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Manning Marable and the Malcolm X Biography Controversy:
A Response to Critics (long)

African World
By Bill Fletcher, Jr.;
BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board

The Black Commentator
July 7, 2011 - Issue 434


    "In order to understand what is going on, one must
    identify multiple sources, much of which has almost
    nothing to do with the book itself.  These include:
    the creation of Malcolm-as-icon; homophobia;
    personal jealousy targeted at Marable; New York
    chauvinism targeted at Marable; and on-going
    differences regarding strategy within the Black
    Freedom Movement."

On the day of Manning Marable's death, April 1, 2011, I
received an additional piece of disturbing information.
A friend of mine informed me of a discussion he had just
had with a Black activist-writer who, in hearing about
Marable's passing, went into what could only be
described as a rant against Marable.  Marable's body was
hardly cold, and this individual, who knew Marable, was
castigating him to my friend, claiming that Marable was
everything but a child of God.  It was at that moment
that I knew that Marable's Malcolm X: A Life of
Reinvention (hereafter referred to as MX) would ignite a
firestorm in some quarters of the Black Freedom
Movement.  Within days, despite the overwhelmingly
positive response to the book, this firestorm emerged.

In approaching the controversies that surround MX it is
important to ask two questions prior to responding
directly to critics:  (1)what did Manning set out to do?
(2)did he succeed?  We will take these one at a time
before commenting on some of the issues raised by
various critics and what lies beneath them.

What did Manning set out to do?

MX is a blockbuster of enormous proportions.  The mere
act of writing a 500+ page biography is a significant
achievement on any scale.  Yet Marable was not
attempting to write the definitive biography when he
first started out on this journey.  As he himself noted,
his first objective was to write what he called a
"political biography" of Malcolm X.  Over time the
objectives shifted somewhat and became a bit more

Much has been made of the biography "humanizing"
Malcolm, a term which I have myself used.  Yet that is
not the starting point for understanding the objectives.
A better starting point is perhaps derived from
Marable's own statements on the matter, the gist of
which begins with the fact that Malcolm X had been - and
remained - a hero for Marable, who, in his opinion, had
been the most significant Black activist figure of the
mid-to-late 20th century.  It was Marable's committed
belief in Malcolm X's significance that moved him to
dedicate the last decade of his life to chronicling
Malcolm's life and legacy through the Malcolm X Project
at Columbia University. And it is this same commitment
to Malcolm X's and his family's legacy that caused
Marable to utilize his institutional influence and
resources to push Columbia University to make good on
its promise to open the site of the former Audubon
Ballroom as the Malcolm X & Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial
Center.  MX is the product of a historian who cared
deeply for his subject, who felt that his subject was
deserving of a comprehensive examination of his life.
Marable took this task seriously, grappling with aspects
of Malcolm's life that he knew would challenge our
iconic view of Malcolm but also do it in a way that
would deepen our appreciation of his heroicism as human
being to other human beings. Yet in trying to understand
Malcolm's trajectory, not just when he left the Nation
of Islam, but much earlier, there were curious features
in the Autobiography of Malcolm X that were difficult to
either understand or explain.

From my own discussions with Marable, as well as what is
contained in MX, I know that Marable had been perplexed
for years regarding what was missing from the
Autobiography. Most people that I know who have read the
Autobiography found the ending somewhat odd, i.e., that
there is little discussion of Black freedom strategy and
then, suddenly, we are into Alex Haley's final words!
Like many other things in life, the tendency was just to
chalk this up to circumstances, in this case, that the
book was completed after Malcolm's assassination and
that not everything could be wrapped together.

