Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

February 7, 2012

Chris Hedges and the black bloc

Filed under: black bloc idiots — louisproyect @ 6:29 pm

Yesterday Chris Hedges wrote an attack on the black bloc on Truthdig.com that has gone “viral” in the sense that the Internet is all abuzz about it. Resonating with the sickness metaphor, the appropriately titled article “The Cancer in Occupy” begins:

The Black Bloc anarchists, who have been active on the streets in Oakland and other cities, are the cancer of the Occupy movement. The presence of Black Bloc anarchists—so named because they dress in black, obscure their faces, move as a unified mass, seek physical confrontations with police and destroy property—is a gift from heaven to the security and surveillance state.

As most people realize, the people that Hedges is writing about are not really interested in defending themselves politically. From its inception back in the European autonomist movements of the 1980s, the black-clad activists refuse to answer anybody outside of their ranks. Within the “affinity group”, everything is cool. Outside of it, who gives a shit? Ironically, this kind of elitism is not that different from the “vanguard party” posture which puts the needs of the sect above that of the mass movement.

The European black bloc “autonomy” literally meant that they were not accountable to the rest of the left, particularly the traditional socialist parties and the trade unions that were viewed as the enemy in pretty much the same fashion as “third period” Stalinism. Just a brief history lesson on this. Stalin characterized the period of the late 1920s as the “third period” of capitalism in which communism would be triumphant against both capitalism and a sell-out left that collaborated with it. This led the German CP—infamously—to back a Nazi-initiated referendum to remove a Socialist Party elected official in Saxony.

I would say that trying to persuade a black bloc activist that they are harming the left would be as much of an exercise in futility as persuading a German Stalinist to unite with the SP in the 1920s.

It has been pretty much left up to people outside the “affinity group” to defend its antics against Hedges, who is seen as a liberal sell-out. The defense of the black bloc is mounted in total disregard of whether the tactic is effective and frequently in the most hysterical manner as this comment to my blog:

I identify with the Black Bloc because nuclear power killed my father and made me and my sister sick. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t want to smash something that would stop the madness.

That prompted me to respond:

I would tend to think that mass demonstrations against nuclear power plants would be more effective than spray-painting “Fuck the nuclear energy” on the walls of a Con Edison building. But then again, I am a Marxist and tend to believe in the power of the masses rather than adolescents in black levi jeans acting out.

Some of Hedges’s article is weak. For example, he tries to make the black bloc into some kind of hard-core enemy of the EZLN based on some selective citations, whereas in fact a lot of the black bloc posturing seems to be an idiotic attempt to emulate the Zapatistas, especially the donning of masks. In the 1960s, some of the student left fashioned itself after the Red Guards. Something of the same sort is going on here, I’m afraid.

Perhaps the best part of Hedges’s article is the words of Derrick Jensen, who told him:

Their thinking is not only nonstrategic, but actively opposed to strategy. They are unwilling to think critically about whether one is acting appropriately in the moment. I have no problem with someone violating boundaries [when] that violation is the smart, appropriate thing to do. I have a huge problem with people violating boundaries for the sake of violating boundaries. It is a lot easier to pick up a rock and throw it through the nearest window than it is to organize, or at least figure out which window you should throw a rock through if you are going to throw a rock. A lot of it is laziness.

I wouldn’t change a word of this. I would also concur with Chris Hedges’s take on the psychological dimensions of the black bloc:

The Black Bloc movement is infected with a deeply disturbing hypermasculinity. This hypermasculinity, I expect, is its primary appeal. It taps into the lust that lurks within us to destroy, not only things but human beings. It offers the godlike power that comes with mob violence. Marching as a uniformed mass, all dressed in black to become part of an anonymous bloc, faces covered, temporarily overcomes alienation, feelings of inadequacy, powerlessness and loneliness. It imparts to those in the mob a sense of comradeship.

Some of the angry comments underneath Hedges’s article make the cases that there are plenty of gays and women in the black bloc. One supposes that you have to take them at their word, whether or not that makes the women or gays acting out any less hypermasculine. But more to the point, who knows who is behind the black mask? It is not as if someone put up a Youtube video about the day in the life of a black bloc participant. Can you imagine the intro? “Meet Kenny Goldstein, a web developer by day and a brick thrower by night. Kenny, can you tell us why you got involved with the black bloc?” “Sure, I just came to the conclusion that a spray-painted Whole Foods window is just the thing that can bring capitalism to its knees.”

I also agree with Hedges when he writes:

The Black Bloc’s thought-terminating cliché of “diversity of tactics” in the end opens the way for hundreds or thousands of peaceful marchers to be discredited by a handful of hooligans. The state could not be happier. It is a safe bet that among Black Bloc groups in cities such as Oakland are agents provocateurs spurring them on to more mayhem. But with or without police infiltration the Black Bloc is serving the interests of the 1 percent. These anarchists represent no one but themselves.

My only quibble is whether the black bloc is responsible for the “diversity of tactics” mantra as much as the people who are out in the open as coalition-builders. I am afraid that their sense of “diversity” is drawn from the nonprofit world they inhabit in which weekend retreats in Aspen are devoted to examining how some university or foundation can be more “inclusive”. Horsefeathers, I say.

One of the reasons there has been such a reaction against Hedges from the fellow-travelers of the vandalistas is that he is a highly respected figure. Here is somebody who could have been making millions of dollars a year as a top NY Times reporter or editor and he gave it up because of principle. As someone willing to get arrested for the movement and a good friend of the Occupy movement, he is not easily dismissed. Getting called a cancer by him is something you would prefer to avoid even if you and your posse brag that nobody outside your ranks really matters.

It is becoming increasingly obvious that the left has grown terminally weary of these people, whoever they are.

It is also important to understand that other voices, while not as well known as Hedges, have also come down fairly hard against the black bloc.

Whatever problems people have with Counterpunch, the last thing that can be said about it is that it is “liberal” or that it has a fetish over nonviolence. With that in mind, it was of some significance that they chose to publish an article by Osha Neumann, a Berkeley lawyer who is an advocate for the homeless, titled “It’s Okay to Take Off Your Gas Mask — Occupy Oakland: Are We Being Childish?”  Neumann is the son of Frankfurt School luminary Franz Neumann, whose study of Nazism titled “Behemoth” is peerless. In the 1960s, he got involved with a small affinity group called the Motherfuckers that had a certain affinity with the Weathermen. In other words, he knows the ultraleft territory fairly well. This is what he has to say:

How could it have been different? The goal of taking over the Kaiser Center for community use was admirable, even brilliant, but in the end the point of what was billed as “Move-in day” got lost in meaningless rumbles with the police and the trashing of City Hall. (A note of caution here: Since no was arrested in the City Hall trashing, we cannot rule out that it was the work of agents provocateurs. Be that as it may, the failure to obtain our objective and to control the meaning of our actions cannot be blamed on infiltrators.) What if, instead of a group within Occupy picking a target and then calling for a day of action, we had initiated a campaign to make that building available for community use? We could have gone out into the neighborhoods, held meetings, where we would discuss whether people liked the idea of occupying the building and what they would like to see happen in the space. With our numbers swelled and diversified by those we had organized, we could make demands to the mayor and the city council in the name of the people.

Neumann is describing the patient hard work that a genuine revolutionary gets involved with. Going out into the street and spray-painting a Whole Food window does not require any special talents or training unless of course you need to be able to identify the business end of a spray can correctly. After all, no self-respecting black bloc militant wants to ruin a perfectly good mask with red paint.

Now it is entirely possible that Osha Neumann is as fatally compromised as Chris Hedges. I have no way of knowing how the black bloc arrives at its enemy list since they have so little interest in justifying themselves (rather like the police, one might say.)

That is why I found Asad Haider’s article “Building the Red Army: The Death and Forbidden Rebirth of the Oakland Commune” in Viewpoint so compelling in light of the fact that only two months ago he complained:

All over the internet liberals are warning of agents provocateurs who are trying to discredit the movement, or condemning the dangerous anarchist element that seeks confrontation with police. Such positions could be debated if they had any bearing on reality.

From the sounds of that, you’d think he’d be having the black bloc’s back. Not so fast actually. He writes:

It’s understandable that a clash with police has a marked effect on the adrenal glands. But there was nothing resembling a victory in this. The stated goal had not been achieved, and the police are familiar with the aggressiveness of activists in Oakland. They expect it. In fact, the Oakland Police Department is on the verge of federal receivership, an unprecedented move, because the OPD really likes violence, and seeks it out as part of a policy of state-sponsored gang warfare. And the insistence on “Fuck the Police” marches in Oakland leading up to yesterday could only shift the emphasis from the occupation itself to the clash.

