Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

October 21, 2012

Black bloc activist defines ideology

Filed under: black bloc idiots — louisproyect @ 1:32 pm

September 14, 2012

Chris Hedges and B. Traven debate the black bloc

Filed under: black bloc idiots — louisproyect @ 12:31 am

With his feline features, rail-thin yoga instructor body, and white-boy dreadlocks down to his buttocks, B. Traven might have won the debate against the pear-shaped, tan Dacron summer suit wearing, and dour-faced Chris Hedges on looks alone. It was the biggest mismatch I had seen since the Yippie tag-team of Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman went up against SWP leader Fred Halstead in 1969 over “Which Way for the Antiwar Movement?” You probably know what Rubin and Hoffman looked like but Fred Halstead can best be described as a 350 pound, 6’6” behemoth with a face like a delegate’s to a Republican Party convention.

Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman

Fred Halstead

For me the appearance of SWP leaders like Fred Halstead was an asset since I had come to the conclusion that the mainstream of American society had to be won to our cause. Fred had been the leader of a G.I.’s “bring us home” movement in 1946 that led indirectly to the victory of a socialist revolution in China. As a long-time cutter in the garment industry and a housing project resident, Fred was totally “salt of the earth” and a marked contrast to Rubin and Hoffman both culturally and politically.

Ironically the debate between Hedges and Traven was a rehash in many ways of the 1969 debate. While Rubin and Hoffman were not interested in breaking windows, they definitely sought to create “confrontations” with the cops that would lead to billy club and tear gas attacks on protestors with the ultimate goal of radicalizing those who were beaten and jailed. Fred recounts the differences in “Out Now”, a history of the Vietnam antiwar movement:

SDS was bent on “doing its own thing,” which Rubin kept inviting people to do, in line with his dream of initiating wholesale disruption. Dellinger tended to dismiss the wilder statements of SDSers, Rubin, and others in those milieux as idle rhetoric. There was truth to this, but the rhetoric itself was hurting the mass character of the march. It was also the height of folly, in my view, because it gave the police a ready-made excuse to physically attack the demonstration. To counter this the SWP demanded assurances as to the peaceful, legal character of the mass march and rally. We pressed for this to be made publicly clear.

There were also some of the pacifists—like Brad Lyttle and Peter Kiger—who were uneasy about the “do-your-own-thing” rhetoric. They wanted assurances as to the nonviolent discipline. The SWP joined in these demands. But the area of rapprochement with those bent on “doing their own thing” was narrow.

Dellinger in this period was in the unenviable position of negotiating with Rubin and SDS on the one hand and some of the moderate groups on the other. He was, after all, a pacifist committed to nonviolence across the board. The SWPers were not. To him our stand may have seemed like a hypocritical maneuver against Rubin and SDS. But it wasn’t. We simply held to the position that the nonviolent tactic was necessary in order to maintain the mass character of the action under the given circumstances. A free-for-all fight—rhetorical or otherwise—was not part of the agreement.

This had nothing to do with “vacillation and timidity.” It had to do with keeping the movement’s statement clear and attracting the masses. One thing the new-guard SDSers had difficulty understanding was that ordinary people stay away from physical fights they can’t possibly win, not because they lack courage or conviction, but because they think it’s crazy or too costly.

In essence Chris Hedges defended an SWP-type position against B. Traven even though he has made a point of attacking both Marx and Lenin on occasion. I believe that Hedges has not really conducted a rigorous study of Marxism to this date and hope that he will at some point. He has said in the past and during last night’s debate that the Russian Revolution was peaceful and that the violence came from the Czarist forces. That demonstrates to me that he has at least gotten past Cold War Kremlinology even if he has on at least one occasion referred to Lenin “hijacking” the revolution.

The key point that Hedges made over and over again is the same as Halstead’s, namely the need to involve the mainstream. In his article likening the black bloc to cancer (I would have been more specific and likened them to intestinal cancer), he made a point that could have been lifted from “Out Now”:

This is a struggle to win the hearts and minds of the wider public and those within the structures of power (including the police) who are possessed of a conscience.

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.

Dave Dellinger, Jerry Rubin, Abby Hoffman and SDS all turned toward “confrontationism” out of frustration with the inability of mass demonstrations to end the war two or three years into the movement. They calculated that a “temper tantrum”, especially by middle-class white kids, would cause such angst among the ruling class that the war would end. A strong corollary of this approach was a belief in supporting “peace candidates” such as Eugene McCarthy. The 1968 convention was selected as a protest site in order to put pressure on the Democrats to adopt a peace platform.