This explanation did not satisfy Marable. His
conclusion, as he notes in the book and in numerous
interviews he conducted prior to his death, was that
Haley edited the book in such a way as to make it more
acceptable for the audience that Haley wanted to reach
(mainstream white America). Accordingly, sections of the
Autobiography, such as that which covered Malcolm's
proposed Black united front, were eliminated entirely.
Haley, a Black Republican, had no interest in a Black
Nationalist or Pan Africanist vision. This mere fact
makes highly ironic some of the criticisms raised of
Marable in connection with the book, specifically, that
he was attempting to make Malcolm more acceptable to a
liberal audience.  The facts, simply put, demonstrate
that such a conclusion is ridiculous.  Why it is being
offered, however, is something that will be discussed

The Autobiography contained some other issues for
Marable, however.  In the process of conducting his
research he came across contradictions, or at least
problems, that led him to understand that the
Autobiography was a political testimony by Malcolm that,
like most autobiographies, had specific contextual
objectives.  As such, Malcolm tended to exaggerate
certain things, and in other cases, ignore significant
facts altogether.  This is not uncommon and not
something for which Malcolm should be chastised.  But it
is the job of the historian and biographer to search
beneath that which is acknowledged to ascertain
accuracies, patterns, as well as other potential `story
lines,' for lack of a better term.

It is in this context that one can better understand the
notion of "humanizing' Malcolm X.  From the moment that
Malcolm was killed there were efforts by the State and
the Nation of Islam to demonize him.  On the other hand,
there was a largely grassroots move among many black
nationalists, Pan Africanists and socialists, to uphold
his memory and work.  Within this last category there
were those who tended toward canonizing Malcolm X,
irrespective of any qualifiers issued at the time or

Malcolm became larger than life, and for an activist,
black radical historian like Marable, this produced
complications particularly when the complexities of
Malcolm's experiences were not properly understood.
Yes, Malcolm was a hero, but what was going on with him
as a person?  What were the questions that he had?  Did
he ever stumble?  Was there a straight trajectory in his
evolution?  What constituted the nature of his politics,
including as they and he evolved?

An additional objective for Marable was to explain
Malcolm's evolution, particularly what took place while
he was in the Nation of Islam as well as what took place
in the aftermath of his leaving.  Again, for many
revolutionary black nationalists and other radical
forces, at least at the time, there was this sense of a
dramatic break in 1964 followed by a straight radical
line.  This notion dissatisfied Marable and he went to
work to research what took place, particularly when
Malcolm was in the Nation of Islam.

There is another part to his objective, however.  What
was going on in the period of the building of, first,
the Muslim Mosque, Inc., and later the Organization of
Afro-American Unity?  What strategies were being
unfolded?  How was leadership being addressed?  How was
the role of women changing over time in these

In MX Marable also set out to show that Malcolm was not
another version of Martin Luther King.  Again, Haley
implied, and many others have tried to suggest more
explicitly, that Malcolm and Martin Luther King were
somehow converging.  As Marable demonstrates, and
clarifies quite explicitly in the final chapter, that
was not the case at all.  While there were points of
agreement and while the record is clear that Malcolm
envisioned the possibility of a united front with King,
Malcolm represented a different political tendency.  He
was a revolutionary nationalist and Pan Africanist, but
he was also someone who entertained the use of electoral
politics for more than symbolic value.  His post-NOI
politics, in other words, were in flux, but in either
case they were not King's.

But here is where things get complicated:  Marable
sought to establish to what extent Malcolm's politics
were in line with those of people who claimed to follow
him.  This became an additional source of controversy.

Finally, Marable sought to determine who killed Malcolm
X. This was certainly not an initial objective of his
when he chose to write this book but as he became more
absorbed in the story he was drawn to examine the facts
and myths surrounding the murder.  As with other
portions of the book, Marable drew from original
sources, secondary sources, witnesses, etc.  His
conclusions were, to some extent consistent with some
earlier analyses, but startling in others, particularly
in his examination of the dynamics within the MMI and
OAAU that very likely contributed to the success of the

Did Marable succeed in his objectives?

