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Malcolm X, Black Liberation and Pan-Africanism *

By J L Samboma

- I am speaking of a ruthless criticism of everything existing, ruthless in two senses: The criticism must not be afraid of its own conclusions, nor of conflict with the powers that be [1]. 

The new book by Jack Barnes, national secretary of the American Socialist Workers Party is a great disappointment; it raises expectations it is ill-equipped to satisfy, fomenting discord where there need be none.

As a consequence this essay, originally conceived as a “simple, straightforward review” of Malcolm X, Black Liberation & the Road to Workers Power[2] (henceforth Workers Power), is instead going to be a “ruthless criticism” a la Marx.

Problems with the book range from intellectual sloppiness and use of quotations out of context, to conclusions supported neither by empirical evidence nor by logical exposition. 

I will first give a brief overview of the book and then proceed to a point-by-point refutation of the author’s contentious positions.  The latter exercise will, I hope, serve to highlight certain issues in political theory some Marxists still find problematic.

I.  Malcolm X, Black Liberation & the Road to Workers Power

Barnes’s book is a collection of excerpts from interviews with Malcolm X and speeches and reflections by the author.  The material dates from 1965 to the present decade.

It includes contributions by Trotsky and JP Cannon, a former leader of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), and transcripts of discussions between Trotsky and CLR James and other SWP members on the subjects of Black Liberation and Black Nationalism.

The tome comes to more than 400 pages, including 70-odd pages of black and white photographs and illustrations, spanning over 100 years of struggle by blacks for liberation and equality in white, capitalist America.  The wider working class struggle against Big Capitalist Brother is also covered, as are anti-imperialist battles by Cuba, Vietnam and Guyana.

Revolutionary Conquest of Capitalist Power

One of its theses is that black workers, because of their position as the most exploited layer of the American proletariat, and their role in past struggles, will be in the vanguard of the revolutionary conquest of capitalist power.

The book also contends that only socialist revolution will end racism and oppression in America.

Since many even today see Malcolm’s legacy as that of a hatemongering black-nationalist preacher, how does he fit into this post-Iron Curtain communist conspiracy?

The book rightly highlights Malcolm’s political reorientation after his 1964 break with Elijah Mohamed’s Nation of Islam (NOI), and his subsequent travels abroad.

However, the author goes overboard by claiming Malcolm had made what Barnes calls a “class break” [3] [Barnes’s emphasis].  The author knows he is on shaky ground here, so he says in the next line that Malcolm “would not have called it that at the time.” [4] We will return to this in due course.

Malcolm lauded, identified with and took inspiration from anti-colonial and anti-imperialist revolutions in both Arab and black Africa and in Cuba; at home he began working with white revolutionaries, including those of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP).

Diatribes against "blue-eyed devils"

“And I, for one,” he told Oxford students in 1964, “will join in with anyone -- I don’t care what colour you are -- as long as you want to change this miserable condition that exists on this earth.” [5]

The above quote, illustrates just how far Malcolm had moved from the hate-filled automaton that spewed out diatribes against “blue-eyed devils.”

The words he spoke just before that passage, which are not in the book, show the enduring relevance of Malcolm’s legacy:

I read once, passingly, about a man named Shakespeare. I only read about him passingly, but I remember one thing he wrote that kind of moved me.

He put it in the mouth of Hamlet, I think, it was, who said, ‘To be or not to be.’ He was in doubt about something—whether it was nobler in the mind of man to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune—moderation—or to take up arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them.

And I go for that. If you take up arms, you’ll end it, but if you sit around and wait for the one who’s in power to make up his mind that he should end it, you’ll be waiting a long time. And in my opinion, the young generation of whites, blacks, browns, whatever else there is, you’re living at a time of extremism, a time of revolution, a time when there’s got to be a change.

People in power have misused it, and now there has to be a change and a better world has to be built, and the only way it’s going to be built—is with extreme methods.

And I, for one, will join in with anyone—I don’t care what color you are—as long as you want to change this miserable condition that exists on this earth.” [6] 

The book attempts a fair historical account of Malcolm’s contribution and of the wider black struggle.  However, given the author’s tendency to play fast and loose with his material, the reader should proceed with caution.

