Monday, May 29

Malcolm X – The Phoenix

 The centerpiece of Malcolm’s political project was to internationalize the condition of Black peoples in the United States.”  

– Sohail Daulatzai, Black Star, Crescent Moon: The Muslim International and Black Freedom beyond America, p.36

May 19 marks the 95th posthumous birthday of El Hajj Malik El Shabazz or Malcolm X. In the shadow of  the nationwide revolt against endemic police violence, economic  exploitation and social alienation, the embryo of a new movement led by  youth of color is upon us under the banner #Black Lives Matter. Malcolm X  remains a towering figure in the pantheon of the 20th century  revolutionaries who sought  to end the systems of oppression and degradation. This generation is  engaged in a struggle to define and preserve their humanity in the face  of cold-blooded indifference to their suffering under capitalism and  racism. Let us examine the final 11 months of Malcolm’s life and legacy.

The Evolution of a Revolutionary

On March 8, 1964, following a 90 day exile, Malcolm X was  indefinitely suspended from the Nation of Islam (NOI) following  his  “chickens come home to roost” statement after the death of John F.  Kennedy in November 1963. Malcolm X decided to make an announcement he  was leaving the NOI and spiritual teacher Elijah Muhammad to fully  engage in the struggle for civil and human rights at home and abroad.  Malcolm would form Muslim Mosque Inc. for NOI members who followed him  to continue the practice of black American-based Islam. In June, The  Organization of Afro-American Unity, modeled on The Organization of  African Unity created in the aftermath of successful anti-colonial  struggles in the Third World, became the developing the political arm  allowing him to fully participate in the Civil Rights Movement.

The development of Islam in the U.S. dates back to the Trans-Atlantic  slave trade, the growth of Islam during slavery, the rise of Black  Nationalism in the mid-1800s, the teachings of Pan-Africanism father  Edward Wilmot Blyden and black urban Islamist sects like the Noble Drew  Ali’s Moorish Science Temple of America. In addition, there was the  decline of the Marcus Garvey movement and his Universal Negro  Improvement Association (UNIA), which was the largest black-led movement  where Malcolm’s parents were active members. In the early 20th century,  the Garvey movement, along with the socialist and anarchist, were  crushed by the federal government’s Palmer raids, where the notorious  and future director of the FBI J. Edgar Hoover was a young agent at the  time. The Garvey movement was comprised of cultural nationalism and  black capitalism. Many former Garvey followers became attracted to the  Lost-Found Nation of Islam under the leadership of W.D. Fard and,  eventually, Elijah Poole, who would later become Elijah Muhammad.

(Photo: Marion S. Trikosko/U.S News & World Report Magazine Photograph Collection)

The Nation of Islam spoke out against the hypocrisy of American  democracy, capitalism, white supremacy and the horrid conditions faced  by black people since slavery. Drawing their membership from the urban  black working class, the poor, prisoners and semi-employed, NOI preached  and practiced a combination of cultural black nationalism and  pro-capitalist ideals. NOI was a top-down leadership, including a  paramilitary wing called The Fruit of Islam. Theologically, NOI preached  black people are the “chosen people” to be delivered from the evils of  white supremacy and Jim Crow and to form a global connection with people  of color in Asia, Africa, Middle East and Latin America. The NOI  distinct form of black American-based Islam was not recognized by  mainstream Sunni Islam. The NOI had a non-engagement policy concerning  the most important social movement of the time—the Civil Rights  Movement.

NOI and Elijah Muhammad feared government attack on the organization.  Elijah Muhammad was arrested in 1934 when he refused to transfer his  children from the movement’s school, the University of Islam, to a  public school. Tried in Detroit, he was found guilty of contributing to  the delinquency of a minor and placed on six months’ probation.  Meanwhile, earth-shaking events were taking place globally with  revolutions, counter-revolutions, rebellions and the Civil Rights  Movement. Malcolm’s political and spiritual stirrings for a fuller  engagement in the struggle was palpable. As the national spokesman of  the NOI, Malcolm was politicizing the theology of Elijah Muhammad to the  dismay and anger of the leadership of the NOI.

After splitting from the NOI on March 8, 1964, Malcolm began what  would be two expansive trips internationally to Africa, Middle East and  Europe. It had religious and political objectives, as Malcolm sought to  complete the Hajj to Mecca and formally accept the teachings of Sunni  Islam. Malcolm aimed to become a point of reference in the United States  for Islam theologically and organizationally. Malcolm’s trips  throughout the Middle East and Africa had a huge effect on his thinking  on Islam. Malcolm believed spiritual and political Islam could play a  role in the liberation struggle against racism and white supremacy.  Malcolm exclaimed, “Our success in America will involve two circles,  black nationalism and Islam… And Islam will link us spiritually to  Africa, Arabia and Asia,” (Manning Marable, Malcolm X, A Life of Reinvention, p. 311-12.)

(Photo: Bob Parent/Getty Images)

Politically, Malcolm aimed to bring the case of 22 million  Afro-Americans, who faced Jim Crow America of poverty, police violence  and political disenfranchisement, to a world stage like the work of Paul  Robeson, Max Yergan, Alphaeus Hunton, Dr. W.E.B. DuBois and countless  others with trailblazing organizations like the Council on African  Affairs (CAA) in the 1940s and early 1950s.

