Walter Rodney was born in Guyana in 1942, acquired his doctorate in England at the age of 24, and then traveled widely in the Caribbean and Africa.
In 1972 he published his legendary work How Europe Underdeveloped Africa.
He was assassinated via a car-bomb in Georgetown in 1980, and the crime is widely believed to have been orchestrated by Forbes Burnham, the president of Guyana at the time.
Rodney gave this speech at Queen’s College in New York, USA in 1975. 
First of all, we must understand the background for this kind of debate. When one is asked to speak of the relevance of Marxism to Africa at this particular point in time one is being asked to involve oneself in a historical debate, an ongoing debate in this country, particularly among the Black population. It is a debate which has heightened over the last year and, from my own personal observations, is being waged in a large number of places across this country. Sometimes it appears in the guise of the so-called Nationalist versus the Marxist; sometimes it appears in the guise of those who claim to espouse a class position as opposed to those who claim to espouse a race position. Thus it would not be possible for us in a single session to enter into all the ramifications of that debate, but it does form the background for our discussions.
It is an important debate. It is an important fact that such issues are being debated in this country today, just as they’re being debated in Africa, in Asia, in Latin America, and in many parts of the metropolitan world — in Western Europe and in Japan — because the widespread nature of the debate and its intensity at this time is a reflection of the crisis in the capitalist-imperialist mode of production. Ideas and discussion do not simply drop from the sky. It is not simply a plot on the part of certain individuals to engage others in a meaningless debate. Whatever the outcome of the debate, whatever the posture the different participants adopt, the very fact of the debate is representative of the crisis in capitalism and imperialism today and, as the crisis deepens, people find it more and more difficult to accept the old modes of thought which rationalize the system which is collapsing. Hence the need to search for new directions and, quite clearly, Marxism and Scientific Socialism pose themselves as one of the most obvious of the available options.
The question is not new to Africa or to the Black people as a whole — that is perhaps essential to understand. Many of us have before raised the question of the relevance of Marxism to this or that. Its relevance to Europe; many European intellectuals debated its relevance to their own society. Its relevance to Asia was debated by Asians; and, to look at it geographically, its relevance to Latin America was debated by Latin Americans. Individuals have debated the relevance to Marxism to their own time. Was it relevant to the 19th century? If so, was it still relevant to the 20th century? One can debate its relevance to a given facet of the culture of a society, or to its law or culture as a whole. These are all issues that have been debated before, and we should have some sense of history when we approach the question today, because with that sense of history we can ask, “Why is it that the question of the relevance of Marxism to society always crops up?” And — a very brief answer — I would suggest that what is common to the application of the question is, first of all, a condition of crisis, a condition of struggle, a condition in which people are dissatisfied with the dominant mode of perceiving reality. At that point they ask about the relevance of Marxism.
More than that, the second condition is people do ask the question because of their own bourgeois framework. Because one starts out located within the dominant mode of reasoning, which is the mode of reasoning that supports capitalism, and which we will call a bourgeois framework of perception. Because one starts out that way, it becomes necessary to raise the question about the relevance of Marxism. After one is advanced, it is probably more accurate to raise the question of the relevance of bourgeois thought, because the shoe would be on the other foot! But initially it is true that however much the bourgeoisie disagree, there is one common uniting strand to all bourgeois thought: they make common cause in questioning the relevance, the logic and so on, of Marxist thought. And therefore, in a sense, unfortunately, when we ask that question, we are also fitting into that framework and pattern. We are also, in some way, still embedded to a greater or lesser extent in the framework of bourgeois thought, and from that framework we ask with a great degree of hesitancy and uncertainty, “What is the relevance of Marxism?”
