Malcolm X was prematurely cut down by an assassin’s bullet 46 years ago today. The following is a presentation made by APSP
Chairman Omali Yeshitela at a May 19, 1977 Malcolm X commemoration program in Tampa, Florida.
I would like to thank our sister and brother comrades who are responsible for organizing this program in memory of the great African patriot and leader, Malcolm X. I would like to thank you first of all for organizing the program, and secondly, I would like to thank you for inviting me to participate in the program.
For, as many of you know, I am a great believer in the teachings of Malcolm X, and I am chairman of a political organization based in several states of the United States of North America which believes that Malcolm X and Marcus Garvey were two of the most significant political leaders of African people within current North American borders.
For me and the African People’s Socialist Party, the life and teachings of the great patriot, Malcolm X, mean more than just an annual celebration of his life. For us, the life and teachings of Malcolm X are not something to be understood in the abstract, separate and apart from the material conditions of life experienced by our people. For us, the life and teachings of Malcolm X are revolutionary guides to the liberation of our people in the real world.
I want to make this point because today, when Malcolm X is not here to defend his philosophy, there is a great deal of revisionism going on. There are many people and forces who correctly understand the impact Malcolm X has had on the developing revolutionary consciousness of our people and who would distort Malcolm’s teachings so as to make it serve their own self-serving and dishonest motives and who would therefore turn Brother Malcolm’s politics against the very people he fashioned them to serve.
He Was Not a Saint or a Ghost
First of all, it should be noted that Malcolm X was a black man, an Afrikan man, who defined himself as “one of 22 million black people who are the victims of Americanism.”
Malcolm X was not a saint, or a ghostly apparition that descended mysteriously upon us. He was a man, a black man, an African man, who through his life experiences in America and through study, came to understand the meaning of life for African people held captive here in this North American prison.
It is important to mention this because attempts are often made to deify Malcolm X to an extent that we place the great ideals and aspirations he held for our people beyond the possibility of human realization. We do this so it will not be necessary for us to live up to those ideals.
After placing his ideals on some great, unreachable pedestal, the only thing we have to do is have annual celebrations, take the covers off his philosophy once a year, dust it off a little bit, sing praises to Malcolm, and then go home to wait for the next year to come around when we can come out and have fun with his memory again.
But when we realize that Malcolm X was a man, an African human being just as we are African human beings, it must be clear to us that we not only have the responsibility of unveiling his life and teachings once a year; we have the more important responsibility of living like Malcolm X. We have the responsibility of concretizing, making real in this world, the things that Malcolm X lived and died for. Otherwise, we are simply petty, little frightened and dishonest people who ought not to call his name.
Malcolm X was a great African patriot, a freedom fighter. Some of us are here because we believe and understand this. Others of us do not believe in the greatness of Malcolm X and his teachings, and are only here as political ambulance chasers, going where the action is, and opportunistically exploiting his greatness to push forward teachings which are contradictory to what Malcolm X believed in and taught.
But you and I know that Malcolm X was either a great leader or he was not. He was not “a great leader and teacher, but…” or “a great leader and teacher, except for…”
He was either a great leader or he was not. I say he was a great leader and his teachings should be continuously studied and developed as a guide for our struggle, and I challenge everyone here today to go beyond paying lip service to his memory. I challenge everyone here to be the human being that Malcolm X was, and to take up his philosophy and to live for struggle as he lived for struggle.
And what were some of the things Malcolm X taught and believed?
Malcolm X taught and believed that we, African people, are not Americans. In a speech in Cleveland on April 3, 1964, he made this very clear. In this speech Malcolm X stated:
“I’m not a politician, not even a student of politics. In fact, I’m not a student of much of anything. I’m not a Democrat, I’m not a Republican, and I don’t even consider myself an American. If you and I were Americans, there’d be no problem. Those Honkies that just got off the boat, they’re already Americans. Polacks are already Americans. The Italian refugees are already Americans. Everything that came out of Europe, every blue-eyed thing, is already an American, and as long as you and I have been over here, we aren’t Americans yet.”
