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« Olu Gordon, the philosopher-king Sierra Leone and Africa never had | Main | Jobless numbers up in UK »
Thursday
Jan062011

Malcolm X, Black Liberation and Pan-Africanism II*

By J L Samboma

In the previous section of this essay we demolished American SWP leader Jack Barnes’s positions on Pan-Africanism, as espoused in his book Malcolm X, Black Liberation & the road to Workers Power (henceforth Workers Power).

These positions, as we saw, were that Pan-Africanism was not revolutionary, and not sufficiently internationalist or anti-imperialist.  We also proved that his claim that Malcolm X was not moving towards a “new form” of Pan-Africanism was baseless.

Questionable Positions

As we saw, the author claims that Malcolm X was on the verge of becoming a communist when he was cut down by assassins’ bullets.  It is our contention that Comrade Barnes’s questionable positions on both Pan-Africanism and Black Nationalism are informed by his desire to prop up that central thesis.

Our task in the present section of the essay is to shine the light of Marxist theory and logical exposition on the comrade’s positions on Black Nationalism and, with surgical precision, expose the malignancy at their core.  In a word, we will again demolish his arguments.

I should indicate that the following is not a defence of Black Nationalism per se.  It is, on the contrary, a principled response to Barnes’s attack on black self-organisation and self-activity, for which his polemic against Black Nationalism, as I will demonstrate, is but a Trojan horse.

A Black State within America

Malcolm’s Black Nationalism went through various transformations, especially in the last year of his life -– from advocating complete separation from white America in a black African homeland, to the right of blacks to determine their destiny independent of their oppressors, up to and including separation in a state of their own within America.

Indeed, as the author notes, he stopped referring to his politics as Black Nationalism after his trip to Ghana in 1964[20].  In a 1965 interview with Barnes and another socialist [who we have now ascertained was Barry Sheppard] for the Young Socialist, X recounted a conversation with an Algerian revolutionary about Black Nationalism, when the comrade asked, “Where did that leave him?”:

Because he was white.  He was an African but he was Algerian...And he said if I define my objective as Black Nationalism, where does that leave him...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. [21]

Black Nationalist errors

We should note in passing that this comradely encounter took place in Ghana –- the Mecca of contemporary Third World revolutionists and home of Nkrumah, Pan-Africanist “father” of the OAU.  It was here that Malcolm realised the “errors” of his Black Nationalist ways, in what was essentially the HQ of an ideology which Barnes would have us believe lacked sufficient internationalism.  

This is the point of departure for Barnes’s attack on Black Nationalism.   Malcolm was now saying things like, “You show me a capitalist, I’ll show you a blood sucker” and “We are today seeing a global rebellion of the oppressed against the oppressor, the exploited against the exploiter.”[22]

In the above interview with Barnes and Sheppard, Malcolm told the socialists (maybe we should stick with “communists,” as that’s the author’s preferred term) that, because of that encounter with the Algerian revolutionary, he “had to do a lot of thinking and reappraising of my definition of Black Nationalism.  Can we sum up the solution to the problems confronting our people as Black Nationalism?” [23]

Malcolm goes on to say in the interview that he “still would be hard pressed to give a specific definition of” his “overall philosophy.” [24] It is from this point, for Barnes, that Malcolm makes what one might call the “Great Leap Forward” into Barnes’s communist world, given his response to Barnes’s next question.  This is what Barnes says in Workers Power:

Later in the interview, I asked Malcolm his “opinion of the worldwide struggle now going on between capitalism and socialism.”  And he responded, among other things, that “it’s only a matter of time in my opinion before [capitalism] will collapse completely.” [25]

According to Barnes, when he later took the transcribed interview for review by Malcolm, the latter smiled when he got to the answer he had given to the question about socialism and capitalism.  Malcolm then said:  “This is the farthest I’ve ever gone.  They will go wild over this.”  Barnes says he asked Malcolm whether he wanted to “tone down the answer,” to which the later said no. [26]

