Franz J.T. Lee, June, 2005
Dr. Walter Rodney: In Memory of the 25th anniversary of brutal assassination
Recently an article was published in "The Guyana Chronicle" (Georgetown), by Rickey Singh, titled "Remembering a Legend: 25 Years after Murder of Walter Rodney." He reminds us that this month we are celebrating "the 25th anniversary of the most sensational case of a political act of assassination of a Caribbean icon to have shocked governments in this region and Africa and peoples in many countries of the world."
I had the historical luck and honor not only of having met Dr. Walter Rodney personally in Guyana, between 1977 and 1979, while I was lecturing at the University of Guyana; but also of having been working together with him in the anti-Apartheid struggle, and in his Working People's Alliance (WPA).
Often, we held lectures together, condemning the racist, fascist Apartheid policies in my "homeland" South Africa ... I remember that Rodney categorically abhorred all forms of capitalist and imperialist exploitation, domination, discrimination and alienation in both the metropolitan and "Third World" countries.
In fact, he permanently demonstrated that the revolutionary issue was not a "race struggle," not a "white versus black" issue, but rather that it is an inexorable global class struggle. In his famous major work, comprising the last five centuries of African, Latin-American and Caribbean history, scientifically, he illustrated how by means of the transatlantic slave trade, the creation of the world market, and because of its "unequal exchange" (Samir Amin), how capitalist and imperialist Europe in geometric proportions progressively had "under-developed", had pauperized Africa and therewith the rest of the colonial world.
He explained that "development" and "under-development" are two reciprocal, dialectical relations, two sides of the very same historical process, of the international division of labor, of the very same world market. Today, we would say, of Globalization, of Global Fascism.
In Guyana, facing the party dictatorship of President L. F. S. Burnham, working "underground", even trying to resolve the "border conflict" between Venezuela and Guyana, around 1978, we experienced real scary days. Generally, our "group" met with Rodney in "total gut wrenching darkness close to the burial ground in Kitty." (K. A.)
In 1980, already lecturing at the University of The Andes, Merida, I was sent by the then Venezuelan Director of Foreign Affairs, Roy Chaderton Matos ... later Foreign Minister in the Bolivarian Government of President Hugo Chavez Frias ... to assist the Venezuelan Ambassador in Georgetown, Sadio Garavini, to find a peaceful political solution to the "Essequibo" problem. Hence, at midnight, covered by a dark blanket of silence in the lonely, spooky cemeteries and abandoned, haunted, old houses, we carried out our serious political discussions with Rodney and others.
For further information, see: La Evolución e Involución del Socialismo Cooperativista en Guyana, 1930 - 1985
Together with others, we recall our first encounter with Rodney, on a long, lonely walk, on a bricky walkway (Rodney nearly slipped) followed by the howls and barks of a multitude of hungry street dogs. Rodney loyally accompanied us to a place unknown to many of us. Yet, he knew us, trusted us. He never flinched or questioned our revolutionary integrity or motives, not even bothered about his own personal safety. The comrade was obviously on a historic mission and he knew, that if he were to succeed, it would require great risks and self-sacrifice, and would even place his very life at stake.
For reasons of security, here we will not mention names, however, one of us, in very close cooperation with Rodney, recalls: "There was someone within the WPA that I made contact with (he was the driver of a green Tapir Van, he later 'disappeared' and I never saw him again, probably he was killed) ... I recall, this was the guy that invited me to join the 'WPA's underground movement' and it was precisely the moment when I was formally approached that I spoke to him about our group."
He describes the political situation, just before Rodney's assassination:
"Later, it was after a day of violent demonstration in the Tiger Bay area of the capital Georgetown where I recall the police was chasing us with batons, guns and tear gas that I met Rodney again. I was shivering, shaking and very nervous when I told him about the conversation that I had with the driver of the Tapir Van. He remembered and told me to organized the meeting with Andiaye. The rest is history."
Rickey Singh reports what happened during the horrid night, on June 13, 1980:
"It was the murder of that outstanding Caribbean thinker and political activist, Walter Rodney on the night of June 13, 1980, by a bomb that was concealed in a walkie-talkie and delivered to him by an officer of the Guyana Defense Force, Sergeant Gregory Smith, acting as an agent of the then governing People's National Congress. ... Smith was spirited out of the country into neighboring Surinam and later moved to Cayenne where he died."
But, who was Dr. Walter Rodney? As what is he living on in the hearts, minds and memory of oppressed and degraded peoples?
What is his revolutionary relevance and inspiration for the Caribbean and for South America, for the Bolivarian Revolution?
Singh informs us: "Twelve years before his assassination in the heart of Georgetown, a stone's throw away from a mobile police unit, Rodney was banned from re-entering Jamaica where he was then residing and working as history lecturer of the University of the West Indies (Mona Campus).
"Then 27 years of age, the former lecturer in history at the University College of Tanzania, Rodney was returning to Jamaica from participating in a Congress of Black Writers in Montreal, Canada.
"This dramatic political development on October 15, 1968, under the administration of then Prime Minister Hugh Shearer, was to erupt into what came to be known throughout the region and beyond as ‘the Rodney riots’ in Kingston."
