Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Malcolm X and Capitalism

Over at Hit & Run, Damon Root dropped a little hate on intimated some unpleasant things about Malcolm X, a personal hero of mine:

Rather than serving as the villains caricatured by Malcolm X, Manning Marable, and others on the left, classical liberals provided essential intellectual, political, moral, and financial firepower in the battles against slavery, Jim Crow, imperialism, and racial classifications.
Now, as I put in the comments there, this may be less Damon's fault than of the historian Marable that he quoted at the beginning of his piece:

In a 1992 speech at Colorado's Metro State College, Columbia University historian Manning Marable praised the black minister and activist Malcolm X for pushing an "uncompromising program which was both antiracist and anticapitalist." As Marable favorably quoted from the former Nation of Islam leader: "You can't have racism without capitalism. If you find antiracists, usually they're socialists or their political philosophy is that of socialism."
But one quote of Malcolm's does not sum up his political or economic philosophy. The fact that Malcolm wasn't familiar with free market theories and the protectionist anti-profit motive that supported segregation and other Jim Crow policies does not diminish his accomplishments as a proponent of civil and economic freedom for blacks.

As I noted in an earlier comment, what was touted as "capitalism" in Malcolm X's America was not a free market or an example of economic freedom. It was a nation governed, in part, by a racist minority in the Senate which simultaneously protected business interests and fought tooth and nail for the "Lost Cause." If that was capitalism*--I'd be vocally opposed to it as well.

Furthermore, it's hardly a secret that one of the major draws of blacks and other minorities into a socialist/communist fold was their (false) promise of racial equality. Socialists actively promoted their agenda by pointing out the racist, hypocritical policies of the U.S. and other "capitalist" countries--as if it were the capitalism itself that was racist. The unfortunate fact that Malcolm at least partially bought into this is, I believe, due to an ignorance of economic theory, not a preference for socialism. Indeed, in every speech I've read or heard of Malcolm's, he always referred to socialists in the third person. Free market theory means little to those who see business and government acting together to maintain a status quo which holds their people back by business practice, social custom, and law.

His pro-freedom message is very much borne out by the themes dominant in the majority of his speeches: personal responsibility, an inherent mistrust of the government, self-ownership and self-defense, the promises of (not actions under) the Constitution, and--most tellingly--black entrepreneurship. He couldn't have been clearer on the point that blacks should get into business: the "capitalism" of the day, however, shut many blacks out of starting private enterprises.

It is unfortunate and--I fully agree with Damon here--all too common for Malcolm to be hailed as a voice of the Left on college campuses. The facts, however, don't really bear out in this regard if you read and listen to what the man said and not rely on what is said about him.

*I think this is yet another case of conflating "business interests" and "market principles"--a businessman who benefits from/supports regulatory capture is hardly a free marketer; so too is it problematic to compare the "capitalists," as Malcolm understood them, with "classical liberals."

1 comment:

Will Shetterly said...

The quote is inaccurate. "Antiracist" is a recent word. What he actually said: “Most of the countries that were colonial powers were capitalist countries and the last bulwark of capitalism today is America and it’s impossible for a white person today to believe in capitalism and not believe in racism. You can’t have capitalism without racism. And if you find a person without racism and you happen to get that person into conversation and they have a philosophy that makes you sure they don’t have this racism in their outlook, usually they’re socialists or their political philosophy is socialism.”