This fall Pathfinder Press will issue a new, expanded edition of Malcolm X Talks to Young People, as well as the first-ever Spanish-language edition, Malcolm X habla a la juventud. Printed below are excerpts from two pieces that appear in the book. The first is from an interview Malcolm gave to the Young Socialist magazine on Jan. 18, 1965, at the request of the Young Socialist Alliance leadership.
The second piece, which has been newly added to the 2002 edition, is an article titled "Two Interviews," by Jack Barnes, written to mark the one-year anniversary of the assassination of Malcolm X. In it Barnes, one of the two young socialists who conducted the interview, describes his meeting with Malcolm X a few days later at which Malcolm reviewed and approved the final text. The interview appear in the March-April 1965 issue of the Young Socialist.
The anniversary article by Barnes originally appeared in the Feb. 21, 1966, issue of the Militant. Barnes is currently national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party.
Copyright © by Betty Shabazz and Pathfinder Press, reprinted by permission.
Young Socialist: What are the aims of your new organization?
Malcolm X: There are two organizations. Thereís the Muslim Mosque, Inc., which is religious. Its aim is to create an atmosphere and facilities in which people who are interested in Islam can get a better understanding of Islam. The aim of the other organization, the Organization of Afro-American Unity, is to use whatever means necessary to bring about a society in which the twenty-two million Afro-Americans are recognized and respected as human beings.
Young Socialist: How do you define Black nationalism, with which you have been identified?
Malcolm X: I used to define Black nationalism as the idea that the Black man should control the economy of his community, the politics of his community, and so forth.
But when I was in Africa in May, in Ghana, I was speaking with the Algerian ambassador who is extremely militant and is a revolutionary in the true sense of the word (and has his credentials as such for having carried on a successful revolution against oppression in his country). When I told him that my political, social, and economic philosophy was Black nationalism, he asked me very frankly: Well, where did that leave him? Because he was white. He was an African, but he was Algerian, and to all appearances, he was a white man. And he said if I define my objective as the victory of Black nationalism, where does that leave him? Where does that leave revolutionaries in Morocco, Egypt, Iraq, Mauritania? So he showed me where I was alienating people who were true revolutionaries dedicated to overturning the system of exploitation that exists on this earth by any means necessary.
So I had to do a lot of thinking and reappraising of my definition of Black nationalism. Can we sum up the solution to the problems confronting our people as Black nationalism? And if you notice, I havenít been using the expression for several months. But I still would be hard pressed to give a specific definition of the overall philosophy which I think is necessary for the liberation of the Black people in this country.
Young Socialist: Is it true, as is often said, that you favor violence?
Malcolm X: I donít favor violence. If we could bring about recognition and respect of our people by peaceful means, well and good. Everybody would like to reach his objectives peacefully. But Iím also a realist. The only people in this country who are asked to be nonviolent are Black people. Iíve never heard anybody go to the Ku Klux Klan and teach them nonviolence, or to the [John] Birch Society and other right-wing elements. Nonviolence is only preached to Black Americans, and I donít go along with anyone who wants to teach our people nonviolence until someone at the same time is teaching our enemy to be nonviolent. I believe we should protect ourselves by any means necessary when we are attacked by racists....
Young Socialist: How much influence does revolutionary Africa have on the thinking of Black people in this country?
Malcolm X: All the influence in the world. You canít separate the militancy thatís displayed on the African continent from the militancy thatís displayed right here among American Blacks. The positive image that is developing of Africans is also developing in the minds of Black Americans, and consequently they develop a more positive image of themselves. Then they take more positive steps--actions.
So you canít separate the African revolution from the mood of the Black man in America. Neither could the colonization of Africa be separated from the menial position that the Black man in this country was satisfied to stay in for so long. Since Africa has gotten its independence through revolution, youíll notice the stepped-up cry against discrimination that has appeared in the Black community.
Young Socialist: How do you view the role of the U.S. in the Congo?
Malcolm X: As criminal. Probably there is no better example of criminal activity against an oppressed people than the role the U.S. has been playing in the Congo, through her ties with Tshombe and the mercenaries.1 You canít overlook the fact that Tshombe gets his money from the U.S. The money he uses to hire these mercenaries--these paid killers imported from South Africa--comes from the United States. The pilots that fly these planes have been trained by the U.S. The bombs themselves that are blowing apart the bodies of women and children come from the U.S. So I can only view the role of the United States in the Congo as a criminal role. And I think the seeds she is sowing in the Congo she will have to harvest. The chickens that she has turned loose over there have got to come home to roost.