This is what makes the controversy surrounding the book
both fascinating and, often, distasteful at the same
time. Through in depth research, Marable does succeed in
his objectives.  He uncovered the `hidden' chapters of
the Autobiography and demonstrates to the reader their
importance in understanding Malcolm's evolution.  He
provides the reader with a detailed understanding, not
only of the Nation of Islam, but of other Muslim
currents in the USA that influenced Black America
generally, but also the NOI.  He shows the struggles
within the NOI that helped to shape Malcolm, but also
helps the reader understand the frustrations that
Malcolm increasingly felt within the NOI. Finally,
Manning offered the social and historical context for
understanding Malcolm, both within his time, but also in
subsequent decades.

There are two, specific features of MX I wish to focus
upon, however.  One has to do with gender and the second
concerns the assassination.  But prior to that a word on

Shortly after the publication of MX I had the
opportunity to speak with a Black journalist about the
book.  He indicated that he did not care for the book.
When I probed, it turned out that his major concern was
that he did not believe that Marable should have offered
any tentative conclusions about matters where he failed
to have complete facts.  One example of this was the
matter of the same-sex encounter for pay in the Malcolm
Little period and a second example was the possible
affairs that Betty Shabazz may have had.

I was a bit stunned in hearing these concerns only later
to recognize that this journalist was approaching this
book as if it had been an article for a mainstream
newspaper.  In an article for a newspaper there is a
certain approach that the writer must take.  That is
never the case with a historian or biographer, and as
such there is a standard that Marable is being held to
that is both unfair and disingenuous.  A historian (and
biographer) looks at all of the available evidence and
draws a conclusion.  By analogy it is along the lines of
a civil trial vs. a criminal trial.  In a civil trial
the jury looks at the preponderance of the evidence in
order to draw a conclusion.  In a criminal action the
jury, as we know, can only convict if there is NO shadow
of a doubt.

Historians look at the evidence and draw conclusions.
This is why history is never an exact science.  While we
can generally confirm specific facts, e.g., Napoleon was
defeated at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, the reasons
for an action, event, etc., are always the subject of
analysis and debate.  New theories emerge to explain
different developments.  This is also the case when one
is developing a biography.

Further, a genuine scholar, of Marable's caliber, in
writing a biography cannot simply refuse to acknowledge
important claims or uncomfortable facts.  Such matters
must be addressed, in which case the biographer can
certainly take a pass if they have not arrived at any
conclusion; they can challenge them; or they can affirm
the earlier conclusions.

For a variety of reasons which we shall touch upon
below, there are many critics who challenge this
approach.  They may mechanically look at this matter
from the standpoint of journalistic standards or they
may have other motives that hide behind a challenge to
the methodology.

With regard to gender, Marable dared to touch on a piece
of Malcolm that has largely been ignored by biographers,
both friend and foe.  The matter of a same-sex encounter
for pay, though related to gender obviously, was useful
more in understanding the criminal, parasitic life that
Malcolm Little lived prior to prison.  What was,
however, more useful in terms of gender, was to
understand Malcolm's misogynism. Marable raised some
uncomfortable questions on this score, including the
manner in which Malcolm discussed his mother and her
eventual collapse, but also the conclusions that Malcolm
drew when his female collaborators in crime turned
against him in order to save themselves. There is a
pattern that Marable identifies that lasts into the
post-NOI period when it came to women.  Once Malcolm
broke with the NOI his views began to shift on matters
of gender, and actually shift in such a way so as to
unsettle some of his key male supporters in the MMI.

One can go deeper, however.  Malcolm's relationship with
Betty Shabazz was more complicated than either the
Autobiography or many of Malcolm's uncritical supporters
would make it out to be.  Betty was a strong woman in
her own right who sought security and sexual
satisfaction, to name just two items, in her marriage to
Malcolm.  She also strongly supported him, often raising
cautionary notes that were prescient.  However, she did
not have identical politics to Malcolm and certainly did
not evolve further down the path of revolutionary
nationalism and Pan Africanism.  In other words, the
relationship was complicated, and in order to address
some of the challenges contained in this relationship
Malcolm sought help from Elijah Muhammad, only to have
that request for help turned into an instrument against
him in the factional wars in the NOI.