Just how cautious was made clear to me early into the book when the author quotes Malcolm out of context.  In the passage Malcolm is talking about blacks uniting in the face of racist attacks.

Orwellian Ministry of Truth

Here is the relevant part of the speech by Malcolm at a press conference in March 1964, quoted at length to avoid ambiguity:

The Muslim Mosque, Inc., will remain wide open for ideas and financial aid from all quarters. Whites can help us, but they can't join us. There can be no black-white unity until there is first some black unity. There can be no workers' solidarity until there is first some racial solidarity. We cannot think of uniting with others, until after we have first united among ourselves. We cannot think of being acceptable to others until we have first proven acceptable to ourselves. One can't unite bananas with scattered leaves.

Concerning nonviolence: it is criminal to teach a man not to defend himself when he is the constant victim of brutal attacks....[7]

The following is the rendition of the above in Barnes’s book:

“’We cannot think of uniting with others until after we have first united with ourselves.  We cannot think of being acceptable to others until we have first proven acceptable to ourselves.  One can’t unite bananas with scattered leaves.’  Malcolm knew that Afro-Americans had had enough of this kind of unity –- with the liberals, the Communist Party, and the Socialist Party.” [8]

Malcolm’s words have been invested with a new meaning by this sleight of hand, achieved by shaving off a few “irrelevant” sentences off the top and adding a completely new, unrelated one.  The latter, although located outside the quote marks, is placed right next to Malcolm’s words as “clarification.”

What was the motive for this?  Was it done to highlight that Malcolm X was associating with the SWP, as opposed to the other groups mentioned.  However, given that the interviews he gave the party paper demonstrate this, why does Barnes want to leave himself open to accusations of “evidence-tampering?"

The eagle-eyed reader would have spotted the incongruity between the earlier claim, that Malcolm had made a “class break,” with his statement that “There can be no workers’ solidarity until there is first some racial solidarity.

Radical Reconstruction

Ironically, this bit of creative reporting is in a piece titled “He Spoke the Truth to Our Generation of Revolutionists.”  The Ministry of Truth in 1984 [9] would have been envious.

The article on Radical Reconstruction, based on a piece Barnes wrote in 1984, was particularly instructive.

Radical Reconstruction was the post-civil war era between 1867 and 1877, when proletarianised ex-slaves waged struggle for labour-law and radical agrarian reform, achieving political representation in the Southern states.

The slogan “Forty acres and a mule” –- the cry by freed slaves for farmland –- originates from this period.  Blacks served in the legislatures of the former confederacy, the most advanced of which were the regimes in South Carolina and Mississippi, Barnes writes.

They barred racial discrimination, enacted voting rights for males irrespective of race, the elimination of whipping and other cruel punishment, free public schooling and healthcare for the poor, and extended grounds on which a woman could get a divorce.

Cross-burning night-riders of the Ku Klux Klan

A gap in my knowledge of American history was revealed upon reading these pages, such as that some of these legislatures had majority black members –- the South Carolina regime, for instance, boasting 50 black to 13 white members.

The house of cards that was Radical Reconstruction came tumbling down in 1877, blown asunder by the troika of Republicans, Democrats and the cross-burning night-riders of the Ku Klux Klan.  Jim Crow segregation, over succeeding generations, became the order of the day. 

When we consider that violent racist oppression -- and nigger-lynching as family-entertainment -- were actually-existing social phenomena in Malcolm Little's lifetime, it is easy to see why and how he became Malcolm X.

Barnes concludes that X was on the verge of becoming a communist just before he was slain.  He arrives at this conclusion by hacking through hitherto existing SWP policy positions, misrepresenting the legacy of Alhajj Malik Shabazz and rubbishing the contributions of two Marxist writers and former SWP members -- Comrades CLR James and George Breitman. 

II. Pan-Africanism is not Black Nationalism

I have in the previous section given a brief overview of Workers Power, in the process highlighting two problems I found with the text.  In this section I will go into more detail about my disagreements with the author’s positions and then address them.

My disagreements with Barnes fall within three categories –- his positions on Pan-Africanism and Black Nationalism (terms which he takes to be interchangeable), and Malcolm’s so-called imminent conversion to communism.