Young Socialist: What about the U.S. role in South Vietnam?
Malcolm X: The same thing. It shows the real ignorance of those who control the American power structure. If France, with all types of heavy arms, as deeply entrenched as she was in what then was called Indochina, couldnít stay there, I donít see how anybody in their right mind can think the U.S. can get in there--itís impossible. So it shows her ignorance, her blindness, her lack of foresight and hindsight; and her complete defeat in South Vietnam is only a matter of time....
Young Socialist: What is your opinion of the Democratic Party?
Malcolm X: The Democratic Party is responsible for the racism that exists in this country, along with the Republican Party. The leading racists in this country are Democrats. Goldwater isnít the leading racist--heís a racist but not the leading racist.2 The racists who have influence in Washington, D.C., are Democrats. If you check, whenever any kind of legislation is suggested to mitigate the injustices that Negroes suffer in this country, you will find that the people who line up against it are members of Lyndon B. Johnsonís party. The Dixiecrats are Democrats. The Dixiecrats are only a subdivision of the Democratic Party, and the same man over the Democrats is over the Dixiecrats....3
Young Socialist: What part in the world revolution are youth playing, and what lessons may this have for American youth?
Malcolm X: If youíve studied the captives being caught by the American soldiers in South Vietnam, youíll find that these guerrillas are young people. Some of them are just children and some havenít yet reached their teens. Most are teenagers. It is the teenagers abroad, all over the world, who are actually involving themselves in the struggle to eliminate oppression and exploitation. In the Congo, the refugees point out that many of the Congolese revolutionaries are children. In fact, when they shoot captive revolutionaries, they shoot all the way down to seven years old--thatís been reported in the press. Because the revolutionaries are children, young people. In these countries the young people are the ones who most quickly identify with the struggle and the necessity to eliminate the evil conditions that exist. And here in this country, it has been my own observation that when you get into a conversation on racism and discrimination and segregation, you will find young people are more incensed over it--they feel more filled with an urge to eliminate it.
I think young people here can find a powerful example in the young simbas [lions] in the Congo and the young fighters in South Vietnam.
Another point: as the dark-skinned nations of this earth become independent, as they develop and become stronger, that means that time is on the side of the American Negro. At this point the American Negro is still hospitable and friendly and forgiving. But if he is continually tricked and deceived and so on, and if there is still no solution to his problems, he will become completely disillusioned, disenchanted, and disassociate himself from the interest of America and its society. Many have done that already.
Young Socialist: What is your opinion of the worldwide struggle now going on between capitalism and socialism?
Malcolm X: It is impossible for capitalism to survive, primarily because the system of capitalism needs some blood to suck. Capitalism used to be like an eagle, but now itís more like a vulture. It used to be strong enough to go and suck anybodyís blood whether they were strong or not. But now it has become more cowardly, like the vulture, and it can only suck the blood of the helpless. As the nations of the world free themselves, then capitalism has less victims, less to suck, and it becomes weaker and weaker. Itís only a matter of time in my opinion before it will collapse completely.
Warren4 was born and raised in the South and, as a young man, believed in segregation. He has spent much of his life in the North as a writer and teacher, and is now against segregation. Stirred by the Negro upsurge, he wanted to find out more about what Negroes think. So he set out to interview many of them for his book, Who Speaks for the Negro? (Random House, 1965).
His approach is that of a liberal. One of his favorite questions of the people he interviewed was did they think that it would have been a good idea to have compensated the Confederate slaveholders for the slaves emancipated; he seemed to hit it off best with those who said it would have been a good idea. He evidently was smart enough to omit this question with Malcolm, or at least he doesnít mention it.
