Revolutionary struggle, not conspiracy schemes,offers road forward
for oppressed and exploited
March 23, 2009
Reprinted below are the remarks by Steve Clark at a February 21 forum
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
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 freedomMalcolm 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 forcesthe FBI and
other federal police agencies, the New York cops, and those in and
around what was then the leadership of the Nation of Islamwho 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
toand so hated byall 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 Obamathe newly inaugurated president and commander-in-chief
of the world's final empirehas 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 land."
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 moresocially and politicallyfrom 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 studyand work to emulatewhat Malcolm actually
said and set out to achieve.
In them we discover the Malcolm whowhen asked by a Village Voice
interviewer, just a few weeks before he was killed, whether his aim
was to awaken Blacks to their exploitationimmediately 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 beingneither 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 layersirrespective of religious beliefs, or
absence of religious beliefsin militant political action against
every manifestation of racist bigotry, of capitalism's economic and
social exploitation, and of murderous imperialist warsfrom 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.
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 Eastmeeting fellow fighters of all hues of complexionhad
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 Unityin this very
ballroomin 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
possiblethat 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. rulersand
their massive political police apparatus at federal, state, and local
levelscarry 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 Partywhich ended in 1986 in a victorious
federal court ruling against the U.S. governmentthe judge's decision
documented 204 burglaries of party offices between 1945 and
1966that'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 resistin face of inevitable spying,
provocations, and violence by the exploiters, which will continue so
long as they hold state powerthat ultimately settles defeat or
victory. How we do itnot 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 processas
Fidel Castro so accurately explainednot 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?
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 oppressedthe Nation
of Islam. "As we fight one another, they continue to rule," Malcolm said.
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 powerthe 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 realitiesthat 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 enemyfor us in
the United States, the capitalist rulers in this country, first and
foremostthe 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
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
As we organize to combat the wealthy families who own and control
industry, the banks, land, and tradeas well as the Democratic and
Republican parties that represent their class interests on the
political levelit 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 sheetas 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 eveningto 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."