The Leftists’ reaction to the film Malcolm X, and indeed to the man’s life, could best be described as mixed. Workers’ Power seemed keen at first. They liked his violent rhetoric and his anger, (or ‘rage’ as the ‘in’ term has it). In their April edition a note of caution was sounded in a letter from David Cohen.
Whilst David praises X’s rejection of the pacifist civil rights movement and his “joint struggle” with “white workers”(?) he points out that “he remained a Muslim and a nationalist.” Worse still, “much of Malcolm’s writings on black history only encourage the ideas of separatism, nation-building and creating a layer of black businessmen.” David Cohen felt overall that “Malcolm X’s political legacy was so ambiguous that everyone from Muslims through to Socialists are trying to claim him as their own.”
If we turn to Class War issue 58, we discover that Malcolm was really an anarchist; at least that is the impression that the front cover and the centre-page article convey. Headed The Politics Behind the Hype, their article sings Malcolm’s praises. At one point they mention that he “witnessed” meetings between the Nation of Islam and White separatists. Obviously Malcolm (unusually for him) had nothing to say at such meetings and did not participate. No guilt can attach to good old revolutionary Malcolm…. that would spoil the myth!
CW do have a few criticisms. Malcolm was too optimistic about the United Nations solving Black American problems. And apparently he “could be accused of being too optimistic about the positive aspects of these new Third World regimes both in terms of the reactionary nature of some of them, and in the illusion that they were free from Western control.”
CW is written in a simple propagandistic style. At one point Malcolm’s slogan of Pride, Identity and Unity for black people is simply restated in class terms. Either this is an attempt at manipulative propaganda, or the boys and girls at Class War are rather missing the point!
Class War do at least see some contradiction in the hype around the film; pointing out that “all the T-shirts, caps and hype have tried to incorporate a revolutionary figure into a consumer market; it’s a case of “move over Che Guevara, Malcolm X sells more than you!”
The two most informative articles from the leftist press were in the February 1993 issue of Workers’ News. These were a review of Spike Lee’s film, and one of the book *Malcolm: the Life of a Man who Changed Black America. The film review noted that Malcolm had spoken under the auspices of the Militant Labour Forum on three occasions during the last year of his life, the first in April 1964. He had also contributed to the newspaper The IW Militant.
Workers’ News felt that Malcolm was seeking an audience by using the American Socialist Workers’ Party paper and organisation as a front-group. This presumably is the “joint struggle with white workers” referred to by David Cohen!
WN criticises a number of Malcolm’s views, and reminds us that even towards the end of his life Malcolm would persist in pointing out how many of the grasping small businessmen or phoney white liberals were actually Jewish.
Socialist Organiser number 523 contains two articles on Malcolm X. One was a review of the film and the other a review of The Autobiography of Malcolm X, (Penguin, £5.99). The film review was headed Malcolm without Anti-Capitalism. This article asserted that “no hint is given of his growing revolutionary anti-capitalism nor of his speaking on socialist platforms”. They further criticised the film for failing to “confront” nationalist ideas:–
One of the weaknesses of the film is that it does not really attempt to confront the ideas of the Nation [of Islam]. They, and Malcolm at the time, believed that “whites are a degenerate offspring”! They also believed in black separatism, and talked to the American Nazi Party and KKK who, in their own way, did too. Yet these ideas are sketched, not analysed.
The leftist reaction to Malcolm seems to be confused not only by their great desire for him to be a mythical yet street-credible figure, but because Malcolm was himself confused….
For most of his life he was a separatist. Then he began to enunciate different views. How his views would have developed we will never know, as he was struck down by assassins. One thing is certain, however: Malcolm X was essentially honest, and behind the firebrand image was a curiously aproachable man.
* Malcolm, The Life of a Man Who Changed Black America
by Bruce Perry. Station Hill Press.
Some of the papers reviewed can be obtained from the addresses below:
PO Box 772
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London ECIR OAE
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London SE 14 4NA