Walter Rodney
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In the time available to me, no more than samples of the activity of Walter Rodney can be given. He always found occasion to visit the various parts of the country, often attempting to find human sources for books he was writing or editing. This took him into the homes of persons of all classes and all over the coastland. In the most distant places, worker and peasant families remember his visits and in some cases the fact that he had passed the night in their homes. This led to numerous arrests by the police. It was as though he needed an internal passport for movement from one part of the country to another.

This preoccupation of the police reflects the concerns of the ruling clique that something not in their interests was taking root. His visits too, as in the case of other WPA leaders, often led to minor or major inquisition of those who entertained him, by the numerous security police. The response of the Indo-Guyanese masses to Walter Rodney was something remarkable. I have never reconciled myself to the statement by Dr Cheddi Jagan in the Morning Star of August 23, 1980: "As a black leader ... Dr Rodney attracted many of the People's National Congress 'disillusioned supporters' who are prominently Afro-Caribbean". Surely if "disillusionment" was a factor in the support Walter Rodney attracted, this malaise was not absent among the Indo-Guyanese, especially after the PPP's correct or incorrect declaration of "critical support" for the PNC. Another people's movement which invited Walter Rodney's support was the Democratic Teachers' Movement (DTM) based on the Corentyne. This movement was almost entirely Indo-Guyanese. Some of its members, for opposing the official line of the Guyana Teachers' Association (GTA) and taking a real interest in the welfare and progress of the students and teachers, were victimised with transfers and dismissals. I was there when Walter Rodney visited to address ass public meetings called by this movement. Whole villages just surged into the streets. At . the first meeting, to my ,surprise, they spotted my presence and demanded that I should also speak, but I declined to take advantage of their politeness. This may be the place to make some points about the political personality we are discussing. HIS POLITICAL PERSONALITY One of Rodney's main characteristics was the attention he paid to the opinions of working people and everyone he talked with. Together with his own very keen perceptions, he used such material to make a more or less total picture of the forces at work in the society. When he called himself an aspiring Marxist- Leninist, he was not aspiring to fit any mould. He was fully aware that what he had to master was a method of examining the world. Yet he was not afraid of the‑ unexpected truth. It taught him something and he would not reject it because on, the surface it went against what some would see as logical. He has been called "populist" and "a progressive of largely acceptable views" although recently his lecture on "Marx and the Liberation of Africa" was reproduced by the PPP along with an article by Cheddi Jagan as a way of "exposing" the WPA which it had feared had abandoned Marx, because of its readiness to examine the deeper meaning of Grenada. The fact is, the essay in question has always been on sale at our Centres. Rodney did not for one moment hitch the revolutionary wagon to any new-found star. What he did was to painstakingly talk to persons of all strata affected by the dictatorship, using his tremendous prestige to get home to them the dangers that silence could encourage. He talked with them because he understood human society better than most and knew that in Guyana we are very far from a classless society, that in fact, new classes are daily in formation in the post-independent Caribbean, and that nationalisation did not change that, but, only changed their variety, and their location. He did not in Guyana play the role of an organiser, but in so far as he did organise in the sense of cells and learning groups, it was workers and other working people that he organised, with always a special respect for the.producers. He spoke to the middle class (the so-called petty bourgeoisie) from the vantage point of history. He declared himself a member of that class and declaxed that for himself, he had committed himself to serve the historic destiny of the working class. He appealed to the middle class to see themselves as formative, unstable and in a profound way futureless and appealed to them to solve this problem in the interests of society by considering whether they would lend to the workers' movement their acquired talents, skills and their support in exchange for a life of honour and freedom. This political personality, Walter Rodney, did not interpret the admiration arid perhaps the veneration of the masses as hero worship. He saw it as a helpful political factor, if properly handled, and used it largely to explain that self‑emancipation was the only true emancipation. He warned them against deliverers and refused to go around with "I am Dr Walter Rodney" written in his manner. His analysis of Burnham, the one-man ruler of Guyana, was not emotive. True, his weapon of ridicule disquieted Burnham profoundly'. He refused to regard Burnham as a puppet of some other ruler or power. He very painstakingly sought to discover the exact formation of the Guyana regime. His campaign style was by no means flippant and catchy, or if it turned.out to be catchy, it was not on account of shallowness or flippancy. He thought very carefully about everything he had to say and so far as I knew did not speak, as some do, without preparation. 


A few glimpses from his public activity will help to give the memory flesh and blood. At Durban Street and Louisa Row one night at a public meeting a policeman came up, to say that time was up. Rodney thanked him, and said he would round off his discussion. The crowd suddenly surged forward and ordered him to continue. The policeman, along with his former intentions, was forced to surge backwards and allow the meetin to continue for a good fifteen minutes more.'' The crowd did not intend that a policeman should put an end to an unfinished discourse. If the time fixed by the police was up, they had not fixed any time limit. In Mon Repos, during the 135 days sugar strike, he was speaking with GAWU at two bottom house meetings. Rodney's presence turned the bottom house meeting, held not far from the' public road into a big overflow gathering,, flowing into the" yard and the street beyond. The speakers left there for another bottom house meeting deeper in the village, what we call in Guyana, the backdam side. The entire crowd thereupon followed, much' to the surprise of the organisers. Walter told Brother Herman Holder, a WPA activist who was with him, "Well now I `` can't say the same thing I said there. I'll have to find another speech because they heard it all already ..." On August 22, 1979 a bold attempt was made against his personal safety. Being obstructed in obtaining permission to use a noisy instrument, that is, a public address system, and knowing that the law required for public meetings without a noisy instrument, only notification to the police, the WPA decided on a form of application which informed the police of its intention to hold a public meeting and then in the second paragraph applied for the necessary permission to use a noisy instrument. The police promptly refused. permission, but according to plan the meeting was promoted by means of roneoed fliers and at 6 p.m. thousands had gathered. The plan was that the speakers would stand on a dray cart and speak from it. Among the speakers was Walter Rodney. Suddenly, a squad of uniformed policemen, including Rabbi Washington's men dressed in police uniform and carrying no regulation numbers, attacked the meeting which they claimed was illegal. It was a total assault with batons on the crowd of peaceful citizens by a crowd of well armed policemen of the Tactical Service Unit (Riot Squad). Soon the crowd burst and scattered from the meeting point at Delph Street and Campbell Avenue and dashed for Middleton Street and. then across it to Kitty. Scores of people were beaten by the police. They were on fire with a venom not noticed before. This was due to the House of Israel. Brother Moses Bhagwan who took refuge with some livestock in a nearby yard was dragged out and beaten, ending with a broken arm. After that he was arrested and charged. This led to a lawyers' strike the next day. Mr Burnham commented on the incident the following Sunday as he spoke to a rally closing the Third Biennial Congress of the ruling party. He identified himself clearly with the police action by saying it was rude of the Worst Possible Alternative act to hold a meeting just two corners off from Sophia where the opening session of his Congress was being held. He also commented on Rodney's prowess as an athlete and promised to send him to the Olympics. On the same evening of August 22, sometime after the police beatings, two young attorneys at law stood near a car on Sheriff Street discussing the action of the police. One was an official of the Director of Public Prosecutions office. The other was a private practitioner. The private practitioner was affronted and roughed up physically after refusing an order to move at once. In court proceedings which followed in the civil court, Police Inspector Cort told the court that his men had been dispatched from Brickdam Police Station with orders to break up the meeting once it was being held, "with or without a loudspeaker." 


