9:31 PM / Saturday September 23, 2023

6 Jun 2011

Manning Marable’s Malcolm X book (part two)

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June 6, 2011 Category: Week In Review Posted by:

By Amiri Baraka


I would submit that is exactly what those agencies would do in this case! To assume that because you are given “access” to certain information, that save information is not “cooked,” as people around law enforcement say, is to labor in deep naiveté as to whom you are dealing with!


Marable never made any pretensions about being a “revolutionary.” His hookup with the DSA is open acknowledgment that he rejected Lenin’s prescription for a revolutionary organization, or party of the advanced, or such concepts as “The Dictatorship of the Proletariat.” In fact the DSA says they are not a party, aligning themselves very clearly with Lenin’s opponents in the 2nd International.


Such people, social democrats, are open opponents of revolution, so that at base Marable was opposed to the political logic of Malcolm’s efforts to make revolution. Marable is even more dismissive of the Nation of Islam which he brands a “cult” and “sect” dismissing the fact that even as a religious organization, the NOI had a distinct political message, and that it was this message, I think, more than the direct attraction of Islam, that drew the thousands to it.


If Marable was giving a deeper understanding of Elijah Muhammad’s call for Five States in the South, he would have mentioned the relationship of this concept to Lenin’s formulation of an Afro American Nation in the black belt South (called that because that is the largest single concentration of Afro Americans in the US ). It was not simply some Negro fantasy.


If Marable actually understood the political legitimacy of Malcolm’s Black Nationalism and how Malcolm’s constant exposure to the revolutionary aspects of the Civil Rights movement and the more militant Black Liberation Movement shaped his thinking and made his whole presentation more overtly political, something that this was not only negative to the core of the NOI bureaucracy but certainly to the FBI. They have even written Malcolm X was much safer to them in the Nation than as a loose cannon roaming the planet outside of it. They understood that what Malcolm was saying, even in “The Ballot or the Bullet” was dangerous stuff. That his admission that all white people might not be the Devil was not morphing into a Dr. King replica but an understanding, as he said at Oxford University, that when Black people made their revolution there would be some white people joining them.


The meeting with the Klan was not Malcolm’s idea, certainly it was Elijah Muhammad’s as it had been Marcus Garvey’s idea before him. Malcolm’s Black Nationalism became more deliberately a Revolutionary Nationalism, such as Mao Tse Tsung (or Cabral or Nkrumah) spoke of, necessary to rally the nation’s forces together to make lst a national revolution to overthrow foreign domination and followed by a revolution to destroy capitalism.


Importantly, Marable does draw a clearer picture of Malcolm’s childhood and early days, especially indicating the Garvey influence his parents taught him and how that would make him open to what Elijah Muhammad taught. Though Marable ascribes some wholly political “defiance” to the conked hair and zoot suits of the 40’s rather than understanding that there was also a deep organic cultural expression that is always evident in Black life. It is not just a formal reaction to white society. African pants are similarly draped. Access to straightening combs or conkolene are a product of the period, and certainly if any straight hair is gonna be imitated, there was some here before the Latinos.


The “antibourgeois” attitude of the Black youth culture is organic and an expression of the gestalt of black life in the US and Marable seems not to wholly understand it. For instance his take on BeBop as the music of “the hepcats (sic) who broke mostly sharply from swing, developing a black oriented sound at the margins of musical taste and commercialism.” BeBop was a revolutionary music, dismissing Tin Pan Alley commercialism and raising the blues and improvisation again as principal to black music.


The essential “disconnection ” in the book is Marable’s failure to understand the revolutionary aspects of Black Nationalism, as a struggle for ” Self Determination, Self Respect and Self Defense.” A struggle for equal democratic rights expressed on the sidewalks of an oppressor nation by an oppressed Afro American nationality.


What the book does is try to remove Malcolm from the context and character of an Afro American revolutionary and “make him more human,” by dismantling that portrait by redrawing him with the rumors, assumptions, speculations, questionable guesses and the intentionally twisted seeing of the state and his enemies.


Was Captain Joseph (who later changed his name to Yusuf Shah) close to Malcolm? He appeared on television calling Malcolm “Benedict Arnold” and told Spike Lee that I had come up to the Mosque and stood up to question Malcolm and Malcolm told me to “sit down until you get rid of that white woman.” I met Malcolm only once, the month before he was murdered. This was in Muhammad Babu’s room at the Waldorf Astoria. Babu had just finished leading the revolution in Zanzibar , and would later become Minister of Economics for Tanzania (which was Zanzibar and Tanganyika ).


At that meeting Malcolm responded to my demeaning of the NAACP by saying I should be trying, instead, to join the NAACP, to make a point about Black people needing a “United Front.” That idea was not an attempt at “trying to become respectable,” to paraphrase Marable, Malcolm had come to realize that no sectarianism could make the revolution we needed. Interestingly, Stokely Carmichael also called for the building of a Black United Front, and Martin Luther King, when he visited my house in Newark , a week before he was murdered, called for the same political strategy. It was such a front that was a major part of the national democratic coalition that elected Obama.


As for Yusuf Shah, when Spike Lee repeated Shah’s wild allegations about me in his book How I Made The Movie X, I asked a college friend of mine, who had become my part time lawyer, Hudson Reed, to file a suit against Shah demanding he be questioned in court for any “exculpatory” evidence relating to the murder of Malcolm X, particularly as to the involvement of himself and organized crime. A short time later, Shah, who had moved to Massachusetts , died in his sleep. Marable reports that Captain Joseph/Yusuf Shah’s FBI file was “empty”!