Marxist Revolutionary Politics

In an earlier section of the book titled “Revolutionary Leader of the Working Class,” Barnes had spoken of Malcolm’s changing world view [27].  It was obvious to many that Malcolm’s politics were evolving, but any apprentice-gardener could have told Barnes for free that a few green shoots do not make a forest.  However, before you could say “manure,” those promising terminological shoots were now, after careful tending by Farmer Barnes, sprouting into full-blown Marxist revolutionary politics, as the comrade divines a “political convergence” which, given the breathlessness with which he heralds it, sounds more like a "Eureka!" proclaiming a political identity between his and Mr Shabazz’s views:

What Malcolm had to say about Black Nationalism in the Young Socialist interview was part of our political convergence, since nobody can become a communist and at the same time remain a nationalist in your “overall philosophy.”  You can be a communist and at the same time champion and lead a struggle for national liberation, a struggle against national oppression.  That’s for sure. In fact, you must or else you can’t be a communist.  But you can’t remain a nationalist politically if you are to organise a movement to advance the working class and its allies, of all nations, along the line of march toward the dictatorship of the proletariat. [28]

The above passage is an interesting construction.  This is for two reasons.  First, it is where Barnes smuggles in the spurious claim that Malcolm was becoming a communist.  Second, it is here that his brutal assault on Black Nationalism begins in earnest.  We are going to spend some time deconstructing it so as to expose the sort of faulty reasoning that pervades the book.

Every one of the propositions in the passage is either true or valid.  By the time you find yourself nodding in agreement with the fifth and final proposition, you have been lulled into agreeing that: a) Malcolm was on an irrevocable and speedy trajectory to Marxism, and b) he could not have been a Black Nationalist, since a communist by definition cannot be a nationalist.

This carefully constructed conclusion seems convincing because Pan-Africanism, as Barnes claimed earlier, is not sufficiently revolutionary, international or anti-imperialist; in addition, Malcolm himself has “disowned” Black Nationalism as a description of his politics.  Therefore, with two contenders out for the count, communism is the last woman standing.

It is then that one realises something is amiss –- while Barnes’s argument seems valid on paper, you remain unconvinced deep in your bones that Malcolm was on the verge of becoming a Marxist revolutionary.

A Conjuror’s Trick

I knew I was missing something, so I went back to that passage and took it apart sentence by sentence, clause by clause –- then I saw how Mr Barnes had tried to pull off the conjuror’s trick of making one believe a lie. 

All the individual clauses in that passage are either true or valid, making the argument, as presented, difficult to fault.  However, let’s take another look at the two clauses contained in the first sentence:

What Malcolm had to say about Black nationalism in the Young Socialist interview was part of our political convergence, since nobody can become a communist and at the same time remain a nationalist in your “overall philosophy.”

It is true that there was some political convergence [my emphasis]. (We will return to the concept of “convergence” in due course.  However, suffice it to say that “convergence” does not imply an “identity.”  Further, the only sense in which the comrade can use the word in that clause is in the sense of having common views with Malcolm on certain issues -- and not that he, Barnes, or Malcolm, were “becoming” anything.)

It is also true that a communist, by definition, cannot be a nationalist.  However, by combining the two clauses in the way he has done, Barnes has made a completely different statement -- one that is not supported by either independent clause: namely, that Malcolm was becoming a communist [my emphasis].  He has even incorporated a phrase attributed to Malcolm earlier -- “overall philosophy” -- into the construction to enhance the statement’s plausibility.

Stop the Bus!

This dodgy two-clause proposition then becomes the “base” upon which he piles three self-evident propositions, thus erecting a wobbly “superstructure.”  I am sure Marx never had this sort of thing in mind when he theorised about base and superstructure!  Well, at the apex of this Barnes superstructure rests the grand conclusion: 

But you can’t remain a nationalist politically if you are to organize a movement to advance the working class and its allies, of all nations, along the line of march toward the dictatorship of the proletariat. [29]

Hey, stop the bus!  One is disorientated by the dizzying speed at which we have arrived at the point where we are now talking about Malcolm advancing with working class allies towards proletarian dictatorships.  How did we get from “convergence” to here? 

By the merging of the two valid clauses about convergence and communism –- that’s how!  Having thus introduced the false statement that Malcolm was becoming a communist, the comrade then used that dodgy claim as a premise on which to “ground” his conclusion that Malcolm could not have remained a nationalist since he was becoming a communist.

Using a Lie to prove that a Lie is True

The fallacy here is not so much that Barnes is trying to use a lie to prove that a lie is true; it is that he is employing a premise (Malcolm was becoming a communist) which includes the claim that the conclusion (Malcolm could not remain a nationalist because he was becoming a communist) is true.

The premise and conclusion might be presented differently, but the argument collapses nonetheless into the classic structure of the tautology:  A = B therefore A = B.  This is circular reasoning, otherwise known as petitio principii, or begging the question. 

In a world where "all that is solid melts into air" and "all that is holy is profaned," it should be no cause for wonderment that sophistical constructs walk abroad with bombast and the imprint of revolutionary rectitude.

Emboldened by the belief that this exercise in faulty reasoning has done the trick, the comrade then proceeds to “do the dirty” on Black Nationalism, by attempting, in effect, to put thick Marxist muscle on the bare bones of Malcolm’s assertion that the term Black Nationalism no longer described his politics.  True to form, he lands himself in more trouble.

Bombastic Window-dressing

Addressing the issue he raised in the previous passage, of why his seconds-away-from-communism Malcolm could not have remained a Black Nationalist, Barnes writes:

Because Black nationalism –- and here we’re talking about the nationalism of the oppressed –- is not the generalization of the line of march of a class toward power.  There is no predetermined class direction, let alone class dictatorship, in the logic of its evolution.  It has no stable programme.  A programme has a concrete practical trajectory that represents the historic interests of a social class.  There are no classless programmes. [30]

The first and fourth sentences of the above passage capture some aspects of nationalism.  I have quoted it not so much to dispute the thrust of its polemic, but to lay some foundation for the argument I will advance shortly that the author is implacably hostile toward black self-organisation and self-activity.  It will also provide some context for my charge that author’s position on Black Nationalism is opportunistic.

However, I cannot proceed without addressing a factual error contained therein, along with a glaring contradiction.  The second and fifth sentences display the writer’s muddled thinking; they are bombastic window-dressing whose sole purpose is to obfuscate, but the author pays for succumbing to vanity.  Let’s deal first with the claim that Black Nationalism has no predetermined class direction in the logic of its evolution.  That is a lie. 

Dictatorship of the Proletariat

At the theoretical level, the class direction of Black Nationalism is bourgeois, and the logic of its evolution is the establishment of the dictatorship of capital, in other words, of the bourgeois class –- a black bourgeoisie.  It would have been better to say that its class interests are contrary to those of the dictatorship of the proletariat (black and white) and its allies.  In this regard, therefore, the fifth and last sentence in the passage -– “There are no classless programs” –- becomes a contradiction of the second sentence, namely, that Black Nationalism has no “predetermined” class direction.  In the same paragraph! 

Dear, patient reader, imagine my surprise when I progressed to the next paragraph and bumped into the first sentence of the passage below: 

To the degree Black nationalism has a class character [emphasis mine], however, it can only be bourgeois.  That’s not an epithet; it’s a scientific description.  Trade union consciousness, too, is bourgeois; it seeks to increase the share of newly produced value going to the working class within the capitalist system, the wages system.  At the same time the age of bourgeois revolutions has been put behind us by the historic consolidation of finance capital, of imperialism.” [31]

I will now introduce into evidence further proof of the comrade’s animosity towards Black Nationalism.  As we saw in the case of Pan-Africanism and the earlier use of quotations out of context, the comrade is not averse to manipulating the evidence to suit his purpose.