It is particularly true in our parts of the world — that is, the English-speaking parts of the world — because the Anglo-American tradition is one of intense hostility, philosophically speaking, towards Marxism. A hostility that manifests itself by trying to dissociate itself even from the study of Marxism. If you were to check on the continental tradition in Europe, you would find it is not the same. French, German, and Belgian intellectuals, whatever their perspective, understand the importance of Marxism. They study it, they relate to it, they understand the body of thought which is called Marxism, and they take a position vis-à-vis that body of thought. In the English tradition — which was also handed down to this part of the world, to the Caribbean, to many parts of Africa — it is fashionable to disavow any knowledge of Marxism. It is fashionable to glory in one’s ignorance, to say that we are against Marxism. When pressed about it one says “But why bother to read it? It is obviously absurd.” So one knows it is absurd without reading it, and one doesn’t read it because one knows it is absurd. And therefore one, as I said, glories in one’s ignorance of the position. It is rather difficult to seriously address the question about the relevance of Marxism unless one does the basic minimum of accepting that one should attempt to enter into this full body of thought — because it is a tremendous body of literature and analysis. And from the outside as it were, addressing the question is extremely difficult. Indeed, I would say it is pointless. Strictly from the outside, without ever having moved towards trying to grapple with what it is, to ask “What is its relevance?” is almost an unanswerable question. And I think in all modesty, those of us who come from a certain background — and we all come from that background — one of the first things we have to do is establish a basis of familiarity with the different intellectual traditions, and, as we become familiar with them, we can then be in a better position to evaluate Marxism’s relevance or irrelevance, as the case might be.
Now I will proceed on the assumption that what we are trying to discern in this discussion is whether the variants of time and place are relevant. Or, let me put it another way: whether the variants of time and place make a difference to whether Marxism is relevant or not. In a sense, we would almost have to assume its validity for the place in which it originated, Western Europe. We don’t have the time to deal with that in detail. But we can then ask, assuming that Marxism has a relevance, has a meaning, has an applicability to Western Europe — or had, in the 19th century — to what extent does its validity extend geographically? To what extent does its validity extend across time? These are the two variables: time and place. And those can be translated to mean historical circumstances — time — and culture, which means the place, and what social and cultural conditions exist in each particular place. For us — to make it more precise: Black people, no doubt well-meaning Black people, will ask the question whether an ideology which was historically generated within the culture of Western Europe in the 19th century is today, in the third quarter of the 20th century, still valid for another part of the world — namely Africa, or the Caribbean, or Black people in this country [United States]. Whether it is valid to other societies at other times. And this is the kind of formulation which I wish to present [for discussion].
The Methodology of Marxism
I would suggest two basic reasons why I believe that Marxist thought — scientific socialist thought — would exist at different levels, at different times, in different places, and retain its potential as a tool, as a set of conceptions which people should grasp. And the first is to look at Marxism as a methodology, because a methodology would virtually, by definition, be independent of time and place. You will use the methodology at any given time, at any given place. You may get different results, of course, but the methodology itself would be independent of time and place. And essentially, to engage in some rather truncated presentation of Marxism, inevitably oversimplifying, but nevertheless necessary in the context of limited time, I would suggest as one of the real bases of Marxist thought that it starts from a prespective of man’s relationship to the material world; and that Marxism, when it arose historically, consciously dissociated itself from and pitted itself against all other modes of perception which started with ideas, with concepts and with words, [and adapted itself] to the material conditions and the social relations in society. This is the difference with which I will start: a methodology which begins its analysis of any society, of any situation, by seeking the relations which arise in production between men. There are a whole variety of things which flow from that: man’s consciousness is formed in the intervention in nature; nature itself is humanized through its interaction with man’s labour, and man’s labour produces a constant stream of technology which in turn creates other social changes. So this is the crux of the scientific socialist perception. A methodology that addresses itself to man’s relationship in the process of production on the assumption — which I think is a valid assumption — that production is not merely the basis of man’s existence, but the basis for defining man as a special kind of being with a certain consciousness. It is only through production that the human race differentiates itself from the rest of the primates and the rest of life.
What does it [Marxism] pose itself against? It poses itself against a number of hypotheses, a number of views of the world which start with words and concepts. For those who are familiar with Marx’s own evolution, it is well known that he started by looking first at Hegel, a very plausible and perceptive analyst of the 19th century who was guilty, in Marx’s own estimation, of putting forward an entirely idealist position, one that placed ideas in the centre of the universe and saw the material world virtually deriving from those ideas. In thinking about this, I felt that I wouldn’t go into Hegel, I would go further than Hegel for a classic exposition of the idealist world view. I take it from the New Testament, the Book of John, where he stated:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God. And the Word was God.”