Despite himself, B. Traven demonstrated the same kind of impatience during the debate but over a different war. When Chris Hedges referred to the futility of breaking windows, Traven responded by pointing to the 2003 demonstrations against the invasion of Iraq. Look, he said, these were the biggest protests in decades and what did they accomplish? The invasion took place anyhow. Hedges responded ably by pointing out that the antiwar movement essentially closed shop in 2004 in order to elect John Kerry, so the mass action approach was not really given a chance to work. This, of course, was a function of the CPUSA leadership of the peace movement. Given its craven support for the Democratic Party, the liquidation of the movement was a foregone conclusion. The only alternative to the CP was the SWP of the 1960s and 70s when people like Fred Halstead were around. Nowadays it is nothing but a cult around Jack Barnes whose newspaper gave implicit support for the invasion by characterizing the 2003 demonstrations as “anti-American”.

I came to the debate with the heightened expectations that it would approximate the fireworks of the Halstead-Yippie debate. Would B. Traven take out a spray-paint can in the middle of the debate and write “Death to Capitalism” across Hedges’s forehead? No such luck. For the most part he served as a kind of attorney for the black bloc or even a social worker or priest in the style of those 1930s to 1950s movies about juvenile delinquents.  You know the kind of film I am talking about, with someone like Spencer Tracy telling the judge, “Your Honor, these boys are not bad. They are just a product of their environment and have to be understood.”

That’s what I heard from Traven when he explained why the black bloc was so strong in Oakland. It was because Oscar Grant was shot and killed by transit cops in 2009 and none of them were charged with a crime. Evidently there must be something wrong with New York City activists since a string of such killings, including Amadou Diallo, has prompted no Starbucks windows being broken or riots in the Black community for that matter. The reaction has mainly consisted of mass mobilizations led by Al Sharpton that have since abated since his absorption into the Obama/MSNBC liberal machinery.

Traven also tried to put vandalism into a global context, demanding to know why people like Hedges hail the Egyptian mass movement while opposing the black bloc here. After all, 100s of police stations were burned to the ground in Egypt. Hedges calmly replied that Egypt was a dictatorship with hundreds, if not thousands, of its citizens being denied the right to form opposition parties and forced to endure imprisonment, torture or state-sponsored executions. When the mass movement defended itself against police terror in Tahrir Square, that’s a far cry from spray-painting a Whole Foods window. If and when class polarization in the U.S. deepens to the point when we have to face such repression, it will make sense for the masses to use whatever means necessary to defend their rights. My guess is that under such conditions, the last place they will look for help is from the trick-or-treat, spring break in Fort Lauderdale boys behind the masks wearing black.

The last thing I want to do is waste my time exploring the thinking of Crimethinc.com, the website/collective that B. Traven belongs to but there is one article that I found quite revealing even if its points were not made during the debate by its dreadlocked spokesman. In an article titled “What Does Democracy Mean?”, they reach the interesting conclusion that it is not worth fighting for:

Our forebears overthrew kings and dictators, but they didn’t abolish the institutions by which kings and dictators ruled: they democratized them. Yet whoever operates these institutions—whether it’s a king, a president, or an electorate—the experience on the receiving end is roughly the same. Laws, bureaucracy, and police came before democracy; they function the same way in a democracy as in a dictatorship. The only difference is that, because we can cast ballots about how they should be applied, we’re supposed to regard them as ours even when they’re used against us.

Can you imagine someone passing out a leaflet with such ideas inscribed to sharecroppers in Mississippi in 1962? Or to someone living under Mubarak’s iron fist? Democracy means rule of the people, an idea of course that can only be fully realized under socialism. But the fight for socialism cannot be advanced unless working people have the right to form unions, to publish newspapers, to assemble in public and enjoy the freedoms afforded us under the Bill of Rights.

The sneering attitude toward democracy of course goes hand in hand with the whole black bloc modus operandi, where an affinity group decides unilaterally what it will do and when it will do it. Those who have studied the origins of the tactic will know that the autonomist movement in Germany initiated it. The autonomy they sought was not just from the capitalist state but also from the trade unions and left parties that workers built—with all their flaws. It did not matter that millions of workers decided that a General Strike would culminate in a peaceful demonstration. If the autonomists decided that Molotov cocktails had to be thrown, it was up to them and not the stupid workers to decide. My suspicion is that if we ever reach such an advanced stage in the U.S., we will have to be on close guard to make sure that young men in masks don’t act in unaccountable fashion. Vigilance will be necessary to defend the workers movement that surely will be arising under the conditions of permanent economic decline.

