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The Strategy of Malcolm X

Tactical Diversity

June 1, 2015

by Lorenzo Raymond

 

Malcolm X in Smethwick

 

Last month many of us celebrated the 90th birthday of the one of America’s greatest revolutionaries, El-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz, also known as Malcolm X.  That his birthday follows his assassination date (February 21) on the calendar seems appropriate this year, as Malcolm could be said to be resurrected these days:  from condemnations of US racism at the United Nations, to self-defense against cops in NYC, to Black rifle clubs in Texas, to mass rebellion in Baltimore, to a growing disillusionment with the two-party system and doctrinaire nonviolence in America, he has seldom seemed more relevant.

This is all the more remarkable given that the representation of Malcolm in popular media is more distorted than ever.  2015 opened with the Martin Luther King biopic Selma giving us the most forgettable (perhaps the only forgettable) portrayal of Malcolm X in cinema history.  In some ways, the muting of Malcolm was inevitable; an accurate depiction of the Muslim leader presented a danger of upstaging King in the movie the same way that he often upstaged King in real life.  But that isn’t any excuse for the distortion of Malcolm X’s politics and the role he played in the Black freedom struggle.

In the short scene in which he appears, Malcolm comes literally hat in hand to Coretta Scott King begging to address the protesters and be a part of the movement.  He appears to have arrived uninvited, crashing a party he has no real place in.  As he offers to scare the segregationists with an “alternative” to MLK’s nonviolence, he hints that this is actually just a bluff because his “eyes see in a new way.”  Everything about this scene is fundamentally wrong: Malcolm explained himself to Mrs. King after, not before, he gave his speech—a speech which he was invited to give by the director of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee’s Selma Project.1  And when Malcolm spoke of offering an alternative to King’s pacifism, it was anything but a bluff.

Black Revolution, Whitewashed

The lodestar for recent portrayals of Malcolm is Manning Marable’s book Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention.  While universally lauded by mainstream white critics, most responses from the Black Left were derisive.  This must be the only historical book of recent years to inspire not one, but two entire anthologies of hostile rebuttal: A Lie of Reinvention, edited by Jared Ball, and By Any Means Necessary, edited by a collective headed by Herb Boyd .  Some academic assessments were skeptical as well.  Joe Street observed in The Journal of American Studies that Marable’s version of Malcolm was “a more centrist, liberal figure” than had ever been depicted before, acting out the “palliative theme” of a Black nationalist who moved “beyond race,” and also beyond militancy.  Street noted that Marable was oddly “content to position Malcolm X as a far less revolutionary figure than his reputation might suggest.” 2

Ever since his death, liberals have attempted portray Malcolm as an ineffectual figure in the Black Freedom Movement.  In his 1965 review of The Autobiography of Malcom X, Bayard Rustin (once a radical, but by that time a Democratic Party operative), wrote that Malcolm was of primary interest as a “tragic victim of the ghetto,” who made for an inspiring study in self-improvement, yet  “had no program for attacking” racism.3  More recently this line manifests with Reverend James Cone who says that while “[Dr.] King was a political revolutionary…Malcolm was a cultural revolutionary. He did not change the social or political structures, but he changed how black people thought about themselves.” 4

As Angela Davis has noted, the ruling class could never hope to completely suppress Black nationalism in America, so it has settled for accepting cultural consciousness while burying revolutionary nationalism.   By the same token, accomodationists will celebrate Shabazz as a purely cultural figure, while marginalizing him as a political one.  In reality, Malcolm X was one of the most influential and effective political activists in US history.  The strategy of “by any means necessary” transcended the crude categories of nonviolence and violence, integration and separatism, pragmatism and revolution.  Considering that this paradigm was subsequently applied by the American Indian Movement, the anti-Vietnam War movement, and the early LGBT movement, it should be acknowledged that Malcolm X popularized the strategy by which most American liberation struggles of the 1960s and 1970s advanced themselves.

Grassroots to the Messenger

One of the most bizarre charges leveled against Malcolm–repeated yet again in the Selma film–is that he never organized anything.  The Nation of Islam has many faults, but being disorganized isn’t one of them.  Even Marable’s biography of Malcolm acknowledges that he was largely responsible for the unprecedented (“more than tenfold”) growth of the NOI in the 1950s.  Marable also acknowledges that “Malcolm’s career as a national civil rights leader began late on the afternoon of April 26, 1957” when he led thousands of Harlemites to the 28th police precinct house to obtain medical treatment for a member of the NOI who’d been clubbed unconscious by officers.  It had been years since any black organization had the audacity to lead major protests against police brutality, and the Muslim leader immediately captured the imagination of African-Americans throughout the country.  5 He swiftly paid a personal price: less than a year later, while Malcolm was out of town, the NYPD attempted to invade his Queens residence under dubious pretenses.  One of the building’s occupants (it isn’t known who) injured a detective with a thrown bottle, and Betty Shabazz, along with several others, was charged with assaulting an officer.  Malcolm proceeded to coordinate a defiant and publicity-savvy legal defense that lead to the longest trial in Queens history, and saw his wife and neighbors exonerated.  Moments after the acquittal he stood on the courthouse steps and told his followers that “Any policeman who abuses you belongs in the cemetery.” 6

Before the 1960s had even arrived, Malcolm X’s militant stance was beginning to have a profound impact on the civil rights movement.  “King’s philosophy of non-violence in the cause of a largely undefined integrated society was being seriously challenged,” recalled one of MLK’s own advisors, Vincent Harding.  “In the north the deepest, broadest questions seemed to be coming from…the growing Nation of Islam and in its increasingly popular national representative, Malcolm X.  In the south, the message of non-violent resistance was challenged by the action of Robert F. Williams and his armed self-defense group in Monroe, North Carolina in 1959.” 7

In the wake of Selma there’s been a popular trend of praising King as a strategist, a characterization that calls for serious qualification; King consolidated the efforts of a network of activists that ranged from bold direct actionists such as James Bevel, Diane Nash and John Lewis (all recruited from the pacifist wing of SNCC), to cool-headed managers like Bayard Rustin; it was these people who drafted and initiated what is now marketed as Kingian strategy.  Likewise, Malcolm X’s political significance was to consolidate another spectrum of more militant grassroots organizers burning across the country in the late 1950s and early 1960s.  These included Mae Mallory, Robert F. Williams, Albert Cleage, Ethel Azalea Johnson, and a nationwide network of students known as the Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM).

Even as Marable belittled Malcolm’s strategic contributions in his book, he acknowledged that “[Robert F.] Williams and other militants pushed organizations like the NAACP toward greater activism, pressuring both major political parties to adopt new legislation.”  Marable doesn’t tell us what Rob Williams’ biographer, Timothy Tyson does: Williams was dependent on support provided by Black radicals centered in Harlem, and “the most notable of Williams’ contacts among the Harlem nationalists was Malcolm X.” Malcolm featured the visiting Monroe leader regularly at his mosque, telling his congregation that “our brother here…is the only fighting man that we got and we have to help him.” This wasn’t just moral support:  Malcolm raised “money to buy military carbines, machine guns, and dynamite for the Monroe NAACP.”  8

Another organizer who inspired and collaborated in Malcolm’s strategy was Mae Mallory, a single mother who protested the de facto segregation of New York City public schools.  In 1958, she led Harlemites in a 162-day school boycott involving 10,000 parents, and won an open transfer program. An avowed revolutionary, Mallory visited Monroe to assist Rob Williams in defending a SNCC freedom ride, and wound up involved in an armed conflict with the Ku Klux Klan and local police. Framed on kidnapping charges after this incident, Mallory was in prison during 1964, when another school boycott took place in New York City; Malcolm took up her mantle by acting as a spokesperson for the walk-out (Mallory was later exonerated of the kidnapping). 9

 