Warren goes to the Hotel Theresa in Harlem for his interview with Malcolm. "I am admitted by a strong-looking young Negro man, dressed impeccably...; he is silent but watchful, smooth-faced, impassive, of ominous dignity." (Not being a poet, as is Warren, I find it hard to conceive a dignity that is "ominous.") Malcolm shakes Warrenís hand, "with the slightest hint of a smile." Warren looks him over:
"The most striking thing, at first, about that face is a sort of stoniness, a rigidity, as though beyond all feeling. When the lips move to speak you experience a faint hint of surprise. When--as I discover later--he scores a point and the face suddenly breaks into his characteristic wide, leering, merciless smile, with the powerful even teeth gleaming beyond the very pale pink lips, the effect is, to say the least, startling. But beyond the horn-rimmed glasses always the eyes are watching, pale brown or hazel, some tint of yellow. You cannot well imagine them closed in sleep."
"After the handshake, he turns to his aide.... I am, for the moment, dismissed, and wander across the room, inspecting it." "...as he stands there across the expanse of bare, ill-swept floor, conferring with the ominous attendant...I am watching him, and he knows I am watching him, but he gives no sign." Malcolmís failure to give a sign that he knows Warren is watching him is clearly as sinister as the "attendant" has now become.
"Finally" Malcolm beckons Warren into the tiny room used as his office. "Malcolm X tells me that he has only a few minutes, that he has found that you waste a lot of time with reporters and then you donít get much space." And so the interview begins.
It seemed somewhat different when Barry Sheppard and I interviewed Malcolm in the same office on January 18, 1965, a month before his assassination. Our interview was taped for the Young Socialist.
The thing that struck me first was how tired Malcolm looked. (In the Autobiography, Alex Haley describes the 18-hour schedule he followed.) At one point toward the end of the interview, a yawn can be heard on the tape, followed by the apology, "Excuse my tired mind." We were a little uncomfortable at first, feeling that Malcolm might need rest more urgently than we needed an interview and, because this was the first time we had met, there was some over-politeness on both sides. Malcolm sent out for coffee for the three of us, making his familiar joke about his preference for light coffee, and after that the atmosphere warmed up.
After the formal interview, we offered to type it up and bring it back, edited to fit our space requirements, for his final check and corrections. I also asked him if he would like the Young Socialist Alliance to organize a national speaking tour of campuses for him later in the year. He expressed interest in this, but did not commit himself, saying he would discuss it the next time we got together.
Let us return to poor Warren. He tries to catch Malcolm in a contradiction, but Malcolm deftly avoids the trap, and makes his own point. Warrenís reaction:
"I discovered that that pale, dull yellowish face that had seemed so veiled, so stony, as though beyond all feeling, had flashed into its merciless, leering life--the sudden wolfish grin, the pale pink lips drawn hard back to show the strong teeth, the unveiled glitter of the eyes beyond the lenses, giving the sense that the lenses were only part of a clever disguise, that the eyes needed no help, that they suddenly see everything."
Malcolm had ruined his eyes reading by poor light at night while he was in prison, and says in the Autobiography that he had astigmatism. Never mind the facts--Warren senses "that the lenses were only part of a clever disguise" (an elaborate scheme for fooling liberals somehow). Warren didnít really need to look into Malcolmís eyes--he came to the interview convinced that Malcolm was racist, demagogic and opportunist ("He may end at the barricades, or in Congress. Or he might even end on the board of a bank"), and that is what he went away with.
Malcolm knew the white liberal type very well, and he must have had to grin ("leer") when he saw how closely Warren was conforming to the type. And when Warren asks Malcolm "if he believes in political assassination" (!), it is not hard to see why Malcolm might "turn the hard, impassive face and veiled eyes" upon Warren and say, "I wouldnít know anything about that."
I returned to Malcolmís office less than a week after our interview, bearing the edited transcript Barry had made from the tape. (If we had known this would be the last thing we would get from him, we of course would not have shortened the transcript, even slightly.) Malcolm was talking to a young man in his inner office. While I waited, for about ten minutes, one of Malcolmís co-workers, the only other person in the outer office, dozed at a reception desk.
A small stack of Militants lay on the desk with a couple of dimes on top.
As Malcolm read the transcript, he began to smile. When he came to the question about capitalism and the statement, "Itís only a matter of time in my opinion before it will collapse completely," he said, "This is the farthest Iíve ever gone. They will go wild over this." I asked if he wanted to tone it down and, without hesitation, he answered no.
He said he felt the editing had sharpened up what he had originally said; that he had been tired when he gave the interview. He made very few changes and I said that would be the final copy, just as he had left it. He said, "Make any additional changes you want--itís fine. This is the kind of editing itís a pleasure to read." The Young Socialist made no changes. The interview appeared as Malcolm had read and approved.
