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Interview with Malcolm X

The following interview with Malcolm X, formerly the minister of the New York City and Washington, D.C. mosques of the Lost-Found Nation of Islam, headed by The Honorable Elijah Muhammad, was held on March 19, 1964. The interview, conducted by poet and jazz critic A.B. Spellman, appeared simultaneously in Monthly Review and Revolution.

The Muslims, as the Nation of Islam is called, stress the futility of the integrationist program. They argue that there is no precedent for the absorption of Negroes into the greater white American mainstream in fact or in history, that integrationists are asking for something the American socioeconomic system is inherently unable to give them—mass class mobility, so that at best Negroes can expect from the integrationist program a hopeless entry into the lowest levels of a working class already disenfranchised by automation.

The Muslims tell Negroes to be proud of their African heritage, to make a new identity for themselves by adopting an X or a Muslim surname and dropping their “slave name,” thereby severing all ties with a history of subservience to whites. The Muslims have urged Negroes to be polite in their dealings with whites and to be non-violent, even if provoked. But if attacked, the Muslims say, a Negro should defend himself by any means at his disposal. The Muslim solution to the race problem in America is separation of the races, either in the allocation to Negroes of several states in the South or the repatriation of Negroes to Africa. (The separatist solution has been in the programs of several movements varying in size and appeal since the early nineteenth century, culminating in the Garvey movement which, though irreparably fragmented, still has considerable appeal in many major Negro communities.) Estimates of Muslim membership have ranged from 10,000 to 250,000.

There had been rumors for some months to the effect that a split was developing in the upper ranks of Muslim leadership between a conservative and highly religiously-oriented faction led by Mr. Muhammad’s family (which controls all the money) and a political activist faction led by Malcolm X. The split came early this March when Malcolm left the Nation of Islam to start an all-black political party. Malcolm is an overwhelming public speaker, particularly in Harlem where his positive demagogy is unchallengeable in the hearts and eyes of his audience, and in question and answer, or in debating situations where the stark realities of his uncompromising ghetto-eyed point of view can usually embarrass his antagonist, especially if that opponent is a black or white liberal. Malcolm is a product of the ghetto. He is the crystallization of whatever revolutionary impulse exists in the ghetto. He is an organizer and administrator of proven ability. For these reasons, he has the potential of becoming one of the really major revolutionists in America today.

Spellman: Please answer these charges that are often raised against you: That you are as racist as Hitler and the Klan, etc. That you are anti-Semitic. That you advocate mob violence.

Malcolm X: No, we’re not racists at all. Our brotherhood is based on the fact that we are all black, brown, red, or yellow. We don’t call this racism, any more than you could refer to the European Common Market which consists of Europeans, which means that it consists of white-skin people—is not referred to as a racist coalition—it’s referred to as the European Common Market, an economic group—while our desire for unity among black, brown, red, and yellow is for brotherhood—has nothing to do with racism, has nothing to do with Hitler, has nothing to do with the Klan—in fact, the Klan in this country was designed to perpetuate an injustice upon Negroes; whereas the Muslims are designed to eliminate the injustice that has been perpetuated upon the so-called Negro.

We’re anti-exploitation and in this country the Jews have been located in the so-called Negro community as merchants and businessmen for so long that they feel guilty when you mention that the exploiters of Negroes are Jews. This doesn’t mean that we are anti-Jews or anti-Semitic—we’re anti-exploitation.

No. We have never been involved in any kind of violence whatsoever. We have never initiated any violence against anyone, but we do believe that when violence is practiced against us we should be able to defend ourselves. We don’t believe in turning the other cheek.

Spellman: Why did you find it necessary to split with the Nation of Islam?

Malcolm X: Well, I did encounter opposition within the Nation the of Islam. Many obstacles were placed in my path, not by the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, but by others who were around him and since I believe that his analysis of the race problem is the best one and his solution is the only one, I felt that I could best circumvent these obstacles and expedite his program better by remaining out of the Nation of Islam and establishing a Muslim group that is an action group designed to eliminate the same ills that the teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad have made so manifest in this country.

Spellman: What is the name of the organization that you have founded?

Malcolm X: The Muslim Mosque Inc., which means we are still Muslims—we still worship in a mosque and we’re incorporated as a religious body.

Spellman: Can other Muslims work with the Muslim Mosque Inc. without leaving the Nation of Islam?

