Orville Taylor | Will another Malcolm X arise?
Fifty-six years to the date today, a set of black men, while African-American activist Malcolm X was speaking at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem, New York, pounced on him and shot him multiple times. Three members of the Nation of Islam, an organisation from which he had unpleasantly departed on principled grounds two years earlier, were convicted of the murder. Whether the jury got it right or not, Mujahid Abdul Halim, Muhammad Abdul Aziz and Khalil Islam, despite protestations of innocence, were sentenced. Malcolm X had received death threats, and being outspoken, he could have easily have been targeted by the Ku Klux Klan, who it is rumoured had killed his father. He was true and fearless, and that is the kind of leadership we need.
What is often overlooked is that the ‘enemy’ are frequently those who are close to you and who even appear on the surface to speak for your cause. Many who talk have agendas which do not serve the movement, or at best so conflicted with false consciousness that their leadership is useless. One may easily forget that a decade before Martin Luther King was killed, an African-American woman, Izola Ware Curry, stabbed him in a failed assassination attempt and boasted, “I’ve been after him for six years … I’m glad I done it!”
As a teenager in the 1970s, the name Karl Marx were four letter words which caused my devout fundamentalist Christian father great angst. Then, despite my penchant for history and African studies, after a life-changing year taught by then Neo-Marxist Don Robotham, sociology won and poor Elder Taylor got very nervous because he could not reconcile my new discipline, which sounded so much like socialism, with the Good Book and the myriad pieces of literature in the hernia-causing collection which I kept from high school.
Years later I feel vindicated that sociology won over history, because a year ago, the Caribbean best purveyor of history, Sir Roy Augier, whose successors can fit in one unfilled shoe, said in his own inimitable style that history is a bunch of stories. Of course, what he meant was that those who control the pen can and do dictate the narrative; therefore, twisting truth to suit their ends.
Never a communist, and never will be, I nonetheless was very intrigued by what Marx said about the nature of society. His Communist Manifesto, co-authored with Friedrich Engels, was published exactly 173 years ago today. Inasmuch as he believed that the material contradictions in society will always lead to a destruction of the status quo, he recognised that ideas, norms and values, and thus ideology, had a major role to play in any struggle. After all, the ruling ideas in any epoch were those of the ruling classes and they kept their hegemony by a smooth process of brainwashing.
Thus, many would-be ‘revolutionaries’ were either bought or confused by ‘false consciousness’, thinking that they are something which they are not. So, for example, highly paid executives and managers considered themselves to be ‘big shots’, but of course, unless you are the cannon or rifle, then as a shot you can get fired. Marx’s error was that while accurately recognising that upper stratum ‘workers’ (proletarians) misidentified themselves as belonging to the class of the real bosses (the bourgeoisie); he failed to realise that they may never develop true ‘class consciousness’. Therefore, his revolution might never ever take place.
Later Marxists, such as Antonio Gramsci who fought the Italian fascists and Frenchman Louis Althusser, also understood that any struggle as one tries to either win a cause or lead a group must be also fought at the level of ideology. Leaders, not rulers, must capture the imagination of those whom they seek to have follow them and the best way to do that is by walking the talk. W.E.B. Du Bois, not a Marxist either, doubtless comprehended the importance of morally strong and credible leadership in the black struggle.
He spoke of the ‘talented tenth’ among us, who had a responsibility for the overall uplift of the race by teaching, leading and living exemplary lives. Yet, he also lamented the “double-consciousness” of the black man, “always looking at one’s self through the eyes … measuring oneself by the means of a nation that looked back in contempt”.
Malcolm was reportedly killed by his own because he criticised the leadership and ‘livity’ of Elijah Muhammad. Moreover, he accused him publicly of fathering multiple children with underaged girls and other immoral acts. Finally, and what he called “envy”, which “blinds men and makes it impossible for them to think clearly. This is what happened ...” In essence, Malcolm died for wanting the best type of leadership for the struggle. Why shouldn’t we want the same?
Malcolm X was a martyr, he stood up against corruption and hypocrisy among our own. If we want black liberation, we must first liberate our own consciousness.
Dr Orville Taylor is head of the Department of Sociology at The University of the West Indies, a radio talk-show host, and author of ‘Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets’. Email feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.