Walter Rodney

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Walter Rodney (23 March 1942 – 13 June 1980) was a prominent Guyanese historian, political activist and preeminent scholar, who was assassinated in Guyana in 1980.


The Groundings with my Brothers (1969)[edit]

  • We were told that violence in itself is evil, and that, whatever the cause, it is unjustified morally. By what standard of morality can the violence used by a slave to break his chains be considered the same as the violence of a slave master? By what standards can we equate the violence of blacks who have been oppressed, suppressed, depressed and repressed for four centuries with the violence of white fascists. Violence aimed at the recovery of human dignity and at equality cannot be judged by the same yardstick as violence aimed at maintenance of discrimination and oppression.
  • p. 22

How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (1972)[edit]

  • However, the peasants and workers of Europe (and eventually the inhabitants of the whole world) paid a huge price so that the capitalists could make their profits from the human labor that always lies behind the machines. That contradicts other facets of development, especially viewed from the standpoint of those who suffered and still suffer to make capitalist achievements possible. This latter group are the majority of mankind. To advance, they must overthrow capitalism; and that is why at the moment capitalism stands in the path of further human social development. To put it another way, the social (class) relations of capitalism are now outmoded, just as slave and feudal relations became outmoded in their time.
    • p. 18
  • Capitalism has created its own irrationalities such as a vicious white racism, the tremendous waste associated with advertising, and the irrationality of incredible poverty in the midst of wealth and wastage even inside the biggest capitalist economies, such as that of the United States of America.
    • p. 19
  • In some quarters it has often been thought wise to substitute the term "developing" for "underdeveloped". One of the reasons for so doing is to avoid any unpleasantness which may be attached to the second term, which might be interpreted as meaning underdeveloped mentally, physically, morally, or in any other respect. Actually, if “underdevelopment” were related to anything other than comparing economies, then the most underdeveloped country in the world would be the U.S.A., which practices external oppression on a massive scale, while internally there is a blend of exploitation, brutality, and psychiatric disorder.
    • p. 25
  • In a way, underdevelopment is a paradox. Many parts of the world that are naturally rich are actually poor and parts that are not so well off in wealth of soil and sub-soil are enjoying the highest standards of living. When the capitalists from the developed parts of the world try to explain this paradox, they often make it sound as though there is something “God given” about the situation.
    • p. 35
  • When the “experts” from capitalist countries do not give a racist explanation, they nevertheless confuse the issue by giving as causes of underdevelopment the things which really are consequences. For example, they would argue that Africa is in a state of backwardness as a result of lacking skilled personnel to develop. It is true that because of lack of engineers Africa cannot on its own build more roads, bridges, and hydroelectric stations. But that is not a cause of underdevelopment, except in the sense that causes and effects come together and reinforce each other. The fact of the matter is that the most profound reasons for the economic backwardness of a given African nation are not to be found inside that nation. All that we can find inside are the symptoms of underdevelopment and the secondary factors that make for poverty. Mistaken interpretations of the causes of underdevelopment usually stem either from prejudiced thinking or from the error of believing that one can learn the answers by looking inside the underdeveloped economy. The true explanation lies in seeking out the relationship between Africa and certain developed countries and in recognizing that it is a relationship of exploitation.
    • p. 37
  • One of the common means by which one nation exploits another and one that is relevant to Africa’s external relations is exploitation through trade. When the terms of trade are set by one country in a manner entirely advantageous to itself, then the trade is usually detrimental to the trading partner. To be specific, one can take the export of agricultural produce from Africa and the import of manufactured goods into Africa from Europe, North America, and Japan. The big nations establish the price of the agricultural products and subject these prices to frequent reductions. At the same time the price of manufactured goods is also set by them, along with the freight rates necessary for trade in the ships of those nations. The minerals of Africa also fall into the same category as agricultural produce as far as pricing is concerned. The whole import-export relationship between Africa and its trading partners is one of unequal exchange and of exploitation.
    • p. 38
  • It is absolutely necessary to determine whether the standard of living in a given industrialized country is a product of its own internal resources or whether it stems from exploiting other countries.
    • p. 40
  • The moment that the topic of the pre-European African past is raised, many individuals are concerned for various reasons to know about the existence of African “civilizations.” Mainly, this stems from a desire to make comparisons with European “civilizations.” This is not the context in which to evaluate the so-called civilizations of Europe. It is enough to note the behavior of European capitalists from the epoch of slavery through colonialism, fascism, and genocidal wars in Asia and Africa. Such barbarism causes suspicion to attach to the use of the word “civilization” to describe Western Europe and North America.
    • p. 53
  • A culture is a total way of life. It embraces what people ate and what they wore; the way they walked and the way they talked; the manner in which they treated death and greeted the newborn.
    • p. 53
  • Even the widespread resort to shifting cultivation with burning and light hoeing was not as childish as the first European colonialists supposed. That simple form of agriculture was based on a correct evaluation of the soil potential, which was not as great as initially appears from the heavy vegetation; and when the colonialists started upsetting the thin topsoil the result was disastrous. The above remarks show that when an outsider comes into a new ecological system, even if he is more skilled he does not necessarily function as effectively as those who have familiarized themselves with the environment over centuries; and the newcomer is likely to look more ridiculous if he is too arrogant to realize that he has something to learn from the “natives.”
    • p. 63
  • After all, if there is no class stratification in a society, it follows that there is no state, because the state arose as an instrument to be used by a particular class to control the rest of society in its own interests.
    • p. 76
  • It is said that Ghana obtained its gold by “silent” or “dumb” barter which was described as follows:

The merchants beat great drums to summon the local natives, who were naked and lived in holes in the ground. From these holes, which were doubtless the pits from which they dug the gold, they refused to emerge in the presence of the foreign merchants. The latter, therefore, used to arrange their trade goods in piles on the river bank and retire out of sight. The local natives then came and placed a heap of gold beside each pile and withdrew. If the merchants were satisfied they took the gold and retreated, beating their drums to signify that the market was over.

The writer of the above lines (E. W. Bovill), a supposed European authority on the Western Sudan, then goes on to say that silent trade or dumb barter was a feature of the Western Sudan’s gold trade throughout all the centuries until modern times. Actually, the only thing dumb about the trade is what he writes about it. The story of dumb barter for gold in West Africa is repeated in several accounts, starting with ancient Greek scripts. It is clearly a rough approximation of the first attempts at exchange of a people coming into contact with strangers, and it was not a permanent procedure.
  • p. 92
  • Gold is required in large quantities only in a society which produces a very large economic surplus and can afford to transform part of that surplus into gold for prestige purposes (as in India) or into coinage and money to promote capitalism (as in Western Europe).
    • p. 106
  • Europeans were anxious to acquire gold in Africa because there was a pressing need for gold coin within the growing capitalist money economy.
    • p. 119
  • African rulers found European goods sufficiently desirable to hand over captives which they had taken in warfare. Soon, war began to be fought between one community and another for the sole purpose of getting prisoners for sale to Europeans, and even inside a given community a ruler might be tempted to exploit his own subjects and capture them for sale. A chain reaction was started by European demand for slaves (and only slaves) and by their offer of consumer goods—this process being connected with divisions within African society.
    • p. 119
  • In speaking of the European slave trade, mention must be made of the U.S.A., not only because its dominant population was European but also because Europe transferred its capitalist institutions more completely to North America than to any other part of the globe, and established a powerful form of capitalism—after eliminating the indigenous inhabitants and exploiting the labor of millions of Africans.
    • p. 134
  • Slavery is useful for early accumulation of capital, but it is too rigid for industrial development. Slaves had to be given crude non-breakable tools which held back the capitalist development of agriculture and industry. That explains the fact that the northern portions of the U.S.A. gained far more industrial benefits from slavery than the South, which actually had slave institutions on its soil; and ultimately the stage was reached during the American Civil War when the Northern capitalists fought to end slavery within the boundaries of the U.S.A. so that the country as a whole could advance to a higher level of capitalism.
    • p. 136
  • The simple fact is that no people can enslave another for centuries without coming out with a notion of superiority, and when the color and other physical traits of those peoples were quite different it was inevitable that the prejudice should take a racist form.
    • p. 137
  • When Europeans put millions of their brothers (Jews) into ovens under the Nazis, the chickens were coming home to roost. Such behavior inside of “democratic” Europe was not as strange as it is sometimes made out to be. There was always a contradiction between the elaboration of democratic ideas inside Europe and the elaboration of authoritarian and thuggish practices by Europeans with respect to Africans.
    • p. 139
  • The opportunity presented by European slave dealers became the major (though not the only) stimulus for a great deal of social violence between different African communities and within any given community. It took the form more of raiding and kidnapping than of regular warfare, and that fact increased the element of fear and uncertainty.
    • p. 149
  • During the colonial epoch, the British forced Africans to sing,

Rule Britannia, Britannia rule the waves

Britons never never never shall be slaves.