This is what Malcolm X taught and believed. But most of us — or at least, many of us — don’t believe this. Most of us are so busy being Americans that we excuse every unjust act this country perpetrates against our own people, and against other oppressed peoples of the world.
So, for those of you who are “Americans,” it should be clear to you that you don’t believe in what Malcolm believed or taught, and to the extent that you are here today because you thought you did, or wanted to pretend you do, I want to make you aware of what is correct, and what it is you are pretending.
This is especially important for the pretenders because generally the pretenders do not serve, nor do they ever intend to serve black people, and if we can put what Malcolm X really believed and taught before you, it makes it more difficult for them to pretend. And it may even get them in trouble with their bosses, who I guarantee you will not appreciate the fact that their “Negro-Americans” are out here at a meeting commemorating a great African leader who correctly taught us that we are not Americans.
I know there are probably people here who want to pay homage to Malcolm X without paying homage to his ideas. These people are likely to say that Malcolm’s statement about not being an American was simply a rhetorical statement that he really didn’t mean.
But throughout the speech I just mentioned, Malcolm X made it very clear that he said what he meant and he meant what he said. For example, in another place in the same speech, Malcolm X strikes the same theme:
“No, I am not an American. I’m one of the 22 million black people who are the victims of Americanism; one of the 22 million black people who are the victims of democracy, nothing but disguised hypocrisy.
“So, I’m not standing here speaking to you as an American, or a patriot, or a flag-saluter, or a flag-waver. No, not I. I am speaking as a victim of this American system, and I see America through the eyes of the victim. I don’t see any American dream; I see an American nightmare.”
So, there was no mistake. Malcolm knew exactly what he was saying. Therefore, when you and I get together to pay homage to Malcolm X on occasions such as this, we have to understand that we are not simply paying homage to the man in the abstract. We are paying homage to his ideas, to his political utterances — to all the factors which made him the great African patriot that he was.
We refuse to give you a politically sanitized Malcolm X. We refuse to give you Malcolm X without his ideas and philosophy. It’s not like Burger King where you “have it your way.” You have to have it the correct way, the Malcolm X way. You can’t just take the part of Malcolm X that makes you comfortable, that’s non-controversial, that won’t disturb your bosses or your lives.
Malcolm X had a political philosophy. It was not a philosophy that he picked up in some book and decided to try and fit the lives and experiences of black people into, like some of your recently-discovered North American misleaders are doing.
The philosophy of Malcolm X was derived from the terrible, real condition of our people in this world. Malcolm X experienced the U.S. as a black man, confronted with all the problems and concerns of other black people in this world.
They are police terror — the same kind of police terror that shot down Paul Barney, and snuffed the life from Larry Murphy, right here in Tampa; the same kind of police terror that murdered Curtis Murph just a month ago in St. Petersburg, across the bridge from here, and that takes the breath away from any black person in this country when we find ourselves accidentally passing a police station while traveling throughout this country.
The problems and concerns that shaped the worldview of Malcolm X are still with us today. They are economic terror. The same kind of economic terror responsible for one out of every four black adults, and one out of every two black teenagers being unemployed in this country; the economic terror that makes you too cowardly to do the things you ought to do because of fear you’ll lose your job. The kind of economic terror that makes you choose employment and so-called economic security over freedom.
No, Malcolm X’s ideas did not fall from the sky. They were products of the real world that we experience. And since they were born from the world they are good ideas, they are correct ideas, and we ought to know, study, understand and live them.
Malcolm X not only believed and understood that we are not Americans; he defined who we are exactly, and we ought to know what he said about this, too, if we are going to be having programs each year extolling Malcolm X.
In the same April 3 Cleveland speech I have been quoting, Malcolm X said, “…you and I, 22 million African-Americans — that’s what we are — Africans who are in America. You’re nothing but Africans. Nothing but Africans. In fact, you’d get farther calling yourself African instead of Negro.”