He also has a very good assessment of how the black bloc and Moveon.org complement each other (even though he does not refer to the black bloc by name.)

A century later, insurrectionary anarchists and reformists like MoveOn vie for hegemony over the movement, each advancing street-fighting and voting not as tactics, but as the ultimate goals. And we have to be clear that it is an alliance between social democrats and ultra-leftists that has driven this movement, in spite of their public scorn for each other.

Exactly.

Like a lot of the problems on the left, ultra-leftism has been around for a very long time. Lenin’s brother was a Narodnik who chose the “propaganda of the deed” so he had a personal as well as a political stake in convincing idealistic young people in Czarist Russia to choose mass action.

In 1970, when I was 25 years old, my party had its hands full with the same sort of problem. Peter Camejo, who I regard as my greatest mentor, gave a talk titled “Liberalism, ultraleftism or mass action” that had a big impact on our own ranks as well as antiwar activists who had grown wary of SDS type adventures. It is very much worth reading in its entirety but I want to conclude with Peter’s observations about ultraleftism:

There’s another point of view, and that is ultraleftism. This represents a small section of the student movement, but a much larger proportion of those who call themselves radicals or socialists.

Now basically an ultraleft is a liberal that has gone through an evolution. What happens is this. They start out as liberals, and suddenly the war in Vietnam comes along. Now, what does a liberal believe? He believes that the ruling class is basically responsive to his needs. So he demonstrates.

You know, in the beginning when the antiwar movement first started there were very few ultraleftists. Most of the ultraleftist leaders of today were people who were organizing legal, peaceful demonstrations back around 1965.

But after they called a few demonstrations against the war, they noticed something was wrong. The ruling class was not being responsive. Not only that, they understood for the first time that the US was literally massacring the Vietnamese people. This frightened them. It was as if you all of a sudden found out that your father was really the Boston Strangler. That’s what it was like for these people. They were liberals, who believed that Johnson was better than Goldwater, who had worked and voted for him only to find out that he was the Boston Strangler.

68 Comments »

  1. Superb. I’m sharing. Many thanks.

    Comment by dave r — February 7, 2012 @ 7:12 pm

  2. You know it is one thing to dispute the tactics, strategy or ideology of the black bloc. Fair game.

    But I have to agree with this quote: “Shame on you, Chris. If you want to denounce “violence,” you might use your time to target the police and Mayor Quan instead of doing the work they’ve asked Occupy “leaders” to do for them.” from http://cuntrastamu.com/2012/02/07/to-be-fair-he-is-a-journalist-a-short-response-to-chris-hedges-on-black-bloq/

    Comment by ish — February 7, 2012 @ 7:20 pm

  3. Anonymous has also branded the black bloc a cancer. See this YouTube video #Occupy #Anonymous Warning to #BlackBloc

    This video has drawn a very interesting response. I have long been posting my critique of the black bloc to the Occupy LA list serv and have gotten called every name in the book by black bloc supporters there. I posted the Chris Hedges article. That got a yawn. I posted this piece by a black activist in Oakland Boots Riley on black bloc tactics

    But after the Anonymous video was posted, black bloc supporters got concerned. One list member said:

    I thought it was somewhat interesting that Hedges calls black bloc a “cancer,” because so did Anonymous.

    The last thing they say is, “Read rule 6″ – right here:
    6. Anonymous can be horrible, senseless, uncaring monster.

    Knowing Anon, I’d say this warning shouldn’t be taken lightly. Just sayin’…

    and here is another:

    I don’t want to see Black Bloc folks accidently on the other end of Anonymous’ wrath. I work I.T. and I know the collective power they have.

    Anons message to the black bloc?

    Expect Us!

    Comment by Clay Claiborne (@clayclai) — February 7, 2012 @ 7:22 pm

  4. I have criticized the Bloc here previously in response to your earlier posts, and I generally agree with you, Hedges, and, especially Jensen. But there are other related dimensions of the problem that should be addressed more fully. For example, Hedges has fulfilled a need amongst liberals and progressives, non-socialists, in other words, for a easy, readily identifiable solution for the problems currently confronting Occupy. Hence, his metaphorical description of the Black Bloc as a cancer, implying that the health of Occupy will recover dramatically if it is removed. No wonder it has gone viral. While reassuring, I don’t believe it to be true. I have already noted his overreliance upon theory and his insufficient attention to what is happening on the ground in response to your posting of the link to his article yesterday, so I won’t belabor that again here.

    Instead, it is important to note that, among the many occupations, I have only heard that the Black Bloc is a significant aspect of the activities of Occupy Oakland, and, possibly, Occupy Seattle. Maybe OWS and Occupy Boston, too. Yet Occupy is struggling to survive everywhere, facing a new round of evictions in places like Pittsburgh, Buffalo and DC. Hedges has nothing to say here as to how they should address the challenges facing them. My guess is that it has something to do with the difficulty of centering a political movement around the creation of a prefigurative society populated with the victims of the mainstream, present day one, and given the millenarian feature of Hedges’ thought, it is not surprising that he finds it too hard a subject to address. Here, Haider hits the nail on the head in the quote that you have provided (unfortunately, can’t gain access to the entirety of his article now, will try to so later), both the insurrectionary anarchists (and we have to give Haider credit here for being precise) and MoveON/Rebuild the Dream liberals are allergic to the prospect of a truly inclusive, participatory social movement.

    Hence the urgency of a class based political approach as advocated by you, Pham Binh and others. Paradoxically, the same liberals who cheered the occupations are now relying upon an attack upon the Black Bloc to discredit the notion of participation in direct action by Occupy, conflating the juvenile window breaking and rock throwing of the Bloc with attempts to take over vacant buildings and convert them to public use. Yet Occupy itself emerged as a consequence of direct action. How to deal with this conundrum? Haider, to his credit, provides one possibility. The problem of how to relate to the police politically, particularly within the context of young militants, is, as I mentioned yesterday, one that is very hard to engage, and one that will not be solved by the political repudiation of the Bloc.

    Comment by Richard Estes — February 7, 2012 @ 7:40 pm

  5. what we need to do is internalized the attitude of the cops. police ourselves. expel, expel, expel. lol.
    fuck that shit.

    Comment by brian — February 7, 2012 @ 7:53 pm

  6. Meaty trade unionists?

    Comment by dave r — February 7, 2012 @ 8:15 pm

  7. If Hedges really wants to “go viral,” he might take some time to write a piece on what, exactly, he believes it means these days to be a socialist. I can’t claim to have read everything he has written, but when Hedges signed up on Truthdig, I followed his work closely to see if he’d go there, and near as I can tell, he never has. The U.S. has dozens of political parties that identify themselves as socialist. And not just any socialists, but the real socialists. Does he support any of them? Which one(s)? If not, why not? From what I can see, Hedges believes that socialism is something that will rise organically when the capitalism is “overthrown” by a sufficient number of people who do little more than identify themselves as … socialists! If this is the case, I’d be interested in more detail. If not, then Hedges needs to address the question of a political party. As a man of faith, what does he have to say to workers who would be turned away in droves by existing socialist parties because they’ll only sign up atheists? And what does he have to say to (or about) the parties that would turn them (and him) away for that reason? These are not unimportant questions. For millions of workers, students and retirees whose instincts have at last turned against capitalism but who have had no experience whatsoever in the swamp of American socialist politics, these are vital questions, and they’re questions that are relevant right now. So congratulations, Chris, for making the obvious point that someone prominent on the left had to make about the black bloc idiots. Now, how about discussing the red elephant in the living room? When will the former New York Times writer-turned “socialist” talk about socialism?

    Comment by David — February 7, 2012 @ 9:36 pm

  8. I was shocked at the negative response to Hedges’ article on our Occupy group’s Facebook page. While I am a fan of Hedges, I had been concerned with the reformist, pacifist and even ultrarightist (Ron Paulian) themes in ascendancy within our group. The fierce defense of the Black Bloc restored my faith that at least a layer of younger Occupiers have a class based analysis of what needs to be done instead of this Ghandi/Gene Sharp/Ron Paul bullshit. Out here in the midwest, if not many other places, Occupy has failed to even establish itself as an anticapitalist movement let alone one worthy of being called “socialist”, so I put a plus sign in the class consciousness field, even though it is an anarchist version.