II. i) Pan-Africanism

Early in the book, Barnes notes that some people described Malcolm’s political course during the last months of his life as a “new form” of Pan-Africanism.[10]  He acknowledges in the next line that Malcolm used the term, although he does not tell us in what context.  He goes on to say:

“But ‘Pan-Africanism’ captures neither the scope nor the revolutionary political character of Malcolm’s internationalism and anti-imperialism.  Malcolm, of course, recognised the shared aspects of the oppression facing those of African origin – and of their resistance to that oppression.  Because of the combined legacy of colonialism and chattel slavery, Blacks shared many such elements whether they lived and toiled in Africa itself, in the Caribbean and Latin America, in Europe, or what Malcolm, echoing Elijah Muhammad’s marvellous term, called ‘this wilderness of North America.’”[11] 

Terms are the currency with which arguments are transacted.  The first thing any polemicist learns as a baby is to define their terms.  Barnes may have been asleep during the relevant lesson.  Therefore, he leaves it up to his readers to deduce the meaning of Pan-Africanism from the context; and he uses it in a manner guaranteed to mislead.

Intellectual sloppiness

Given that many Africans cannot agree on the content of the term “Pan-Africanism” among themselves, Barnes expecting his mainly Western audience to know what the word meant to Malcolm is tantamount to intellectual sloppiness. Either that or he prefers ambiguity to clarity. 

Although the author has not given a substantive definition of Pan-Africanism, textual analysis tells the dear reader what it is not.  So, through a process of elimination in the mind of the reader, the ambiguity is resolved into its dialectical opposite, clarity; but it is clarity of a qualitatively inferior kind, because it obscures more than it reveals.

The reader is thus equipped with a working definition of Pan-Africanism that is wrong, namely, it is not revolutionary; it is not international or anti-imperialist enough; and its internationalism extends only to people with dark skin.  In a word, it’s a black, backward thang!  Let’s call this Exhibit A.

Poor Pan-Africanism!

We now go to the section of the book titled “Black Freedom & Proletarian Dictatorship,” where our recent acquaintance, Pan-Africanism, makes its second and final appearance:

Recognizing and embracing the world-class political leadership of revolutionists who are Black –- whether an African American such as Malcolm X, or leaders such as Maurice Bishop and Thomas Sankara – doesn’t lead militant workers and youth in the political direction of nationalism or Pan-Africanism [emphasis mine].  Otherwise, why would we put such leadership time and resources into keeping their words in print?  Why would we give such high priority to getting those books and pamphlets into the hands of working people in the United States, Africa, Latin America, Asia – the whole world over as part of our political arsenal? [12] 

Once again we are not given a definition of Pan-Africanism; but this time it’s teamed up with “nationalism” to suggest an association, that the two words are interchangeable, synonymous: “...nationalism or Pan-Africanism...”  

This is after the author has spent the previous six pages consigning both nationalism and bad step-brother Black Nationalism to perdition.  We shall call this Exhibit B, which with Exhibit A, serve to establish the “guilt” of Pan-Africanism –- by innuendo and by association.

Poor Pan-Africanism!  As if this heavy burden of guilt were not enough, he learns in the next sentence that he’s so despicable that he’s not worth even an iota of “leadership time and resources.”  How much opprobrium can a poor soul take!

Barnes has upended reality

It is my contention that the reason the author does not provide a working definition of Pan-Africanism –- in a book boasting a sizeable glossary and replete with footnotes –- is because to do so would expose his flawed central thesis to even the most casual reader.

This central thesis is that Alhajj Malik Shabazz was not moving towards “a new form” of Pan-Africanism, but that he was becoming a communist.  The edifice of his book rests on that one support.  I further contend that Shabazz came back to the United States from his African and Middle Eastern travels a great admirer of Kwame Nkrumah, the foremost Pan-Africanist of the time. 

Furthermore, I will demonstrate that, if anything, he came back to the States a “prospective Pan-Africanist” ready to work with socialists and communists to further his goals.   Barnes has upended that reality by claiming Malcolm was becoming a communist whose “revolutionary political character” put him beyond the scope of Pan-Africanism [13].  By the end of this essay we shall have Malcolm back on his feet where he belongs.

