What was Malcolm X’s philosophy and program before his assassination, February 21, 1965?
He advocated self-defense and armed resistance to oppression. He recognized the importance of economic change nationalism. He felt it important for African Americans to participate in the political process.
Before his assassination, Malcolm X declared that racism, poverty, and oppression had common roots throughout the world. He called his new perspective “global black thinking.” Upon his return to the United States, he called on all blacks of all nations to unite in a revolutionary movement that would sweep away vestiges of racial oppression. He indicated his willingness to work with the civil rights movement and even with those he had formerly called “white devils.” He said he could get along with white people if they could get along with him. Eight months before his death, Malcolm established the Organization of Afro-American Unity, in which its objective was to attack international oppression on the part of African Americans.
At a meeting in Detroit, Michigan, the Revolutionary Action Movement was organized into a national organization. Starting in the summer of 1964, the long hot summers began as Harlem, N.Y., Rochester, N.Y., and Philadelphia, P.A., experienced urban rebellions.
In 1965 Dr. Martin Luther King went to Selma, Alabama to help in a voter registration drive. Malcolm X spoke in Selma in support of Dr. King’s efforts. SNCC led by Stokely Carmicheal began organizing in Lowndes County, Alabama.
On February 21, 1965, Malcolm X was assassinated in New York.
John Lewis, Hosea Williams and a host of demonstrators were beaten, clubbed, tear gassed, shocked with electric cattle prods and run over by state troopers on horseback at Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma, Alabama. King led a massive civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery to dramatize to a shocked nation the need to guarantee southern African-Americans voting rights.
El Hajj Malik El Shabbaz, Malcolm X, born Malcolm Little, May 19, 1925 in Omaha, Nebraska and assassinated February 21, 1965, was a mass African-American leader who probably had more impact on the thinking of African-Americans and progressive peoples of the world second only to the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Standing among the great giants of the African-American national liberation struggle leaders like Frederick Douglas, Dr. W.E.B. DuBois and Marcus Garvey, Malcolm dared to internationalize the African-American struggle, challenge U.S. imperialism and attempted to chart a new course for the African-American movement for human rights.
But more importantly to understand is the political philosophy of Malcolm X in his last year of being dialectical (flexible) in thinking or adhering to critical analysis of the contradictions he faced is what made Malcolm a threat to the United States government, a target of assassination, and why he was so instrumental to the African-American liberation struggle.
First we must understand what made Malcolm so dangerous just as the late Dr. King was that he was a man of principle. Malcolm did not compromise his principles. Malcolm did not compromise his principles for money, prestige, women, or power - all of which were offered to him.
The chapter will not give a detail of Malcolm's early life but will attempt to interpret his political essence. What makes Malcolm vital to African-American liberation: he was a reformed man, a disciplined man with little or no vices. I say this because there is room for improvement always in everyone's character. So I will not attempt to build Malcolm into super human. But he was a role model which every African-American youth can emulate.
Malcolm lived the life of a hustler like many of our African-American youth who are faced with the temptation of using or selling crack and other drugs every day. But Malcolm, when he was doing six years time in prison began to study and reform.
Malcolm X was a student of history, and that’s what made him one of the most dynamic political philosophers and leaders African-Americans ever produced. For some 16 years or more, Malcolm X studied history, philosophy, religion and politics.
Malcolm became a minister for the Nation of Islam led by Elijah Muhammad from 1952 to 1964. During that time, as a spokesman, agitator and organizer, he stimulated, recruited for and helped build the Nation of Islam into a powerful organization of some 50,000 members.
Within all political phenomena under capitalism there is a right (conservative), center, (moderate), and left (militant) sector. So was the case within the Nation of Islam in the 1950’s and early 1960’s, especially as it began to grow. Malcolm was part of the left wing while he was in the Nation of Islam. This is why Malcolm’s speeches, even while still in the Nation of Islam, sound so different from Elijah Muhammad’s. These tendencies were also prevalent among the civil rights organization such as SCLC, CORE; NACCP, and SNCC.