    Comment by Bob Allen — February 7, 2012 @ 10:14 pm

  9. There’s a whiff of the church podium in Hedges’ article. It’s times like this when his background in theology shines through (as does his occasional tendency to fall into “judgement day” sermonizing). His railing against liberalism is illustrative of someone who once had faith in it as a stabilising force too. So it’s no surprise that he’d hold up “local” businesses as helpless victims of dark feral forces.

    The Black Bloc are a fringe tendency on the margins of much wider movements. But the sad fact of the matter is that ‘violence’ (even when its just damaged property) leads to urgent change much more often than peaceful marches do. The Bloc are way too minor to force through any change, but perhaps (lapsed) liberals or the organised (?) left need to reserve their ire for more worthy targets. Especially as it’s uncertain whether the Black Bloc actually are anarchists or led by cops. I don’t quite see what Hedges’ article was in aid of, except to reassure his audience what a ‘good’ occupier should be. Moral panics are the last thing the left needs right now.

    Comment by David W. Kasper — February 7, 2012 @ 10:54 pm

  10. Moral panics are the last thing the left needs right now.

    Kasper, I wasn’t aware that you were in Frank Furedi’s posse.

    Comment by louisproyect — February 7, 2012 @ 11:04 pm

  11. Ah the ol’ Proyject ‘show trial by labelling’ tactic. Or rather, dismissal with glib one-liners. Is that a Noo Yawk thing?

    Now where did I put my balaclava?

    Comment by David W. Kasper — February 7, 2012 @ 11:33 pm

  12. […] Chris Hedges and the black blocLouis Proyect, The Unrepentant Marxist Yesterday Chris Hedges wrote an attack on the black bloc on Truthdig.com that has gone “viral” in the sense that the Internet is all abuzz about it. Considering the sickness metaphor, the appropriately titled article “The Cancer in Occupy” begins: The Black Bloc anarchists, who have been active on the streets in Oakland and other cities, are the cancer of the Occupy movement. The presence of Black Bloc anarchists—so named because they dress in black, obscure their faces, move as a unified mass, seek physical confrontations with police and destroy property—is a gift from heaven to the security and surveillance state. […]

    Pingback by Occupy and social change — February 7, 2012 @ 11:47 pm

  13. Black Bloc =/= anarchism

    Please stop conflating the two

    Comment by Greg McGregerson — February 8, 2012 @ 1:11 am

  14. I suggest reading up on what the Black Bloc sees itself doing and its aims:

    http://www.infoshop.org/amp/bgp/BlackBlockPapers2.pdf

    Comment by Shak El — February 8, 2012 @ 1:30 am

  15. Lenin didn’t believe in “mass action” – after the Bolsheviks staged their coup in October, instead of transferring power to the soviets in the form of a coalition socialist government (which is what the masses wanted, included most Bolsheviks), Lenin consolidated all of the power for himself and the Bolsheviks, and began persecuting and outlawing other parties. As for the anarchists, he used them in 1917 to obtain power – they were his closest allies – and then discarded them early in 1918 when it became convenient.

    Comment by Bleikhman — February 8, 2012 @ 1:52 am

  16. Here is my take on this piece. Since WTO, i felt that the Black Bloc became an undefiled sacred cow to way too many.

    https://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=10151254116590013

    Comment by swaneagle harijan — February 8, 2012 @ 1:53 am

  17. It is really is quite astonishing that you could say Lenin was a believer in mass action. As soon as he obtained power, he began shutting down any and all manifestations of mass action, especially factory committees were the heart and soul of the Revolution. Lenin turned his so-called socialist government into dictatorship. You can argue that that was necessary for him to hold onto power, but don’t give us this crap that he was an advocate – in practice – of mass action.

    Comment by Bleikhman — February 8, 2012 @ 2:15 am

  18. “I would say that trying to persuade a black bloc activist that they are harming the left would be as much of an exercise in futility as persuading a German Stalinist to unite with the SP in the 1920s.”

    It would be the equivalent of today working with Nazis, probably worse. Just a few years before an SP led government had murdered Rosa Luxemburg and others in 1919. Also you are criticizing based on hindsight. The Nazis had not emerged as a Fascist Party in the early 1930s when this happened, they had not emerged as killers of the working class on the other hand the SP DID. Its no surprise they backed the Nazis, who did not emerge as a Fascist Party until the mid 1930s attributing the rise of Hitler to the Third Period is Trot History, the Social Democrats’ relentless appeasement of Hitler was the real reason for the rise of Hitler, since they were the main force on the left, not the small Communist Party. Hitler’s power was not even solidified as late as 1935 during the trial of the KPD Communists for the Reichstag fire. The proof is the fact that Dimitrov was acquitted of the false charges.

    Comment by Comrade Drew — February 8, 2012 @ 2:28 am

  19. Camejo for the most part was right, but then again many people started out as liberals and then had their illusions shattered, whether by finding out LBJ was the Boston Strangler or not. The issue is not that potentially sectarian put-down, but what to do about it, building effective mass actions or engaging in Weatherman style Days of Rage vandalism that evolved into isolated acts of terrorism: that is what the Black Block represents-at best-a latter day version of that the movement needs to disassociate itself from.

    It’s important to not confuse that political divide with polemics over differences with other activists around electoral politics or civil disobedience tactics and so forth within a mass movement context where sectarian marxists, hewing to a insistence that their tactical line of say, single issue only, be hewed to unquestioningly, attack other activists who don’t go along with that as an “unprincipled combination” of “liberals and ultralefts” (with, back in the day, “Stalinist” and “counter-culturalist” thrown in). This ridiculous notion that assumed the world revolved around them, significant though they were at one point, and that the invariably heterogenous mass movement could be “homogenized” along their lines only served to poison their relations with the rest of the movement and propel them down a road of increasing self-inflicted sectarian isolation.

    Comment by Tom Cod — February 8, 2012 @ 2:30 am

  20. Mountains of bullshit. And fuck Marx and Trotsky.

    Comment by RanDomino — February 8, 2012 @ 2:40 am

  21. Does real anarchism exist anymore? I mean social anarchism? It doesn’t in young scenes these days… it’s all post-left posturing bullshit.

    Comment by Bhaskar Sunkara — February 8, 2012 @ 2:43 am

  22. @Drew: the sad truth is, trot history or not, the line of the Comintern in not forming a united front with the Social Democrats, notwithstanding their crimes, facilitated the rise of Hitler and the Nazis, whose general political character was actually quite clear by that point. If not a crime in itself, it was a huge and irresponsible political blunder. In the same period, the French “Stalinists” of the CP in that country joined the attempted Feb 1934 fascist coup of Action Francaise, allying with their political contingents who carried banners such as “Mort Aux Juifs!” (Kill the Jews!). Yes, the social democrats played a despicable role in 1919 in the crushing the Spartakus uprising in part by allying with political outfits like the Freikorps as their executioners (who also intervened in the Russian Civil War against the Reds in Western Russia around what is now Kaliningrad), a leading member of which was a guy named Adolf Hitler.

    Hitler bragged about this in Mein Kampf (“My Struggle” which was initially named “Settling Accounts” for its theme of calling for a pogrom against the “November Criminals” and alleged marxists who had engineered the despicable sell-out of the Armistice). This made his political character crystal clear as did the Beer Hall Putsch of these “nationalists” in which they procured the assistance of Field Marshal Luddendorf, a figure equivalent to Pershing in the US. Hitler summed this early period up and his political roots when he stated in Mein Kampf that in 1919 he was made “a political officer by the General Staff” in order to “agitate against Bolshevism and mutiny” among the ranks.

    Later in 1927 when some pointed out alleged similarities between Nazis and socialists, he rose to speak (I think in the Reichstag although I don’t think he was personally a member) where he explained in a tone of pained condescension, with references to chapter and verse of the Nazi program that Bolshevik appearing type measures they had planned were reserved for “the Jews” and other traitors, but that patriotic German business men had little to fear from them. Later he aptly stated that Nazis should not be confused with Marxism as “National Socialists stand for the annihilation of Marxism”. In that vein most Nazi marches and rallies had banners that prominently displayed, in addition to anti-semitic vitriol, slogans like “Death to Marxism!”

    Comment by Tom Cod — February 8, 2012 @ 2:58 am

  23. The “diversity of tactics” was a useful dodge that allowed movement working groups to escape the ire of black bloc types. The vast majority of activists have remained in the middle of the two extremes of street fighting and reformist lobbying for their own sakes, both of which have to be challenged. The quip about the means becoming the ends that holds in common MoveOn and the Black Bloc is more revealing than we should otherwise assume.

    Pointless vandalism is still a clear problem and I still don’t understand its reasoning.

    Comment by ceti — February 8, 2012 @ 6:45 am

  24. The Russian revolution was an act of mass action. Removing Kerensky from the winter palace took a few hundred Bolsheviks, Kerensky complained he needed 500 troops to defend the palace, Trotsky wondered where he was to find 500 loyal troops. That is, the revolution was so wide spread means it was not a coup. If we were to ever be in a revolution, you’d best pray that outside powers and reactionary forces take up arms. The Civil War, like most wars, does not lend itself to being democratic. However the sad consequence of the endeavour was it cost the working class the revolution, the working class took a political hammering, that is as a class it was no longer effective in being a class in itself. The Bolsheviks were left steering a revolution by substitutionalism, after 1923 it was doomed to failure and the opportunists moved in to take back the gains of the revolution, ie Stalinism.

    Mind you the anarchists do not have much to say either, they managed to screw up Spain twice! Of course liberals will want to tarnish both socialism and anarchism. The importance is working together where we can but yes differences will have to be debated and when a movement is in retreat the knives tend to come out but who grows out of it for the next time is on the path to being a proper movement.

    Comment by Smurf — February 8, 2012 @ 8:39 am

  25. ‘With our numbers swelled and diversified by those we had organized, we could make demands to the mayor and the city council in the name of the people.’

    this is how we will bring down ‘the 1%’ by begging them to listen to our demands. gimme a fucking break

    Comment by the peoples will — February 8, 2012 @ 10:43 am

  26. How come so many of our masked wonders have such potty mouth?

    Comment by dave r — February 8, 2012 @ 3:33 pm

  27. @24: the October Revolution was not a coup of the Bolshevik Party, but rather occurred when the Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets of Workers and Soldiers Deputies decided to depose the provincial government. This was in a period when Kerensky was agitating to jump start Russia’s reinvolvement in World War I, something that was widely unpopular among the ranks. While this decision was opposed by some among the soviets, a wide majority supported including the Left Social Revolutionary Party. Days later the All Russian Congress of Peasants’ Deputies ratified this decision. Kerensky left the Winter Palace in a limousine provided by John D. Rockefeller Jr. This history is eloquently summarized by John Reed in “Ten Days That Shook the World”.

    As to Spain, it wasn’t the anarchists that screwed it up, it was the liberals and the Comintern that screwed it up after a campaign of repression against them and the overthrow of the Barcelona and Catalan commune in May 1937. A good book on this is Abel Paz’ biography of Durrutti, “Durrutti: The People Armed”.

    Comment by Tom Cod — February 8, 2012 @ 4:23 pm

  28. Natasha Lennard appears to be the political type Camejo referred to in the quote at the end of this piece. I respect her because she, like Hedges, put her beliefs before her career path, but I disagree with her defense of the Black Bloc.

    #8: I hope to begin writing a pamphlet of some type that hopefully you can use to open this question up. I had a very long, interesting conversation with a retired woman who stopped by Liberty the other day. She had a shirt on that read: “Occupy Martinsburg — home of the first railroad strike, 1877.” Their group has ~20-25 people and includes Obama supporters, an anarchist nun, socialists, Ron Paul people, and an intolerant atheist who makes it a point to nag the group’s gay Christian about religion. She was eager to hear about how to create spaces for people to air their differences because as it stands now the political tensions between these forces usually expresses itself in snide comments, resistance to joint work, etc. OWS’s think tank interested her and I suggested making one night a week a topical/debate/forum type of thing. Maybe that is something that would help you as well?

    #13: Proyect did not conflate anarchism with the Black Bloc in this piece.

    It seems that the problem with ultra-leftism is almost exclusively a West Coast thing. Here at OWS the hardcore supporters of a “May 1 General Strike” (called by Occupy LA) found common ground with the most experienced union activists (socialists) and together we managed to avoid “calling a general strike” that day. Then again, many unions out there have syndicalist/anarchist members and it looks like there are more radical actions too (general strikes, port blockades/community pickets; nothing of that sort has gone on here).

    As the left gets bigger and stronger so will its more “adventurist” wings. We have to find a way to work with those folks and at the same time minimize the damage some of their actions might cause, which is no easy task.

    Comment by Binh — February 8, 2012 @ 4:44 pm

  29. @27 – on Spain, I would recommend Burnett Bolloten’s The Grand Camoflage for a non-anarchist’s perspective who makes a similar argument as the anarchists themselves make, like Paz.

    The October Revolution was only supported to the extent that it was believed it would lead to a coalition socialist government, not a one-party state. There’s no doubt Lenin stabbed both the Left SR’s and the anarchists in the back…not to mention the workers and soldiers who expected a coalition government out of the soviets.

    Comment by Bleikhman — February 8, 2012 @ 5:08 pm

  30. […] I wrote this: […]

    Pingback by Taking Chris Hedges to task? « Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist — February 8, 2012 @ 5:19 pm

  31. 1. They call themselves a bloc but surely this is a misnomer? A bloc is the result of organisations (groups, parties, states) coming together & acting as one. That is not my understanding of their genesis. But their choice of name offers – perhaps unwittingly – a clue to the group’s dominant political ontology & corresponding mentality: individuals possessing great self-importance, each individual being on the psychic scale of a whole organisation. So perhaps in their own minds they do indeed constitute a bloc. Indeed, it may help explain some of the actions they plan.

    But self-descriptions, as with all things, are subject to evaluation. If they want to be a colour that’s fine by me; colours get valued differentially within a society so I suppose pistachio was ruled out. (Colourists!) But bloc? No. They should be called Black Block because a block obstructs, and they obstruct our progress. They’re Blockers.

    2. Hedges ascribes to the Block “the godlike power that comes with mob violence . . . [that] temporarily overcomes alienation, feelings of inadequacy, powerlessness and loneliness”. I would add to that another dimension identified by Ryan Harvey: the THRILL of being aggressive. There’s a drive at work here, not just a production of feelings.

    Harvey, an anarchist, got a lot of criticism for his views on the purpose of violence. He published ‘Are We Addicted to Rioting?’ on 24 September 2009, & he did a 1 hour interview on Against the Grain on 21 October 2009. I don’t know how to make a live link but his article’s address is riotfolk.org/popup.php?p=lyrics&id=338 (I’ve just tested it so it’s correct). It’s well worth reading, and incidently he refers to one of Hedges’ books.

    3. Lastly I want to address the habit of calling the Block part of ‘the left’ (Louis’ 3rd paragraph). I know using the seating arrangement of the 1790s French Assembly is shorthand for a supposed political spectrum, but the conception deceives & should be rejected. I say this because in our kind of society the principal dividing line is this: does the policy or action bolster or undermine capitalist rule, that is, is it pro-capitalist or anti-capitalist?

    It deceives because what’s deemed ‘left’, say, can change so much. To take an example from Europe. Our habit is still to speak of left social democrats, even though many of them wouldn’t be deemed that when compared with the politics of, say, Tony Benn & the Alternative Economic Strategy in late 1970s Britain.

    It deceives because when a group is ‘placed close’ to us on the spectrum the default expectation is that we can work together. When they don’t we might get upset, asking how could they, they’re on the left like us? There’s no utility in spectrum-talk. It just sets us up to ask the wrong questions. What we do have, though, is political variety, and this principal dividing line.

    The political worth of an organisation is heavily weighted towards what it does, rather than what it says. The Blockers condemn themselves through their actions. Their actions do not undermine capitalist rule; on the contrary, their violence bolsters that rule through (1) extending & intensifying the violence of the police (the experts), (2) dividing the Occupy supporters, (3) allowing the media to focus on the violence, & (4) giving the message that Occupy = Violence to the very people without whom Occupy will not grow.

    (But to keep a sense of proportion, the egregious conception is ‘actually existing socialism’, compounded by ‘placing’ Stalinism on ‘the left’. The Block doesn’t compare.)

    Comment by Calum — February 8, 2012 @ 6:17 pm

  32. I do believe potty mouth is terribly reinforced by nasty behavior. Too much white male dominance and bully tactics among activists have driven many away. I am deeply troubled by the lack of self critique, the meanness and the continuation of juvenile male idiocy that displays a lack of dismantling the institutionalized individualism that fuels divide and conquer.

    Comment by swaneagle harijan — February 8, 2012 @ 6:20 pm

  33. I’d have more respect for the Black Bloc, even with the window-smashing, if they mobilized the numbers that Occupy has mobilized, instead of glomming on. Think window-smashing is the way to go? Great. Now get together more than a few dozen kids.

