This selection is from the speech He Spoke the Truth to Our Generation of Revolutionists: In Tribute to Malcolm X, a March 1965 talk by Jack Barnes, then national chairman of the Young Socialist Alliance, at a memorial meeting for Malcolm two weeks after his assassination.
Clifton DeBerry, the 1964 Socialist Workers Party candidate for president, chaired the meeting. Also speaking were Malcolms secretary and close collaborator James Shabazz; Farrell Dobbs, national secretary of the SWP; and Robert DesVerney, a writer for the Militant. The meeting was organized by the SWP and Young Socialist Alliance.
Today Barnes is the national secretary of the SWP. Copyright © 2009 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.
Malcolm was the leader of the struggle for Black liberation. He was, as stated at his funeral by Ossie Davis, our Black shining prince, the manhood of the Harlems of the world. To his people he first and foremost belongs.
But he was also the teacher, inspirer, and leader of a much smaller group, the revolutionary socialist youth in America. He was to us the face and the authentic voice of the forces of the coming American revolution. He spoke the truth to our generation of revolutionists.
What attracted revolutionary youth worldwide to Malcolm X? More important, what often made youth who listened to himincluding youth who are not Blackstart down the road to becoming revolutionists? I think there were two things above all. First, he spoke the simple truthunadorned, unvarnished, and uncompromising. Second was the evolution and content of Malcolms political thought.
Malcolm saw the depth of the hypocrisy and falsehood that cover the real social relations that make up American society. To him the key was not so much the lies that the ruling class and its spokesmen propagated, but the lies and the falsehoods about his peopletheir past and their potentialitieswhich they accepted.
Malcolms message to the ghetto, his agitation against racism, was a special kind. What he had to say and what he did stemmed from a study of the history of Afro-Americans. He explained that in order for Black Americans to know what to do, to discover who they really areto know how to go about winning freedomthey had to first answer three questions: Where did you come from? How did you get here? Who is responsible for your condition?
Malcolms truth was so explosive because it stemmed from a careful study of how the Afro-American was enslaved. He publicized the facts that have been suppressed from standard history books and kept out of the schools. While in the Black Muslims and after he left, Malcolm taught that the process by which the Africans were made into slaves was one of dehumanizing them. Through barbarous cruelty, comparable to the worst Nazi concentration camps, they were taught to fear the white man. They were systematically stripped of their language, culture, history, names, religion, of all connections with their homes in Africaof their identity. They were named Negro, signifying this lack of identity and this denial of their African origin.
Especially after their emancipation, the Christianity they were taught was the Christianity of meekness and submission and of their reward in heaven. They were taught that Africa was a jungle where people lived in mud huts, and that the white man had done them a great favor in bringing them to America.
Malcolm asked the Black American: Who taught you to hate yourself? Does he hate himself? Who taught you to be a pacifist? Was he a pacifist? Who said Black people cannot defend themselves? Does he defend himself? Who taught you not to go too far and too fast in your fight for freedom? Did he stand to lose something by the speed of your victory? Who taught you to vote for the fox in order to escape from the wolf? What does the fox give you in return?
Malcolms political thought was the other important factor in the development of those who were taught by him. First, he believed in and explained the need for Afro-American unity in action. He felt it was necessary to base your alliances on that unity, and reject unconditionally any degrading or compromising alliances. It is only upon the basis of this unity, and the dignity and self-respect that goes along with it, that the battle for freedom can be waged. Those who would bypass this step would condemn Black Americans to be a tail to the kite of other, more conservative forces.
We cannot think of uniting with others until after we have first united among ourselves. We cannot think of being acceptable to others until we have first proven acceptable to ourselves. One cant unite bananas with scattered leaves.1 Malcolm knew that Afro-Americans had had enough of this kind of unitywith the liberals, the Communist Party, and the Socialist Party.
Secondly, he spoke of self-defense, and the real source of violence. He continually pointed out that the source of violence was the oppressor, not the oppressed. He continually pointed to the use of violence by the oppressor. Out of one side of its mouth the government and press preach pacifism to the American Negro, while out of the other side comes the cold announcement that they will destroy as many North Vietnamese as they wish. Malcolm never tired of pointing out the hypocrisy of this form of pacifism, its ineffectuality, and its degrading and belittling character.