Malcolm then began to talk about young revolutionaries he had met and been impressed by in Africa and Europe. He said he had a long list of them--he called them "contacts"--and would give me a copy so we could send them the issue of the Young Socialist that contained his interview. He also spoke about The Militant, and how often he had seen it abroad.
I told him I might be going to Algeria for the World Youth Festival (then scheduled for the summer of 1965) and might be able to meet some of his contacts there.5 He said, "Great, that would be a good experience; they have a hard time believing that revolutionaries exist in the United States." We arranged that he would give me the list after the Young Socialist came off the press.
I reminded him about our proposal for a national campus tour. This time he responded very favorably; he must have thought about it further and may have discussed it with some of his co-workers. He said he had learned from much experience of speaking on campus that youth were in general the only whites that seemed to be open-minded. He said he was sure that the government would try to buy off the white students who were radical, that this was their main problem. He said they should "get in a closet"--away from the professors and the job offers from government and business--and think out their ideas more thoroughly and basically. They could travel the road before them in one of two ways, he said, "--as missionaries or as revolutionaries."
He asked a lot of questions about the Young Socialist Alliance--how many locals, where, what campuses? He wanted to know how long the tour would last; he said he could not make it until after his return from another trip abroad that he was committed to make, but that would be the best time. I said I was sure that on most campuses we would be able to get broader sponsorship than the YSA for his speeches, and he said he didnít care how broad or how narrow the sponsorship would be.
He asked me if I read French and then gave me a magazine from Paris with a story about his talk there in November, 1964.6 He said he thought it was a communist magazine, and that "things are very different in Europe and Africa. There are communists and socialists all over, and no one makes a big deal out of it. They canít imagine how narrow-minded this country is."
Malcolm also spoke at some length about imperialism, along what Marxists might call Luxemburgian lines--how the West is in a real bind because the colonial revolution is cutting off places where imperialism can expand.
I felt completely at ease with Malcolm throughout this discussion, which lasted quite a while at his initiative. He grew quite excited at the thought of his African youth contacts getting the Young Socialist interview and at the possibility of my meeting them. I had no sense of "taking" his valuable time--he was giving it voluntarily, and not out of mere politeness.
It is inconceivable that he would be like that with a liberal. There would be no common points of departure, no common projects of any kind, for him to discuss with a liberal who felt, as Warren did, that he was accomplishing his mission when he got Malcolm to "admit" that he didnít "see in the American system the possibility of self-regeneration."
1The prime minister of the newly independent government of the Congo was Patrice Lumumba, who had led the liberation struggle there. Washington and Brussels moved swiftly to prepare the overthrow of the Lumumba government. In face of attacks by Belgian troops, units of mercenaries, and the forces of the imperialist-backed secessionist regime of Moise Tshombe in southern Katanga province, Lumumba took the fatal step of requesting military help from the United Nations. In September 1960 Congolese army officer Joseph Mobutu, at the instigation of Washington and Brussels, deposed Lumumba. He was later arrested and, as UN forces looked on, handed over to Tshombeís forces, who murdered him in January 1961. In 1964 Tshombe was installed as prime minister of the central government in the Congo.
2 In the 1964 presidential election, the Republican candidate Barry Goldwater was defeated by the Democratic candidate Lyndon B. Johnson.
3 The Dixiecrats were the openly segregationist wing of the Democratic Party dominant at the time in most of the U.S. South.
4 Robert Penn Warren (1905Ė1989) was an American novelist, poet, and literary critic. He is the only writer to have won the Pulitzer Prize both for fiction and for poetry.
5 The ninth World Youth Festival had been set for July 28ĖAugust 7, 1965, in Algiers, and the Young Socialist Alliance had asked Barnes to lead its delegation. Organizers of the festival postponed the event and began looking for another site following the June 1965 coup that overthrew the popular revolutionary government of Ahmed Ben Bella, which had offered to host the international youth gathering.
6 The question-and-answer period from that November 1964 talk appears under the title "At a meeting in Paris," in By Any Means Necessary (New York: Pathfinder, 1970, 1992). The meeting was sponsored by the organization Prťsence Africaine, and the transcript was run in 1965 in the English-language edition of the magazine of the same name.
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