Review of “Malcolm X Speaks”

While a sophomore in college I’d read, of my own volition, The Autobiography of Malcolm X and was incredibly impressed with his intransigence will towards combatting cultural white supremacy and political/economic Jim Crowism. There were poetic qualities not only in the language recorded by Alex Haley and also in the courage Malcolm displayed in his decision to readjust his perspective from personal amelioration of systemic injustice through petty crime to Human Rights leader. I decided to read Malcolm X Speaks as it’s highly praised in George Jackson and Huey P. Newton’s autobiographies as an ur-text in their political development.

The speeches, letters and interviews contained in this collection all were made during the last eight months of his life. They follow his break with the Nation of Islam, his adoption of “True Islam” and the founding of his own organization, the Organization of African-American Unity. This group diverged radically from the Nation of Islam, was considered extremely dangerous by the FBI – which is no surprise as following his trip to Mecca and Africa, a continent heady from the number of anti-colonial nationalist revolutions which had recently transpired, Malcolm X transition from Black Nationalist to an Internationalist. In these speeches you can see the hopes that Malcolm had for the OAAU and how the Black Panther Party was in many ways an attempt to incarnate the political perspective described in these collected thoughts.

The historical materialist analysis contained within as well as the program to obtain it have deep overlaps with Marxist-Leninist modes of thought. This is not that surprising since Communists and Socialists have traditionally been the allies of those fighting for black liberation from white oppression, and also explains why he was frequently invited to speak at Socialist Clubs, was published in the Socialist press and why, following his death, the Socialist Workers Party’s Pathfinders press has published several book by and about Malcolm X.

Malcolm’s analysis recognized that there were direct connections between oppression of blacks in Mississippi and Alabama with imperialist military action by the United States in Africa. He makes a compelling case that Black people in America were analogous to native people in a colonial setting and went so far as to encourage the development of domestic insurgency to obtain political equity with whites in a manner akin to the Mau Mau’s should they meet resistance in obtaining it equally. Malcolm is incredibly dismissive of liberals and Democrats, pointing out how the Southern Wing of the Democratic Party, pilloried in public by their northern counterparts, were the privately acquiescent to their racism as it meant their maintenance of political power. Malcolm shows how a number of politicians are two-faced and manage to perpetuate a racist, imperialist agenda all while projecting the image of the White Savior. LBJ and JFK are singled out for excessive vitriol for their pseudo-progressivism.

As one can tell from reading the speeches and letters contained within Malcolm’s political rhetoric also shifted from Civil to Human rights. In this period. The stated purpose for this was so that more people would be willing to back proceedings against the United States in the UN International Court of Justice for Systemic Violation of Human Rights. While it’s debatable how effective this would be given that even today the politicians in the Federal Government are entirely dismissive of this body’s policy prescriptions, images and analogies he uses to explain this perspective are so incredibly powerful that it’s likely were he to have lived he’d have been able to create an organization that the U.S. Government would have to recognize and dialogue with.

Lastly, I want to point out that in here there is some amazing cultural analysis that is very much aligned with the tenor of the Frankfurt school but is done, IMHO, in a much more effective way due to the lack of obtuse language. Highly recommend this book to everyone!