Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

February 7, 2017

Vanity of the bonfires

Filed under: Academia,anarchism,black bloc idiots — louisproyect @ 7:59 pm

Encounters with David Graeber, George Ciccariello-Maher, and Shon Meckfessel on social media reminded me that the black bloc does have its fans in the academy. As might be expected, the three professors are anarchists. Over the past five years I have developed a deep respect for anarchism’s refusal to line up with the “anti-imperialist” pro-Assad mindset of so many Marxists and especially for the late Omar Aziz, who Leila al-Shami, the co-author of “Burning Country”, commemorated on Tahrir-ICN:

Through his writing and activity he promoted local self-governance, horizontal organization, cooperation, solidarity and mutual aid as the means by which people could emancipate themselves from the tyranny of the state. Together with comrades, Aziz founded the first local committee in Barzeh, Damascus. The example spread across Syria and with it some of the most promising and lasting examples of non-hierarchical self organization to have emerged from the countries of the Arab Spring.

Al-Shami followed these words that ones that relate more directly to the problems I have with the infantile ultraleftism that has cropped up since January 20th and expressed particularly by the viral Youtube clip of Richard Spencer getting punched and the misadventure in front of the Berkeley Student Union.

In her tribute to Omar Aziz, Budour Hassan says, he “did not wear a Vendetta mask, nor did he form black blocs. He was not obsessed with giving interviews to the press …[Yet] at a time when most anti-imperialists were wailing over the collapse of the Syrian state and the “hijacking” of a revolution they never supported in the first place, Aziz and his comrades were tirelessly striving for unconditional freedom from all forms of despotism and state hegemony.”

In a 2002 NLR article, Graeber made the case for what he called “The New Anarchists”:

The effort to destroy existing paradigms is usually quite self-conscious. Where once it seemed that the only alternatives to marching along with signs were either Gandhian non-violent civil disobedience or outright insurrection, groups like the Direct Action Network, Reclaim the Streets, Black Blocs or Tute Bianche have all, in their own ways, been trying to map out a completely new territory in between.

Odd that within Graeber’s definition of the arsenal of tactics that can be used against the state, mass action of the sort that was mobilized to end the war in Vietnam gets reduced to “marching along with signs”. Menu alternatives are limited to three choices: civil disobedience, outright insurrection or anarchist affinity groups. It is the third that Graeber opts for, a “completely new territory” that is actually not very  new since it became pretty old when I was an activist in the late 60s.

David Graeber

On his death at the age of 90 in early January, John Berger’s 1968 article “The Nature of Mass Demonstrations” was circulated by Marxists. Written during the period when millions were “marching along with signs” everywhere against the war, Berger made some essential points about their value:

A mass demonstration distinguishes itself from other mass crowds because it congregates in public to create its function, instead of forming in response to one: in this, it differs from any assembly of workers within their place of work – even when strike action is involved – or from any crowd of spectators. It is an assembly which challenges what is given by the mere fact of its coming together.

In 1968, SDS leaders grew frustrated by the seeming inability of mass actions to end the war in Vietnam so they chose another course of action, one in which the protests were much smaller but far more violent. This culminated in the infamous “Days of Rage” in October 1969 that an anarchist author connects directly to the black bloc tactic:

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.

For Graeber, groups like the black bloc (yes, I know, it is only supposed to be a tactic but it is a loosely organized group that carries it out on a consistent basis) are a form of horizontalist direct democracy that are based on consensus rather than majority vote. Yeah, who needs a cumbersome and verticalist procedure such as voting that would only get in the way of a determined horizontalist bunch of people wearing bandannas over their faces intent on raising cain. If a black bloc spokesperson with a bullhorn had asked the 1500 or so Berkeley students in front of the Student Union protesting Milo Yiannopoulos to raise their hands if they favored busting windows and shooting skyrockets into the lobby of the building, they might have had the gumption to reject such tactics. We can’t abide such laggards getting in the way of bold actions, can we?

Essentially, the black bloc is as elitist and verticalist in its own way as the self-declared vanguard groups of the Leninist left that aspire to control mass organizations. Groups like the American SWP that I belonged to for 11 years used to caucus before a meeting to make sure that the membership followed a predetermined line before a critical vote even if in the course of discussion they decided that the SWP was wrong. Meanwhile, the black bloc does not bother with votes at all. This is a Hobson’s Choice, if there ever was one.

