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Vol. 74/No. 24      June 21, 2010

Atlanta meeting debates book on
Malcolm X, road to workers power
(feature article)
ATLANTA—Some 45 people participated in a discussion at the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History on the recently published Pathfinder book, Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power by Jack Barnes.

Speaking at the May 27 meeting was Steve Clark, one of the book's editors and a member of the Socialist Workers Party National Committee. Also on the panel was Sobukwe Shukura, host of the radio show "Revolutionary African Perspectives," cochair of the National Network on Cuba, and a leader of the All-African People's Revolutionary Party.

The event turned into a lively debate between the Pan-Africanist and socialist views advanced by Shukura and the revolutionary proletarian politics defended by Clark.

Morris Gardner, program manager at the library, chaired the meeting. Francine Henderson, the library's administrator, opened the event and told of the impact of Malcolm X's ideas on her life. She commended Pathfinder for keeping Malcolm's speeches in print.

Clark said 6,500 copies of the new book have been sold so far in English and Spanish, and that the French translation had just rolled off the press.

Clark opened by pointing to a falsification of Malcolm's views, that had appeared the previous week in the New Yorker magazine. The article portrayed Malcolm as "the very model of modern apocalyptic prophet-politician, unambiguously preaching violence and a doctrine of millennial revenge," and at the same time "a moral reformer" and "universalist."

Malcolm X was none of the above, Clark said. During the final year of Malcolm's life, he emerged as the outstanding revolutionary internationalist leader of the Black liberation struggle in the United States, as well as of the working class.

"One aim of the new book," Clark said, "is to encourage workers and youth to read and study what Malcolm X had to say, in his own words," not only as an antidote to misrepresentations of his views, but above all as an example to emulate in action.

Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power, however, is not another book "by Malcolm X, nor one exclusively about Malcolm X," Clark said.

Citing the introduction by Jack Barnes, national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party, Clark said it is a book about the dictatorship of capital and the road to the dictatorship of the proletariat. It is a book about the devastating consequences for working people worldwide, of the fact that state power in the United States is held by a handful of propertied families who use it to defend the profits they derive from capitalist property ownership and exploitation of labor.

Clark said that a political road forward for the working class in face of "the opening stages of a world capitalist crisis of a kind working people have not experienced since the early decades of the last century" is offered by the book. He pointed to rising joblessness hitting workers who are Black the hardest; brutal speedup leading to injuries and killings of workers from West Virginia coal mines to Gulf Coast oil rigs; to spreading imperialist wars and assaults on political rights of working people to organize to defend their class interests.

Quoting the introduction, Clark said the book is "about the last century and a half of class struggle in the United States … and the unimpeachable evidence it offers that workers who are Black will comprise a disproportionately weighty part of the ranks and leadership of the mass social movement that will make a proletarian revolution." And why the state power established by such a revolution "provides working people the mightiest weapon possible to wage the ongoing battle to end Black oppression and every form of exploitation and human degradation.”

As shown in word and deed during the last year of his life, Malcolm X converged politically with these conclusions, Clark said, and with the revolutionary internationalist political course they dictated. Malcolm explained that he came to see the workings of capitalism as the root of racism and other forms of oppression and exploitation, and he sought to join with others to make a revolution to take power out of the hands of the racist and war-making imperialist rulers.

Clark quoted Malcolm's speech at Barnard College in New York three days prior to his assassination in February 1965: "It is incorrect to classify the revolt of the Negro as simply a racial conflict of Black against white, or as a purely American problem. We are today seeing a global rebellion of the oppressed against the oppressor, the exploited against the exploiter."

Clark said that it was this conviction—the necessity, in the words of Barnes's introduction, "for the oppressed and working people of all skin colors, continents, and countries to join together in revolutionary struggle"—that set Malcolm X apart from other leaders of the Black struggle of his time, including Martin Luther King.

"Malcolm appreciated King and others who devoted their lives and energies to the fight for Black rights," Clark said. "He was ready for united action to advance common demands in the fight for Black liberation and other goals.

"But Malcolm did not converge politically with King's pacifism and opposition to organized self-defense against racist violence. With King's support for the imperialist Democratic Party and various of its leading politicians. Or, above all, with King's conviction that the racist capitalist system could be reformed rather than overthrown."  
'Revolutionary Pan-Africanism'
Sobukwe Shukura said he had "a different perspective on the book." The author, Jack Barnes, presents a view of the political direction Malcolm might have gone "had he lived longer, not where Malcolm was when he passed away," Shukura said. The book "purposely minimizes" aspects of Malcolm X's evolution.

Contrary to what the book presents, Shukura said, Malcolm X "was on the path of Pan Africanism." He added, "It is disturbing that the book dismisses Pan-Africanism as a vague idea not worthy of putting before the public." In fact, Shukura said, it was Malcolm's Pan-Africanism that helped make him a revolutionary internationalist. "With African people spread throughout the world," a Pan-Africanist has to be an internationalist.