Malcolm at NYC school boycott, 1964 

The first major Black Christian leader to partner with Malcolm X was the Congregationalist Reverend Albert Cleage. In the aftermath of the Birmingham campaign, Cleage helped organize Detroit’s Great Walk to Freedom—the largest civil rights demonstration prior to the March on Washington. But as historian Thomas Sugrue notes, after the spectacle of such marches was shattered by the massacring of four Black girls in Birmingham in September 1963, “Cleage came out forcefully against what he considered the polite and ultimately ineffective nonviolent tactics of civil rights protest.”  At an October 1963 meeting he denounced moral suasion and called for a “strategy of chaos” which would include acts of retaliation if necessary.  Soon Cleage organized pickets demanding inclusion of Blacks in apprentice training programs, where protesters carried signs reading “SCHOOL FOR ALL OR SCHOOL FOR NONE” and “EQUALITY OR CHAOS.” Cleage also planned a national conference of Black militants for that November and invited Malcolm to give the keynote address—the speech now known as “Message to the Grassroots.” 10

Cleage’s “strategy of chaos” (“We’ll get what we’re after or we’ll tear it up!”) was partly inspired by the escalation of the Birmingham campaign, which in turn was partly inspired by Malcolm X. MLK confidant Vincent Harding recalled that the lifeblood of the spring campaign was

young men and women who had heard the powerful voice and seen the piercing eyes of Malcolm X on their television screens…[Dr. King] realized that now they were at least potentially the children of Malcolm as well…they taunted the police, they broke out of the marching lines when faced with barricades of police and firemen; they did their own speedy end runs downtown…

By mid-May, white repression had “goaded an enraged group of blacks into a burning, car-smashing, police-battling response. In a sense,” Harding tells us, “this was the first of the period’s urban rebellions.” Rather than this deviation from nonviolence being a setback to the movement, it was the greatest breakthrough since the Montgomery Bus Boycott seven years earlier.

Young activists weren’t just listening to Malcolm X in the early sixties; some were also coordinating with him. Max Stanford, a student militant associated with SNCC and SDS, met with Malcolm in 1962 and asked him if he should join the NOI.  The Muslim leader was already privately frustrated with the conservatism of the sect and told Stanford he could do more for Black nationalism by organizing outside the Nation. Stanford joined with fellow students Wanda Marshall and Donald Freeman, as well as veteran organizer Ethel Azalea Johnson (a close comrade of Robert F. Williams) to form the Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM).  While the group involved itself in reform movements, Stanford states that “RAM as an organization advocated guerilla warfare, mass rebellion and national black strikes…to create an independent black republic through socialist revolution.”  By the time of the Birmingham breakthrough, RAM had developed a partnership with maverick NAACP leader Cecil Moore and helped organize protests in North Philadelphia for African-American job opportunities. “RAM members circulated throughout the community with leaflets and bull horns, going door to door, talking to street gangs,” Stanford recalled. At a May 1963 protest against racial discrimination in the building trade sponsored by the Philadelphia NAACP, Stanford and RAM leader Stan Daniels organized militant pickets, which

blocked the workers, all whites, from entering the construction site. Within minutes the Philadelphia police formed a flying wedge and attacked the picket line. Singling out Daniels and Stanford, twenty police jumped them and they fought back until [beaten] unconscious.

Arrested for incitement to riot, Stanford called Malcolm for help.  The Muslim leader immediately began mobilizing people down the entire Northeast to support the Philadelphia movement “Within a week, 50,000 to 100,000 people participated in demonstrations that often turned into violent clashes between the masses and the police,” recalled Stanford. 11  On June 22, President Kennedy signed Executive Order 11114 mandating affirmative action in federally-funded construction projects.  White House sources admitted to the press that the president’s initiative was “partly in response to violence in Philadelphia.” Kennedy’s order was the prototype of the “Philadelphia Plan” which in turn became the foundation of all federal affirmative action on employment. 12

Free At Last

In March of 1964, Malcolm X left the Nation of Islam and publicly expressed his solidarity with the general goals of the civil rights movement.  This was a pivotal moment in his life, and arguably, a pivotal moment in the history of the United States.  Discussing this “reinvention,” Manning Marable focuses on Malcolm’s desperation to obtain allies to protect himself from Elijah Muhammed, as well as Malcolm’s yearning to participate in a movement which he was supposedly estranged from. But Marable fails to acknowledge the yearnings which the movement felt for Malcolm X, as well as its increasing disillusionment—even in 1963—with Kingian nonviolence and liberalism.  In July of that year, Martin Luther King was bombarded with eggs in Harlem; King blamed the attack on Malcolm, but it was later revealed to have been organized by Black Christians outraged by King’s sacrifice of children’s safety in Birmingham.13  In November 1963, the rank-and-file of SNCC voted down a proposal to hold a memorial vigil for the assassinated President Kennedy, noting that JFK was not a genuine friend to the movement—a position echoing Malcolm’s argument that Kennedy’s neglect of human rights in the US contributed to an atmosphere of terror that led to his own death.  14  Perhaps most significantly, in February of 1964, Medgar Evers’ brother, Charles, took over the slain leader’s position as field secretary of the Mississippi NAACP, and made some of the most inflammatory declarations ever heard from a mainstream Black leader.  In a speech before an NAACP Freedom Fund banquet in Nashville, Evers went beyond self-defense to retaliatory violence:

I have the greatest respect for Martin Luther King, but non-violence won’t work in Mississippi…we made up our minds…that if a white man shoots at a Negro in Mississippi, we will shoot back…If they bomb a Negro church and kill our children, then we are going to bomb a white church and kill some of their children.  We have served notice in Mississippi…that before we’ll be slaves anymore we’ll die and go to our graves. 15

Journalist Charles Silberman wrote at the time: “the widespread admiration for Dr. King is mixed…with a good deal of resentment.  Lower-class Negroes do not want to be represented to the whites as nonviolent.”  Silberman also noted that Malcolm X’s popularity was growing, yet was ultimately “limited by the cultish restraints of the Black Muslim religion: Many Negroes who agreed with Malcolm’s attacks on whites were unwilling to join the Muslims.”  16 Malik el-Shabazz made his move toward the civil rights mainstream not out of crude desperation, but because he knew that Black America was ready for him. (There is evidence that much of the white Left was ready for him too: In December 1963, Bob Dylan publicly praised the militant wing of SNCC, contrasting them with the “respectable Negroes” who dominated the March on Washington.  Dylan then said—in his own version of Malcolm’s “chickens coming home to roost” remarks—that he could understand why a leftist would want to shoot President Kennedy. 17  Immediately after Malcolm’s death in 1965, another white protest singer, Phil Ochs, wrote the satire “Love Me, I’m a Liberal” where he chided moderates for not recognizing Malcolm’s heroism).  Two weeks after his transition out of the NOI, Malcolm staged his famous handshake with Martin Luther King.  This photo is sometimes presented as evidence of Malcolm capitulating to King’s nonviolent and (at the time) assimilationist path; in reality, it showed King, who had previously spurned the Muslim minister, being forced to accept Malcolm’s growing stature in the movement.

“Strategy of Chaos”

There is, needless to say, much that could be said about Malcolm X’s strategy in the final year of his life—his efforts toward a pan-African network, his proposals for the UN, his embrace of anti-capitalism, his dialogue with white radicals—but here we will focus on the three most misunderstood aspects: his attitude towards electoral politics, his attitude towards collective self-defense (“violence”), and his strategy towards other leaders in the freedom movement.

Marable’s book repeatedly claimed that “Malcolm came to believe that blacks could work within the system to improve their lives” He based this argument upon the way in which the older Malcolm would closely observe government events, as well as the support he lent to the struggle for the vote in the South.  But the younger Malcolm, who edited the NOI’s newspaper, had also closely observed American political events for years, and had been friendly with select Black politicians—even as he was advocating that Blacks permanently separate from the United States.  On the matter of voting rights, Malcolm made clear that this was a strategy of involving himself in reform only in order to raise Black people’s awareness of the system’s failures—not because he thought the system was particularly redeemable.  Indeed, Malcolm stated in March 1964 that he only supported reform because “every campaign for specific objectives can only heighten the political consciousness of the Negroes and intensify their identification against white society.” [emphasis added]  18  Supporting people’s right to vote is similar to supporting people’s right to eat greasy lunch counter food—it doesn’t mean you think it’s a good idea, much less the path to liberation.   Just as Ella Baker noted that her support of luncheonette sit-ins was about “more than a hamburger,” Malcolm’s support of ballot access was about much more than elections.  “Your dumb vote, your ignorant vote, your wasted vote,” Malcolm seethed in “The Ballot or the Bullet,” (the very speech Marable and co. claim shows el-Shabazz as an electioneer) –

Don’t be throwing out any ballots…keep your ballot in your pocket…always remember, if it doesn’t take senators and congressmen and presidential proclamations to give freedom to the white man, it is not necessary for legislation or proclamation or Supreme Court decisions to give freedom to the Black man.

