(Mao)lana Bhashani & Malcolm X – A Secret Revolutionary History

Earlier this year, I was going through the hearings of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) from the 1960s. HUAC was responsible for investigating suspected Communist activities in the US, and elsewhere. One particular testimonial from New York caught my eye.

On 4th September 1964, Edward Lemansky of Brooklyn, New York testified in front of the Un-American Activities Committee at the House of Representatives. Edward Lemansky was a Communist and member of the Progressive Labour Movement (PLM). By the late 1960s, Lemansky was one of the leading organisers in the New York garment trucking industry, a workforce comprising mainly black and Latin American workers (drivers, mechanics, helpers and rackpushers). [footnote]For more on Lemansky and the PLM, see Leigh David Benin’s excellent book ‘The New Labor Radicalism and New York City’s Garment Industry: Progressive Labour Insurgents in the 1960s.’ In general, just read Benin.[/footnote]

Lemansky was appearing because he had travelled to Cuba in June 1964 in violation of US State Department Travel Regulations. He had been part of the PLM-organised student tour group, which included members of the Afro-American Student Organisation, visiting Havana to meet Castro and other revolutionary guerrillas.

During the trip they had also met up with Robert Franklin Williams, and it was their meetings with him that were of particular interest to the Committee. [footnote]Lemansky’s relationship with Robert Williams goes back to 1963, when the PLM had sent Lemansky and some others to go to William’s hometown in Monroe, North Carolina as part of a “southern strategy’ to radicalize the civil rights movement. The PLM had contacts with the more militant members of  Student Non-Violent Co-ordinating Committee, see Benin. For more on R.F. Williams, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_NuxaMYYGJY&ab_channel=AnthonyJohnson[/footnote]

Williams, a militant civil rights activist from North Carolina, had been in exile in Cuba since 1961. He had fled via Canada to Cuba, escaping fake kidnapping charges on the grounds that he “never would have gotten to a trial, not even to mention a fair trial” in the United States. [footnote]Benin[/footnote]

Williams wrote ‘Negroes with Guns” the founding text of the Black Panther Party, during this period of exile.

At the hearing, Lemansky was grilled about the trip, and in particular, his thoughts on a Williams’ article ‘USA: Revolution Without Violence?’ The article had appeared in the March 1964 issue of ‘Revolution: Africa Asia Latin America’, which had been titled ‘The End of Empire?’ The Maoist magazine was described by Mr Alfred M Nittle, the Counsel as the “voice of the extremely revolutionary and violent Communists of the world.” Francois Fejto, a French-Hungarian journalist in his interview with Jacques Verges, the editor of Revolution, described the magazine as having the highest circulation of all the Left magazines in France. He wrote:

“The Communist Party’s Nouvelle Critique, a very dull and monotonous review, sells 1,000 copies; Revolution sells 20,000. It has many subscribers, especially in French- speaking Africa.” [footnote]Fejto, François. “A Maoist in France: Jacques Vergès and Revolution.” The China Quarterly, no. 19, 1964, pp. 120–127.[/footnote]

The front cover and first inside page of the magazine were presented at the hearing as ‘Lemansky Exhibit No. 8’. My heart flipped when I saw the editorial board!

One of the editors was a  ‘Maulana A.H.K. Bhashani (Pakistan)’. Of course, this could only be the Bhashani, who even after 10 years of research kept on giving.  Bhashani, treated contemptuously by foes and even friends as ‘illiterate’ and a ‘rustic fool’, was on the editorial board of one the leading Afro-Asian magazines of the 1960s!

In some ways, the discovery was unsurprising. Throughout his political career, Maulana Bhashani had been the founder and publisher of several papers and magazines, notably Ittefaq in 1949 and Haq Katha in 1972. However, this was the first time I was seeing his name on an international editorial board, and what an illustrious one it was as well.

So, here are some of the other people who were on the editorial board:

Hassan Riad from the United Arab Republic was of course the pseudonym of Samir Amin, Egyptian Marxist economist, known for his theory of ‘underdevelopment’ and critique of capitalism.  In 1964, besides being on the editorial team, Samir Amin would also write  ‘L’Egypte Nasserian’ explaining the rise of Nasser and Egyptian capitalism. He would later go on to be the co-founder of Third World Forum.

Abdulrahman Mohamed Babu of Zanzibar, a Marxist and founder of the Umma Party, played a vital role in the 1964 Zanzibar Revolution. He had served as a minister under Nyerere and was later jailed by him. In 1981, he had written his well-known tract on ‘African Socialism’.

Jacques Verges, a Siamese-born French lawyer, known in the 1950s for his support of Algerian Liberation Front, and his defence of Djamila Bouhired, who was accused and later convicted of blowing up a café and killing eleven people in 1957.

The Algerian involvement in the magazine is particularly interesting, with Zohra Drif and Djamila Bouhired appearing in early issues with Jacques Verges as co-editors. Anyway, I have worked my way through all the printed issues (May 1963-April 1964), fascinating in so many different ways. I am currently writing an academic paper on the magazine, but wanted to leave with a sense of how exciting this discovery has been!

Bhashani was in fact not the first editor from Pakistan. The person who had preceded him was Hamza Alavi, the Pakistani Marxist sociologist and activist. Although much has been written about Hamza Alavi’s writings in Pakistan Today, New Left Review and Socialist Register, his activities with this journal has somehow gone amiss! [footnote]Shaheed, Z. (2013), Hamza Alavi: Third World Thinker and Activist. Development and Change, 44: 753-768.[/footnote]

But what is this link to Malcolm X?

I’m afraid there was no actual meeting between Bhashani and Malcolm X. I’m quite sad about that as well.  But there was still an encounter of sorts. Bhashani was an editor for only two issues, and these were actually the last two runs of Revolution. Although I don’t know much yet about Bhashani’s actual role, these two issues were dedicated to African-American revolutionaries. The last issue itself was dedicated to ‘Malcolm X: Black Revolution.’

The issue featured a 10-page interview of Malcolm X by A.B Spellman, the African-American writer and poet. Malcolm X spoke at length about life after Nation of Islam. Malcolm X expressed the desire to publish again. He said:

 “One of the best ways to propagate any ideas is with a publication of some sorts and if Allah blesses us with success, we will have another publication. We we’ll probably name it The Flaming Crescent because we want to set the world on fire.”

There is much to say but this perhaps a fitting way to end. Although these two men never met, both Bhashani and Malcolm did indeed in their own ways set the world on fire.

First published here. Do look out for the article! A lot of labour and love has gone into doing this kind of research and bringing it to your attention, if you are going to use this , please do cite and try not to claim the words or research as your own.


Subscribe to RAIOT via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 15.7K other subscribers
Dr. Layli Uddin Written by:

Dr. Layli Uddin is a historian of modern South Asia and is currently working on a book on the making and unmaking of Pakistan and Bangladesh. She is also the curator of the ‘Two Centuries of Indian Print’ project at the British Library.

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply