By Sylvia Weinstein (January 1993)
Photo by Walter Lippmann.
The Dec. 5, 1992, issue of the People’s Weekly World has a review by Tony Monteiro of the film “Malcolm X.” The review is unusual because it actually has some “nice” things to say about Malcolm X. Monteiro dropped the Stalinist newspaper’s former nonsense that Malcolm was a “racist-in-reverse.”
That’s what the Communist Party used to call him. That’s what the Stalinists called all Black nationalists, including members of the Nation of Islam.
Malcolm X joined the Nation of Islam because he was opposed to racism and white U.S. imperialism. He left the Nation because he was moving toward socialist ideas and because he wanted to get involved in the massive movements of Blacks who were fighting for their civil rights. Malcolm X wanted to bring that fight to the North.
If anyone wants to know what the world Stalinist movement thought about Malcolm X when he was alive, and even six years after his assassination, all you have to do is read long-time Communist Party leader and prominent historian Herbert Apthecker’s book, “Afro-American History—The Modern Era.”
It was written in 1971 and covers all of the major modern Black leaders up to Martin Luther King and Huey P. Newton. Out of 324 pages, there is not one word, not one whisper of Malcolm X.
Fidel’s visit to Harlem
The most amazing part of the article is that it gives Malcolm X credit for having gotten a room in Harlem’s Hotel Theresa for Fidel Castro in 1961. Although this story is intended to be complimentary to Malcolm, it is not based on fact.
I was there at the time and played an active part in the efforts of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee in New York City to establish deeper links between revolutionary Cuba and American Blacks.
In October 1961, Fidel Castro and the Cuban delegation had come to New York to address the United Nations. They first took up residence at a mid-Manhattan hotel that catered to delegations from poor countries.
But as soon as it became clear to the powers-that-be that the Cubans were not about to cave in to imperialist demands that they change their revolutionary ways, the news media began a campaign to slander the Cubans. The press issued a flood of stories about $100-dollar call girls visiting the Cuban hotel headquarters. They even featured stories that had the Cubans plucking chickens and cooking them in their hotel rooms.
Finally, Castro called for a halt. He threatened to go to sleep in Central Park rather than stay in such a hotel. He said that he had had plenty of experience sleeping in the mountains of the Sierra Maestra, and sleeping in the park would be more natural. Of course, this also made the headlines.
Fair Play for Cuba
We were then members of the Socialist Workers Party who had helped form the Fair Play for Cuba Committee. One of the committee’s national leaders was my friend Berta [Greene. Later Langston]. She proposed to the Cuban delegation to the United Nations that they move from the fancy white hotel they were being abused into a Black one in the heart of Harlem.
Berta told them that such a gesture of solidarity with African Americans would be greatly appreciated in Black America.
Berta contacted the Hotel Theresa and made arrangements to reserve a whole floor for the Cuban delegation. The Cubans accepted the arrangement immediately. The CIA and State Department went crazy! Suddenly Castro was being flooded with offers from many other hotels. There were even offers of free space—but Fidel said “no thanks.” He and the whole delegation then moved into the Theresa.
The Theresa was an historic hotel in the heart of Harlem. It was the first time that any United Nations delegation had ever stayed in Harlem. Fidel Castro—along with Juan Alameida, the head of the Cuban Armed Forces—would walk along the streets of Harlem, shaking hands, drinking orange juice at a hot-dog chain called “Nedicks,” and talking to the people in the streets of Harlem.
The press was silent about this news event. But they did print a photo of the Soviet Union’s limousine, which was about a block long, driving up to the Theresa. It was probably the Soviet delegates’ first time on 125th Street!
At the reception
It was the Fair Play for Cuba Committee that gave the reception for the Cubans at the Theresa on Oct. 2, 1961, not Malcolm X. My friend Berta arranged that, too.
That night, thousands of people lined the streets around the Hotel Theresa hoping to get a look at Fidel. We were on the 7th floor, and every time anyone went near the window, thousands of people on the ground would cheer.
