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Vol. 74/No. 24      June 21, 2010

Communist workers movement
versus Pan-Africanist socialism
The debate at the May 27 meeting at the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History, reported on the facing page, barely scratched the surface in joining the issue on the conflicting courses of the communist workers movement, and of the Pan-Africanist movement and its socialism.

Nor did it adequately answer assertions by Sobukwe Shukura—a central leader of the All-African People's Revolutionary Party—about views presented by the author, Jack Barnes, in Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power, published earlier this year. Some of Shukura's statements, in fact, went beyond distortion to outright misrepresentation.  
Shukura said he found it "disturbing that Barnes dismisses Pan-Africanism as a vague idea not worthy of putting before the public." Shukura was apparently referring to the following passage from the book:

Malcolm’s course during these final months is sometimes described as a new form of Pan-Africanism, and Malcolm himself used that term a few times. But "Pan-Africanism" captures neither the scope nor the revolutionary political character of Malcolm’s internationalism and anti-imperialism.

Malcolm, of course, recognized the shared aspects of the oppression facing those of African origin—and of their resistance to that oppression. Because of the combined legacy of colonialism and chattel slavery, Blacks shared many such elements whether they lived and toiled in Africa itself, in the Caribbean and Latin America, in Europe, or what Malcolm, echoing Elijah Muhammad’s marvelous term, called "this wilderness of North America."

Shukura insisted that Malcolm X was "on the path to Pan-Africanism" at the time of his assassination. To assess that judgment, it's useful to look at the most prominent Pan-Africanist organization in Africa, the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC) of South Africa. The PAC was founded in 1959 as a split from the African National Congress (ANC) and in explicit opposition to the ANC's Freedom Charter, which took as its banner in the fight against the white-supremacist apartheid system the slogan: "South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white."

In sharp contrast, the PAC—under the leadership of Robert Sobukwe—popularized the slogan, "One settler, one bullet."

It's hard to imagine a starker divergence between such PAC demagogy and the statement by Malcolm from the last days of his life that I pointed to in the opening presentation to the Atlanta meeting. "I believe that there will ultimately be a clash between … those who want freedom, justice, and equality for everyone and those who want to continue the systems of exploitation," Malcolm said. "I believe that there will be that kind of clash—but I don't believe it will be based upon the color of the skin."

Or Malcolm's closing words to young people in December 1964 at Oxford University in the United Kingdom, where he said that making a revolution was the central question confronting “the young generation of whites, Blacks, browns, whatever else there is… . I for one will join in with anyone, I don’t care what color you are, as long as you want to change this miserable condition that exists on this earth.”

There are numerous other such statements throughout Malcolm's speeches and interviews from the last year of his life, many of them quoted by Barnes in Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power.

At the Atlanta meeting, Shukura stated that Barnes "purposely minimizes aspects of Malcolm's evolution"—yes, purposely—such as Malcolm's embrace of African freedom struggles and their political impact on Blacks in the United States. He implied that Barnes plays down the importance of efforts by African American militants to sweep the world clean of bigoted lies about Africa and African history used to rationalize racist oppression. But he made no attempt to substantiate these allegations.

As Barnes insisted in his talk to a March 1965 memorial tribute to Malcolm X in New York—a talk that has been kept in print for 45 years, and is included in its entirety in the new book—Blacks "were systematically stripped of their language, culture, history, names, religion, of all connections with their homes in Africa—of their identity. They were named Negro, signifying this lack of identity and this denial of their African origin."

In his October 2009 introduction to Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power, Barnes points to the fact that during the rise of the Black struggle in the 1950s and 1960s, "a broad vanguard of African Americans [saw] their struggles as an integral part of the victorious post-World War II national liberation struggles that swept across Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean." And that this "push[ed] back racism, raise[d] self-confidence among African Americans, and [laid] the basis for greater unity in struggle by workers who are Black, white, and of other racial and national backgrounds." Where does Barnes say otherwise, let alone "purposely"?

Shukura emphasized that during Malcolm's two trips to Africa in 1964, he met with Pan-Africanist leaders such as Kwame Nkrumah and Sekou Toure—the first post-independence presidents of Ghana and of Guinea—as well as President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt. Far from "purposely minimizing" such meetings, however, Barnes prominently features in the book the 1965 Young Socialist interview where Malcolm points to these discussions as among "the highlights" of his trips.

But what lessons can be drawn from the example of a bourgeois nationalist demagogue such as Nasser to advance struggles by working people today fighting oppression and exploitation in the Middle East, Africa, the United States, or anywhere else? None. Nkrumah and Toure were leaders of successful struggles to end British and French imperialist domination of Ghana and Guinea, respectively. But neither of them led governments of the toilers that organized and mobilized peasants and workers in those countries along a revolutionary course toward breaking with the exploiting classes at home and the imperialist interests they served.