Malcolm’s heart never changed on that issue; he wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that two years after his death, his one friend in the federal system, Adam Clayton Powell Jr., would be unconstitutionally stripped of his Congressional seat just at the point when he was in a position to initiate radical reform.  And though LBJ helped push the Civil Rights Act through three months after “The Ballot or the Bullet,” Malcolm still declined to encourage Blacks to vote in 1964 because he didn’t see any consistent enforcement of the new law. 19 While Malcolm saw symbolic and contingent value in the franchise, he had no illusions that there was anything worth voting for.  Indeed, this is the major point about the ballot made in the speech—which left the bullet, by default, as the primary tactic.  (Harold Cruse, writing in The New York Review of Books in 1969, noted that the true heir to Malcolm’s finalized strategy was Eldridge Cleaver, who was then openly supporting armed insurrection yet also keeping one foot in independent electoral politics, running as a protest candidate with the Peace and Freedom Party). 20

 

Malcolm’s agenda for 1964

Similar games are played when Marable and other liberals talk of Malcolm’s changing attitude toward armed resistance.  Once again, a selective reading of “The Ballot and the Bullet” is used, noting that Shabazz backs away from earlier remarks which seemed to imply that Blacks should form rifle clubs to seek retaliation against random whites.  But in the same speech, Malcolm also gives Blacks “a little briefing on guerrilla warfare because, before you know it” that strategy may have to be exercised against the government.  Malcolm believed the Black rebellions of 1964 might foreshadow such a war:

There’s new strategy coming in. It’ll be Molotov cocktails this month, hand grenades next month, and something else next month. It’ll be ballots, or it’ll be bullets. It’ll be liberty, or it will be death.

This wasn’t mere sound and fury, it was conscious political pressure.  In this passage, Malcolm is referring specifically to a Black riot in Jacksonville, Florida which erupted out of the violent white repression of a sit-in campaign in March 1964.  That uprising, where the freedom movement did indeed first use Molotov cocktails, is known to have captured the White House’s attention at a time when the civil rights bill was facing the largest filibuster in US history.  Malcolm concludes the speech with an armed demand for reform:

You talk about a march on Washington in 1963, you haven’t seen anything. There’s some more going down in ’64. And this time they’re not going like they went last year…They’re not going with round-trip tickets. They’re going with one way tickets. And if they don’t want that non-nonviolent army going down there, tell them to bring the filibuster to a halt.

Tellingly, Martin Luther King began to faintly echo Malcolm’s rhetoric that spring.  Visions of violence now arose whenever King spoke of failure to enact the civil rights bill; If the legislation did not pass, King said in a Detroit speech, “I’m afraid our many pleas of nonviolence in fighting segregation will fall on deaf ears.”  Speaking during the filibuster, King warned that should the bill die, America would see a “dark night of social disruption.”  21

Mainstream scholars often try to paint Malcolm as a paper tiger in regards to the guerilla warfare proposal—a general without an army.  But in 1964 Malcolm quietly accepted the position of International Spokesperson in the Revolutionary Action Movement.  Robin DG Kelly notes that in this same year RAM established its definitive militant program:

The twelve-point program created by RAM called for the development of freedom schools…rifle clubs, black farmer cooperatives (not just for economic development but to keep “community and guerrilla forces going for a while”), and a liberation guerrilla army made up of youth and the unemployed. 22

RAM began implementing its program by actively promoting armed resistance within the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).  As Malcolm was delivering “The Ballot or the Bullet,” in Northern cities, Max Stanford and others in RAM headed to Greenwood, Mississippi to join the preparations for Freedom Summer.  RAM members taught African history in freedom schools and helped organize voter registration, but their main goal was, in the words of Georgia State University historian Akinyele Umoja, “to wage ideological struggle within the ranks of the SNCC field staff.”  In this mission, they were essentially coming to support working-class Southern Blacks of SNCC’s rank-and-file who were already beginning to organize an armed self-defense system for the Freedom Houses.  As Mississippi-born SNCC activist MacArthur Cotton recalled, ‘‘the majority of the local SNCC people didn’t have a problem with RAM,” adding that most of them believed ‘‘that other philosophy [nonviolence] was foreign.’’

Pacifists in SNCC eventually succeeded in purging the Malcolmites from the Mississippi project before the summer began, but the damage was done: the seeds of revolutionary armed defense and Black nationalism were planted in the organization.  In the face of right-wing terror and liberal inaction, the pragmatism of Malcolm and RAM’s strategy grew increasingly clear and kept many armed activists alive during Freedom Summer (in contrast to the murdered pacifists James Chaney, Andrew Goodwin, Michael Schwermer). 23 When the campaign ended and the Democratic National Convention continued to appease the Jim Crow delegation from Mississippi, making a mockery of the progressive SNCC delegates, few field workers saw any value in nonviolent martyrdom and liberal compromise at all.  By the fall, SNCC leaders were collaborating with Malcolm X on fundraising events, and cheering as he called for an American equivalent to the fearsome “Mau Mau” guerilla fighters of Kenya.24

 

Malcolm X addressing SNCC and the Mississippi Democratic Freedom Party- December 24, 1964

Meanwhile, RAM continued to quietly work with street gangs across the country.  Years before the Black Panther Party emerged, RAM promoted the idea of Black youth as the “potential warriors of Black America.”  Working from a detailed strategy by Robert F. Williams, RAM considered the cities “ripe for sabotage.”  Max Stanford (known today as Muhammed Ahmed) recounted:

While Malcolm was in Africa, Harlem exploded. The para-military in Malcolm’s organization decided to join the rebellion and participated in armed self-defense actions against racist oppressive forces.  Masses of our people exploded in Rochester, New York.  The revolutionary Muslims (Malcolmites) engaged in armed struggle against the repressive forces there. Brooklyn CORE held a demonstration to protest police brutality. The demonstration precipitated a mass rebellion.  The Brooklyn RAM cadre went into revolutionary action.

Stanford wrote that by the time of the Watts Rebellion, “the theory of Robert F. Williams and Malcolm X had become materialist reality.” Malcolm was the spokesperson for a very real force of insurrection, not a paper tiger.  Indeed, its momentum was so unstoppable that even his assassination couldn’t slow it down. 25

No Sell Out

Finally, the relationships Malcolm sought with moderate civil rights organizations at the end of his life need to be clarified.  While Malcolm backed away from his previous habit of naming King and other mainstream leaders personally as Uncle Toms, tempering his critique with diplomacy, he still drew sharp lines between them and himself.  “[Martin Luther King, Jr.] is the foremost exponent of love who gets his head bashed in while he is preaching brotherhood,” he said in his last speech, “I go for that retaliation type of brotherhood.” 26  Sometimes if pushed a bit he would lose his decorum:  heckled by a pacifist in 1965, Malcolm at first said, “I’m not criticizing you or condemning you, but I’m questioning your tactics.”  But as the heckler turned nasty, Malcolm said what he really thought: “I think people who tell our people to be nonviolent are almost agents of the Ku Klux Klan.” 27 

