On Contact: The Black Agenda
On the show, Chris Hedges discusses the journalist Glen Ford and the radical black press with Ajamu Baraka, national organizer and spokesperson with the Black Alliance for Peace.
Glen Ford, who died in the summer of 2021, was one of the country’s most insightful political commentators and radical journalists. He appeared several times on this show. He spoke for the marginalized and excoriated the elites. Glen was the co-publisher of the radical Black Commentator. He co-founded Black Agenda Report with Bruce Dixon and Margaret Kimberley in 2006. Glen repeatedly called out the Black political elites, exposing for example New Jersey Senator Cory Booker’s close ties with right-wing organizations such as the Manhattan Institute and the Bradley Foundation and Booker’s advocacy of neoliberalism, austerity programs, school privatization, and other initiatives that are at the forefront of the war on the poor, especially poor Blacks. He called the Black political leaders who sold their soul to corporations and America’s imperial projects the “Black misleadership class.” While many Black leftists betrayed the most basic tenants of their political beliefs to support Barack Obama following his election to the presidency in 2008, Glen saw through the charade. He lambasted Obama and Hillary Clinton as “political twins” and warned that the policies they advocated were deeply harmful to Black people. He saw Obama and the Democratic Party as not the lesser evil, but the more effective evil. The Democrats, he knew, were better at masking their subservience to corporations, the ruling elites, and the military-industrial complex while assiduously doing their bidding. Glen was also keenly aware that the evils of white supremacy and corporate plundering are the driving engine behind America’s imperial projects. He kept a close watch on the United States Africa Command, AFRICOM, and its expanding military footprint on the continent. A talented and brilliant writer, gifted with an acerbic sense of humor and uncompromising in his integrity and courage, he will be very hard to replace.
Glen Ford’s new book is: The Black Agenda
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CH: Welcome to On Contact. Today, we discuss the radical Black press and Glen Ford who died in the summer of 2021 with Ajamu Baraka.
AB: What would have been the consequence of Black people suffering the kinds of loss in Black wealth coming out of the economic crisis of 2008-2009, if it wasn’t for Obama to be there to divert their rage and their energy? Who else would have been able to survive when Detroit the first city in this country never went bankrupt, 85% Black at that point, was completely ignored by the federal government? Who else could have done that besides a Black Obama presidency? So this has been the role that he has played and that’s again why he’s been so effective. His role has been devastating for the Black movement, devastating for the interest of the Black poor and working class. But one of the best things ever to happen, the white power…
CH: Glen Ford, who died in the summer of 2021, was one of the country’s most insightful political commentators and radical journalists. He appeared several times on this show. He spoke for the marginalized and excoriated the elites. Glen was the co-publisher of the radical Black Commentator and later founded with Bruce Dixon and Margaret Kimberly, the Black Agenda Report. Glen repeatedly called out the Black political elites exposing, for example, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker’s close ties with right-wing organizations, such as the Manhattan Institute and the Bradley Foundation. And Booker’s advocacy of neoliberalism, austerity programs, school privatization, and other initiatives that are at the forefront of the war on the poor, especially poor Blacks. He called the Black political leaders who sold their soul to corporations and America’s imperial projects the Black misleadership class. While many black leftists betrayed the most basic tenets of their political beliefs to support Barack Obama following his election to the presidency in 2008, Glen saw through the charade. He lambasted Obama and Hillary Clinton as “political twins” and warned that the policies they advocated were deeply harmful to Black people. He saw Obama in the Democratic Party as not the lesser evil but the more effective evil. The democrats he knew were better at masking their subservience to corporations, the ruling elites, and the military-industrial complex while assiduously doing their bidding. Glen was also keenly aware that the evils of white supremacy and corporate plundering are the driving engine behind America’s imperial projects. He kept a close watch on the United States Africa Command, AFRICOM and its expanding military footprint on the continent. A talented and brilliant writer gifted with an acerbic sense of humor and uncompromising in his integrity and courage, he will be very hard to replace. Joining me to discuss Glen’s new book, The Black Agenda is Ajamu Baraka, the national organizer and spokesperson for the Black Alliance for Peace. So Ajama, I just--right at the start of the book because this was an important issue for Glen, and that was the understanding within the Black community in the United States of the nature of imperialism. And one of the things he excoriated Obama for was essentially masking--serving as a mask for imperialism and diluting that kind of opposition to imperial projects. This is what he writes at the start of the war in Iraq. “The impending war against Iraq is an oil currency war, a preemptive strike against the euro’s potential to challenge the U.S. dollar as the sole denominator of petroleum purchases. By seizing the Iraqi oil fields and positioning itself to do the same in Saudi Arabia, Iran and throughout the Persian Gulf, the Caspian Sea and South Asia, the U.S can stop the euro cold and rule as its own OPEC, awesomely armed and dreadfully dangerous. The dollar will remain supreme backed by the oil reserves of the globe.” I mean, he nailed it from the start, but let’s talk about his, I think, you know, very profound understanding of imperial projects and how it was essential for those of us in the country to see those forces as disruptive to our democracy and our social movements.
AB: Well, you know, Chris, that small--that little piece you just shared I think really captures the brilliance of Glen’s analysis, making the correct connections between these various interests and the imperial objectives of the U.S. state. And his argument is an argument that we have taken up, that’s always been a part of the, like, radical tradition, the internationalist Black radical tradition. And that is an understanding of the--of the nature of this global system. And insisting therefore, Black people and all oppressed people, we had to understand those kinds of relationships, we had to demystify the structures and the relations of power, and that was his main objective, and the objective of all the writers at The Black Commentator, then more even more so at Black Agenda Report. So, yes, Barack Obama became a force that helped to undermine the process of the people understanding these relationships. The first time in really the history of Black America, if you will, we saw a shift in the consciousness of Black folks who had moved from a place where we’re always skeptical of U.S. imperial projects, U.S. wars, to a place where a lot--not large but a majority of our folks supported the impending attack on Iraq. That’s why Glen referred to Obama as the more effective evil.
CH: He also knew that it wasn’t going to work, again, you know, very prescient, very early he writes, “War is the great and terrible engine of history. Bush and his Pirates hope to employ that engine to harness time and cheat the laws of political economy, to leapfrog over the contradictions of their parasitical existence into a new epoch of their own imagining. Instead, they have lunged into the abyss, from which no one will extricate them for they will be hated much more than feared. In attempting to break humanity’s will to resist, the Bush pirates have reached too far.” I also was very critical at the beginning of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but there were very, very few voices, his being one, that number one got what it was about but also got how disastrous it would become.
AB: Well, most definitely. Unfortunately though, it took the public a while to catch up with that analysis. And in particular, as the general public was beginning to understand the folly of the U.S. attack both in Iraq and in Afghanistan, we found that the opinion among Black America was shifting. In particular, that became very clear under Obama. So, while the adventure into the--those two theaters were a disaster, in terms of the shift in consciousness, we saw that it was somewhat effective in terms of undermining the most consistently anti-war sector of the population and that is Black America, and that was really one of the main thrusts of the writing of Glen Ford and the writers at Black Agenda Report, to engage in this ideological struggle to try to put a break on this right-wing shift that was taking place among Black folks and the left in general.
CH: As someone who spent 20 years on the outer reaches of empire, it became quickly apparent to me that empire is really the external expression of white supremacy. Because all of the racist tropes that are used by white racists at home are used against Muslims in the Middle East, the empire is about the subjugation primarily of people of color and the theft of their resources. And so Glen always understood that they were intimately linked. I want to talk about Katrina, he wrote quite a bit about the hurricane that ravaged Katrina, because he makes a very important point, he said Katrina is a metaphor for abandoned urban America. He’s quoting Jesse Jackson as he prepared to lead a “Reclaiming Our Land” march in New Orleans. “There’s no urban policy, and there must be.” And Ford answers this, he said, “Jackson is wrong. An urban policy does exist, hatched in corporate boardrooms and proceeding at various stages of implementation in cities across the nation. Urban America is not being abandoned, rather the corporate plan calls for existing populations to be removed and replaced, incrementally, a process that is well underway. And the land is being reclaimed by big capital, with the enthusiastic support of urban politicians of all races from coast to coast. The problem is not the lack of an urban policy but the failure to formulate progressive Black urban policies and plans.” Can you address that?
AB: Basically, what Glen is referring to is the fact that we understood what the plan was, it was quite clear. The way--but the plan was being executed effectively because of a lack of political opposition. Why? Because in those same urban areas where Black people were stated to be removed, they were areas that were under the political control of the Black misleadership class, if you will. So, again, the task is trying to make people aware of the threat and hoping that we can organize effective opposition. That opposition had to be not only opposition to those policies, but to the neocolonial Black leadership in those areas. So that again was Glen’s calling, an understanding that we had to inject into the equation an understanding of class. It couldn’t just be about the Black-White binary. That we had to inject into the discourse and into the analysis and understanding of the role of class, in particular, this new neocolonial class that was on the--at the top of our people across this country.