As the people of Wismar-Mackenzie began to show more and more interest in the WPA, the PNC declared an edict that Walter Rodney should not go back to the area. This edict was in the form of an announcement by Dr Ptolemy Reid, the Deputy Prime Minister. He said that Rodney would not be allowed to return to Wismar-Mackenzie, rechristened Linden after the PNC leader. Dr Reid, at the age of 62, made such an announcement at a public meeting. He descended to personal slander against WPA leaders. On the occasion of the very next WPA public meeting there, the PNC organised a team of hecklers to disrupt the public meeting. The hecklers were led by Robert Corbin who has roots in the bauxite community. It attempted to incite the crowd against the speaker, to disrupt the meeting, to push the crowd aside and move in to some kind of assault. But the workers stood firm and sternly warned the intruders. Faced with this massive disapproval from the crowd, the tightly knit band of intruders faded out, to the chants of "People's Power! No Dictator!" It is reported that the assigned leader of the irruption burst into tears at the dramatic evidence that his forces were rejected by the masses. It is not generally known that, even more overtly then than now, the PNC security personnel, a numerous band of military and para-military agents, carry weapons at all times and can use them with impunity either in political or private issues. There seems to be a pact that no military person will be charged with murder. The killers of Ohene Koama (November 18, 1979) and Edward Dublin (February 1980) have not been brought to book. The only political inquest held was that into the death of Ohene Koama. This inquest was rushed and closed without the cross examination of a vital police eye witness. The testifying policeman, a member of the Death Squad, contradicted both himself and commonsense to such an extent that his colleague was bound to vary significantly from his testimony. After Payne's examination-in-chief and a few questions in cross examination, the state requested that Sgt Andrews, known as Agent, should be allowed to testify as he had to attend a police course in the United States of America. When his testimony was finished, it was announced that Payne, the original witness, was ill in a hospital in Cuba. Nevertheless, the inquest was suddenly concluded without the. knowledge of the counsel Mr Bhagwan who was watching the interest of the family of the deceased. In October 1982 a member of the Presidential Guard shot a rival lover in a private incident at a woman's home. In February 1983 after the brother of the victim had carried out a vigorous campaign in New York where he lived, an inquest was held. The record reads, "The jury finds Bertrand Wilson criminally responsible for the death of Fitroy Spencer". To this day no prosecution has followed. On the face of it, this is a non-political matter. The quarrel was not political, but the right of bodyguards and others to kill without fear of prosecution is most political. One other example will serve to give some sense of the total lack of control of the security elements, many of whom overlap with the House of Israel. Sgt Goodluck, then bodyguard of the present Vice President Hamilton Green, was present at the Ministry of Labour, as it then was, at Homestretch Avenue, when Ms Rose Ann Barrow, a close acquaintance of the PNC leadership, visited the Ministry and asked to see the Minister. She tried to force her way in and Mr Goodluck told her very firmly that she could not see him then. Miss Barrow was a bold and spirited type of woman and unlikely to be put off in that way. She was also reported to be an epileptic: The circumstances of the incident have not been established despite the demand of opposition forces for a full investigation. Suffice it to say that Ms Rose Ann Barrow was not long after found dead with evidence of gunshot wounds on her body. There was no statement by the police on the incident. There was no announcement of police investigation. No current inquest was held and to date none has been announced. Taking into account the large number of armed bodies and individuals enforcing public order, various people may make various guesses about guilt in the matter of Ms Barrow's death. Sgt. Goodluck was soon after transferred to do duty at CID without any explanation to the public. Although an El Salvador situation does not exist in Guyana, the masses of the people are very aware of the threat of violence and of the massive military and para-military apparatus of the regime. In 1979, before the assassination of Walter Rodney, their presence in the streets was very visible. The regime considers that it can accomplish more with the use of the semi-visible police state. combined with exemplary and intimidatory assassinations. The main active weapon of the regime, however, is victimisation of the political offender and any of the offender's relatives who do not perform acts of submission to the ruling party. Many ordinary government workers were victimised after being accused of "following" him. The party took special measures to conceal membership. The campaign of victimisation reached the private sector. A US insurance company dismissed a major and two minor employees at the insistence of the PNC leader. It was in this atmosphere that Rodney spent his efforts, not as an individual but as an outstanding member of our collective leadership. 