I had never paid much attention to George Ciccariello-Maher prior to his being the target of the alt-right over his “White genocide” tweet. All I knew about him was that he wrote about Venezuela and was something of an ultraleft based on his social media posts that were rather intellectually vacuous and often fixated on violent confrontations of one sort or another. Since academics tend to use social media as a form of “slumming”, I never paid much attention to them.

But after he began posting about the Berkeley adventure in a way that suggested his approval of the black bloc, I concluded that these were his politics. After unfriending him (and a bunch of other pro-black bloc types) with a post alluding to his support for the hijacking of the Berkeley protest, he lashed back at me as I expected. If anything, Ciccariello-Maher is nearly as hotheaded as me. What I didn’t get was his claim that it was only his FB friends that supported the black bloc and that my problem was with them.

That does not square with the arguments he made in 2011 against Chris Hedges, who had blasted the black bloc’s role in the Occupy movement and likened it to a cancerous tumor. Joining with Graeber, who had debated Hedges in an article titled “The Violent Peace-Police”, George wrote his own article making essentially the same arguments. Titled “Counterinsurgency and the Occupy Movement”, it goes the extra mile against Hedges:

Many, notably anarchist theorist David Graeber, have rightly attacked not only the misrepresentations in Hedges’ argument, but crucially its implications: by singling out and denouncing a sector of the movement, by dividing ‘good’ protesters from ‘bad,’ this purportedly nonviolent writer was in fact encouraging police violence himself (after all, surgical removal of a tumor is nothing if not violent). Less noted, however, is the degree to which Hedges’ discourse literally does the work of the police by contributing to actual policing strategies as they have developed in recent decades. By grasping the development of these strategies, we will be in a better position to avoid the pitfalls of the hysterical liberalism espoused by Hedges and others, and by understanding our enemies, we will be better prepared to confront them.

Unlike Graeber, Ciccariello-Maher is less concerned about whether black bloc tactics work or not. The brunt of his article is designed to conflate peaceful protesters and the black-clad vanguard. If you denounce them as a cancer, you are siding with the cops: “Much has been said about the violence-versus-nonviolence debate within and prior to Occupy, and it is true that we need to defend the violent as well as the nonviolent and accept not only a diversity of tactics but also a diversity of strategies for building the new world.” This diversity of tactics argument of course is associated with the NGO’s that tolerated the black bloc at each and every protest against the WTO. Like Graeber and Ciccariello-Maher, their emphasis was less on building a mass working-class based movement and more on making a “statement”.

George Ciccariello-Maher

That being said, the professor does appear to have a fetish for violence. In a Salon article titled “Riots Work”, he is ready to condemn mass protests against racial oppression that do not produce results according to some timetable. Like the Weathermen judging the antiwar movement as a milquetoast affair, Ciccariello-Maher seeks something much more dramatic:

Some insist that riots only provide a ready-made image to the media that emphasizes the “negative” over the “positive” (meaning the “violent” over the “peaceful”). But this view has little to say about whether so-called “peaceful” protests are effective in bringing attention to police murder, offering instead a moral imperative: the media should cover peaceful marches, the system should respond. But they don’t, and it doesn’t, and if so-called peaceful tactics don’t bring change, then they lose their status as a “positive” alternative, and even become complicit in continued systemic violence.

Well, I don’t know. It was peaceful protests, those people “marching along with signs”, in New York that were largely responsible for the stop and frisk laws being abolished. I was at one of them in 2012, the Silent March that was among the most impressive I have seen in the past decade.

Would a riot have ended the stop and frisk laws? I tend to doubt it, even if that risks being seen as pro-police in Ciccariello-Maher’s eyes. For him, there’s not much difference between a riot and the national liberation movement in Algeria that involved millions in a protracted war against the French imperialist army:

Frantz Fanon insisted that to break the smooth surface of white supremacy requires something more than peaceful protest. It requires the explosive self-assertion of the oppressed, through which the oppressed themselves can come to understand their own power.

If we were only so fortunate to see the Black liberation struggle in the USA beginning to take on the dimensions of the FLN. There was one attempt made by Malcolm X to build such a movement and he was killed for his efforts. For what it is worth, Malcolm tried to build a powerful organization instead of preaching about the need for disorganized riots.

