From email@example.com Mon Jul 3 17:02:25 2000
Review of Walter Rodney's Intellectual and Political Though by Professor Rupert Lewis
Reviewed by David Hinds <DHinds6106@aol.com>, on brc-news list, 25 March 2000
The most recent book on Walter Rodney is a critical addition to our understanding of his importance not only to Guyana and the Caribbean, but to the world at large. Written by Jamaican Political Scientist, Dr. Rupert Lewis, Walter Rodney's Intellectual and Political Thought is the first comprehensive study of Rodney's life, thoughts, and contributions. Well documented, and easy to read, this book traces Rodney's life from his childhood in Georgetown, Guyana, through his sojourn in Jamaica, Europe, Africa, and back to Guyana where his life was snuffed out at the young age of 38. The book is a political biography, but it gives glimpses of Rodney the person away from the rough and tumble of politics and the rigors of intellectual investigation and debate.
It draws heavily on interviews with Walter's widow, Pat, and other family members. What comes over is a person whose various activities -- study, research, political activism, sports, teaching, social activities -- were closely interlinked. There was a single-minded commitment to the cause of the poor and powerless that permeated Walter's every action from as early as his high school years.
Professor Lewis' book is remarkable for its and success in bringing together these various aspects of Rodney -- the link between his politics and his scholarship; between his thoughts on and attitudes to race and class; between his experiences in Jamaica, Guyana and Africa; and between his scholarship and day-to-day activities. Walter Rodney is portrayed by Dr Lewis as the quintessential revolutionary who embodies the finest values of humanity. The reader encounters a universal man who is confortable with his multiple identity and sought always to weld them together as one force. He is African as much as Guyanese and Caribbean; but above all, he is the committed revolutionary who spares himself no sacrifice on behalf of the downpressed.
The book is divided into the various periods of Rodney's life -- Guyana, Jamaica, Europe, Africa, Guyana. Generally, it is a well-balanced study in terms of the space devoted to each period. But for me, Professor Lewis' account of Rodney's Jamaica "grounding" years, both as student and teacher, is the highlight of the book. His on-campus and off-campus activities as a student are especially fresh information. The testimonies of his classmates open up for the reader a young man determined to use education as a tool in overcoming socio-economic and political dispossession. The young Rodney is confident, intense, righteously arrogant, but above all intellectually gifted.
His stint as a lecturer in Jamaica in 1968, was especially pivotal. Although this period spans less than a year of Rodney's life, it is perhaps the most crucial. As Professor Lewis illustrates, it is the culmination of Rodney's early struggle to develop an independent perspective of the Caribbean society, but, crucially, it is also the launching pad for his later global perspective and activities.
It is no accident that at this point Rodney is primarily concerned with the condition of the African in the Caribbean and the link to his African past. But unlike most black nationalists of that era, he does not stop there -- he grapples with the class dynamics of the African-Caribbean society, specifically the relationship between the African working class and the African political elite, and the relationship between the African working class and the East Indian working class. Thus while espousing and promoting Black Power, he located it within the complex racial mix of the Caribbean. In this regard, Rodney is correctly portrayed by Dr. Lewis as the avowed Pan Africanist whose commitment to the working class leads him to an understanding of the need for solidarity between Africans and Indians. This obviously was crucial to his later work in Guyana.
Professor Lewis is well placed to write on this period, having lived in Jamaica and studied at UWI, while Rodney was there. The book is enriched by Lewis' own testimony and his interviews with many of Rodney's acquaintances during his stay in Jamaica -- a stay that culminated in his suspension from Jamaica and the subsequent mass uprising.
If the Jamaica period of Rodney's life saw the coming of age of the activist-intellectual, the African years saw the maturation of Rodney the brilliant scholar. It was during this period that he wrote the seminal How Europe Under- developed Africa, a book that came out of direct and ongoing contact with the Tanzanian masses. We see Rodney (1969-74) grappling with issues of race and class, theory and practice, history and revolution, political action and economic development, leadership and development, underdevelopment and development, colonization and independence, and imperialism and freedom.
It was out of this exercise that his lasting concept of "self emancipation@ of the working class, evolved. Rodney concluded that working people have the capacity to persistently secure their own emancipation, so they ought not pin their hopes on the post-colonial leadership which in his had betrayed the masses. It was a conclusion that was to prove instructive in his Guyanese intervention. Professor Lewis also brings Rodney to life as an intellectual for whom abstract scholarship was incomplete scholarship. For Rodney, unless scholarship serves as a means of liberation it was inadequate.
Rodney's final years (1974-80), the "political" years, are presented as best as the author could. If there is a weak link in the book, it's the analysis of this period in Rodney's life. In a sense, because we are still living the Rodney's years, it is a difficult period to deal with. Moreover, because modern Guyanaese politics are so complex, it is difficult for one who is not intimately involved with its evolution to do maximum justice to it.
However, to Dr. Lewis credit he manages to capture the essence of Rodney's Guyana. Drawing heavily on interviews with Rodney's colleagues in the WPA - Kwayana, Roopnarine, Andaiye, CY Thomas - and the insights of the late Dr. Cheddi Jagan, he manages to paint as clear a picture of what Rodney was about. Andaiye's comments and thoughts are especially revealing as she attempts to de-romanticize Rodney. Without detracting from his clearly exceptional personage, she takes aim at some of his weaknesses, in particular his trust of street elements. Never one to "spare the rod and spoil the child," Andaiye opens up Rodney to scrutiny and in the process raises the question of his judgement, not of the Burnham regime as his mentor CLR James suggested, but of those who tried to get close to him.
Almost two decades after Rodney's assassination, Professor Lewis' book comes as a reminder that the slain revolutionary's work is still incomplete. I recommend this book to all who wish to learn what Rodney represents, but also to learn about an important slice of Caribbean and African history.
David Hinds is a Political Scientist. He is a Visiting Assistant Professor at the School of Politics and Economics, Claremont Graduate University in California. Dr Hinds also hosts CaribNation, a Caribbean Television program, and is a frquent political commentator on the radio and in the print media. He is a member of Guyana's Working People's Alliance.
The book is published by The University of the West Indies Press and Wayne State University Press. To secure your copy call (301) 434-4398.
Copyright (c) 2000 Guyana Caribbean Politics.
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