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Sharon Smith

Letter from the US

Double standards

(April 1994

From Socialist Review, No. 174, April 1994.
Copyright © Socialist Review.
Copied with thanks from the Socialist Review Archive.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

‘In reality, Farrakhan carries on a tradition which Malcolm X ultimately rejected’

The Louisiana fascist David Duke, it seems, has a black counterpart going under the name of Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam. Or so the media would have us believe, with their screaming headlines warning of the rise of a new form of racist hate-mongering.

The media outcry began two months ago after an anti-Semitic and anti-gay speech by one of Farrakhan’s followers, Khalid Muhammad, was made public. To be sure, the speech was utterly reactionary on a number of counts. For example, Muhammad called Jews ‘the bloodsuckers of the black nation and the black community’. He also said, ‘You see everybody always talks about Hitler exterminating 6 million Jews. That’s right. But don’t nobody ever ask what did they do to Hitler?’ He also argued that during slavery 75 percent of enslaved blacks were owned by Jews – a ludicrous claim, since Jews made up only 0.3 percent of slaveholders.

The speech itself was sparsely attended. It only made headlines two months later, after the Anti-Defamation League published excerpts from it in a full page ad in the New York Times. Farrakhan, whose own speeches are littered with such reactionary ideas, suspended Muhammad but refused to renounce what he called ‘the truths’ in his speech.

The Senate, however, voted unanimously to condemn Muhammad’s speech, while black politicians – including Kweisi Mfume, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus – lined up to denounce Farrakhan.

Such racist and reactionary ideas should be opposed, whoever speaks them. But from the beginning the response to the Muhammad speech has been steeped in hypocrisy. For one thing, the Senate rushed to condemn Muhammad’s speech – yet the Senate itself contains open white supremacists, such as Jesse Helms, who has served for more than 20 years. Just recently the Senate was more than happy to disregard the racist remark made by South Carolina senator Ernest Hollings, who said that African diplomats are cannibals who like to ‘eat each other’.

Nor was there any media uproar when a white council representative from New York state recently called a black politician ‘a nigger from Harlem’. And no one denounced Abe Foxman, executive director of the Anti-Defamation League – the group which started the furore over Muhammad – several years ago when he travelled to Jerusalem to attend the funeral of Meir Kahane, an open fascist.

As Adolph Reed argued recently:

‘The obvious and odious anti-Semitism of Farrakhan and Khalid Muhammad, when all is said and done, is only a pretext for the furore ... Somehow, the earnest discussion provoked by Khalid Muhammad’s remarks has managed to avoid the obvious point that race is a central element in a system of enforced hierarchy and inequality.’

Equating the anti-Semitism expressed by the Nation of Islam to white Southern segregationists – or even to Hitler – as the media has done, lets the real perpetrators of racism in society off the hook. From the times of Southern segregation, the US ruling class has sought to maintain racial divisions among workers as a means to preserve its own power. Today every institution within US society is ingrained with racism and discrimination, directed primarily against blacks.

The hypocrisy of the political establishment’s hostility toward Farrakhan has, if anything, raised his own credibility among blacks. While black politicians remain tied as a group to Clinton’s coat tails, Farrakhan’s black separatism gives voice to the anger felt by millions of blacks. Farrakhan’s rallies have drawn tens of thousands in recent months. The Nation of Islam is viewed by many to be carrying on the tradition of Malcolm X, who was once a member. But Malcolm X broke with the Nation of Islam in 1964. At the time Louis Farrakhan, then known as Louis X, said that Malcolm was ‘worthy of death’. In reality, Farrakhan carries on a tradition which Malcolm X ultimately rejected, mainly because the Nation of Islam refused to involve itself in political struggle.

Stripped of all its rhetoric, the programme of the Nation of Islam is not radical, but conservative – offering no way of confronting racism in society. The Nation of Islam is not anti-capitalist. Rather than seeing racism as stemming from the need for capitalists to create divisions among workers, it blames other racial groups – such as Koreans, Arabs, Jews, and whites in general – for preventing blacks from gaining economic equality. The Nation of Islam stands for black separatism, but not by fighting against the system. Rather, it seeks for blacks to develop themselves as capitalists who sell goods and services to other blacks.

The Nation of Islam holds positions which mirror those of US conservatives, including the Republican Party. Farrakhan attacks welfare for ‘subsidising single women to have babies’. Farrakhan is part of the law and order crowd. He has written that Saudi Arabia has very little crime because the government is willing to cut off limbs or kill to punish those who break the law. But so far, he laments, ‘America has not found a way to curb crime and reform those in her society who consistently break her laws, particularly in the black community.’

The Nation relegates women’s concerns to housework and children. Farrakhan opposes abortion, but he argues that he is ‘pro-choice’ – in that he favours allowing women ‘the right to choose to whom they will commit their lives.’ Gay sexuality, he argues, is immoral, and ‘we must change homosexual behaviour and get rid of the circumstances that bring it about.’

Rather than fight against police brutality, the Nation of Islam has managed to work alongside the police – for profit. The Nation formed two private security companies in 1990 which rent out security guards to private landlords and to high crime public housing complexes in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Chicago and Baltimore. Since June 1991 the Nation has taken in more than $1 million in government money for security.

Perhaps most importantly, the Nation of Islam believes that ending racism isn’t possible. The emphasis is placed upon individual change – personal morality, clean living, and ‘self help’. All of this fits nicely with Clinton’s calls for the poor to take ‘personal responsibility’ for improving their lives – the flip side of blaming the victim.

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