Remembering Walter Rodney: A pre-eminent pan-Africanist and Marxist revolutionary

Politics and Society

Remembering Walter Rodney: A pre-eminent pan-Africanist and Marxist revolutionary

This year marks the 80th anniversary of the birth of prominent Guyanese pan-Africanist and Marxist revolutionary Walter Rodney, and fifty years since he published the magisterial magnum opus How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. Here’s our selected 10 quotes from Rodney’s seminal book.



Walter Rodney was a prominent pan-Africanist Marxist revolutionary, pioneering scholar, working class militant and revolutionary from Guyana who was murdered for his progressive ideas.

He was influenced by Marxist ideas and he remains an influential figure to the Pan-Africanist canon for scholars, activists and thinkers on the left. 

Rodney was born in Georgetown, Guyana on 23 March 1942, and attended Queens College in Georgetown where he won an open scholarship to the University of the West Indies (UWI) to read history.

At UWI he received a first-class degree and proceeded to do his Doctoral work at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London in 1963. After completing his PhD in African History, he taught in Jamaica and Tanzania before returning to Guyana in 1974. Rodney travelled widely and became very well known internationally as a firebrand activist, scholar and formidable orator. 


Walter Rodney was no captive intellectual playing to the gallery of local or international radicalism. He was clearly one of the most solidly ideologically situated intellectuals ever to look colonialism and its contemporary heir black opportunism and exploitation in the eye.”

— Wole Soyinka, Oduduwa Hall, University of Ife, Nigeria, Friday, 27 June 1980.

He was assassinated by a car bomb in Georgetown in 1980, aged 38. By the time of his murder he had accomplished what few scholars achieve during their entire careers.

Rodney’s ground breaking magisterial book ‘How Europe Underdeveloped Africa’, first published in 1972 painstakingly explores how imperialism and the various processes that bolstered colonialism created impenetrable structural blockades to economic, and thus also, political and social progress on the continent.

Here’s our selection of powerful and inspirational quotes from Rodney’s seminal book.

  1. “For the only great men among the unfree and the oppressed are those who struggle to destroy the oppressor.”  ― How Europe Underdeveloped Africa
  2. “Many guilty consciences have been created by the slave trade. Europeans know that they carried on the slave trade, and Africans are aware that the trade would have been impossible if certain Africans did not cooperate with slave ships. To ease their guilty consciences, Europeans try to throw the major responsibility for the slave trade on to the Africans. One major author on the slave trade (appropriately titled Sins of Our Fathers) explained how many white people urged him to state that the trade was the responsibility of African chiefs, and that Europeans merely turned up to buy captives- as though without European demand there would have been captives sitting on the beach by the millions! Issues such as those are not the principal concern of this study, but they can be correctly approached only after understanding that Europe became the center of a world-wide system and that it was European capitalism which set slavery and the Atlantic slave trade in motion.”  ― How Europe Underdeveloped Africa
  3. “An overall view of ancient African civilization and ancient African cultures is required to expunge the myths about the African past, which linger in the mind of Black people everywhere. This is the main revolutionary function of African History.”
  4. “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.” ― How Europe Underdeveloped Africa.
  5. “There were a few farsighted Europeans who all along saw that the colonial educational system would serve them if and when political independence was regained in Africa. For instance, Pierre Foncin, a founder of the Alliance Francaise, stated at the beginning of this century that “it is necessary to attach the colonies to the metropolis by a very solid psychological bond, against the day when their progressive emancipation ends in a federation as is probable that they be and they remain French in language, thought and spirit.” ―  How Europe Underdeveloped Africa
  6. “If economic power is centered outside national African boundaries, then political and military power in any real sense is also centered outside until, and unless, the masses of peasants and workers are mobilized to offer an alternative to the system of sham political independence.”  ― How Europe Underdeveloped Africa
  7. “In brutally suppressing the Maji Maji War in Tanganyika and in attempting genocide against the Herero people in Namibia the German ruling classes were getting the experience which they later applied against the Jews and German workers and progressives.”  ― How Europe Underdeveloped Africa
  8. “Revolutionary African thinkers such as Frantz Fanon and Amilcar Cabral …spoke of colonialism having made Africans into objects of history. Colonised Africans, like pre-colonial African chattel slaves, were pushed around into positions which suited European interests and which were damaging to the African continent and its peoples.”
  9. “The whole import/export relationship between Africa and its trading partners is one of unequal exchange and of exploitation.” ― How Europe Underdeveloped Africa.
  10. “More far-reaching than just trade is the actual ownership of the means of production in one country by the citizens of another. When citizens of Europe own the land and the mines of Africa, this is the most direct way of sucking the African continent. Under colonialism the ownership was complete and backed by military domination. Today, in many African countries the foreign ownership is still present, although the armies and flags of foreign powers have been removed. So long as foreigners own land, mines, factories, banks, insurance companies, means of transportation, newspapers, power stations, etc. then for so long will the wealth of Africa flow outwards into the hands of those elements.” ― How Europe Underdeveloped Africa


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