    Comment by Rojo — February 8, 2012 @ 7:48 pm

  34. Thank you for defining “ultraleftist.”

    Window-smashing can be a good thing. It demonstrates that the property of corporations and the state is vulnerable, and this can help give people the courage to fight–or to fight back once the established powers meet the people’s peaceful demands with the inevitable violent repression. The prudishness of the Marxist left when it comes to anything out of control should be tempered with a recognition that there is no basic morality wrapped up in respecting plate glass–any more than there is in respecting the intellectual property of corporations or the illegitimate secrets of the corporatist state.

    If Bonch-Bruevich is to be believed, Lenin once praised Nechaev as a “titanic revolutionary” or something of the kind–surely an acknowledgement that there was a stick that needed bending back when it came to violent anarchists. (To be sure, Lenin was not praising Nechayev’s infamous “catechism,” once so dear to the hearts of the Black Panther Party, but rather his way of coining a slogan [albeit about killing the class enemy] that would stick in the minds of the people.)

    Anyway, the assumption that mass support for OWS–perhaps one should say the “good” OWS, because the movement does seem to have several faces–will be lost if there is ever a hint of violence flies in the face of experience, except for some of the very recent and limited history of OWS. Indeed, one might very well argue in general that the more peaceable the self-anointed “left” got after 1975, the more support it lost among the people . Serious historical research and careful interpretation of the evidence would be required to settle this by no means obvious question of fact.

    It’s indisputably a fact that the very violent fighters in the labor wars around the turn of the nineteenth century and for decades thereafter had a lot of mass support, and that it was the vestiges of that mass support that were either lost by the discredited CPUSA after the truth came out about Stalin or were co-opted by Roosevelt through the New Deal. It was to inoculate America against labor ever growing muscles like that again that the Taft-Hartley act was passed in 1947–something that is too often forgotten when we bemoan the weakness of today’s Yassa Boss unions. We’re looking at a historical cycle spanning generations.

    America is full of ultraleftist Manicheans who love to preach, with a few gestures to Gandhi and Martin King, that if “we” are ever in any way “violent,” then “we are no better than they are.” There are more of these idiots on the self-anointed Left than any other sort of person. If you ask me, wherever the Left goes from here, one of its major tasks is to overcome, not to say liquidate, this infectious nonsense.

    As to all the morally superior yipping about how the Black Boobs are all cowards, that’s more triumphalist moralist drivel. Hasn’t anyone ever read Stephen Crane? Oh, I forgot–literature is “old.” Anyway, courage is the last virtue of a hypocrite–that’s why the Kennedys were so keen on it.

    There’s a lot of this stale horseshit going around OWS–laughably enough, I’m told, some of these Om Sri types are so peaceful that they start fistfights with the Blackies. Wow.

    This brings us to Chris Hedges. Ultraleftist he may be, but at least he isn’t a sometimes Koch-connected semi-supporter of the brilliant Dr. Paul, like Glenn Greenwald, whom Louis Proyect so frequently–and with reason–quotes approvingly. The tent that will hold Greenwald ought to be big enough for Hedges. Nevertheless Hedges is a moralist with a pronounced histrionic tendency who should not be trusted too far. In every Hedges piece we are invited to in one way or another to finish by contemplating the brave Hedges as he stands alone on the burning deck of civilization. It’s not only tiresome, it’s tendentious. Many of those Chris H. will invite to the Party will not be wanted. And if he feeds the flames of all-American apodictic moralism, he will do a lot of harm.

    Maybe the Black Bloc should be–let’s call a spade a spade–purged. Anarchists are one thing but everything one reads about the Black Bloc sounds bad. But surely, if one is in a position to order these things, the grounds for this expulsion ought to be crystal clear and factual. Even then, if this leaves you in the long run with nothing but a bunch of psalm-singing pacifists, however violent they may get when contradicted, that’s the end of the revolutionary ball game.

    Comment by Joe Vaughan — February 9, 2012 @ 2:29 am

  35. Interesting post, you correctly identified nihilists rather than anarchists. I’m fascinated with with the OWS movement and have periphery involvement with Indy OWS and other Indiana Occupies. I’ve followed their growth and activities.

    Comment by Damien — February 9, 2012 @ 2:39 am

  36. The prudishness of the Marxist left when it comes to anything out of control should be tempered with a recognition that there is no basic morality wrapped up in respecting plate glass–any more than there is in respecting the intellectual property of corporations or the illegitimate secrets of the corporatist state.

    If some adolescent jackass wants to break a window, who cares? Spring break has been going on down in Daytona Beach since the 1950s to no great impact one way or another. I am just opposed to hijacking demonstrations in order to provoke the cops into beating/arresting people who are not into Nechaev. If these jackasses had any balls, they’d pick a day of their own to go fight the cops like the Weathermen or the Zengakuren did.

    Comment by louisproyect — February 9, 2012 @ 2:59 am

  37. Do you think people can overthrow capitalism and the state without entering into conflict with the propertied classes and their police forces?

    Big surprise, the socialists, liberals, reformists and compromisers are attacking the anarchists again. If you’re not in favor of revolution, but would rather keep the present violent, exploitative and destructive system, you can just say so.

    I’ll leave you with a quote from Voltairine de Cleyre, a real revolutionary who has studied how actual class conflicts are fought, and not some useless blogger who has no intention of challenging the exploiters:

    “It is by and because of the direct acts of the forerunners of social change, whether they be of peaceful or warlike nature, that the human conscience, the conscience of the mass, becomes aroused to the need for change. it would be very stupid to say that no good results are ever brought about by political action; sometimes good things do come about that way. But never until individual rebellion, followed by mass rebellion, has forced it. Direct action is always the clamorer, the initiator, through which the great sum of indifferentists become aware that oppression is getting intolerable.”

    Comment by Karen — February 9, 2012 @ 3:19 am

  38. Direct action is always the clamorer, the initiator, through which the great sum of indifferentists become aware that oppression is getting intolerable.

    Just make sure that you know which is the business end of a spray paint can or else you might get a red face.

    Comment by louisproyect — February 9, 2012 @ 3:26 am

  39. Also, fuck Lenin, and almost all the people who originally organized the ‘occupy wall street’ protest and park occupation were anarchists, I know because I was there and you obviously weren’t, too busy confusing the anarchist Motherfuckers with the Weatherman, a ridiculous marxist-leninist group.

    Anarchists believe in mass action, that’s why they do easily generalizable tactics like the black bloc, which anyone with a little anger and courage can do. You obviously lack both.

    Comment by Karen — February 9, 2012 @ 3:29 am

  40. If some adolescent jackass wants to break a window, who cares? Spring break has been going on down in Daytona Beach since the 1950s to no great impact one way or another. I am just opposed to hijacking demonstrations in order to provoke the cops into beating/arresting people who are not into Nechaev. If these jackasses had any balls, they’d pick a day of their own to go fight the cops like the Weathermen or the Zengakuren did.

    You obviously fail to grasp what I wrote. Learn to read more carefully.

    Comment by Joe Vaughan — February 9, 2012 @ 3:38 am

  41. Note, Karen, that de Cleyre doesn’t say anything about breaking windows. Being opposed to breaking windows isn’t the same as being opposed to direct action. One can easily make the argument that breaking windows isn’t direct action at all.

    Comment by Hank — February 9, 2012 @ 4:26 am

  42. Hey Hank, in the pamphlet the quote is drawn from she gives many examples of direct action that is violent, although in her definition anyone who acts to solve a problem themselves, without asking some authority, is taking direct action, and that can be peaceful too.

    But she very clearly advocates open rebellion, expropriation of the ruling classes, and even points out that strikes are always violent, involving sabotage, blowing up mills, beating scabs and management etc. (in her day that’s what strikes were like! and they actually managed to win some concessions, unlike today when unions negotiate for cut wages and benefits).

    The fact is, violence is deplorable but some people will always see a need for it in the struggle, and there’s no stopping them. The black bloc, or similar tactics, will not go away, no matter how many liberals whine. A broken window hardly even qualifies as violent, considering the police are constantly brutalizing and killing the oppressed, every day in fact! Comfortable middle-class people are covered under so many layers of mystification they don’t even notice there is a social war happening.

    Comment by Karen — February 9, 2012 @ 4:42 am

  43. If these jackasses had any balls, they’d pick a day of their own to go fight the cops like the Weathermen or the Zengakuren did.

    You think the Weathermen had balls? The ones I knew all played revolutionary for a couple of years and then slunk back to Harvard Law School to get rich. Their influential daddies made that happen. They used to go over to Revere Beach to try and pick karate fights with the working-class dudes so they could win their respect and try to recruit them. I imagine there were a lot of working-class kids scratching their heads about that.