It is Marable’s misunderstanding of the revolutionary aspect of Black Nationalism that challenges the portrait not only of Malcolm but of the period and it’s organizations as well. He treats the split between Malcolm X and the NOI much like he assumes the police did. (Though this is patently false.) As a struggle between “two warring black gangs,” a sect splitting from the main.


So that there is much more from Marable framing Malcolm’s murder as directed by the NOI, rather than the state. Marable’s general portrait of Malcolm is as doomed and confused individual about whom he could say that “Malcolm extensively read history but he was not a historian.” As if the academic title “HISTORIAN” conferred a more scientific understanding of history than any grassroots’ scholar might have. Simple class bias.


To say of the NOI that it was not a radical organization obscures the Black Nationalist confrontation with the white racist oppressor nation. Marable thinks that the Trots of the SWP or the members of the CP or the Committees of Correspondence are more radical. That means he has not even understood Lenin’s directive as pointed out in Stalin’s Foundations of Leninism, in The National Question,


“. . . The revolutionary character of a national movement under the conditions of imperialist oppression does not necessarily presuppose the existence of proletarian elements in the movement, the existence of a revolutionary or a republican programme of the movement, the existence of a democratic basis of the movement. The struggle that the Emir of Afghanistan is waging for the independence of Afghanistan is objectively a revolutionary struggle, despite the monarchist view of the Emir and his associates, for it weakens, disintegrates and undermines imperialism; whereas the struggle waged by such ‘desperate’ democrats and ‘socialists’, ‘revolutionaries’ and republicans . . . was a reactionary struggle. …Lenin was right in saying that the national movement of the oppressed countries should be appraised not from the point of view of formal democracy but from the point of view of the actual results, as shown by the general balance sheet of struggle against imperialism”—Foundations of Leninism, p.77.


Marable thinks that the Trots like the SWP or the soi disant Marxists in CPUSA or the Committees of Correspondence (a breakaway from the CPUSA) or the DSA are more radical than the NOI or Malcolm X. Perhaps on paper. But not in the real world of the Harlem streets. Malcolm came out the NOI, Dr. King from the reformist SCLC. But both men were more objectively revolutionary on those Harlem streets or in those southern marches than any of the social democratic formations and the social democrats ought to face this.


Marable spends most of his time trying to make the NOI Malcolm’s murderers. Information from FBI, BOSS, CIA, NYPD, would tend to push this view, for obvious reasons. In this vein Marable says that Malcolm’s Africa trips “made his murder all the more necessary from an institutional standpoint.” That Malcolm’s actions “had been all too provocative” to Elijah Muhammad and the NOI. But what about the Imperialist U.S. state and its agencies of detection and murder? They would be more provoked and better able to end such provocation. If there’s a well-known murderer of Malcolm X still running loose as Marable and others have pointed out, how is it he remains free and we must presume that those agencies of the state know this as well as Marable and the others!


But even as he keeps hammering away that it was the Nation of Islam, he still says contradictorily “The fatwa, or death warrant, may or may not have been signed by Elijah Muhammad, there is no way of knowing.” Many of Marable’s claims fall under the same category.


He even quotes Malcolm after he was refused entrance into France that he had been making a “serious mistake” by focusing attention on the NOI Chicago headquarters “thinking all my problems were coming from Chicago and they’re not.” Asked then from where, Malcolm said “From Washington.”


Marable also tells us that even today the FBI refuses to release its reports on Malcolm’s assassination. Yet he will quote one of those agencies without question. Of Betty Shabazz’ death Marable says flatly, of Malcolm’s daughter Qubilah . . . “her disturbed 12-year old son set fire one night to his grandmother’s apartment.” How does he know this? Is an official government “information” release that impressive? There are many doubts about that murder; shouldn’t some of them have been investigated?


Some of the characterizations in the book are simply incorrect and suffer from only knowing about the movement on paper. Marable saying about Stokely Carmichael, after splitting with “pacifist” Bob Moses and SNCC that he would subsequently join the Black Panthers” is such an example. Carmichael didn’t join the Panthers; he was “drafted” along with Rap Brown.


Marable says in effect that Malcolm misunderstood Martin Luther King’s influence on Black people. He didn’t misunderstand that influence he was trying to provide an alternative to it. Though ultimately I believe both leaders’ later conclusion that a United Front would be the most formidable instrument to achieve equal rights and self-determination for the Afro American people, I would have liked to see Malcolm and Martin in the same organization, and for that matter Garvey & Du Bois. They could argue all day and all night and in the end some of us might not agree on the majority’s decision, but like the Congress of the United States we’d have to say, “I don’t even agree with that . . . but that’s what we voted to do”!


Interestingly, on the back of the book are three academics who represent the same social democratic thought as Prof Marable. Gates who disparages Africa, looks for racism in Cuba not Cambridge and says the Harvard Yard is his nation.


My friend Cornell West who in response to me calling out at the Left Forum, “Where are the socialists, where are the communists” shouts “I’m a Christian!” And Michael Eric Dyson who wrote a book on Dr. King calling it the “True Dr. King” somewhat like Marable’s approach to Malcolm. But who and what else in the paper “Garden of Even” of “Post Racial America.” So it is necessary that we rid ourselves of the real leaders of our struggle, in favor of Academics who want to tell us we were following flawed leaders with flawed ideas. We don’t need equal rights and self-determination, an appointment to an Ivy League school will do just fine.

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