Malcolm X admired Kwame Nkrumah

According to Kwame Nkrumah [14], Pan-Africanism is “the total liberation and unification of Africa under an All-African Socialist Government... It is an objective which, when achieved, will bring about the fulfilment of the aspirations of Africans and people of African descent everywhere. It will at the same time advance the triumph of the international socialist revolution."[15]

There are many conflicting interpretations of Pan-Africanism; they do not concern us here.  The above definition is the one Malcolm would have gone with.

This is because he was a great admirer of Nkrumah and his Pan-Africanist project, including the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) [16], something Barnes naturally omits. 

Author's claim turns to dust

As we saw earlier, Barnes claims that Alhajj Shabazz could not have been moving towards a “new form of Pan-Africanism” because that political philosophy “captures neither the scope nor the revolutionary political character of Malcolm’s internationalism and anti-imperialism.”

However, as I submitted, this claim crumbles to dust when placed alongside the definition of Pan-Africanism suggested above.  Pan-Africanism is socialist, revolutionary and internationalist. 

All that remains to add is that the continental unity envisaged by the ideology transcends “blackness” (think Arab Africa); by definition, it is not Black Nationalism. (We will revisit this issue when we discuss Black Nationalism under the next sub-head.)

Malcolm's organisation modelled on the OAU

Any doubts concerning Malcolm’s admiration for Nkrumah –- or that he was at the very least a “prospective Pan-Africanist” at the time of his death -– should be dispelled when we consider that the name of the new organisation he formed once back on home ground was called the Organisation of Afro-American Unity (OAAU), clearly modelled on “Nkrumah’s OAU.”

As Malcolm said at the inaugural meeting of the OAAU in June 1964:

So it was our intention to try and find out what it was our African brothers were doing to get results, so that you and I could study what they had done and perhaps gain from that study or benefit from their experiences. And my travelling over there was designed to help to find out how. [17]

Barnes’s vilification of Pan-Africanism does not sit well with his rampant enthusiasm for slain Burkinabe revolutionist and avowed Pan-Africanist Thomas Sankara, who he calls a leader “of exceptional political calibre.” [18] 

From a book put out by the SWP-owned Pathfinder publishing house, here is what Comrade “Tom Sank” had to say on the matter:

Yes, Pan-Africanism, in its purest form, inspired great hopes not only for Africans but for Blacks of the Diaspora as well.  Faced with the ravages and other abuses of imperialism, Nkrumah had every reason to place all his hopes in the unity of the continent, as everyone today notes with bitterness.  Nevertheless, the idea remains, and it falls to us, to African patriots, to struggle everywhere and at all times for its realisation.  It falls to all Pan-Africanist people to give Africa hope by taking up the torch of Nkrumah. [19]

Oops!  How did that one get past the censor?  On a more serious note, however, it is revealing to see that to Sankara -- Barnes’s darling -- being a Pan-Africanist is not such a bad thing at all.

Before concluding this section, I want to make clear that I have not claimed that Malcolm was a Pan-Africanist.  Unlike Barnes, I like him “just the way he is.”

I have established several things in this section of the essay.  They are:

1. Barnes’s assertion that Malcolm X’s politics was not moving towards a “new form” of Pan-Africanism lacks credible foundation.

2. Barnes’s claims, smuggled by the “backdoor,” that Pan-Africanism is not revolutionary, not sufficiently international, not sufficiently anti-imperialist -- are not backed up by evidence.

3. Malcolm X was a “prospective” Pan-Africanist at the time of his death, based on his admiration for Nkrumah, the name of the organisation he formed on his US return, and his words about “studying” and “benefiting” from the African experience.

4.Thomas Sankara, whose judgement as a revolutionary Barnes holds in high esteem, endorses Pan-Africanism, saying it was worth “struggling for.”

5. Finally, since Barnes has failed to provide any rational, verifiable justification for his animosity towards Pan-Africanism, we are entitled to conclude that his negative disposition towards that ideology is ahistorical, unscientific, and therefore contrary to the methodology of Marxist dialectics.

* The second part of this essay will be posted next week.



1. “For a Ruthless Criticism of Everything Existing,” in The Marx-Engels Reader (Norton, 1972), ed. Robert C Tucker, p.8.

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

Barnes has been a leader of the American Socialist Workers Party (SWP) since the late 1960s.

3. Ibid. p. 354

4. Ibid.

5. “Any Means Necessary to   Bring About Freedom,” in Malcolm X Talks to Young People (Pathfinder, 2002) p. 35.