What made Malcolm X so pivotal to the black liberation movement (BLM), was that he followed the anti-imperialist tradition of Paul Robeson and W. E. B DuBois, but was developing a mass following as a revolutionary democrat (not to be confused with the Democratic party).
Malcolm, before his death, had made an ideological leap, a leap which took many years to understand. Malcolm often had ways of saying things. He said “travel broadens one’s horizon.” By traveling (which Malcolm did most of his life), he came in contact with progressives all over the world. But he began to see something. During our last one on one meeting in 22 West Restaurant in Harlem, approximately the first of February 1965, Malcolm said, “I no longer call myself a black nationalist. The best way to describe myself is to say," I am an Internationalist."
We can identify three periods in the development of the political thought of Malcolm X. The first period from 1952 through most of 1962, was characterized by the theology of the Nation of Islam. Black nationalism's renewed popularity owed much to the Nation of Islam, which offered a scathing critique of white America. It was in the Nation of Islam that Malcolm X returned to aspects of the black nationalism of his childhood.
Sometime in 1962, Malcolm X initiated the transition to the secular black nationalism. This second period in his thinking reached its highest development with the creation of the Muslim Mosque, Inc. and the speeches of the spring of 1964. With his trip to the Middle East and Africa in late April and early May of 1964, Malcolm X ushered in the final period on the development of his thinking, the period of pan African internationalism.
It is important to know Malcolm was in rapid transition in search of the solution to the plight of African-Americans and persons of African descent the world over.
Malcolm had become, at the time of his untimely death, a revolutionary international democrat or an anti-imperialist who stood against the oppression of people regardless of nationality, class, creed, or color.202 Young Malcolm was profoundly influenced by his father's (Earl Little) tragic death and the cause, rumored to be the work of a white hate group, traumatized young Malcolm. Though not in his autobiography, Malcolm said he was awakened by a dream like vision soon after his father's death and saw himself being assassinated while speaking before a group of people similar to that
of his father.
Malcolm's father's death caused great hardship on Malcolm and his family. Malcolm's next trauma came watching his mother deteriorate before she was sent to a mental institution. The Little family was broken up with the children being sent to foster homes and Malcolm was in a detention home for a short period of time. Malcolm had tentatively recovered from his traumatic experiences when, in the seventh grade, he mentioned to his English teacher that he would like to be a lawyer and the English teacher said, "You've got to be realistic about being a nigger, Malcolm.... Why don't you plan on carpentry?" This was the third trauma in Malcolm's life and shows how important school teachers are and the influence they have on children, African-American youth. Malcolm reacted to this racist rejection negatively and he dropped out if school after finishing the eighth grade and moved from Michigan to the Roxbury a section of Boston to live with his half sister, Ella.
Malcolm soon began to live a life first as a part-time hustler, working as a shoe shine boy, and then as an attendant pullman porter between Boston and New York. Malcolm was a good dancer where he met different women and eventually started going with a white woman. He began to use marijuana and used heroin and cocaine. From there Malcolm graduated into a full-time hustler, becoming known as Detroit Red in Harlem. Malcolm became a numbers runner, dope pusher and sometimes stick-up artist. Coming under pressure from hustling competition and the police, Malcolm returned to Boston and set up a small burglary ring with his white girlfriend, Sophy. Malcolm was eventually caught in February, 1946, and began serving an eight-to-ten year sentence for burglary.
he fourth trauma came for Malcolm when he was incarcerated. At first, Malcolm reacted negatively to the experience, being in a constant state of rage. He was nicknamed satan by fellow i
nmates until Malcolm met Bimby, an orthodox Muslim inmate who began to teach Malcolm Islam. One of Malcolm's brothers (Philbert) visited Malcolm in prison and introduced him to the Nation of Islam (N.O.I.) and Islam as taught by Elijah Muhammad. Through religion (Islam), Malcolm began his self-transformation, gaining a sense of direction and commitment to the liberation of African-Americans. Religion can either be an opium of the people or serve as an inspiration toward their liberation. Malcolm learned through self-discipline how to educate himself.