Speaking out of both sides of the mouth

We saw Barnes lambasting Black Nationalism just now for having “no predetermined class direction.”  That was then, when he misrepresented the ideology so he could launch an opportunist attack.  Now, he wants to attack it from the opposite front, by implying it is unprogressive because of its bourgeois character.  However, since he has denied the existence of its class character, he needs to find a form of words to allow him to speak out of both sides of his mouth. 

The form of words he comes up with is this: “To the degree [emphasis mine] Black nationalism has a class character, however, it can only be bourgeois.”  His argument is that, because bourgeois revolutions are now passé, Black Nationalism -– which has miraculously sprouted a healthy bourgeois class-character just in time –- must therefore be a relic of a bygone epoch.  Ergo, like feudalism, Afro hairdos and platform shoes, Black Nationalism has passed its sell-by date.

Unmitigated nonsense

What unmitigated nonsense!  One minute Black Nationalism has no class character and is therefore damned; the next minute –- in the next paragraph -– the comrade is doing intricate contortions whereby it may be possible for Black Nationalism to have a bourgeois class character (so that the comrade can sock him another one. Hear them:  Take that -- Bam! Ouch!).   Poor Black Nationalism!  Heads, he gets it; tails, he gets it!

In his attacks against Black Nationalism, the author does not even consider the question of whether there are instances where it could advance working class struggle, such as in agitation for better housing and improved working conditions -- presenting opportunities for joint struggles which could lead to winning blacks to socialism.  It is my contention that this is because, as we saw in the case of Pan-Africanism, he has a closed mind on the subject; nothing, apparently, will convince him to revise his negative disposition towards Black Nationalism.

He then says his statement that Black Nationalism might have a bourgeois class character is a “scientific description” -- not an “epithet.”  If that is so, what is the contradictory proposition -- that Black Nationalism "has no predetermined class character” -- still doing on the page?  Is it as “scientific” –- less so, more so?  To provide ballast, or rather, bombast?

After that we are presented with a long sentence about trade union consciousness:  “Trade union consciousness, too, is bourgeois; it seeks to increase the share of newly produced value going to the working class within the capitalist system, the wages system.”

There is no logical reason why that sentence has been smuggled into the passage.  It has no organic connection to the sentence that came before or the one that comes after it.  Perhaps its purpose is to add bombast, or to give the misleading impression that the passage has imparted something profound and “scientific.”  I will leave it to the reader to decide for herself.

Blacks confident to take a stand

At the beginning of this section of the essay, we discussed Malcolm’s Black Nationalism and how its parameters shifted over time.  We have also seen that he stopped calling himself a Black Nationalist after his 1964 trip to Ghana, when he said the term no longer reflected his politics. 

So this discussion of Black Nationalism relates to the ideology held by a pre-Ghana Malcolm X and millions of other black people in North America at the time.  It was about the right of the “so-called Negro” to organise against racist oppression and determine their own destinies in American communities, up to and including forming their own state within America. 

In practice, however, it was not a plan “to transport Blacks to Africa, or to carve out a separate nation-state from territory in the U.S. South.”[32]  In Malcolm’s words, the “political, economic and social philosophy of black nationalism instils within [the Black man] the racial dignity and the incentive and the confidence that he needs to stand on his own feet and take a stand for himself.” [33]

Tsunami of unbridled animosity

In the interview with A B Spellman [34] Malcolm said: 

The short-range program is that we must eat while we’re still here, we must have a place to sleep, we must have clothes to wear, we must have better jobs, we must have better education...We must be in complete control of the politics of the so-called Negro community.

What is here that a Marxist could disagree with?  It is this program, the Black Nationalist’s list of demands, which Comrade Barnes is attacking with such bombast.  He is not just throwing away baby and bathwater, he’s also chucking the bathtub into the tsunami of unbridled animosity.

If Marxists are anything, they are students of society, of politics and economics.  They also study the writings of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky, the founders of the movement.  Such study provides theory to guide practice which, in dialectical turn, provides the raw material that informs further theoretical understanding and formulation. 

