Remembering Rodney

a book reviews special section

• June 2020

On 13 June 1980, Walter Rodney was killed in Georgetown, Guyana. At the time of his death, Rodney was only thirty-eight years old, yet he had already made significant and lasting critical contributions, which have, since his passing, been variously discussed and amplified. Rodney’s A History of the Guyanese Working People, 1881–1905 appeared in 1981, only a few months after his “political murder” and the occasion of what has been described as his “people’s funeral,” in which a wide cross section of people gathered to mourn. In the foreword, the writer George Lamming noted the scale of Rodney’s intellectual and political contributions: “The Caribbean has been deprived of a great creative mind. . . . [Walter Rodney] belongs to the same order of importance as Marcus Garvey and W. E. B. DuBois, George Padmore and C. L. R. James.”1

This year marks the fortieth anniversary of Rodney’s assassination. Since 1980 his books have passed through various editions and republications. For this special book reviews section of sx salon 34, we invited contributors to review the most recent editions of Rodney’s landmark texts: the 1969 Groundings with My Brothers (Verso, 2019) and the 1972 How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (Verso, 2018). We are also pleased to have as well a review of a new volume, published for the first time—The Russian Revolution: A View from the Third World (Verso, 2018),  which has been edited from Rodney’s lecture notes from the early 1970s.

We asked the reviewers to reflect on the continued significance of Rodney’s writings today. Each has also intently commented on the conditions, motivations, and pressures under which Rodney composed his rich body of work. Those were urgent times. As Franklin W. Knight and Richard Price pointed out in their editors’ note to A History of the Guyanese Working People in 1981, Rodney revised the manuscript “from jail, while awaiting trial on charges of arson.”2 In reminding us today of the urgent present from which Rodney wrote his critical works, these reviews also demand that we think about not only the ongoing relevance of Rodney’s work in our times but also the urgencies of our own global, political present. What might Rodney have had to say about the current political uncertainties in Guyana that promise to stoke old racial tensions rooted in imperialist structures of the past? What might Rodney have had to say about the extractive turn of oil and gas companies toward Guyana as a promise of “economic development,” or about the ongoing, persistent, global-political context of underdevelopment?3 What comparative, historical class perspectives would Rodney bring to our understandings of our current existence in the grips of a global pandemic? What of the widespread racial protests today for justice and Black dignity? These questions are worth reflecting on as we reread and revisit Walter Rodney’s insurgent writings today; we hope the reviews contained in this section will contribute to and inform that reflection.

 

 

Ronald Cummings is sx salon’s Book Review Editor

 


1. George Lamming, foreword to Walter Rodney, A History of the Guyanese Working People, 1881–1905, ed. Franklin W. Knight and Richard Price (London: Heinemann, 1981), xvii.   

2. Franklin W. Knight and Richard Price, “Editors’ Note,” in ibid, xiii.

3. Walter Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (London: Verso, 2018), 95.

 

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