Whenever Malcolm engaged with moderates, he let it be understood that his militancy was non-negotiable.  Contrary to Manning Marable’s characterization, Malcolm did not praise nonviolence in his speech at Selma, but instead ridiculed passive “house negroes” who were bought off by white favors.  In a contemporaneous interview, the Muslim leader elaborated “I don’t go for any organization — be it civil-rights or any other kind — that has to compromise with the power structure and has to rely on certain elements within the power structure for their financing, which puts them in a position to be influenced and controlled all over again by the power structure itself.”  28 This seemed to be a stab at, among others, Dr. King’s organizations, which were financed by foundations overseen by the Rockefeller, Ford, and RJ Reynolds families.   29

 

Malcolm in Selma, Feb 4, 1964

Malcolm’s call for a “Black united front” was a call for militants to unite together on militant terms, not to compromise unconditionally with moderates.  It was also an effort to establish a permanent peace among armed Black groups, and thereby prevent the kind of fratricidal warfare which, with the help of the FBI, contributed to his assassination (as well as to the ultimate dissolution of the Black Power movement in the early 1970s).  Manning Marable’s book wove a bizarre and Orientalist theory that Malcolm told his guards to stand down on the day of his murder because he had a death wish inspired by the martyrdom of the Shi’ite imam, Husayn ibn Ali, in 680. 30 But Malcolm’s aide Earl Grant spelled out years ago that the minister disarmed his bodyguards because he did not want “Black people killing Black people.”  31 Black people criticizing certain Black people, however, along with anyone else who held them back, was always a key part of Malcolm X’s strategy.

 

Malcolm X, c. 1964 “Anyone who stands in the way of your freedom is your enemy”

 

Notes:

  1. Taylor Branch, Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years 1963-1965, p. 578-579
  2. “Roundtable: Manning Marable, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention” Journal of American Studies / Volume 47 / Issue 01 / February 2013, pp 23-47 (Cambridge University Press 2013) – http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0021875812002605
  3. George Breitman, The Last Year of Malcolm X, p. 83-91
  4. Chris Hedges “Turning King’s Dream Into a Nightmare” – http://www.truthdig.com/report/page2/turning_kings_dream_into_a_nightmare_20100117
  5. Manning Marable, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, p. 123-128
  6. Marable, A Life of Reinvention, p. 150-153
  7. Vincent Harding, “So Much History, So Much Future: Martin Luther King and the Second Coming of America” – https://is.cuni.cz/studium/predmety/index.php?do=download&did=77732&kod=JMM606
  8. Timothy Tyson, Radio Free Dixie, p. 145 – https://books.google.com/books?id=kg_DEcj04ycC&q=malcolm+x#v=snippet&q=malcolm%20x&f=false
  9. Melissa F. Weiner, Power, Protest, and the Public Schools: Jewish and African American Struggles in New York City (Rutgers University Press, 2010) p. 51-66
  10. Thomas Sugrue, Sweet Land of Liberty: The Civil Rights Movement in the North, p. 299-302
  11. Maxell C. Stanford, “Revolutionary Action Movement: A Case Study of an Urban Revolutionary Movement in Western Capitalist Society” (A Thesis Submitted to the Faculty of Atlanta University, May, 1986) – http://www.ulib.csuohio.edu/research/portals/blackpower/stanford.pdf
  12. Thomas J. Sugrue “Affirmative Action from Below: Civil Rights, the Building Trades, and the Politics of Inequality in the Urban North 1945-1969” Journal of American History, Vol. 91, No. 1, Jun., 2004 – http://africanamericanhistorysp2014.voices.wooster.edu/files/2014/03/Thomas_Sugrue_Affirmative_Action_from_Below.pdf
  13. Taylor Branch, Pillar of Fire, p. 115
  14. Taylor Branch, Pillar of Fire, p. 179
  15. Akinyele Umoja, We Will Shoot Back: Armed Resistance in the Mississippi Freedom Movement (NYU Press, 2013), 126
  16. Charles E. Silberman, Crisis in Black and White (Random House, 1964), p. 160
  17. http://folkmusic.about.com/od/bobdylan/a/Bob-Dylan-Quits-Politics.htm
  18. William W. Sale, From Civil Rights to Black Liberation (South End Press, 1994), p. 81
  19. http://www.edchange.org/multicultural/speeches/malcolm_x_ballot.html
  20. Harold Cruse, “The Fire This Time?” NYRB, May 8, 1969
  21. Nick Kotz, Judgment Days: Lyndon Baines Johnson, Martin Luther King Jr., And the Laws That Changed America (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006), 126-130
  22. Robin DG Kelly and Betsy Esche, “Black Like Mao: Red China and Black Revolution” Souls Vol. 1 #4 – http://www.columbia.edu/cu/ccbh/souls/vol1no4/vol1num4art1.pdf
  23. Akinyele Umoja, “From One Generation to the Next: Armed Self-Defense, Revolutionary Nationalism, and the Southern Black Freedom Struggle” Souls, Volume 15, Issue 3, 2013 – http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10999949.2013.838857#.VVtNZvlViko
  24. George Breitman, ed., Malcolm X Speaks; Selected Speeches and Statements, p. 107.
  25. Maxwell C. Stanford, “Revolutionary Action Movement: A Case Study of an Urban Revolutionary Movement in Western Capitalist Society” (A Thesis Submitted to the Faculty of Atlanta University, May, 1986) – http://www.ulib.csuohio.edu/research/portals/blackpower/stanford.pdf
  26. Barnard Bulletin, Feb 25, 1965 – https://digitalcollections.barnard.edu/object/bulletin-19650225/barnard-bulletin-february-25-1965
  27. George Breitman, ed., Malcolm X Speaks; Selected Speeches and Statements, p. 209
  28. Breitman, Malcolm X Speaks, p. 222
  29.  MLK was friends not only with Rockefeller, but with Libby Holman, heiress to the RJ Reynolds fortune.  Holman financed King’s first trip to India to study nonviolence in 1959 – https://swap.stanford.edu/20141218225538/http://mlk-kpp01.stanford.edu/primarydocuments/Vol5/10Mar1959_JamesE.BristolToCorinneB.Johnson.pdf
  30. “Roundtable: Manning Marable, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention” Journal of American Studies / Volume 47 / Issue 01 / February 2013, pp 23-47 (Cambridge University Press 2013) – http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0021875812002605
  31. “The Covert War on Malcolm X” An episode of Like It Is with Gil Noble – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ExQjM82uMiU

WKOG Op-Ed | Keystone XL: The Specter of Truth

WKOG Op-Ed

November 8, 2015

by Forrest Palmer and Cory Morningstar

 

truth-is-on-the-side-of-the-oppressed-6

In 1865, the Civil War ended. The narrative at that time was that the Civil War was fought and won by the North for the preservation of the Union. Revisionist historians the past few decades have concluded that in hindsight, it wasn’t about preservation of the Union, but the destruction of slavery in a false account that it was done to somehow save the Africans who were being used as free labor during that period. With all that being said, any impartial opinion that takes into account the past history and present circumstances of the post-Civil War period must come to the conclusion that the Civil War was fought to end slavery, but not to save the victims of that scourge of humanity. It was fought to shift the power base of the country to the banking and manufacturing North instead of residing in the agrarian, staple crop South. This is shown in the fact that all the slaves in the South were worth more monetarily than everything else in the country, be it the land, textile industries, buildings, et. al. This in and of itself meant that economic power resided in the South. This was problematic for the North in regards to which region held sway over the other economically, the ONLY thing of importance in a capitalist system.

In regards to the victims belief in this revisionist history, this cultural lie has framed the modern day mindset of black people into thinking that their freedom was ultimately attained due to some benevolent factors in the North (regionally) and federal government (institutionally). Most believe that these were not only the primary reasons, but the only reasons. Systemically, this is indoctrinated into young black minds at the school level through Western education, whereby most black people have been trained to reflexively think that the Civil War was fought to specifically set them free for moral reasons. And since the end of the Civil War, black people in Amerikkka have looked at all the efforts of the civil rights movement as the SOLE answer as to why they have been able to gain some social successes in the country. Hence, the misguided belief is that black Amerikkkans will only get results by way of how much pressure is put on the powers that be through marching, protesting, voting and the like.