Moreover, we do not take their works as dogma.  A fitting illustration of this is the young Lenin’s contribution to the theory of the proletarian party in an autocratic setting.  (Rightists -- and so-called real Marxists trying to distance themselves from Stalinism -- have distorted and misrepresented Lenin’s contributions.  The limited scope of this essay does not permit us, to borrow a phrase, to settle accounts with them at the present.  But we will be back.)  

In his incisive work What Is to Be Done?, the Bolshevik leader advanced the theory that the engine room of revolution was not the massed layers of the working class, but a party of committed socialist revolutionaries, the vanguard.  This, Lenin said, was because the “history of all countries bears out the fact that through their own powers alone, the working class can develop only a trade union consciousness.” [35] The rest, as they say, is history.

Read Lenin before you disagree with him

When a Marxist writes about nationalism, one presupposes that he has read Lenin’s work on the national question.  If one is going to disagree with Lenin –- or enhance him, as he did Marx –- then it makes sense to read him first.  Such a critic becomes duty-bound to justify why we, the popular masses, should listen to him and not to Lenin.  In a word, your formulation has to pass the test of practical concrete reality; it must conform and be in dialectical unity with it.  If your theses, position or clarification wins the day over the previous orthodoxy, then the latter may be abandoned to the "gnawing criticism of the mice." 

Black Nationalism by definition is not proletarian internationalist.  What it advances are bourgeois-democratic demands, some of which socialists -– including Barnes’s SWP at one time -– support.  It follows, as Lenin said, that we should withdraw our support when nationalist demands lose their democratic content.

By his very hostile position on Black Nationalism, Barnes is being one of two things, according to Lenin:  an anarchist or an opportunist.  The Bolshevik leader wrote:

All general democratic demands are bourgeois-democratic demands; but only anarchists and opportunists can deduce from this that it is not the business of the proletariat to back these demands in the most consistent manner possible.[36]

Further, referring to bourgeois-national demands, Lenin said: 

“The bourgeois nationalism of any oppressed nation has a general democratic content that is directed against oppression, and it is this content that we unconditionally support.” [37]

Let us turn our attention now to the Comrade-Leader’s assertion that Black Nationalism does not deserve support because the epoch of “bourgeois revolutions has been put behind us by the historic consolidation of finance capital, of imperialism.” [38]

Ready-made, recycled rubbish

This is ready-made, recycled rubbish.  The form this argument usually takes is that, following the American Revolution of 1776, the Civil War and the gains of the civil rights movement, blacks in imperialist America should abandon their “parochial” concerns and join the working class struggle for socialism, which will end all oppression. 

Lenin (right), looking at the struggles of minorities in the advanced capitalist countries of contemporary Europe and America, wrote:

In these countries the bourgeois, progressive, national movements came to an end long ago. Every one of these “great” nations oppresses other nations in the colonies and within its own country. The tasks of the proletariat of these ruling nations are the same as those of the proletariat in England in the nineteenth century in relation to Ireland. [39]

The last sentence is a reference to Marx’s call for the English working class to support the right of the Irish to self-determination in nineteenth century England.[40]  Lenin is in effect saying that, although the American Revolution, the Civil War and the civil rights movements ended a long time ago, the American proletariat should support independent black self-activity.

Barnes could not have become leader of the SWP without a passing acquaintance (at the very least) with Lenin’s works on the national question. Therefore, it is safe to assume he was aware of them when he wrote his piece, which adopts a different position to the Bolshevik’s.  If he had by doing so enhanced or improved on the Bolshevik’s theses –- as Lenin himself had enhanced Marx’s -- that would have been not only understandable, but also very welcome indeed.

Rosa Luxemburg and P. Kievsky

But the comrade has done nothing of the kind.  He has instead regressed to a position Lenin polemicised against –- the “imperialist economism” of Rosa Luxemburg and P. Kievsky, among others.  Lenin summed up this position when he said they were actually saying, “Self-determination is impossible under capitalism and superfluous under socialism.” [41]

(The reader should note that no mainstream political movement in America, socialist or Black Nationalist, is calling for the formation of a separate black state.  Black self-determination is used as a transitional or agitational demand socialists raise in the class struggle against racist oppression.)