Malcolm navigated through a world situation after World War II and  witnessed a period of revolution and counter-revolution. The revolutions  in the colonial world like in China, Algeria, Vietnam, Cuba, the murder  of Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba in 1961 and the Non-Aligned  Movement produced the influential Bandung Conference of 1955 had a  profound effect on Malcolm’s political worldview. The anti-colonial  revolutions punctuated the decline of European colonial power at home  and abroad. At the same time, the emergence of the United States as the  preeminent capitalist superpower, the strengthening of social democracy  in Western Europe, and the spread of Stalinism in Eastern Europe  provided the backdrop to Malcolm’s evolving ideas over the span of 11  months. At home, the black freedom movement under the phase of the Civil  Rights Movement began in 1955 following the brutal murder of Emmett  Till and Rosa Parks’s defiant refusal to get up from a Montgomery bus  seat. It ignited a powerful social movement against slavery by another  name—Jim Crow.

President Harry Truman’s anti-communist doctrine of 1947, Senator Joe  McCarthy’s witch hunts as well as Cold War liberalism at home and  abroad had a devastating effect on the radical black freedom movement,  its leading left activists and radical leaders. As Professor Penny M.  Von Eschen writes in Race Against Empire: Black Americans and Anti-Colonialism,  1937-1957, “The embrace of Cold War American foreign policy by many  African American liberals as well as U.S. government prosecution of  activists such as Robeson and the CAA, fundamentally altered the terms  of anti-colonialism and effectively severed the black American struggle  for civil rights from the issues of anti-colonialism and racism abroad”  (p 3).

The rise of a reformist, liberal and church-based leadership under  organizations like the National Association for the Advancement of  Colored People (NAACP) and Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC)  would lead the Civil Rights Movement with its non-violent civil  disobedience tactics and struggle for political and social reforms from  US big business and its two parties—Democrat and Republican—during the  post-World War II economic upswing became the dominant force in the  struggle for freedom. Due to militant social struggle by the movement,  the liberal political and economic elite believed capitalism could  address poverty, racism and endemic oppression. Lyndon B. Johnson’s  administration was forced to implement key social programs under the War  on Poverty program and passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and  Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The work of Malcolm in mid-1960s was a continuum of his third world  analysis developed during his time in NOI. This was epitomized by  Malcolm’s meeting with Fidel Castro in Harlem in 1960. Malcolm  highlighted the limitations of liberalism under Johnson, which would  become evident after the full involvement of the US imperialism in  Vietnam economically and militarily, the role of the two-party system,  particularly the Democratic Party as the dead-end of all social  movements, and entrenched white supremacy. Malcolm X challenged the  hypocrisy of American democracy in the face of the social explosions  gripping a number of cities like Harlem and violent repression of civil  rights workers like the murder of James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman and  Michael “Mickey” Schwerner in July 1964.

Malcolm’s advocacy of the right to armed self-defense in the face of  racist, vigilante and state-sponsored violence in black communities  provided a counter-balance to non-violent ideology and tactics advanced  by Dr. King and the leadership of the Civil Rights Movement. His call  for such tactics was a continuation of the work of former North Carolina  NAACP leader Robert F. Williams and utilized by black community members  and activists like the Deacons for Defense under siege by domestic  terrorism. His analysis and acknowledgement of terror inflicted on black  workers and youth throughout Jim Crow laid the basis for the  development of the Black Panther Party and Black Power activists.

Malcolm sought to re-create the threads of the struggle in the U.S.  for civil rights to an internationalist, anti-capitalist and  anti-imperialist framework. This united the most oppressed and youth in  the third world as well as U.S. and total liberation from the power  structure of daily oppression and exploitation.

His campaign to take the U.S. to the United Nations and charge it  with crimes against Afro-Americans human rights was crucial to place the  struggle on a world stage and echoed the work of Paul Robeson, Dr.  W.E.B. DuBois and communist party member William Paterson “We Charge  Genocide” petition presented to the U.N. in 1951. The international  ruling elite, U.S. governmental forces and NOI members wanted Malcolm  dead because of his potential to organize, inspire and provide an  alternative to racism and capitalism.

The Meaning of Malcolm X Today

At the end of his life, Malcolm drew a deeper analysis of capitalism  and white supremacy by providing a blueprint for black power activists,  organizations and generations to follow. Malcolm matters because the  conditions producing him still exist. The abject poverty, racism, high  rates of unemployment, mass prison incarceration, police violence,  layoffs and massive budget cuts are a by-product of a sick capitalist  system based on delivering profits for a small global ruling elite.  These conditions are producing a new generation of revolutionaries who  will be inspired by the shining example of Malcolm X like the youth in  Ferguson and nationwide.

 Eljeer Hawkins is a grassroots organizer and speaker who specializes in race, criminal  justice, historic black freedom struggle, political and social  commentary .

Copyright © Eljeer Hawkins, Socialist Alternative.

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