During his time in prison, Malcolm was influenced by the activities of Paul Robeson, who
had addressed the Civil Rights Congress at a meeting of (10,000) in Madison Square Garden and
who had called on African-Americans to resist the draft and not to fight against their Asian brothers in the Korean war. Malcolm embraced Robeson's efforts and wrote a letter to President Truman stating his support of Robeson's efforts. Malcolm also embraced Robeson's and William Patterson's (Chairman of the Civil Rights Congress) efforts to petition the United Nations denouncing the U.S. for genocide against African-Americans. These ideas were not new because Marcus Garvey had drafted a petition in 1928 to the League of Nations of which Malcolm's father had organized around. Marcus Garvey had based his efforts on the earlier work of Bishop Henry McNeal Turner in the 1890s and 1900s.203 Also at this time C.L.R. James was so effective as an Socialist Workers Party organizer of African-Americans that he was detained at Ellis Island and later deported as an undesirable alien. Malcolm studied intensely for six years while in prison until his release in 1952. The fifth emotional experience for Malcolm which transformed him into a religious fanatical t
rue believer, occurred when he was released from prison. Upon meeting Elijah Muhammad, known to him and others as the last messenger of Allah (God), Malcolm became an emotional disciple of the Nation of Islam. Malcolm was a hard working zealot organizing "fishing" (recruiting) campaigns for Temple Number One in Detroit and soon rose to be assistant minister there. He was soon assigned as minister to Temple Number Seven in New York. He helped found some thirty-five temples.
In 1956, Malcolm X met Betty X Sanders a nursing student. She had just recently joined New York's Temple Seven. Malcolm found himself trying to avoid her because he liked her and found it hard to trust women. As an example of commitment, Malcolm remained celibate for five years before marrying Betty X Sanders Shabbaz in 1959. Malcolm was true to the tenants of Islam as he understood them at that time. He proposed to Betty over the phone. They married on January 14, 1958 and he fathered six children; Attallah born 1958, Quibilah, born 1960, llyasah, born 1962, Gamilah, born 1964, and Malaak and Lalikah, born 1965. (Malcolm X did not live to see the twin daughters.)
In 1957, Malcolm emerged as a national organizer when a Muslim was being beaten by the police in Harlem. Malcolm and the Fruit of Islam (FOI) demonstrated in silent disciplined military order, consisting only of Malcolm's command of a hand signal; Malcolm dispersed the FOI only after securing medical treatment for the injured Muslim. Watching Malcolm's dynamics with the people of Harlem, the precinct police said "No man should have that much power."204 T
o understand Malcolm's influence on the African-American student movement, we have to recollect where the student movement was in 1964. SNCC, the Student Non - Violent Coordinating Committee, which was formed out of sit-ins in 1960, was working on voter registration in the Delta South. In 1964, the majority of the membership of SNCC believed freedom could be achieved through non-violent, peaceful change within the capitalist system. They believed, as many African-Americans believe today, that reform of the system could be achieved by working through the Democratic party. This is why SNCC formed with Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer and other Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) members to challenge the racists at the Democratic convention held in Atlantic City.
Malcolm said, "The Democratic party, along with the Republican party, is responsible for the racism that exists in this country."
Malcolm taught that African-Americans were oppressed because African-Americans' oppression serves the interest of the capitalist ruling class. He said liberation "freedom" could not be achieved through the capitalist system. Malcolm taught that it is foolish to limit yourself to one tactic when fighting for liberation. One should not just limit oneself to violent or non-violent tactics. You use whatever tactics are best for the situation you are in; you use any means.
Malcolm taught that the way to stop racial abuse was for the entire African-American community to arm for collective self defense. Malcolm said every African-American household should have a shotgun. But he also said that African-Americans shouldn't use these guns against one another; they should be used mainly for stopping racial abuse, defending themselves.
Malcolm said African-Americans should love one another as brothers and sisters and never do to your brother or sister what you would not want done to yourself. But if a brother or sister did h
arm to the community, then it was up to the community to correct them.
