy that can never be forgotten. May his ideas continue to live on.
▪Honorable Zakia Hamdani Meghji
My diary says that first met Walter Rodney on July 10, 1969 at the University of Dar es Salaam.
He had just given a lecture on The Cuban Revolution and its Relevance to Africa to a packed audience of students and staff. It was sponsored by the University Students African Revolutionary Front (USARF) – a socialist, Pan-Africanist student organization of which I was a member. A few comrades had stayed behind to meet with him.
We had had discussions about Cuba in the USARF study groups, read Fidel Castro and Che Guevara and the Cuban magazine Granma. Nevertheless, our knowledge of its revolutionary process was still shallow. We knew events and personalities, but not the reality beneath the surface.
Walter sketched the background, identified the critical signposts, gave illuminating details, and set the global context in an integrated but clear manner. His captivating metallic voice and lyrical style transfixed the audience. He made us laugh and ponder at the same time. His exposition of US imperialism made the case for the essential relevance of the Cuban experience to Africa unimpeachable.
I am sure that that evening Walter won over many wavering student minds to the cause of African liberation. Before going to bed that night, I wrote in my diary more. “The most impressive and brilliant speech I have heard so far. One could almost feel the strong conviction and deep emotions from which he spoke. I am convinced that Comrade Rodney is one of the most devoted and brilliant socialists to be found anywhere.”
First impressions are reputed to mislead. In this instance, the opposite was the case. This first impression hit the nail right on its head. If anything, others will say that Walter was not just what I instantly felt he was, but also much more.
▪Professor Karim Hirji
I never met Walter Rodney in life. I left Guyana as a boy, in 1969, and Guyanese politics did not figure in the dynamics of migrant existence in Britain. The hostile natives branded you a ‘paki’ or called you ‘black,’ not respecting the subtleties of geography or cultural difference. I only re-connected with Guyana when I met Joe Harte in London in 1983. We became instant friends. Joe had spent a few years with Rodney when the latter was a student at SOAS. Joe told me many stories about Rodney’s lectures at Hyde Park Corner, or seminars with fellow West Indian scholars like Stuart Hall. Joe conveyed the excitement of the time: gatherings in London of young West Indian students eager to analyze the consequences of Empire, colonization and imperialism; to discuss Marxist and socialist philosophies; to actively confront and wage battle against the racism prevalent in 1960’s London. Joe felt they were in the midst of historical change, and they were among the agents of change. It was a time of national and international ferment: the Black Power Movement, the Civil Rights Movement, the anti-Vietnam War Movement, the Women’s Movement. “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive/ But to be young was very heaven!”
Joe confirmed what I had known before: Rodney’s intellectual genius. In 1981, as an English Literature PhD student I read Rodney’s A History of the Upper Guinea Coast 1545 – 1800. It became clear from the opening pages that the book would not be relevant to my literary thesis, but I read it to the end, overwhelmed by the shining scholarship, the meticulous research, and what seemed to me to be a highly original ‘ class’ perspective on the slave trade. Later, I was to read Rodney’s other works, notably How Europe Underdeveloped Africa and A History of the Guyanese Working People, 1881 – 1905 which were like meteorites impacting on the mind, leaving permanent craters.
As soon as I was appointed to my first academic job, at Warwick University, in 1984, the authorities were persuaded to establish an annual Walter Rodney Memorial Lecture, which continues to this day. Lectures have been given on Caribbean affairs by a range of scholars and thinkers, including Ken Ramchand, Clive Thomas, Harold Goulbourne, Carolyn Cooper, Valerie Amos, Stuart Hall, Michael Gilkes, Clem Seecharan, Miguel Barnet, Hilary Beckles and Eddie Baugh. I dedicated my first academic publication, a book called The Black Presence in English Literature (1985) to Walter Rodney. These were modest actions to thank and honor an outstanding scholar and activist whose work and life changed many of ours forever.
In time, I have collected anecdotes and stories about Rodney (including his visit to my grandmother’s house in No. 36 Village, Berbice: my uncle Stephen read history at UWI at the same time as Rodney), which I will happily convey to any biographer. Let me share one of the most memorable, by Wilson Harris, our distinguished novelist. Harris told me he had given a Mittelholzer Lecture at University of Guyana around 1979 and, afterwards, was fielding questions from the audience. After four or five questions had been dealt with, a young man sitting at the very back of the lecture room raised his hand and asked Harris something, in a meek voice and manner, about Marxist perspectives on literary works (Harris couldn’t recall the exact question) to which Harris, having responded to the ‘young man’ about the limitations of social realism in fiction, ended up by asking, in a serious and concerned tone of voice, “Young man, have you actually read Karl Marx or is your knowledge second-hand?” The ‘young man’ replied “Yes, Mr. Harris, I have,” thanked him for answering his query and sat down with the same gentleness as he had risen. Later, Harris was told that the ‘young man’ was Walter Rodney. “What I remember of the incident,” Harris said, “was how modest a figure Rodney was; a man of international acclaim who had achieved such significant things, yet had such a quiet presence.” When I stood before Rodney’s grave in Georgetown, in 1993, Harris’ words boomed in my mind.
