Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Malcolm X on Liberalism

Given my lengthy criticisms of Malcolm's nationalist streak and scepticism over his religion (or cult), my constant assertions that both his views and his autobiography when taken in totality are very important guides to understanding the Black Liberation movement and the extent of racism in America must seem a little strange.

One reason why Malcolm has become the iconic figure for many Radical groupings black and white in America and abroad is because he understood working class or "street" black life and the challenges the poor faced, something a lot of the civil rights movements leading lights (among white liberals anyway) totally ignored in their quest to carve a niche for themselves in wealthy white society. He also preached self reliance and a rejection of the paternalism of the mainstream well funded Liberal elite. A source of constant irritation for Malcolm was both the attitude and role of White Liberals and how they often patronised the blacks they claimed to want to help and how their "generosity" always came with strings attached. In particular he lamented how this advice and ability to bank roll Black groups often ended up sabotaging important initiatives that a lot of hard work had went into.

The Deep South white press generally blacked me out. But they front-paged what I felt about Northern white and black Freedom Riders going South to "demonstrate." I called it "ridiculous";their own Northern ghettoes, right at home, had enough rats and roaches to kill to keep all of the Freedom Riders busy. I said that ultra-liberal New York had more integration problems than Mississippi. If the Northern Freedom Riders wanted more to do, they could work on the roots of such ghetto evils as the little children out in the streets at midnight, with apartment keys on strings around their necks to let themselves in, and their mothers and fathers drunk, drug addicts, thieves,prostitutes. Or the Northern Freedom Riders could light some fires under Northern city halls, unions, and major industries to give more jobs to Negroes to remove so many of them from the relief and welfare rolls, which created laziness, and which deteriorated the ghettoes into steadily worse places for humans to live. It was all-it is all-the absolute truth; but what did I want to say it for? Snakes couldn't have turned on me faster than the liberal.

And Malcolm wasn't the only one who felt that way, Robert F. Williams head of a NAACP branch in North Carolina (who was forced to flee to Cuba when he led an armed defence group against the KKK) while supportive of the tactics of sit ins and the Freedom Riders gaols described how Freedom Riders would show up and completely ignore the advice of the local Black population. This came to bite them big time when the white racists patience wore thin and the violent backlash started.

When the Monroe Non-Violent Action Committee set up
its picket line on the first day, the Freedom Riders seemed
convinced they were making real progress. One Freedom
Rider even returned from the line overjoyed. He said, "You
know, a policeman smiled at me in town today while I was
on the line." I laughed and told him not to pay that any attention
because the policeman was probably smiling at the
thought of how best to kill him.
Constance, the English exchange
student, had joined the picket line. She said, "Oh, I
don't think these people are so bad. I just think you don't
know how to approach them. I noticed that they looked at
me in a friendly way in town today."
 If you're curious the violence against local pickets had mostly ceased when they started arming themselves, it intensified again as soon as the Freedom Riders set up their non violent committee and took over the pickets. Many as a result were injured with at least one came very close to being murdered.

Arguably Malcolm's most famous quotation is "By any means necessary" and in the popular conciousness he represents the militant opposite to Dr Martin Luther King Jr and his non violent civil disobedience campaign. But the truth like the man himself is a bit more sophisticated then commonly acknowledged.

Its a little strange how so many of Malcolm's critics both in his day and in our times completely omit his view that any means necessary was not a call to arms but an advocacy of a determined pragmatic program that in addition to self defence also included voting. Any means necessary simply meant that when voting wasn't enough the Black community should be prepared to go further and that while voting they should reject the patronage of the two parties and vote as a block.

 The black man in North America was sickest of all politically. He let the white man divide him into such foolishness as considering himself a black "Democrat," a black "Republican," a black"Conservative," or a black "Liberal" . . . when a ten-million black vote bloc could be the deciding balance of power in American politics, because the white man's vote is almost always evenly divided.
  The polls are one place where every black man could fight the black man's cause with dignity, and with the power and the tools that the white man understands, and respects, and fears, and cooperates with. Listen, let me tell you something! If a black bloc committee told Washington's worst "niggerhater," "We represent ten million votes," why, that "nigger-hater" would leap up: "Well, how are you? Come on in here!" Why, if the Mississippi black man voted in a bloc, Eastland would pretend to be more liberal than Jacob Javits-or Eastland would not survive in his office. Why else is it that racist politicians fight to keep black men from the polls?
  Whenever any group can vote in a bloc, and decide the outcome of elections, and it fails to do this,then that group is politically sick. Immigrants once made Tammany Hall the most powerful single force in American politics. In 1880, New York City's first Irish Catholic Mayor was elected and by 1960 America had its first Irish Catholic President. America's black man, voting as a bloc, could wield an even more powerful force.

Aside from the appeals of militant rhetoric, self reliance and the willingness to meet violence with violence were -are- important steps to take in the struggle for liberation. And its two steps that liberalism with its uncritical attachment to Enlightenment idealism and the supremacy of property will never accept. And its not just in regards to Black or ethnic struggles. Watch a video or read an article by a Liberal on a protest or a Labour struggle and at first they'll be enthusiastic cheerleaders right up until the groups  involved start doing things the Liberals did not advise, then they'll start being cautious and once violence is used even in defence the Liberals will go to the other side. Remember the age of Enlightenment that birthed the Liberal movement in Europe and North America occurred at the same time Imperialism and slavery flourished, and many of Liberalism's fathers like Thomas Jefferson and John Locke personally profited from these shameful institutions.

Liberals love petitions and open letters and debates because they believe if they put enough effort into an appeal the opposition will eventually come round and see "reason" i.e. what the Liberal believes. They also love the boycott since it's all about moral individuals making a rational decision and doesn't even touch the property in question or disrupt the market. And what is Martin Luther King Jr, the Liberals favourite civil rights leader famous for? that's right the boycott movement and also for making speeches appealing to human decency. Once you start to go beyond these methods though then the claws come out. Even Dr King received his share of Liberal wrath when he wouldn't toe the Democrats line on the Vietnam war and started criticising Capitalism itself and supporting labour struggles*.

And what's the problem with petitions and boycotts? They don't always work, some people will never be swayed no matter how many signatures are on the damn thing I speak from experience here. And boycotts are only feasible once they reach a certain size. Bus companies and cheap restaurants and sandwich bars crumbled very quickly because a lot of there customers were black and it threatened there existence, so they can work in some situations. But the same couldn't be said of establishments catering to wealthy clients or just in predominantly white areas. And how exactly do you boycott a large company like General Motors until they hire more black workers? And how many signatures on a piece of paper will defend you from violent attack? Hell most Liberals believe you shouldn't defend yourself, you should just take your beating and then go to the police. But what if the police are part of the problem? Go to city hall maybe? beg for help from the elected officials who come from the same area and are dependent on the votes/donations of the people causing the problem, yeah I'm sure that will sort it out.
I'm sure these good old boys can be reasoned with

The fact that Malcolm spent most of his time antagonising these patronising naive hypocrites was enough to win my support. The fact that he did it by exposing their hypocrisy and lack of interest in working class problems makes it all the sweeter.

*Though there was still a racial overlap most labour struggles King involved himself in like the Memphis sanitation workers strike before his murder where predominantly or exclusively Black workforces.

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