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Glen Ford: A remarkable revolutionary

Originally published: Black Agenda Report on August 4, 2021 (more by Black Agenda Report)  |

Glen Ford was a revolutionary in all that he did.

The year was 2011. I was full to the brim with anger toward the United States for the deleterious impact of racism on my life and the lives of those closest to me. I was equally furious with liberal elitism and the class-blind racial politics that privileged “diversity” over the substantive material issues most critical to oppressed people everywhere. I marched with Occupy Wall Street and engaged in the labor movement but still felt alone. I frequently asked myself:

Why are all sides of the so-called American Left unable to fight race and class simultaneously?

I then came across Glen Ford’s work from a simple online search and recall a similar reaction to that of Ho Chi Minh after he was introduced to Vladimir Lenin’s “Theses on the Colonial Question,”

What emotion, enthusiasm, clear-sightedness and confidence it instilled into me! I was overjoyed to tears. Though sitting alone in my room, I shouted out aloud as if addressing large crowds: “Dear martyrs compatriots! This is what we need, this is the path to our liberation!”

Reading and listening to Glen Ford’s analysis of the Obama administration placed a bright spotlight on a historical moment of intense darkness. At present, there are still too few others who have been able to coherently place the Obama era in its proper context of the U.S.’s ongoing counterinsurgency warfare against Black liberation and self-determination. While much of the American left equated the rise of Obama with “progress,” Glen Ford repeatedly warned us that the Obama administration rendered U.S. imperialism and white supremacy a more effective, and therefore more dangerous, evil.

That’s what revolutionaries do. They warn us through careful explanation and analysis of how oppressive systems work. They prepare us to make history through revolution; to replace the old decrepit order with a new one. But revolutionaries do not just champion any social order. Glen Ford was quite clear that any social transformation of the United States must satisfy the needs of humanity, especially the most terrorized and exploited among us. Socialism and self-determination were not antithetical principles but rather interconnected aims wholly consistent with the struggle for Black liberation.

Glen Ford’s work convinced me in rapid fashion of the necessity of Black revolutionary leadership in the long struggle to build a socialist project in the United States. His grasp of theory and history was matched by few others. His talent behind the microphone and written word brought his analysis to life. From 2011 to 2013, I followed Black Agenda Report regularly and held it to the sky as a necessary source for anyone claiming interest in “social justice.” Glen Ford’s work on the U.S. war against the African country of Libya, an invasion led by the first Black President of the United States, laid the foundations for my own anti-imperialist approach to both activism and journalism.

In 2013, I took a leap and submitted my first article to Glen Ford analyzing Barack Obama’s presidency as a corporate brand. My writing was raw. I was schooled poorly in grammar and had only begun reading regularly over the last year. Clarity was not yet a strength that I possessed. Not to worry. Glen’s brief responses to my submissions over the next several months provided a basic education into concise analytical writing, and I owe much of my development as both a writer and political analyst to him.

From 2014 to 2016, I met Glen Ford in the flesh only in brief encounters at The Left Forum. In 2017, I moved to New York City. Glen and I would eventually convene at Molly Wee’s in Manhattan on a periodic basis and speak for hours about the political situation in the U.S. and abroad. Glen Ford was a communist who shared his experiences in the Black Panther Party and the Communist Party without hesitation to trusted comrades. He loved to tell a good story.

But it wasn’t just for the fun of it. Glen had expectations. He didn’t need to say it bluntly for me to know that he hoped his stories would be incorporated in my own work in service of the people. Everything with Glen was for the people. This didn’t mean he didn’t enjoy a good time, however. A good time for Glen Ford was defined both by the company he kept and his passion for analyzing the world and those struggling for power within it. A drink didn’t hurt, either.

Glen Ford always addressed me as a fellow revolutionary, a comrade. This was one of the greatest personal gifts that I have ever received. In the beginning of our relationship, I was intimidated. I was aware from his bio in Black Agenda Report and his personal stories just how significant he was as a pioneer in Black journalism. Glen had once held deep relationships with not only James Brown but also political officials such as the late John Conyers. He could have become a Black media mogul and raked in millions through loyalty to the powerful.

Instead, Glen Ford died a revolutionary mentoring people like myself in the theory and practice of revolutionary struggle. Instead of lucrative gigs, Glen was creating a new language for oppressed people to understand and change the world. We can attribute to him the term “Black misleadership class” to describe Black leaders such as Al Sharpton who have gained comfortable careers from service to the white capitalist class. In 2015, Glen Ford led the way in principled critiques of the Black Lives Matter Network’s (BLM) relationship with the Democratic Party. He took great pride in knowing Black Agenda Report played a large part in BLM’s refusal to endorse the DNC in the 2016 election.

On numerous occasions, Glen Ford advised me on how to navigate difficult political problems. There were some on the so-called “Left” who took issue with my contribution to Black Agenda Report and my criticisms of the Black Lives Matter Network. Glen Ford smiled when I brought the issue to him. His advice? Tell the naysayers that the best of the Black liberation movement has always been inclusive to the interests and movements of all oppressed people. And he was clear with me, and to anyone who questioned, that Black Agenda Report would remain firmly under radical Black leadership no matter who contributed.

Glen Ford was a remarkable revolutionary who encouraged others to develop and hone their skills for the movement. His commitment to the Black Radical Tradition’s anti-imperialist and socialist politics blazed a path forward in a historical period of intense reaction and crisis. Roberto Sirvent and I did not have to think twice about asking Glen Ford to contribute the afterword to our book on American exceptionalism. Glen’s influence, especially his cutting style and fearless takedowns of the American empire, was so influential to the project that it was only natural for him to have the last word.

We must continue to keep Glen’s spirit and work alive. We must apply all of his lessons about elite chicanery, imperialism, and the dangers of the Democratic Party to our efforts to develop revolutionary leadership in the citadel of oppression. We cannot thank Glen Ford enough for all of the sacrifices he made for the cause of liberation. His work lives on not only in Black Agenda Report, but also in political organizations such as The Black Alliance for Peace, the Black is Back Coalition, and the United National Anti-War Coalition (UNAC) to name just a few.

Personally, I am one of the luckiest humans on this earth for the opportunity to learn from his contributions up close and personal. His mentorship was, and will always be, invaluable. In truth, however, anyone who followed or knew Glen Ford was mentored by him. He is one of the few among us who lived by Amilcar Cabral’s iconic words,

Tell no lies, claim no easy victories!

Rise in Power, Glen Ford!

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