The entire matter of gender has caused its own uproar
and in so doing has betrayed an uncomfortable vein
within Black America that has hemorrhaged in the past
and could very well again.  One need only remember the
controversy surrounding the Clarence Thomas hearings and
the allegations by Anita Hill to recognize the
volatility of the issue.

A second matter of focus was the assassination.  As
noted earlier, Marable did not set out to uncover the
full scope of the plot, but here he touched upon one
matter that had received very little earlier attention:
the tension within and among his supporters in the post-
NOI period.  First things first, however.  Marable's
research has already provided the impetus for a
discussion regarding the need for a new examination of
the circumstances surrounding the assassination.  This
includes the role of the police, FBI, as well as some
elements of the NOI. The facts, as presented by Marable,
and in some cases by earlier scholars and investigators,
raise such serious questions regarding who was actually
involved in the assassination that silence on this
matter is simply unforgivable.

There are many points of controversy surrounding the
assassination, but what is especially worth noting is
that Marable's investigation identified three forces
that had an interest in Malcolm's death:  the State; the
NOI; and some of Malcolm's own supporters.  This is not
the first time that history has demonstrated that an
assassination or otherwise criminal action had multiple
players, each with its own interest in the success of
the operation even if they may not have been actively
collaborating or have consciously conspired.   In this
case, the curious actions of the police on the day of
the murder; the faulty security (by Malcolm's own
people); and the identification of the assailants,
points to multiple perpetrators, each with their own set
of objectives.  The problem of Malcolm's followers seems
to have been a matter - never publicly discussed -
revolving around some of them feeling betrayed by
Malcolm's own evolution, an evolution which was moving
at the speed of light compared with their own changes.

The critics and their discontent

When one listens to the critics of MX it is often
difficult to ask anything other than, what is really
going on here?

In order to understand what is going on, one must
identify multiple sources, much of which has almost
nothing to do with the book itself.  These include:  the
creation of Malcolm-as-icon; homophobia; personal
jealousy targeted at Marable; New York chauvinism
targeted at Marable; and on- going differences regarding
strategy within the Black Freedom Movement.  As the
reader will notice, however, the debate has little to do
with the facts as articulated in the book, despite the
words of some of the critics.  None of the challenges
regarding alleged errors in fact that have been raised,
irrespective of their relative validity, calls into
question anything of significance in the book.  In fact,
a surprising number of the challenges to the book appear
to have come from people who, at least at the time of
their criticism, had not even read the book or just read
selective passages.  I have personally found myself in
situations where individuals, in discussing the book,
begin by saying something like:  "I have not read the
book but." or "I have not finished reading the book
but." and then gone on to offer impassioned analyses
with very little foundation.  The fact that individuals
believe that they do not have to do a real reading is a
matter that could be the subject of an entirely separate

Unfortunately, for too many followers of Malcolm -
myself included - the Autobiography has been treated as
the word of God.  Rather than appreciating the politics
that accompany all autobiographies, many of us have
treated this book, along with Malcolm's speeches, as the
final or near final word on Malcolm-the-person.  The
story is a magnificent story of redemption, but also of
pride and revolutionary courage.  Yet in our search for
heroes, we often seek demigods.  We seek a type of
perfection that does not exist within humanity and wish
to believe that the only way that a hero can be a hero
(or heroine) is if they have reached that dimensional
plateau of perfection.  As one critic of Marable stated,
quite unapologetically: the people need icons.

It is true that the people need heroes and heroines,
particularly as a means of fighting despair.  It is
often the case that we shape or reshape those heroes or
heroines in order to accomplish other political
purposes.  The State certainly understands that.  As
Lenin so aptly noted, upon the death of a people's hero,
the capitalist State moves to alter society's
understanding of said hero in order that the dead hero
can become acceptable and advance the interests of the

The people can also reshape a hero in order to uphold
the cause(s) advanced by the hero during their life.
Malcolm's immense courage and defiance are legendary,
but is that courage and defiance called into question if
we find out that Malcolm vacillated about actually
splitting with the NOI?  Is it called into question if
we know that he expressed misgivings?  Is his manhood -
however we happen to interpret that - challenged when we
learn that there was a sexual/emotional disconnect
between Betty and him?