Chris Hedges observed during the debate that the Occupy movement never died, it just took different forms such as the Teachers strike in Chicago that is using mass mobilization. Can you imagine what the impact on the strike would have been if black bloc idiots had decided to start breaking windows during the mass demonstrations? Thank goodness they figured out that they would have been effectively drummed out of the movement if they did. Let’s hope that they figure out better ways in the future to oppose corporate rule. The movement needs unity at all costs today and everybody’s help is needed in moving forward. Everybody.

February 18, 2012

The black bloc, jihadism, and Counterpunch

Filed under: Alexander Cockburn,black bloc idiots,Jihadists — louisproyect @ 6:06 pm

Anybody who reads Counterpunch on a regular basis as I do (I also donated $50 to a recent fund-drive and subscribe to the electronic version of the newsletter—so I do understand its value) must be aware of its two highest priority talking points of late:

1. Al-Qaeda type jihadists are a terrible danger to al-Assad’s Syria and good enough reason to back the dictator. For example, Peter Lee wrote an article in this weekend’s edition:

More worryingly, al-Qaeda’s enthusiastic attempt to piggyback on the spiraling unrest in Syria—and the car bombings in Aleppo which, if not the work of Zawahiri’s minions, can probably be traced back to al-Qaeda’s Gulf-funded Sunni Islamist fans in western Iraq—are a warning that backing the feckless SNC in an agenda of regime collapse is not going to be the carefree, Iran-bashing romp so many interventionists are advertising.

2. Chris Hedges’s attack on the black bloc is an ominous threat against radical politics in the U.S. and every effort must be mounted to defend the vandalistas, either critically or uncritically. One of the prime examples is an article that appeared in the February 9th edition by Peter Gelderloos, the author of the aptly named “How Nonviolence Protects the State”. In the article, titled “The Surgeons of Occupy”, Gelderloos draws an unfortunate amalgam between the black bloc and the anarchist movement as a whole: “But beneath the black masks, anarchists have been an integral part of the debates, the organizing, the cooking and cleaning in dozens of cities.” So, in effect, when Hedges attacks vandalism, he is also attacking cooking and cleaning—I suppose. I say suppose because Gelderloos, like many black bloc aficionados, is skilled at demagogy. Or more accurately, uses demagogy rather ineffectively to avoid a serious debate.

I had no idea who Gelderloos was, but was intrigued to discover in the midst of a spittle-flecked attack on me by a Kasama Project commenter (I am a “Pseudo-Trotskyist renegade… practicing revisionist right-deviationism”) that “Gelderloos makes statements of support for the mass-murder of Spanish civilians by the right-wing Muslim group Al-Qaeda” in “How Nonviolence Protects the State”.

Wow, how about that!

As it turns out, there is a pdf version of the book. Wasting no time, I tracked down the passage in question and converted into regular text:

A good case study regarding the efficacy of nonviolent protest can be seen in Spain’s involvement with the US-led occupation. Spain, with 1,300 troops, was one of the larger junior partners in the “Coalition of the Willing.” More than one million Spaniards pro-tested the invasion, and 80 percent of the Spanish population was opposed to it, but their commitment to peace ended there—they did nothing to actually prevent Spanish military support for the invasion and occupation. Because they remained passive and did nothing to disempower the leadership, they remained as powerless as the citizens of any democracy. Not only was Spanish Prime Minister Aznar able and allowed to go to war, he was expected by all forecasts to win reelection—until the bombings. On March 11, 2004, just days before the voting booths opened, multiple bombs planted by an Al-Qaida-linked cell exploded in Madrid train stations, killing 191 people and injuring thousands more. Directly because of this, Aznar and his party lost in the polls, and the Socialists, the major party with an anti-war platform, were elected into power. The US-led coalition shrunk with the loss of 1,300 Spanish troops, and promptly shrunk again after the Dominican Republic and Honduras also pulled out their troops. Whereas millions of peaceful activists voting in the streets like good sheep have not weakened the brutal occupation in any measurable way, a few dozen terrorists willing to slaughter noncombatants were able to cause the withdrawal of more than a thousand occupation troops.

So nonviolence lacks “efficacy” but killing 191 Spaniards in train stations does not. A while back, I made a big deal about a book on Infoshop.org making the case that the black bloc is following in the steps of the Weathermen but this reaches level of insanity that simply takes my breath away.

What can we say about this? Can we make a connection between the black bloc and jihadism? Probably not. But I would say this. Alexander Cockburn would be well-advised to exercise a bit more editorial scrutiny in the future. I know that it gets hard when you hit 71 to stay on top of details but I am quite sure that there would be any number of interns out there who would be willing to give him a hand, if for no other reason to spare a once very admired journalist from allowing his website to embarrass itself further.

February 14, 2012

What do the Autonomen want?

Filed under: black bloc idiots — louisproyect @ 6:56 pm

{MSZ – Gegen die Kosten der Freiheit (Munich) 2/1988}

The worldview of the Autonomen is quite simple. It is only them and the “pigs” with their “system.”
What do the Autonomen want?
With “hatemasks” and “slingshots” …

The “hate mask” is the identification badge of the Autonomen. Originally, covering the face only served the purpose of concealing their bourgeois identities from surveillance by state agencies, which define any criticism as a potential threat to the state and democracy, preventively recording and carefully filing away any halfway organized statement of discontent in order to be able to apprehend the persons concerned.

For the Autonomen, this defensive act of disguise has become a symbol of resistance, a bit of material that no longer hides the identity, but makes it recognizable: the identity of the Autonomen as “street fighters.” With it they distance themselves not only from the enemy, the state power, but also from everyone else who is not quite sympathetic to them. They pride themselves on practicing opposition to the existing state. Their “combativeness” distinguishes them from all other protesters:

“What sets us apart from others on the left are the stones in hand and the billy clubs against our necks. In the tear gas clouds we feel most autonomous. What holds us together beyond that, we do not know.” (Autonomen Berlin leaflet)

The “hate mask” is an essential part of Autonomen clothing which – supplemented by combat boots, clubs, cushioned leather jackets and helmets – makes up the uniform of the “Black Blocs.” The uniform represents not only their subordination to a common purpose and the absolute right to exercise force, it serves primarily to distinguish between friend and foe in battle.

With their meager protective clothing and “stones in hand,” they oppose “billy clubs against their necks,” clouds of tear gas, mace sprays, and the state’s other order-maintaining household cleaning products; at most, with “slingshots” that in bourgeois horror scenarios are built up with chilling admiration into “precision catapults.” The very basic military superiority of the opposing side is no occasion for the Autonomen fighters to consider whether this fight cuts the mustard.

full: http://www.ruthlesscriticism.com/autonomen.htm

February 10, 2012

Black bloc attack on massive trade union demo in October 2011

Filed under: black bloc idiots,Greece — louisproyect @ 1:13 am

February 9, 2012

Do the Greeks get it?

Filed under: black bloc idiots,Greece — louisproyect @ 6:09 pm

One of the main rebuttals to Chris Hedges’s attack on the black bloc centers on his support of the riots in Greece against the austerity drive. For example, “Nihilo Zero” (love those made-up anarchist names!) wrote an article for Anarchist News that stated:

Such a stance also often belies a hypocritical stance in regard to revolutionary self-defense and aggression when it occurs in their own backyards. For example… Chris Hedges in an earlier article about Greece wrote:

Here’s to the Greeks. They know what to do when corporations pillage and loot their country. They know what to do when Goldman Sachs and international bankers collude with their power elite to falsify economic data and then make billions betting that the Greek economy will collapse. They know what to do when they are told their pensions, benefits and jobs have to be cut to pay corporate banks, which screwed them in the first place. Call a general strike. Riot. Shut down the city centers. Toss the bastards out. Do not be afraid of the language of class warfare—the rich versus the poor, the oligarchs versus the citizens, the capitalists versus the proletariat. The Greeks, unlike most of us, get it.

So somehow the reader is invited to make a comparison between hundreds of thousands of Greeks, if not millions, pouring into the streets to fight the cops and destroy property with a couple of dozen people in Oakland spray-painting a Whole Foods window? At the risk of sounding like an instructor in Dialectical Materialism 101 at the University of Leningrad in 1954, I have to raise the question of quantity/quality. The quantitative difference between millions and a couple of dozen becomes qualitative. For example, there are neo-Nazi groups in the U.S. who occasionally hold a White Power rally somewhere. But for Pete’s sake, this is not Germany 1928 (even though some very otherwise reasonable people like Noam Chomsky make this mistake.)