6. Ibid.

7. “A Declaration of Independence,” in Malcolm X Speaks (Pathfinder, 1989), p. 34.

8. Jack Barnes, Malcolm X, Black Liberation & the Road to Workers Power (Pathfinder, 2009) p. 37.

9. This is a reference to the dystopian novel 1984 (Secker and Warburg, 1949) by British writer George Orwell.  The Ministry of Truth (Minitrue), where protagonist Winston Smith works, is charged with rewriting history to fit the party line.

10. Jack Barnes, Malcolm X, Black Liberation & the Road to Workers Power (Pathfinder, 2009) p. 82.

11.Ibid. pp. 82-83.

12.Ibid. p. 345.

13.Ibid. pp.82-83

14.Kwame Nkrumah (1909-1972) was Africa’s foremost Pan-Africanist and first leader of independent Ghana.  He failed to sustain the momentum of the “African Revolution” and was overthrown in a CIA-sponsored coup in 1966.  He died in exile in Seiku Ture’s Guinea.

15.Kwame Nkrumah, The Handbook of Revolutionary Warfare (Intl Pub, 1968) p. 88

16.Malcolm X Speech at the Foundation of the OAAU (PDF, 28 June 1964), p.1

17. Ibid.

18. Jack Barnes, Malcolm X, Black Liberation & the Road to Workers Power (Pathfinder, 2009) p. 119.

19. Thomas Sankara Speaks:  The Burkina Faso Revolution 1983-1987 (Pathfinder, 2007) pp. 246-247.


Reader Comments (17)

I haven't read Barnes's book, but from what I have heard, there is a fair amount of "score-settling" and historical revisionism.

Out of curiosity, would you be a former member of the SWP? Members and former members would seem to be the only people who have taken notice of Barnes's book. He's a pretty insignificant figure in the overall scheme of things.
December 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJohn B.
Hi there. I have been an on/off visitor to the militant labour forums over two to three years, from where I bought the book. I guess, after this, I won't be going any more.

You say, "Members and former members would seem to be the only people who have taken notice of Barnes's book." That may or may not be the case. However, as is the case with most books of its kind, it will be stocked by libraries, schools, colleges and universities as a reference source and for loan.

Thus, some of the questionable and dead-wrong ideas it propagates stand a good chance of influencing the outlook and scholarship of potentially millions of people. Secondly, although there have not been many reviews of the book, it’s ideas have been given wide publicity on the internet, as a quick check on google will reveal.

There was a debate about the book following its publication, in which one of the book’s editors, and a representative of a so-called Pan-Africanist organisation had what you might call a "good rumble." This "forthright exchange of views," from which the Barnes group apparently emerged the "victors," is pasted all over the web.

Therefore, even if it’s the case that only a few thousand people actually buy the book, the ideas it propagates are, literally, at everyone’s fingertips -- and that’s several million fingertips.

You also say Comrade Barnes "is a pretty insignificant figure in the overall scheme of things." That may be true -- in the overall scheme of things.

However, he is definitely a biggish fish in a small international socialist pond. I will be covering this elsewhere, so I will be brief here. The SWP is one of the biggest groups on the left. It counts; what its supreme leader writes counts. And, frankly, some of his ideas are shared by a lot of Marxists. The only difference is that his are in a book for all to scrutinise.

Finally, there has only been one serious review of the book -- by Socialist Action at

Therefore, given the above, I believe that my "ruthless criticism" of Comrade Barnes’s book is timely.

JL Samboma
December 11, 2010 | Registered CommenterEditor
Points well taken, Justin. My comment wasn't meant as a criticism of you, and I appreciate that you've taken the time to read and analyze the book. In 1970, when I was 16, I read George Breitman's "The Last Year of Malcolm X," which made a big impression on my (as did Malcolm's Autobiography, of course.) From what I hear Barne's book devotes a fair amount of space denouncing Breitman's analysis, which is interesting, as the SWP promoted it for many, many years. "Ministry of Truth" indeed!

If I read you correctly, its Barnes's contention that Malcolm was moving toward becoming a communist in his final days? The SWP also says that the late Thomas Sankara was a "great communist leader," which I find interesting as he seemed to take as much inspiration from Muammar Ghadaffi's Green Book as anything Marx ever wrote.

I look forward to reading Part 2 of your review, and I suppose I will have to read Barnes's book as well. Truth be told, it's not very high on my list of priorities.
December 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJohn B.
Hi again, John. Sorry if I gave out the wrong vibes; I was just trying to cover all angles in my answer. Re Breitman, Barnes takes chunks out of him for breakfast, lunch and supper – all at one sitting. CLR James also gets the treatment – he’s made out to be a pathetic ignoramus. You should read the book, if only as an exercise to see how many howlers you can spot. As a gentleman once said to another, it’s been a pleasure to make your acquaintance.
December 12, 2010 | Registered CommenterEditor
I may be missing something -- I am, after all, getting old -- but I seem to remember the view that Malcolm X was moving towards revolutionary socialism to be a widely held view inside the SWP for the entire time I was actively involved, from about 1974 to 2000. I do not see anything Barnes has written (and yes, I actually read the book) in "Workers Power" to be out-of-the-loop. It's pretty much the same thing the SWP has always said about this great revolutionary figure. Okay, Barnes opines that Malcolm was about to jump the shark from various forms of Black Nationalism to Marxism and communism, but in the fnal analysis that can only be a reasoned speculation. I mean, the man was taken from us in the prime of his life, so we will never know for sure, will we? It's the opinion of Jack Barnes, and he is allowed to have an opinion. Frankly, what I found to be more interesting was his well formulated analysis of how the Black working-class will be in the forefront of the coming struggle for power, the broad outlines of which are beginning to form on the horizon.
December 13, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterdave
Hi Comrade. Don't worry about getting old; be healthy and embrace it.

Re the first part of your post, please read my review above and that posted on Socialist Action, which covers aspects I have not touched on. I hope to soon. If you read them, the reason for all the fuss will become evident.

Re Barnes opining, he has got every right to do so. On the other hand, I was not opining; my conclusions are grounded in material verifiable reality. The secret's in the method.

To paraphrase Don Corleone, This is not personal; it's just political theory. I await avidly a point-by-point refutation of my positions now or later.

As Holmes would say, The game is afoot.

JL Samboma
December 14, 2010 | Registered CommenterEditor
My name is Roger Sheppard. I heard of Malcolm X almost
fifty years ago, when he spoke at Brown University.
I met Malcolm X personally near midnight at the Statler
Hotel,on August 28th, 1963, the night of The 1963 March for Jobs and Justice, in Washington D.C. when I was working with SNCC and that summer, with Friends of SNCC in Chicago.I was then a member of the Young Socialist Alliance, and I headed up Civil Rights work for the Socialist Workers Party in Chicago.SNCC was at the Statler. Malcolm explained to me what he outlined in his talk "Message to the Grass Roots" He spoke to a small group of SNCC people and told us "He never speaks off the record" when I asked him if I could write in The Militant, the SWP's Paper. He told us that the Kennedy's told the March leaders (The big Six) When to
come, when to go and what to say. We wrote in the next issue about the encounter with Malcolm X at the March.
We also published John Lewis's uncensored speech in that issue.
JL Sambona is 100% correct in his review of Barnes's mythology about Malcolm X. My twin brother, Roland was expelled in 1983 and he witnessed the assassination of Malcolm X in February 21,1965. George Breitman was
expelled just months later as well as many older leading members. George Breitman edited Malcolm X Speaks. We, in the SWP had a discussion Bulletin titled
"Why white radicals are incapable of understanding Black Nationalism"in 1963. Although I and my brothers are white, I believe the fundamental truth of that document. JLSambola reveals the appreciation the SWP,
alone in the sixties, had of Malik Shabazz and helped him while Malcolm X was alive. We told the truth!
So does JL Sambola, Thank you for shedding so much Light!
December 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRoger Sheppard
Hi Roger, thanks for stopping by. You're a scholar and a gentleman and you have a "great enthusiasm for truth and justice." Like Malcolm said, The truth is on the side of the oppressed, our side. Your support is gratefully received.
May we both live to see our heaven here on earth! What a glorious day that would be!

JL Samboma

PS: Comrade, I just had another read of your post, did the math and had to come back and say how truly honoured I am that you took the time to comment. I take my hat off to you, Sir.