When we demand that our heroes and heroines be perfect,
then each human challenge, such as those noted earlier,
calls into question whether our hero can be our hero.
This is what lies beneath many of the criticisms of MX
and of Marable.

When we turn heroes and heroines into demigods there is
an additional problem that arises:  we make it less
possible, and in some cases even impossible, to emulate
said hero.  As political activists we should be
utilizing the memory and practice of heroes, whether
Martin Luther King, Fannie Lou Hamer, or Malcolm  not
simply to inspire but as sources of wisdom.  We should
be learning from their practices, including how they
confronted their challenges, and shaped who they were
and who they became.  We should be learning how to take
from those experiences and apply to our own.  To borrow
from the late, great leader of the revolution in Guinea-
Bissau/Cape Verde, Amilcar Cabral, we on the Left must
"tell no lies and claim no easy victories."  including
about our own great leaders.  But once these individuals
rise to the status of demigods that all becomes
impossible. After all, how can we mere humans emulate

While the fury over the challenge to Malcolm-as-demigod
has been at the core of much of the uproar, some of the
initial outrage resulted from the discussion of the
possibility that Malcolm engaged in a same-sex encounter
for pay prior to his going to prison.  There are some
interesting features to this outrage.  This is not the
first time that this matter has been raised.  In fact,
several authors have posed this issue.  As such, it
would have been highly questionable for Marable to have
ignored the matter as if it were some imaginary issue.
It is important to note that in Marable's treatment of
this aspect of Malcolm's life, he used both primary
sources (prison letters Malcolm wrote) as well as three
secondary sources (including memoirs from Malcolm's
nephew Rodnell Collins and his partner in crime Malcolm
"Shorty" Jarvis) to corroborate his conclusion.

Methodology, however, is not the main issue here.  What
infuriates some critics is that the possibility of
Malcolm engaging in a same-sex encounter raises
questions as to his manhood.  This assumption is based
on the erroneous notion that one's sexuality is a fixed
and determined category and that the positive aspects of
Malcolm-the-revolutionary leader are somehow invalidated
by what at one moment may have been sexual ambivalence.

The outrage expressed by some people at this
`revelation' is certainly tinged with homophobia,
although I am not assuming that all of those who have
reacted negatively to this segment of the book are
automatically homophobic. Nevertheless, both the outrage
and any homophobia associated with it does not withstand
scrutiny when challenged, as it has been by Michael Eric
Dyson, who has pointed out that the Malcolm who may have
engaged in a same-sex encounter for pay was the Malcolm
Little of the thug period.  In that period he engaged in
pimping, gambling and armed robbery.  For many critics
it appears to be completely acceptable that he engaged
in these assorted activities but somehow same-sex
encounters for pay are over the top.

What is shocking about this debate is how few pages it
covers in the actual book (no more than two) and that
Marable was very careful in his conclusions.  As with
any historian, he draws certain conclusions from the
evidence he had but then goes on to make an interesting
point:  there were no subsequent examples or claims of
either same-sex encounters for pay or homosexual
activity period.  While this should have calmed down the
critics, the mere suggestion of such activity was enough
to unsettle them.

Another feature of the criticism of MX is the allegation
that it represents an attempt to portray Malcolm as
having the same politics as Marable; liberalize Malcolm
so that he is more acceptable to a mainstream audience;
or turn Malcolm into some sort of social democrat.
There is no foundation for these arguments.  The closest
thing to a legitimate issue was Marable's poor choice of
words to describe Malcolm's evolution toward Pan
Africanism (see below).

The final chapter of the book refutes the critics -
hands down - on this matter of an attempt to liberalize
Malcolm, etc.   One need only review that chapter and
consider the points that Marable raised.  Not in order
of importance, but:

1.  Malcolm was not converging with King. [We discussed
this point earlier.]

2.  Malcolm saw the need for a complete restructuring of
the USA in order for Black liberation to ever be

3.  Malcolm would most likely have not been enthralled
with affirmative action because he would have been
looking for more structural solutions to our situation.