That is the classic exposition of the idealist position. You take every other thing from there: the Word was God! But we are suggesting that the word is itself an emanation from people’s activity as they attempt to communicate with each other, as they develop social relations out of production, and that we shouldn’t be mystified with words. Naturally enough we will have to deal with concepts and with the force of consciousness, which is a very powerful force, which even some Marxists have been tempted to underestimate.
Now Marx, taking that broad framework of methodology, tried to apply it to Western Europe. He applied it to a range of societies in different places and at different times, but he concentrated his attention to Western Europe. If you examine the body of literature produced by Marx and Engels you will find that they speak about slavery, about communal society, about feudalism, but by and large they concentrate on capitalism. They hardly even talk about socialism. Marx’s great contribution was his fantastic critique of an existing society, capitalist society. How did it come into being in a particular part of the world? The vast proportion of their literature concerns this question.
But, as I said when I talked about pre-capitalist society, especially feudalism, they talked about some other parts of the world. Occasionally Marx mentions the “Asiatic mode of production.” Occasionally he came across to look at the data concerning the United States. So he had something of a geographical span and a long time span. But it was so minimal in comparison with the bulk of his work that it is true that a lot of people have taken Marx’s method and his conclusions and have seen them as one and the same thing, that Marxism is not merely a certain methodology applied to Western Europe, but that Marxism is itself an ideology about Western Europe, about capitalism in the 19th century, and it cannot transcend those boundaries. When, clearly, Marx was doing the job he had to do: he was looking at his own society, he was doing it under some of the most adverse conditions, he was doing it by mastering bourgeois knowledge and putting it to the service of change and revolution. I would suggest, then, that the method was independent of time and place. It is implicit in Marx and it becomes explicit in post-Marxian development, using Marxian in the literal sense of the life of Marx himself. After Marx’s death you will get the evolution or the development of scientific socialist thought with other individuals recognizing that the methodology can be applied — must be applied — to a different time, must be applied to a different place.
Again, presenting our history in a very abbreviated form, we can look at Lenin, at his application of Marxist theory to Russian society. That is one of his principal contributions. The young Lenin, the first major thesis which he wrote, was the Development of Capitalism in Russia. He had to deal with his own society. He had to take those formulations out of the specific cultural and historical context of Western Europe and look at Eastern Europe, at Russia which was evolving differently, and to apply it to his own society. This he did. He had at the same time to consider the time dimension. That in the 19th century Marx was writing about what has now come to be called the classic period of capitalism, the entrepreneurial version of capitalism, and by the latter 19th century this had given way to monopoly capitalism. It had given way to imperialism.
So Lenin had to deal with method by applying it to a new dimension in time. So he wrote about capitalism in its imperialist stage. So those are the two variants operating: the ideology, the methodology of it (we’ll stick to the methodology for the time being) being applied to different societies at different times. Having made the point for Lenin, I hope it becomes clear for a number of people: Mao Zedong applying it to Chinese society, which was a different society from Russian society. Understanding the inner dynamics of Chinese society, relating to the question of the peasantry in a different and more profound way than any previous writer, because that was the nature of Chinese society, and he had addressed himself to that. And finally, for our purposes the most important example, the example of Amílcar Cabral. Because he was dealing with Africa. Cabral, in one of his essays, the one entitled The Weapon of Theory, if I recall correctly, one of his most important essays, began by making it clear that the best he could do was to return to the basic methodology of Marx and Engels. But it was not possible for Cabral to begin the analysis of the history of Guinea-Bissau by saying: “I am going to look for classes,” for example. He said, “If I say this I will be denying that my people have any history, because I do not perceive classes for a long period in the genesis of my own people.” Then he referred back to Marx and Engels’ classic statement that “the history of all existing societies is the history of class struggle.” To which Engels had appended a note saying that “by all history we mean all previously recorded history.” It so happens that the history of the people of Guinea-Bissau has not been recorded, and Cabral says: “I want to record that history. We will use the Marxian method. We will not be tied by the concept which arose historically in Western Europe when Marx was studying that society.”
