I would like to
encourage readers of this website to listen to Glen Ford (of Black
Agenda Report) speaking at a Socialist Action Canadian conference on
“The Democratic Party, Death Trap for U.S.
Blacks—Independent Labour/Black Political Action”:
His talk is worth the 45 minutes it takes to listen to—in
particular for those who are considering their attitude toward the
decision by Bernie Sanders to run for the Democratic Party presidential
nomination. It’s also significant in terms of understanding the
question of “white privilege,” which is a perennial
sticking point for many self-proclaimed socialists and revolutionaries.
I will try to summarize the highlights for those who cannot take the
time to view the entire video, interspersing a few comments of my own
about the implications of Ford’s analysis.
On independent labor/Black political action and the issue of white
privilege Ford describes a hierarchy of pro-union sentiment that
descends proportionally from Black women (most supportive), then Black
men, “Hispanic” women, then “Hispanic” men,
then white women, and lastly white men. From this he suggests that
there is a “deficit” of solidarity—where white men
are the most hesitant to unite and find great difficulty working across
racial lines due to the fact that it is they who benefit the most from
Ford suggests that the
greatest weakness of the American left and labor has always been the
problem of whites failing to act in solidarity with Blacks (and, I
might add, of all men failing to act in solidarity with women of all
colors). The hierarchy he describes, regarding an understanding of the
need to unite tells me that women will be the key to Black/white unity,
since they have the least to lose and are already sensitized to the
issue of privilege due to their own oppression. They can more readily
empathize with issues of discrimination. This can be a key to our
strategy on working-class unity.
Ford points out that a dynamic engine of political radicalization in
the 1960s was the explosion of independent Black political organizing,
which generated a self-determination dialogue on the nature of the
system. Once Blacks decided that they should be independent, they then
had to determine: independent from what? What is the actual nature of
US society? So an extremely radical analysis grew out of Blacks
examining the issue of self-determination.
period of unity among Black and white radicals, according to Ford, came
at the end of the sixties, based on the position regarding the nature
of imperialism developed by the Black Panther Party. This unity could
never have happened if Blacks had not first organized separately.
Future unity will have to unfold the same way, with Blacks getting
together first and waging their own fight. Unity will arise out of the
leadership of the Black struggle. I would add that the same is true for
women. Men will support us when we lead our own fight. That is what
brings the privileged to the side of the oppressed (unless of course
the movements of the oppressed go in a reactionary direction, which is
possible depending on a number of factors). I often wish that men would
expend more of their own energy in removing the burden of oppression
from women, but unfortunately it usually doesn't work that
way—for Black people or for women. But that is a whole other
In the opening
section of his talk Ford explains how the Democratic Party came to have
the hold it does on the Black community more clearly than I have ever
heard before. It is worth listening to. He notes that immediately after
the Civil War the Republican Party was the party of Blacks in the
South, while the Democrats were the “white peoples’
party.” But once Reconstruction was turned back, and Blacks
effectively disenfranchised, the Republican Party lost its base and
essentially disappeared. The South became a “one party
state.” During the civil rights era, therefore, the struggle for
the franchise by Blacks meant a struggle to be allowed to participate
in the only party that existed, the Democrats.
The success of
this struggle was seen as a great victory, and voting in a unified
manner for Democrats is still viewed by blacks as an act of solidarity.
But it also lead to the re-establishment of the Republican Party in the
South, this time as the new “white peoples’ party.”
Today the overwhelming majority of whites in the South are Republicans;
the overwhelming majority of Blacks are Democrats.
Ford raises many
other aspects of this process, and also talks about the rise of the
Democratic Party as the party of Black people in the urban centers of
the North. His entire analysis is well worth listening to.
Unfortunately Black Agenda Report has remained as isolated, within the
Black community, as white radicals are within the left in our critique
of the Democratic party.
He then talks about
the layer of Blacks that arose during the 1960s who wanted to be
capitalists—capitalist aspiring, because they were not really
capitalists—who figured it would best serve their own interests
to shut down any mass protest movements. He acknowledges the effect
of COINTELPRO and repression on the Black struggle, but suggests
that the conservative influence and the behavior of this layer was also
a key factor that helped to derail the Black movement.
Ford points out that
finance capital is to the Democratic Party what big energy is to the
Republicans—its most reliable source of political funding and
support. Finance capital makes a killing by funding public investments
in the urban centers, and therefore found it convenient to forge deep
ties to the new, and increasingly Black, Democratic establishment in
most of the big cities of the USA.
As a result, during the last several decades, the Black community
became infested with stooges of Wall Street, entrenched in the
Democratic Party. Ford tells us that it is, therefore, critical for
Black labor to take the lead in a struggle to reclaim Black politics,
because otherwise finance capital will continue to assert its hegemony.
(His talk was presented before the rise of the fast food workers’
movement which is beginning, at least, to play this role today.)
Ford believes that half of progressive America is Black. If progressive
sentiment cannot be mobilized in the Black community, therefore,
because that community is infested and diverted by Democratic stooges
of Wall Street, there will be no hope for any kind of progressive
It’s in this light that we
should be analyzing the Sanders campaign. If unregistered people and
youth are mobilized to vote for Sanders in the primaries, they will
need to be newly registered into the Democratic Party and this will, of
necessity, have to become a goal of the Sanders campaign itself. That,
in turn, will only serve to increase the grip of the reformists on the
Black community. (I think it’s extremely useful to contemplate
Ford’s description of the Democratic hold on voters as an
During the discussion period Ford
also discusses the black vote for Obama in 2008 and 2012, and those who
enthusiastically described it as “a movement.” Their
political justification was that it doesn't matter what Obama says; its
the movement that counts. He explains that this was a movement to the
polls, however, not a real movement. There was an election which
conjured up a “victory,” but that victory was, in fact,
simply enthusiastic voting for a more effective evil. It advanced the
interest of the white establishment, which became more secure. For the
rest of us it was just an imaginary victory. He points out that this is
how they absorb people.
We should be careful,
in particular, not to discount the wretched record of Sanders on
racism, and consider seriously whether his scoring points on other
issues could, in any way, justify even critical support by the Left.
I do not want to maintain that there are not any positive aspects to
Sanders’s run for President, since any shake up in the Democratic
Party or politics as usual usually indicates deeper struggles to come.
It cannot hurt to have a prominent senator identify as a socialist.
However the key is whether Sanders actually campaigns as a socialist.
As many have pointed out, his politics in practice remain within safe
Democratic Party limits.
Also during the Q&A, Ford discusses the role of the CP in the
1930's. I will not go into this, but again it’s well worth
listening to. In the 1930's the CP USA was the biggest party that
formally supported integration, asserting that it would expel racist
members. Due to the apartheid nature of the USA, however, it was the
entire society, not just the south, that limited racial interaction.
The CP looked like an oasis due to its position on the national
question and the right to self determination. Blacks in the party felt
they could not be overruled by whites, since the party declared they
had a right to national self determination. They felt they could get
into the party and then have their own platform. He explains that at
one point 20 percent of the party was Black, but that later this
declined when the CP repudiated its previous position on the national