It was significant, in this regard, that Shukura did not point to the example of the one leadership on the African continent in Malcolm's time that did follow such a course—in Algeria. Barnes, on the other hand, underlines the importance of that revolutionary experience in his introduction to the book. He writes:

[Malcolm] held in high esteem fighters who at great sacrifice had done battle to overturn colonial regimes across Africa and Asia. He was particularly drawn to the revolutionary leadership of the secular government of Algeria, many of whom, as Malcolm pointed out, were 'white,' and few of whom continued to practice the Islamic faith. Led by Ahmed Ben Bella, Algeria’s workers and peasants government, unlike other newly independent nations in Africa and the Middle East, was organizing working people to challenge not only the power and prerogatives of their former French colonizers, but of Algeria’s homegrown landlords and capitalists as well.

A convergence in fight for power
What about Shukura's rejection of what he claims is Barnes's assertion, in Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power, that Malcolm was "on the path to communism"? That Barnes speculates on the political direction that Malcolm might have moved in "had he lived longer, not where Malcolm was when he passed away"? This, too, is utterly false. Barnes writes:

Since the day Malcolm was killed in February 1965, nobody can prove where he would have gone next politically. But those in my generation and others in the Socialist Workers Party leadership were convinced by Malcolm’s course that he was moving toward becoming a communist. Politically he was converging with the Cuban Revolution, with the popular revolutionary government in Algeria led by Ahmed Ben Bella (and with the course of the SWP), that is, with the historic line of march of the working class toward power worldwide.

By that point in the book, Barnes has already presented in substantial detail the facts of Malcolm's political evolution in 1964 and early 1965, and in Malcolm's own words:

His rejection of the Nation of Islam's reactionary attitudes toward women, condemning those who don’t give women “incentive by allowing her maximum participation in whatever area of society where she’s qualified.” Whatever country you visit, Malcolm said, “the degree of progress can never be separated from the woman.”

Malcolm's rejection of the Nation of Islam’s opposition to intermarriage, saying: "I believe in recognizing every human being as a human being—neither white, black, brown, or red … [It]’s just one human being marrying another human being."

His efforts to unify the broadest layers—irrespective of religious beliefs, or absence of religious beliefs—in militant political action against every manifestation of racist bigotry, of capitalism’s economic and social exploitation, and of murderous imperialist wars—from the Congo, to Vietnam, to Cuba at the time. In order to join in these struggles effectively, Malcolm said, you have to keep “your religion at home, in the closet.”

Malcolm's statement to the Young Socialist magazine in January 1965 that his recent visits to Africa and the Middle East had helped convince him to stop referring to the course he advocated as “Black nationalism.” He recounted a discussion with an Algerian revolutionary—one who "to all appearances… was a white man"—who asked Malcolm if his goal was "the victory of Black nationalism, where does that leave him?… 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." Malcolm, not anyone else, insisted on the term, "true revolutionaries."

On the basis of these examples and many others, Barnes writes in the closing section of the book:

Malcolm was on the road to becoming a communist. Why would we conclude anything else? What evidence would propel us to do so? Why would we place limitations on Malcolm—Malcolm of all people!—that we wouldn't place on anyone else?

But contrary to Shukura's assertion, Barnes never says that Malcolm had become a communist at the time his political life was cut short by an assassin's bullet. As already noted, Barnes asserts that, "Since the day Malcolm was killed in February 1965, nobody can prove where he would have gone next politically." And elsewhere in the book, Barnes writes that "in order to minimize misunderstanding about the political points we need to clarify, let me emphasize that I'm not calling into question Malcolm's assertions up till the final days of his life that he remained a Muslim."

Moreover, Barnes reminds readers that when Malcolm explained to the Young Socialist why he had not for some time referred to his political course as "Black nationalism," he added that he "would still be hard pressed to give a specific definition of the overall philosophy"—the program, the strategy—“which I think is necessary for the liberation of the Black people in this country." That program, Barnes said, "was still very much a work in progress when Malcolm was killed. It was still more tactics than strategy. It was open to different interpretations. It didn't yet provide those who looked to Malcolm with a coherent world outlook or a regular political rhythm of disciplined activity, of things to do to advance those perspectives."

And Barnes concludes:

What is so essential in understanding Malcolm X is that we can see the fact—not the hope, not the faith, the fact—that, in the imperialist epoch, revolutionary leadership on the highest level of political capacity, courage, and integrity converges with communism, not simply toward the communist movement… .