4.  Malcolm would have engaged in a certain form of
electoral politics.

5.  Malcolm was trying to define his politics at the
global level and situate the African American struggle
within the global struggle against imperialism and

There is nothing in this that sounds like liberalism or
social democracy.  Instead it more closely conforms to
variants of anti-imperialist politics, in particular a
form of anti-imperialist politics that was prevalent in
the global South at that time.

Some critics, however, have raised Marable's use of the
term "race neutral" in talking about the form of Pan
Africanism and Third World solidarity Malcolm was
advancing in order to allege that Marable was trying to
water down Malcolm. Having known Marable for more than
25 years I would attribute this to either a poor choice
of words or a mistaken editing decision.  Let's explore,
however, what Marable was attempting to address.

There was a moment that Malcolm himself described when,
during one of his trips, he encountered a North African
revolutionary.  The North African revolutionary
questioned Malcolm about his use of the term "black
nationalism."  This North African revolutionary, being
AFRICAN, was apparently also quite light-skinned and
asked Malcolm where that put him in the context of
"black nationalism".  Malcolm did not have a clear
answer for this but, towards the end of his life
appeared to have been grappling with this issue and what
it meant for how he was to conceptualize and describe
his politics.

Marable used the term "race neutral" to describe a set
of anti-racist politics that were Pan African and Third
Worldist, not in the sense that liberals or the right
use the term `race neutral.'  It would have been more
akin to what the South African movement has called "non-
racial" or "anti-racist."  He was trying to describe
this as something that was not about black as skin color
but more akin to the manner in which "black",
terminologically, came to be used in places such as
Britain, South Africa and the Caribbean in the late
1960s and 1970s, i.e., as a political characterization
(thus, South Asians often identified as "black" in each
of those settings and did not reserve this designation
to only those of direct African descent).

What makes the criticism of Marable so patently
disingenuous is that one need only consider the body of
Marable's works to know that his usage of the tern "race
neutral" was far from an example of liberalism, or other
such disorders.

This all leads to a final point, i.e., that many of the
criticism of MX have little to nothing to do with the
book itself; they have to do with Manning.  So, it is
time to explore some of these in order to understand
additional aspects of the temper associated with many of
the responses.

I began this essay with a story concerning the response
by one person of note to Manning's death.  This story
was in some ways a subplot in a larger story.

The larger story includes the matter of the legacy of
Malcolm X and who can lay claim to it.  There is an
assortment of Black radicals, largely men, who believe
that they carry Malcolm's torch.  Whether due to
conferences that they have held or books that they have
written, they believe that only they are entitled to
pontificate on the question of Malcolm X.  Marable's
book, and the largely positive response that it received
(not to mention the thoroughness of its research)
inflamed many of these individuals who seemed to have
concluded that they had been eclipsed. Rather than
welcoming Marable's contribution, they chose instead to
smear it and him, as if that would somehow enhance their
own stature.

Then there is the particular question of Manning
Marable- the-person.  Marable was an incredibly smart,
dynamic, and prolific African American who gained
significant attention. At a relatively early age he
positioned himself through reaching out to the broader
African American population via his columns.  What
Manning understood, and something that he explained to
me a long time ago, was that Black newspapers are
regularly looking for good material.  What he chose to
do, which many other Black radicals ignored, was
reaching out to the Black press and inserting a
left/progressive point of view.  That meant winning over
publishers, many of who were/are relatively conservative
and do not spontaneously gravitate to radical ideas.