Marx uses the method, and he discerned the evolution of classes and of the phenomemon of classes itself as being a major determinant — the major determinant — in western European history at a particular point in time. Cabral says, “We will begin at the beginning. We will not even concern ourselves initially with classes. We will simply look at men in the process of production. We will look at modes of production in the history of Guinea, and we will see how our society evolved.” So, without much of a fanfare, he was showing the relevance of that methodology to African society. If and when in the history of Guinea-Bissau the aspect of class appears to have historical importance, then Cabral dealt with it. Until such time, he simply stuck to the basis of Marxian methodology which was to look at Guinean people in the process of production, social formations, cultural formations which arose historically, and the direction in which the society was tending.
In many respects, when we today ask the question about the relevance of Marxism to Black people, we have already reached a minority position, as it were. Many of those engaged in the debate present the debate as though Marxism is a European phenomenon and Black people responding to it must of necessity be alienated because the alienation of race must enter into the discussion. They seem not to take into account that already that methodology and that ideology have been utilized, internalized, domesticated in large parts of the world that are not European. That it is already the ideology of eight hundred million Chinese people; that it is already the ideology which guided the Vietnamese people to successful struggle and defeat of imperialism. That it is already the ideology which allows North Korea to transform itself from a backward quasi-feudal, quasi-colonial terrain into an independent industrial power. That it is already the ideology which has been adopted on the Latin American continent and that serves as the basis for development in the Republic of Cuba. That it is already the ideology which was used by Cabral, which was used by Samora Machel, which is in use in the African continent itself to underline and underscore struggle and the construction of a new society.
It cannot therefore be termed a European phenomenon, and the onus will certainly be on those who argue that this phenomenon which has already universalized itself somehow is inapplicable to some Black people. The onus will be on those individuals, I suggest, to show some reason, perhaps genetic, why the genes of Black people reject this ideological position.
When we investigate and try to concentrate or keep central the concept of relevance, we must ask ourselves questions abut the present. What kind of society do we live in today? What kind of societies do Black people live in today in different parts of the world? And while of course we as Black people in this country, in the Caribbean and in different parts of Africa, have our own independent historical experience, one of the central facts is that we are all, in one way or another, located within the capitalist system of production. The society about which Marx wrote, through a process of outgrowth, dominated Africa and the Americas in the era of mercantilism, which was the period that capitalism was growing to maturity. It dominated these parts of the world. It created slave society in the Americas. Subsequent to the slave era, capitalism, even more powerful, was able to incorporate the whole world into a global network of production which derived from Western Europe and North America, a system which had a metropolitan centre or set of metropolitan centres, and a separate set of peripheries, colonies, and semi-colonies. So that we have all, historically, been incorporated within the capitalist system of production, and that is another dimension of the relevance of Marxism.
Even without the translation in terms of time and place, it seems to me that if we have become part of the capitalist-imperialist world, then we owe it to ourselves to relate to, to follow, to understand, and to hopefully adopt and adapt a critique of that capitalist system, because that is essentially what Marx’s writing is about. He was criticising that capitalist system. He did it more effectively than any bourgeois writer, and if we want to understand the world in which we live, which is a world dominated by capitalism, then we must understand the centre of that system, the motor within that system, types of exploitation which are to be found within the capitalist mode of production. So that is yet another factor.
Marxism as Revolutionary Ideology
I had originally suggested there were two basic things, and one was the methodology. My second consideration after methodology is to look at Marxism as a revolutionary ideology and as a class ideology. In class societies all ideologies are class ideologies. All ideologies derive from and support some particular class. So for all practical purposes we have grown up in capitalist society, and bourgeois ideology is dominant in our society. These institutions in which we function were created to serve the creation of ideas as commodities, ideas which will buttress the capitalist system. Now I would suggest historically, as Marx suggested himself, that the set of ideas we call “scientific socialism” arose within capitalist society to speak to the interest of the producers in that society, to speak to the interest of those who are exploited and expropriated, to speak to the interest of the oppressed, of the culturally alienated, and we must understand that, of the two major sets of ideas before us — idealism and materialism, bourgeois philosophy and Marxist philosophy — that each of the two is representative of a particular class. I don’t have the time to go into all the historical roots of the formation of socialism but, briefly, in the 19th century it was with the rise of capitalist society that conditions were created for the development of socialist ideas.
