Sunday, February 21, 2010

Malcolm X: Remembering the Last 10 Months

Today is the 45th anniversary of the assassination of the man they call Malcolm X, a man we are often told was a racist, or a radical religionist, or an exploitative communist, but that millions of other men, women and children called an inspiration, a leader, a great man, and some, even called a friend.

At his funeral, Actor and Activist Ossie Davis delivered his eulogy, which he reread, and you can hear at the end of spike Lee's Movie if you are so inclined, and had this to say:
There are those who will consider it their duty, as friends of the Negro people, to tell us to revile him, to flee, even from the presence of his memory, to save ourselves by writing him out of the history of our turbulent times. Many will ask what Harlem finds to honor in this stormy, controversial and bold young captain—and we will smile. Many will say turn away—away from this man, for he is not a man but a demon, a monster, a subverter and an enemy of the black man—and we will smile. They will say that he is of hate—a fanatic, a racist—who can only bring evil to the cause for which you struggle! And we will answer and say to them: Did you ever talk to Brother Malcolm? Did you ever touch him, or have him smile at you? Did you ever really listen to him? Did he ever do a mean thing? Was he ever himself associated with violence or any public disturbance? For if you did you would know him. And if you knew him you would know why we must honor him
Whatever you think of Malcolm X's political or religious beleifs, i ask, simply that you not immediately discount those millions of good, honorable people who know they must honor him. Too often divisive terms or matters of political idealogues are used to divide and conquor those who seek common ground, goals, and solutions to the burdens that most of, not the country but, the world have suffered under for too long. We have common ground, and while it may not always be easy to work together, it is a great deal easier, and more intelligent, not to work against eachother fighting over How to solve a problem.

To quote Mike Vanderboegh"If we don't understand where we came from -- all of us, together and separately, of all races, creeds, colors and religions -- then we cannot understand where we are or where we're going."

See the problem, work towards it, accept the help available to solve it.

Simple, isnt it?

And we do see a problem, dont we?

Reprinted below are the remarks by Steve Clark, one such man, at a February 21
forum, 2009, on the 44th anniversary of the assassination of Malcolm X. Clark
is the editor of several collections of speeches by Malcolm X published
by Pathfinder Press and a member of the Socialist Workers Party
National Committee.

The forum was held at the Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and
Educational Center, at the site of the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem
where Malcolm X was fatally shot at the podium on Feb. 21, 1965. A
report on the meeting appeared in the March 16 issue of the Militant.

I’m glad to be here with all of you this evening to help keep alive
the legacy of one of the 20th century world’s most outstanding
revolutionary leaders of working people, and of the struggle for Black
freedom—Malcolm X. And not just a legacy, but above all a course of
conduct to emulate.

There is much we may never know about Malcolm’s assassination in this
very hall 44 years ago, since there are so many forces—the FBI and
other federal police agencies, the New York cops, and those in and
around what was then the leadership of the Nation of Islam—who have a
stake in covering up the truth.

What I want to focus on, however, is the political course Malcolm was
on during the final year of his life that made him so dangerous to—and
so hated by—all those who unsuccessfully sought to prevent his example
from becoming better known.

Evolution didn’t end in Mecca
In his book Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance,
Barack Obama—the newly inaugurated president and commander-in-chief of
the world’s final empire—has this to say: “If Malcolm’s discovery
toward the end of his life, that some whites might live beside him as
brothers in Islam, seemed to offer some hope of eventual
reconciliation, that hope appeared in a distant future, in a far-off

But Barack Obama gives us only the Malcolm of the Autobiography. Like
many who seek to deny Malcolm’s revolutionary political course during
the final months of his life, Obama freezes Malcolm’s political
evolution in April 1964, with the pilgrimage to Mecca. It’s as if
Malcolm had been assassinated 10 months before he actually was. Spike
Lee’s movie does the same thing.

This is standard for those who would turn Malcolm into a moral or
religious reformer, instead of a political leader who acted on the
reality that the concessions working people win under capitalism are
always a by-product of revolutionary struggle.

It’s standard for those who hold onto Malcolm X as a nationalist,
rather than an internationalist champion of struggles by the oppressed
and exploited the world over.

And we even hear it these days from some who try to twist and
disfigure Malcolm X into a beacon of the growing minority among
African Americans in the professional and middle classes who distance
themselves more and more—socially and politically—from the great mass
of working people, whose living and job conditions continue to get
worse, and in whose interests Malcolm fought and died.

Yes, of course, if all Malcolm’s legacy amounted to was the hope that
“some whites might eventually live beside him as brothers in Islam”—
then, certainly, that’s quite a reach for the transformation of the
United States and most of the rest of the world! It is a hope for “a
distant future”—at the very best.

Malcolm’s political legacy
But Mecca was not the culmination of Malcolm’s evolution. He lived,
learned, spoke, and fought for another 10 months!