Now, the delusion of black people when it comes to the causes of why they have achieved societal gains resides in the faith that it was just their personal organizational efforts, protests and white beneficence. This isn’t the case since there were many SUPERSEDING things that allowed the black community to make gains, such as the fear by the state that black people would collectively become anti-capitalist and align with socialist and communist structures both internal and external to the United States and the need of the country’s leaders to portray the U.S. as a world leader on human rights to both its enemies during the Cold War and its allies in the Western world. (It doesn’t look good when the leaders of the “free world” are at a conference and on the front page of an international newspaper, there are a bunch of white Amerikkkans standing around a hanging black body that has been burned to a crisp with his genitalia cutoff). But, when you look at the levels of poverty, incarceration, discrimination and everyday vagaries of survival in Amerikkka presently, the improvements made by black people have been miniscule at best in most areas and have reverted back to how they were during previous decades in many instances.

This topic of conversation is germane to the Keystone XL issue in that this type of delusion as to the exact causes of its rejection by Barry will disallow the environmental movement from dealing with the present circumstances of its ultimate INSIGNIFICANCE and the future obstacles that will have to be broached in order to reach the ultimate goal (whatever that is, since the ultimate goal in the Western environmental movement has never been detailed to any great degree since it ranges from a faux “green” capitalist economy to the total dismantling of industrial civilization, which leaves a lot of room in between). This current myopia is entirely reminiscent of the delusion present in the Amerikkkan black community in regards to the walk towards an ersatz freedom all these countless years. In terms of the environmental movement, it is this lack of concrete ideals amongst the protesters that has allowed disparate personalities and causes to claim “victory” for Barry (Obama) rejecting the permit for TransCanada. As people have touted this rejection as showing that these people with diverse interests have been able to come together and accomplish a common good, all it will take is many of the people whose self interests are no longer being affected to turn against those who see this as a global issue when their self interest are no longer involved. Hence, many allies today will quickly turn into enemies tomorrow once those who understand the gravity of our situation step out of the bounds administered by those who don’t question the system, but only momentarily take issue with its effect and control in terms of their personal self-interests. Truthfully, it will be the ones who are today judging this in its most stark and honest terms who will be the ones that will stand in solidarity with the same people who are today congregating with those who will one day be their enemies in the mainstream environmental movement. Regarding the most servile response by the people in the mainstream, the fact that people are in celebration because of one measly pipeline when Barry himself said that he and his administration “added enough new oil and gas pipeline to encircle the Earth and then some”, is beyond astounding.

In looking at all these various issues, if the people at the grassroots level are not willing to be honest about the truth, such as the other outside factors that have had MORE INFLUENCE on whatever freedoms black people have today and, in comparison, the facts as to why this one pipeline was rejected that don’t reside in mass mobilization at the grassroots level, then how can people actually affect change? The removal of the obstacles will never be achieved unless the masses are at least willing to be honest. In relation to the Amerikkkan civil rights movement, this mindset has been the major impediment to black people making measurable gains in this country. As black people have become more patriotic and less of a threat to ally themselves with any internal and external groups who don’t want to continue “business as usual”, it is no mistake that things such as mass black unemployment and incarceration levels have exploded in the Amerikkkan black community. And although this is anathema to most black people in Amerikkka, the inability to accept these truths as fact is probably the greatest impediment to actually making strides towards liberation, physical and, even more importantly, mental in nature. This comparable anathema is wholly present in the response by the mainstream environmental movement to anyone who questions the importance of the Keystone XL project’s rejection.

In terms of ongoing pipeline proliferation, if there was a carefully orchestrated plan to shut down ALL pipelines and go to a ZERO CARBON emissions lifestyle and this was the beginning of this long and arduous task, akin to laying the first spike down in the transcontinental railroad, then there would be reason to celebrate. However, other than momentarily affecting the balance sheet of a handful of multinational corporations with the Keystone XL rejection, this has been and will be an irrelevant non-starter to dealing with the literally suffocating problem of carbon emissions and capitalism’s reliance upon said emissions. But, as Barry’s act is being portrayed as being due to the efforts of those at the grassroots level, all evidence points to this being anything but the case. The grassroots just benefited from the actions of Barry (to only a very miniscule, microscopic degree, I might add). In summary, the raw truth is that Barry’s actions weren’t a byproduct of pressure, but of political expediency.

Honestly though, the same people who will look at this commentary as sacrilege in telling the truth about the Civil War or the lack of primacy when it came to the civil rights movement in establishing inroads to white supremacy are the same ones who will take the truth tellers to task for being honest about Keystone XL on this day. But as you look at the plight of black people in Amerikkka today, who are existing in as miserable conditions as they did at any given time during the post Civil War era, the attempt to live a lie has a had a deleterious effect on society as a whole, which is a harbinger of the outcome of this ultimately insignificant action by Barry and how it is being promoted by the mainstream environmental movement.

In that same vein, to act like this is a victory of some sort gives the impression to the masses that the fight is won while there is not a shred of credible evidence to prove this as being a fact. In all the congratulatory talk about the pipeline, there is no discussion of how this will have no real effect as to the present carbon emissions issue where it will only slow down our runaway environmental issue globally to a small degree, at best. The reason this discussion isn’t present is that this would be seen for exactly what it is: a hollow victory.

And to compare an individual in the civil rights movement to those who are willing to tell the truth about this current event regarding the environment, after the hallowed Martin Luther King Jr. turned from just talking about civil rights for black people and delved into capitalism, Western militarism and poverty during the last couple of years of his life, he became a pariah to those on the right and left, white AND BLACK. But once again, revisionist history will not tell you this since it is much more palatable to pawn King to the masses as someone who was beloved throughout his life in the guise of obsequious obedience to the social order illustrated in his adherence to non-violent principles. In the hands of the power structure, this is used as a euphemism to inculcate people into allowing themselves to be walked over and feel bad about responding “by any means necessary” as a justifiable reaction by any unprejudiced measure, to use a phrase coined by the great Malcolm X.

So, as that is the case, all of the people berating the ones who are shining a light on how this Keystone XL decision is not a victory in any way, shape or form are in direct alignment ideologically with the ones who castigated King during his last years on this Earth because he was willing to speak the truth no matter how uncomfortable it made the people who he was ultimately trying to help. Since that is the case, I think it is time to ask the same people today whose side they are truly on. Because if people aren’t willing to disprove the statements by the individuals who are critiquing this in as honest way as possible, then the responders are being disingenuous at best and are enemies posing as allies at worst. I think we are learning that many are the latter and not the former.

Ultimately, the single pipeline that was stopped MOMENTARILY by stroke of Barry’s pen is akin to a single slave running away from a plantation in the Deep South. And although we like to culturally aggrandize the singular stories of certain slaves that were able to escape from Amerikkkan slavery, like Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, the TRUTH is that less than 1% of slaves were able to make the arduous journey from enslavement to freedom during the legal slavery on these shores. Hence, the past celebration and present commemoration of singular successful slave attempts at freedom while millions of other lived in the worst conditions possible is beyond dishonest. In the same way, to celebrate this individual event of Keystone XL is beyond shortsighted. It is time to stop celebrating the individual battles when we are losing the war by any unbiased opinion. And for those who are concerned with the truth, it is time to start talking about winning the war and not be satisfied with useless, facile individual battles and their interpretative victories.

Summarily, if you can’t talk honestly about the problem, then how can you ever come up with a solution?

 

 

Beyond MLK

The New Inquiry

January 20, 2015

By Lorenzo Raymond

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“Basically your ministers are not people who go in for decisions on the part of people, I don’t know whether you realize it or not…they had been looked upon as saviors.” – Ella Baker

“King was assigned to us by the white power structure, and we took him.” – John Alfred Willams

LBJ and the repressionThe legend of Martin Luther King Jr. looms larger than usual this winter, even though it’s every January that we celebrate his birthday. One reason, obviously, is that there‘s a new Hollywood film out about him, which, while snubbed by the Oscars, has been embraced at the White House. The other reason is that the wave of black resistance sweeping the country today is often characterized as “a new civil rights movement,” and King—we are told—was the supreme leader of the civil rights movement.

