Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

November 11, 2011

Black bloc: we were inspired by Weathermen Days of Rage

Filed under: black bloc idiots,ultraleftism — louisproyect @ 6:14 pm

This is a clip from the documentary “The Weather Underground” that can be viewed in its entirety at https://vimeo.com/33006390. The two old guys–at least as old as me–featured in the clip are Bill Ayers, who starts off, and Mark Rudd.

From The Black Bloc Papers

An Anthology of Primary Texts
From The North American Anarchist Black Bloc
The Battle of Seattle Through The Anti-War Movement
Edited and compiled by David Van Deusen and Xaviar Massot of The Green Mountain Anarchist Collective

The Black Bloc can trace its historical roots all the way back to when- and wherever people comprising an oppressed class or group militantly rose up against their oppressors. Elements of the particular tactics of the Bloc were previously utilized by the Weather faction of Students for a Democratic Society (the SDS) in North America during the “Days of Rage” in 1969.

Another function of the Black Bloc is to push the protest at hand towards a more militant and socially comprehensive direction. Largely this was achieved by the Bloc positioning itself at the forefront of the demonstration and subsequently forcing an escalation between the State forces and the protesters. Simply by resisting arrest, refusing to remain on sanctioned parade routes, challenging police barricades and by actively directing its anger at corporate targets, the Bloc ensured that such an escalation would ensue.

The purpose of such escalation in part lies in the belief that such conflict necessarily results in the unmasking of the brutal nature of the State. The subsequent brutality of the opposing police/military force is revealed. The idea is that by showing the larger population the violent means by which the status quo is maintained, a significant number of people will become further radicalized by this physical and visual demonstration of the nature of the State.


  1. Of course any one who doesn’t already comprehend the inherent violence of the status quo is unlikely to be “enlightened” by such a tactical unmasking. I have a long memory. Ultra-militants have a tendency to mutate into suburbanites, reformist politicians, professional “second thoughts” reactionaries, adjunct faculty, hucksters or petty criminals. Or they die of drug overdoses. Just like everyone else. There is no staying power to holier-than-thou revolutionism.

    Comment by Sandwichman — November 11, 2011 @ 6:36 pm

  2. Could well be, though, that the larger proportion of the larger population wants the status quo to be maintained by violence if necessary.

    Comment by emmryss — November 11, 2011 @ 6:42 pm

  3. Could well be, though, that the larger proportion of the larger population wants the status quo to be maintained by violence if necessary.

    Can you flesh this out a bit? I really don’t get your point.

    Comment by louisproyect — November 11, 2011 @ 6:46 pm

  4. I was in college when the Days of Rage happened. My friends and I were all very interested in and backwater participants in the larger movements. When we talked about the Days of Rage, we concluded it was just fucking stupid and deluded.

    Comment by Chuckie K — November 11, 2011 @ 7:00 pm

  5. But better tahn emulating Baader-Meinhof, I suppose.

    Comment by Chuckie K — November 11, 2011 @ 7:01 pm

  6. Bill Ayers in New left Notes during the preparation for the Days of Rage, “What we have to communicate to people is our strength, and to show people our strength we have to show them the strength of fighting on the side of the world-wide movement.” Fail. On all counts.

    Comment by Chuckie K — November 11, 2011 @ 7:16 pm

  7. This elicited a comment from Gar Lipow when it was cross-posted to Doug Henwood’s LBO-Talk mailing list:

    I’m going to top post because I’m kind of bouncing off this rather than addressing it directly. But I think the following story is relevant to both the general discussion and to the article posted.

    In Olympia, Washington we have a very militant anti-war movement. At one point tactics included direct action against shipment of weapons to the military in Iraq – including tanks and missile. During one demonstration, a local women’s affinity literally lay in front of tanks being brought over public streets to ships to send to Iraq. And while they were laying in the street in front of tanks, Black Bloc anarchist threw stones at police cars, breaking cop windows with cops in them. They threw the stones over the bodies of the women and into the police cars. The cops got out of their cars, the Black Bloccers ran away. And the police beat and brutally peppered sprayed the women (not from a distance but from inches away).

    Of course the main violence here was police violence. But I think “counterproductive” and “silly” are in fact extremely mild terms with which to criticize those Black Bloccers. BTW, in anticipation of how I knew they were Black Bloccers, the people who did this later attended a meeting where they defended their actions. They were very indignant at the criticism. “The women did not have a monopoly on protest. We wanted our share of the action.” From memory, so of course a paraphrase.