Ciccariello-Maher has a new book out titled “Decolonizing Dialectics” that is based on the ideas of Fanon, a Latin American philosopher named Enrique Dussel, and Georges Sorel. I know Dussel only by name but wonder if he has overdosed on Georges Sorel. In an article titled “To Lose Oneself in the Absolute: Revolutionary Subjectivity in Sorel and Fanon” that likely formed the basis for the new book, he sees Sorel’s fetishization of violence in pretty much the same way as he sees Fanon—as a kind of mixture of existential revolt evoking Camus and his own peculiar interpretation of Marxism:

When united with proletarian violence, on the other hand, the myth becomes essentially a mechanism for the consolidation of revolutionary identity. In Sorel’s context, this takes the form of a working-class separatism embodied in and established through the proletarian general strike—the unity of liberatory violence with the absolutism of mythical identity—in which a strike against the bosses is transformed into a “Napoleonic” battle and “the practice of strikes engenders the notion of a catastrophic revolution”.

Sorel is problematic to say the least. After becoming dissatisfied with the CGT, France’s major trade union, in the same way that the Weathermen became impatient with peaceful protests, Sorel hooked up with an outfit called Action Française that was led by Charles Maurras. During WWII, AF supported the Vichy government and Maurras spent seven years in prison for his collaboration with the Nazis.

After he became a partisan of the Bolshevik revolution, the Italian fascist movement still revered Sorel no matter his heterodox Marxism. It seems that the feelings were mutual. In a 1921 letter to Benedetto Croce, an admirer of Mussolini who would eventually break with Il Duce, Sorel wrote: “The adventures of fascism are, perhaps, at present, the most original social phenomenon in Italy; they seem to me to surpass by far the combinations of the politicians.” In a letter to Jean Variot, a close ally of Sorel, he wrote:

It is possible, it is even probable that Benito Mussolini has read me. But, attention! Mussolini is a man no less extraordinary than Lenin. He, too, is a political genius, of a greater reach than all the statesmen of the day, with the only exception of Lenin. . .. He is not a Socialist a la sauce bourgeoise; he has never believed in parliamentary socialism; he has an amazing insight into the nature of the Italian masses, and he has invented something not to be found in my books: the union of the national and the social-something I have studied  without ever developing the idea.

Well, that’s for damned sure. Mussolini never did believe in parliamentary socialism.

While I have neither the time nor the inclination to wade through Ciccariello-Maher’s new book, something tells me that his distinctly odd infatuation with Georges Sorel is consistent with his immature posting of violent confrontations on social media. It is rather sad to see a tenured professor acting so foolishly.

Shon Meckfessel

Let me conclude with a look at Shon Meckfessel’s new book titled “Nonviolence Ain’t What It Used To Be” that is based on his doctoral dissertation and that reminds me a bit of Regis Debray’s “Revolution in the Revolution”. Where Debray fetishized rural guerrilla warfare, Meckfessel fetishizes the black bloc. At least Debray can be forgiven for basing his book on a success—the Cuban revolution. Meckfessel inexplicably elevates a movement that has achieved nothing except getting its adventures written up in the bourgeois press.

Although it is highly possible that there are some discrepancies between the new book and dissertation, I am taking the chance that they are relatively small and will refer to the dissertation in the following remarks.

Since chapter three is titled “The Eloquence of Targeted Property Destruction in the Occupy Movement” and chapter four is titled “The Eloquence of Police Clashes in the Occupy Movement”, there is little doubt that what you will be getting is a sophisticated defense of the indefensible.

There’s not much to distinguish Shon from Ciccariello-Maher as this passage from chapter three would indicate.  Although some might think that plagiarism was afoot, I think that both of the professors are simply reflecting the zeitgeist of the widespread ultraleft milieu that would naturally lead them to admire Fanon and Sorel uncritically:

If targeted property destruction works to assert comparisons within and across categories of violence in the hopes of destabilizing ideological chains of equivalence and triggering a revaluation, its affective reconfigurations in the discursive field of subjectivity are equally eloquent in its rhetorical strategy. In his classic “Reflections on Violence,” Georges Sorel put forward his notion of the General Strike as a myth which condensed all of the desired political values of proletarian struggle; violence, in his formation, “is assigned the important function of ‘constituting’ an actor.” (Seferiades & Johnston 6). Similarly, Fanon put forth the celebrated formulation in The Wretched of the Earth (1968) that decolonization requires a violence to be done to the colonizer’s body in order to disarticulate its sacred inviolability, and thus constitute the post-colonial subject through the act of violation. Contemporary practices of public noninjurious violence, such as targeted property destruction, can be seen to enact analogous discursive actions of subjectification while avoiding the dehumanizing effects of bodily harm, as can be heard in the words of Cindy, one observer of the Seattle May Day 2012 riots:

