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Tuesday, June 13, 2006

TWENTY-SIX years ago, on this day, acclaimed historian and co-leader of the Working People’s Alliance, Dr. Walter Rodney was brutally assassinated by the Forbes Burnham regime.

Unable to curtail the growing multi-racial support of Rodney, seeing their dictatorial rule threatened, the ruling elite plotted the murder of one of Guyana’s brightest lights. On June 13, 1980, a remote activated bomb exploded in the lap of Walter Rodney and extinguished the star that had pointed the way to national liberation and unity.

The brutal murder of Walter Rodney was a defining moment in our country.

His death occurred during one of the most difficult periods in Guyanese history, marked by brutal political repression, suppression of civil rights and liberties and a deteriorating economic situation. His death, condemned by the international community and mourned by his admirers throughout the world, was a mortal blow to the working class.

Rodney had limitless faith in the power of the people. He once said, “The revolution is made by ordinary people, not by angels, made by people from all walks of life, and more particularly by the working class who are in the majority.”

In his abbreviated life - he was only 38 years when he died - and especially in his political involvement in Guyana, he demonstrated just how potent the working class can be when they are united.

Walter Rodney had entered the local political fray at a juncture in our history when social, economic and political conditions were rapidly deteriorating. He electrified crowds at political meetings with his dynamism, incisive wit and intellect.

Under his party’s civil resistance campaign against the Forbes Burnham dictatorship, Guyana for the first time in decades saw genuine working class solidarity and unity across ethnic and racial lines. Rodney’s fiery oratory and the massive multiracial crowds that he attracted offered real hope for the working people and helped to undermine the ruling regime.

Those who felt threatened by his exposure decided that he should be killed, and on June 13, 1980, using an army agent named Gregory Smith, the assassination of Walter Rodney was executed. The cowardly slaying of Rodney exposed the beastly nature of the ruling regime and led to its internal and external isolation. With his passing was also lost the momentum of the civil rebellion movement.

It would, however, take another 12 years after Rodney’s death for Guyana to be restored to the democratic fold of nations with the election of office of the People’s Progressive Party under the leadership of Dr. Cheddi Jagan.

In his first national awards under a democratic Guyana, Dr. Jagan posthumously bestowed the nation’s highest honour, the Order of Excellence on Dr. Walter Rodney, in recognition of his contribution to freedom and democracy in Guyana.

Just over a quarter of a century after his death, the relevance of Rodney remains his contribution to multi-racial politics in Guyana. Not only did he embrace the vision of a united working class mobilised into a revolutionary force, but also his activism demonstrated that this unity could be achieved.

In its heyday, the movement that he led was multi-racial, the first since the nationalist struggles of the fifties.

Rodney demonstrated the possibility that Guyanese could unite across racial lines. He believed that the massive multiracial support that was conjoined to the civil rebellion process was no accident. He saw race as a red herring, intended to divide the Guyanese people. He saw race as inimical to the interests of the people of Guyana.

Rodney urged Guyanese to resist those who would try to maintain us in a mentality that forces us to act injudiciously because we believe that our racial interests are at stake. He urged Guyanese to transcend their racial problems and to work for a society where there is racial justice.

We would do well to take note of his message today when we mark the 26th anniversary of his assassination.

Guyana Chronicle