However unfair the Oscar snub (whatever its faults, the film is a hell of a lot better, both historically and cinematically, than American Sniper) the most interesting argument so far about Ava DuVernay’s Selma remains the controversy over the relationship between King and President Lyndon Baines Johnson. Former LBJ advisor Joseph Califano has publicly argued that King and Johnson were not at odds during the Selma campaign as the movie depicts, but that the African-American leader followed Johnson’s encouragement to nonviolently dramatize the obstacles that blacks had to voting in the South. The filmmaker shot back that this was “offensive to SNCC, SCLC and black citizens who made it so.” (the acronyms refer to civil rights organizations the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, respectively). But Califano’s assertion has gained traction because there‘s more than a grain of truth in it.

“King: And it’s very interesting, Mr. President, to notice that the only states that you didn’t carry in the South, the five Southern states, have less than 40 percent of the Negroes registered to vote. It’s very interesting to notice. And I think a professor at the University of Texas, in a recent article, brought this out very clearly. So it demonstrates that it’s so important to get Negroes registered to vote in large numbers in the South.” – Johnson Conversation with Martin Luther King on Jan 15, 1965, tape WH6501.04DuVernay distorts the record here in order to avoid one of the great problems of Martin Luther King’s career: his compromised position in relation to the white power structure. Califano may have jumped the shark when he wrote that “Selma was LBJ’s idea” but he hinted at a deeper truth—that the whole idea of Martin Luther King as “the Moses of his people” was largely established and maintained by members of the white elite. In January 1957, when King had only been an activist for a year and a half, he was contacted by Clare Booth Luce, conservative mogul of the Time-Life empire, and offered a cover story. According to King biographer Taylor Branch, Luce rescued King from a state of “helplessness”. In the aftermath of the famous bus boycott and its apparent victory, the City of Montgomery had shut down all bus lines after the Ku Klux Klan began shooting at black passengers, and commenced to enact a whole new wave of segregation laws—an early manifestation of the Dixiecrats’ “Massive Resistance” campaign which blocked King’s nonviolent movement throughout the late fifties. Luce, who was also US Ambassador to Italy, was explicit that she wanted to show off King to a skeptical global public who doubted that there was hope for racial equality in America. The Time article, meanwhile, was explicit that what it liked most about King was his pacifism and moderation; The reverend was “no radical,” they gushed: “he avoids the excesses of radicalism.” MLK’s first visit to the White House took place later that year. In its aftermath, King’s host, Vice-President Richard Nixon, approvingly told President Eisenhower that Dr. King was “not a man who believes in violent and retaliatory pro-Negro actions.” As King’s friend, the black journalist Louis Lomax once acknowledged, “certain white men and events would make the choice for King to become as famous as he did.”

Nelson Rockefeller’s support for MLK, Rockefeller’s work with Kissinger and the Missile Gap. See alsoThe American Right has become notorious in recent years for mythologizing King as a one-dimensional conservative. But it won’t do for the Left to offer up their own whitewash, painting him as a lifelong opponent of the ruling class when he was anything but. Before the fifties were over, Nelson Rockefeller emerged as one of MLK’s primary sponsors. Rockefeller is often depicted as a progressive, but his major project of the time was escalating the Cold War by promoting the fiction of a “missile gap” between the US and the Soviet Union. His principle agent for spreading this hysteria was a Harvard political scientist named Henry Kissinger. Nelson Rockefeller’s support for MLK, Rockefeller’s work with Kissinger and the Missile Gap. See also It tells us a great deal about the hegemony of elite money over both the respectable Left and the respectable Right that Dr. King and Dr. Kissinger had the same benefactor. As Timothy Tyson demonstrated in his classic book Radio Free Dixie, Rockefeller and King worked in concert to suppress the radical but popular North Carolina leader Robert F. Williams, who advocated for armed self-defense against the KKK. King once claimed that Governor Rockefeller had ‘‘a real grasp and understanding of what the Negro revolution is all about, and a commitment to its goals,’’ but given that Rockefeller would go on to order the worst state massacre of African-Americans in US history at Attica (“a beautiful operation” Rockefeller told Richard Nixon later), and to create some of the most racist drug laws in the country, this was not one of King’s wiser political insights.

Clayborne Carson on MLK’s reluctance toward civil disobedience.The truth is that King’s turn to radicalism was hard won. “In some ways,” Michael Eric Dyson has written, “King’s change was even more startling and consequential than Malcolm X’s…what is little appreciated is how…an element of Malcolm’s thinking got its hooks into King.” Pre-1965, King was a public supporter of US foreign policy and capitalism who preferred to rely on traditional political maneuvers, even as he supposedly represented a movement built on direct action (King scholar Clayborne Carson notes that the reverend did not initiate the bus boycott, the sit-ins, or the Freedom Rides, and only participated in them reluctantly). Clayborne Carson on MLK’s reluctance toward civil disobedience Post-1965, King gradually evolved into a relentless public opponent of American imperialism and avarice who was prepared to personally defy federal injunctions.

“…his antiwar activity was motivated as much by moral and political pressure from key black colleagues as by conscience and commitment to nonviolence…” -Michael Eric Dyson, I May Not Get There With You, p.51-56How did this come about? Principally through the pressure put on King by militant activists associated with SNCC. When SNCC demanded an unconditional withdrawal from Vietnam in January 1966, King suggested a conditional ceasefire—but came around to SNCC’s position a few months later. When SNCC began calling for the election of black officials who were independent of the Democratic Party, King called for the election of more blacks within the Party—but the following year considered an independent campaign himself. “…his antiwar activity was motivated as much by moral and political pressure from key black colleagues as by conscience and commitment to nonviolence…” -Michael Eric Dyson, I May Not Get There With You, p.51-56 When SNCC declared the ghettos were internal colonies that should be granted community control, King rejected this and began campaigning for open housing in white neighborhoods to thin out the ghetto—but then came around to publicly considering “[self-] segregation as a temporary way-station to a truly integrated society.”

LBJ conversation with King, August 20, 1965, Tape WH6508.07Leftists often laud King this time of year for his anti-imperialist statements, epitomized in the classic 1967 speech “Beyond Vietnam”. But a conversation with LBJ illustrates King’s agonizing reluctance on this cause prior to SNCC’s pressure. By 1965, two American pacifists, Alice Herz and Norman Morrison, had already perished setting themselves on fire to protest the war, yet King’s criticism of US aggression in Vietnam remained, in Michael Dyson’s words “a modest proposal” for negotiated settlement. Talking privately with Johnson, King seemed apologetic even for that. In an August 1965 phone call, LBJ pleads the victim (“…if they’ll quit tearing up our roads and our highways and quit taking over our camps and bombing our planes and destroying them, well, we’ll quit the next day…”) and then the Domino Theory (“If I pulled out… I think that we’d immediately trigger a situation in Thailand that would be just as bad as it is in Vietnam. I think we’d be right back to the Philippines with problems. I think the Germans would be scared to death…”) King responds with praise for “the breadth of your concern” in Vietnam which “represents true leadership and true greatness.”LBJ conversation with King, August 20, 1965, Tape WH6508.07 Lobbying is a dirty job. Dyson notes that this “vicious double-bind effectively silenced King’s opposition to the war” during its first wave of escalation.

Ultimately, King embodied a kind of neutral zone that the power structure and the radical grassroots kept trying to push toward their respective goalposts. He once acknowledged that “I have to be militant enough to satisfy the militant, yet I have to keep enough discipline in the movement to satisfy white supporters,” and even admitted at the end of his life that the entire “black church has often been a tail-light rather than a headlight” in the movement. Selma builds up MLK as a decisive leader and strategist, but he was more often a follower and a figurehead.

