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Vol. 72/No. 6      February 11, 2008

Malcolm X 1964: ‘Revolution is like a forest fire’
(Books of the Month column)
Below is an excerpt from By Any Means Necessary, a collection of speeches and interviews by Malcolm X that is one of Pathfinder’s Books of the Month for February. On March 19, 1964, shortly after leaving the Nation of Islam and forming the Muslim Mosque, Inc., Malcolm gave an interview to poet and music critic A.B. Spellman, which is excerpted below. Malcolm outlined his initial thinking on the formation of a new organization to fight for the rights of Blacks and his views on self-defense, nonviolence, and revolution. Copyright © Betty Shabazz and Pathfinder Press 1970. Reprinted by permission.

SPELLMAN: What is your program for achieving your goals of independence?

MALCOLM: When the black man in this country awakens, becomes intellectually mature and able to think for himself, you will then see that the only way he will become independent and recognized as a human being on the basis of equality with all other human beings, he has to have what they have and he has to be doing for himself what others are doing for themselves. So the first step is to awaken him to this, and that is where the religion of Islam makes him morally more able to rise above the evils and the vices of an immoral society. And the political, economic, and social philosophy of black nationalism instills within him the racial dignity and the incentive and the confidence that he needs to stand on his own feet and take a stand for himself.

SPELLMAN: Do you plan to employ any kind of mass action?

MALCOLM: Oh, yes.

SPELLMAN: What kinds?

MALCOLM: We’d rather not say at this time, but we definitely plan to employ mass action… .

SPELLMAN: If the Muslim Mosque, Inc., joined in a demonstration sponsored by a nonviolent organization, and whites countered with violence, how would your organization react?

MALCOLM: We are nonviolent only with nonviolent people. I’m nonviolent as long as somebody else is nonviolent—as soon as they get violent they nullify my nonviolence.

SPELLMAN: A lot of leaders of other organizations have said they would welcome your help but they qualify that by saying “if you follow our philosophy.” Would you work with them under these circumstances?

MALCOLM: We can work with all groups in anything but at no time will we give up our right to defend ourselves. We’ll never become involved in any kind of action that deprives us of our right to defend ourselves if we are attacked.

SPELLMAN: How would the Muslim Mosque, Inc., handle a Birmingham, Danville, or Cambridge—what do you think should have been done?

MALCOLM: In Birmingham, since the government has proven itself either unable or unwilling to step in and find those who are guilty and bring them to justice, it becomes necessary for the so-called Negro who was the victim to do this himself. He would be upholding his constitutional rights by so doing, and Article 2 of the Constitution—it says concerning the right to bear arms in the Bill of Rights: “A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” Negroes don’t realize this, that they are within their constitutional rights to own a rifle, to own a shotgun. When the bigoted white supremists realize that they are dealing with Negroes who are ready to give their lives in defense of life and property, then these bigoted whites will change their whole strategy and their whole attitude… .

SPELLMAN: What is your evaluation of Monroe?

MALCOLM: I’m not too up on the situation in Monroe, North Carolina. I do know that Robert Williams became an exile from this country simply because he was trying to get our people to defend themselves against the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremist elements, and also Mae Mallory was given twenty years or something like that because she was also trying to fight the place of our people down there. So this gives you an idea of what happens in a democracy—in a so-called democracy—when people try to implement that democracy.

SPELLMAN: You often use the word revolution. Is there a revolution underway in America now?

MALCOLM: There hasn’t been. Revolution is like a forest fire. It burns everything in its path. The people who are involved in a revolution don’t become a part of the system—they destroy the system, they change the system. The genuine word for a revolution is Umwaelzung which means a complete overturning and a complete change, and the Negro revolution is no revolution because it condemns the system and then asks the system that it has condemned to accept them into their system. That’s not a revolution—a revolution changes the system, it destroys the system and replaces it with a better one. It’s like a forest fire, like I said—it burns everything in its path. And the only way to stop a forest fire from burning down your house is to ignite a fire that you control and use it against the fire that is burning out of control. What the white man in America has done, he realizes that there is a black revolution all over the world—a nonwhite revolution all over the world—and he sees it sweeping down upon America. And in order to hold it back he ignited an artificial fire which he has named the Negro revolt, and he is using the Negro revolt against the real black revolution that is going on all over this earth.  
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