CH: He was very prescient about the demographic shifts. He addresses this not only in terms of his critique of what happened to New Orleans after Katrina, but how the kind of breaking up of Black communities, how they’re pushed to the periphery, occupying homes formerly owned by whites who have fled. And he writes, “The result is a scattering of African-Americans and a dilution of Black political power in a growing number of central cities.” Can you talk about that process that we are now seeing in urban areas?
AB: For that, you have this concentration of African people, Black people in these urban areas that helped lead to the ascendancy of--to power of these black politicians, this misleadership class, if you will. But because of their own politically shortsightedness, they did not put in place measures that would positively impact the masses of the people. In fact, they allowed themselves to be manipulated into supporting policies that helped to remove their political base. And as a consequence of that base being diluted, along with the reclaiming of land by white suburbanites who are moving back into the cities, they also begin to reclaim some degree of political power. Again, this is another example how shortsighted policies can undermine your own--your particular class interests, and I think that’s exactly what has been happening and exactly what Glen was referring to in that passage.
CH: Great. When we come back, we will continue our conversation about Glen Ford’s new book, The Black Agenda with Ajamu Baraka, the national organizer and spokesperson for the Black Alliance for Peace. Welcome back to On Contact. We continue our conversation about Glen Ford’s new book, The Black Agenda, with Ajamu Baraka, the national organizer and spokesperson for the Black Alliance for Peace. So, if Glen had a favorite target, it was the Democratic Party and the liberal elites, and he nailed it again. He talks about the dissolution of both the Democratic Party and the established Black leadership formations, and their neutering as effective agents for domestic social change and world peace, corporate power has swallowed the party whole and is smothering or absorbing the residue of what was once a powerful Black people’s movement. The devastation is all but complete. And then of course he goes on to write about the mass incarceration, which he calls the Black Gulag, the product of a people-savaging national public policy that began as a mass white societal response to the 60’s Freedom Movement and metastasizes each year, regardless of crime rates, and it isn’t even an issue, he writes, for the Democratic Party leadership. Can you talk about that point that he raised?
AB: It really is--it really is not an issue in terms of what is happening to the Black poor and working class in this country. And again, primarily, because of the role of this new petty bourgeoisie class in power politically, but also the ability to control the internal discourse has been devastating for the Black community. So what Glen took up as his mission was to, in fact, make them the target because we understood--he understood that we could not--we could not address the contradictions of the capitalist system as long as this class had legitimacy, so we had to target this class, which meant we had to engage in a very intensive internal ideological struggle within the Black community. And it’s a difficult struggle because this issue of class was something that the Black elites themselves pretended didn’t exist. And so taking up this struggle, taking up this task is one of the reasons why so many elements of that class was opposed to The Black Agenda Report and Glen Ford in particular.
CH: He writes, “Our enemy is corporate capital, which has polluted every nook and cranny of electoral and traditional Black politics. The Congressional Black Caucus has been broken like an egg. Black institutions contort themselves and their agendas to seek corporate funding. The corporate media voice is a monotone, celebrating the rise of a ‘new’ generation of Black leaders that rejects confrontation with the powers-that-be and, like Barack Obama, questions the relevance of race-based grievances. That’s money talking, but we are a loud people and our voices will be heard.” And what he’s really writing about is a species of internal colonialism, when it became just politically unpalatable for the white Belgians to rule the Congo after murdering Patrice Lumumba, they installed a client like Mobutu. And that--and that’s really what Glen was saying has happened domestically.
AB: Exactly. Exactly. And that element has been quite effective in advancing what we refer to as white power. This whole strategy that they championed and was embraced by the people for quite some time, of only being concerned with Black faces and high places. That became the basis for the mobilization for Barack Obama and for the continuation of these opportunists in the city governments across the country. And that’s, again, why this issue of class was such a threat to them. Not only, you know, this issue of class domestically, but as Glen and the writers of Black Agenda Report, I think, effectively pointed out that you had to understand also the issue of class on the African continent and throughout the colonial world. And making those connections between the domestic and the international, inserting the concept of class in the analysis is at the heart of what made the Black Agenda Report and Glen’s writing so valuable. Because very few commentators, very few analysis are in fact making those kinds of political and ideological connections.
