“You’re living at a time of revolution…people in power have misused it and now a better world has to be built.” — Malcolm X
The following is a pamphlet drawing out the lessons of the civil rights movement which was originally produced by Socialist Alternative’s sister party, The Socialist Party of England and Wales, though we removed many of the British references.
On 21 February, 1965 Malcolm X was shot dead minutes before he was about to address a rally in Harlem, New York. As with the firebombing of his home a week earlier, the finger was automatically pointed at the Nation of Islam with whom Malcolm had split the previous year.
Threatened by his radical ideas and appeal to young blacks, the FBI had Malcolm X under surveillance. Speculation continues that the capitalist state itself used its own agents to eliminate their number one public enemy.
One thing is clear – the U.S. government drew a huge sigh of relief. One of the most vocal, uncompromising opponents of their system had apparently been silenced. However, history continues to show that revolutionary ideas can never be silenced.
The assassination of Malcolm X spawned the Black Panther Party. In Seize The Time, the story of the Black Panthers, Co-founder Bobby Seale tells us the tremendous effect the killing of Malcolm X had on him: “I got mad, I put my fist through a window. I told them all, I’ll make my own self into a Malcolm X, and if they want to kill me they’ll have to kill me…That was a big change for me…Malcolm X had an impact on everybody like that.” The next year the Black Panther Party was formed. They represent the highest point in the civil rights movement that engulfed the US for over two decades. They took Malcolm’s message of self-defense for blacks and translated it into action. During the 1970s they became a focal point for young blacks wanting to fight back against the racist police and state in America. They inspired youth and blacks internationally with their preparedness to fight racism and police brutality. They too posed a threat to the U.S. government. At one stage, 300 of their leaders were imprisoned on various trumped-up charges. Many more were gunned down by police.
For many youth today — black and white — the life and ideas of Malcolm X are a great inspiration. The X icon we see depicted on T-shirts, baseball caps, etc. represents much more than merely a fashion statement. It shows a section of people groping for ideas and strategies to take them forward. There are few, if any, obvious leaders that young people today identify with. Internationally the leaders of the labor movement certainly have no attraction. Their “do-nothing” policy frustrates radical youth looking for a way out of the conditions in which they are condemned to live.
In the 1990s, little has changed. The situation certainly hasn’t improved for most blacks in the U.S. Every social statistic from education to housing to employment shows blacks often have the lowest living standards in society. The public lynchings that were commonplace for decades have not gone away; they have merely been replaced with less visible racist attacks and murders. In New York alone there were 1,110 “hate crimes” committed against blacks and Jews in 1992. There are more than 300 white supremacy groups active in the United States. Against this background, Malcolm’s message of fighting back “by any means necessary” is as relevant as ever.
Big business has co-opted the image of a man who wholeheartedly denounced their system. They attempt to “sanitize” his message and make a profit out of doing so! An industry has developed that expects to net over $98 million in 1993 from the sale of X merchandise, including board games, chips, and air fresheners!
Eighty-four percent of young black Americans consider Malcolm X their hero. However, it is claimed that only one in four of those aged under 24 know what he actually stood for. Many black leaders now attempt to claim the mantle of Malcolm — even those reformist leaders embroiled in the Democratic Party which Malcolm consistently condemned. Louis Farrakhan, current leader of the Nation of Islam, while quick to sing the praises of Malcolm X today, joined in denouncing him at the time of Malcolm’s split with the Nation. He wrote in the Nation’s main publication: “… such a man as this is worthy of death.”
There is much debate over which direction Malcolm’s ideas were heading in the last year of his life. Socialist Alternative believes that his experiences and international outlook were leading him to understand that the system had to be overthrown. There is no doubt, however, that he was an internationalist and a revolutionary who clearly perceived the rottenness of world capitalism.
Socialist Alternative has produced this pamphlet to trace the life and ideas of Malcolm X and the civil rights movement and most importantly to explain their relevance today. His courageous stand must not be forgotten, and his ideas must be built upon. In the 1990s we must draw the same conclusions that Malcolm X and hundreds of other heroic blacks drew in the course of their struggle. Only a revolutionary fight to change society will truly lead to black liberation. But Socialist Alternative goes further – we fight for a socialist society based on the needs of working-class people, black and white. We believe that only a society run democratically, by ordinary people will end, once and for, all the racism and exploitation that is part and parcel of this capitalist system.
Andrea Enisuoh, 1993