Malcolm X was an African Internationalist who realized that the particular problems of African people oppressed in different parts of the world are connected, and the solution for all our problems is dependent on international African unity and cooperation against a common enemy who stands between us, freedom, and a united and socialist Africa.
In a 1964 letter from Accra, which reported on an earlier meeting in Nigeria, Malcolm X had this to say about international unity:
“The people of Nigeria are strongly concerned with the problems of their African brothers in America, but the U.S. information agencies in Africa create the impression that progress is being made and the problem is being solved. Upon close study, one can easily see a gigantic design to keep Africans here and the African-Americans from getting together.
“An African official told me, ‘When one combines the number of peoples of African descent in South, Central and North America, they total well over 80 million. One can easily understand the attempts to keep the Africans from ever uniting with the African-Americans.’ Unity between the Africans of the West and the Africans of the fatherland will well change the course of history.”
Therefore when we commemorate Malcolm X we are also commemorating his views on African Internationalism — views which place us squarely on the side of our oppressed and warring sisters and brothers in Zaire, Azania, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Mozambique, and Angola.
These are views which also place us on the opposite side of the oppressive and barbaric U.S. government, which is the main enemy of African and other peoples throughout the world.
To embrace the ideas of Malcolm X is to embrace the ideas of African Internationalism and the ideas of African Internationalism are opposite and contradictory to the ideals of Americanism. The ideals of African Internationalism promote freedom from oppression and injustice. These ideals promote freedom and independence.
On the other hand, the ideals of Americanism, ideals which were born out of a process that saw mass genocide committed against the native people upon whose land America was founded; the ideals of Americanism which were born of the process resulting in the forced immigration, enslavement, and deaths of millions of African people; ideals which flow from the process resulting in the colonization of Puerto Rico, the theft of Mexican land, the special oppression of our women — these ideals promote death, slavery, and war for all the peoples of the world.
To believe in Malcolm X, to honor and extol the ideas of Malcolm X is to believe in ourselves, our history, and our future. To extol and honor the ideas of Malcolm X is to honor and extol the absolute need to struggle against Americanism. To honor and extol the ideas of Malcolm X is to struggle for the liberation of Africa and the unity of all African people.
Did you come here today to do this? If you did not, perhaps you have come to the wrong program.
But Malcolm X did not believe in the struggle of African people in an abstract or mechanical way. Malcolm X did not have a one-sided view of our struggle as a people. He did not simply say we should identify with Africa and struggle to liberate our national homeland. He went further than this.
Many people like to forget this point, even many people who do believe in the ideas of Malcolm X. They like to pretend that because Malcolm X was an African Internationalist he was only interested in the liberation of Africa. This is a very safe belief for many of our sisters and brothers because it relieves them of the responsibility to struggle where we are.
But Malcolm X saw the whole struggle of African people, a struggle being fought in many different places under different conditions, as an integral part of the same worldwide African Liberation Movement. Moreover, Malcolm X defined the particular aspect of our struggle here in this country in a fashion designed to take the mystery out of revolution and give us the key to the direction we must take.
Malcolm X defined our struggle here within current U.S. borders as a struggle against colonialism. He defined it as a struggle for political independence.
Malcolm X never said we were struggling to prove ourselves to our oppressors. He never said we were struggling to integrate.
In an April 8, 1964 speech in New York, Malcolm X stated: “There are 22 million African-Americans who are ready to fight for independence right here.”
Later in that same speech Malcolm X continued, “And there is no system of this earth which has proven itself more corrupt, more criminal, than this system that in 1964 still colonizes 22 million African-Americans, still enslaves 22 million Afro-Americans.”
At another place in the speech, Malcolm X says of America, “America is a colonial power. She has colonized 22 million Afro-Americans by depriving us of first-class citizenship, by depriving us of civil rights, actually by depriving us of human rights.”