There will very likely come a time in the future in which the attack on the working class in the U.S. will be as draconian as that taking place in Greece. And, as a result, there will be massive violent confrontations with the police. However, one thing is for sure. If we want to achieve victory, it will take a lot more than street fighting as a review of the situation in Greece would indicate. Despite over two years of massive confrontations, at times taking on the character of a civil war, the Greek government continues to make the workers pay for bankster chicanery and exploitation. Today’s N.Y Times reports:

After days of dramatic talks, Greek political leaders reached a deal on Thursday to support a package of harsh austerity measures demanded by Greece’s financial backers in return for the country’s latest bailout.

The deal is expected to unlock the 130 billion euros, or $172 billion, in new loans and save Greece from potentially disastrous default.

Talks between Prime Minister Lucas D. Papademos and the three leaders backing his coalition had stalled overnight over proposed cuts to pensions, but on Thursday leaders said they had found a way of plugging the 300 million euro shortfall by cutting defense spending and other expenditures.

“We have a deal,” a government official said Thursday afternoon. A statement by the prime minister was expected shortly.

At a news conference in Frankfurt, the head of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, said Mr. Papademos had called him with word that “an agreement has been reached and has been endorsed by the major parties” in Greece.

After more than seven hours, talks had stalled early Thursday between Mr. Papademos and the three political leaders in his government, who agreed on a range of steep wage cuts and public sector layoffs. But the politically unpopular pension cuts had proven most thorny.

Once again turning to the question of quantity and quality, it is significant that this pending victory of a united bourgeoisie takes place against a backdrop of one general strike after another. Unlike the Oakland general strike, whose impact should not be minimized, those that take place in Greece are like something out of the 1930s—including being led by a Communist Party. Alas, that partially explains why the bosses have been successful.

You have to keep in mind that this is a Communist Party that is far to the left of many others, as this polemic with the CPUSA would bear out.  While on record as favoring socialism, the KKE (Greek initials for the CP) has functioned far too long as an electoral party to switch gears and mount a challenge for power. It is hard to break with bad habits, particularly parliamentary cretinism. For example, at a rally in November, the party leader set his horizons low:

Down with the government and the parties which serve the plutocracy, as well as those parties which intentionally foster illusions amongst the people that another government with participation of these parties will solve the problem.

We do not conceal from anyone the fact that the class struggle must be directed towards one single goal, the acquisition of working class power, a power which serves the working class and the other popular strata.

They are lying that the timeline imposes the voting of the loan agreement before the election. We demand a caretaker government and elections in 20 days so that the people will be able to express their will with their vote. The controlled bankruptcy has already been agreed while there exists a serious possibility of an uncontrolled bankruptcy, it has not been cancelled out by the packages agreed with the EU, nor by centre-left or centre-right cooperation.

Somehow “down with the government” does not quite jibe with a demand for a “caretaker government”. Understandably, the counterpart of the American black bloc in Greece will have none of this. And once again, quantity becomes quality. In Greece the people who carry out black bloc tactics number in the tens of thousands not the hundreds. Moreover, they are much more violent than the American counterparts and willing to take on those on the left who stand in their way. One trade unionist in Oakland tackled a black-clad militant in front of a Whole Foods store, but that is like a drop of water in the ocean compared to Greece where the black bloc has declared war on the KKE and PAME, the trade union it leads.

On October 19, 2011 the KKE/PAME organized a rally in front of the parliament building that was attacked by black bloc activists. Two days later the KKE issued a statement:

On this occasion organized groups with specific orders and anarcho-fascists unleashed an attack with Molotov cocktails, teargas, stun grenades and stones, in attempt to disperse the majestic rally of workers and people in Syntagma Square and especially in the area where PAME was concentrated. A result of this attack is the death of the trade unionist of PAME, Dimitris Kotzaridis, 53 years old, secretary of the Viron branch of the Construction Workers’ Union. Dozens more PAME demonstrators were injured.

The hatred of the hooded ones against the labour and popular movement and PAME expresses the fury of the forces which serve the system and bourgeois power. The government has massive responsibilities for this. The operation to intimidate, slander and suppress the labour and people’s movement is rooted in state structures, centres and services. History demonstrates this, today’s barbaric and murderous assault also proves this. The hooded ones, anarcho-autonomists, fascists or whatever they call themselves tried to achieve what the forces of repression, the blackmail and threats failed to do: to intimidate the people so that they submit. It objectively arises that the very same centres executed the provocateur murderous burning down of Marfin the day the Memorandum was voted on, 5 May 2010.