CH: His argument was always that the Black leadership class, after the ‘60s and ‘70s, was in essence, bought off and began to serve their own selfish interests, he made these charges against figures like Jesse Jackson, for instance. He writes, “The current Black misleadership class voluntarily joined the enemy camp - calling it ‘progress’ - as soon as the constraints of official apartheid were lifted. They exploited the political and business opportunities made possible by people’s mass movement in order to advance their own selfish agendas and in the process, made a pact with Power to assist in the debasement and incarceration of millions of their brothers and sisters. In the case of Black elected officials, their culpability is directly and hands-on. The professional ‘interlocutors’ between African-Americans and Power, from the local butt-kissing preacher to marquee power-brothers like Al Sharpton, serve as Black--Mass Black Incarceration State’s firemen.”
AB: Exactly. Exactly. And that role was taken up by the--by petty bourgeoisie, really, in the 1970s, coming out of the Gary Convention of 1972, and the conversation that emerged in terms of what should be the correct direction of the--of the Black movement? Should it be to continue building alternative, independent political power? Or should it attempt to try to take advantage of the new political spaces and enter into electoral politics? Well, you know, many of the Black radicals opted to continue to try to build independent political power, while this newly developing and expanding Black petty bourgeoisie said, “We’re going to the electoral arena.” And that’s exactly what they did. And not only did they go into the electoral arena, they used their ability--their ability to have set-aside projects to help to enhance and expand the Black bourgeoisie also. So there was this class connection, if you will, that had a profound impact on the nature of Black politics. And this has been the issue we’ve been facing ever since, because that connection, that relationship between the emerging bourgeoisie and the Black petty bourgeois, professional administrators and managers, has solidified into a new--a new ruling class. And they’re the ones that are--they had confined themselves to playing the role as supporters of the Democratic Party, both for the national and the inter--on the--and the--and the local level. And that grip is what Glen was adamant about having to try to break if we’re going to have any kind of chance at a progressive Black politics in this country.
CH: He implodes this argument that these liberals and Black politicians often will make, that by electing a democrat, you create space for progressive activism. And he writes, “Only charlatans preach that progressive movements must install preferred personalities from the menus of the ruling circles before they can find space to move.” And of course, Obama’s presidency is a good example of how that space was effectively neutered and shut down. But talk about that argument that is often made, that lesser evil argument.
AB: Well, you know, one of the things about Obama and what Glen and others raised, was that the kind of reactionary politics that Obama was able to advance could not have occur--have occurred outside of him being Black. Basically, who else could have led the struggle or the fight to undermine Libya besides Barack Obama? What would have been the consequence of Black people suffering the kinds of loss in Black wealth coming out of the economic crisis of 2008 and 2009, if it wasn’t for Obama to be there to divert their rage and their energy? Who else would have been able to survive when Detroit, the first city in this country, never went bankrupt, 85% Black at that point? It was completely ignored by the federal government. Who else could have done that besides a Black Obama presidency? So this has been the role that he has played, and that’s, again, why he’s been so effective. His role has been devastating for the Black movement, devastating for the interest of the Black poor and working class. But one of the best things ever to happen to white power, because one of the consequences of all of this has been, in light of all of these contradictions, we still have seen a shift to the political right among African people, among Black people, to the extent that now they support wars, they are silent on U.S. Imperialism, so-called progressives in the Congress can support draconian sanction bills against Nicaragua and Cuba, undermine Venezuela, say nothing about the expansion of AFRICOM. These are all the consequences of political successes, ideological successes, that emerged coming out of the Obama presidency.
CH: I just want to end quickly, we only have about 45 seconds left, but he was also clear that Trump and his white racist supporters were not the issue. He said that Trump was the excretion of the system, the excretion of late-stage capitalism, which he called the mother of monstrosities, subverting science, et cetera, et cetera, that Donald Trump, just to close, I’ll let you comment quickly, was the natural denouement of this contaminated system, not--he was the symptom, in short, not the disease.
AB: Absolutely. Basically, Donald Trump was a creation of the system and the policies of Barack Obama and the corrupt Democratic Party. Glen understood that, raised that, and we are forever indebted for that--the clarity of his voice and analysis.
CH: Great. That was Ajamu Baraka, the national organizer and spokesperson for the Black Alliance for Peace on Glen Ford’s new book, The Black Agenda.