    Comment by louisproyect — November 11, 2011 @ 7:35 pm

  8. And how much success did The Weather Underground and later May 19 and PFOC have in organizing masses of working people? Some of the people involved in those movements may have been personally heroic but there is a disproved strategy if ever there was one.

    Comment by ish — November 11, 2011 @ 8:08 pm

  9. Yes but, many more will be turned off,that said I was a believer once. But these days I find myself more in agreement with Ghandi ,that said I would still be hard pressed not to defend myself if attacked by state authorities. Indeed there is something very satisfying about sticking it to the man 😉

    Comment by dirk buchholz — November 12, 2011 @ 1:00 am

  10. Its Gandhi. Not Ghandi.

    Comment by johng — November 12, 2011 @ 10:15 am

  11. I fail to understand the prissy fussing over black bloc and “violence.” Nor can I begin to grasp this loony paranoia about the “ninjas.” Would you prefer a polite, media friendly revolution?

    Comment by Chomskyzinn — November 13, 2011 @ 12:31 am

  12. I don’t think we are dealing with ninjas. We are dealing with nincompoops.

    Comment by louisproyect — November 13, 2011 @ 12:51 am

  13. My philosophy is rather simple.

    I’m for the Occupy movement because finally Americans are revolting against the class warfare that has been going on for years and the gap between the the super wealthy and the have nots has widened according to recent news reports.

    The problem I have with the movement is the lack of a clear goal and the steps that need to be taken to achieve it to win this class war.

    These underground groups of today that work like the groups of yesteryear (i.e. Bill Ayers and his clones), just promote violence, unrest, bombings etc. but what real change did Bill Ayers or groups like him achieve?

    We still have the same problems only worse and people like Bill Ayers just find themselves jailed or prosecuted by the Justice Department.

    I believe in a commitment to the cause, simply put a communist proletarian revolution to overturn the capitalist system.

    I would condone violence being necessary only as collateral damage during the revolution of the working people toward the achievement of a worker’s state.

    The violence that has been occurring by these underground splinter groups achieves nothing and just fills up the jails and gives bourgeois news agencies something to talk about.

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — November 13, 2011 @ 1:42 am

  14. My dad was at SDS in Cleveland, an editor of the Burning River News, and he knew both Ayers and Rudd. In one conversation we had about the Weathermen he wrote this take – “Not too long before the Weathermen actions over 100K had marched in Washington DC protesting the war’s spread into Laos and Cambodia, the killings at Kent State and Jackson, etc. After the Weathermen action it was hard to get more than a few hundred protesters to any event. The Weathermen killed the movement. Also, I attended some of the meetings where Weathermen were trying to get some of the rest of us to join in their action. They were very explicit that we should not tell the young people they expected us to send that there would be violence. The whole idea was to get innocent kids to come to what they thought would be a peaceful demonstration and then have them get beat up by the cops, making instant radicals out of them. I saw no difference between Weathermen’s lies and our governments lies.”

    Comment by owen white — November 13, 2011 @ 2:14 am

  15. Black Bloc is infecting the Occupy movement like a bacteria.

    The problem I have with the Occupy movement is that it’s main view of projection is the disgust with corporate greed and income inequality.

    Yes this is what most of us 99 percenters are against, but the point I’m making is we need to stop talking about what’s wrong because it’s incredibly redundant and move toward a revolution of the masses.

    If capitalism is the great evil, which it is along with the ruling class rulers that perpetuate society’s inequities, then we must move to abolish the system that oppresses us rather than camp out, complain about it in news interviews and just hope that it changes.

    If the Bolsheviks handled it that way, there would still be a czar in Russia today.

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — November 13, 2011 @ 5:11 am

  16. Remember change in Egypt and Libya didn’t come about by protesters camping out in parks, playing drums and complaining about their system of government in hopes it would change.

    Revolutions that erupted in these nations where everyday people who got sick of their oppression, fought tooth and nail and won the revolution.

    The Occupy movement here can’t be remotely compared to the revolutions of these countries.

    We need to do the same thing here if we can ever expect the oppression and injustice to come to an end.

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — November 13, 2011 @ 5:38 am

  17. Sandwichman wrote: “Ultra-militants have a tendency to mutate into reformist politicians”

    Paging Joschka Fischer and Daniel Cohn-Bendit…

    Comment by negative potential — November 13, 2011 @ 1:29 pm

  18. I’m going to engage, somewhat unwillingly, in a bit of a defense of Weatherman (whose tactics indeed have been proved by history to be counterproductive). First off, I don’t think that it’s at all accurate to blame them for “kill[ing] the movement”. A temporal progression doesn’t make a causality. Secondly, in contrast to today’s Black bloc, those who were to become the Weather Underground operated in an environment of much more open state repression of dissent than we even have today, for an extended period of time. They had become radicalized by this – they didn’t start out as teenage shop window smashers in the first place.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is, in 1970 I might well have joined Weatherman; while with the benefits of hindsight I wouldn’t touch the Black bloc with a barge pole. Which I suppose is what Louis is trying to say as well.