Anarchists have a totally different take on what happened that day. A website called Anarchist Theft wrote:

We all experienced the nightmare that the Greek stalinists in co-operation with other leftist trade unionists and the cops created during the 48-hour strike in Greece on October 19 and 20 and some comrades in the anti-authoritarian milieu are badly wounded. We refer to the policing role of the KKE members: they were stationed in military formation in the area around the parliament, armed with helmets and sticks, facing the demonstrators with the riot squads behind them, preventing anyone from approaching, even asking for reporters’ identities and attacking fiercely later those in the crowd who defied their cordons.

As the clashes started, the riot squads came for their protection attacking people with chemicals and flash-bang grenades evacuating the area. It was revealed later that the stalinists had made an agreement with the police so as to be allowed to police the demo themselves. According to our information, similar agreements were made between the KKE and other left parties’ or groupuscules’ unionists so that each was alloted a special place near the parliament accepting KKE’s hegemony. They later supported fully KKE in its denunciation of the ‘anarcho-fascists’, ‘parastatals’ etc, namely all those who were not part of the deal, not willing to accept it and tried to break their cordons.

Here’s a Youtube clip of what was happening that day, although it is difficult to make much sense out of it as to who is to blame:

You can get some inkling, however, of the dynamics from a report that showed up on the leftcom.org website:

Then blocks of anti-authoritarians arrived, as well as the Anarchists’ Assembly for Social Self-determination. Clashes erupted as protesters tried to reach the Parliament. An anarchist block attacked Stalinist lines. [emphasis added]

The Kasama Project, a group that is openly sympathetic to the Occupy movement and even far more open to black block tactics than me, is hostile to the KKE, describing it as “physically protecting the parliament building” and  “openly defending the state within a growing crisis that seems pregnant with the possibility of revolution” in October. It also conveyed the analysis of a group called the Communist Organization of Greece that shares its hostility to the KKE:

PAME (the KKE organization within the trade union movement) came under to a murderous attack by groups that have nothing to do with any militant ideology and perception. We saw stones, slingshot ammo and Molotov cocktails hurled into the bodies and heads of strikers and protesters.

These actions are characteristic of para-military rightists and fascists. The KKE leadership has been guilty of politically unacceptable stands — defending the parliament building, keeping radical protesters away from union forces and excluding them from political spaces — but such actions do not justify fascist-inspired assassination attempts. The day before this, teachers were also sent to the hospital with their heads split open from this kind of violent attack…

Mass political confrontation is an approach tied to a particular class outlook. Murderous attack and apolitical hooliganism is a quite different class outlook. These groups and their actions receive the support of the government counterinsurgency because they help the government’s counterinsurgency.

It is difficult to figure out whether the perpetrators of this attack were ultrarightists or ultraleftists, since they were all masked, but that points out to a serious problem with political activity of this sort. Relying almost exclusively on nihilistic violence by masked militants, it can be used for malignant ends despite the best intentions of some of the young people who carry it out.

Unfortunately, the anarchist movement in Greece (I use this term advisedly since there is so much of an affinity for black bloc adventurism in its ranks) has had big problems reflecting on its role in the class struggle.

In May 2010 I wrote an article titled “Is firebombing a bank an acceptable tactic?” that considered the consequences of an anarchist fire-bombing of a bank that left three bank workers dead (supposedly the building was empty at the time.) Infoshop.org, one of the primary dispensers of black bloc nonsense in the U.S., published a communiqué just before the tragedy:

We stand opposed to all authoritarian mechanisms and to all snitches that assist their task and we directly take the counter-offensive for now and forever. On the night of 25th of April in Thessaloníki we attacked with fire a news agency delivery truck of “Evropi (Europe)” company in the area of Evosmos and a branch of OTE (National Telecommunications Organization) in Stavroupoli. We continued the next night again with an arson attack on a Eurobank branch in Kalamaria. [emphasis added]

Not long afterwards calmer heads in the anarchist movement did some soul-searching on this kind of nihilistic violence and issued this statement:

What the greek anarchist movement is experiencing at the moment is some total numbness. Because there are pressurising conditions for some tough self-criticism that is going to hurt. Beyond the horror of the fact that people have died who were on “our side”, the side of the workers – workers under extremely difficult conditions who would have quite possibly chosen to march by our side if things were different in their workplace – beyond this, we are hereby also confronted with demonstrator/s who put the lives of people in danger. Even if (and this goes without question) there was no intention to kill, this is a matter of essence that can hold much discussion – some discussion regarding the aims that we set and the means that we chose.

