The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 73/No. 10      March 16, 2009

N.Y. meeting discusses
legacy of Malcolm X
NEW YORK—The revolutionary legacy of Malcolm X was celebrated at a forum here on the 44th anniversary of his assassination. The event was held at the Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center. The meeting was cosponsored by the Coalition on Political Assassinations (COPA) and by the center, which is located at the site of the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem where Malcolm X was fatally shot at the podium on Feb. 21, 1965.

Malaak Shabazz, Malcolm’s and Betty Shabazz’s youngest daughter, welcomed some 120 participants and thanked the speakers. The meeting was chaired by Dowoti Désir, the center’s executive director.

The first panelist was William Pepper, author of two books on what he believes to have been a U.S. government conspiracy in 1968 to assassinate Martin Luther King. The government did so, Pepper said, because King in his later years had “started down the same path as Malcolm X.”

Pepper, who served as an attorney to James Earl Ray—the man convicted of King’s assassination—said he was also convinced that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated in 1963 by conspirators at the service of “the Eastern Establishment” in the United States.

Wynne Alexander, station historian for Philadelphia’s WDAS radio, spoke about Malcolm X’s interview by the station on Dec. 29, 1964. Despite a death threat, and the station being surrounded by 100 local cops, including sharpshooters, Malcolm went on the air to explain his perspective for building the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU).

James Small, an OAAU leader and retired Black Studies professor at the City University of New York, spoke to the challenges facing African Americans since Malcolm’s death. “Would Malcolm be happy with the situation of African Americans if he were alive today?” Small asked, answering “No.” Since 1965, he said, 10,000 Blacks “have been elected to public office whose presence has meant no difference for the African-American community.” He pointed to high jobless rates and the devastating impact of today’s capitalist crisis.

Small spoke about the U.S., French, and British governments’ hatred of Malcolm. Malcolm knew he would be killed, Small said, and that the plot was “bigger than the Nation of Islam.”

Also speaking was Steve Clark, editor of several collections of speeches by Malcolm X published by Pathfinder Press and a member of the Socialist Workers Party National Committee. Clark encouraged those at the meeting to read and study Malcolm’s speeches and interviews from the last 10 months of his life—kept in print primarily by Pathfinder Press—in order to emulate “the political legacy and course of conduct of one of the 20th century’s most outstanding revolutionary leaders of working people and of the struggle for Black freedom.”

During those 10 months, Clark said, Malcolm sought to unify the broadest possible movement against anti-Black racism and oppression, women’s inequality, capitalist exploitation, and imperialist wars. Whatever one’s religious beliefs or lack of them, Malcolm said, it was necessary to leave religion at home in the closet in order to build a united movement.

Addressing the assassination, Clark pointed to the ways the U.S. rulers and their political police carry out spying and harassment, as well as murderous violence when they need to, against those actively engaged in fighting government policies.

The U.S. rulers wanted to get rid of Malcolm X, Clark said. But it was individuals in or around the Nation of Islam who shot him. Clark added that in Grenada a Stalinist clique within the governing New Jewel Movement murdered Maurice Bishop, the central leader of the 1979-83 revolution, and, as Cuban president Fidel Castro explained, “handed the island to U.S. imperialism on a silver platter.”

“Malcolm X hated these methods,” Clark said. Malcolm detested demagogy and thuggery by those claiming to fight for liberation. These are methods of the exploiters, picked up and introduced by the Stalinist movement into organizations of working people and the oppressed in the 1930s.

Clark pointed to the disorienting result of focusing our attention on alleged plots and conspiracies. It takes our eyes off the real source of society’s ills—the capitalist system—and the need to build a revolutionary movement of working people to take power from the capitalist rulers.

Conspiracy tales, Clark said, often lead to scapegoating, like the anti-Semitic libel floated around 9/11, repeated to this day, that Jews working at the Twin Towers were told to stay home that day. “It’s all grist for the mill of the ultraright,” Clark noted.

Imam Talib Abdur-Rashid, a trustee of the Shabazz Center and Islamic religious leader in New York, said Malcolm X was “not just a great leader who was a Muslim, but a great Muslim leader.” We should recall, Talib added, that Malcolm first established a religious organization, and only after that a political one.

The final speaker, COPA director John Judge, said it’s important to study assassination conspiracies, because if we “don’t know history, we can’t know the present and future.” People sometimes call him “a conspiracy theorist,” he said, “which is OK if they call themselves ‘coincidence theorists.’”

Judge said he knows “the power of the state,” but within the state there are factions and “competing conspiracies.” Powerful forces conspired to assassinate President Kennedy, his brother Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Malcolm X because of what they represented politically.

During the discussion, Clark said he thought Lee Harvey Oswald alone organized the Kennedy assassination. But his main concern, Clark said, was any implication that there was something politically in common to Kennedy, King, and Malcolm X that would make them targets of assassination plots by forces in the U.S. government. That obfuscates for working people the class realities of who our oppressors and exploiters are.

Clark pointed out that Kennedy had not lifted a finger to defend Black rights fighters protesting Jim Crow segregation, sponsored an abortive invasion aimed at crushing the Cuban Revolution, and increased the number of U.S. troops in Vietnam by more than 3,000 percent in the three years he held office. It was under his administration that the FBI conducted extensive spying on Martin Luther King.

It’s an outrage, Clark said, to speak of John F. Kennedy “in the same breath as Martin Luther King, much less a revolutionary leader such as Malcolm X.”  
Front page (for this issue) | Home | Text-version home