Babylon at the Movies: A Lie of Reinvention-Correcting Manning Marable’s Malcolm X

This week we look at the death of Malcolm X and what his death actually meant and still means for American politics...


This week was the anniversary of the murder of el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz/Malcolm X, one of the most important freedom fighter revolutionaries in the past century. In the 54 years since his death, the American intelligence and police-security agencies have been launching a long and steady counterintelligence program against the public, using powerful and attenuated propaganda, to discredit and diminish the man and his legacy so to prevent people from understanding what his actual political program was and what it could have meant for American society had he not been murdered by the US government (it bears mentioning at the outset here that the record is crystal clear due to FOIA requests, archive de-classifications, and other state disclosures, the ringleader of the plot to kill Malcolm was the Lyndon Baines Johnson administration, not the Nation of Islam, though they did play a role as unwitting proxies for the feds).

Today we will aggregate a series of videos created by Dr. Jared Ball, Dr. Todd Steven Burroughs, and their colleague-comrades within Black radical scholarly and activism circles that are addressed to opposing these efforts.

The first video, produced The for The Real News, is a short documentary titled X: Malcolm’s Final Years. Commissioned four years ago to mark the half century since el-Shabazz’s death, it articulates a coherent and engaging analysis of where the great man was going in terms of his praxis and what his goals were for not just Black America but all Americans. [NOTE: An earlier version mistakenly claimed that Dr. Ball produced the film, which he did not, and he says in fact his opinion on emphasizing the role of the state was ignored. Apologies for the error. -AS]

Now we will share a few videos that are connected to countering one of the most prominent instances of the aforementioned counterintelligence program, namely a bestselling and award-winning biography by the late Manning Marable, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention. Released in April 2011, just three days after the esteemed Black journalist’s death, the volume was an instantaneous catalyst for praise from the white press and intense controversy from radical Black scholars and activists.

At the outset, we need to be clear how counterintelligence matters such as these work. Manning Marable was not party to one or several gatherings in a smoke-filled room where elites and business interests collude in some Grand Guignol conspiracy to execute horrendous deeds, roughly equivalent to the Mr. X sequence from Oliver Stone’s JFK or like-minded simulations in Nixon or The X-Files.

Image from Oliver Stone’s JFK/Fair Use

Instead, the market forces within mainstream academia, liberal political circles, the consumer publishing industry, and the dominant white supremacist media ecosystem compelled him to think and write about el-Shabazz with a lens that agreed with a certain political agenda. Marable realized a long time ago that money talks and all else, including the historical realities, can take a walk. Marable even said this in the book, writing “In reading nearly all of the literature about Malcolm produced in the 1990s, I was struck by its shallow character and lack of original sources. Many Malcolmites had constructed a mythic legend to surround their leader that erased all blemishes and any mistakes he had made.” Even the naming demonstrates a kind of denialism. By refusing to designate the man by his final legal name, el-Shabazz, and instead reverting to an earlier one, Malcolm, the discourse frames the impression about his politics as being those which were not his final, ultimate political goals.

Marable’s claim about the literature of the 1990s, furthermore, is the complete opposite of the truth. Dr. Zak Kondo and Karl Evanzz, both competent and articulate authors with higher education pedigrees, produced multiple monographs during that time which exposed new and important facts about the murder of el-Shabazz as well as the connections between the FBI, CIA, the New York Police Department, domestic COINTEL-PRO operations that targeted el-Shabazz, and how all four pitted the Nation of Islam against him in order to cause his death.

Rather than being an instance of bloodshed fomented by an internecine feud over the proclivities and quirks of Hon. Elijah Muhammad, something even the Spike Lee biopic promotes as the cause of death, instead this was something much more complex.

El-Shabazz had been on several international trips over the final years of his life and was building a coalition of African and Middle Eastern countries, led by both secular and theocratic Muslims, that were going to bring a petition to the United Nations charging the United States with human rights crimes against African Americans. His inroads with Cuban leaders were part of these efforts.

Image via

In the midst of a very hot Cold War, one where John F. Kennedy, Fidel Castro, and Nikita Khrushchev had nearly turned the planet into a cinder overnight with the Cuban missile crisis less than 18 months prior, this would have been the publicity coup of the century, one that might have rippled across the geopolitical landscape for decades. Counterfactuals are by their very nature somewhat absurd to engage with beyond their preliminary statement. But, if el-Shabazz had succeeded at the UN, something of that profound impact might have even flipped the ultimate conclusion of the Soviet-US standoff, meaning that African American liberation, given a level of international solidarity by el-Shabazz’s efforts unseen in decades prior, could have been such a monumental achievement that it could have led to revolutionary changes. Neutralizing el-Shabazz in order to stop this was vital for the survival of American economic and political power both domestically and internationally.

Marable’s book was one more piece of propaganda that maintains the political system of American empire. The author had begun as a radical journalist but became a reformist over the course of his life, something that Dr. Burroughs has concluded following a survey of his journalistic output over multiple decades. Despite his claims to the contrary in interviews about the book prior to his death, the author imposed upon el-Shabazz an agenda that aligned with his own social democratic one. He went as far as claiming in the book that el-Shabazz’s political program “…Was partially expressed in the unprecedented voter turnouts in black neighborhoods…in the successful electoral bid of Barack Obama in 2008.” That claim, and many more, were challenged by Drs. Ball, Burroughs, and others in their anthology A Lie of Reinvention: Correcting Manning Marable’s Malcolm X.

Here are some videos that were released in tandem with the book.

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