    Comment by christian h. — November 13, 2011 @ 3:36 pm

  19. Christian, you say the movement was counterproductive.

    Then what did it accomplish?

    The simple question I have for the Occupy movement is WHAT ARE WE FIGHTING FOR?

    Without a clear answer, this movement is done.

    The only valid and sensible answer to stop the bourgeois dictatorship in America is a proletarian revolution to achieve a worker’s state.

    The constitution is just a piece of paper and our forefathers didn’t intend to create a system where there would be so few super wealthy citizens of society living in the comfort of opulence compared to the majority of citizens who live in a daily existence of suffering and substandard living conditions.

    We need real change here and not 1960’s nostalgia.

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — November 13, 2011 @ 4:45 pm

  20. And let’s not forget that Bill Ayers is a close personal friend of President Obama which has been well documented in the press and Obama was heavily criticized for.

    Seems that Ayers has softened a bit with age if his friends include the one who holds the highest office in our bourgeois nation.

    Revolution is our only hope for real change and I don’t mean a revolution like the Beatles sang about in the 60’s.

    I mean a revolution like the one that occurred in Russia in 1917 or the modern day takeovers of Egypt and Libya.

    Real people taking a stand.

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — November 13, 2011 @ 5:12 pm

  21. […] coopted protesters to their agenda of forcing an escalation of state violence. Louis Proyect dug up primary sources on the justification for these tactics: “The idea is that by showing the larger population the […]

    Pingback by The 99 percent and Resistance for the Long Haul: Occupying Anarchy | Colonel Despard's Radical Comment — November 13, 2011 @ 5:55 pm

  22. My question is what problems were solved either with the movements of the 60’s or the Occupy movement today?

    None. We still have a class struggle that has grown more severe with millions suffering since the new recession (DEPRESSION) and economic collapse began.

    We still have wars going on in the middle east and military domination is business as usual.

    Bill Ayers is playing golf with his BFF President Obama. He’s a bourgeois country clubber now and no longer a radical hero. Obama leads this country club called Washington, D.C.

    This class struggle is a war my fellow comrades.

    Wars are won by strong and committed armies, not protesters living in tents or being thrown in county jail for petty lawlessness.

    As a devoted marxist, we must move toward a revolution and a war on our own turf to fight for a worker’s state.

    Successful proletarian uprisings in history were always classified as revolution and that is something you must be totally committed to and are willing to fight for.

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — November 13, 2011 @ 7:15 pm

  23. Don’t get me wrong, the Occupy movement has given a voice to people like us and I think the message is great.

    The problem is if the message only is to complain about the inequality in America and then wait for a change, this will result in a zero accomplishment.

    You can’t wait for a change or hope for a change, you have to force a change.

    Do you think the bourgeois though small in number but still the ruling class, really want a change?

    Of course not and this is a laughable thought because they reap the most benefit with the oppression of the lower social classes.

    If every single one of us 99 percenters stood up, moved to revolution and overthrow our capitalist system, the long arm of the law could not stop it with the best efforts.

    You don’t wait for change to happen, you make it happen.

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — November 13, 2011 @ 7:41 pm

  24. Black Bloc’s key role is agent provocateur on behalf of the state.
    Black Bloc provides the police with a crucial excuse for violence.
    Black Bloc’s biggest immediate victims are protesters not ready to suffer from police violence.
    Black Bloc will infiltrate any progressive street movement lacking tremendous discipline.

    Comment by townsendharris — November 13, 2011 @ 8:13 pm

  25. “I’m going to engage, somewhat unwillingly, in a bit of a defense of Weatherman (whose tactics indeed have been proved by history to be counterproductive).”

    LP has taken a similar stance elsewhere:


    “Furthermore, I have no problems with vandalism. Someone bombed a Starbucks from my apartment building a couple of years ago. Who cares? I just don’t want shit going on like this during a mass demonstration. Those 150 black bloc motherfuckers should have attacked Whole Foods on another day if that’s what gets them off. But as I said, they are pussies. They lack the balls to fight the cops the way the Weathermen did back in the day.”