▪Dr. David Dabydeen, University of Warwick
This week, the tenth annual Walter Rodney Symposium is taking place ten years after the United States launched the war against the peoples of Iraq. The peoples of Iraq are still suffering the consequences of this war where the United States fabricated the idea that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. The propaganda and disinformation that had been put in place to wage that war is being redeployed today to mount another military incursion into Africa under the banner of fighting terrorism in Africa. The annual symposium on Walter Rodney has been spaces for presenting alternative ideas about the real meaning of imperial wars and exploitation. This tenth anniversary also marks the tenth time that the Walter Rodney Foundation has brought together those who want to carry forward the ideas and political practice of Walter Rodney.
The writings of Walter Rodney on wars and depressions are sprinkled throughout his writings but there was one clear theme that is, war speeded up the processes of transformation and or regression. In his scholarly writing, Walter Rodney spent considerable time to expand on the meaning of the capitalist depression for the world and how the costs of the crisis were transferred to Africa, especially by Britain and France. In the book, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, Rodney pointed to the ways in which the practices of repression in Africa had been brought home to Europe, especially by the Nazis who had carried out a dress rehearsal of the genocide of the Herero in Namibia.
Today, in the midst of another depression, the writings of Walter Rodney provide us with some of the tools to grasp the dynamics of the contemporary political economy, especially the economic crisis that is variously a called recession. The policy makers in North America have been careful not to call the present crisis a depression, but it was the Governor of the bank of England, Sir Mervyn King who warned that “The world is facing the worst financial crisis since at least the 1930s “if not ever.”
In the spirit of the ideas and practices of Walter Rodney it is pertinent to query, if this depression is worse than 1930, are we to expect worse forms of bigotry, racism, competition and intensified wars? These questions bring us to how Walter Rodney penetrated the organized and spontaneous activities of the peoples of the oppressed world in the midst of the depression and war. Inside the United States, there have been some sections of the progressive forces who continue to speak about the capitalist system as if it were business as usual, but every day from the Fall of Lehman brothers to the Eurozone crisis to the present meltdown of the banks in Cyprus we are reminded that we living on the precipice of a catastrophic event of the world capitalist system.
The big difference between the crisis today and that of the 1930s is that, in this period of independent African states, European powers could no longer use extra economic coercion such as “Plant More Crops” or other forms of coerced labor. In a little known monograph, World War II and the Tanzanian Economy, Walter Rodney had written on how the Depression and war demanded austerity within Europe, the British colonial authorities within Africa were concerned with the need for “increased acreages of the conventional export crops and others which were deemed essential. It had already become standard practice to force Africans to grow more of the marketable crops at times of crisis in the global capitalist economy. This was a policy pursued in a somewhat disorganized form during the 1920s, and taken up very seriously when the Great Depression struck. The clearly stated objective of the colonial Administration was to ensure that Africans maintained the total value of colonial production in spite of falling prices. The only way that this could be done was to exhort and ultimately coerce them to ‘plant more crops’ and hence the campaign of this name.”
The point made by Rodney was the response by the people brought about new forms of struggle that ushered in the nationalist phase of African history. Today, the competition between the capitalist powers are just as intense as in the period of the last depression and war and the inspiration of Walter Rodney is for us to grasp the essential nature of the international balance of forces and to be clear on how to organize and mobilize to beat back the forces of darkness and exploitation. Walter Rodney studied war, imperialism and its impact on peoples in order to inspire resistance, greater organization and for peoples to learn to move from one form of organizing to the next. This is the essence of the politics of self-emancipation. Walter Rodney was a human who believed in the basic and simple dignity of all human beings.
There will be many tributes and meetings to commemorate his life and work. Unfortunately many younger members of the left have not heard of the life and work of Walter Rodney as a thinker and activist of the 20th century. One of our many challenges in this moment is to draw from the spirit of Walter Rodney to elevate the ideas of human emancipation and build on these ideas in the quest for revolutionary change.
▪Dr. Horace Campbell, Professor of African American Studies and Political Science at Syracuse University