Out of the diverse and unsystematized socialist ideas, Marx was able to formulate a clear and systematic theory: scientific socialism. It had a particular class base and because it had this particular class base, it was revolutionary. It sought to transform and upend the relations in society. Bourgeois ideology is of necessity status quo preserving. It seeks to conserve, it seeks to buttress the given system of production, the relations which flow, the relations which flow from a certain system of production. A scientific socialist position remains revolutionary because it aims — consciously aims — at undermining that system of production and the political relations which flow from it. This is what I mean by revolutionary.
From time to time there are Marxists who have arisen who have attempted to deny or denude Marxism of its revolutionary content. That is true. There are Marxists who have become legal or armchair Marxists, who would like to see Marxism as merely another variant of philosophy, and who treat it in a very eclectic fashion as though one is free to draw from Marxism as one draws from Greek thought and its equivalents, without looking at the class base and without looking whether an ideology is supportive of the status quo or not.
Nevertheless, by and large, we can see Marxism and scientific socialism as subversive of and antithetical to the maintenance of the system of production in which we live. Because ideas, let me repeat, do not float in the sky, they do not float in the atmosphere, they are related to concrete relations of production. Bourgeois ideas derive from bourgeois relations of production. They are intended to conserve and maintain those relations of production. Socialist ideas derive from the same production, but they derive from a different class interest, and their aim is to overthrow that system of production.
Africa and Scientific Socialism
There again I will suggest that African people, like other Third World people, have virtually a vested interest in scientific socialism, because it offers itself to them as a weapon of theory. It offers itself to them as that tool, at the level of ideas, which will be utilized for dismantling the capitalist imperialist structure. This is its concern.
What I will attempt to deal with, as best I can, are certain questions arising from individuals who might say “yes” to most of what I’ve said, and then will ask the question, “Is there no other alternative? Is there no other ideological system which is neither capitalist not socialist, but is anti-capitalist, but addresses itself more humanely, if you like, to the interest of African people wherever they are?” These questions are worth looking into because there are Black people asking these questions, and we have to try and resolve them. My own formulation will be to suggest that we look at concrete examples of African or Black people who have attempted to devise systems which they consider to be non-capitalist and non-socialist. Systems they consider are valid alternatives to scientific socialism for the emancipation of African people.
In this regard we have a number of Pan-Africanists, a number of African nationalists in Africa, in the Caribbean and in this country, who have taken that road. George Padmore did this at the end of his life, and made a sort of distinction — not a sort, he made a distinction between scientific socialism and Pan-Africanism. He said this is the road we will follow: Pan-Africanism. We do not want to go that road which is capitalist; we do not want to go the socialist road; we will derive for ourselves something that is Pan-African.
In a sense Nkrumah followed up upon this and, although at one time he called himself a Marxist, he always was careful to qualify this by saying that he was also a Protestant.  He believed in Protestantism at the same time. So simultaneously he was trying to straddle two worlds; the world which says in the beginning was matter and the world which says in the beginning there was the word. And inevitably he fell between these two. It’s impossible to straddle these two. But there he was, and we must grant his honesty and we must grant the honesty of many people who have attempted to do this impossible task and follow them to find out why they failed. They failed because their conception of what a variant different from bourgeois thought and different from socialist thought inevitably turned out to be merely another branch of bourgeois thought. And this was the problem: that bourgeois thought — and indeed socialist thought, when we get down to it — can have a variety of developments or roads and aspects or paths. Bourgeois thought, because of its whimsical nature and because of the way in which it promotes eccentrics, can have any road. Because, after all, when you are not going any place, you can choose any road!
So for bourgeois thought it was possible for these individuals to make what I consider to be a genuine attempt to break with the dominance of bourgeois thought, and yet find in the final analysis that they have merely embraced another manifestation of that which they themselves at the outset had suggested that they were confronting.
There are a number of examples, some more apt than others. Some of the examples actually are Africans who I think, were blatantly dishonest from the beginning. I do think that most of the ideologues of African socialism claiming to find a third path are actually just cheap tricksters who are attempting to hoodwink the majority of the population. I don’t think they’re out to develop anything that addresses itself to the interests of the African people. But, nevertheless, it is part of the necessity of our times that our people no longer are willing to accept anything that is not put to them in the guise of socialism.
