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Authoritarian governments would have us believe we are all better off surrendering our power to politicians and denying what our eyes tell us as profits stream to the privileged few. Then, as the tectonic plates of society shift and widen the canyon between the wealthy and those just getting by, we are expected to be satisfied with scraps tossed our way. But we, who have been surviving off of the leftovers of our oppressors, know this system is not sustainable.
The tactics of tyrants are not new. They hoard knowledge and political education while using propaganda to keep the populace ignorant and poor. When that begins to fail, they use violence to eliminate threats to their dominance and instill fear in any opposition. An example of this state-conducted terrorism was the assassination of Guyanese historian and organizer Walter Rodney in June 1980.
Rodney was a theorist and activist, born March 23, 1942 in Georgetown, Guyana. He was first in his class at the top male high school in his country, earning an open scholarship to the University of the West Indies where he graduated with 1st class honors in History in 1963. He went on to receive his PhD with honors in London at age 24. He taught at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania and then at his alma mater UWI Mona campus in Jamaica.
Rodney combined his scholarship with activism, uplifting and organizing working people. His writings, including his masterpiece How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, are credited as educating and inspiring freedom fighters around the globe. While much of his work centers on Africa, the principles of anti-colonialism and refutation of ideas about the inferiority of Africans resonated widely, including impacting the Black Liberation movement in America. Rodney wrote: “African development is possible only on the basis of a radical break with the national capitalist system.” (1) He knew this meant overthrowing a ruling class system that had been exploiting Africa and other non-European countries for 500+ years. He taught that for this to be accomplished, “every African has a responsibility to understand the system and work for its overthrow.”
As mentioned, the education of the poor and disenfranchised is a threat to those who hope to increase the distance between the haves and have-nots. Thus, the Jamaican government banned Rodney from re-entering the country in 1968.
In 1974, Rodney returned to Guyana for a job as a History professor at the University of Guyana but was blocked because of his political activism. He then founded the Working People’s Alliance (WPA) which opposed the increasingly authoritarian Guyanese government. The WPA aimed to “create political consciousness, replacing ethnic politics with revolutionary organisations based on class solidarity.” (2)
In 2018, Rodney’s daughter, Asha, said in an interview, “[H]is method was to teach people about their history, teach us about our differences and our similarities, and allow us to then be cohesive. And he was seen as a threat to the government because of that…it didn’t matter what race people were, it didn’t matter where they came from. You have masses and throngs of people who are about to stand up against this authoritarian government. So that was why they felt challenged by Rodney.” (3)
On June 13, 1980, an agent of the Guyanese army gave Walter Rodney a walkie-talkie (on behalf of the state) with a bomb hidden inside. Later when Rodney tried to use it, the explosion killed him and severely injured his brother.
The government did not kill him for being a “violent extremist” or “terrorist.” They killed him for bringing working people together and educating them; for unifying those who had been at odds. Why did they fear an educated and unified population? Look around your country. Who receives the best education, and who is failed by the system? Is the system really failing? Or is it working exactly how those in power designed it to?
(1) How Europe Underdeveloped Africa by Walter Rodney
(2) “Walter Rodney”, The Granada Revolution Online
(3) “The Assassination of Walter Rodney,” Groundings. Accessed on 7 April 2021
Text: R. Ya’iyr Carter.* Illustration: Paul Lacombe.**
Utopix has an ongoing collaboration with the Imprisoned Abolitionist Collective (IAC) to produce content on past and present struggles to be distributed in US prisons. The IAC is a group of incarcerated people dedicated to exposing and fighting against the oppressive prison industrial complex in the US.
*R. Ya’iyr Carter is an organizer and activist imprisoned in Pennsylvania, U.S.A. He writes to inspire and elevate consciousness.
**Paul Lacombe is a Muslim incarcerated abolitionist making art, writing, studying, and building with comrades.