    All this yap about balls is balls. It’s the mark of a petty-bourgeois moralist who has lost his faith. It’s the way the Kennedys always talked, and all the Harvard types–many of them actually pretty tough, which is entirely beside the point–who used to go on endlessly about balls and guts and courage because they didn’t really believe in their cause or their morality. It’s Hemingway.

    If purging the Black Bastards causes OWS to be taken over by the mealymouthed moralistic ultraleftists you will get nothing but mealymouthed moralism and the movement won’t become revolutionary or will cease to be so. Read the comments on Glenn Greenwald’s blog or Truthout if you want to know what you’re in for.

    And if you’re going to accuse these assholes of being paid by the police, state the case in full with particulars. if this is true it should be fully exposed. You haven’t done that, and neither does Hedges. What I hear is a lot of crying about the evils of property damage and a lot of hearsay–and then a bunch of horseshit about manliness.

    Who said anything about people being into Nechaev? Weird.

    Comment by Joe Vaughan — February 9, 2012 @ 4:43 am

  44. Karen, I’m not a pacifist and I don’t think breaking windows is violent. I’m actually an anarchist who thinks that violence can be useful, but only in the right moments. I don’t think breaking windows is particularly useful; I am not however opposed to beating up scabs. Windows, on the other hand, are probably a poor target.

    There needs to be more protest in the workplace to balance out that which happens in the streets. And true socialists, I would think, would be in favor of squatting abandoned buildings. Socialists are against private property, aren’t they?

    Comment by Hank — February 9, 2012 @ 5:09 am

  45. Let me get this straight. The “real” revolutionists of today say: “fuck Lenin & Trotsky.” No need to study their incredible travails overthrowing a millennium of insanely despotic Czarism across 7 time zones and a hundred illiterate languages because the real revolutionaries today eschew history as so much sterile baggage since they’re sure to forge a new way to a truly sustainable new movement that’s certain through enough violent street provocations & other “mass actions” to overthrow “in the end” the current regime of the armed to the teeth imperialist bourgeoisie — despite it consisting so far of a couple hundred stone throwers, window smashers, and occupiers of abandoned buildings, some armed with video cameras, but none armed with the Trotskyist sense of how without a certain degree of organizational symmetry armies wouldn’t be able to inflict blows upon each other.

    Fuck all that party building nonsense that shackles the human spirit to certain orthodoxies of class conflict but rather recruit enough youth rising up angry donning black hoodies and some masks with cell cams and then take it to the Man with a vengeance!

    That should be adequate to convince the 100 million stampeding petite-bourgeoisie in America plus foreclosed homeowners that unfettered anarchy is ultimately omnipotent in the face of history while both Bolshevism & Crony-capitalism are anathema to human freedom, never mind that collective bargaining for workers only leads to trade union bureaucracy & the stifling of working people’s innate desires to stuff their wooden clogs into the grist mills of industry so that new leisurely holidays can be born.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — February 9, 2012 @ 5:19 am

  46. One last swipe at Louis’s alleged balls …

    Hedges has this rather hysterical bit in his piece:

    “The Black Bloc movement is infected with a deeply disturbing hypermasculinity. This hypermasculinity, I expect, is its primary appeal. It taps into the lust that lurks within us to destroy, not only things but human beings. ….”

    And on and on. Truly rotten bad writing, stuffed with cheap Manichean moralist horsehair.

    But doesn’t it just sound like someone we all know?

    Ok enough of this.

    Comment by Joe Vaughan — February 9, 2012 @ 5:38 am

  47. Hey Hank, oh I see what you meant now. Yeah we should be doing workplace organizing, squats, all of it. And we are. I don’t know any anarchists who only throw bricks (which almost never happens in the US!). But let’s face it, if people can’t handle a broken bank window on the anti-capitalist march on the day of a general strike in Oakland, they will not be in favor of more militant action. The black bloc is baby steps. I think we somehow have to accustom people to the idea that “social peace” is a lie and an illusion. If there’s a better way to do it, I’m all ears.

    Comment by Karen — February 9, 2012 @ 5:41 am

  48. You know what Karl, I hear what you’re saying that there is allegedly a legacy of wisdom that the Leninist left has to offer today’s Occupy movement. But I’m also seeing a Leninist left self-righteously masturbating over itself and its alleged monopoly of knowledge, lecturing rather than leading. In five months the Occupy movement has had more actual impact on American society than the Leninist left has had in well over thirty years. Dismissing that is arrogant, and monumentally stupid. What the fuck do you think an actual living, breathing, vibrant class movement would actually look like if not this? I’m glad some of you think something else is coming around in our lifetime because this is real class struggle, the real awakening of today’s working class. Don’t you get it? THIS IS THE MOMENT.

    There is a line between learning lessons from the experience of the early twentieth century and having a ridiculously abstract argument full of faux poseur outrage over milk that is long spilled and dried. Having a pissing match over Kronstadt, ninety years ago, from either the Leninist or the Anarchist side? Waste somebody else’s time. Don’t like the ideology of anarchists? Get in there and prove that yours is better. Or just stay here in blogland insulting each other, especially the people newly awakening to struggle, cause man oh man, this experience of arguing with cyber Leninists stuffing their heads up their virtual asses is sure to win them over.

    Watch this video: http://vimeo.com/36256273

    The anarchists in this video are much more multidimensional than Hedges (or Proyect) suggests. Denounce or engage, your choice. But maybe if your impulse is to denounce, kill off or ignore this movement, you might want to ask yourself why you call yourself a revolutionary.

    Comment by ish — February 9, 2012 @ 5:45 am

  49. PS: Bleikhman. You’ve got a twisted wrong sense of history to imagine that a massive Civil War, intervened by 14 Imperialist countries, is conducted & won by a Bolshevik of Jewish ancestry in a historically anti-semite land like post WWI Russia, has somehow managed to circumvent “mass action.” The masses in Russia were activated not only through every freaking funeral that Bolshevik heroes laid their lives down in from the Revolution all through the Civil War and through even Kronstadt, where Green newbie sailors tried to thwart the entire Revolution as if they were somehow special enough to allow the British Navy accommodations.

    http://www.marxist.com/kronstadt-trotsky-was-right.htm

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — February 9, 2012 @ 5:48 am

  50. ISH: You’re entirely correct to a point, that is, who but the heroic anarchist youth of today are willing to lay down their precious lives for such a noble cause as the viability of our precarious planet! To those young people I only admonish Trotsky’s famous words to his Narodniki adversaries; ” A bomb in hand can be a wonderful thing — but first let’s clarify ourselves.” I have nothing but sympathy for the anarchist youth mindset, for ultimately their goal is ours, a stateless society. The problem of course is how to get there? The consensus is through a mass movement that disdains violence not because their pacifists but because they crave the just consensus of the exploited masses who don’t want grief but justice.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — February 9, 2012 @ 6:12 am

  51. Karen and co: Comparing the Black Bloc’s actions mentioned in the Anon video to the violent labor wars waged by workers in the 1865-1936 period is a bit ridiculous. We might as well compare the Vietnamese National Liberation Front and 9/11.

    Why are we re-litigating Lenin, the 1917 revolution, and Spain in 1936? Let’s stick to the issues at hand.

    Hedges’s piece opened up a debate in Occupy that has been simmering since the Nov. 2 general strike in Oakland, and he goes too far at times. Anonymous’ message is a lot more careful, focused, and clear, and I suspect that they chose the word “cancer” to echo the thrust of Hedges’ case instead of endorsing his piece wholesale.

    Similarly, this editorial (http://socialistworker.org/2012/02/08/discussing-the-way-forward) in Socialist Worker goes too far: “one group among the marchers tried to use homemade shields, giving the impression that a showdown with the cops was the aim of the demonstration, rather than opening up a building for urgently needed social services. Using such confrontational tactics–in the context of a modestly sized demonstration facing an aggressive force of police–needlessly put the whole of the protest at greater risk of violence and arrest.” If you look at the video and written accounts of this event (http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=176), what the marchers did can hardly be described as “confrontational.” They slowly edged towards the police line behind homemade shields, and then retreated and ducked when they got hit with flashbangs.

    Shields are defensive, not offensive, and can anyone be blamed if they didn’t want to get hit in the face with a tear gas canister like Scott Olson did?

