In 1965, I was a 22-yr-old prisoner at Nashville’s Davidson County Workhouse, at the time one of the South’s most notorious and brutal rock-quarry, chain-gangs. In the eyes of the KKK post-Confederacy, as a NY-Yankee w/a “communist” (Slovak) name and being a Civil Rights activist, I had been bestowed with honorary “niggerfication.”
Fairly accurate; but we had full chains…hands, waist & feet…
I was on my 4th incarceration of an original 4-month sentence for “Hi-Batry.” What some in the South refer to as “Snatching shit from a flying goose’s ass.” (In the North, we simply call it “Made up shit.”)
I had been held for extradition to TN in the Broward County Jail, FL, for 4-months (not counted), in the Nashville City jail for another 4-months (not counted), then the “real” 4-months at hard labor, all on a misdemeanor. (A felony charge would have required a trial w/ a lawyer and evidence of some crime…this was before “Miranda.”)
But then there was the matter of some $600 in “court fees.” In much of the South, after you do your original sentence,that’s worked off at $2/day, also at hard labor. So lord knows if or when I was gonna ever get out…as far as I knew.
(Later at WSU in Detroit, AmerGovt-101, I learned that “debtors prisons” was one of the items eliminated by the American Revolution. Obviously ain’t a damn one of those freshmen or the instructors ever actually lived in the Confederacy.)
Anyways… I recall February 21st very well. I learned that Malcolm X had been murdered in NYC. At the time I figured he had it coming because all I knew was what the state and it’s corp-media told me. I didn’t yet have a revolutionary socialist consciousness…
I identified w/Martin Luther King and non-violent, civil-disobedience. But that was starting to wear real thin. When I finally did get back north, after a whole lot more brutality that I somehow survived–and learned who Malcolm really was, what he really spoke to–well…I’ve tried real hard to never be fooled since. -Nick Medvecky
The article below was sent to me by Barry Sheppard, a fellow comrade I served with in the Young Socialist Alliance and the Socialist Workers Party. It was published in the Saturday, March 7th, 2015 Green Left Weekly in Australia.
Barry knows a lot more than me about Malcolm than I do… I’m honored to re-publish it here w/edits for space.
February 21 marked the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Malcolm X, one of the greatest leaders of the Black liberation movement of the 1960s.
Lenin once wrote, “During the lifetime of great revolutionaries, the oppressing classes constantly hounded them, received their theories with the most savage malice, the most furious hatred and the most unscrupulous campaigns of lies and slander.
“After their death, attempts are made to convert them into harmless icons, to canonize them, so to say, and to hallow their names to a certain extent for the consolation of the oppressed classes and with the object of duping the latter, while at the same time robbing the revolutionary theory of its substance, blunting its revolutionary edge and vulgarizing it.”
This can be seen in how the NY Times editorialized Malcolm X the day after the assassination: “He was a case history, as well as an extraordinary and twisted man, turning many true gifts to evil purpose ….” [In effect, they say] He was responsible for his own death.
But in the decades since, the Times and other ruling class voices have sought to “canonize” Malcolm. Roads and schools and other institutions have been named after him. The government even issued a postage stamp in his honor. All the while seeking to blunt and vulgarize his revolutionary message. Liberals, both Black and white, have sought to portray him as a mere pro-capitalist liberal like themselves.
Malcolm first rose to prominence as a leader of the Nation of Islam, popularly known as the Black Muslims. This was originally a relatively small religious cult, which Malcolm helped transform into a powerful organization.
It was [also] a movement that inspired a new generation in the 1950s and ‘60s with its message of militant Black Nationalism, which struck a chord especially in the ghettos of the North, while the civil rights movement was centered in the apartheid (legal segregation) South.
While Malcolm would break with the Nation at the end of 1963 and early ‘64, and chart a new course going way beyond his earlier teachings, key aspects of what he espoused while a leader of the Black Muslims he continued to hold until his death. These can be briefly partially summarized:
Birmingham, AL, May 1963.
*Blacks cannot get their freedom except by fighting for it;
*The U.S. government is a racist government and is not going to grant freedom;
*Gradualism, the program of the liberals, white and Black, is not the road to equality;
*The Black mis-leaders must be exposed and opposed;
*Blacks must rely on themselves and control their own struggle;
*Blacks must determine their own strategy and tactics;
*Blacks must select their own leaders;
*Blacks have the right to armed self-defense against racist violence.
It was this last position that led the Times and liberals to slander Malcolm as an advocate of violence.
Shortly before the historic 1963 March on Washington for Freedom and Jobs, one of the high points of the Southern struggle was a march as big or bigger in Detroit, a center of Black Nationalism.
It was in this context that tensions arose in the Nation of Islam. By their militant stance, the Black Muslims helped push other black organizations to the left. This was their positive contribution. But they were on the sidelines of the struggle, not participants.
Among the younger members of the Nation, there were signs of a desire to get into the battle, to pass from propaganda to action. This is what led to Malcolm’s split with the Black Muslims.
The basic factor behind the split was the growth of militancy and mass action in the Black community, and the different ways in which the two main tendencies in the Black Muslims wanted to respond to the masses knocking on the doors of their mosques.
Malcolm X broke with the Nation’s leader, Elijah Muhammad, and turned his attention to the broad Black struggle. Malcolm would later say, “I feel like a man who has been asleep somewhat and under someone else’s control. I feel that what I am thinking and saying now is for myself. Before it was for and by the guidance of Elijah Muhammad. Now I think with my own mind.”