Comrade Barnes is a leader of the international Marxist and Leninist movement, national leader of a proletarian party located next to the heart of capitalism, in the belly of the imperialist beast – and in a country where, as the comrade says in Workers Power, oppressed blacks are destined to form a weighty cross-section of the revolutionary vanguard and its allies in the struggle for a better world.

C L R James and the Negro Question

It is therefore imperative that the comrade and the SWP and other Marxist groups develop a dialectical materialist position on what in the days of CLR James (right) used to be called the Negro Question and which in our epoch has become the African-American Question.  Sticking our heads in the sand and wishing very-hard is not going to make the question go away; neither will rehashing hackneyed formulations masquerading as  unassailable truths because their embalmed corpses were dug up last night and dusted off by a spent leadership.  

I never knew Malcolm X, never saw or heard him speak; he was gone by the time I got to be born.  But from what I’ve read and learnt from and about this great revolutionist, Comrade Barnes has done a great disservice to him, his ideas and the struggle for which he gave his life.  And, yes, he did know he was giving his life for the struggle.

In concluding this chapter I must submit that another way of tackling the claim that Malcolm could not have remained a Black Nationalist since he was becoming a communist, is to simply say that, it was precisely because he had not ceased being a Black Nationalist that he could not have been becoming a communist.  It may be argued that this reasoning could have saved the earlier excursion into formal logic.  True; it may be.  Likewise, it could be argued that not only was the exercise in formal logic fun, it also allowed us to make abstractions from concrete, interconnected categories, an analytical tool which makes it easier to isolate invalid arguments.

Dialectical Materialism Vs Mechanical Materialism

In the first section of the essay I submitted that Comrade Barnes’s positions on Pan-Africanism were contrary to the teachings of Marxist or materialist dialectics.  Further study has revealed that the problem with his whole revolutionary practice is that it is mired in mechanical materialism.  It is no wonder, therefore, that he has the distinction of being a Marxist and a Leninist whose praxis has little in common with Marxism and Leninism.  The great Bruce Lee once talked about the art of moving without moving.  Perhaps the Comrade-Leader will one day write about the "science" of how to be a Marxist-Leninist without being a Marxist-Leninist.

We will conclude this section of the essay by listing what we have established here.  They are:

1. Comrade Barnes is so antagonistic towards Black Nationalism that he refuses to acknowledge that Marxists should support its bourgeois-democratic demands.  It could be interpreted as antagonism towards black self-organisation. This position is contrary to the tenets of the Marxist tradition.

2. His antagonism has resulted in the comrade consciously contradicting himself by saying that Black Nationalism has no class character, while claiming in the same breath that its class character is bourgeois. 

3. The claim that the bourgeois character of Black Nationalism made it unworthy of support by Marxists, because the epoch of bourgeois revolutions was over, can be categorised as anarchistic and opportunistic.

4. The argument that Malcolm X was becoming a communist is invalid; the argument commits the logical fallacy of petitio principii, otherwise known as begging the question.

5. Black Nationalism is not proletarian internationalist.  Therefore, Marxist support for this nationalism of the oppressed is dependent on the democratic content of its demands.

* This essay was conceived originally as a book review of between 800 and 1000 words. Things have got out of hand, it would seem.  Parts I and II together come to just over 8000 words –- and it’s not yet done.  I have published the second part today because I originally promised readers I would do so almost a month ago.  I will not be publishing any more sections until the whole enterprise is completed, when I will publish it as a pamphlet or ebook.  Subsequent section headings will include Mechanical Materialism vs Dialectical Materialism, Was Malcolm X a “Communist” or a “Black Nationalist plus revolutionary,” Leon Trotsky and C L R James.  I’ll keep you updated on developments.