    Comment by Binh — February 9, 2012 @ 3:53 pm

  52. Glad to see that the North Star is up and running.

    Comment by Richard Estes — February 9, 2012 @ 5:09 pm

  53. Hello,

    Hope all are well. To the Black Block and others; you can take your violence if you like. I would never dictate how another revolutionary would fight. I will take the Cross of Christ, the Truth and Love for my enemy. Give it ten years and let’s see who makes this world system of oppression crumble. The reality on the street is that the longer you put off violence the better off we’ll all be. The main reason being when the soldiers and the National Guard are deployed on the streets and they’re ordered to fire on the revolting masses they are going to have to decide where to point their guns. Don’t give them reasons to shoot on the people. One reaps what one sows. Call it Karma if you like. The battle is spiritual and will be won by convincing the enemy of his own wickedness. That will eternally destroy him. When you punch a police officer in the face he feels quite happy to punch you back. He’ll even look forward to giving you another blow. Shake the very foundation of his core belief. Take away his false superiority in feeling that he is a righteous defender of a goodly state. Show him that he is in fact a thug for the rich exploiting and oppressing the masses and you will get victory.

    Love,

    John Kaniecki

    Comment by john kaniecki — February 9, 2012 @ 6:10 pm

  54. Internally destroy him……..

    Thanx,

    John

    Comment by john kaniecki — February 9, 2012 @ 6:13 pm

  55. Let me quote:

    “The characteristics of that threat are invisible, like cancer. When you are attacked externally, you see the attack, you are wounded. Cancer, on the other hand, is something internal. Therefore I find it more disturbing, because here the diagnosis is critical. If the diagnosis is wrong and people say it’s not cancer but a headache, then the response is irrelevant. But I maintain that it is cancer. My professional diagnosis is that there is a phenomenon here that constitutes an existential threat . . . There are all kinds of solutions to cancerous manifestations. Some will say it is necessary to amputate organs. But at the moment, I am applying chemotherapy”.

    About the Black Block? No, Palestinians.

    And that’s my point. I could have cited the Daily Worker headline, “Shoot the Reptiles!”, the contemporary take by the British Communist Party on the Moscow show trials. I could have found some juicy quote from someone who wasn’t too keen on Jews. But I chose to quote a Jewish Israeli.

    Language matters, & Chris Hedges was unjustified in choosing to be inflammatory. He may think the Blockers are groups of cancer cells but such cells almost always spread, yet nowhere in his article does he claim or even suggest that Blockers are or will become more influential. Instead he sees them as wreckers. So he chose the wrong metaphor and imagery.

    But as the cliche has it about people from Liverpool, calm down, calm down!

    (I quoted Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya’alon, Chief of Staff of the Israel Attack Forces, in his interview with Ari Shavit, ‘The Enemy Within’, Haaretz weekend magazine, 2 August 2002. He had been in post as Israel’s most senior violence manager for just over 3 weeks and yet felt that confident to speak in such terms. Yes, one’s choice of words is indicative of how corrosive a culture has become. Please note the interview isn’t at Haaretz’s own site but it is at cdn-friends-icej.ca.)

    Comment by Calum — February 9, 2012 @ 9:56 pm

  56. […] article has been posted all over the Internet. For those with a legitimate grudge against the Bloc, like Louis Proyect and other Marxists, it is a golden opportunity to drive a stake through the heart of it. Perhaps, […]

    Pingback by Doctor Hedges misdiagnoses the Decline of Occupy « Politics in the Zeros — February 10, 2012 @ 1:30 pm

  57. Late Thursday evening (EST), David Graeber posted an open letter to Chris Hedges entitled
    ‘Concerning the Violent People-Police’ (Yes, strange punctuation).

    He says emphatically that Hedges’ article “is quite literally dangerous. This is the sort of misinformation that really can get people killed”.

    It’s @ untitled12988.tumblr.com

    Undoubtedly Hedges will respond.

    Comment by Calum — February 10, 2012 @ 3:00 pm

  58. Graeber states in this article:

    “One of the ideas of having a Black Bloc is that everyone who comes to a protest should know where the people likely to engage in militant action are, and thus easily be able to avoid it if that’s what they wish to do.”

    That’s really fucking news to me.

    http://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2012/01/11/the-black-bloc-and-the-battle-of-seattle/

    A small group of men, dressed in black clothing and masks and ignoring cries of “Shame on you!” from other protesters, smashed windows and spray-painted graffiti at downtown stores like Nordstrom, Niketown, Starbucks and the Gap. Both were jarring sights in a city that prides itself on its laid-back image.

    “We are here peacefully; we just want our message to be heard,” said Gloria Haselwander, a 21-year-old clerk in a Seattle music store who said she believes that the world trade group’s rulings contributed to environmental destruction and ever-greater gaps between the world’s richest people and its poorest. “We kept saying, ‘No violence, no violence,’ ” she added, “but there was just this mass of gas. My throat hurts, my lungs still hurt.”

    Most of the demonstrators were clearly opposed to the window-smashing and other destructive acts by a small knot of protesters, most of whom were young men wearing masks and declining to give their names when asked by reporters.

    “Anarchy rules!” said one, carrying a trash can down the street and then using it to smash a window of a Starbucks coffee shop.

    Comment by louisproyect — February 10, 2012 @ 3:04 pm

  59. 1. Having read Graeber’s letter twice I think I now understand the meaning of the puzzling phrase “the Violent People-Police” used in his title.

    It’s not a matter of strange punctuation, & he’s not referring to the Black Block. Instead it seems to be his description of Occupy people who act as enforcers (police) within Occupy camps & events. Strangely ‘people-police’ does not appear in his letter, but halfway through he does have ‘Peace Police’ in scare quotes, and towards the end it re-appears twice in one paragraph, this time without scare quotes. And note that nowhere does the phrase ‘violent Peace Police’ appear. Despite all this his letter is entitled ‘Concerning the Violent People-Police’.

    But why call them violent? The point Graeber makes is that in his experience pacificists are hypocrites. Non-violent?, no: “The problem is that in practice this is almost never what actually happens. Time after time [they either assault people or hand them over to the police]”. And as the Peace Police, or People-Police, are drawn from such ranks they cannot be other than violent. So there you have it.

    2. Graeber was moved to respond to Hedges because “the kind of statement you made is profoundly dangerous”. By calling the Block a cancer, Graeber concludes that it’s a call for excision, and that amounts to “an appeal to violence”. He is alarmed that such talk “historically” has almost always been used to murderous effect, “to encourage one group of people to physically attack, to ethnically cleanse, or exterminate another”. Heady & heavy stuff. It’s an incitement to violence: “Even if you did not intend this statement as a call to violence, which I suspect you did not, how can you honestly believe that many will not read it as such?”. Many? Anyone? What world does Graeber inhabit??

    3. In fact Graeber, in both his letter & its title, is trying to change the terms of the debate, trying to draw attention to the “purported pacificists” (an echo of Spart-talk?!?) who either fight Blockers & others or hand them over to the police. Graeber is saying that it is these people who perpetrate violence, and that makes them the real problem within Occupy. I suggest he’s on a loser here, and rightly so.

    4. This dispute isn’t going away any time soon. We need to have widespread discussions, devise an effective policy to address the substance of the matter, and try to open some lines of communication with those who really have violent intent. We may fail in our attempts but for the sake of our project we have to try.

    Comment by Calum — February 10, 2012 @ 7:39 pm

  60. My contribution to the debate: http://dissentmagazine.org/atw.php?id=676

    Comment by Bhaskar Sunkara — February 10, 2012 @ 7:42 pm

  61. If you read Hedges’ interview by J. A. Myerson, it becomes evident that, when it comes to the Bloc, he doesn’t know very much about it, yet presumes to seize upon it as a cure for the problems of Occupy. I guess that’s not surprising, given his persistence in misrepresenting what has happened in Oakland.

    http://www.truth-out.org/interview-chris-hedges-about-black-bloc/1328799148

    If you had any doubt, Graeber’s presentation of how people use Black Bloc tactics pretty much resolves them. Instead, the problem is more serious than just repudiating the Bloc. There are young people in Oakland and, less so, in San Francisco, who have acted violently, some of whom may have been consciously using Black Bloc tactics, while many others were not, acting in the heat of the moment. I suspect that this has happened elsewhere, too. So, the challenge is, how to reach them politically, and encourage them to see themselves as part of a collective movement, one where they can see their social vision coming into existence, however incrementally, by means other than gratifying their immediate desire to attack the police and others they see as their oppressors because, for a brief instant, they feel empowered.

