According to his autobiography, Malcolm X expected to die violently, but probably most people expected that, if this happened, it would be by the hand of a white man.
The assassination provoked an outburst of hysteria and apprehension—even regret from people who were only recently denouncing the doctrines which Malcolm X had expounded.
The murdered man moved in a world of violence. His mother, he said, was conceived after a white man had raped his grandmother. His father was also murdered, his skull smashed in and his body flung under the wheels of a street car.
It was only after the seemingly inevitable career of crime and drug addiction that Malcolm X became interested in the .Black Muslims—an event which, he wrote, gave him “a little feeling of self-respect.”
He soon became prominent in the movement, attracting a lot of publicity with his teachings that the Negro should be strong, disciplined and ready to answer violence with violence. A few months ago he came to the Oxford Union to defend his own interpretation of Barry Goldwater’s famous remarks on extremism.
It is perhaps surprising that there was not a Malcolm X before. The oppressions and indignities to which the American Negro are subjected are so extreme that it was predictable they should develop their own, counter-extremist, organisation.
If history is any guide, it was also predictable that this organisation should split, and that the struggle between the two factions (the Black Muslims and Malcolm X’s Organisation of Afro-American Unity) should be as bitter and as ruthless as that against their common adversary.
We have seen this before. We have seen it in Cyprus and in Algeria and many, many times before that We saw it in Ireland, in the days when Michael Collins was shot down on the far South road from Skibbereen to Cork.
In many ways, the United States today is a cauldron of savagery and hatred. In an ugly situation, the Negroes themselves offer scant hope. The summit of their ambition is in fact to be exploited on equal terms with the white wage slaves who now stand just a little above them on the social scale.
There is no reason to believe that, if the Negroes got the vote, and won full civil rights in the United States, they would use their new opportunities to end the social system which degrades workers of all colours all over the world.
The Negroes are desperate, and in their desperation they have turned to organisations which sometimes are little better than a black Ku-Klux-Klan. They show little interest in the fact that race prejudice is only one part of the monstrous wall of ignorance which shields and supports the oppressive capitalist system.
As long as this continues, there will be small comfort in the American future. The shots which killed Malcolm X signalled that the Negro movement in the United States has served some sort of apprenticeship, and is now ready to go out into the world and shed blood in earnest.