And therefore I shan’t in fact go on to African socialism. What I’ll do is take examples of those who were, in my opinion, being serious, being honest. And certainly Kwame Nkrumah was one of these. Nkrumah spent a number of years during the fifties and right up to when he was overthrown — that would cover at least ten years — in which he was searching for an ideology. He started out with this mixture of Marxism and Protestantism, he talked about Pan-Africanism, he went to consciencism and then Nkrumahism, and, there was everything other than a straight understanding of socialism.
What were the actual consequences of this perception? That is what matters to us. Let us assume that he was searching for something African and that he was trying to avoid the trap of adopting something alien. What were the practical consequences of his attempt to dissociate himself from an international socialist tradition? We saw in Ghana that Nkrumah steadfastly refused to accept that there were classes, that there were class contradictions in Ghana, that these class contraditions were fundamental. For years Nkrumah went along with this mish-mash of philosophy, which took some socialist premises but in which he refused to pursue it to its logical conclusion, in which he would accept that one either had a capitalist system based upon the private ownership of the means of production and the alienation of the product of people’s labour, or one had an alternative system which was completely different and that there was no way of juxtaposing and mixing these two to create anything that was new and viable.
A most significant test of this position was when Nkrumah himself was overthrown! After he was overthrown, he lived in Guinea-Konakry and before he died he wrote a small text, Class Struggle in Africa. It is not the greatest philosophical treatise but it is historically important, because it is there Nkrumah himself in effect admits the consequences, the misleading consequences, of an ideology which espoused an African cause, but which felt, for reasons which he did not understand, a historical necessity to separate itself from scientific socialism. It indicated quite clearly the disastrous consequences of that position. Because Nkrumah denied the existence of classes in Ghana until the petty bourgeoisie as a class overthrew him. And then, in Guinea, he said it was a terrible mistake. Yes, the petty bourgeoisie is a class with interests fundamentally opposed to workers and peasants in Africa. Yes, the class interests of the petty bourgeoisie are the same or at least are tied in with the class interests of international monopoly capital and therefore we have in Africa a class struggle within the African continent and a struggle against imperialism. And if we are to aim at transcending these contradictions, of bringing victory and emancipation to the working peoples, the producers of Africa, we will have to grapple with that ideology, which first of all recognizes and, challenges the existence of exploiting and oppressing classes.
It’s a very important historical document. It is the closest that Nkrumah comes to a self-critique. It is the record of a genuine nationalist, African nationalist, who wandered for years with this assumption and feeling that somehow he must dissociate himself in one way or another from scientific socialism because it originated outside the boundaries of his own society and he was afraid of its cultural implications. That is putting it in the most charitable way. But the fear is due, in fact, to aspects of bourgeois ideology. Due to the fact that he made a distinction between social theory and scientific theory, which is not a necessary distinction. That is the distinction which comes out of the history of bourgeois thought.
People seem to have no difficulty in deciding that they are going to use facets of the material culture that originated in the West, whether it originated in capitalist or socialist society. People have no difficulty relating to electricity but they say: “Marx and Engels, that’s European!” They don’t ask the question, “Was Edison a racist?” but they ask the question, “Was Marx a racist?” They genuinely believe that they are making a fundamental distinction, whereas, in fact, this is obscuring the totality of social development. And the natural sciences are not to be separated from the social sciences. Our interpretation of the social reality can similarly derive a certain historical law and hence scientific law of society which can be applied irrespective of its origin or its originators. Of course, it is true, and this is the most appropriate note on which to end, that any ideology, when applied, must applied with a thorough grasp of the internal realities of a given African society.
Marxism comes to the world as a historical fact, and it comes in a cultural nexus. If, for instance, Africans… or, let us go back to Asians; when the Chinese first picked up the Marxist texts, they were European texts. They came loaded with conceptions of the historical development of Europe itself. So that method and factual data were interwoven obviously and the conclusions were in fact in a specific historical and cultural setting. It was the task of the Chinese to deal with that, and to adapt it, and to scrutinize it, and see how it was applicable to their society. First and foremost to be scientific it meant having due regard for the specifics of Chinese historical and social development.