Malcolm X: Oh yes. Yes anyone who is in the Nation of Islam who wants to work with us and remain in the Nation of Islam, is welcome. I am a follower of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad—I believe in the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. The only reason I am in the Muslim Mosque Inc. is because I feel I can better expedite his program by being free of the restraint and the other obstacles that I encountered in the Nation.

Spellman: Will you have access to Muhammad Speaks?

Malcolm X: Probably not. No, I very much doubt that the same forces which forced me out would permit me access to the Muhammad Speaks newspaper as an organ although I am the founder of the paper, the originator of the paper. Few people realize it—I was the one who originated Muhammad Speaks. The initial editions were written entirely by me in my basement.

Spellman: Will you start another publication?

Malcolm X: Yes. One of the best ways to propagate any idea is with a publication of some sort and if Allah blesses us with success we will have another publication. We’ll probably name it the Flaming Crescentbecause we want to set the world on fire.

Spellman: How religious is the Muslim Mosque Inc.? Will it be more politically oriented?

Malcolm X: The Muslim Mosque Inc. will have as its religious base the religion of Islam which will be designed to propagate the moral reformation necessary to up the level of the so-called Negro community by eliminating the vices and other evils that destroy the moral fiber of the community—this is the religious base. But the political philosophy of the Muslim Mosque will be black nationalism, the economic philosophy will be black nationalism, and the social philosophy will be black nationalism. And by political philosophy I mean we still believe in the Honorable Elijah Muhammad’s solution as complete separation. The 22,000,000 so-called Negroes should be separated completely from America and should be permitted to go back home to our African homeland which is a long-range program; so the short-range program is that we must eat while we’re still here, we must have a place to sleep, we have clothes to wear, we must have better jobs, we must have better education; so that although our long-range political philosophy is to migrate back to our African homeland, our short-range program must involve that which is necessary to enable us to live a better life while we are still here. We must be in complete control of the politics of the so-called Negro community; we must gain complete control over the politicians in the so-called Negro community, so that no outsider will have any voice in the so-called Negro community. We’ll do it ourselves.

Spellman: Whom do you hope to draw from in organizing this political movement—what kind of people?

Malcolm X: All—we’re flexible—a variety. But our accent will be upon youth. We’ve already issued a call for the students in the colleges and universities across the country to launch their own independent studies of the race problem in he country and then bring their analyses and their suggestions for a new approach back to us so that we can devise an action program geared to their thinking. The accent is on youth because the youth have less at stake in this corrupt system and therefore can look at it more objectively, whereas the adults usually have a stake in this corrupt system and they lose their ability to look at it objectively because of their stake in it.

Spellman: Do you expect to draw from the Garveyite groups?

Malcolm X: All groups—Nationalist, Christians, Muslims, Agnostics, Atheists, anything. Everybody who is interested in solving the problem is given an invitation to become actively involved with either suggestions or ideas or something.

Spellman: Will the organization be national?

Malcolm X: National? I have gotten already an amazing number of letters from student groups at college campuses across the country expressing a desire to become involved in a united front in this new idea that we have.

Spellman: What kind of coalition do you plan to make? Can whites join the Muslim Mosque Inc.?

Malcolm X: Whites can’t join us. Everything that whites join that Negroes have they end up out-joining the Negroes. The whites control all Negro organizations that they can join—they end up in control of those organizations. If whites want to help us financially we will accept their financial help, but we will never let them join us.

Spellman: Then black leadership is necessary?

Malcolm X: Absolutely black leadership.

Spellman: Will you work with the so-called “established” civil rights organizations?

Malcolm X: Well, we will work with them in any area and on any objective that doesn’t conflict with our own political, economic, and social philosophy which is black nationalism. I might add that I was invited to attend a civil rights group meeting where all of the various civil rights organizations were present and I was invited to address them in Chester, Pennsylvania. Gloria Richardson was there; Landrey, the head of the Chicago School Boycott, was there; Dick Gregory was there; many others were there; the Rochedale movement was there. Now my address to them was designed to show them that if they would expand their civil rights movement to a human rights movement it would internationalize it. Now, as a civil rights movement, it remains within the confines of American domestic policy and no African independent nations can open up their mouths on American domestic affairs, whereas if they expanded the civil rights movement to a human rights movement then they would be eligible to take the case of the Negro to the United Nations the same as the case of the Angolans is in the UN and the case of the South Africans is in the UN. Once the civil rights movement is expanded to a human rights movement our African brothers and our Asian brothers and Latin American brothers can place it on the agenda at the General Assembly that is coming up this year and Uncle Sam has no more say-so in it then. And we have friends outside the UN—700,000,000 Chinese who are ready to die for human rights.

