Malcolm X: Words to inspire and heal
Mary Ann Curtis

Malcolm X: May 19, 1925 - February 21, 1965

February 21, 2015 marks 50 years since the assassination of Malcolm X—an extraordinary revolutionary leader, organizer and teacher.

Malcolm’s clearheaded, uncompromising advocacy of Black liberation armed African Americans with tactics to fight oppression in the mid-1960s and moved this country and the world to new heights of race and political consciousness.

Malcolm’s searing analysis of U.S. racism, capitalism and the two-party system, his keen understanding of friends and enemies and his politics of self-defense provide essential contemporary guidelines for those serious about ending a system that exploits black Americans, Native Americas, all people of color, Jews, women, lesbians, gays and workers.

Malcolm’s own words say it best.

On capitalism:

Malcolm had no illusions of reforming the U.S. government, “a political and economic system of exploitation, of outright humiliation, degradation and discrimination.” In a 1965 interview, Malcolm said “It is impossible for capitalism to survive, primarily because the system of capitalism needs some blood to suck. It used to be strong enough to go and suck anybody’s blood. But now it can only suck the blood of the helpless. As the nations of the world free themselves, then capitalism has less victims, and it becomes weaker … It’s only a matter of time before it will collapse completely.”

On our two-party system:

Malcolm did not mince words about the bankruptcy of the U.S. two-party system. “Our people … are fed up with America’s hypocritical democracy … The same ones we put in the White House have continued to keep us in the dog house … The masses of black people are still unemployed.

“What you experience in this country is one huge plantation system, the only difference now is that the president is the plantation boss. And he’s got a whole lot of … celebrity-style Negroes to act as overseers, to keep us in check.

“We won’t organize any black man to be a Democrat or a Republican because both of them have sold us out. Both parties are racist.”

Malcolm advocated registering everyone independent and running candidates independent of the white power structure.

On multiracial revolutionaries:

Malcolm’s solutions to the problems of black oppression changed as his education and life experiences expanded. His political evolution was especially swift in the two years prior to his assassination in 1965. As he traveled in Africa and the Middle East, his politics moved from Black Muslim separatism, to black nationalism, to an increasingly Marxist perspective — that all the oppressed must unite to overthrow capitalism and that internationalism was key to black liberation.

He said of his trip to Ghana in May, 1964: “I was speaking with the Algerian ambassador who is extremely militant and is a revolutionary in the true sense of the word. When I told him that my political, social and economic philosophy was black nationalism, he asked me very frankly, well where did that leave him? Because he was white.

“He was an African, but he was Algerian and to all appearances, he was a white man. And he said if I define my objective as the victory of black nationalism, where does that leave him? Where does that leave revolutionaries in Morocco, Egypt, Iraq, Mauritania?

“So he showed me where I was alienating people who were true revolutionaries dedicated to overturning the system of exploitation that exists on this earth by any means necessary. So, I had to do a lot of thinking and reappraising of my definition of black nationalism.”

Had Malcolm lived to see the modern upsurge of Chicanos, Latinos, women, Native Americans, lesbians, gays, Asian Americans and labor, his program for revolutionary change would undoubtedly have integrated them.

On allies in the struggle:

Malcolm wanted to broaden the struggle for black liberation, but was wary of white liberals who offered help. He said, “We need allies who are going to help us achieve a victory, not tell us to be nonviolent. If a white man wants to be your ally, what does he think of John Brown? … White people call John Brown … a nut … because he was willing to shed blood to free the slaves.

“If we need white allies in this country, we don’t need the kind who compromise … We need the kind that John Brown was.”

On self-defense vs. nonviolence:

To undermine Malcolm’s leadership in the black movement and sabotage his political message, the government and the press portrayed him as an advocate of violence. Here is what Malcolm said on this key question:

“Tactics based solely on morality can only succeed when you are dealing with people … or a system that is moral. A man or system which oppresses a man because of his color is not moral.

“I don’t favor violence. If we could bring about recognition and respect of our people by peaceful means, well and good. Everybody would like to reach objectives peacefully. But I’m a realist. The only people in this country who are asked to be nonviolent are black people. I’ve never heard anybody go to the KKK and teach them nonviolence.”

On internationalism:

In a speech to teenagers from Mississippi visiting New York, Malcolm said, “The greatest accomplishment that was made in the struggle of the black man in America in 1964 toward some kind of real progress was the successful linking together of our problem with the African problem.

“Nowadays when something happens to black people in Mississippi, you’ll see repercussions all over the world. It is important for you to know that when you’re in Mississippi, you’re not alone. As long as you think you’re alone, then you take a stand as if … you’re outnumbered.”

Here and now:

As the movement in defense of black lives—as well as all the oppressed—grows, Malcolm’s ideas help point the way forward.