The British themselves started singing the tune in the early eighteenth century, at the height of using Africans as slaves. “What would have been Britain’s level of development had millions of them been put to work as slaves outside of their homelands over a period of four centuries?” Furthermore, assuming that those wonderful fellows could never never never have been slaves, one could speculate further on the probable effects on their development had continental Europe been enslaved. Had that been the case, its nearest neighbors would have been removed from the ambit of fruitful trade with Britain. After all, trade between the British Isles and places like the Baltic and the Mediterranean is unanimously considered by scholars to have been the earliest stimulus to the English economy in the late feudal and early capitalist period, even before the era of overseas expansion.
  • p. 153
  • Today, the Italians have (hard) wheat foods like spaghetti and macaroni as their staple, while most Europeans use the potato. The Italians took the idea of the spaghetti-type foods from the Chinese noodle after Marco Polo returned from travels there, while Europe adopted the potato from American Indians. In neither case were Europeans enslaved before they could receive a benefit that was the logical heritage of all mankind, but Africans are to be told that the European slave trade developed us by bringing us maize and cassava.
    • p. 156
  • The abandonment of traditional iron smelting in most parts of Africa is probably the most important instance of technological regression.
    • p. 159
  • Development means a capacity for self-sustaining growth. It means that an economy must register advances which in turn will promote further progress. The loss of industry and skill in Africa was extremely small, if we measure it from the viewpoint of modern scientific achievements or even by standards of England in the late eighteenth century. However, it must be borne in mind that to be held back at one stage means that it is impossible to go on to a further stage. When a person was forced to leave school after only two years of primary school education, it is no reflection on him that he is academically and intellectually less developed than someone who had the opportunity to be schooled right through to university level. What Africa experienced in the early centuries of trade was precisely a loss of development opportunity, and this is of the greatest importance.
    • p. 159-160
  • One biographer (a European) had this to say of Shaka

Napoleon, Julius Caesar, Hannibal, Charlemagne . . . such men as these have arisen periodically throughout the history of the world to blaze a trail of glory that has raised them high above the common level. Such a man was Shaka, perhaps the greatest of them all.