    If the Black Bloc started their own Narodniki campaign then I still wouldn’t consider it to be a good idea, but it would be better than jumping onto protest-bandwagons which others have gotten rolling the way they do now.

    Comment by PatrickSMcNally — November 13, 2011 @ 8:21 pm

  26. Townsend, your sentence progressive street movement lacking tremendous discipline says it all.

    All of this discussion about the Weathermen and Bill Ayers and the good old days.

    The man is now playing golf with the President who is the leader of this capitalist regime we call America.

    Hello hello he is one of them now comrades.

    Enough with the groups who have no discipline or become traitors by going bourgeois like Ayers.

    Proletarian communist revolution is the only thing that will save us oppressed from our oppressors.

    These radicals of yesterday and today are just looking for their 15 minutes of fame.

    I prefer a results oriented movement made of substance and not style.

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — November 13, 2011 @ 9:18 pm

  27. In the end, Bill Ayers went crying back to his rich Daddy.

    The SDS and the Weatherman have vastly overinflated claims on the 60’s movement. It is a case of rewriting history, post facto, and the fact SDS members were mostly upper middle class sorts who sloughed off their social-democratic radicalism for jobs in the bourgeois intelligentsia when middle age crept up.

    No one should let the likes of Todd Gitlin tell them what the 60’s were about.

    Comment by purple — November 14, 2011 @ 5:14 am

  28. Well said purple. These people like Bill Ayers and the likes of were not revolutionaries or visionaries.

    Now that the glare of the spotlight has dimmed for many of them, they do what Bill Ayers does by picking up the clubs and playing 18 holes.

    Bill Ayers plays with the President. I guess the man who claimed to be so anti-establishment now IS the establishment.

    Guess when everything ran out of gas for him he just went back to his hum drum life in bourgeoisville.

    I don’t believe any true marxist revolutionaries come from gated bourgeois communities.

    It’s absurd that phony injustice fighters take us for being that bloody stupid.

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — November 14, 2011 @ 5:52 am

  29. What purple said. The Weathermen looked down on radicals who didn’t have top tier educations and they didn’t have a goddamn clue how to engage actual working class human beings. And why is it these documentaries on the Weathermen never mention the bit about Bernadine Dohrn using sex to recruit male radicals into her cause? When thinking of the Weathermen or some bourgeois wanna-be radical group like it trying to direct or initiate a revolution, chalk me up as in agreement with the Subcomandante Marcos’ line – “shit on all the revolutionary vanguards of this planet.”

    Comment by owen white — November 14, 2011 @ 2:57 pm

  30. True revolutionaries are not bourgeois or play golf.

    If you have the best that money can buy, why would you fight against it for a classless society? You would have to give it all up for the cause in the name of equality.

    Can’t picture Che Guevara playing 18 holes at the country club.

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — November 14, 2011 @ 3:48 pm

  31. I gotta give Bill Ayers credit (with sarcasm of course) because he went from being a quote domestic terrorist to a BFF of our capitalist king Obama.

    Makes one wonder if he ever was a true militant radical or if he was an imposter all along.

    My guess is the latter part is true.

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — November 14, 2011 @ 4:56 pm

  32. Without endorsing the blac bloc tactics at all, so far, the biggest upward swings in support for the national occupy movement seem to have been reactions to their confrontations with police (wall street pepper spray incident, oakland veteran injured, Berkeley baton beatings).

    On another note, marxists love to find themselves some wild and crazy anarchists to heap scorn on. I think a bit of sympathy and constructive engagement is probably a better idea.

    Comment by Beesat — November 14, 2011 @ 8:56 pm

  33. There certainly will be cop violence directed against OWS but it is much smarter to stand your ground over your legal right to protest than to engage in vandalism. The IWW’s free speech battles come to mind, not Weatherman type antics.

    Comment by louisproyect — November 14, 2011 @ 9:03 pm

  34. In the Q&A session As’ad abu Khalil describes Obama’s relationship with Rashid Khalidi. As Khalidi related to him, Obama would listen to him and not say anything. IOW, he wouldn’t take a concrete position on Palestine. This applied to others who spoke with him, as Obama behaved like a consumate politician. The whole guilt-by-association thing is pretty idiotic. Rosa Luxembourg’s student crushed her own uprising as president of Weimar Germany, so it’s not a stretch that the US president would know anti-establishment radicals in a previous life.


    Comment by andrew r — November 15, 2011 @ 4:12 am

  35. That’s right Occupy should be allowed the right to protest without harassment or bearing down by the police.

    Vandalism, destruction of property etc. is not necessary and paints a portrait of a street gang rather than a movement.