Although DuVernay claims to defend the honor of the SNCC militants, it is she who paints an offensive portrait of them. When SNCC leader James Forman criticizes King’s media grandstanding and dependence on whites in the film, it’s portrayed as the competitive chest-thumping of a bitter young upstart . Yet in reality, the first person to raise this critique wasn’t some insecure man-child, but an experienced black woman who’d been organizing her people since King was in diapers. Ella Baker was a veteran NAACP organizer who mentored Rosa Parks, and went on to work under MLK in the late fifties. She found him to be an out-of-touch narcissist who was more interested in promoting his book than promoting voter registration. When she left to help found SNCC in 1960, she warned the students about the phenomenon of the “charismatic leader…It usually means the media made him, and the media may undo him…such a person gets to the point of believing that he is the movement.” Militant deviation from King also arose from SNCC leader Gloria Richardson, another mature woman with a grassroots constituency. King originally refused to aid her working-class chapter in Cambridge, Maryland unless he was paid $3000 for speaking, but later invited himself to town after rioting broke out in 1963. Richardson told him that her campaign was going fine (it turned out to be one of the most successful of the period) and that him and his aristocratic style were obsolete in Cambridge.

In 1966 Alabama elections, John Lewis did not support the independent primary of the Lowndes County Freedom Organization with the rest of SNCC, instead joining King in campaigning for Democrat candidate Richmond Flowers. He also refused to join the SNCC boycott of meetings with LBJ. Both were major factors in his being deposed from his Chair. (Branch, At Canaan’s Edge, 460-467)That isn’t to say that men like James Forman were never incendiary, just that they were fired-up with a purpose. After King made a secret agreement with the White House on March 9 to halt the second Selma march (which the foremost historian of the campaign, Gary May, calls “King’s lowest moment as a leader”) Forman led students in a uncompromising sister campaign at Montgomery that broke away from nonviolence, and declared that “If we can’t sit at the table of democracy, we’ll knock the fucking legs off!” This was a risky move given that black riots had swept the Northeast the previous summer, and an armed civil rights militia, the Deacons for Defense and Justice, was beginning to sweep the South. But it was only at this point that Lyndon Johnson introduced the voting rights bill to Congress and sent federal troops to Alabama to intervene between police and protesters. Needless to say, King’s backroom deal and Forman’s bold leadership aren’t included in the movie. (Another SNCC leader, John Lewis, is depicted favorably in the film, but only because he’s a loyalist to King and LBJ. In 1966, he would lose his chair in SNCC due to his devotion to the Democratic Party, a loyalty which has since served him well in his 30 year Congressional career.) In 1966 Alabama elections, John Lewis did not support the independent primary of the Lowndes County Freedom Organization with the rest of SNCC, instead joining King in campaigning for Democrat candidate Richmond Flowers. He also refused to join the SNCC boycott of meetings with LBJ. Both were major factors in his being deposed from his Chair. (Branch, At Canaan’s Edge, 460-467)

These historical distortions aren’t just academic: they affect how we view militancy and moderation today. If activists and supporters aren’t aware of the contribution that rowdy non-nonviolent marches made to the campaign, they might instead chalk it up to King’s horse-trading, and thus submit to elite calls for tighter leadership and a cooling-off period—a course that would undermine the crucial momentum of the movement. (Selma producer Oprah Winfrey has said it’s precisely her intention to divert protesters into King’s “strategic” model.) If they come to associate the archetype of the well-funded, well-connected leader with strategic wisdom, they may find themselves embracing the next faux messianic figure who emerges to channel revolutionary energies into reformism, despite the fact that decades of liberal church leadership have brought real losses to the black community, including rollback of the Voting Rights Act.

Claims that Selma’s success somehow breaks the mold of Hollywood depictions of black struggle are dubious at best. That the filmmakers are women of color doesn’t change the fact that the film is fundamentally a King biopic that entrenches the Great Man theory of history. Meanwhile, commenters have noted that the most memorable sequences of the film feature white racists brutalizing helpless black bodies. “History as a horror movie” wrote The Washington Post approvingly, going on to compare the film to 12 Years a Slave. As Azealia Banks said in her trenchant, courageous interview about racism last month, “It’s really upsetting…that they’re still making movies like 12 Years a Slave. I don’t want to see no more fucking white people whipping black people in movies.”

The post-Ferguson movement is making 21st century history with its overall refusal of accommodation and martyrdom. Yet the historical narrative Selma reproduces threatens to paper over the necessary divisions among today’s protesters with a romanticized view of a “black united front” that never quite was. Lecturing the young militants, one liberal leader recently claimed that for all their “different ideas,” King and SNCC ultimately “came together to dialogue.” She doesn’t mention that this dialogue usually began with the moderate leader apologizing for “the betrayal of my own silences” (to use King’s words in “Beyond Vietnam”). Al Sharpton has been called out by activists repeatedly for his riot-shaming and victim-blaming, yet rather than apologizing, the great patriarch has tried to bad-jacket them as “provocateurs.” But the street kids made this movement. If any false messiah tries to push them away from the table, they should borrow a page from SNCC, and knock the fucking legs off.

 

 

[Lorenzo Raymond is an independent historian and educator living in New York City.]

WATCH: Dr. Sohail Daulatzai: “Welcome to the Terrordome”

Published on May 22, 2013

“As the profound anti-Muslim racism of the post-9/11 era deepens, the role and place of Muslims in the U.S. is under intense scrutiny by both Muslims and non-Muslims, as questions around “radicalization,” citizenship, and belonging continue the shape these debates. But the fears of Islam and Muslims in the United States are not new. In fact, they can be traced back to the presence and legacy of Malcolm X, who sought to internationalize the struggles of Black people in the U.S. and connect them with the struggles taking place throughout the non-white world. As Malcolm X said, “the same rebellion, the same impatience, the same anger that exists in the hearts of the dark people in Africa and Asia, is existing in the hearts and minds of 20 million black people in this country who have been just as thoroughly colonized as the people in Africa and Asia.”

In framing white supremacy as a global phenomenon, and understanding the systemic roots of inequality, Malcolm X provides us with a historic lens and contemporary frame for thinking about the role and place of Muslims in the United States, as endless war is waged, racism persists and capitalism wreaks havoc around the world.”

 

 

 

[Sohail Daulatzai is an Associate Professor in the Department of Film and Media Studies and the Program in African American Studies at the University of California, Irvine. He is the author of Black Star, Crescent Moon: The Muslim International and Black Freedom beyond America (2012) and is the co-editor (with Michael Eric Dyson) of Born to Use Mics: Reading Nas’s Illmatic (2009). His writing has appeared in The Nation, Counterpunch, Al Jazeera, Souls, Amer-Asia, Black Routes to Islam, and Basketball Jones, amongst others. He has written liner for the 2012 release of the 20th Anniversary Deluxe Box Set of Rage Against the Machine’s self titled debut album, the liner notes for the DVD release of Freestyle: The Art of Rhyme and the centerpiece in the museum catalog Movement: Hip-Hop in L.A., 1980’s — Now.]

Like a Dull Knife: The People’s Climate “Farce”

Truthout | Op-Ed

September 2014

By Quincy Saul

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The People’s Climate March promotional photo. (Photo: NYC Light Brigade / People’s Climate March via Facebook)

In the lead-up to any large-scale protest, it is useful to bear in mind the potential dangers and drawbacks of such an endeavor. On the eve of what is being advertised as “the biggest climate march in history,” we might reflect on Malcolm X’s experience of the March on Washington, as recounted in the Autobiography of Malcolm X:

“Farce in Washington”, I call it. . . . It was like a movie. . . . For the status-seeker, it was a status symbol. “Were you there?”. . . . It had become an outing, a picnic. . . . What originally was planned to be an angry riptide, one English newspaper aptly described now as “the gentle flood”. . . . there wasn’t a single logistics aspect uncontrolled. . . . They had been told how to arrive, when, where to arrive, where to assemble, when to start marching, the route to march. . . . Yes, I was there. I observed that circus.

Of course, not everyone present concurred with Malcolm X about the March on Washington – and even in a top-down format, one hopes the upcoming march could draw much-needed attention to the climate movement. The question is: At what cost? In this vein, what follows are a few reflections on the buildup to the September 21 People’s Climate March in New York City, to provide some concrete analysis of concrete conditions, and propose some solutions.