I think that property destruction has a good effect on those who carry it out… I think most people need to unlearn submission and show themselves that they have the 165 capacity to act for their own liberation. I think that when people burn cop cars, break bank windows, or blockade a road (thwarting the transfer of goods and or law enforcement) they are also demonstrating to themselves some of the magnitude of their ability to resist. (Cindy interview)

In the next chapter, Shon refers to the “eloquence” of fighting the cops with a reference to Judith Butler:

As with the uneasy boundary between the materiality and discursivity of bodies examined in Judith Butler’s Bodies that Matter (1993), the materiality of individuals enacting oppressive behavior is not simple to divorce from the discursivity of their role.

I can’t exactly say that I understand this jargon but I do know this. Butler found nothing “eloquent” about the Berkeley Student Union misadventure. In an email cited in the Chronicle of Higher Education, she stated: “I deplore the violent tactics of yesterday and so do the overwhelming majority of students and faculty at UC Berkeley.”

I find something vaguely dispiriting about college professors in their 40s and 50s being drawn to such juvenile antics. In a strange way, they remind me of the neglected minor masterpiece “Little Children” that starred Patrick Wilson as a law student who is not sure that he is cut out for the profession. In what might be called a case of “arrested development”, he spends hours on end watching teens skateboarding at a nearby rink. They remind him of the youth he once enjoyed doing the same sort of thing. At the end of the film, they talk him into having a try on one of their skateboards that results in a nasty spill and a hospital stay. Let’s hope that the three professors’ infatuation with the “eloquence” of fighting the cops is only of a Walter Mitty sort. Cops are capable of extremely brutal behavior and the three professors all have good jobs and families and/or students who rely on them. My only other recommendation is that they read Leon Trotsky’s “History of the Russian Revolution” that is a much better guide to revolutionary change than Georges Sorel.

January 27, 2017

The Politics of a Punch: Richard Spencer and the Black Bloc

Filed under: black bloc idiots,Counterpunch — louisproyect @ 5:59 pm

The Politics of a Punch: Richard Spencer and the Black Bloc

Unless you do not own a computer or have been in a coma for the past week, you are probably aware of alt-right leader Richard Spencer getting punched in the face by a man dressed in black bloc garb. For a beleaguered left, this became as inspirational as the appearance of a silhouette of Jesus on the sidewalk created by bucket of paint dropped accidentally from the top floor of a building under construction would be for Christians. In either case, there is little connection between overcoming the evils of capitalism or Satan but it matters little to those desperately in search of a victory.

One of those believers is Natasha Lennard who wrote an article for The Nation breathlessly announcing “Neo-Nazi Richard Spencer Got Punched—You Can Thank the Black Bloc”. For Lennard, the punch was a “transcendental experience”, akin to watching Roger Federer. Not being a tennis fan, it is a bit hard for me to relate to this. Maybe if she said it was like watching Muhammad Ali deck Joe Frazier, it would have had more resonance but Spencer hardly seemed worse off 15 seconds after the punch.

Lennard was not only a reporter; she was a participant in a black bloc action that consisted of 500 people, the largest she bragged since the antiwar protests ten years ago. I suppose if the USA had the same population as Iceland, this might have been impressive. I admit that if the goal is to run around in black clothes and break windows that number might count for something. Leonard describes the experience as if it were akin to a Sufi ceremony rather than a political protest: “You don’t know who does what in a bloc, you don’t look to find out. If bodies run out of formation to take a rock to a Starbucks window, they melt back to the bloc in as many seconds. Bodies reconciled, kinetic beauty.” Bodies reconciled, kinetic beauty? I hate to sound like an old stick in the mud but knocking over a trash can happens all the time in my neighborhood as drunken 24-year old Ivy League graduates pour out of sports bars late Saturday night.

Read full article

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

http://www.kpfa.org/archive/id/77663

February 8, 2012

Taking Chris Hedges to task?

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

http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/02/08/a-bustle-in-hedges-row/

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.

(clip)

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.

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