We refused to allow any cops or reporters onto the floor. We had guards at every elevator and exit. At about nine o’clock I was told to go wait outside the Hotel for the caterer’s delivery truck. They were bringing refreshments and food. I was also told not to speak to any of the press.
As I went outside, the photo bulbs began to flash, and reporters started asking me what was going on upstairs. I just kept saying, “No comprendo.”
The next day, there it was in the headlines: “One hundred-dollar call girl at Castro reception says she ‘no comprende.’” I was astounded to be called a one-hundred-dollar call girl. I did not deserve it.
So the story in the People’s Weekly World that it was Malcolm X who arranged for the Cubans to go to the Hotel Theresa and who gave a reception for Fidel Castro and Che Guevara was untrue. I have no idea where it came from. In fact, neither Malcolm X nor Che Guevara attended the reception.
However, it was true that Malcolm X took the initiative to return the Cubans’ solidarity gesture. It was widely reported in the news media that Malcolm went to the Hotel Theresa and met with Fidel Castro. I do not know what went on, but Malcolm X was then a leader of the Nation of Islam, and it is highly unlikely that he was swayed towards socialism at that time.
However, the fact that Malcolm X did visit Fidel Castro at the Theresa had an enormous effect on the Black community of Harlem.
At any rate, Malcolm X does not need the Communist Party to make up fairy tales about him. They would do well to read Malcolm X speeches, review his real life—and acknowledge where they were wrong about Black nationalism and Malcolm X.
FIGHTBACK! A Collection of Socialist Essays
By Sylvia Weinstein
Socialist Viewpoint Publishing Association
To order your copy of FIGHTBACK!
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PHOTOGRAPH of Sylvia Weinstein taken 1990s, in San Francisco, California
A CubaNews translation by Ana Portela.
Edited by Walter Lippmann for CubaNews
PROLOGUE TO THE CUBAN EDITION
“I don’t expect to live long enough to read my book…”, he said one day and it proved to be true because he was killed before his autobiography was published. It became a dramatic reality, on the afternoon of February 21, 1965, when he began to address an audience of about 400 Blacks and half a dozen whites.
Two men, taking advantage of a confusion caused by their accomplices, jumped from the first row of the Audubon Ballroom and fired at Malcolm X who kept standing in the face of the assassin’s bullets and then he fell to the floor – mortally wounded – while one of the killers emptied his gun into his body.
Betty Shabazz, the wife of Malcolm X and his four little children were present in the Audubon . Betty ran towards the lectern screaming: “They have killed my husband! They are killing my husband!”
At 3:45 in the afternoon, in the Columbian Presbyterian Medical Center, the following report was made: “The gentleman you know as Malcolm X is dead.”
The reaction of the whites, headed by the press, was to identify the assassins and the reason for the assassination as an act of vengeance by other Blacks, the Black Muslims, belonging to the organization Malcolm X had left during the early part of 1964.
However, the reaction in the Black ghettoes and among the closest followers of Malcolm X, his killing had a very different reason. Gradually it became known that powerful forces had their hands in it: the Department of State and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) were involved in the assassination because they were alarmed by the growing impact of Malcolm X and, primarily, because of his intent to internationalize the racial discrimination existing in the United States, trying to take it to the UN Human Rights Commission, through diplomats of African countries.
Using fraudulent declarations from bogus or bought witnesses, a trial was fabricated against two members of the Black nationalist organization, the Black Muslims [the Nation of Islam]; they intended to demonstrate that the assassination had been a question “among Blacks” and the investigations which should have been made of the events were not performed.
Because, in truth, it became evident that the Muslims could not have carried out the actions that were ongoing occurrences against Malcolm X: intervention and wire-tapping of all his telephone calls, following him on his trips to Europe, Africa and the Middle East; and these are just a few.
Proof revealed later demonstrates that the assassins were acting under orders of the United States government. Gene Roberts, one of the men who should have protected the life of Malcolm X, was a member of BOSS (Bureau of Special Services) an organization of highly secret police agents. [BOSS was, in fact, a covert arm of the New York Police Department.] In 1964 he had infiltrated the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU), the organization founded by Malcolm X.