And dozens of Malcolm’s speeches, interviews, and letters from those
months are available in books kept in print primarily by Pathfinder
Press. All of us can study—and work to emulate—what Malcolm actually
said and set out to achieve.

In them we discover the Malcolm who—when asked by a Village Voice
interviewer, just a few weeks before he was killed, whether his aim
was to awaken Blacks to their exploitation—immediately shot back: “No,
to their humanity, to their own worth.”

There we find the Malcolm who spoke out against those who don’t give
women “incentive by allowing her maximum participation in whatever
area of the society where she’s qualified.” Whatever country you
visit, Malcolm said, “the degree of progress can never be separated
from the woman.”

We find the Malcolm who rejected the Nation of Islam’s opposition to
intermarriage, saying: “I believe in recognizing every human being as
a human being—neither white, black, brown, or red… . It’s just one
human being marrying another human being, or one human being living
around and with another human being.”

It’s during those 10 months that we find the Malcolm who sought to
unify the broadest layers—irrespective of religious beliefs, or
absence of religious beliefs—in militant political action against
every manifestation of racist bigotry, of capitalism’s economic and
social exploitation, and of murderous imperialist wars—from the Congo,
to Vietnam, to Cuba at the time, and today we can add Iraq, Gaza,
Afghanistan, and Pakistan (where missile strikes by the Obama
administration in recent weeks have killed at least 30 people).

In order to join in these struggles effectively, Malcolm said, you
have to keep “your religion at home, in the closet”—because whether
you are “a Methodist or a Baptist or an atheist or an agnostic,” or a
Muslim, the oppressed catch the same hell.

Internationalist revolutionary
It’s during those 10 months that we find the Malcolm who told the
Young Socialist magazine that his recent visits to Africa and the
Middle East—meeting fellow fighters of all hues of complexion—had
convinced him to stop referring to the course he advocated as “Black
nationalism,” because, as Malcolm put it: “I was alienating people who
were true revolutionaries dedicated to overturning the system of
exploitation that exists on this earth by any means necessary.”

And that system has a name: capitalism. “You can’t operate a
capitalistic system unless you are vulturistic,” Malcolm told a Harlem
rally of the Organization of Afro-American Unity—in this very ballroom—
in December 1964. And three days prior to his assassination he told a
meeting at Columbia University, just a few blocks from here, “We are
today seeing a global rebellion of the oppressed against the
oppressor, the exploited against the exploiter.”

Malcolm X recognized it was necessary for African Americans and other
oppressed and exploited working people and youth to together make a
revolution in the United States, to take power out of the hands of the
racist and war-making capitalist rulers. He was an internationalist
revolutionary, part of a political convergence of revolutionary
leaderships of the toilers from North America, to Cuba, Algeria, and
elsewhere in Africa and the Americas.

Malcolm argued that this is a worldwide struggle, against a worldwide
social system that not only expropriates the wealth that working
people create with our labor. But above all, a system that denies us
the human solidarity and civilization that social labor makes possible—
that denies us, in Malcolm’s words, “our humanity, our own worth.”

Let me close with a few words about what we can and must learn from
Malcolm’s assassination itself. We know that the U.S. rulers—and their
massive political police apparatus at federal, state, and local levels—
carry out systematic spying, harassment. And, when they need to,
murderous violence against opponents of their policies.

Pathfinder publishes many titles detailing these cop operations
against unions, fighters for Black liberation, communists and
socialists, the movement against the Vietnam War, women’s rights
activists, and others: Cointelpro: The FBI’s Secret War on Political
Freedom and FBI on Trial: The Victory in the Socialist Workers Party
Suit against Government Spying, among the many.

In the course of a 15-year-long campaign against the FBI and other
federal cop agencies conducted by the political party I am a member
of, the Socialist Workers Party—which ended in 1986 in a victorious
federal court ruling against the U.S. government—the judge’s decision
documented 204 burglaries of party offices between 1945 and 1966—
that’s 204!; the use of 1,300 paid informers against the SWP between
1960 and 1976, including 300 planted as members; as well as firings,
evictions, and so on.

We know the Chicago cops brutally assassinated Black Panther Party
leader Fred Hampton while he was sleeping in his bed in 1969. And
since the 1959 revolution in Cuba, Washington has organized more than
600 failed assassination attempts against Fidel Castro. And there are
many, many other examples.

We have the right and the duty to demand that the government release
all the files on their disruption operations against those involved in
popular struggles here and around the world.

But those of us engaged on various fronts of the fight against
exploitation and oppression need to look at and draw lessons from an
even more fundamental political question. Because as Malcolm and other
revolutionary leaders have taught us, it is how we act, what we say
and do, how we organize to resist—in face of inevitable spying,
provocations, and violence by the exploiters, which will continue so
long as they hold state power—that ultimately settles defeat or
victory. How we do it—not how someone does it for us.