Explaining the difference between Integrationists and African Internationalists, Malcolm said in the same April 8 speech I have been quoting from, “So, in this country you find two different types of Afro-Americans — the type who looks upon himself as a minority and you (white people) as the majority, because his scope is limited to the American scene; and then you have the type who looks upon himself as a part of the majority and you (white people) as a part of a microscopic minority, and this one uses a different approach in trying to struggle for his rights.
“He doesn’t beg. He doesn’t thank you for what you give him, because you are only giving him what he should have had a hundred years ago. He doesn’t think you are doing him any favors.”
Further on in the same speech Malcolm asks, “How can you (white people) condemn South Africa? There are only 11 million of our people in South Africa. There are 22 million of them here, and we are receiving an injustice which is just as criminal as that which is being done to the black people of South Africa.”
Malcolm X told us that our struggle was a nationalist struggle, a struggle to build the developing African nation. Anticipating a statement that would be made later by another African patriot, Amilcar Cabral, Malcolm X clearly struggled against the notion that ours is a struggle for or against the ideas in anyone’s head.
In a speech entitled, “Message to the Grassroots,” delivered in 1963 in Detroit, Malcolm X had this to say about nationalism:
“When you want a nation, that’s called nationalism. When the white man became involved in a revolution in this country against England, what was it for? He wanted this land so he could set up another white nation. That’s white nationalism… All the revolutions that are going on in Asia and Africa today are based on what? Black nationalism. A revolutionary is a black nationalist. He wants a black nation.”
This is what Malcolm X stood for. Did you know that when you decided to come here today? We must not allow ourselves to simply come out to programs like this and recite poetry, make speeches in the name of Malcolm X and go home.
Malcolm X was a socialist and a black revolutionary. And although I imagine he must have participated in commemorative programs such as this one during his lifetime, he did more than that. He lived struggle and revolution. He acted out his belief in the right for African people to live in dignity, determining our own fate and controlling our own destiny.
He was not someone who just popped up on posters. He was not just a nice guy, voted most popular by some black college fraternity or sorority. He was a black socialist, anti-colonialist, African Internationalist revolutionary.
Can you embrace that? Can you commemorate that? Can you pay homage to all that? I hope so, because that is what Malcolm X was all about.
In a New York discussion in May 1964, Malcolm X spoke about the differences between capitalist and socialist economic and social systems:
“While I was traveling I noticed that most of the countries that had recently emerged into independence have turned away from the so-called capitalistic system in the direction of socialism.”
During that same discussion Malcolm X elaborated:
“Most of the countries that were colonial powers were capitalist countries, and the last bulwark of capitalism today is America. It’s impossible for a white person to believe in capitalism and not believe in racism. You can’t have capitalism without racism. And if you find one and you happen to get that person into a conversation and they have a philosophy that makes you sure they don’t have racism in their outlook, usually they’re socialists or their political philosophy is socialism.”
On December 20, 1964, at the Audubon Ballroom in New York, Malcolm added these words about capitalism:
“You can’t operate a capitalist system unless you are vulturistic; you have to have someone else’s blood to suck to be a capitalist. You show me a capitalist, I’ll show you a bloodsucker.
“He cannot be anything but a bloodsucker if he’s going to be a capitalist. He’s got to get it from somewhere other than himself. So, when we look at the African continent, when we look at the trouble that’s going on between East and West, we find that the nations of Africa are developing socialistic systems to solve their problems.”
This was the Malcolm X whose memory you are honoring today. Malcolm X was an anti-capitalist. He clearly understood that there can be no freedom for our people under capitalism.
I suspect that some of the people who are here today identify with capitalism as the economic and social system which best represents their aspirations. If I am correct, you now know what Malcolm X thought of capitalism and you.
I hope none of the people on this program are aspiring capitalists. If there are some here they should confess and say they really don’t believe in the ideas and philosophy of Malcolm X. That would be the honest thing to do. Otherwise people will be consciously misled.
I have spent all this time quoting Malcolm X and talking about his philosophy, because I hold his memory very dear. Not in any romantic or idealistic sense, but because of his giant contribution to our people’s struggle for freedom.
In our Party, the African People’s Socialist Party, we consider ourselves heir to Malcolm X’s philosophy. We believe it is absolutely necessary for those of us who speak of freedom and liberation to study the philosophy of Malcolm X.
We believe it is absolutely necessary to continue to develop his philosophy, and to concretize his ideas by living like him — as a revolutionary totally committed in actuality, in the real world, to freedom for African people throughout the world.
In order to do this we must move beyond programs honoring his memory. We must make ideological choices, ideological positions.
Either we are Integrationists, which means we are pro-capitalists, pro-colonialists, and anti-socialist, or we are African Internationalist socialists. We cannot be both.
Either we believe in political independence for African people colonized within current U.S. borders, or we believe in continued colonial subjugation for our people. There are no multiple choices.
As for our Party and its members, we have chosen socialism and independence; we have chosen revolutionary African Internationalism, and we are building the political apparatus designed to give life and form to the vision of Malcolm X. We ask you to join us in this endeavor.
In any event, regardless of what you choose to do, or where and how you choose to do it, if you don’t believe in the ideas and philosophy of Malcolm X, let him be. If you don’t aspire to his definitions of revolution and liberation, don’t participate in programs such as this one, and if you’re not willing to take a philosophical stand for independence, for Africa, for our people and yourself, then don’t call the name of Malcolm X. He belongs to the people.
The following was a sidebar to the 2009 re-publication of this presentation in the APSP’s official organ “The Burning Spear” on what would have been Malcolm’s 85th birthday.
February 21 is the anniversary of the assassination of Malcolm X, arguably the most significant African leader within the U.S. since the heyday of Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African League in the first quarter of the 20th Century.
At the First Congress of the African People’s Socialist Party held in Oakland, California in September 1981, a resolution was passed that marked the significance of Malcolm X in the struggle for the liberation of our people.
The struggle of African people to liberate our national homeland, Africa; to resist oppression and exploitation; and to overthrow the system of imperialism and advance the cause of world socialism has seen hundreds and thousands of our people make the ultimate heroic sacrifice, the sacrifice of life itself.
The history of our resistance has been written in blood and flames. It has been punctuated by the courageous examples of such martyrs as Nat Turner, Steven Biko, Patrice Lumumba, Walter Rodney, Nehanda Nyakasinkana, Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, Amilcar Cabral, and Lawrence Mann, co-founder of the African People’s Socialist Party.
Historically, the oppressors of African people have attempted to turn history upside down and present the heroic examples of our freedom fighters as evidence of the futility, the hopelessness of our cause for political independence, African liberation and world socialism.
In many instances our oppressors have succeeded in demoralizing great numbers of our people by using the examples of brutally murdered African freedom fighters to prove the invincibility of imperialism and the permanence of African oppression and exploitation.
The African People’s Socialist Party rejects and denounces this reactionary view of the bourgeoisie and calls on all African revolutionaries of all countries to proclaim February 21, the anniversary of the 1965 imperialist assassination of Malcolm X, as the Day of the African Martyr.
The African People’s Socialist Party calls on all African revolutionaries of all countries to take command of the history of our people’s struggle for political independence, African liberation, and socialism, by taking command of the definition of that history and resistance.
The African People’s Socialist Party calls on all African revolutionaries of all countries to raise high, in a revolutionary manner, the heroic memory of all our fallen martyrs, of all those in every city, village, community and country where they fell as evidence of the determination of our people to fight every battle on every front until liberty has been won.
The African People’s Socialist Party calls on all African revolutionaries of all countries to initiate special ceremonies and programs in every community where an African revolutionary has fallen and to raise the memory of our fallen freedom fighters to its proper revolutionary and historical significance.
The African People’s Socialist Party calls on all Party members to win the masses, within the U.S. in all mass organizations where the African People’s Socialist Party has influence, to unite with this resolution. We call on every Party unit, region and organization to take out this call to the masses and to actively work to institutionalize February 21 as the Day of the African Martyr.