It is necessary to recall whom Malcolm met with during his trips to Africa, said Shukura: "not the neocolonial leaders," but Pan-Africanist leaders such as Kwame Nkrumah and Sekou Toure—the first post-independence presidents of Ghana and of Guinea—and President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt. We must also not exaggerate the place of Malcolm X in the Black struggle in the United States, Shukura said, to the exclusion of those like Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael) and others who came out of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and other currents.

Shukura said that while he himself is a socialist, though "not a Marxist-Leninist," and believes humanity someday "will achieve communism," he disagreed with Barnes's conclusion that Malcolm X was "on the path" to communism. "No one can point to anyplace where Malcolm said he was a communist," Shukura said. "And the best authority on Malcolm is Malcolm."

Shukura concluded by saying that the book's emphasis on "the vanguard role of Black people in the United States is also misguided." Blacks will get involved in working-class fights, he said. But they will "not be cannon fodder" for revolutionary struggles until "the European working class in the United States" steps forward in such battles.  
Road to workers power
Responding to Shukura's statement that "nowhere had Malcolm X ever said he was a communist," Clark replied during the discussion that it was false to imply that SWP leader Jack Barnes stated or even suggested that Malcolm had done so. Clark said the book explains that Malcolm during the final year of his life converged politically with revolutionists, including communists, in Cuba, Algeria, and the United States who were on a course of revolutionary struggle to overturn the capitalist and imperialist exploiters and oppressors in this country and the world over. (See further comments by Clark on this and other of the disputed questions in the article on the facing page.)

Clark agreed that "to know where Malcolm stood, you have to read what he said over and over again." That's why Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power puts so much importance on reading and studying the speeches and interviews from the final year of Malcolm's life.

But it is false to say the book speculates about Malcolm X's political trajectory, Clark said. It is "not an academic study, but a practical book, a political book about the need for working people to make a socialist revolution. In the United States, Malcolm X was the single outstanding leader with a mass audience in the latter half of the 20th century who explained the need for revolutionary struggle against what he called the 'systems of exploitation' and oppression in the United States and worldwide, the need for ‘a political showdown … between the economic systems that exist on this earth.’ Malcolm explained that you cannot reform capitalism; it has to be overthrown."

Clark said that Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power "explains the necessity and the opportunities to build a revolutionary working-class party—a party of workers of all skin colors, languages, and nationalities—to fight to take power out of the hands of the capitalist rulers.” If that is not done, he said, "not only will exploitation, racism, and other forms of oppression continue, but the imperialist war-makers can and will devastate humanity and destroy the world."

Clark also pointed out that it is a misrepresentation to suggest the book opposes the right of African-Americans to organize their own political organizations to advance the fight for liberation. The book records in detail, Clark said, the Socialist Workers Party's support to the Organization of Afro-American Unity founded by Malcolm, the Freedom Now Party of the mid-1960s, the National Black Independent Political Party (NBIPP) in the 1980s, and others.

The SWP explained that political initiatives such as these not only marked an advance in the fight for Black freedom, but set an example along the road toward political action by the working class, independent of and opposed to the Democratic, Republican, and other parties of the imperialist rulers.

Shukura stressed it is "the white working class" that must be won away from racism and that "the white left" should concentrate on achieving that goal instead of seeking to organize Black workers. Blacks "will continue to organize our own organizations until there is an opportunity for revolutionary struggle when European workers reach a certain level of consciousness," Shukura said.

A member of the audience commented on Shukura's reply to Clark's remarks about the political divergence between Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. Shukura had pointed to the need to recognize King's own evolution, such as coming to oppose the Vietnam War. The audience member said the difference was that while King spoke out against the war, Malcolm had supported victory for the Vietnamese revolution.

Clark responded to a comment by someone else in the audience that Malcolm X, like Malcolm's father, continued to follow the politics of early 20th century figure Marcus Garvey, who built a large organization in the United States and the Caribbean advocating a "back to Africa movement." Clark said that during the last year of Malcolm's life, he came to reject the call to return to Africa or build a separate Black state in the United States.

In response to a direct question about this in early 1965, Malcolm gave a direct answer: "No, I believe in a society in which people can live like human beings on the basis of equality."

Clark added that Malcolm—through his experience working with revolutionists in both Africa and the United States who were not Black—explained in January 1965 that he had stopped using the term "Black nationalism" to describe the political course he advocated.

Other exchanges during the discussion joined several questions:

What can be done to address the devastating effect of the capitalist crisis on young people who are Black?

Is there anything new we might find out from the coming publication of three previously unpublished chapters of The Autobiography of Malcolm X, or other unpublished letters, writings, or speeches by Malcolm?

What can be learned from the lessons of the Cuban Revolution for today, and from revolutionary leaders such as Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso and Maurice Bishop of Grenada?

What does the "Tea Party" movement show about prospects for overcoming divisions in the working class in the United States based on skin color and national origins?
Related articles:
Communist workers movement versus Pan-Africanist socialism  
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