In his introduction to Rodney's work, ‘The Groundings with my Brothers’, Richard Small, reflects on how fast in the 1970s the young Guyanese-born scholar had gained popularity in Jamaica and in the entire Caribbean as "the man who knew about Africa ... and who would talk to anybody who wanted to hear him ..."
Like Hugo Chavez Frias, Rodney spoke the language of, by and for the people, the lingo of the poor, of those who have been violated and dehumanized for centuries already. At last, they spoke, they could voice their opinions, could be heard speaking all by themselves. This was more valuable than just earning one's daily bread, and nothing more; it was thinking for the very first time in their lives, it was revolutionary praxis and theory. This was Rodney, was the people, was what shook the whole Caribbean and Africa.
This, like in the cases of Patrice Lumumba, Frantz Fanon, Che Guevara and Malcolm X, was what world imperialism had to destroy, had to nip in its revolutionary bud. All of them the "gods" so much loved, hence, they had to die young; however, only to arise everywhere, anytime, like Phoenix a zillion times again and again from their very ashes, as emancipatory stardust of the most sacred attributes of humanity: as a splendid emancipatory human species of Beauty, Truth and Love.
Never mind the current Bush Sword hovering over President Chavez' head, over all of us! All these form part of the invulnerable Invincibility of the transhistoric Bolivarian Revolution, of which Walter Rodney is an intrinsic, pioneering, precious part.
Like Malcolm X, we have to give Walter Rodney his honorable emancipatory place in the annals of the Bolivarian Revolution, of American History.
He was not only a historian, he made history!
What Rodney taught, the poor peoples converted into thought, into action, into weapons to emancipate themselves. This revolutionary process is not only valid for Guyana, but also for Venezuela as a Caribbean country, for the Bolivarian revolution per se.
At last, the African Diaspora, the kith and kin of the exploited and dehumanized slaves of yestemillennium, could hear the real truth about Africa, about Africans, about African history, and all these from the mouth of one of theirs, of themselves.
These emancipatory flashes of a coming possible historic class consciousness of the Third Millennium were and are what endeared Walter Rodney to all the "wretched of the earth" (Frantz Fanon), and what sparked off the ruling class hatred of the Burnham puppet regime and of the CIA in Guyana.
Concerning the above, later, in 1998, the Jamaican historian Ruppert Lewis noted in his ‘Walter Rodney's Intellectual and Political Thought’, that Rodney "belonged to the generation of postcolonial historians of Africa and the Caribbean who embarked on the project of writing the history of the regions affected by the Atlantic slave trade from the standpoint of those whose voices had been muted in the historical record. It was pioneering work and it was, as well, a pioneering time..."
In 1974, six years after being banned from returning to Jamaica, Rodney, then already propagating working-class unity of the Caribbean peoples, decided to return to his native Guyana. Politically he organized his own "multi-racial" workers' political party, the WPA, as alternative to the then so-called existing "socialist" and "communist" trends.
This declaration of workers' class struggle, of going beyond capitalist reformist measures, beyond racism and bourgeois ideology, towards real, true socialist revolution, was too much for the USA, for the then already traditional neo-colonial bed-fellows, for Burnham and the CIA, who feared the coming into being of another Cuba in South America. What resulted thereafter Singh relates as follows:
"The year was 1979 and the Rodney-led 'anti-Burnham dictatorship' campaign was gaining momentum, across the country, particularly in Georgetown, where the crowds had started to dwarf those at public meetings of the ruling People's National Congress (PNC).
"Close colleagues of Rodney, among them two 'comrades' who had, at different periods, appeared as bodyguards, were shot to death in separate mysterious circumstances, with the police claiming self-defense against 'armed' men. Others were regularly beaten, harassed or forced out of employment, including the teaching and public services."
Finally, as mentioned above already, on the night of June 13, 1980, came the horrendous crime; "a bag delivered by GDF officer Gregory Smith contained the powerful bomb that blew Rodney apart, cutting his body in virtually two halves and injuring his younger brother Donald, who was sitting in the driver's seat of their parked car."
The CIA always makes sure that "Dead Men Tell No Tales!"
The Rodney assassin Smith needed to be asked, who were his superiors within the Guyanese military?
Who flew the helicopter that shipped him out of the city towards Surinam?
Unfortunately, today he is dead, and he is buried with his gruesome secrets.
Finally, in Guyana, I am happy to have known Walter Rodney praxico-theoretically, even more so, of having had the opportunity of working together with other important comrades like Cheddi Jagan, Perry Mars, Clive Thomas, Ruppert Roopnaraine, Eusi Kwayana, etc., in our arduous endeavors to further the permanent global socialist revolution of the 21st century.
For sure, officially, President Forbes Burnham, the then Guyanese version of an Orwellian Machiavelli, had declared me as a persona non grata in Guyana, but ever since the Guyanese peoples, inspired by the revolutionary aspirations of our friend and comrade Rodney, warmly present me with a permanent visa of courtesy, to fight for emancipation everywhere in their historic name.