Walter Rodney: The Petit Bourgeoise Can Only Lead Africa And Caribbean To Destruction

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Rodney. Photo: 


[From The Archives]


Part one of excerpt of a 1978 speech by Walter Rodney. Dr. Rodney was the author of the classic How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. 


African and Caribbean societies break down into two large components—or the two components with power. There is the power of the working people that derive from the fact that they produce, the producer always has that power, sometimes only a potential power which has yet to be actualized but it is always there. And there is the power of the social groups who control the state, who control the allocation of resources and the allocation of surplus in the society.


Now for Africa let us exclude for a moment the direct intervention of multinational capital and concentrate on the political scene where undoubtedly the political state has an autonomous capacity and it has the capacity to wage struggle on behalf of its own class vis-a-vis the workers and peasants of Africa and the Caribbean. And in that context we therefore need to identify the social group, the leading social group which will both command the struggle, provide the organizational basis for the struggle, provide the ideological underpinnings of the struggle. And we can proceed inferentially, we can exclude one group, one group that is not operative and is not functioning, and cannot historically function anymore to lead the African people and to lead the Caribbean people—and that is the so-called middle class, the petit bourgeoise. The petit bourgeoise as a class is unable constitutionally to lead any Third World country anywhere except to destruction. 


The class was born, officially located, spawned by imperialism and capitalism. Its members of course do have a certain choice to a limited extent; they are fluid, but as a class their intervention in the historical process has been to lead movements, mass movements--has been to lead populist movements, and they’ve imposed their own stamps on these mass movements. And they have stood as a barrier between the working people and the elaboration of the true working people and the elaboration of the true working class ideology, between the working people and the development of a working class organization. 


All these groups without exception, and this includes some who would be considered more progressive than others—it will include Nkrumah’s, and the Sekou Toures, and the Nyerere’s, as well as a plethora of other reactionaries, of the real reactionaries in Africa and the Caribbean. They have organizationally established the hegemony of the petit bourgeoise over the working class and the peasantry—all of these political parties, all of these state systems represent the petit bourgeoise hegemony over the working class.


And if the petit bourgeoise has a role, as one should hope, at least I would hope so for my own sake being located in that class; if we have a role it has to do with the shift of the initiative into the hands of the workers and peasants—and then, for a change, we begin to serve those classes. Because mostly we have been serving other classes anyhow; mostly we’ve been serving the capitalist class. So for a change we may begin to serve the working people, service the working class. 


But to do so we have to understand that organization, as well as ideology, must reside in the hands of the working people. Their own autonomous organizations, born out of spontaneous struggle, but disciplined in that process and addressing themselves to the real needs of the working people. Because when we import our concerns, it’s amazing what we petit bourgeoise can be concerned about—we have all kinds of preoccupations which have little or nothing to do with what working people see and do out of their own immediate activity and production.


And we have to begin to formulate, if we as petit bourgeoise are to be involved, it has to be organization that is rooted in the working class, for the working class—which means of course it has to be a working class ideology. Again, we cannot import various strands of bourgeois ideology which has been the case throughout Africa, wherever you go. 


(End of Part One)


Walter Rodney was assassinated by the Forbes Burnham government on June 13, 1980 in Georgetown Guyana. 

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