The above praise-song appeared on the back cover of the biography in question; and, since capitalist publishers treat books just like boxes of soap powder, one has admittedly to be suspicious of any advertisement designed to sell the book.
  • p. 200
  • But what is relevant here is to understand why a Shaka was possible in Africa in the nineteenth century, before the coming of colonial rule. Had Shaka been a slave to some cotton planter in Mississippi or some sugar planter in Jamaica, he might have had an ear or a hand chopped off for being a “recalcitrant nigger,” or at best he might have distinguished himself in leading a slave revolt. For the only great men among the unfree and the oppressed are those who struggle to destroy the oppressor. On a slave plantation, Shaka would not have built a Zulu army and a Zulu state—that much is certain. Nor could any African build anything during the colonial period, however much a genius he may have been. As it was, Shaka was a herdsman and a warrior. As a youth, he tended cattle on the open plains—free to develop his own potential and apply it to his environment. Shaka was able to invest his talents and creative energies in a worthwhile endeavor of construction. He was not concerned with fighting for or against slave traders; he was not concerned with the problem of how to resell goods made in Sweden and France. He was concerned with how to develop the Zulu area within the limits imposed by his people’s resources. It must be recognized that things such as military techniques were responses to real needs, that the work of the individual originates in and is backed by the action of society as a whole, and that whatever was achieved by any one leader must have been bounded by historical circumstances and the level of development, which determine the extent to which an individual can first discover, then augment, and then display his potential.
    • p. 205
  • Because the scientific basis and experimental preconditions were lacking in Zulu society, Shaka could not have devised a firearm—no matter how much genius he possessed.
    • p. 206
  • Imperialism is essentially an economic phenomenon, and it does not necessarily lead to direct political control or colonization.
    • p. 214
  • For most European capitalist states, the enslavement of Africans had served its purpose by the middle of the nineteenth century; but for those Africans who dealt in captives the abrupt termination of the trade at any given point was a crisis of the greatest magnitude.
    • p. 221
  • The mulatto sons of white traders and the sons of African rulers were the ones who made the greatest effort to learn the white man’s ways. This helped them to conduct business more efficiently. One Sierra Leone ruler in the eighteenth century explained that he wished “to learn book to be rogue as good as white man”; and there were many others who saw the practical advantages of literacy. However, the educational process also meant imbibing values which led to further African subjugation. One West African educated in this early period wrote a Ph.D. thesis in Latin justifying slavery. That was not surprising. The Reverend Thomas Thompson was the first European educator on the Gold Coast, and he wrote in 1778 a pamphlet entitled, The African Trade for Negro Slaves Shown to be Consistent with the Principles of Humanity and the Laws of Revealed Religion.
    • p. 223
  • The Arabs had acquired Africans as slaves for centuries, but they were exploited in a feudal context. African slaves in Arab hands became domestics, soldiers, and agricultural serfs. Whatever surplus they produced was not for reinvestment and multiplication of capital, as in the West Indian or North American slave systems but for consumption by the feudal elite. Indeed, slaves were often maintained more for social prestige than for economic benefit.
    • p. 225
  • In the epoch of imperialism, the bankers became the aristocrats of the capitalist world
    • p. 253
  • The efficient accounting and business methods which are supposed to characterize capitalist firms did not drop from the sky. They are the result of historical evolution, and in that evolution the exploitation of Africa played a key role
    • p. 292
  • Fascism is a deformity of capitalism. It heightens the imperialist tendency towards domination which is inherent in capitalism, and it safeguards the principle of private property. At the same time, fascism immeasurably strengthens the institutional racism already bred by capitalism, whether it be against Jews (as in Hitler’s case) or against African peoples (as in the ideology of Portugal’s Salazar and the leaders of South Africa). Fascism reverses the political gains of the bourgeois democratic system such as free elections, equality before the law, parliaments; and it also extolls authoritarianism and the reactionary union of the church with the state. In Portugal and Spain, it was the Catholic church—in South Africa, it was the Dutch Reformed church.
    • p. 310
  • Like its progenitor, capitalism, fascism is totally opposed to socialism. Fascist Germany and Italy attacked both the other capitalist states and the Soviet Union, which was still the only socialist state in the world by 1939. The defeat of fascism was therefore a victory for socialism, and at the same time it preserved the other capitalist nations from having to take the historically retrograde step of fascism.
    • p. 310
  • The principal contradiction within capitalism from the outset was that between the capitalists and the workers. To keep their system going, the capitalists had constantly to step up the rate of exploitation of their workers. At the same time, European workers were gaining increasing mastery over the means of production in the factories and mines, and they were learning to work collectively in big enterprises and within their own trade union structures. If the bourgeoisie continued to deprive them of the major part of the fruits of their own labor and to oppress them socially and politically, then those two classes were set on a collision path. Ever since the mid-nineteenth century, Marx had predicted class collision would come in the form of revolution in which workers would emerge victorious. The capitalists were terribly afraid of that possibility, knowing full well that they themselves had seized power from the feudal landlord class by means of revolution.
    • p. 314
  • The capitalists misinformed and miseducated workers in the metropoles to the point where they became allies in colonial exploitation. In accepting to be led like sheep, European workers were perpetuating their own enslavement to the capitalists. They ceased to seek political power and contented themselves with bargaining for small wage increases, which were usually counter-balanced by increased costs of living. They ceased to be creative and allowed bourgeois cultural decadence to overtake them all. They failed to exercise any independent judgment on the great issues of war and peace, and therefore ended up by slaughtering not only colonial peoples but also themselves.
