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Vol. 74/No. 7      February 22, 2010

Malcolm X drawn
to Cuban Revolution
(feature article)
The following is the fifth 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 buy, read, and discuss the book. This excerpt is from the chapter “Malcolm X: Revolutionary Leader of the Working Class.”

What about the Cuban Revolution? Some of us know of the welcome Malcolm gave to Cuban prime minister Fidel Castro when Fidel came to New York in September 1960 to speak for the first time before the United Nations General Assembly. After numerous mid-Manhattan hotels often used by UN delegations either refused accommodations to the Cuban delegation, or sought to impose a degrading and costly “damage deposit” on them, Castro and his comrades moved uptown to Harlem and registered at the Hotel Theresa.

Malcolm X had helped arrange the move and organized a defense guard for the delegation at the Theresa. Thousands of Harlem residents and supporters of revolutionary Cuba from around New York gathered outside the hotel for days to celebrate this act of solidarity by a visiting head of state. “Premier Castro has come out against lynching, which is more than [U.S.] President Eisenhower has done,” Malcolm told the New York press after meeting with the Cuban leader in his room. “Castro has also taken a more open stand for civil rights for Black Cubans.”

Malcolm’s welcome to the Cuban delegation in 1960 was genuine, but he was then still a prominent minister of the Nation of Islam and would not have made this very public move without Elijah Muhammad’s agreement. The Nation had a stance of support for national liberation struggles in the colonial world and gave generally positive coverage in its press to the revolution in Cuba.

Over the next few years, however, as Malcolm increasingly strained against the Nation’s rejection of militant political action, he was drawn more and more openly to the example of Cuba’s ongoing revolutionary course. “The Cuban Revolution—that’s a revolution,” he told an audience predominantly of African Americans in November 1963, the month during which he was later silenced by Elijah Muhammad. “They overturned the system. Revolution is in Asia, revolution is in Africa, and the white man is screaming because he sees revolution in Latin America. How do you think he’ll react to you when you learn what a real revolution is?”

Malcolm’s attraction to revolutionary Cuba continued to grow following his break with the Nation. In his speeches and interviews, he often pointed to the Cuban Revolution, along with those in China and Algeria, as an example of what needed to be done in the United States.

In December 1964, when Cuban leader Ernesto Che Guevara came to New York to address the UN, Malcolm invited him to come to the Audubon Ballroom to speak to a meeting of the OAAU [Organization of Afro-American Unity]. Che initially accepted the invitation but later concluded, as he wrote in a message that Malcolm read to the audience, that security “conditions are not good for [my participation in] this meeting.” And Che added: “Receive the warm salutations of the Cuban people and especially those of Fidel, who remembers enthusiastically his visit to Harlem a few years ago. United we will win.”

“I love a revolutionary,” Malcolm told the audience at the Audubon that night, as he prepared to read Che’s note. “And one of the most revolutionary men in this country right now was going to come out here … but he thought better of it.” Malcolm cautioned participants never to let anyone choose their friends for them. “I don’t,” Malcolm said. “And you shouldn’t… . You and I should practice the habit of weighing people and weighing situations and weighing groups and weighing governments for ourselves.”…  
Cuba’s internationalism
Che had spoken before the United Nations two days earlier. In that speech he had championed one of the anti-imperialist struggles Malcolm felt very deeply about: the liberation struggle in the Congo. In June 1960, after nearly a century of incredibly bloody and exploitative Belgian rule, the Congolese people had won their independence and established a government led by Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba, the central leader of the freedom struggle.

Washington and Brussels immediately organized to destroy the Lumumba government and replace it with a regime they were confident would protect imperialism’s vast copper and other mineral holdings. Under United Nations cover, they engineered a coup against Lumumba in September 1960 and his brutal murder in January 1961. Over the next few years the U.S. and Belgian governments aided the new Congolese regime in combating anti-imperialist rebel forces organized by Lumumba supporters… .

Those murderous attacks reached a crescendo in November 1964, just prior to Che’s speech at the UN. Che pointed out to the General Assembly—and above all, from that podium, to the working people of the world—that Washington and other imperialist powers had “used the name of the United Nations to commit the murder of Lumumba” and of thousands of Congolese villagers. “All free men of the world must be prepared to avenge the crime of the Congo,” he said.

Che and the entire Cuban leadership intended to act on that call. It wasn’t a bluff—they never bluff. In fact, Che left straight from New York in mid-December for a three-month tour of Africa, during which he met with leaders of the Lumumba forces, of governments on the continent who supported the Congolese anti-imperialist rebels, and of national liberation movements in Angola and other countries then still under the boot of Portuguese colonial rule… .

By mid-1965 the imperialist press was chattering about Che’s “disappearance,” spreading their standard lie (and wish) that there had been a split in the revolutionary leadership in Cuba and that Che had been jailed or even executed. Alas, their hope was not to be realized. In fact, between April and December 1965 Che was in the Congo, leading a column of Cuban internationalist volunteers who helped arm and train the pro-Lumumba forces. After a brief return to Cuba for additional training and preparations, Che in late 1966 left for Bolivia, where he was killed in combat the following October fighting alongside Bolivian, Cuban, and other Latin American combatants to overthrow the U.S.-backed dictatorship there.

Given what Malcolm had come to know and politically admire about Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, and the Cuban Revolution, none of this would have come as a surprise to him if he had lived to see it. Nor would Malcolm have been surprised that a decade later Cuba—in response to an appeal by the newly independent Angolan government—sent 36,000 internationalist volunteers beginning in November 1975 to assist the Angolans in turning back an invasion by South Africa’s apartheid regime.
Related articles:
U.S. Black farmers demand redress
New center celebrates Black rights struggle  
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