Re animosity between some white radicals and some Black Nationalists, it's very regrettable. I suppose in the absence of open class struggle, the class is turning on itself. We should be fighting THEM, not each other.

I hope you'll come by again. .
December 14, 2010 | Registered CommenterEditor
Dear Sir and Brother -

Thank you for having taken the time to carefully consider and evaluate Pathfinder's recent addition to the literature on Malcolm X. I bought the book in February at the annual Havana Book Fair held on the island. Pathfinder representatives are often to be found hawking this book at public events, mass rallies and so on here in the United States of America.

The 412-page volume is graced with many attractive and well-reproduced illustrations, giving it the appearance of a serious work of historical scholarship. At $20 per copy, the book would represent a substantial investment for anyone who purchases it.

Any author has the right to go back over old work in light of historical experience. Has the work stood the test of time? Have circumstances changed or remained the same? Can we learn anything different today from what we learned at the time?

These and more are reasonable questions for any writer, beginning with myself, and applicable to anyone else. Malcolm X's views weren't the same at every point in his life. He grew, evolved, moved forward. He explained his changed opinions as he came to understand them. How many others have been able to change their opinions in light of experience?

All we really can know with certainty about Malcolm X's opinions are what he said and wrote which has been extensively documented, and which remains in print, largely via Pathfinder Press. Good for Pathfinder for engaging in this important literary and political work. Before saying anything else, it's important to make that understanding clear.

Yet it's evident that the purpose of this book isn't to review the validity of previous positions in light of experience. Rather, its principal purpose seems to be to advance a peculiar interpretation of Malcolm's life and politics

Barnes seems focused on targeting his former comrades in the Socialist Workers Party, particularly George Breitman, the editor of the first books of Malcolm X's writings which were published by the SWP's publishing arm, Merit, and later Pathfinder press. This is both vulgar and without empirical foundation.

It's not possible today to dissect all of the odd interpretations made in the book. but two are worth considering initially.

First, the author denies any political convergence between Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This can be found on pp. 123-129 of the book. I'm sorry, I've not the time or space here to reproduce the author's argument. It's simply false.

For example, King's strong public position against US intervention in Vietnam, which caused him to be reviled by the entire capitalist media establishment, is omitted by the author of this book. That omission is clearly conscious and deliberate on the author's part, but it doesn't conform to historical reality. Here is Dr. King's famous 1967 speech on Vietnam at the Riverside Church in New York City:

Second, I would urge the attentive reader to consider his peculiar argument, expressed on pp. 342, that it's not best to study Malcolm X by listening to his recorded speeches! If there is anything we should have learned from studying Malcolm's public comments, it is that they are even more compelling when heard than when read. According to the author, it's not possible to study a sound recording!

The author puts it this way, "When tapes are available, they're useful and FUN [my emphasis, wl] to listen to--once or twice." [!] FUN? FUN?? In fact, Malcolm X appealed to both the intellect and the emotions of his audience, as anyone who ever heard him speak or attended on of his public meetings understood. So the author completely omits, if not effectively denying, the charismatic element in Malcolm's public role. Would he likewise deny the charismatic element in Fidel Castro's public persona?

The idea that Malcolm X was some sort of a revolutionary Marxist was a distortion of the facts expressed way back in 1967 by the Rev. Albert Cleage. George Breitman took up this fact-challenged view in a public speech given in Detroit, Michigan, in March 1967. Cleage's and Breitman's views were transcribed and published by Merit Publishers, the predecessor to Pathfinder, in 1967. That pamphlet is, unfortunately no longer in print.

Fortunately, that pamphlet has been scanned and made available via the Internet:

For readers' information, I'm Walter Lippmann, age 66 (soon 67). I learned to appreciate Malcolm X as a member of the Young Socialist Alliance and later the Socialist Workers Party. I remained a member of the Socialist Workers Party until 1983, when I experienced an involuntary departure from the SWP.

I know Jack Barnes and knew George Breitman. I attended Malcolm X's meetings, in Madison, Wisconsin in 1962 when he was national representative of the Nation of Islam, and in 1964, after his departure from the NOI. I am also the author of HOW THE NEW YORK TIMES DISTORTED MALCOLM X'S VIEWS ON SELF-DEFENSE.