What comes out of such a convergence… . is a movement of the proletariat and its fighting allies… . that becomes more inclusive, richer in its variety, experience, cultural breadth, social understanding, political intelligence and savvy, and—above all—combat capacity. One capable of leading the toilers in conquering the dictatorship of the proletariat and using it to put an end to national oppression and all the other consequences of centuries of class society.

Neither wolf nor fox
The Militant news article on the Atlanta meeting reports an exchange between Shukura and a member of the audience on the divergence I had pointed to in the opening presentation between the political courses of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. The audience member pointed out that while King had spoken out against the Vietnam War, Malcolm had supported victory for the Vietnamese revolution. I concurred with the point later in the discussion.

While true, it misses something more important.

Martin Luther King urged African Americans and other working people to give political support to one of the two parties of the capitalist oppressors and imperialist war-makers in the United States, the Democratic Party. Malcolm X, to the contrary, was an uncompromising opponent of both imperialist parties, Republican and Democrat. During the 1964 U.S. elections, when Republican Barry Goldwater ran against the Democratic president Lyndon Baines Johnson (whose administration was escalating Washington's murderous war in Vietnam), virtually every political current in U.S. politics claiming to speak on behalf of workers and the oppressed—with the exception of the Socialist Workers Party and Malcolm X—went all out to defeat Goldwater, presenting Johnson as "the peace candidate."

In July 1964, when King and other leaders of civil rights organizations called for a halt to demonstrations for Black freedom until after the November elections, Malcolm told the press that these misleaders had “sold themselves out and become campaign managers in the Negro community for Lyndon B. Johnson.” And a few months later, following Johnson’s re-election, Malcolm said that the U.S. capitalists “knew that the only way people would run toward the fox would be if you showed them a wolf… . Those who claim to be enemies of the system were on their hands and knees waiting for Johnson to get elected—because he is supposed to be a man of peace. And at that moment he had troops invading the Congo and South Vietnam!”

That was the true measure of the gulf between Malcolm X's proletarian internationalism and Martin Luther King's procapitalist, social democratic views.  
Forging a working-class vanguard
Shukura in his presentation took issue with one of the central points running throughout Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power, from its first page to its back cover. In an opening paragraph of the introduction—which I quoted in my opening remarks to the meeting—Barnes says that the book "is about the last century and a half of class struggle in the United States—from the Civil War and Radical Reconstruction to today—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."

This observation is "misguided," Shukura said. Blacks will get involved in working-class fights, but will "not be cannon fodder" for revolutionary struggles until "the European working class in the United States"—aka, "whites"—step forward in such battles. And in his closing remarks to the meeting, Shukura said that "the white left" should concentrate on combating racism in "the white working class," instead of "seeking to organize Black workers."

So many misleading—and false—statements are packed into this assertion that to be debated they must first be disentangled.

First, communists in this country and elsewhere, including the Socialist Workers Party, are not part of "the left"—of any skin tone. As the Communist Manifesto explains, communism is not a set of principles, "left-wing" or otherwise. It is not a preconceived doctrine of any kind. Insofar as it is a "theory," a set of ideas, it is nothing but the political generalization of the line of march of the working class toward power, “springing from an existing class struggle, a historical movement going on under our very eyes.” Communism is the generalized political lessons of struggles by working people and the oppressed the world over for more than a hundred and fifty years.

Second, the Socialist Workers Party is not a "white" organization. "White" is a form of false identity the rulers attempt to impose on a section of the working class and middle-class layers in order to block the development of revolutionary working-class consciousness and political action. The SWP is a revolutionary working-class party whose membership, in the words of its constitution, is open to "every person who accepts the program of the party and agrees to submit to its discipline and engage actively in its work." That, in fact, is true of every communist organization worthy of the name, anywhere in the world.

Finally, the Socialist Workers Party does not and never has sought "to organize Black workers." As Jack Barnes explains in the introduction to Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power, the task on which the future of humanity rides in the twenty-first century is to forge "a politically class-conscious and organized vanguard of the working class—millions strong"—regardless of color. A working-class vanguard capable of leading the revolutionary conquest of state power and the establishment of proletarian state property in industry and trade.

That new state power, Barnes explains, "provides working people the mightiest weapon possible to wage the ongoing battle to end Black oppression and every form of exploitation and human degradation inherited from millennia of class-divided society."

The history of revolutionary popular struggles in the United States—from the Civil War and Radical Reconstruction, to the movements that built the industrial unions and brought Jim Crow segregation toppling down—suggests that Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky was correct in his estimate more than 75 years ago that workers who are Black will make up a disproportionate number of the best fighters in class battles to come.

The Militant is inviting Sobukwe Shukura to join the issues under debate in the two articles here in a future issue. We look forward to publishing his rejoinder. —Paul Mailhot, Editor
Related articles:
Atlanta meeting debates book on Malcolm X, road to workers power  
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