Malcolm X was killed when Gene Roberts was supposed to protect him. And the majority of the OAAU members are now imprisoned or dead. Gene Roberts later infiltrated another black nationalist organization, the Revolutionary Action Movement [RAM] and a group known as the Mau Mau. He culminated his activities against the most radical Black organizations, the Harlem Branch of the Black Panther Party. His testimony and provocations served to jail 21 Black Panthers in New York who were in danger of being sentenced to long prison terms, accused of conspiring to blow up stores of the great city. Gene Roberts was, at last, exposed in 1970.
One day we will learn the precise role he played in the assassination of Malcolm X.
The events of 1965 demonstrated that Malcolm X was right when he told his wife Betty that the United States establishment was after his life.
For this reason the New York Times wrote, in December of 1965: “Most admirers of Malcolm are beginning to believe that he was assassinated by order of the United States government.”
But who was this man considered to be a danger to the government of the United States, to the powers that be?
Malcolm Little, because that was the surname he received from his father on May 19, 1925, was born in Omaha, Nebraska. In the great cities of the North, in the ghettoes where he lived most of his life, from the age of 15, he was a thief, drug addict, professional gambler and pimp. Simply, he touched bottom of human conditions to become, later, the dynamic leader of the Black revolution in the United States. His example was devastating, consequently his dangerousness.
“I have dedicated all the time available to this book because I believe and hope that my honest and factual account will serve an objective reader and find some social value in this testimony.
“I hope and expect that an objective leader, reading about my life – the life of a Black leader formed in the ghetto – acquires an image and clearer account of the Black ghettoes that are modeling the lives of twenty-two million Blacks who live in the United States”.
Now, Malcolm X is known in the entire world by the surname he took when he left the Charlestown prison in 1952 and became a Black Muslim. In this Black Nationalist movement he was revealed as a genius in oratory winning thousands of converts. But, at the same time, he became a symbol of freedom and independence for ghetto Blacks. Continuing the process, he became politically aware. That was what led him to the religion of the Black Muslims. Malcolm X studied the oppression and discrimination of his Black brothers and, in 1963, began to have doubts about the religion he supported. Clear political differences caused him to break from the organization, on March 22, 1964.
In his autobiography, dictated to the Black journalist, Alex Haley, he reveals a stereotypical image of the Black assimilated to white culture until, in jail and through the doctrine of Islam, he became a sensitive being, proud of his black skin, of his frizzed hair; he identified with his African origin and with the pain of his people. He is politicized and he assumes the ideology of a revolutionary, he becomes a MAN.
“It would probably be impossible to find a Black man, in any part of the United States, who had sunken so low in human society, as me; or a Negro who has been more ignorant or a Negro who has suffered so much anguish in life than I. But it is only after the deepest darkness when the greatest joy can rise up; only after slavery and prison can he accept the sweet acknowledgement of freedom.”
To understand the crisis of identity, alienation, hostility, discrimination, and loneliness of the United States Negro and the reason for his struggle, the autobiography, writings and speeches of Malcolm X should be read.
“I gritted my teeth and tried to pull the sides of the kitchen table together. The comb felt as if it was raking my skin off … and so stupid that I was in rapture because my hair was like that of the whites … This was my first really big step towards self-degradation … I had joined that multitude of Negro men and women in America who are brainwashed into believing that the black people are inferior – and white people “superior” – that they will even violate and mutilate their God-created bodies …|
“I am not going to sit at your table with an empty plate to see you eat and say that I am a diner. If I do not eat what is on that plate, sitting at the table doesn’t make me a diner. Being in the United States does not make me an American. Having been born here does not make us Americans.”
These statements he made were, perhaps, not pleasant to the ears of many whites and some Negroes, but it was the truth of the situation of his people.
A controversial figure in life, activists of the fight for freedom of the Black people now study his writings, his speeches, his autobiography because the current active militancy in the United States has to be found in him. Then, each interprets him in their own way; but there they are, unmoving and, at the same time, with the flexibility of a constant dialectic development of a revolutionary, taken on, put into practice, enriched.
He aroused laughter and applause because he not only told the Black masses what they wanted to hear for a long time, but because he said it as one of the most eloquent and brilliant political orators of his time.
“I don’t see any American dream. I see an American nightmare.” The bitterness, hostility, animosity of white American racial intolerance is there in his autobiography and in his speeches. They are also present in his later political ideas, as the basis of the action program of the Organization of Afro-American Unity, the organization he founded and those ideas are what led to his assassination.
Internationalization is proposed as the struggle for the US Negro people: “And if the twenty two million US Negroes see that our problem is the same as the problem of the peoples who are being oppressed in South Viet Nam, the Congo and Latin America, then – because the oppressed of the world are a majority and not a minority –, we must confront our problems as a majority who can demand and not as a minority who must beg.”
Many have wanted to classify Malcolm X a Black racist because he spoke of Negro nationalism. When Malcolm X speaks of the peoples of Africa, Asia and Latin America he sometimes calls then Negroes. With this term he symbolized the exploited peoples but his position is not reverse racism: “It is wrong to classify the unrest of the Negroes simply as racial conflict of the Blacks against the whites or as a purely American problem. What we see today is, in fact, a worldwide rebellion of the oppressed against the oppressors … the revolution of the Negroes is not a racial revolution.”
To explain his belief that discrimination is a product of a system of social exploitation, he points out: “…all countries that rise up against the claws of colonialism are turning to socialism. I do not think that this is accidental. The majority of the countries that were colonial powers were capitalist countries and, today, the last bulwark of capitalism is the United States. It cannot be believed that a white person can believe in capitalism and not believe in racism. There cannot be capitalism without racism.”
The idea of rethinking the Negro as a man, as a human being, in the highest meaning of this word, and his internationalist concept of the struggle of the American people, makes him hated by imperialism; also his opposition and charges against the war of aggression in Viet Nam, Yankee invasion of Santo Domingo and the sending of mercenary troops to the Congo. But he is even more dangerous because he understood the importance of violence and, with this concept; he opened the eyes of the young American youths. He demonstrated, exhaustively, what revolutionary violence could do in China, in Algeria, in Cuba and is achieving in Viet Nam. He foresaw, at the time, the violence that would shake the Negro ghettoes in the United States and defended it as the necessary means to achieve freedom.
This publication of his autobiography and fragments of his speeches by the Cuban Book Institute informs us that the fight of the American Negro people was symbolized in one of the leaders of most clarity, who, with a direct, simple, plain, incisive and compelling language – because it will be a page-turner. Probably we will have to reread the book – as a piece of history, a history that is still being written with the blood and sweat of the Blacks and exploited of the United States
I am what is considered in Cuba a white person although there is a saying that he who hasn’t Congo blood has Carabali (two Black tribal groups that were slaves during colonial times). Also, if you proclaim pure Spanish heritage suffice it to remember that the Moors occupied Spain for five hundred years.
Now, what is the reason for this explanation? I want to express my opinion about Malcolm X that is a difficult task for a “white” person. I was young when Malcolm X held up the banner of Black liberation. (About 5 years older than him) and I followed his teachings at every opportunity I could find. He was a truly electrifying orator. But most important of all, I realized that I was seeing a new young leader who would be a force to consider in the near future.
I was greatly impressed by his thinking and became completely convinced when he left Elijah Muhammad to stand on his own, in defense of the exploited of the world. His trips to the many countries of the world opened his eyes to widespread exploitation and the ills of imperialism but also made him a world leader in his own right.
This was something that the “establishment” could not and would not allow and consequently, the US government and its agencies plotted his assassination.
Like Che, Malcolm became a martyr of the class struggle and a symbol of freedom. As a person politically developed during the sixties, I believe that both were necessary in life: Che to the Cuban people, Malcolm to the oppressed Blacks and both to the exploited of the world.
We have lost two champions but their seeds are sown and are beginning to bear fruit.
So with strong conviction I can say:
Power to the Blacks and exploited of this world!
Socialismo o Muerte!