So began a new stage in Malcolm’s life, his all-too-brief last year that saw him grow [exponentially]. He traveled internationally that last year and met revolutionists from many countries and all races.
He also discovered that true Islam views all races alike. As a consequence, he threw overboard the whole Black Muslim mythology about superior and inferior races and its doctrine about inherent evil and degeneracy in a white skin.
Repudiating racism in all its forms, he resolved to judge people and movements on the basis of their deeds, not skin color. Deeds, not words.
Malcolm meeting Fidel…
Malcolm set about to build a new movement of Blacks on an entirely different basis than religion, while he himself remained a Muslim. It would welcome all Blacks [and others] who wanted to struggle, regardless of religion, philosophy or other differences.
This new organization was called the Organization of African American Unity (OAAU). The name was taken from the Organization of African Unity, reflecting his identification with the colonial revolution then in full swing in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
This identification with the struggle of all the oppressed was in his speeches while he was in the Nation, but became sharper in his last year, influenced by his international travels.
The gov’t was alarmed by this campaign to win support internationally in order to bring the US to trial in the UN for its racist oppression.
At the same time, his denunciation of US imperialism, which also began while he was a Black Muslim, became stronger. He was especially eloquent in his denunciation of the US record in the murder of Patrice Lumumba in the Congo, the war in Vietnam, the attacks against Cuba and Chinese revolutions, etc. He sought to position the struggle of US Blacks in the worldwide upsurge of the peoples of color.
One of a million confrontations…
Finally, there was Malcolm’s development throughout his last year towards anti-capitalism and socialism.
One thread of his thought was a result of his international travels. He began to emphasize that in the countries he visited which were recently freed from colonialism; it seemed they were turning against capitalism and toward socialism.
Another was his deepening relation to the Socialist Workers Party and Young Socialist Alliance.
The SWP, under the influence of the positions taken by the Communist International in Lenin’s time, recognized that Blacks in the US suffered under a form of national oppression.
That was reinforced in discussions with Leon Trotsky [former co-leader w/Lenin] during his final exile in Mexico. The SWP at its founding convention in 1938, adopted a resolution that recognized this national oppression and the progressive nature of Black Nationalism as a reaction to it.
The YSA/SWP embraced the new upsurge of Black nationalism in the early 1960s. In its 1963 convention, the SWP noted that Black Nationalism and socialism “are not only compatible but complimentary forces that should be welded closely in thought and action.”
We took note of the militant speeches by Malcolm X when he was still in the Nation. The SWP newspaper, The Militant, covered these speeches, often reprinting Malcolm’s own words, in a positive manner.
Malcolm took note of this and of the fact that The Militant defended the democratic rights of the Black Muslims when they were under gov’t attack. He would buy the paper when it was sold outside his meetings.
We perceived the importance of Malcolm’s break with the Nation, and his new course. Shortly after, in April 1964, Malcolm agreed to speak at a large meeting organized by the SWP’s Militant Labor Forum on the topic of “The Black Revolution.”
One aspect of this speech was his strong opposition to Blacks supporting the Democratic Party, a theme he developed throughout his last year. He repeatedly cautioned against falling for the ploy of supporting the “fox” – the Democrats – out of revulsion for the “wolf” — the Republicans.
He spoke again at the Forum in May, 1964, at a meeting organized to counter a scare about a “Harlem Hate Gang” – a thinly veiled attack on the OAAU organized by the capitalist press.
Militant Labor Forum, NYC, 1964…
In this meeting he said of US capitalism, “It’s impossible for a chicken to produce a duck egg…it can only produce according to what it was constructed to produce. The system in this country cannot produce freedom for an Afro-American. It is impossible for this system, this economic system, this political system, this social system, this system period…. If ever a chicken did produce a duck egg, I’m quite sure you would say it was certainly a revolutionary chicken!”
In January 1965 Malcolm again spoke at the Militant Labor Forum. After that meeting, I asked Malcolm if he would agree to be interviewed for the Young Socialist newspaper, of which I was the editor. He agreed and did so shortly before his assassination.
One quote from that interview in answer to his view of the worldwide struggle between capitalism and socialism, was: “It is impossible for capitalism to survive … it is only a matter of time in my opinion before it will collapse completely.”
A Marxist might object that capitalism will not collapse by itself but must be overthrown. But Malcolm’s is certainly not a pro-capitalist statement.
King in Chicago, 1966…
A few years later, Martin Luther King began to come to the same anti-capitalist conclusions. From different starting points, these two giants began to converge. [King in turn was assassinated in April 1968.]
In addition to Barry Sheppard’s own The Party: The Socialist Workers Party 1960-1988, A Political Memoir, Volume 1: The Sixties, for excellent info about Malcolm X’s views, see these books published by Pathfinder Press:
Malcolm X Speaks; By any Means Necessary; Malcolm X Talks to Young People; Malcolm X on Afro-American History; Malcolm X: The Last Speeches; The Last Year Of Malcolm X; The Evolution of a Revolutionary; and The Assassination of Malcolm X.
Dr. Publico: As for the prematurely claimed post-racial society, I’m afraid the demise of Jim Crow has been greatly exaggerated… The Union won the military conflict in 1865; the South won the political victory in 1877.
A century later that battle was still being fought with Malcolm and Martin among a multitude paying the forever-debt. And today in 2015?
Where there used to be eleven Confederate States, today there are effectively 33…
Dr. Publico (Nick Medvecky, PsyD), March 2015…