    But as I have said before, the successful overthrow of the regimes of Egypt and Libya were accomplished by a revolution of average but angry citizens.

    The only way our nation will end the oppression of capitalism on the proletariat, is to follow in their footsteps to tear up our constitution and create a new government as a worker’s state.

    Then the former bourgeois ruling class who lost the war (revolution), can pack it up and try to set up shop in another land if they will even take them.

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — November 15, 2011 @ 5:21 am

  36. Black Bloc graffitis walls.
    Black Bloc taunts police officers.
    Black Bloc overturns trash bins.
    Black Bloc cracks windows at corporate retailers and fast food restaurants.
    Black Bloc dents sheet metal and cracks glass on unattended police cars.

    Black Bloc’s actions are indistinguishable from those urged by plain-clothes police provocateurs.
    Black Bloc provides the reason for bringing out the pepper spray and the batons.
    Black Bloc creates the news that persuades the public that *all* the demonstrators *deserve* a beating.
    Black Bloc is a crucial tool of reactionary state power.

    Comment by townsendharris — November 15, 2011 @ 2:04 pm

  37. Yes townsend and they make it appear as though they are part of Occupy when they are just some radical punks.

    An unfortunate result of their criminality is the general public not taking the Occupy movement seriously.

    It does make a difference because I think the Occupy movement deserves validation and people need to listen to the resentment that most of us can relate to.

    The movement needs to grow bigger and research the revolutions in Egypt and Libya and maybe they could stand a real chance of changing the conditions in this country that have brought out anger in so many.

    Never say never. Nothing is impossible.

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — November 15, 2011 @ 3:32 pm

  38. My cards on the table (everyone here knows what I’m about to say) I’m a marxist and want a Red America.

    But I am a reasonable woman willing to compromise and accepting the notion of a socialist state in America.

    Not quite the red utopia I dream of, but close enough being a system based on social equality and not one small segment of society possessing a large percentage of the nation’s wealth.

    Certainly better than the system of inequity we have in place now.

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — November 15, 2011 @ 4:54 pm

  39. Comrades, the police state of NYC kicked out the Occupy protesters and confiscated much of their personal property under the propaganda they put out calling it an issue of public safety.

    A Judge is supposed to rule momentarily on whether they’ll be allowed to return to the park with their tents and sleeping bags.

    CBS 2 NY asked people on the street and Facebook what they thought. One man called them bums and a woman said they should get a job.

    These people are not bums and arrogant responses like that generally come from an ignorant petty bourgeoisie.

    As for the get a job remark, ok lady where are they and in case your head has been in the sand since 2008, there are over 30 million unemployed and that is just an estimate.

    The actual number is much higher. With so few job openings compared to the number of job seekers, it’s not so simple to just go out and get a job sweetheart.

    These people are out there enduring the elements, police harassment and public criticism to stand up against injustices going on in America today on the grandest scale.

    No they are not bums New Yorkers, they are heroes that should be admired for their determination and not admonished.

    Let’s hope the Judge is sensible and rules in their favor.

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — November 15, 2011 @ 5:40 pm

  40. […] in full on youtube), and much has.   Louis Proyect has pointed out that The Weathermen’s tactics were an inspiration for the black bloc , while I don’t share Proyect’s exact analysis of the black bloc as a tactic as I see it […]

    Pingback by The Weathermen: A Precursor to Anarcho-liberalism? « The Loyal Opposition to Modernity: — December 10, 2011 @ 5:37 pm

  41. […] in full on youtube), and much has.   Louis Proyect has pointed out that The Weathermen’s tactics were an inspiration for the black bloc , while I don’t share Proyect’s exact analysis of the black bloc as a tactic as I see it as more […]

    Pingback by The Weathermen: A Precursor to Anarcho-Liberalism? « Journey Without Maps — December 11, 2011 @ 8:13 am

  42. Hampton sums up the Weathermen as succinctly as any 200 page treatise could.

    “We believe that the Weathermen action is anarchistic, opportunistic,
    individualistic, it’s chauvanistic and Custeristic and that’s the bad
    part about it. It’s Custeristic in that its leaders take people into
    situations where the people can be massacred and they call that
    “revolution” but it’s nothing but child’s play. It’s folly. We think
    these people may be sincere but they’re misguided, muddleheads and
    they’re scatterbrained.”

    Comment by Aaron — December 13, 2011 @ 4:08 am

  43. […] 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 […]

    Pingback by The black bloc, jihadism, and Counterpunch « Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist — February 18, 2012 @ 6:14 pm

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