Forty years on: Malcolm X on the struggle against racism, capitalism and US aggression

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Gunned down on February 21, 1965, at age 39, Malcolm X (born Malcolm Little) evolved from a street-wise hoodlum to become one of the most prominent and militant leaders of the African-American struggle against racist oppression. A few weeks before his assassination, he was interviewed by Young Socialist Alliance leaders Jack Barnes and Barry Sheppard. Below is an abridged version of the published interview. It is reprinted from the March-April 1965 edition of the YSA's Young Socialist magazine. In the interview Malcolm X addressed issues that are still of burning relevance in today's world — the struggles against racism, capitalism and US imperialist aggression.

What image of you has been projected by the press?

Well, the press has purposely and skilfully projected me in the image of a racist, a race supremacist, and an extremist.

I'm not a racist. I'm against every form of racism and segregation, every form of discrimination. I believe in human beings, and that all human beings should be respected as such, regardless of their colour.

How do you define black nationalism, with which you have been identified?

I used to define black nationalism as the idea that the black man should control the economy of his community, the politics of his community, and so forth. But, when I was in Africa in May, in Ghana, I was speaking with the Algerian ambassador who is extremely militant and is a revolutionary in the true sense of the word (and has his credentials as such for having carried on a successful revolution against oppression in his country). When I told him that my political, social and economic philosophy was black nationalism, he asked me very frankly, well, where did that leave him? Because he was white. He was an African, but he was Algerian, and to all appearances, he was a white man. And he said if I define my objective as the victory of black nationalism, where does that leave him? Where does that leave revolutionaries in Morocco, Egypt, Iraq, Mauritania? 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.

So, I 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? And if you notice, I haven't been using the expression for several months. But I still would be hard pressed to give a specific definition of the overall philosophy which I think is necessary for the liberation of the black people in this country.

Is it true, as is often said, that you favour violence?

I don't favour violence. If we could bring about recognition and respect of our people by peaceful means, well and good. Everybody would like to reach his objectives peacefully. But I'm also a realist. The only people in this country who are asked to be non-violent are black people. I've never heard anybody go to the Ku Klux Klan and teach them non-violence. Non-violence is only preached to black Americans and I don't go along with anyone who wants to teach our people non-violence until someone at the same time is teaching our enemy to be non-violent. I believe we should protect ourselves by any means necessary when we are attacked by racists.

What do you think is responsible for race prejudice in the US?

Ignorance and greed. And a skilfully designed program of miseducation that goes right along with the American system of exploitation and oppression.

If the entire American population were properly educated — I mean given a true picture of the history and contributions of the black man — I think many whites would be less racist in their feelings. They would have more respect for the black man as a human being.

Also, the feeling of inferiority that the black man has would be replaced by a balanced knowledge of himself. He'd feel more like a human being. He'd function more like a human being, in a society of human beings.

How much influence does revolutionary Africa have on the thinking of black people in this country?

All the influence in the world. You can't separate the militancy that's displayed on the African continent from the militancy that's displayed right here among American blacks. The positive image that is developing of Africans is also developing in the minds of black Americans, and, consequently they develop a more positive image of themselves. Then they take more positive steps actions. So you can't separate the African revolution from the mood of the black man in America. Neither could the colonisation of Africa be separated from the menial position that the black man in this country was satisfied to stay in for so long.

How do you view the role of the US in the Congo?

As criminal. Probably there is no better example of criminal activity against an oppressed people than the role the US has been playing in the Congo, through her ties with Tshombe and the mercenaries. You can't overlook the fact that Tshombe gets his money from the US. The money he uses to hire these mercenaries, these paid killers imported from South Africa, comes from the United States.

What about the US role in South Vietnam?

The same thing. It shows the real ignorance of those who control the American power structure. If France, with all types of heavy arms, as deeply entrenched as she was in what then was called Indochina, couldn't stay there, I don't see how anybody in their right mind can think the US can get in there — it's impossible. So it shows her ignorance, her blindness, her lack of foresight and hindsight and her complete defeat in South Vietnam is only a matter of time.

How do you view the activity of white and black students who went to the [US] south last summer and attempted to register black people to vote?

The attempt was good I should say the objective to register black people in the south was good because the only real power a poor man in this country has is the power of the ballot. But I don't believe sending them in and telling them to be nonviolent was intelligent. I go along with the effort toward registration but I think they should be permitted to use whatever means at their disposal to defend themselves from the attacks of the Klan, the White Citizens Council and other groups.

What do you think of the murder of the three civil rights workers and what's happened to their killers?

It shows that the society we live in is not actually what it tries to represent itself as to the rest of the world. This was murder and the federal government is helpless because the case involves Negroes. Even the whites involved, were involved in helping Negroes. And concerning anything in this society involved in helping Negroes, the federal government shows an inability to function. But it can function in South Vietnam, in the Congo, in Berlin and in other places where it has no business. But it can't function in Mississippi.

The federal government itself is just as racist as the government in Mississippi, and is more guilty of perpetuating the racist system. At the federal level they are more shrewd, more skilful at doing it, just like the FBI is more skilful than the state police and the state police are more skilful than the local police. The same with politicians. The politician at the federal level is usually more skilled than the politician at the local level, and when he wants to practice racism, he's more skilled in the practice of it than those who practice it at the local level.

What contribution can youth, especially students, who are disgusted with racism in this society, make to the black struggle for freedom?

Whites who are sincere don't accomplish anything by joining Negro organisations and making them integrated. Whites who are sincere should organise among themselves and figure out some strategy to break down the prejudice that exists in white communities. This is where they can function more intelligently and more effectively, in the white community itself, and this has never been done.

What part in the world revolution are youth playing, and what lessons may this have for American youth?

If you've studied the captives being caught by the American soldiers in South Vietnam, you'll find that these guerrillas are young people. Some of them are just children and some haven't yet reached their teens. Most are teenagers. It is the teenagers abroad, all over the world, who are actually involving themselves in the struggle to eliminate oppression and exploitation. I think young people here can find a powerful example in the young Simbas in the Congo and the young fighters in South Vietnam.

What is your opinion of the world-wide struggle now going on between capitalism and socialism?

It is impossible for capitalism to survive, primarily because the system of capitalism needs some blood to suck. Capitalism used to be like an eagle, but now it's more like a vulture. It used to be strong enough to go and suck anybody's blood whether they were strong or not. But now it has become more cowardly, like the vulture, and it can only suck the blood of the helpless. As the nations of the world free themselves, then capitalism has less victims, less to suck, and it becomes weaker and weaker. It's only a matter of time in my opinion before it will collapse completely.

From Green Left Weekly, February 23, 2005.
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