One simply cannot deny the revolutionary legacy of Malcolm X, the man held a charisma and intelligence that transformed him into one of the biggest, most influential leaders of the American civil rights era. There have been several pieces written about the life and actions of Malcolm X throughout the years, with the most iconic being his 1964 autobiography.
The book being examined however is not the famous autobiography. Published by Scholastic in 1994; Walter Dean Myers’ biography titled Malcolm X: By Any Means Necessary is a highly informative and simplistically written glimpse into the life and evolution of the revolutionary civil rights leader and anti-colonial activist.
As one would expect, the early years of the man formerly known as Malcolm Little are visited in this book. Myers relives the history of Malcolm’s revolutionary spirit, citing that one of his biggest inspirations was his own father, Earl Little. Earl Little, unfortunately, was murdered by white supremacists for his work in the furthering of black liberation as a part of the Marcus Garvey movement. The look into the history of Malcolm X, along with his own family’s revolutionary activity displays that a revolutionary spirit was embedded into his DNA, with his father’s righteous death serving as one his greatest inspirations for his work later in life.
Myers details the development of the ideals of Malcolm X as his life went in Malcolm X: By Any Means Necessary. Beginning with his time spent as a member of the Nation of Islam, as a disciple of spiritual leader and N.I.S figurehead Elijah Muhammad, Myers presents the beginning of Malcolm X’s path towards revolutionary ideals and action in the black nationalist group. Malcolm’s rise within the organization as one of the most well respected and influential members is a testament to his charisma and revolutionary grace. With Muhammad as his mentor, Malcolm X was able to further the Nation of Islam and greatly increase their membership during his time in the organization.
While Malcolm X never explicitly referred to himself as a socialist, his later life saw a transition from black nationalism to a more anti-capitalist, anti-colonialist perspective, and Myers details that it was through his departure from the separatist Nation of Islam that Malcolm X began his flirtation with decolonization and in some aspects, socialism. It was in 1960 during the March on Washington that the former Little met with revolutionary communist leader Fidel Castro, then President of Cuba.
When referencing Castro, Myers includes a quote from a Cuban citizen that fled from the Fulgenico Batista regime that speaks highly of the Cuban revolutionary.
“He is a wonderful man. When he speaks his strength is in his words, his mouth. He speaks for the little people of Cuba.”
A man as controversial and influential as Malcolm X would never be able to avoid creating a few enemies in his pursuit for political, social, and economic justice. His time with the Nation of Islam garnered the attention of the FBI, who began seeing him as a threat and a potential catalyst for violent uprising against the United States government. The meetings held with Fidel Castro in Washington only furthered their suspicion, with the FBI calling him a Communist on his official file. Malcolm X was a force to be reckoned with, and the American government knew this all too well.
Malcolm X was and always will be one of the most important revolutionary figures in American history, the history of the pursuit of civil liberties, and the expansion of the African diaspora. There was none other like him, and there may never be again.
It is important to note that the ideals of socialism and iconic revolutionaries are treated with respect within this biography. There’s no peddling of tired reactionary propaganda or condescending annotations that attempt to discredit the theories of socialism and communism. There are no attacks on someone’s character or use of slanderous tactics. The effects of the poison that is McCarthyist, Red Scare propaganda were never to be found between the pages of this book.
A quote straight from the mouth of Malcolm X is included in this piece, touching upon the practices and influence of capitalism on both a global scale and how these practices ultimately pose a threat to not only the plight Afro-descendent people but the entirety of the oppressed masses, rather than a solution to the contradictions that afflicted their daily lives.
“The newly awakened people all over the world pose a problem for what is known as Western interests, which are imperialism, colonialism, racism, and all the other negative isms, or vulturistic isms. Just as the external forces pose a grave threat, they can see that the internal forces pose an even greater threat.” - Malcolm X
The Civil Rights Era of the United States was rampant with socialist ideals and other sections of radical ideology, with a vast number of figures within the fight against institutionalized racism and segregation subscribing to the tenants of revolutionary socialism at least at some point in their fight. Names such as Angela Davis, Martin Luther King, Assata Shakur, and Huey P. Newton just to name a few considered revolutionary socialism to be an integral part of their fight against white supremacist capitalism. Malcolm X was perhaps the most powerful, influential, and at least for the institution of capitalism, the most dangerous of the Civil Rights fighters until his untimely death.
This is a piece well worth the read. A factual and accessible account of the development of one of the most significant civil rights leaders in both American and global history. Walter Dean Myers displays a great respect throughout this biography, for both the legacy of Malcolm X, and the radical presence in the fight for Civil Rights..
The digestible, simplistic writing style of this biography makes ideal reading for those totally unfamiliar with Malcolm X and the history that surrounds him. Whether you be an anarchist, a Marxist, or some other tendency of radicalism, we should be educating ourselves on the history of decolonization and similar revolutionary movements, from Marx to Malcolm, from Sankara to Newton, we must continue to study. A relatively quick read abundant with information, Walter Dean Myers’s work is second only to the official autobiography. Malcolm X: By Any Means Necessary is an immensely informative and engaging book, for the new and the familiar.
Jymee C is an aspiring Marxist historian and teacher with a BA in history from Utica College, hoping to begin working towards his Master's degree in the near future. He's been studying Marxism-Leninism for the past five years and uses his knowledge and understanding of theory to strengthen and expand his historical analyses. His primary interests regarding Marxism-Leninism and history include the Soviet Union, China, the DPRK, and the various struggles throughout US history among other subjects. He is currently conducting research for a book on the Korean War and US-DPRK relations. In addition, he is a 3rd Degree black belt in karate and runs the YouTube channel "Jymee" where he releases videos regarding history, theory, self-defense, and the occasional jump into comedy https://www.youtube.com/c/Jymee