[Marxism] Malcolm X and American Trotskyism

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Nov 12 12:34:45 MST 2010

When I was a student at Bard College, I was generally apolitical. 
If pressed to define my views, I would have described them as 
liberal anti-Communist strongly influenced by Albert Camus. But 
for some reason, I began to develop a real sympathy for Black 
Nationalism by my senior year in 1965.

Whenever I found myself in the city over the weekend of March 
18th, 1965 I decided to check out a panel discussion at the 
Village Gate that featured LeRoi Jones, Nat Hentoff and the 
Village Gate owner Art D’Lugoff. Jack Newfield covered the event 
in the Village Voice, back when the paper was still worth reading:

Gig at Gate: Return of the White Liberal Stompers
By Jack Newfield

Goateed, immaculately dressed Negroes looking for a pogrom, 
carefully coifed Hadassah ladies looking for a lynching and 
impassive hipsters looking for a “happening” jammed the Village 
Gate last Wednesday night. The marquee proclaimed blues singer 
Paul Butterfield, but the magnet was LeRoi Jones and his White 
Liberal Stompers.

The Stompers had made a spectacular debut at the Village Vanguard 
two weeks ago when they refused to play a dirge for the slain 
civil rights workers Andrew Goodman and Mickey Schwerner and for 
the six million Jews incinerated by Hitler.

“Those boys were just artifacts, man,” poet-playwright-polemicist 
Jones had said of the dead integrationists. “They weren’t real. If 
they went (to Mississippi) to assuage their leaking consciences 
that’s their business. I won’t mourn for them. I have my own dead 
to mourn for.”

Despite my liberal politics, I did not feel under attack. Perhaps, 
I was favorably disposed to Jones after having heard him do a 
reading from The System of Dante’s Hell in 1961 up at Bard. He was 
brought up by Robert Kelly, a “new poet” like LeRoi Jones, who had 
just begun teaching at Bard. I was pretty close to Kelly at the 
time and tended to pay close attention to any writer he brought up 
for a reading, including Robert Duncan at another event. The 
System of Dante’s Hell was Jones’s only novel. It is an amazing 
work, using Newark as a stand-in for Dante’s inferno, written with 
the same kind of surrealist intensity as Naked Lunch.

But my first exposure to Black militancy was Malcolm X speaking at 
a Militant Labor Forum on January 7th 1965 held at the Palm 
Gardens in New York. I went there with my girlfriend Dian, who was 
curious about Malcolm herself but probably not as much as me. I 
have vivid memories of seeing a bunch of leaflets on the chairs 
just before we sat down. They were probably about some other forum 
the SWP was organizing that month, the same kind of events I would 
be organizing in Houston, Texas about seven years later.

The audience was mostly Black. I really loved it when they yelled 
out during his talk: “Preach, brother” or “Tell it like it is.” 
This was the speech when he expressed a very friendly attitude 
toward the SWP as this excerpt would indicate:

The Militant newspaper is one of the best in New York City. In 
fact, it is one of the best anywhere you go today. I saw it even 
in Paris about a month ago; they were reading it over there. And I 
saw it in some parts of Africa where I was during the summer. I 
don’t know how it gets there. But if you put the right things in 
it, what you put in it will see that it gets around.

Of course, that newspaper can hardly be seen nowadays, thereby 
providing negative confirmation of Malcolm’s observation, namely 
that if you put shit in a newspaper, nobody will read it.


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