The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 74/No. 9      March 8, 2010

Communist continuity
and Malcolm X legacy
(feature article)
The following is the seventh in a series of excerpts the Militant is running from Pathfinder Press’s latest book, Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power, by Jack Barnes, national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party. We encourage our readers to study and discuss the book. This excerpt is from the chapter “Malcolm X: Revolutionary Leader of the Working Class.” Subheadings are by the Militant.

Like these relatively recent examples, the development and legacy of Malcolm X during the last year of his life are woven into the strands of proletarian political continuity opened, in our century, by the victory of the Bolshevik-led October 1917 revolution in Russia and by the first four congresses of the Communist International under the leadership of V.I. Lenin. Reporting in 1920 to the opening session of the Second Congress of the Comintern, as it was called, Lenin celebrated the unprecedented composition of the gathering, saying it truly “merits the title of a world congress.” At this congress, he said, “we see taking place a union between revolutionary proletarians of the capitalist, advanced countries, and the revolutionary masses of those countries where there is no or hardly any proletariat.”

“World imperialism shall fall,” Lenin added, “when the revolutionary onslaught of the exploited and oppressed workers in each country, overcoming resistance from petty-bourgeois elements and the influence of the small upper crust of labor aristocrats, merges with the revolutionary onslaught of hundreds of millions of people who have hitherto stood beyond the pale of history and have been regarded merely as the objects of history.”

The political reverberations of the Bolshevik revolution unleashed national liberation struggles over the subsequent half century through which the toilers transformed themselves into the subjects of history throughout growing portions of the colonial world. They are demonstrating that the leadership of the revolutionary workers movement is not and will not be overwhelmingly European or North American, but will reflect the composition of working people the world over.

During the past half century, the working class and industrial proletariat have grown explosively in many countries of the semicolonial world. Moreover, as we’re seeing in Burkina Faso today, leaders of exceptional political caliber can and do emerge from countries, as Lenin said, “where there is no or hardly any proletariat”—and toilers from these countries still number in the hundreds of millions.

Malcolm X—speaking and acting from within the earth’s strongest and wealthiest imperialist power, and from an oppressed nationality heavily working class in composition—was representative of this internationalization of proletarian leadership. It is not artificial to speak of Malcolm in the same breath as of V.I. Lenin, of Leon Trotsky, of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, of Maurice Bishop, of Thomas Sankara, of leaders of the communist movement in the United States such as James P. Cannon and Farrell Dobbs… .  
Proletarian, internationalist politics
Malcolm correctly insisted that the struggle for Black freedom in the United States is part of an international struggle, a struggle for human rights not just civil rights. He refused to look at America through American eyes, or to look at the world through American eyes. He took his stand from within the oppressed and exploited in the battle for liberation the world over. That was his starting point. And that’s the beginning of wisdom for any revolutionary today.

Malcolm rejected any notion that the oppressed could rely on some common humanity shared with the oppressors, or with a “well-meaning” section of the oppressors. There is no latent supply of love in the “soul” of all human beings, regardless of class, that can be tapped if they’re shamed or pressured—or lobbied or voted for. There is no abstract, classless “humanity”; there is only human solidarity conquered in struggle as a social product of class solidarity, of solidarity in political action among the exploited and oppressed worldwide. The job of revolutionists is not to act “responsibly,” which in class-divided society can only mean “responsibly” toward the rulers, or at least the bourgeois liberals and bourgeois socialists among them. What revolutionists are responsible for is to advance along the line of march toward power of the toilers, who compose the great majority of humanity.

Don’t “run around … trying to make friends with somebody who’s depriving you of your rights,” Malcolm urged the Mississippi youth I mentioned earlier. “They’re not your friends. No, they’re your enemies. Treat them like that and fight them, and you’ll get your freedom.” …

During Malcolm’s final year, the 1964 U.S. elections were in full swing, with the incumbent president, Democrat Lyndon Baines Johnson, being challenged by Republican Barry Goldwater. With the exception of the Socialist Workers Party—and Malcolm X—virtually every political current in U.S. politics claiming to speak and act on behalf of working people and the oppressed were going all out to defeat Goldwater. This was necessary to advance the fight for “peace” in Vietnam, they claimed. Some even warned of the triumph of “fascism” if Goldwater were elected. The Communist Party USA was leading the pack. Of course, as we now know, the “peace candidate” Johnson, who was elected in November, went on to escalate the Vietnam War, raising U.S. troop levels more than thirty-fold from some 16,000 to 537,000 by the end of his term in January 1969 and initiating a murderous and sustained campaign of bombing and chemical warfare… .

Malcolm told a November 1964 meeting in Paris on his return trip from Africa that the U.S. capitalists “knew that the only way people would run toward the fox would be if you showed them a wolf… . [They] had the whole world—including people who call themselves Marxists” (a reference to the CPUSA) “—hoping that Johnson would beat Goldwater.” Malcolm continued: “Those who claim to be enemies of the system were on their hands and knees waiting for Johnson to get elected—because he is supposed to be a man of peace. And at that moment he had troops invading the Congo and South Vietnam!”

And in early 1965, when the Johnson administration began floating trial balloons about appointing a Black to his cabinet, Malcolm told the audience at a Militant Labor Forum in New York City, “Yes they have a new gimmick every year. They’re going to take one of their boys, black boys, and put him in the cabinet, so he can walk around Washington with a cigar—fire on one end and fool on the other.”
Related articles:
Sell the book on ‘workers power’  
Front page (for this issue) | Home | Text-version home