Malcolm X: Fighter for Black Liberation

On Feb. 21, 1965, Malcolm X was gunned down by assassins as he was about to give a speech at the Audobon Ballroom in Harlem, N.Y. His assassination was a stunning blow to the Black liberation movement.

The circumstances surrounding the death of Malcolm X remain unresolved. Many people believe – and rightfully so – that the real perpetrators and killers were never caught. Undoubtedly, the greatest beneficiary of Malcolm’s death was the U.S. government.


The American ruling class will discover, however, that the ideas and solutions that Malcolm X popularized cannot be buried as easily as the man.

Malcolm X was an uncompromising opponent of the U.S. government. In the early 1960s, his ideas for what road to take for Black freedom and equality represented the most militant wing of the fight against racism.

Nation of Islam days

Malcolm X first came into public prominence as a dynamic spokesperson and organizer for the Nation of Islam (Black Muslims). The Nation of Islam advocated a religious and separatist solution to the scourge of white racism. It was an attractive organization to many Black people because it encouraged Black pride and independence. In addition, they were unalterably opposed to integration with the “white man” and instead advocated Black self-reliance and a Black “homeland.”

Malcolm X was the Nation of Islam’s most eloquent and powerful speaker. He was their best recruiter and was responsible for their tremendous growth in membership.

In early 1964, however, Malcolm X broke with the Nation of Islam. There were many reasons for this, but the most important was their abstention from the Black struggle for civil rights.

Need for political action

Malcolm X believed that political organization and action was the most effective means to win Black liberation. Although his painful break with the Nation of Islam forced him to re-examine many of the solutions and tactics he had previously advocated, he never changed his basic analysis of what was needed to win the fight for justice and equality.

Malcolm X was a consistent Black nationalist and a revolutionist of action.

He consistently argued that:

– Black people will get their freedom only by fighting for it;

– that the U.S. government is a racist government and is not going to grant freedom;

– that gradualism (slow reform), the program of the liberals – Black and white, Democrat and Republican – is not the road to equality;

– that traitors within the Black movement (“Uncle Toms”) must be exposed and opposed;

– that Black people must rely on themselves and control their own struggle;

– and that Blacks must determine their own strategy and tactics, select their own leaders, and have the right to self-defense in the face of racist attacks.

Educate and organize

Hounded, harassed, and faced with the constant threat of sudden death, Malcolm X sought to build an organization. (When he was killed he was about to give a speech to open discussion on the program of the Organization of Afro-American United [OAAU], the group he founded to politically organize the Black community.)

Malcolm X was vilified and slandered because he called American society by its right name – racist. He was against “non-violence” when Blacks were physically attacked by racists and he advocated Black self-defense. He was called a “Black racist,” an “extremist,” and a “hate monger” by so-called liberals because he could not see the efficacy of “turning the other cheek.”

Malcolm X said, “If we react to white racism with a violent reaction, to me that’s not Black racism. If you come to put a rope around my neck, and I hang you for it, to me that’s not racism. Yours is racism. . . My reaction is the reaction of a human being reacting to defend and protect himself.”

When Malcolm X spoke, Black people listened. A brilliant speaker, who stripped American racist society to the bare bones, Malcolm X smashed illusions in gradual reform: “You’ve been waiting over 400 years for your freedom.”

He exposed the hypocrisy of the liberals, who cautioned Blacks to go slow and be “non-violent.” They want you to be non-violent here,” he said, “but they want you to be very violent in South Vietnam.”

Malcolm X connected the struggle of Blacks in American to the struggles of the oppressed all over the world.

“We are living in an era of revolution,” he told students at Columbia University, “and the revolt of the American Negro is part of the rebellion against oppression and colonialism which has characterized this era . . .It is incorrect to classify the revolt of the Negro as simply a racial conflict of Black against white, or as a purely American problem. Rather, we are today seeing a global rebellion of the oppressed against the oppressor, the exploited against the exploiter.”

The logic of Malcolm X’s fight against U.S. racism and injustice led him to take anti-capitalist positions. “You can’t have capitalism without racism,” he said.

Asked what he thought was responsible for race prejudice in America, he responded: “Ignorance and greed. And a skillfully designed program of mis-education that goes right along with the American system of exploitation and oppression.”

Malcolm X’s political evolution in his last year was the reason he was killed.

”By any means necessary”

Malcolm X believed that the fight for Black freedom should be won “by any means necessary.” He had become an implacable opponent of the Democratic and Republican parties. “Any Negro who registers as a Democrat or a Republican,” he said, “is a traitor to his own people.”

“Our people need to get registered,” he said, “[They] need to pile up political power, but they need to hold it in abeyance and throw it in . . . when they know it will get results. Don’t just throw it because you’ve got it.”

When he was asked by the Freedom Now Party in Michigan (an independent Black party) to be their candidate in the 1964 elections, he gave it serious consideration. He declined only because he would have had to shorten his trip to Africa.

Malcolm X had no illusions in the so-called differences between the Democrats and Republicans. “One is the wolf, the other is a fox. No matter what, they’ll both eat you.” In the 1964 presidential elections, when the candidates were Johnson (the “peace” candidate) vs. Goldwater (the “war” candidate), Malcolm X exposed the deciet of this phony distinction.

“The shrewd capitalists, the shrewd imperialists,” he said, “knew that the only way people would run towards the fox (Johnson) would be if you showed them the wolf (Goldwater). So they created a ghastly alternative . . . And at the moment he (Johnson) had troops invading the Congo and South Vietnam.”

Revolutionist of action

Malcolm X was much more than just a “shrewd” operator. He was a principled political leader in the fight for Black rights. Despite his tactical disagreements with the predominant “non-violent” wing of the civil rights movement, Malcolm X stressed the need for all tendencies and organizations in the Black movement to come together – in action.

He advocated and promoted a united front of all Black organizations independent of the “white power structure.” He stated repeatedly: “There must be Black unity before there can be Black-white unity.” Once that was accomplished, Malcolm X was willing to work with any person or group who wanted to help.

He considered himself a Muslim, a Black nationalist, and a revolutionary.

But Malcolm X was also a revolutionist of action. And although he did not consider himself a Marxist, he observed in favorable terms that most of the former colonial countries in Africa and Asia were opting for socialism.

The tragedy of Malcolm X’s death was that he was cut down while he was still evolving; still searching for a method and program that would be the most effective tool for Black liberation. Only 39 years old when he died, he wasn’t allowed to reach his full political stature. Consequently, the Black liberation movement was deprived of one of its best fighters and leaders.

Unfortunately, there are no national birthday celebrations for Malcolm X (he was born Malcolm Little on May 19, 1925). No boulevards or streets – and with the exception of some alternative schools in the Black community – virtually no buildings bear his name.

But his ideas and his example will inspire a new generation to correct this glaring ommission – in action, like Malcolm X would have done. It will be called the American soclalist revolution.

Even in death, Malcolm X is still a very “dangerous” man.

> The essay above was written by Joe Ryan, and is taken from the Socialist Action pamphlet, “Malcolm X: Fighter for Black Liberation.”