While Malcolm was in Africa, he met John Lewis, Chairman of SNCC, and other members of SNCC who were visiting the Republic of Guinea. John Lewis said that everywhere the young SNCC delegation went in Africa they were asked where they stood in relation to Malcolm. After the SNCC delegation met with Malcolm, they decided to re-evaluate their program and place stronger emphasis on developing alliances with African liberation organizations that were fighting colonialism, and with progressive African states.
Even while Malcolm was in the Nation of Islam, he was heavily influenced by the young students in the civil rights movement, and developing progressive forces in and around the NOI. The Nation of Islam was the center of black nationalism in the late 1950s and early 1960s. During 1962-63, several independent all African-American student formations developed in the North. All these organizations had a close association with the Nation of Islam.
In Detroit there was UHURU; in Chicago, NAO; in Oakland, California, there was the African-American Association; in Cleveland, the African-American Institute; in New York, UMBRA; and in Philadelphia, the Revolutionary Action Movement. Malcolm, being the traveling representative for the NOI, was in contact with these organizations and others. Malcolm in a sense was a man in a physical pivotal position. He would constantly talk to the young activists as he traveled from city to city.
Malcolm's break with the NOI began in 1962 when the Los Angeles police raided the Temple
there, killing a muslim and wounding others.
THE KILLING AT THE L.A. MOSQUE
n April 1962, Ronald X Stokes, the leader of NOI in Los Angeles, was shot and seriously wounded. Police then shot into an unarmed crowd at the Los Angeles Mosque No. 27. At least six other Muslims suffered gunshot wounds and a dozen had other injuries. Police handcuffed Stokes, surrounded him, and beat his head with their clubs until he died.
The police lined up the men they captured in the Mosque, stripped them, jabbed their rectums with clubs and taunted them, "Run nigger, so I can kill you." State investigators later called Stokes' death 'justifiable homicide."
Hundreds of young African-Americans gathered at Temple 27, waiting to rise up. But the top leadership of the NOI opposed this. They sent a message saying that there should be no fighting. Many youth ignored these orders. Elijah sent Malcolm to stifle the struggle. Malcolm was ordered to say that Allah alone would bring justice by causing automobile and airplane crashes. Several members of the L.A. mosque quit the NOI in disgust over this anti-struggle teaching. In his heart, Malcolm was furious too.
Within months, when New York police arrested newspaper salesmen from Mosque No. 7, Malcolm followed a different line. In February 1963, Malcolm led a march through Times Square.... The spirit in the NOI was over burning issues. It was a struggle between two roads. One road denounced the oppression of African-Americans in words but basically accepted the system and sought respectability and self-enrichment. The other road wanted to stand with the African-Americans on the front lines against the system and search for ways to lead the people's struggle to real liberation.205 By 1963 a group of young Muslims left the NOI and formed the National Liberation Front (NLF). The NLF group left the NOI before Malcolm left. Much of what Malcolm began to say in 1964 was the philosophy of this organization. The NLF was an armed self-defense Sunni Muslim formation that adhered to the ideology of revolutionary nationalism. When Malcolm left the Nation of Islam, the formation told Malcolm they were armed and in martial arts training and asked him if he wanted to be their leader. Malcolm agreed, and the NLF became the core of the Muslim Mosque, Inc. On March 8, 1964, Malcolm announced his independence from the NOI. On March 12, 1964, Malcolm gave a press conference, introducing the formation of the Muslim Mosque, Inc. Malcolm's basic theme was unity with Africa, Pan Africanism, taking the United States before the United Nations for violation of the human rights charter, and uniting with other civil rights organizations. Between March and April 1964, Malcolm moved to form coalitions with civil rights leaders. He met with Lawrence Laundry (leader of the student/teacher walkouts in Chicago over quality education), Jessie Gray (Harlem, N.Y. leader of mass rent strikes in N.Y. in 1960) and others who supported building a coalition of a new type.