The U.S. rulers wanted to get rid of Malcolm X. However much is still
hidden from us, it’s clear nonetheless that Malcolm was assassinated
by individuals in or around the organization he had been a leader of
as recently as 18 months earlier: the Nation of Islam.

The U.S. rulers hated and feared the Grenada Revolution. But Maurice
Bishop, its outstanding leader, was assassinated by a Stalinist gang
within the governing New Jewel Movement, which in the process—as Fidel
Castro so accurately explained—not only destroyed the revolution but
handed the island over to U.S. imperialism on a silver platter.

During the 1970s and 1980s, Washington sent U.S. Special Forces to
help the government in El Salvador defeat worker and peasant struggles
led by the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front, the FMLN. But
world-class FMLN leaders such as Roque Dalton and Commander Ana María
were brutally assassinated not by these U.S. or Salvadoran rightist
squads, but by others within their own organization.

The U.S. government salted the Black Panther Party in the 1960s and
early 1970s with scores of paid snitches. But why were these cop
provocateurs able to get away with murderous internal violence and
thuggery on such a scale in the Panthers that the organization was
literally torn apart?

Intolerable methods
These are intolerable methods that the Stalinist movement in the 1930s
picked up from the dog-eat-dog social relations of capitalism and
injected into the unions and organizations of the oppressed.

Malcolm X hated these methods. He came to detest demagogy and
thuggery. He knew what the cops and racist bigots were capable of. He
knew the brutality he had been trained in as a leader of the Nation of
Islam and its paramilitary Fruit of Islam. As he said of the Nation
the day before his death, “I know what they can do, and what they
can’t, and they can’t do some of the stuff recently going on.”

Beatings of Malcolm’s supporters and attempts on his own life
escalated in early 1965, including the fire-bombing of his house that
could have killed his daughters and his wife Betty.

Malcolm’s greatest concern was the blows being struck to the fight for
liberation by the systematic violence being carried out by an
organization claiming to speak on behalf of the oppressed—the Nation
of Islam. “As we fight one another, they continue to rule,” Malcolm

There’s another, related lesson we must internalize, as a habit. The
U.S. ruling families don’t operate primarily on the basis of plots and
conspiracies. They don’t need to. They hold state power—the armed
forces, the cops, courts, and prisons. They control the schools, the
major newspapers, TV and radio stations.

Above all, their economic system exploits workers and farmers here and
around the world, wrings unimaginable wealth from our labor, and
reproduces those oppressive social relations every day, every week,
every month, every year.

However great our justified distrust of the rulers and their
government, focusing our attention on alleged conspiracies takes our
eyes off these fundamental realities—that the source of society’s ills
is the capitalist system, and we must organize a mass revolutionary
movement of working people to take political power from the hands of
the exploiting class.

What’s more, by diverting attention from our class enemy—for us in the
United States, the capitalist rulers in this country, first and
foremost—the endless pursuit of conspiracies too often ends up in
scapegoating and baiting: Cui bono? Who benefits? Like the widely
circulated anti-Semitic libel that Jews employed at the World Trade
Center were warned beforehand not to come work on September 11.

Or the scapegoats can be the communists. Or anarchists. Or immigrants
who are supposedly taking “our” jobs. Or the Blacks who are taking
“our” spots in college and in graduate schools. Or feminists. Or
greedy unions.

It’s all grist for the mill of the ultraright.

Capitalist crisis, civil debate
Capitalism is being shaken worldwide by the deepest contraction of
production and trade since the Great Depression of the 1930s. And it
has just begun.

Millions are being thrown onto the streets, with the hammer blows
falling heaviest on workers who are African American or foreign-born.
The capitalists are fanning reactionary trade protectionism, America
Firstism, and assaults on immigrant workers. Jew-baiting is again on
the march, as during the crisis of the 1920s and 1930s.

As the crisis of the capitalist system accelerates, there will be
mounting resistance by working people in the United States and around
the world.

As we organize to combat the wealthy families who own and control
industry, the banks, land, and trade—as well as the Democratic and
Republican parties that represent their class interests on the
political level—it is essential that within the organizations of the
working class and oppressed, we stand guard in defense of our ability
to exchange experiences and opinions above all in a civil manner, to
put opposing views to the test and draw a balance sheet—as we fight
shoulder to shoulder for goals we share in common.

If we are able to do that, then we will truly be drawing on the
enduring political contribution of the man who we are here to remember
this evening—to remember accurately, and completely.

There is no better moment than in tumultuous times we’ve entered to
recall the words Malcolm X spoke at Oxford University in the UK a
little more than 44 years ago, when he said that “the young generation
of whites, Blacks, browns, whatever else there is,” you’re living in
“a time of revolution.” And
“I for one will join in with anyone, I
don’t care what color you are, as long as you want to change this
miserable condition that exists on this earth.”