    • p. 316
  • Fascism was a monster born of capitalist parents. Fascism came as the end-product of centuries of capitalist bestiality, exploitation, domination, and racism—mainly exercised outside Europe. It is highly significant that many settlers and colonial officials displayed a leaning towards fascism. Apartheid in South Africa is nothing but fascism.
    • p. 316
  • There were no roads connecting different colonies and different parts of the same colony in a manner that made sense with regard to Africa’s needs and development. All roads and railways led down to the sea. They were built to extract gold or manganese or coffee or cotton. They were built to make business possible for the timber companies, trading companies, and agricultural concession firms, and for white settlers. Any catering to African interests was purely coincidental.
    • p. 327
  • One South African saying put forward that “the white man has no kin, his kin is money.”
    • p. 338
  • That is a profound revelation of the difference between capitalist and pre-capitalist societies; and when capitalism came into contact with the still largely communal African societies, it introduced money relations at the expense of kinship ties.
    • p. 338
  • The resourcefulness of West African market women is well known, but it was put to petty purposes. The problem posed to capitalists and workers in Europe while making insecticide from African pyrethrum was one requiring that resourcefulness be expressed in a technical direction. But the problem posed to an African market woman by the necessity to make a penny more profit on every tin of imported sardines was resolved sometimes by a little more vigor, sometimes by a touch of dishonesty, and sometimes by resort to “juju."
    • p. 365
  • Instead of speeding up growth, colonial activities such as mining and cash-crop farming speeded up the decay of “traditional” African life. In many parts of the continent, vital aspects of culture were adversely affected, nothing better was substituted, and only a lifeless shell was left.
    • p. 366
  • Finally, attention must be drawn to one of the most important consequences of colonialism on African development, and that is the stunting effect on Africans as a physical species. Colonialism created conditions which led not just to periodic famine but to chronic undernourishment, malnutrition, and deterioration in the physique of the African people. If such a statement sounds wildly extravagant, it is only because bourgeois propaganda has conditioned even Africans to believe that malnutrition and starvation were the natural lot of Africans from time immemorial. A black child with a transparent rib cage, huge head, bloated stomach, protruding eyes, and twigs as arms and legs was the favorite poster of the large British charitable operation known as Oxfam. The poster represented a case of kwashiorkor—extreme malignant malnutrition. Oxfam called upon the people of Europe to save starving African and Asian children from kwashiorkor and such ills. Oxfam never bothered their consciences by telling them that capitalism and colonialism created the starvation, suffering, and misery of the child in the first place. There is an excellent study of the phenomenon of hunger on a world scale by a Brazilian scientist, Josue de Castro. It incorporates considerable data on the food and health conditions among Africans in their independent pre-colonial state or in societies untouched by capitalist pressures; and it then makes comparisons with colonial conditions. The study convincingly indicates that African diet was previously more varied, being based on a more diversified agriculture than was possible under colonialism. In terms of specific nutritional deficiencies, those Africans who suffered most under colonialism were those who were brought most fully into the colonial economy: namely, the urban workers.
    • p. 373
  • Those who have studied the nutritional conditions of “primitive” Africans in tropical Africa are unanimous in stating that they show no clinical signs of dietary deficiency. One of the most striking indications of the superiority of indigenous African diet is the magnificent condition of the teeth. One researcher among six ethnic groups in Kenya could not find a single case of tooth decay, not a single deformation of dental arch. But when those same people were transplanted and put on the “civilized” diet available under colonialism, their teeth began to decay at once.
    • p. 373
  • The following features of indigenous African education can be considered outstanding: its close links with social life, both in a material and spiritual sense; its collective nature; its many-sidedness; and its progressive development in conformity with the successive stages of physical, emotional, and mental development of the child.
    • p. 377
  • There is no getting away from the conclusion reached by the African educationalist Abdou Moumini that “colonial education corrupted the thinking and sensibilities of the African and filled him with abnormal complexes.”
    • p. 393
  • As late as 1959, a friend and colleague of Albert Schweitzer defended his unsterile hospital in the following terms: Now to the domestic animals at the Hospital. People have been shocked by the informality with which animals and people mix, and although it is perhaps not always defensible on hygienic grounds, the mixture adds considerably to the charm of the place. The writer was a dental surgeon from New York, who would obviously have had a fit if a goat or chicken had wandered into his New York surgery. He knew full well that at Schweitzer’s hospital “the goats, dogs and cats visit hospital wards teeming with microbial life of the most horrifying varieties,” but he defended their habitation with Africans because that was part of the culture and charm that had to be preserved!
    • p. 385
  • African independence was greeted with pomp, ceremony, and a resurgence of traditional African music and dance. “A new day has dawned,” “we are on the threshold of a new era,” “we have now entered into the political kingdom”—those were the phrases of the day, and they were repeated until they became clichés.
    • p. 446

"The Black Scholar Interviews: Walter Rodney" (1974)[edit]

  • …it becomes self-defeating for someone in the Caribbean or in the United States to suggest that Africa is the sole, or even the main, vehicle of black struggle. Because black struggle must be universalized wherever black people happen to be.
    • p. 39

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