The incident did not happen at night, at some sabotage action. It happened during the largest demonstration in contemporary greek history. And here is where a series of painful questions emerge: Overall, in a demonstration of 150-200,000, unprecedented in the last few years, is there really a need for some “upgraded” violence? When you see thousands shouting “burn, burn Parliament” and swear at the cops, does another burnt bank really have anything more to offer to the movement?

This is the kind of anarchism I embrace, a movement that is capable of self-criticism and growth. One can only hope that it will prevail in Greece and have some influence on its American co-thinkers who in the name of “diversity of tactics” allow vandalistas to run wild and split the movement.

On a concluding note, a word has to be said about the somewhat depressing character of the clash between reformism and ultraleftism in Greece, personified by the KKE and the widespread anarchist movement. Anarchism prides itself on its detachment from state power and from politics, particularly electoral politics. Radical youth might have a natural prejudice against the KKE and PAME because it is so compromised with class-collaborationist coalition building. But instead of trying to figure out a way to win the ranks of the CP to the revolutionary cause, it sees its membership as part of the problem and not part of the solution.

In a very real sense, in countries undergoing a social political crisis of the sort that Greece is experiencing today or Argentina experienced a decade ago, you have massive workers parties that are obstacles to socialist revolution and ultraleft youth who reject building revolutionary parties as a kind of principle whether they are anarchists or autonomists, as was the case in the leadership of Argentina’s piqueteros.

So what you end up with is a bourgeoisie that can continue to push through austerity drives in the absence of a serious revolutionary opposition. What is needed now is the same thing that was needed during the last great period of social and economic crisis in the 20th century—the time of the Great Depression—is a battle-tested leadership that can move the struggle forward to a successful seizure of state power.

Despite the rather dogmatic sound of all this, echoing I suppose something that Trotsky wrote in the mid-30s, I still believe it is true. What I reject, however, is the claim that some “Leninist” groups have to the mantle of this leadership because they have some kind of “continuity” with Marx and Engels through Lenin as if a pedigree dog competing in a Westminster show. Leadership is achieved by actions that produce results, such as the Occupy movement that demonstrated just how ossified the traditional Marxist movement was. One can only hope that these good comrades, whatever their ideology, figure out a way to sustain the momentum of last autumn and draw new forces into the movement. I strongly urge them to put as much distance between themselves and the black bloc as possible since the greater its presence, the smaller and weaker the movement will become.

Chris Hedges and Kristof Lopaur of Occupy Oakland debate black bloc, militancy and tactics

Filed under: black bloc idiots — louisproyect @ 1:13 pm


February 8, 2012

Taking Chris Hedges to task?

Filed under: black bloc idiots — louisproyect @ 5:19 pm


When a movement decides to ‘self-police,’ that shouldn’t be confused with adopting the same punitive and illogical methods of the state. We can forge agreements and work by consensus, but that cannot be used as a wedge to weed out and expunge those who contravene our best-laid plans. Rather, the aim should be to create processes based on the best practices of restorative justice, peacekeeping, and personal healing in order to promote points of contact and ongoing dialogue among all who find their way to the movement.


Written by Randall Amster, described under the article as follows:

Randall Amster, J.D., Ph.D., is the Graduate Chair of Humanities at Prescott College. He serves as Executive Director of the Peace & Justice Studies Association and as Contributing Editor forNew Clear Vision. Among his recent books are Lost in Space: The Criminalization, Globalization, and Urban Ecology of Homelessness (LFB Scholarly, 2008), and the co-edited volume Building Cultures of Peace: Transdisciplinary Voices of Hope and Action (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009).


I wrote this:

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.

Does anybody have the slightest doubt that people like Randall Amster are exactly the kind of enablers whose “diversity of tactics” muddleheadedness is what makes the vandalistas such a problem?

Anybody who writes a book titled Building Cultures of Peace: Transdisciplinary Voices of Hope and Action should be taken out and horsewhipped on principle.

February 7, 2012

Anonymous warns black bloc activists

Filed under: black bloc idiots — louisproyect @ 11:25 pm

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.


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.

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