Deadline

The climate justice movement has an expiration date. If the tipping points in the earth system are passed, and the feedback loops begin their vicious cycle, human attempts at mitigation will be futile, and climate justice will become an anachronism – or at worst a slogan for geo-engineering lobbies. Thousands of scientists have come to consensus on this point, and many years ago gave us a deadline: A carbon emissions peak in 2015 followed by rapid and permanent decline.

In other words, we have roughly four months to work for climate justice. The world is literally at stake; all life on earth is at risk. Never has there been a more urgent or comprehensive mandate.

Even the guardians and gatekeepers of the ruling class, from politicians to scientists, are forthcoming on this point. Listen to Al Gore: “I can’t understand why there aren’t rings of young people blocking bulldozers, and preventing them from constructing coal-fired power plants.” He said that in 2007. It is in this context that we must seek to better understand and analyze the People’s Climate March.

“An Invitation to Change Everything”

The People’s Climate March has a powerful slogan. It has world-class publicity. But the desire to bring the biggest possible number of people to the march has trumped all other considerations. The results are devastating:

No Target: The march is a U-turn through Times Square, beginning at a monument to genocide (Columbus Circle) and ending . . . in the middle of nowhere. Here in New York City where the ruling class of the whole world has made their diverse headquarters, the march will target none of them. The march will not even go near the United Nations, its ostensible symbolic target.

No Timing: The United Nations will convene leading figures from all over the world – several days after the march. The march does not coincide with anything, contemporary or historic.

No Demands: Again, to attract the largest number of people, the march has rallied around the lowest common denominator – in this case, nothing. Not only are there no demands, but there is in fact no content at all to the politics of the march, other than vague concern and nebulous urgency about “the climate,” which is itself undefined.

No Unity: While a large number of people are sure to converge on Columbus Circle on September 21, the only thing they will have in common is the same street. The revolutionary communists will link arms with the Green Zionist Alliance and the Democratic Party, and compete with Times Square billboards for the attention of tourists and the corporate media.What is the binding agent for this sudden and unprecedented unity? Fifty-one years later, the words of Malcolm X still ring true: “the white man’s money.”

No History: Instead of building on the momentum of a decades-old climate justice movement, this march appears to be taking us backwards. Here’s what Ricken Patel of Avaaz, one of the main funders of the march, said to The Guardian: “We in the movement, activists, have failed up until this point to put up a banner and say if you care about this, now is the time, here is the place, let’s come together, to show politicians the political power that is out there on there.”

It is as if the massive mobilizations outside the United Nations meeting in Copenhagen (2009), Cancun (2010) and Durban (2011) never took place, let alone the literally thousands of smaller, more localized actions and gatherings for climate justice. At all of these gatherings, activists convoked the world to demonstrate the power of the people, under banners which were far more radical and transformative than anything we have seen so far for this march.

No Integrity: The invitation to change everything has been permitted and approved by the New York City Police Department. This permit betrays a lack of respect for the people who will be making sacrifices to come all the way to New York City to change the world, and a lack of integrity among those who want to change everything, but seek permission for this change from one of the more obviously brutal guardians of business as usual. This lack of integrity sets up thousands of earnest souls for an onset of depression and cynicism when this march doesn’t change the world. This will in turn be fertile soil for everyone and anyone hawking false solutions.

No target, no demands, no timing, no unity, no history and no integrity amounts to one thing: No politics. The whole will be far less than the sum of its parts. The biggest climate march in history will amount to something less than Al Gore.

In discussions over the past month with a wide range of people – UN diplomats, radical Vermonters, unionists, professors, liberal Democrats, etc. – the same thing has been repeated to me by everyone: “If we get a huge number of people, no one will be able to ignore us.” “The mainstream media will be forced to cover it.”

So what is being billed and organized as The People’s Climate March, and An Invitation to Change Everything, turns out to be a massive photo op. The spectacle of thousands of First World citizens marching for climate justice, while they continue to generate the vast majority of carbon emissions, brings to mind the spectacle of George W. Bush visiting New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

So what are we left with? James Brown knew, when he said: “You’re like a dull knife; Just ain’t cutting. You’re just talking loud; And saying nothing. Just saying nothing. Good luck to you; Just allow you’re wrong. Then keep on singing that; Same old money song . . .”

So What Are We Going to Do About It?

This is not the place to complain, but to propose solutions. If we are unsatisfied with this march and its leadership, we have to provide an alternative. As James Brown knew, we “have to pay the cost to be the boss.” Here are some suggestions for starters:

  1. We are going to stop lying to the people. This is the primary and cardinal rule of revolutionary politics. To invite people to change the world and corral them into cattle pens on a police-escorted parade through the heart of consumer society is astoundingly dishonest. From now on, we will stop lying to people. Climate justice requires nothing less than a global revolution in politics and production; it requires a historic transition to a new model of civilization, which will demand great sacrifice and creativity from everyone.
  2. We are going to stop making demands of anyone or anything but ourselves and each other. The powers that be are deaf, dumb and deadly, and we will waste no further time trying to pressure or persuade them. We are going to stop speaking truth to power and start speaking truth to powerlessness. Either we are going to become the leaders we have been waiting for, starting now, or we are going to resign ourselves to the inevitability of catastrophic climate change and the sixth mass extinction.
  3. We are going to return to the source. This means three things: (A) Return to the common people from the delirious heights of symbolic protest politics, with dedication to concrete local work, to divorce food, water, shelter and energy systems from capital. (B) Return to the livelihood and wisdom of our ancestors, the indigenous peoples of every continent, who have lived for thousands of years in harmony with nature, and who still possess the knowledge and skills to restore balance. (C) Return to the sun – a second Copernican revolution and a heliocentric energy policy. Either we return to a subsistence perspective that has prevailed for the majority of human history, or all future development of productive forces must be based exclusively on solar energy.
  4. We are going to get arrested! The only thing that we can do to meet the deadline for climate justice is to engage in a massive and permanent campaign to shut down the fossil fuel economy. But we have to do this strategically, not in the symbolic cuff-and-stuffs that are a perversion and prostitution of the noble ideals of civil disobedience and revolutionary nonviolence. So we are going to shut down coal plants; we are going to block ports, distribution centers and railway hubs where fossil fuels are transported; whatever it takes to keep the oil in the soil. We’re going to put our bodies between the soil and the sky.So let’s make sure that the call to “Flood Wall Street” on September 22 is the “angry riptide” it should be, and not “the gentle flood.”
  5. We are going to join the rest of the human race. For 200 years too long, citizens of the United States have been parasites and predators on the rest of the world. To prevent climate catastrophe, we are going to leave our imperial hubris behind, and join with the revolutionary ecosocialist uprisings that are sweeping the global South.

 

[Quincy Saul is the author of Truth and Dare: A Comic Book Curriculum for the End and the Beginning of the World, and the co-editor of Maroon the Implacable: The Collected Writings of Russell Maroon Shoatz. He is a musician and a co-founder of Ecosocialist Horizons.]

 

Copyright. Printed with permission from Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

Malcolm X: Do Not March With Your Oppressors

 

 

1963 March on Washington: The Mix of Struggle and Cooptation

Kasama Project

by Nat Winn

 

 

Warning: This is not the history or politics you have been taught.

It is Malcolm X’s immortal discussion, called A Message from the Grassroots.

Today, our oppressors’ media is doing unrestrained and shameless crowing about the 1963 March on Washington — using it to repackage the peoples struggle as a Democratic Party sidecar, and using their coverage to cover over how much the U.S. remains a brutal prison house for African American people and other people of color.

In that light, it is worth remembering that this 1963 March itself had an element of cooptation — that it involved an attempt by that old fox JFK to corral and subordinate the civil rights movement (including by promoting those leaders who were considered “responsible” from the perspective of this system and its dominant politics).

We too face a choice of whether to be “at distance from the state of affairs” or whether to be “politically under the wing of the bourgeoisie” (penned into the cooptation and endless degradation of bourgeois politics) . – (intro by Mike Ely)