Marable followed three courses.  One was to make a name
for himself in the academy as an exceptional scholar.
Second, he recognized the importance of and worked at
the building a Left.  He was never a Marxist-Leninist
and, as such, was not involved in the revolutionary
party-building efforts of the 1970s and 1980s.  His
politics were complicated, even when he was in the
Democratic Socialists of America.  In essence he was a
Marxist looking to create a mass, left-wing formation
that was thoroughly anti-racist and anti-sexist. He was
concerned with and critical of vanguard-ism, as he saw
it, among so many radicals, not only in the USA but
overseas.  In fact, his book about African and Caribbean
politics goes through an important analysis of the
collapse of the Grenadian Revolution, the sources of
which involved elements of what came to be known as the
"crisis of socialism," including but not limited to

Marable was very influential in the early stages of the
Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and
Socialism, a formation that resulted from a split in the
Communist Party, USA. Although Marable had never been a
member of the Communist Party, he hoped that CCDS would
become a mechanism for a Left realignment and the
building of a mass, radical, transformative project.

This was also the same person who was at the core of
initiating the Black Radical Congress, an effort to
create a front or coalition of Black leftists ranging
from left nationalists to non-nationalist communists.
If anything could be said of Marable, it was that he
approached this in a non-sectarian manner, even where he
had differences with individuals (and groups) from other

The final of the three courses was Marable's commitment
to entering into mainstream discourses from the Left.
Contrary to many leftists who are content to speak to
themselves and their small groups, Marable sought to
reach out to a broader range of the general public, from
liberals on to the Left.

The intensity of the attacks on Marable, and
particularly the personal nature of some of the attacks,
actually represents a continuation of a struggle that
took place in the Black Radical Congress between
1998-2001.  The BRC was a broad grouping of Black
radicals that came together to engage in joint
campaigns.  Formed in June 1998, the BRC had a diverse
leadership core that included Marable.  Marable, one of
the co-founders of the BRC, became one of the three co-
chairs of the BRC.  This leadership position meant that
he was one of the spokespersons for the BRC but also one
of its acknowledged leaders.

Within the BRC there were those who both disagreed with
Marable but also resented him.  The resentment may seem
a bit strange to the reader, but that is why I began
this essay with the story of the reaction of one person
to Manning's death.  The resentment appeared to have
been rooted in a combination of factors that included
the high visibility that Marable had achieved by the
1990s; his appointment to Columbia University and the
fact that this raised his profile in New York City (and
for some New Yorkers this is unpardonable if one is not
from New York, a point I can make as someone born and
raised in New York); and, even more ironically, that
Manning refused to stay in the box of being a
traditional academic but instead insisted on being
directly involved with the construction of a movement.

In addition to resentment, there were strategic
differences within the BRC.  These differences were
quite natural for an organization that had the
ideological breath of the BRC. The BRC was not a cadre
organization and membership included people with very
divergent views.  In and of itself, this should not have
been a problem.  The problem, however, lay in how
differences were handled.

Manning came under assault for an orientation that was
reflected in his writing.    He was intent on making the
BRC a politically relevant formation by which he and
many others meant that it would be a recognizable force
in the Black Freedom Movement and would represent a
legitimate pole of Left opinion in Black America and
beyond.  Such an approach necessitated alliances with
forces far broader than the traditional Left.  It
included outreach to more liberal forces as well as
other social movements, including the NAACP and
organized labor.  It also meant connecting with
progressive Black Democratic politicians.

Manning's view stood in contrast with an alternative
approach, or approaches.  One alternative view was that
which saw the BRC as needing to be more purist in its
left- wing politics.  For this segment, it was enough
for the BRC to articulate the `correct line' but there
was less interest in interacting with forces outside of
the BRC who were not on the Left.  Those articulating
such a view did not come from one particular group or
represent one particular tendency.  On both sides of the
divide there were nationalists, communists, socialists,
liberation theologians, feminists, etc.  What split
these two tendencies revolved more around something that
Rosa Luxemburg called "revolutionary Realpolitik."  To
what extent should a formation like the BRC, or for that
matter any other mass Left-wing formation, attempt to be
a real political force with clear leftist politics vs.
remaining a refuge for the tried and true?  To what
extent would the BRC roll up its sleeves and get a bit
dirty interacting with those with who it had political
differences but might share some agreement on a specific
set of issues?  Manning favored taking the risk of such
an engagement, and for that reason - often combined with
other sources (mentioned earlier) - he came under
attack.  The attacks became so personal that Manning
ultimately decided that both due to his growing concerns
with his health (the sarcoidosis) and his determination
to write the Malcolm X biography, that it was no longer
worth it to subject himself to such a barrage.

