History Long Reads Opinion

The most interesting part of Malcolm’s life was his blueprint for revolution

Photo credit: “Malcolm X 1965 and Barack Obama 2008” by Tony Fischer is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

58 years ago on Feb 21, 1965, our brother Malcolm X was assassinated. In 2020, to coincide with the date, Netflix ran a documentary entitled “Who Killed Malcolm X?” about Malcolm X’s assassination – the least interesting part of his life. It was good, introducing new audiences to Malcolm’s intellect, devotion, and wit. Yet, the focus on his assassination took away from a fuller examination of Malcolm’s legacy. This retelling and others have led to fear and misunderstanding of the politics of Black radicalism. The Whitestreammedia have sold us a distorted legacy while promising a slightly bigger slice of the diseased pie of capitalism. We must reject the illusion of equity and the idea that Black radicalism has had its day.

He was gunned down while Malcolm was speaking at a meeting of the Organisation of Afro-American Unity (OAAU), founded in 1964. Unfortunately, the OAAU has been wiped from the collective memory of Malcolm. The organization barely featured in the Autobiography of Malcolm X, even though Malcolm was building the organization at the time. This omission carried over into Spike Lee’s film “Malcolm X” (1992) based on the book and is mentioned once in the “Who Killed Malcolm X?” documentary.

Given the history of subversion and infiltration by the state into the workings of Black organizations, we would be unwise to view these glaring omissions as a coincidence. Erasing the OAAU lets people remember Malcolm as a fiery speaker with no political program; an image of pride for the Diaspora yet simply a symbol. This is the Malcolm that comes through in most stories told.

“We must remember Malcolm’s life and legacy on the  58th anniversary of his assassination”

While he was a member of the Nation of Islam (NOI), Malcolm was monitored and seen as a potential threat by the authorities. The FBI feared he would take over the NOI because it had thousands of members and the Fruit of Islam, a paramilitary force. Under Malcolm’s direction, the NOI could have posed a serious threat to the state. However, Malcolm was always at odds with the politics of the NOI. Whilst he was pushing for radical change and connecting with revolutionary leaders worldwide, the NOI was built for religious, not political liberation. According to the NOI, it is for Allah to deliver. Therefore there is no need to organize for revolution, simply to join the NOI, observe their principles, and separate from the soon-to-be annihilated “White devils.”

Malcolm realized the extent of the limitations of the NOI’s position when he was prevented from reacting to the police murder of Ronald Stokes in 1962 and suspended for speaking his mind on the Kennedy assassination. The NOI did not want to cause too much tension with the state because it was waiting for salvation. Once we accept religion as the solution to the problem of racism, we have lost the battle. Kwame Ture observed that Malcolm’s “basic ideology was Garveyism,” and he was determined to build the global Black nation. With his international contacts and mass public appeal, he was simply too dangerous to be left alive.

The NOI gladly obliged in ending his life because Malcolm had started an alternative Black Muslim mosque, the Muslim Mosque Incorporated, and vowed to save the thousands of people he had recruited into the NOI from what he saw as an illegitimate organization. A lesson for many today is that you cannot be pro-NOI and pro-Malcolm.

Malcolm was always destined to leave the NOI before his assassination. When he did leave the NOI, that was when he founded the OAAU along with a group of activists, including John Henrik Clarke and key Black women leaders like Gloria Richardson, Ethel Minor, Sara Mitchell, Muriel Gray Feelings, and the first chair Lynn Shifflet. It was founded in 1964 on the basis of his Black radical principles, modeled on the Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), and aimed to “unite everyone in the Western Hemisphere of African descent into one united force.” A mass membership organization dealing with local concerns yet connected to a global liberation movement. It aimed to build a power base within New York, spread the model out to other locations, and provide a real alternative to the racist system. Malcolm’s connections across the Diaspora represented an organization that could have built the global Black nation into a truly revolutionary force that threatened the West. The OAAU is the blueprint for Black radical politics today.

“… controlling how he is remembered, and removing the OAAU’s radical program of action from that memory is the perfect way to dismantle his political agenda”

None of this is new; we need to go back to the politics of Blackness. The blueprint for revolutionary change is there in Malcolm’s legacy of the OAAU and has been for the last fifty years. Fifty years is a long time. In the 1960s we were on the cusp of the Black revolution, and we are now further away than we have ever been. In the next 50 years, the world can be a completely different place if we choose to build it.

We have taken that blueprint and the Organisation of Black Unity was started in Birmingham, England which merged with the Harambee Organisation founded in 1972 to form the Harambee Organisation of Black Unity (HOBU). An OAAU-type organization that works through its departments that coordinate activity and collaborate with other organizations. We currently have a Children and Young People (CYPD) and a Political Education (PED) department. We are seeking to build more, particularly around Health and Economics. Make It Plain is the editorial wing of the organization.

The whole idea of HOBU is to bring in as many Black people as possible so that we are self-sustaining and build alternatives to the imperial institutions we know are against our interests. Freedom isn’t free, so there is a membership fee. All those resources are plowed back into the work we are doing in the community. We are building a “Black United Front” where HOBU acts as an umbrella organization working with other Black organizations in the community and offering new programs where necessary. There is no conflict between joining Harambee OBU and being a part of any other organization. The plan is to collaborate, coordinate and share resources to uplift Black communities.

“We need to go back to Black”

In the West, independence means taking as much control over our economic and political destinies while putting that in service to the wider global Black nation. Taking a global rather than a national view of revolution means seeing that the Black revolution will occur on the Afrikan continent. Our role as the Diaspora is to build up resources and organizations to support the eventual revolution on the continent. Connecting the grassroots struggles across the global Black nation to a cohesive politics of revolutionary resistance.

We must remember Malcolm’s life and legacy on the 58th anniversary of his assassination. Simply assassinating the character of Malcolm, controlling how he is remembered, and removing the OAAU’s radical program of action from that memory is the perfect way to dismantle his political agenda.

We must re-engage with the politics that so disturbed those responsible for conserving the racist status quo. We must organize for “survival pending revolution” and pick up the baton from those who have gone before. We need to go back to Malcolm’s politics. Retrace our efforts to the last turning point in the 1960s where we ran down the cul-de-sac of integrating into the system of racial oppression. We need to go back to Black.

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