Malcolm X, Black Liberation, & the Road to Workers Power
By Jack Barnes
Published by Pathfinder Press
Malcolm X has long been considered a selfless defender of the rights of African Americans. Unlike Martin Luther King, who dedicated himself to peaceful protest, Malcolm believed that the rights of
Black people need to be defended by “any means necessary.”
Jack Barnes, who is the national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party, wrote a book largely about the contributions of Malcolm X in support of the struggle for human dignity. The title is Malcolm X, Black Liberation & the Road to Workers Power. Most people who are familiar with some of the speeches of Malcolm are unaware that Malcolm gave three speeches during the last year of his life at Militant Labor Forums.
The Militant newspaper reflects the views of the SWP. Barnes, in fact, interviewed Malcolm for the former publication The Young Socialist. One of Barnes’ arguments in this book is that Malcolm was not just a leader of African Americans, but worked to create a movement that would be an example for workers and farmers throughout the world. Malcolm explained that there would be a clash “between those who want freedom, justice, and equality, and those who want to continue the system of exploitation.”
This book contains discussions between Leon Trotsky and CLR James about the struggle for Black Rights in this country. These discussions give a historical background for an appreciation of the politics of Malcolm X.
Non-violence and self defence
Many people who support capitalist politics in this country were, and continue to be, critical of Malcolm because he would not renounce the use of violence. For Malcolm this was a basic question of self-defense. This is how Malcolm explained it. “Because when a man knows that when he starts playing with you, he’s got to kill you, that man is not going to play with you.” Malcolm also liked to quote the revolutionary Patrick Henry who argued in the 1700’s, “Give me liberty or give me death.”
In Germany during the 1930’s Adolph Hitler and the Nazis came to power and made that nation one of the most repressive in the world. Yet there was virtually no armed resistance to the Nazi takeover. This is what can happen when working people limit themselves to a strategy of non-violence.
Another aspect of Malcolm’s legacy was his insistence that the struggle was international. Malcolm informed people about information others chose to ignore, but is thoroughly documented today. That is that Washington was primarily responsible for overthrowing the government of Patrice Lamumba and murdering many of the people of the Congo in the process.
Malcolm wasn’t just opposed to the war against Vietnam. He identified with all of those who fought against the US in Asia as well as Africa. He contrasted those who struggled to achieve liberation to those who followed the orders of the military commanders in the United States. Malcolm argued, speaking of the US military: “He’s brave when he’s got tanks. He’s brave when he’s got planes, bombs. . . Take that little man from Africa and Asia, turn him loose with a blade, and when the sun goes down its even Steven.”
Repression in the United States of America
Malcolm X lived most of his life at a time when discrimination was the Jim Crow law of the land. While these laws did not exist in the northern states, Malcolm argued, “Stop talking about the South. If you’re south of Canada, you’re in the South.”
Frederick Engels and Vladimir Illyich Lenin were two communists who made a similar argument as Malcolm. They both made the statement that the institution of the “state” was created in the capitalist system to be used as a “special repressive force” against the interests of workers.
The escaped slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass lived during the same years as Frederick Engels. On the Forth of July, 1852 Douglass made a statement which agreed with the sentiment of Engels, Lenin, and Malcolm. “For revolting barbarism, and shameless hypocrisy, America reins without a rival.”
Malcolm argued that during slavery there were two kinds of slaves, the house slave and the field slave. The consciousness of these two slaves were different. Malcolm argued that when the master was sick the house slave might say, “We sick Master?” But the field slave hoped the Master would die when he was ill. When the home of the Master was on fire the field slave might be the first to try to put out the fire, while the field slave hoped the house would burn to the ground. Malcolm, throughout his life, openly identified with the legacy of the field slave.
Waking people up to our humanity
Today we listen to a plethora of commentators who argue that “something needs to be done” about the horrendous problems we face. This attitude underscores the notion that there is a confidence that the government has the capacity to resolve this crisis in a positive way. Malcolm, on the other hand, had the confidence that Black people have the potential to transform the world. This was his argument:
“The greatest mistake of the movement has been trying to organize a sleeping people around specific goals. You have to wake people up first, then you’ll get action.”
“Wake them up to their exploitation?”--Marlene Nadle of the Village Voice
“No, to their humanity, to their own worth, and to their heritage.”--Malcolm X
This is how Jack Barnes explains it:
“Don’t start with Blacks as an oppressed nationality. Start with the vanguard place and weight of workers who are Black in broad proletarian-led struggles in the United States. From the Civil War to today, the record is mind-boggling. It’s the strength and resilience, not the oppression, that boles you over.”
This book is not just about the problems of the United States. Its about how working people have the potential to resolve these problems in a way that will create an atmosphere where there can be human dignity for all. Malcolm X dedicated his life to that struggle and continues to be an example for working people and farmers all over the world.