Read that here:

As to why this new book with its peculiar interpretation of Malcolm X's opinions has been published in the 21st Century, I will defer speculations at this point in time. It's not necessary to pay $20 for the book. It's easy to find remaindered or used via the Internet. See:

Thank you for your detailed discussion of this book. I look forward the the next installment of your comments.
December 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterWalter Lippmann
Dear Comrade Lippmann,

Many thanks for dropping by and for your kind words and illuminating comments. The book’s indeed a bit pricey. I’m sure the link you provided will be useful to many. I’m in complete agreement with you that its purpose “seems to be to advance a peculiar interpretation of Malcolm's life and politics.”

Re the claim that there was no convergence between Malcolm and Dr King, I’m again in agreement. King was no fire-breathing revolutionary, but he certainly “converged” with Malcolm on Vietnam and other issues. (Incidentally, James Ellroy’s Underworld USA Trilogy is brilliant on the period – Ellroy is a genius.)

We’re on the same wavelength on certain issues. One of the defects of the book is that they were speeches, meant for a different audience to the one reading the book – and it’s ironic that Barnes castigates Breitman for pointing out the differences between the impact of the written and spoken word.

I should stop now, otherwise I’ll end up writing the rest of the review here! Speaking of which, I’m awaiting a copy of “Trotsky on Black Nationalism and Self-Determination,” without which I can’t finish the piece; gremlins or Xmas post issues! Furthermore, someone used the above without permission or attribution, infringing my “intellectual property” rights. As a result, the piece will be issued eventually as an ebook. That may help protect the product of my "labour power."

Finally, I must say I get a thrill when “older comrades” visit and leave encouraging comments. I’ll try to be like you when I grow up to be an “older comrade.” :-)

Revolutionary greetings,
JL Samboma
December 15, 2010 | Registered CommenterEditor
I second what Walter said. Reading Malcolm's Autobiography when I was a young man was inspiring, but hearing his speech "Message to the Grass Roots" on record sent chills down my spine.
December 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJohn B.
The book is not pricey. It costs about the same as a carry out pizza.
December 15, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterdave
I along with Jack Barnes interviewed Malcolm X shortly before he was assassinated. The interview was printed in the Young Socialist. I drew up the questions we asked Malcolm, and I edited the interview. Malcolm approved the editing I made. The new ideas of Barnes "correcting" the SWP's views of Malcolm at the time are spurious. I congratulate you in making your corrections. People can go to my book online, at to see what the SWP thought about Malcolm's positions. Barnes' new position is not true.
December 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBarry Sheppard
Hi Comrade Sheppard (B),

To have two brothers from the same family on eBeefs -- and Marxist brothers who knew and worked with Malcolm -- is nice. As the Nigerians say, "Oga, you are welcome." It's a good thing we're all around to make sure this exercise in historical revisionism is exposed for what it is. I'll definitely check out the book.

JL Samboma
December 16, 2010 | Registered CommenterEditor
Hi Comrade,

Thanks for posting the link to your very insightful appraisal. You've actually beat me to it, for I'd decided to share it with readers of this post the moment I came across it. Yours and the one done by SocialistAction are the only serious reviews of the Barnes book I've come across. Thanks for dropping in.

In Solidarity,
December 18, 2010 | Registered CommenterEditor
Great column, Brother. Anyone who claims that Malcolm X was anything but who Malcolm X was in the latter period of his life is full of beans, whether it's the much ballyhooed ideas of George Breitman- who had his butt unceremoniously kicked out of the SWP by the Barnes boys back in 1983- or the increasingly demented Barnes himself with his "new" ideas- is full of "hooey", to put it gently. There is only what Malcolm said and did, and that body of work is only reflective of the ever present trend of El Haj Malik to redefine himself. The most that can be said speculatively is that the man was a theoretical dynamo who tried a good many things on, and come what may, would very likely be among those of us less then dazzled by the Obama leadership. He was always about our people, and he'd be with us still, no doubt with a very nuanced assessment of the present situation.

But as you say, it's not the first time Jackie Barnes has stirred up the pot with no real good reason, think about all that stuff he did a few years ago with his lawsuit against AWP and Dr. Betty Shabazz. He's an arrogant creep, and his recent book well deserves the nailing you've delivered here.
December 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Hureaux Perez

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