Spellman: Do you intend to collaborate with such other groups as labor unions or socialist groups or any other groups?

Malcolm X: We will work with anybody who is sincerely interested in eliminating injustices that Negroes suffer at the hands of Uncle Sam.

Spellman: What is your evaluation of the civil rights movement at this point?

Malcolm X: It has run its—it’s at the end of its leash.

Spellman: What groups do you consider most promising?

Malcolm X: I know of no group that is promising unless it’s radical. If it’s not radical it is in no way involved effectively in the present struggle.

Spellman: Some local civil rights leaders lave said they’d welcome your support, some national leaders have said they want nothing to do with you, what is your reaction?

Malcolm X: Well, the local civil rights leaders are usually involved right in the midst of the situation. They see it as it is and they realize that it takes a combination of groups to attack the problem most effectively and, also, most local civil rights leaders have more independence of action and usually they are more in tune and in touch with the people. But the national leaders of the civil rights movement are out of touch with the problem and usually they are paid leaders. The local leaders usually have a job and they lean against the local situation on the side, but the nationally known leaders are paid. They are full-time leaders, they are professional leaders and whoever pays their salary has a great say-so in what they do and what they don’t do, so naturally the ones who pay the salaries of these nationally known Negro leaders are the white liberals and white liberals are shocked and frightened whenever you mention anything about some X’s.

Spellman: What is your attitude toward Christian-Gandhian groups?

Malcolm X: Christian? Gandhian? I don’t go for anything that’s non-violent and turn-the-other-cheekish. I don’t see how any revolution—I’ve never heard of a non-violent revolution or a revolution that was brought about by turning the other cheek, and so I believe that it is a crime for anyone to teach a person who is being brutalized to continue to accept that brutality without doing something to defend himself. If this is what the Christian-Gandhian philosophy teaches then it is criminal—a criminal philosophy.

Spellman: Does the Muslim Mosque Inc. oppose integration and intermarriage?

Malcolm X: We don’t have to oppose integration because the white integrationists themselves oppose it. Proof of which, it doesn’t exist anywhere where white people say they are for it. There’s just no such thing as integration anywhere, but we do oppose intermarriage. We are as much against intermarriage as we are against all of the other injustices that our people have encountered.

Spellman: What is the program for achieving your goals of separation?

Malcolm X: A better word to use than separation is independence. This word separation is misused. The 13 colonies separated from England but they called it the Declaration of Independence; they don’t call it the Declaration of Separation, They call it the Declaration of Independence. When you’re independent of someone you can separate from them. If you can’t separate from them it means you’re not independent of them. So, your question was what?

Spellman: What is your program for achieving your goals of independence?

Malcolm X: When the black man in this country awakens, becomes intellectually mature and able to think for himself, you will then see that the only way he will become independent and recognized as a human being on the basis of equality with all other human beings, he has to have what they have and he has to be doing for himself what others are doing for themselves so the first step is to awaken him to this and that is where the religion of Islam makes him morally more able to rise above the evils and the vices of an immoral society and the political, economic, and social philosophy of black nationalism instills within him the racial dignity and the incentive and the confidence that he needs to stand on his own feet and take a stand for himself.

Spellman: Do you plan to employ any kind of mass action?

Malcolm X: Oh, yes.

Spellman: What kinds?

Malcolm X: We’d rather not say at this time, but we definitely plan to employ mass action.

Spellman: How about the vote—will the Muslim Mosque Inc. run its own candidates or support other candidates?

Malcolm X: Since the political structure is what has been used to exploit the so-called Negroes, we intend to gather together all of the brilliant minds of students, not the adult politicians who are part of the corruption but the students of political science, we intend to gather all of them together and get their findings, get their analyses, get their suggestions, and, out of these suggestions we will devise an approach that will enable us to attack the politicians and the political structure where it hurts the most, in order to get a change.

Spellman: If the Muslim Mosque Inc. joined in a demonstration sponsored by a non-violent organization, and whites countered with violence, how would your organization react?

Malcolm X: We are non-violent only with non-violent people—I’m non-violent as long as somebody else is non-violent—as soon as they get violent they nullify my non-violence.