Malcolm's advocating of armed self defense was a radical departure from traditional black nationalism. His position reflected the new mood among African-American youth. The left wing of SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee), particularly the Mississippi field staff, had become revolutionary nationalists, had armed and united with Malcolm's strategy. Before the end of 1964 several SNCC delegations met with Malcolm.
The movement and its activism came north in 1963 with the Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM) and the NAACP's Cecil Moore confronting building trades' discrimination in Philadelphia. CORE took an activist stance also against building trades' discrimination in Cleveland and New York City. Black nationalism grew in CORE as its membership became predominately African American for the first time. Retaliatory violence had also appeared in the movement as Robert Williams, the ex N.C., NAACP head had to flee the country to avoid a racist frameup.206 In 1963, Elijah Muhammad named Malcolm the national representative of the Nation of Islam. Malcolm had also been representative in helping to build the Fruit of Islam (F.O.I.) into a powerful pare-military wing of the N.O.I. and founded the N.0.I.'s national newspaper, Muhammad Speaks. On September 20, 1960, Malcolm met with Cuban premier. Fidel Castro, in the Hotel Theresa in Harlem. Malcolm had helped secure for the Cuban delegation the Hotel Theresa after the Cuban delegation left the midtown Shelburne Hotel refusing to accept unreasonable financial demands.207 The sixth trauma for Malcolm, and perhaps most devastating for Malcolm, was his learning of Elijah's extramarital affairs and his having illegitimate children by his secretaries. Malcolm, not being one to believe rumors, went to the women to get the facts. He then went to Elijah Muhammad and Elijah confessed. Malcolm said Elijah's confessing made him realize that Elijah was just a man and from that point on "I will never believe in the divinity of a man."
The seventh trauma was that he was forced at 38 years of age to start his life anew and to renounce much of what he believed to be the truth for much of his adult life (18 years) and at the same time being thrust into national and international leadership. Malcolm had to build an organization foundation from scratch. In less than a year, Malcolm laid the foundation to the Muslim Mosque, Inc. (M.M.I.) and the Organization of Afro-American Unity (0.A.A.U.).
Malcolm's important speeches in this transition period between the summer of 1963 and the spring of 1964 were given in cities like Detroit and Cleveland, which along with New York City had the most militant and nationalistic activists in the African-American community. These activists cadres pushed Malcolm into a more radical stance as he attempted to clarify his own feelings about what was to be done.
In April, 1964, Malcolm's theme became "The Ballot or the Bullet." If we listen carefully to these speeches we will be able to conclude Malcolm was responding to the political developments then occurring in the South, particularly the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, and the rebellious mood simmering in the North.
Malcolm called for a black nationalist congress or conference which was scheduled for August, 1964, to form either a party or an army. While the congress/conference didn't occur mainly because Malcolm was in Africa, his envisioning of building a black nationalist party was later attempted in the form of the Black Panther Party (BPP) in 1966 and the National Black Independent Political Party (NBIPP) in 1980.208 Malcolm was particularly impressed by the Chinese Ambassador to Ghana. The Chinese Ambassador asked Malcolm if he knew a particular leader in Danville, Virginia. Malcolm was
embarrassed because he had never heard of the brother. The Chinese Ambassador said the Danville struggle was one of the highest levels of struggle African-Americans had in 1963.
Malcolm was also impressed by an Algerian revolutionary who was a member of the FLN (National Liberation Front). He told Malcolm because of his press statements he thought he was a dark complexioned man and had assumed Malcolm was a racist.
These incidents and personalities, along with Muhammed Babu of Tanzania and the progressive African-American community in Ghana, helped Malcolm to see the nature of racial and class exploitation in the world. F
or instance, Malcolm was beginning to understand that U.S. capitalism made over 100 billion dollars due to racial determined wages of African-American workers. Taking the 200 billion which African-Americans circulate in wage power but return to the capitalists in high mortgages, rents, clothes, food and pleasure, African-Americans are the next best thing that the U.S. has except maybe trade with Canada.