Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

February 21, 2020

Encountering Malcolm X

Filed under: Black nationalism,Counterpunch,Kevin Coogan,socialism,Trotskyism — louisproyect @ 3:12 pm


Watching the six-part documentary “Who Killed Malcolm X?” on Netflix stirred up powerful memories of how important he was to my political evolution. While the documentary is focused on exploring the Nation of Islam’s (NOI) role in his murder, it also sheds light on Malcolm’s post-NOI political odyssey. By creating a rival movement to the pseudo-Islamist sect, he risked a fatal encounter with four assassins on this date fifty-five years ago at the Audubon Ballroom in New York.

Just six weeks before his death, I heard Malcolm X speak at the Palm Gardens in New York. I went with my girlfriend Dian, who was on midterm break from Bard College, just like me. I remember taking a seat about ten rows from the podium and being perplexed by the five or so leaflets on the chair that advertised rallies or meetings geared to radicals. Although I was much more of an existentialist liberal a la Camus in 1965, I was eager to hear Malcolm speak. Little did I know at the time that the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), a sect I would join two years later, organized the meeting. The Trotskyists placed leaflets on the chairs to draw people closer to the party, an approach that the Internet would supersede just as Facebook would supersede the mimeograph machine.

Continue reading


  1. The “chickens come home to roost” comment is a perfect metaphor for what happened to Malcolm X, not JFK. He was a leader of an organization that built a violent enforcement section, the FOI. I have always wondered if he had a death wish in his decision to attack Elijah M. the way he did. He knew exactly what the FOI was capable of.

    Comment by HH — February 21, 2020 @ 6:36 pm

  2. I just checked the NYT archives for any incidents of NOI violence between 1960 to 1963. Nothing showed up. So what were you referring to?

    Comment by louisproyect — February 21, 2020 @ 6:52 pm

  3. I’m basing my view on the Marable citation in the article.

    It struck me that the NOI seemed more than capable of using violence against potential dissidents. I think that maybe the reason Malcolm X’s charges of sexual misconduct etc. by EM did not result in the splitting of the NOI that he hoped for is that the FOI was making sure that didn’t happen by scaring potential sympathizers. As for the NYT, I don’t mean they did anything against white people so it would not be in the Times.

    IMarable, I think, called the FOI the NOI’s “goon squad” for a reason. I had no idea that Kenneth Morton was beaten to death. Or that “James 67X avoided sleeping in the same place for more than a night, rotating between four apartments.” The only issue is that I suspect this wasn’t the first time the FOI was used as internal enforcers. Hence when I hear the Malcolm X quote, it strikes me that he may have been projecting subconsciously on Kennedy what really was going on with EM and himself.

    Here’s his clip when he breaks his silence and repeats his quote and justifies it. I think it was his signal that he would not shut up that he couldn’t be made to shut up. In that sense, it’s this statement that may be really more significant. He simply refuses to apologize and does so publicly..

    Comment by HH — February 22, 2020 @ 12:50 am

  4. I was only trying to point out that the NOI never beat people up or killed them until Malcolm split. It might have talked about the white devils but unlike genuine hate groups of the kind that SPLC writes about, it never acted on the rhetoric. Louis Farrakhan revived the NOI after Wallace Muhammad, Elijah’s son, dumped the cultish nonsense. Like the original NOI, it does not carry out attacks. This despite the fact that they probably have something like the Fruit of Islam today. They went after Malcolm because he was threatening their cash cow. Violence generally ensues when control over money is involved.

    Comment by louisproyect — February 22, 2020 @ 1:29 am

  5. Malcolm’s comment that the ‘chickens come home to roost’ was about the JFK assassination. It has always seemed to me to be a reference to broader politics at the time, i.e. multiple U.S. gov’t efforts to kill Fidel Castro, complicity in assassination of Lumumba, etc. – not to NOI politics.  Maybe it was a reference to JFK/racist oppression as the clip provided by HH suggests. IMO the JFK assassination was a case of the chickens coming home to roost as some of the frustrated and failed counterrevolutionary forces mobilized by the U.S. gov’t to behead and overthrow the Cuban revolution turned on JFK.
    btw i disagree with Louis’ implicit evaluation that the SWP was fundamentally sectarian in 1967, imo that’s ‘jumping the gun’ by ten to fifteen years.

    Comment by Dayne Goodwin — February 22, 2020 @ 5:48 am

  6. Why didn’t you mention Malcolm’s close friendship with the American Nazi Movement? George Lincoln Rockwell agreed with and quoted many leaders of the Black nationalism movement such as Elijah Muhammad and Malcom and viewed them as close allies against “Jew-Communism”. Rockwell and 10 other Nazis were special invited guests to Nation of Islam rallies in the early 1960’s while the Adolf Eichmann trial was in full swing nonetheless. Malcom warmly accepted Rockwell’s cash donation in front of the packed crowd, then gave a speech called ” Race Separation or Death.”

    Or you could talk about when Malcom X met with the KKK in the south and cut a land deal. Right before he died, old Malcom said “From that day forward the Klan never interfered with the Black Muslim movement in the South.”

    The only difference between black nationalism and white nationalism is there are more white people in America.

    Comment by Clifford Smith — February 22, 2020 @ 7:41 am

  7. Why didn’t you mention Malcolm’s close friendship with the American Nazi Movement?

    Because they were insignificant.

    Comment by louisproyect — February 22, 2020 @ 1:11 pm

  8. The role of the state is, as always disturbing. They don’t are about innocent people being left to rot in prison for years. It reminded me of how people in the UK were put in prison for the bombings in Guildford (see the film, “In The Name Of The Father) and in Birmingham. The police told lies and manipulated evidence in court to get their convictions, the same as in this case.
    There was a documentary on Netflix last year about the Miami Showband, a very popular band Ireland in the early 70’s, whose van was bombed after being stopped at what appeared to be an official roadside checkpoint. There were suspicions of a connection to a loyalist gang among the soldiers and a British agent present
    The Government wanted to blame the survivors (!) for the deaths of their band mates, while covering up the truth and the role of the British state. Two of the survivors are still seeking the truth to come out and the role of the British government in it.
    After forty years they are fighting for justice, I hope, ‘The Killing of Malcolm X’ will bring out the truth here and expose the corrupt ‘justice systems’ around the world.
    The Miami Showband Massacre

    Comment by splodgen — February 22, 2020 @ 10:29 pm

  9. Malcolm uses stage provided by 800 member Trotskyist group, very significant because it means he is “moving towards” socialism.

    Malcolm invites leader of 800 member Nazi group to talk to his quasi-religious sect, then goes on stage promoting racial segregation, insignificant.

    Got it.

    Probably I just couldn’t understand because I haven’t mastered dialectics or saw the radiance of Malcolm Little in person.

    Thanks for clarifying.

    Comment by Clifford Smith — February 23, 2020 @ 7:07 am

  10. Read the fucking speech and you’ll get it, Clifford.

    Comment by louisproyect — February 23, 2020 @ 1:08 pm

  11. I don’t have Netflix. Who did kill Malcolm X?

    Comment by Gene Polito — February 24, 2020 @ 7:25 pm

  12. For those interested, the Cuban edition of the Autobiography of Malcolm X has been in print since 1977. Here’s an English translation of the Cuban prologue to that book.Some people like to dismiss the Autobiography because it didn’t completely reflect the evolution of his views at the time of his assassination. https://walterlippmann.com/the-autobiography-of-malcolm-x/

    Comment by walterlx — February 26, 2020 @ 4:20 am

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: