The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

The Legacy of Malcolm X

Nov 22, 2021

Malcolm X was assassinated in February of 1965 by a gunman while he was speaking in New York. Someone influenced by the Nation of Islam may have pulled the trigger, but it is certainly possible, as many believed at the time, that the U.S. state apparatus was involved in his murder. It had already tried—unsuccessfully—to marginalize Malcolm X because he was giving voice to what many in the black population had concluded and were acting upon in the streets: that to win their demands it was necessary to go beyond the turn-your-cheek tactics of the Civil Rights movement.

Born Malcolm Little, he had seen his father lynched. Like many others of his generation, as a teen he gained his first education in the streets, becoming involved in street crime like gambling and later burglary, for which he was convicted and sent to prison. While in prison, he read and learned from Elijah Muhammad’s newspaper, Muhammad Speaks, most importantly from Muhammad’s expression of the right of black people to defend themselves and be proud to be black. The Nation of Islam taught discipline to its members and helped many to overcome personal problems such as addiction to drugs.

When he got out of prison, Malcolm X joined the Nation of Islam. Over time, he built strong bases of support in several cities, particularly Harlem and Detroit. His eloquence and ability to address people’s concerns led to a huge increase in the Nation’s membership.

He came into conflict with Elijah Muhammad, first because he took as a practical aim Muhammad’s call for self-defense. When he publicly described the assassination of John F. Kennedy as a case of “the chickens coming home to roost,” it set him apart from the road Elijah Muhammad was taking. Malcolm pointed to Kennedy’s assassination as a consequence of the violence carried out by the U.S. government. He made the connection between the violence here and the brutality carried out by the U.S. state around the world.

In doing so, Malcolm X went farther than Elijah Muhammad was ready to go, and when Muhammad attempted to silence him, Malcolm X broke with the Nation of Islam.

Following the break, Malcolm X continued to articulate what many in the black movement were thinking.

At the time of his death, Malcolm X had not yet come to articulate the goal that the black population, in order to get what it needs, has to get rid of capitalism—and tie that to the key position black workers hold in the American working class.

But Malcolm X left behind a legacy which touches all those fighting against the racism and violence of this society.