    Hedges does not engage this subject at all, instead seeking to impose an absolutist requirement of non-violence based upon his religious pacifism and implicit emphasis upon activist martyrdom. Hedges doubts whether people at protests should throw tear gas cannisters fired by the police back over police lines. Outside of his pacifist world, who is going to be motivated to join a movement that doesn’t unequivocally permit you to protect yourself against tear gas? Conversely, people who act violently, whether Bloc or not, seek to impose violence upon those around them, subjecting them to the risk of injury, arrest and possible incarceration or deportation, in the misguided belief that this will motivate them to confront the system. Both are elitist visions in which the people themselves are absent. Both will ultimately narrow the scope of the movement, not expand it.

    Of course, non-violence is urgently necessary, but it will difficult to move forward unless the emphasis upon non-violence is rooted in the social experience of workers, poor people and people of color, and the necessity of motivating as many of them to participate in the movement as possible. This is the nature of the opening for the left to play an essential role in the future evolution of Occupy.

    Comment by Richard Estes — February 10, 2012 @ 8:52 pm

  62. This is an important discussion as many, including me, have been negatively impacted by Black Bloc actions, but
    nowhere in the inaccuracies of Hedge’s superficial piece. He needs to really assess his short term knowledge and
    quit writing such green horn pieces. As one who has worked for many years as an anarchist, human rights worker
    and anti oppression activist, i would appreciate some reading my take on Hedges and self centered black blocers.

    https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1628617134&sk=notes

    Comment by swaneagle harijan — February 10, 2012 @ 9:17 pm

  63. People who call cops are, without doubt, violent people. They just choose to have someone else act violently for them, is all.

    Comment by Hank — February 10, 2012 @ 9:36 pm

  64. Hank’s point is well-taken. During the antiwar movement, burly trade union marshals kept ultraleftist provocateurs in line. You should never rely on the cops.

    Comment by louisproyect — February 10, 2012 @ 9:56 pm

  65. @#48. ISH. Sorry for the late comeback. I more often than not agree with you and this case I agree 100%.

    In retrospect my post prior to your comeback may have sounded overly doctrinaire and even dillentantish, but only when put out of the context of what I’ve said about the so-called Left’s OWS critique of the “no concete demands” complaint, which was never really that sufficeinet to get worked up over insofar as their relevance today doesn’t amount to shit, that is, I said “so what about no demands”, nothing succeeds like success and so up to this point those critiques are unfounded. In fact I said that those handful of critics haven’t done shit for the last 40 years of sparking the imagination of the masses with such simple slogans, like “we are the 99%”.

    I’ve also said from the outset that I’ve got a very deep sympathy for the Anarchist tradition from even prior to the police saboteurs of Haymarket Square, as did Marx himself for the courage of the prominent demonstrators of his day, for ultimately anarchists and communists want the same thing, a stateless society where exploitation of one human by another is impossible. The question, of course, is how to get there, and I’m perfectly willing to let committed Anarchist Youth lead the way, so long as there’s some sense of the fact that, as Trotsky said, a brick or a bomb can be a wonderful thing, “but first let’s clarify ourselves.” That principle is the only reason I would invoke Trotsky today, the victorious leader of the Red Army during a brutal civil war across 7 time zones in a backward country ruined by imperialist war with a hundred languges, not for his party building nonsense 20 years later with Cannonism, etc, but for the idea of not wasting prescious energies smashing irrelevant windows and confronting riot cops with no hope of victory.

    You rightly say, and this, keep in mind, uttered when the Occupy Movement was expanding exponetionally: [“What the fuck do you think an actual living, breathing, vibrant class movement would actually look like if not this? I’m glad some of you think something else is coming around in our lifetime because this is real class struggle, the real awakening of today’s working class. Don’t you get it? THIS IS THE MOMENT.”]

    [“There is a line between learning lessons from the experience of the early twentieth century and having a ridiculously abstract argument full of faux poseur outrage over milk that is long spilled and dried. Having a pissing match over Kronstadt, ninety years ago, from either the Leninist or the Anarchist side? Waste somebody else’s time. Don’t like the ideology of anarchists? Get in there and prove that yours is better. Or just stay here in blogland insulting each other, especially the people newly awakening to struggle, cause man oh man, this experience of arguing with cyber Leninists stuffing their heads up their virtual asses is sure to win them over.”]

    My point is today while I only agree with a certain percentage of the progressive significance of what the Bolshevik Revolution accomplished vis-a-vis today’s movement I’m unwilling to concede the most important lessons of the Bolshevik Revolution mean fuck all, like some here have said and implied, and that I implore the Anarchist youth leading today’s struggle to not automatically dismiss principles of the past learned through bitter struggle instead of just reinventing the wheel the hard way, meaning, it’s just plain stupid to espouse the notion that what Lenin & Trotsky taught the world about how to organize to overcome Czarism is irrelevant in the struggle to overcome the onerous corporate greedheads that are driving today’s planet to perpetual war & certain ruin.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — February 11, 2012 @ 1:38 am

  66. I should add this analogy. There was a time centuries ago when the British Navy discovered the rich African coast. Turns out the African people, who’d been gathering firewood for heat from time immemorial, learned from British grunt sailors that if you stuck a metal spike into the end of a log and whacked it hard with something heavy that it splits the log into something way more manageable. So when the British Navy left, leaving a bitter taste in the mouths of the Tribal leaders being the assholes that the Crown’s soldiers were, these African tribal leaders decreed that it was forbidden for the people to use those British methods to split logs. Of course such a decree was as about effective as anti-sodomy laws in Florida, that is, the masses utilize and do what they want to via the most efficient & pleasurable technology, regardless.

    The point is that when right honorable Anarchists say “fuck Lenin & Trotsky” it’s like saying “fuck log splitting with metal wedges”, that is, it’s ultimately an ignorant conservative’s cry.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — February 11, 2012 @ 2:05 am

  67. my posts #57 & #59:

    D’oh! I’d puzzled over Graeber using ‘people-police’ but in fact he doesn’t: it seems to be a transcription error @ tumblr.com where I read his letter.

    I’d assumed that that was where Graeber had posted it, but as both Bhaskar Sunkara (#60) & socialistproject.ca link to nplusonemag.com I take it that’s the originary posting.

    Glad that’s sorted. (But it does make me wonder whether my posts are read!)

    Comment by Calum — February 11, 2012 @ 1:37 pm

  68. I don’t see how a group who’s mission statement for Zero Govmint/anarchy would ever be on the same mission level as those of Occupy, Socialists, Leftists even Democrats; We all want Government ~ the kind of Gov’t that is in tune to the people not the Capitalist Controlled Legislators come Traitors we have now.
    We in Occupy are seeking simply better govt without going in to too much detail ~ Occupy here would incl ending Bill of Rights for instruments and entities and regulated to the max, ending wars and crony fascist capitalism, no cap on Soc Sec etc. BlackBlok is for some bizarre notion of self rule / out of some Ayn Rand social darwinist super man/ … i wish they’d take stock of the motives and actions as it relates the Commons.
    Occupy is not about Insurrection ~ We realize that the best solution is going to be solved through the Ballot Box. The Ballot Box however is filthy dirty, Capital slime ooozes every where, democracy has been captured and held hostage by the “Establishmen”. We realize we are up against a lot but an Insurrection we are Not.
    Anarchists are ultimately Social Darwinists / Objectivists / mendacious bullies. They are Narcissistic Authoritarians unable to move from the specific to the general. A spike in the genesis of humanity. Can we entice them to think and feel ‘generational’? (i hope so) Its about ‘community’ Commons, shared compassion, health and prosperity ~ how hard is it for Anarchists to grasp that?
    i’m glad they left our Occupy and went and started their own occupy called ‘HOME’ and though there’s been no activity on their website since end of Nov they created a Victory garden and an Anarchists library… right now it’s 17* F outside so i guess their talking May for the garden. We our OWS marched in the Holiday Parade ~ when invited to participate at a GA the Black Blok thought being in it was rediculous and beneath them.
    And when the Anarchists left they took the Libertarians with them and the Ron Paul’rs and Flat Tax’ers all social darwinists. i’d vote to pay their uhhh safe passage to Somalia.
    i’m clear as well that a Broken shattered lifeless window is nothing compared to the death and mayhem the Multi-nationals have wrought on the Working Class around the world.
    I do object to ordinary members of the working class getting their Windoes knocked out, car burned up (Collateral Damage), for want of a message by Black Bloc./mob. This is no different than the Viet Minh/Viet Cong using the populace thru threat and intimidation… and the US doing it more and bigger back. If we hurt innocent people and cause them personal or financial harm We are libel. Anarchists don’t comprehend this.

    FREE BRAD and Julian ~
    Just say NO to ObamaNationInc
    Jill Stein for President

    Comment by Darwin26 — February 12, 2012 @ 5:37 am


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