MX attempts to speak to a broad audience.  It is not
directed at the Black Left, though certainly many
members of the Black Left have been reading it.  It
seeks an audience within Black America and beyond who
are and have been trying to understand this remarkable
historical figure, Malcolm X.

Yet there is another side to MX that relates to the
strategic differences that emerged in the BRC (noted
earlier).  To some extent Marable was attempting to
better understand the strategic challenges that Malcolm
confronted in attempting to build a Black radical pole
to lead the Black Freedom Movement.  The lost pages from
the Autobiography, Malcolm's interest in electoral
politics; and, Malcolm's embrace of Pan Africanism were
not isolated ideas or notions, but reflected an effort
by Malcolm to fashion a strategic vision and direction
that would root the Black radical movement he sought to
build within the larger currents of Black America.  His
announced intention, for instance, of supporting Civil
Rights workers in the South was a significant step taken
to build a bridge in the Black Freedom Movement.  Rather
than castigating Black liberals and progressives who
followed Dr. King, by 1964 Malcolm saw a chance for his
brand of Black radicalism (with a nationalist bent,
since it is important to note that there was Black
radicalism already within the `King' camp of both
similar and different bents) to directly link with and
influence other tendencies within Black America.  I
believe that this is one thing that made Malcolm most
intriguing for Marable.

How to use MX?

In the fall of 2010, as Manning was recovering from his
lung transplant, we spoke about his forthcoming book.  I
suggested to him that the book could become an important
instrument for advancing a discussion about the state of
Black America, but more specifically, the future of
Black radical politics.  In that light, I went on to
suggest that the book should not simply be promoted
through personal appearances by him, but that there
should be activists and scholars around the country who
were enlisted in building events and studies, using the
book to move a discussion that needs to happen.  While
Manning was intrigued with this approach, for a variety
of reasons he was unable to do anything about it.

One of the best tributes to Manning, and for that matter
one of the best ways of honoring the memory of Malcolm
X, would be to use the book precisely for discussions
about the future of Black radicalism; its relationship
to other progressive movements in the USA; and the
relationship of Black American radicalism to the
domestic and global movements of the world's `colored
peoples.'  This certainly does not mean that everyone
has to agree with me that MX is a fabulous book.  What
it does entail, however, is stepping back from the
innuendo, personal jealousies, and trivial pursuits, and
focusing instead on the issues that the book raises.
Here are a few issues that have preoccupied me since
reading the manuscript and then the final book:

    1.  What is the balance between charismatic
    leadership and democratic organization?

    2.  What do we mean by "Black political power" in
    the era of Obama, racial backsliding, and right-wing

    3.  What sort of alliances can be built both within
    Black America as well as within the USA that advance
    the interests of the majority of African Americans?

    4.  What does 21st century Pan Africanism look like?
    What is its relevance to the domestic Black Freedom

    5.  How should issues of gender be addressed in ways
    that are more than symbolic?

    6.  How do we understand the role of the State and
    what are the implications of that analysis for
    public, political activity?

    7.  How does Black radicalism come to, once again,
    resonate within the Black working class?

Discussing issues, such as these (and this is not an
exclusive list), can advance our movement.  MX can
become an instrument to help us further our journey.
Twisting words, ignoring the scope of Marable's works,
and settling personal, private, and largely irrelevant
accounts does nothing more than demonstrate that some
critics have allowed themselves to ultimately become
condemned to irrelevancy.

[BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member, Bill
Fletcher, Jr., is a Senior Scholar with the Institute
for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of
TransAfricaForum and co-author of Solidarity Divided:
The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path toward
Social Justice (University of California Press), which
examines the crisis of organized labor in the USA. Click
here to contact Mr. Fletcher.]


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