Sat, 02 Mar 2019, 12:00
SOAS, London (UK), Lucas Lecture Theatre, SOAS, University of London, Thornhaugh Street, London, WC1H 0XG
Event at SOAS, London
“What I am trying to say is simply this: The revolution is made by ordinary people, not by angels, made by people from all walks of life, and more particularly the working class who are in the majority.
And it is a sign of the times, the sign of the power of revolutionary transformation, when a street force member is developed into a fighting cadre in a political movement.” From Rodney’s last speech, given in Georgetown, Guyana, 6 June 1980.
On June 13 1980, the Guyanese historian and activist Walter Rodney died when, at the height of revolutionary unrest against the US and UK-backed dictatorship of Forbes Burnham, a bomb went off in a car containing both he and his brother. Many argue that this act, together with the US invasion of Grenada in 1983, marked the end of a wave of revolutionary movements for national liberation in the Caribbean. Thirty-six years later, a Commission of Inquiry concluded that the Guyanese state had been directly involved in Rodney’s assassination. To date, no one has been brought to justice on this matter.
Only 38 years old when he died, Rodney is known today for his game-changing works of Pan-Afrikan thought (Groundings with My Brothers, 1969), Pan-Afrikan and Marxist historical analyses of the crucial role that slavery and colonialism played in the development in Europe (A History of the Upper Guinea Coast 1545 to 1800, 1970 and How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, 1972), and rigorous class and gendered analysis of an intractable ‘race problem’ and its role in capitalist accumulation in the Caribbean (A History of the Guyanese Working People, 1881-1905). Perhaps less well known are the unceasing efforts of Rodney’s widow and children to safeguard his unpublished writings and to continue his work, largely through the Walter Rodney Foundation in Atlanta.
Beginning in 2018, Verso began a series to publish some of Walter Rodney’s hereto-unpublished work, and to re-issue some of these classics. The Walter Rodney: Pan-Afrikanism, Marxism and the Next Generation conference is meant to coincide with this effort to engage with Rodney’s ideas with a new generation in movement. From our perspective, the timing couldn’t be better.
Rodney’s thought and praxis was shaped by the times in which he lived. Despite setting out on the preferred path of the Caribbean middle class of higher education, regardless of the setting, Rodney’s political thought and praxis took shape in dialogue and in movement with young people. The youth wing of the first mass party and multi-racial party in Guyana. In London, as much at home in Hyde Park with Black revolutionaries and migrant workers as in student circles at SOAS and a now legendary reading group with CLR and Selma James. His engagement with revolutionary student groups at the University of Dar es Salaam and the TANU Youth League in newly independent Tanzania. His groundings with unemployed and organised Afrikan youth in Jamaica and Guyana, which provoked a shift even amongst his students and colleagues at the University of West Indies (UWI) which itself was best expressed in the 1968 riots that erupted when Rodney was refused re-entry to Jamaica. In the Working Peoples Alliance, organising with Guyanese workers across racial lines as a Pan-Afrikanist and Marxist with a clear analysis of the structural utility of racial divide and conquer policies, as much to British imperialism as to the neo-colonial authoritarian regime of Forbes Burnham. Speaking out when that regime responded to the call for true national liberation with terror and political assassinations, including a young unemployed worker and activist in the WPA, Edward Dublin.
The movements today are smaller, more fragile and fragmented than in Rodney’s day. Having said that, co-founders of the Working Peoples Alliance and comrades of Rodney would go on to extend WPA praxis in the context of Red Thread, a feminist organization countering violence against women in all its forms. Equally, Rodney’s repositioning of the historical gaze from Afrikan societies in motion looking out, his sharp analysis of the role of neo-colonialism in buttressing the imperialist exploitation of Africa and the Caribbean following formal decolonisation, his approach to grassroots organising, continue to be relevant, and badly needed, today.
Rodney’s life was a life lived in parts. This is the next one.
Walter Rodney lives.
12.00 – 13.00: registration and lunch
13.00 – 14.00: keynote address – Selma James, Global Women’s Strike
14.00 – 15.00: Red Thread’s in Rodney’s Thought, including Alissa Trotz ‘How Will We Organise to Live? On Caring Work, Groundings and Movements in the Caribbean Today’ and Amanda Latimer ‘Hit-and-Run Capitalism in Guyana’s Offshore Oil Sector’
15.00 – 15.30 – break
15.30 – 16.30 – How Europe Underdeveloped Africa and Youth Today student panel
16.30 – 17.30 – closing address – David Austin ‘Groundings with Walter: Politics, Poetry and the Promise of Freedom’
17.30 – 18.00 – end discussion
The building and room are wheelchair accessible. There are wheelchair accessible toilets on the ground floor and gender neutral cubicles in the basement of the building. We are in the process of arranging childcare facilities. This event is open to all. Please email [email protected] if you have any further questions.
The conference will take place in the Lucas Lecture Theatre, often referred to as the DLT, where SOAS and Oasis trapped SOAS cleaners in 2009 and coordinated with UK Border Agency to stage an immigration raid. Lucas is the name of Luzia’s son, a cleaner at SOAS who was pregnant when the immigration raid happened. Lucas was born in Brazil after Luzia was deported with eight of her colleagues after being arrested in the lecture theatre. As part of remembering this attack on the SOAS community and the migrant workers movement in London, we try to make sure the lecture theatre is named after Lucas, even if the University refuses to change its name or apologise for its collusion in the violent deportation.
Artwork by Anastasya Eliseeva, https://www.newframe.com/generative-passion-walter-rodney