Malcolm told us ten months ago, at the first Militant Labor Forum at which he spoke, that if George Washington didnt get independence for this country nonviolently, and if Patrick Henry didnt come up with a nonviolent statement, and you taught me to look upon them as patriots and heroes, then its time for you to realize that I have studied your books well . No white person would go about fighting for freedom in the same manner that he has helped me and you to fight for our freedom. No, none of them would. When it comes to Black freedom, then the white man freedom-rides and sits in, hes nonviolent, he sings We Shall Overcome, and all that stuff. But when the property of the white man is threatened, or the freedom of the white man is threatened, hes not nonviolent.2
Thirdly, unlike any other Black leader, and unlike any other mass leader in my lifetime, he continually exposed the real role of the Democratic Party, and pointed out what a mistake it was to believe the federal government of this country would free Afro-Americans. He said, The Democrats get Negro support, yet the Negroes get nothing in return. The Negroes put the Democrats first, yet the Democrats put the Negroes last. And the alibi that the Democrats usethey blame the Dixiecrats. A Dixiecrat is nothing but a Democrat in disguise . Because Dixie in reality means all that territory south of the Canadian border.3
Rather than simply direct his fire at the puppets, Malcolm X always sought to expose those who were really responsible for maintaining the racism of this society. When New York Police Commissioner [Michael] Murphy attacked him and others as irresponsible, Malcolm responded that Murphy was only doing his job. Mayor [Robert] Wagner, Murphys boss, was the one responsible for the charge, he said.
Malcolm never tired of explaining and demonstrating that it was the federal government currently headed by President [Lyndon] Johnson, a Democrat, that was responsible for maintaining racism in the North and South. In doing this, he showed the continuity between the inhuman treatment of Negroes and the responsibility for the condition of Black people borne by those who run this society today. As one of his comrades, Brother Benjamin [Karim], pointed out at a recent meeting of the Organization of Afro-American Unity, the North is responsible for the racism in the South, because they won the Civil War.
It was in talking about the Democratic Party that another aspect of Malcolm came clearly to the fore. This was his ability to translate the complex and important ideas which he developed and absorbed into the language of those he knew would change the world. The ability to speak clearly to the oppressed has been a unique genius of all great revolutionary leaders in history.
The Militant reported that Malcolm, at his press conference in Harlem following his return from Africa eight months ago, spoke of President Johnson as being hypocritical. He pointed out that LBJs closest friend in the Senate, Richard Russell, was leading the fight against the civil rights bill. Malcolm was challenged by a reporter who doubted that Johnsons friendship with Russell proved anything. Malcolm looked at him with his usual smile and said, off the cuff, If you tell me youre against robbing banks and your best friend is Jesse James, I have grounds to doubt your sincerity.4
Though Malcolm X came from the American ghetto, spoke for the American ghetto, and directed his message to the American ghetto first of all, he became a figure of world importance, and developed his ideas in relation to the great events of world history in his time.
If Malcolm X is to be compared with any international figure, the most striking parallel is with Fidel Castro. Both of them belong to the generation that was shaped ideologically under the twin circumstances of World War II and the monstrous betrayals and defaults of Stalinized Communist parties. These men found their way independently to the revolutionary struggle, bypassing both Social Democracy and Stalinism.
Each started from the struggle of his own oppressed and exploited people for liberation. Each embraced the nationalism of his people as necessary to mobilize them to struggle for their freedom. Each stressed the importance of the solidarity of the oppressed all over the world in their struggle against a common oppressor.
Fidel did not start out as a thoroughgoing Marxist or as a revolutionary socialist. Like Malcolm, he was determined to pursue the national liberation of his people by whatever means necessary and without any compromises with those with any stake in the status quo.
Fidel Castros dedication to political independence and to economic development for Cuba led him to opposition to capitalism. So, also, Malcolms uncompromising stand against racism brought him to identify with the revolutions of the colonial people who were turning against capitalism, and finally to conclude that the elimination of capitalism in this country was necessary for freedom. Just as Fidel Castro discovered that there can be no political independence and economic development in a colonial country without breaking from capitalism, so Malcolm had come to the conclusion that capitalism and racism were so entangled in the United States that you had to uproot the system in order to eliminate racism.