I have already cited Cabral in another context, and he reappears in this context. The way in which he is at all times looking at the particularities of class development in contemporary Guinea-Bissau, looking at the potential of classes in Guinea-Bissau at this point in time. And therefore he is, of course, making sure that Marxism does not simply appear as the summation of other people’s history, but appears as a living force within one’s history, and this is a difficult transformation. This is the task of anybody who considers himself or herself a Marxist. However, because it is fraught with so many difficulties and obstacles, many people take the easy route, which is to take it as a finished product rather than an ongoing special product which has to be adapted to their own society.
One finds that in looking at this Marxist theory, at its relevance to race, looking at the relevance of Marxist theory to national emancipation, we come up with a very important paradox, and it is this: that the nationalist, in the strict sense of the word, that is the petty bourgeois nationalist, who aims merely at the recovery of national independence in our epoch, is incapable of giving the peoples of the Caribbean any participation in liberal democracy. The petty-bourgeoisie cannot fulfill these historical tasks, for national liberation requires a socialist ideology. We cannot separate the two. Even for national liberation in Africa, Guinea-Bissau, and Mozambique very clearly demonstrated the necessity for an ideological development — for conscientization, as they say in Latin America — and, the nationalist struggle was won because it came under the rubric of a scientific socialist perspective.
As Cabral said, “There may be revolutions which have had a revolutionary theory and which have failed, but there have certainly been no revolutions which have succeeded without a revolutionary theory.”
Nkrumah’s son, Gorkeh A. Gamal Nkrumah, wrote a sharp rebuttal to the original publication of this article. His citations illustrate that K. Nkrumah had a very strong grasp of class struggle and scientific socialism, and Rodney is accused of relying on the underhanded second-hand work of white “Marxian” critics of Nkrumah (Fitch and Oppenheimer).  That said, my position — briefly and on the basis of very limited acquaintance with Nkrumah’s work and circumstances (i.e. don’t take my word for it, read these works!) — is that Rodney’s impressions can all be explained in terms of a critical first-hand read, which I consider more likely.  — R. D. ↩
Rodney is correct to detect that there is a tendency towards idealism in Consciencism (1964); perhaps owing to optimism about Africa’s prospects for independence at the time, Marxism is written about as a very affine but distinct ideology than his own.  On the other hand, Class Struggle in Africa (1970), written after he was ousted in the 1966 coup, reads to me like a hard-headed return to more “positivist” and “antagonistic” socialism.  Clarifying all aspects of this dispute would be a very worthwhile future contribution! — R. D. ↩
Some excerpts from Nkrumah’s Consciencism (1964) which in my opinion substantiate Rodney’s critique that Nkrumah was attempting a departure from Marxist “orthodoxy”:
- “The Marxist emphasis on the determining force of the material circumstances of life is correct. But I would like also to give great emphasis to the determining power of ideology.” (p. 34)
- “With true independence regained, however, a new harmony needs to be forged, […] Such a philosophical statement I propose to name philosophical consciencism, for it will give the theoretical basis for an ideology whose aim shall be to contain the African experience of Islamic and Euro-Christian presence as well as the experience of the traditional African society, and, by gestation, employ them for the harmonious growth and development of that society.” (p. 70)
- “But because the spirit of communalism still exists to some extent in societies with a communalist past, socialism and communism are not in the strict sense of the word ‘revolutionary’ creeds. […] On the other hand, in societies with no history of communalism, the creeds of socialism and communism are fully revolutionary, and the passage to socialism must be guided by the principles of scientific socialism.” (p. 74)
- “There is a supreme need to distinguish here between the materialism which is involved in philosophical consciencism and that materialism which implies the sole existence of matter. […] Philosophical consciencism, even though deeply rooted in materialism, is not necessarily atheistic.” (p. 84)
- “Philosophical consciencism consequently adumbrates a political theory and a social-political practice which together seek to ensure that the cardinal principles of ethics are effective. The social-political practice is directed at preventing the emergence or the solidifying of classes, for in the Marxist conception of class structure, there is exploitation and the subjection of class to class. Exploitation and class-subjection are alike contrary to consciencism.” (p. 98)
Kwame Nkrumah, 1970. Class Struggle in Africa. The inscription in the preface reads “This book is dedicated to the workers and peasants of Africa.” ↩