Spellman: A lot of leaders of other organizations have said they would welcome your help but they qualify that by saying “if you follow our philosophy.” Would you work with them under these circumstances?

Malcolm X: We can work with all groups in anything but at no time will we give up our right to defend ourselves. We’ll never become involved in any kind of action that deprives us of our right to defend ourselves if we are attacked.

Spellman: How would the Muslim Mosque Inc. handle a Birmingham, Danville, or Cambridge—what do you think should have been done?

Malcolm X: In Birmingham, since the government has proven itself either unable or unwilling to step in and find those who are guilty and bring them to justice, it becomes necessary for the so-called Negro who was the victim to do this himself, and he would be upholding his constitutional rights by so doing, and Article 2 of the constitution—it says concerning the right to bear arms in the Bill of Rights: “A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” Negroes don’t realize this, that they are within their constitutional rights to own a rifle, to own a shotgun, and when the bigoted white supremacists realize that they are dealing with Negroes who are ready to give their lives in defense of life and property, then these bigoted whites will change their whole strategy and their whole attitude.

Spellman: You’ve said this will be the most violent year in the history of race relations in America. Elaborate.

Malcolm X: Yes. Because the Negro has already given up on non-violence. This new-thinking Negro is beginning to realize that when he demonstrates for what the government says are his rights then the law should be on his side. Anyone standing in front of him reclaiming his rights is breaking the law. Now, you’re not going to have a law-breaking element inflicting violence upon Negroes who are trying to implement the law, so that when they begin to see this, like this, they are going to strike back. In 1964 you’ll find Negroes will strike back, there never will be non-violence anymore, that has run out.

Spellman: What is your evaluation of Monroe?

Malcolm X: I’m not too up on the situation in Monroe, N.C. I do know that Robert Williams became an exile from this country simply because he was trying to get our people to defend themselves against the Klu Klux Klan and other white supremacist elements, and also May Mallory was given 20 years or something like that because she was also trying to fight the place of our people down there; so this gives you an idea of what happens in a democracy—in a so-called democracy—when people try to implement that democracy.

Spellman: You often use the word revolution, is there a revolution underway in America now?

Malcolm X: There hasn’t been. Revolution is like a forest fire. It burns everything in its path. The people who are involved in a revolution don’t become a part of the system—they destroy the system, they change the system. The genuine word for a revolution is Umwälzung which means a complete overturning and a complete change and the Negro Revolution is no revolution because it condemns the system and then asks the system that it has condemned to accept them into their system. That’s not a revolution—a revolution changes the system, it destroys the system and replaces it with a better one. It’s like a forest fire like I said—it burns everything in its path and the only way to stop a forest fire from burning down your house is to ignite a fire that you control and use it against the fire that is burning out of control. What the white man in America has done, he realizes that there is a Black Revolution all over the world—a non-white revolution all over the world—and he sees it sweeping down upon America and in order to hold it back he ignited an artificial fire which he has named the Negro Revolt and he is using the Negro Revolt against the real Black Revolution that is going on all over this earth.

Spellman: Can the race problem in America be solved under the existing political-economic system?

Malcolm X: No.

Spellman: Well then, what is the answer?

Malcolm X: It answers itself.

Spellman: Can there be any revolutionary change in America while the hostility between black and white working classes exists? Can Negroes do it alone?

Malcolm X: Yes. They’ll never do it with working-class whites. The history of America is that working-class whites have been just as much against not only working-class Negroes, but all Negroes, period, because all Negroes are working class within the caste system. The richest Negro is treated like a working-class Negro. There never has been any good relationship between the working-class Negro and the working-class whites. I just don’t go along with—there can be no worker solidarity until there’s first some black solidarity. There can be no white/black solidarity until there’s first some black solidarity. We have got to get our problems solved first and then if there’s anything left to work on the white man’s problems, good, but I think one of the mistakes Negroes make is this worker solidarity thing. There’s no such thing—it didn’t even work in Russia. Right now it was supposedly solved in Russia but as soon as they got their problems solved they fell out with China.

Spellman: Will the Muslim Mosque Inc. identify with non-white revolutionary movements in Africa, Asia, and Latin America?

Malcolm X: We are all brothers of oppression and today brothers of oppression are identified with each other all over the world.

Spellman: Is there anything else you want to say?

Malcolm X: No. I’ve said enough—maybe I’ve said too much.

2005, Volume 56, Issue 09 (February)
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