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Vol. 75/No. 8      February 28, 2011

Nebraska events discuss
Malcolm X leadership
OMAHA, Nebraska—Students and workers from across this city and nearby came to meetings at two universities here to join in a discussion with Steve Clark, editor of Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power by Jack Barnes, national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party. The book was published a year ago by Pathfinder Press.

Forty people attended the meeting at Creighton University February 14 sponsored by the Office of Multicultural Affairs, Black Studies Department, Multicultural Advisory Council, Initiatives for Diversity and Education and Action, and the Pathfinder book center in Des Moines, Iowa. Creighton, a Jesuit university located on the edge of Omaha’s Black community, has more than 7,000 students.

Along with students and faculty from Creighton, participants included Walter Brooks, a leader of the Malcolm X Memorial Foundation, a group that organizes a visitors’ and community center at the birth site of Malcolm X in north Omaha; and workers from Minneapolis, Des Moines, Omaha, and Lincoln, Nebraska. Also participating in the event were four young activists who have been leading efforts to organize a union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), at Jimmy John’s sandwich shops and Starbucks in Omaha.

Ricardo Ariza, director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs, chaired the meeting.

Clark described some of the history the book recounts about the struggles of workers and farmers who are Black and other working people over the past 150 years. “One of the central purposes of the book, Barnes explains, is to make the case that Malcolm X was a revolutionary leader of the working class,” Clark said.  
‘A political showdown’
“Recognizing this is more important than ever today,” Clark said, “with the capitalist crisis devastating workers all over the world, including millions who are African American, and with U.S. imperialism fighting wars from Afghanistan to Pakistan and beyond.

In January 1965 Malcolm X told a television interviewer in Canada that the world is heading toward “a political showdown … between the economic systems that exist on this earth.” He then continued, “I believe that there will ultimately be a clash between the oppressed and those that do the oppressing… . But I don’t think that it will be based upon the color of the skin.”

Today, Clark said, “we see such a clash opening in Tunisia and spreading to Egypt, where struggles have swept across cities and expanded into strikes. This has led to the fall of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, but not the military regime he headed for decades.

“This is a blood-drenched regime," Clark said, “backed by U.S. administrations of both the Democratic and Republican parties, including today President Barack Obama, Vice President Joseph Biden, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“Power remains in the hands of the armed forces officer corps. The army, top figures from the Mubarak regime, the Muslim Brotherhood, and various bourgeois opposition leaders all have their proposals for a government to maintain capitalist profits and political rule.

“Working people in Egypt need to organize and strengthen their own committees and councils in neighborhoods, factories, and villages,” Clark said. They need time and political space to chart a course to the revolutionary struggles for power.

Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power, Clark said, “is a book about the dictatorship of capital and the consequences for billions of working people the world over of the crisis of capitalist rule by a handful of propertied families.

“The author, Jack Barnes, does not make the claim that the establishment of a workers and farmers government will end racism, second-class status of women, or other forms of exploitation and oppression,” Clark stated. “The author makes a more modest—but very important claim—that only such a government gives working people and the oppressed the essential political instrument we need to advance the fights to eliminate these scourges once and for all.”

During a lively discussion period, Don Muhr, 32, one of the IWW organizers, asked Clark what he thought "about the labor unions supporting the building of the proposed transcontinental pipeline from the oil fields in Canada to the Gulf Coast that will pass over parts of Nebraska's underground water reservoir known as the Ogallala aquifer."

Clark explained that workers and our unions must take up the question of stewardship of the land and nature as a social issue. This is part of fighting for workers control of conditions in our workplaces in order to guarantee health and safety on the job, safe products for the public, and production methods that do not damage the soil, waters, air, and natural environment whose transformation by labor is the source of all social wealth.

One participant asked Clark whether in giving so much importance to working-class struggles, he wasn’t underemphasizing how education could be reformed, something this person saw as a pressing need. “Education is completely tied to class relations,” Clark replied. “The capitalist rulers don’t need for most of the working class to have an education. They need us to be obedient, to go to work, to punch a time clock, to keep our mouths shut. And when we are too old to work—too old to squeeze any more profit from our labor—they don’t care what happens to us.

“For a handful from better-off middle class layers and a few from working class families they hand out a diploma, which is a license to make more money, because, ‘I’m smart, and you’re not.’

“But education is something every human being should have a right to, from childhood through their lifetime, something the capitalists in power have no interest in providing. So if we’re going to transform education, first we have to make a revolution to replace the capitalist system,” Clark said.

Clark spoke the next day at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) sponsored by the Black Studies Department there. Sixty people attended the meeting, including more than 20 assigned by Black Studies professor Terrie Jackson-Miller, who also attended. Others who participated included department chair Omowale Akintunde; Felicia Dailey, the department’s administrative assistant; and James Freeman, director of the UNO Multicultural Affairs Office. Freeman met Malcolm X in 1965, as one of the students who invited Malcolm to speak at Tuskegee University in Alabama. Four high school students from Lincoln drove in for the meeting, sponsored by their English literature teacher.

Sharif Liwaru, president of the Malcolm X Memorial Foundation in Omaha, chaired the meeting.

Several participants focused their questions and comments on the deteriorating economic conditions and inferior schools in North Omaha, a working-class area with a high percentage of African American residents.

Vickey Parks, a member of the Malcolm X Memorial Foundation, noted the decline of Black Studies programs at universities and said she expected a social explosion like the one in Egypt could happen in Omaha’s Black community. Freeman said the deterioration of the schools accelerated when desegregation, a conquest of the Black struggle of the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s, was dismantled in Omaha in the late 1990s.

Carl Tyler, a veteran Black rights fighter, commented, “When I think of Malcolm X, he didn’t just deal with racism in one community, like North Omaha, it was a worldwide struggle.”

Andrew Pulley, a taxi driver from Des Moines, said, “What we’re faced with is to figure out how to unite with the other oppressed and exploited people to fight to overthrow the existing government and to set up a workers and farmers government.” Pulley suggested studying the lessons of revolutions in the Caribbean island of Grenada in 1979-83 and the West African country Burkina Faso in 1983-87, and the example of the socialist revolution in Cuba.

Clark pointed to a collection of books by Pathfinder Press displayed at the meeting that participants could buy and learn more about those revolutions.

He called special attention to the example of revolutionary Cuba, where workers and farmers threw out the dictatorship backed by Washington and made a socialist revolution at the opening of the 1960s. “It has set an example,” Clark said, “of how by taking power workers and farmers have a tool to fight to end exploitation and oppression at home and worldwide.”

Informal discussion continued for some time after the meeting. Later Liwaru took Clark and others on a tour of the Malcolm X birth site in North Omaha and the new visitors center there.
Related articles:
‘Book’s strong point is talking about revolution’  
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