Malcolm X backs Tory schools plan


2:37 pm - August 27th 2010

by Dave Osler    


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I saw the Spike Lee biopic when it came out, of course. But other than that, I have to admit to not knowing a lot about revolutionary icon Malcolm X. That’s pretty remiss for a leftie, so to put matters right, I am reading ‘By any means necessary’, a compilation of the 1960s black nationalist leader’s speeches in the last year of his life, following his break from Nation of Islam.

The book was published by the US Socialist Workers’ Party, at that time a Trotskyist grouping, and is designed to show that Malcolm X’s thinking was evolving in the direction of Marxist socialism. That doesn’t come across as very likely.

No class-based analysis whatsoever is in evidence. Indeed, the focus is on community self-organisation, and it does strike me that some of the ideas expressed would not sound out of place in a flagship speech from a Big Society Cameron Conservative.

I am being perfectly serious. For instance, Malcolm X argues: ‘[T]he black man in Harlem can gain control over his own economy and develop business expansion for our people in this community so we can create some employment opportunities for our people in this community.’ Ex-service personnel should go into business together on the back of government loans, he suggests. Sounds straight out of Phillip Blond if you ask me.

Perhaps the most surprising passage comes on p.44, and is worth citing at length:

‘The Board of Education in this city [New York] has said … there are 10 percent of schools in Harlem and the Bedford-Stuyvesant community in Brooklyn that they canot improve. So what are we to do?

‘This means that the Organization of Afro-American Unity must make the Afro-American community a more potent force for educational self-improvement.

‘A first step in the program to end the existing system of racist education is to demand that the 10 percent of the schools that the Board of Education will not include in its plan be turned over to and run by the Afro-American community itself.

‘Since they say that they can’t improve these schools, why should you and I who live in the community let these fools continue to run and produce this low standard of education? No, let them turn those schools over to us.

‘Since they say they can’t handle them, nor can they correct them, let us take a whack at it.’

Bloody hell. Is that an endorsement of the Tory policy for free schools, or what?

I presume Michael Gove will not be reading this. But if he ever finds himself short of ideas for a speech he needs to deliver in Brixton, he could do a lot worse than to borrow the quotes above. It would prove counter-intuitive, to say the least.

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About the author
Dave Osler is a regular contributor. He is a British journalist and author, ex-punk and ex-Trot. Also at: Dave's Part
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Conservative Party ,Westminster

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Reader comments


In my view, there is nothing inherently wrong with the idea of the “big society.” The problem is with “Cameron’s big society.” You just know that his idea is to cut the public sector and then those managers made redundant can set up companies to provide the same centralised, remote and bureaucratic service.
If someone was to convincingly suggest that power is devolved and communities to have a say in education and health, I would be all for it.
Perhaps the “left” should look again at some of the issues raised by “the big society” instead of condemning all the ideas contained therein. An attack on govt proposals could then be better formulated.

It’s not as far out as it seems. A major influence on the “Free Schools” policy is the American charter schools, these grew out of the school voucher movement, and school vouchers were often promoted by African American parent activists.

OK, I had to take a second look at that title (and then a third when I remembered Malcolm X was dead).

Then the article as a whole did nothing to remove the slight sense of surrealism I was experiencing. I suppose it makes sense – localism is not a right/left issue, unless one side or the other is insisting on centralisation (left in Britain currently, right in the 1980s, so it is hardly a constant).

It does raise the useful question of whether opposing everything the government does is worthwhile (obviously I don’t think so, but then I was not opposed to everything the last lot did either).

And I now have the delightful image of Erik Pickles giving a black-power salute. Somehow that doesn’t seem odd either…

What Overhere said.

The idea that civic society should take over chunks of what central government does is a very attractive one, I think. Community groups will generally know more about what’s needed on the ground than Whitehall does.

The problem is… that architecture doesn’t exist any more. It’s been dismantled by 30 years of over-centralizing governments. If the state stops offering a service, you won’t magically get community groups to start offering them instead. You just won’t have the service any more.

Jonn.
Agreed. That is why I am deeply suspicious of Cameron and his “big society.” Perhaps the “left” could be looking at rebuilding the necessary architecture..

#2 That’s different to what Malcolm X was proposing, though. School vouchers were a defeatist attempt to at least get some black kids out of a racially divided school system with residualised underachievement accepted as the norm by a privileged white class. Malcolm X wanted to raise standards for all ignored kids rather than just a few, by taking over the system. Our opposition to free schools is (in part) because they’re less democratic, not that we have opposition to localised control. If whole area’s school systems were taken over by communities (and genuinely taken over, not run by a handful of people together with big business) then there wouldn’t be the problem with free schools dividing communities against each other & some schools being left behind.

This article is ludicrous. No, Malcolm X’s politics weren’t “perfectly” Marxist, but he achieved a lot more in liberation struggle than most Marxists do. And his politics (certainly his views on race) did evolve, especially right at the end of his lifetime after his pilgrimage.

tim f,

Our opposition to free schools is (in part) because they’re less democratic, not that we have opposition to localised control.

That is only true for a certain value of democratic where democratic means everyone locally, involved or not has a voice in decision making.

Arguably an equally valid version of democratic is where everyone involved in the school (or whatever) has a say in its running. If you don’t like the choice of schools available due to their democratic decison making, set up one of your own with the correct democratic ethos!

Remember any definition of democratic units will be arbitrary. It is necessary to argue for a local council unit say being the correct unit to also run schools, as much as it is for the parents.

I remember reading it when I was 16 and it had a formative inflence on my politics. Possibly one of the reasons why I never became a Marxist . . . . .


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    Malcolm X backs Tory schools plan http://bit.ly/aObc1r

  2. Nick Watts

    RT @libcon: Malcolm X backs Tory schools plan http://bit.ly/aObc1r

  3. amol rajan

    always said he was an elitist RT @libcon Malcolm X backs Tory schools plan http://bit.ly/aObc1r

  4. alexmassie

    For real. RT @libcon Malcolm X backs Tory schools plan http://bit.ly/aObc1r

  5. Pete Start

    RT @libcon Malcolm X backs Tory schools plan http://bit.ly/aObc1r (h/t @alexmassie)

  6. Victoria Lambert

    Have we entered a parallel universe but no one told me? RT @libcon: Malcolm X backs Tory schools plan http://bit.ly/aObc1r

  7. Martin Shovel

    RT @libcon: Malcolm X backs Tory schools plan http://bit.ly/aObc1r

  8. Richard Gadsden

    Very amused by this headline: http://liberalconspiracy.org/2010/08/27/malcolm-x-backs-tory-schools-plan/

  9. Rosie Niven

    This is fascinating – the link between Michael Gove and Malcolm X: http://bit.ly/bPNB7X





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