NOTES

20. Jack Barnes, Malcolm X, Black Liberation & the Road to Workers Power (Pathfinder, 2009) p. 314.

21. Ibid.

22. Ibid. p. 104.

23. Ibid. p. 314.

24. Ibid.

25. Ibid. p. 315.

26. Ibid.

27. Ibid. pp. 101-106.

28. Ibid. pp. 317-318.

29. Ibid. p.318.

30. Ibid.

31. Ibid.

32. Ibid. p. 100-101.

33. Ibid. 101.

34. Malcolm X, By Any Means Necessary (Pathfinder, 1992), P. 28.

35. V I Lenin, “What Is to Be Done,” in Essential Works of Lenin (Dover, 1987), ed. Henry M. Christman, p. 74.

36. V I Lenin, “The Cadets and ‘The Right on Nations to Self Determination’” in Lenin Collected Works (Progress Publishers, 1977), Vol. 19, pp. 525-527.

37. Ibid. Vol. 20. p. 412.

38. Jack Barnes, Malcolm X, Black Liberation & the Road to Workers Power (Pathfinder, 2009) p. 318.

39. V I Lenin, “The Socialist Revolution and The Right of Nations to Self-Determination,” in Lenin Collected Works (Progress Publishers, 1977), Vol. 22, pp. 143-156.

40. Karl Marx, “Marx to Sigfrid Meyer and August Vogt in New York,” in Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Selected Correspondence (Progress Publishers, 1975), pp. 220-224.

41. V I Lenin, “A Caricature of Marxism and Imperialist Economism,” in Lenin Collected Works (Progress Publishers, 1964), Vol. 23, pp. 63-75.

Reader Comments (4)

Thanks for your continuing discussion of Pathfinder Press' peculiar book. The volume should not be completely discounted despite some of its interpretations. And there's nothing wrong with looking back after many years to see if one's past interpretations hold up in light of experience.

Brother Sangoma's critique sent me back to Barnes's book itself, and also came just as I was doing a periodic re-reading of the AUTOBIOGRAPHY. going back to the source material is always the best way to study what Malcolm X himself had to say.

Among the more striking elements in Barnes's volume is the hostility which he expresses toward THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MALCOLM X and his dismissive approach toward listening to the recorded speeches of Malcolm X.

This can be found in the book's bizarre polemic against George Breitman, the individual leader of the Socialist Workers Party who taught us all about the progressive significance and revolutionary potential of Black nationalism and of Malcolm X while Malcolm was still alive, and even before he left the Nation of Islam.

This can be found on pp. 338-347 of the volume. Barnes dismisses the recorded speeches of Malcolm X as "useful and fun to listen to -- once or twice."(p. 343) [!!!]

While those of us whose first language is not Spanish are grateful for translations to English of the writings and speeches of Fidel Castro, there is still nothing to express his ideas, and the charisma which characterizes his speeches and the inter-relationship between Fidel as a speaker and his audiences with which he resonates so powerfully.

Similarly, listening to Malcolm X's recorded speeches helps us to see and to feel his charisma, and his intimate connection with his audiences. You would think that the charismatic elements of Fidel's leadership didn't exist for the author of the book you are critiquing.

According to Barnes, the only REAL way to study Malcolm X's ideas is to read them in print. Funny thing, Pathfinder, the publishers of Jack Barnes's book, is the principal PRINTED source of Malcolm X's words. So his complaint has something of a self-interested character.

Of course, to study the words transcriptions are very helpful, indeed indispensable. This is even more true for languages other than English where translations are the only way non-English speakers can access Malcolm X's words. Pathfinder has published two small collections of Malcolm X's writings translated in to Spanish. They are also available in very inexpensive Cuban editions, for example.

But the AUTOBIOGRAPHY, dismissively viewed by Jack Barnes, has also been published in a complete Cuban edition in Spanish. The Cuban edition has been in print ever since it was first published over thirty years ago. I'm looking at a copy of the Cuban edition, a volume of 475 pages, available on the island for ten pesos moneda nacional, the equivalent of 40 CENTS U.S.