Previous to July 1979, Walter Rodney, as a member of the executive of the pre-party formation of the Working People's Alliance, worked inside and outside the organisation. Along with others he held classes, spoke at public meetings, set up cells, established bases, investigated the actual living conditions of the working people. In particular, and as an individual revolutionary, he planted seeds in many parts of the country by invited visits and familiar groundings with bodies of working people. He also opened his fertile mind to the seeds which the working people also wished to plant. In the academic arena, he painstakingly edited Guyanese Sugar Plantations which set him on the trail of detailed investigation of rural life. He saw it as his task to update and explain the many features of landscape, labour organisation and social and political life noted by the nineteenth century author of the original. His diligent efforts turned this collection of thumbnail sketches by an unknown author in the Daily Argosy into a historical document of great value. His research for his epic work, A History of the Guyanese Working People 1881‑1905, must have overlapped in part with research on this and other efforts. I mention Plantations because it is less known than the History of The Guyanese Dorking People and because it is even further evidence of that combination of academic interest and competence with revolutionary activity which typifies our hero in such a marked degree. He found time for attention to whatever artists were doing, especially the unrecognised artists, attended ceremonies of the Indo-Guyanese and Afro-Guyanese, himself promoted at his home poetry and drumming sessions in which he and others read poetry. He read from S G Benjamin, Mobutu, and all the young rebel poets, apart from Martin Carter and some of the better known poets. I was very touched for his declared liking for some verse of mine on the Arnold Rampersaud agonies, called "The Longest Rope". Mention of Arnold Rampersaud compels me to deal with an aspect of the struggle in the urban areas. 


The winning of the city of Georgetown over to the point of view that Arnold Rampersaud, PPP activist, .had been framed, was not a walkover. The regime was playing, when it sought and was granted a change of venue of the trial from New Amsterdam to Georgetown, on the lurking racial insecurity of a possible Georgetown jury, which, on a sample would likely contain a majority of Afro-Guyanese and state employees. The PPP has sac in London that the freeing of Arnold Rampersaud of the charge of murder of an Afro-Guyanese constable at a toll station was due to "international solidarity". Surely international solidarity played a part and should not be discounted in any frame up charge. The people in Amnesty International gave evidence of their non-partisan stand in this trial, since they were taking interest in a member of a party that had declared itself to be Marxist Leninist and attached to the grouping of Communist and Workers' parties. The Caribbean Conference of Churches, the National Conference of Black Lawyers and other organisations, including the National Council of Civil Liberties and others whose names are not at hand, played an important part in combination. But the battle to save Rampersaud from an unjust conviction rested on the sense of ordinary men and women in Guyana who have never cared about international exposure, since their names were not known or announced. They were the jury. Because of this, what .was very crucial in the defence, apart from the high competence of his lawyers and the cut and thrust of argument in the face of judges in three trials who had to choose between the law and the dictator, was the social protest against the frame up which took the shape of an indictable offence. The Defence Committee, in which Walter Rodney served, played an important part in bringing about this awareness. At the street corner, the Committee waged the battle against pockets of stubborn defensiveness rooted in the racial violence of the sixties. I could sense it quicker than most of the younger generation: Walter Rodney had already won a certain kind of authority with the Guyanese masses in 1977, though not as much as he was to win later. There was much unease in the crowd at Durban Street and Louisa Row when he declared after a day of watching the trial, "First of all, to tell you the truth, sitting in that court room, which I have Attempted to do on as many days as possible, I have felt sick when I've seen one black man after another come to the witness box, lying his head off,being shown to be lying ... Whatever else we may have been in our history in this country we have been a people with dignity. We came out, of slavery with dignity and that was a tremendous achievement; because slavery is inherently degrading ..,". Pockets of the crowd began to mutter, "He don't know Indians fo true ...". This was precisely the sentiment the rulers relied on. There is always this brush‑off for those who did not live in Guyana during the years of racial violence. I said to one of them, "I live here all the time, you know. And I say it is a frame-up ...". The panic in the pockets was not trivial. The ground was already slipping from under their feet. Those with the necessary experience know that whatever advances have been made,, and these advances have been made mainly at the political level, have not been made by resolution and structures. It is .the mass discussion and even-handed examination of sensitive race issues in which the WPA has engaged more than any other that created the conditions for changes at the level of the formal structures. Walter Rodney played a leading part in this process. 

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