Here's the introduction to the Cuban edition of the Autobiography of Malcolm X:
http://www.walterlippmann.com/docs183.html

For readers' information, in Cuba they appreciate the work Pathfinder has done to translate some of Malcolm X's words into Spanish. Here's a recent (2009) tribute to them from the Cuban social scientist Fernando Martinez Heredia:
http://www.walterlippmann.com/docs2430.html

Barnes hangs his thesis on his own idiosyncratic interpretation of what Malcolm said in the final year of his life. Barnes seems to counterpose this to everything which went before that last year. Of course, Malcolm in his final months was a continuation and a deepening of what everything he had been, and had become, in the years and lives which brought him to his final stage of development.

Pathfinder Press is an institution whose contributions cannot be dismissed, nor can they be gotten around. I hope and trust that your detailed discussion of what's in this book will help people toward the ideas and writings of Malcolm X in his original words, and to a deeper understanding of Malcolm X's ongoing relevance as a teacher and educator for our own times.

Since in this critique, Jack Barnes is referred to as a comrade, I think it's good to have discussions about his book and perhaps with him, in a comradely spirit. In this spirit, I think it would have been better to refer to Barnes's arguments with which you don't agree as simply "wrong" or ones you disagree with sharply, rather than "counter-revolutionary".

For your information, I am a former member of the US Socialist Workers Party and its youth organization (1962-1983), from which I experienced what I've come to call an "involuntary departure". After that for five years I was a member of a small offshoot of which George Breitman was a leading light.

Surely there's much more to be said, and I look forward to your additional comments on the Barnes thesis and Malcolm X.

================
Jack Barnes is not fond of Spike Lee's film, either, but that's worth a separate discussion at another time. The film almost completely omits discussion of Malcolm's political evolution, particularly in the final year of his life. That was what I reacted to when I saw it the day it opened. Later on, however, I found a more charitable way of seeing it: as a three-hour time in which one Black leader was presented favorably.
January 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterWalter Lippmann
Comrade Lippmann,

I've been called "Sambola," "Sambona," "Samvola." "Sangoma" has now debuted, thanks to your kind self. Incidentally, I believe "Sangoma" means "medicine man" or "witch-doctor" in the Bantu tongues of South Africa. Are you trying to tell me something, comrade?

Thanks for your comments and links. Re your point about using the word counter-revolutionary, I do believe you have a point there. Being a self-publisher, as we bloggers are, you are the writer, editor and proof-reader and general dogsbody, meaning you miss certain things. The writer can be emotional, the editor is not, or shouldn't be. "Counter-revolutionary" wouldn't have slipped by an editor.

You got me there. I'll remove it from the three places in the piece where it's used ... if you promise not to call me a witch-doctor again.

Re dismissing Pathfinder's contributions, etc, etc, I am simply engaging in polemics, as people with different views have been known to do since before the Socratic method was a twinkle in the eye of the master debater whose name it bears. There's nothing personal going on, as I commented after the first article was published, and as my decision to edit those words out of my text demonstrates. So am at a loss about "all that."

My blog is very open. I publish every comment I get from readers without even correcting typos -- or misspellings of my name. And I would welcome contributions from Comrade Barnes or anyone who wants to have their say. So, you see, there's really no need for "peace-making." But thanks. To paraphrase Don Altobello, the Eli Wallach character in The Godfather, Blessed is the peacemaker, for he can be called a good comrade.

Comradely.
January 9, 2011 | Registered CommenterEditor
Where have you been hiding this blog? This is kick-butt stuff. I am thrilled to be reading such good writing from an upstanding brother like yourself.

I'm not a communist myself, but I do agree with everything you say in this article. I guess that means we have a "political convergence". (smile) Keep up the good work.
January 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterOne Thrilled Brother
Check out the “Black Online News Network” (BONN) www.thebonngroup.com . BONN is the largest network of online news portals to date targeted to African Americans. Its current digital network consists of 100 unique and interconnected web sites covering a wide range of today’s hottest topics on the radars of African Americans worldwide.
February 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBonn Group

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