Monday, February 6, 2012

Chris Hedges on The Cancer in Occupy



(Not a really surprising ending...)

“If their real target actually was the cops and not the Occupy movement, the Black Bloc would make their actions completely separate from Occupy, instead of effectively using these others as a human shield. Their attacks on cops are simply a means to an end, which is to destroy a movement that doesn’t fit their ideological standard.”

Events in Oakland, and elsewhere, involving "black block" style provocations have brought the question of such a presence at Occupy events to the fore. Chris Hedges recently wrote a terrific piece on the subject.

In my own political experience over the last decade or so, I've become more and more convinced of the destructiveness of these kind of tactics. Not that I needed much convincing in the first place. But I have seen this in action time and again, usually breaking stuff and graffiti type behavior increases as the political frustration of a movement increases during a period of stagnation or retreat. The search for a way out is abandoned, and those without the patience to build a movement that relates to non-participants put their intelligence on hold for the sake of frustration-venting.

In my opinion, the "black block" is something like a political black hole from whence no protest generally emerges. It is possible that they weren't origionally invented by the media or the police, but in action that possibility is meaningless. Their function, consciously understood or not, is to drive a wedge between any protest they are part of and working class, minority, and mass participation.

"Diversity of Tactics" is the slogan under which movements time and again, with the motivation of being inclusive and open to militancy, have allowed ultra lefts and provocateurs to invite repression and marginalization on movements. 1960s non-violent protests worked, and got popular sympathy, because they were disciplined. That meant they had marshals at the demos who told people, "no, you can't do this at our protest." Maybe that is "authoritarian". And I don't care if it is. Because it worked. Unlike the "anarchism" of the black block, which has left a legacy in the US only of failure, despair, and disintegration.

Let's not confuse "radical" with "violence", or "extreme". Radical means you are interested in getting to the root of the problem, which for us means looking at a systemic analysis and thinking about systemic change.

Radicals with a social perspective, who are not technocrats or part of the bureaucracy, see the main problem isn't just that the capitalists have all the power and the workers don't, but that right now the workers (and many more) are completely disempowered and deliberately under developed politically. There's not a culture of political decision making, thinking about the issues that affect us and our communities, where we live, or our environment. People aren't used to making decisions, speaking their mind, or exercising control over their lives.

A movement that sees the solution to this problem as being key to the solution to the problem of the destructive and unequal economic system we live under is going to have to work to bring people into political struggle, to fight for changes and learn how to organize, responsibly and effectively.

The goal of leadership (and anyone who identifies as an anarchist, reads, produces, and distributes literature and shows up to meetings to organize is a leader in their community whether they want to acknowledge it or not) is to make itself replaceable, to teach others how to do things, because you are not always going to be around. If a movement isn't growing, it is shrinking. If you're not bringing more people into political life, whatever changes you manage to make will stagnate and eventually be threatened by the apolitical masses, over whose heads most evil is secretly (or publicly) conducted.

With that kind of philosophy, you begin to understand that the point of a protest is to bring people out of their rut and into political action. It's not just for you to show up because you will be enough. You won't. But you all might.

Things that invite arrest and police repression will scare most people away, like people who have to show up tomorrow for work because they have kids and rent due and car payments, or maybe undocumented immigrants, or maybe black people already subjected to greater than usual police oppression. These people are not going to be part of a movement they see as having its level of "intensity" determined by an unaccountable group of usually white, usually middle class young people who are not going to suffer the same consequences of arrest as they would.

Being radical, and targeting the system as a whole, the question of violence or non-violence isn't one of principles or morals. It is one of effectiveness. And that is something George Washington and Thomas Jefferson and everyone else who was part of the violent American Revolution understood. You don't just put up flyers building the minutemen militia today. You've got to have the Boston tea party first.

If we can win without violence, so much the better. If violence is necessary for a people to exercise their democratic right as a majority to alter or abolish their form of government, that argument can't be won among a small group of isolated activists in a room somewhere. It is won in a society.

But society is never even going to have that conversation as long as entities like the Black Block continue doing their best to isolate "activism" into a cultish "subculture" rather than a popular, mass activity.

1 comment:

  1. Articles that disagree with Hitchens but do not endorse BB vandalism:

    Proyect gets into related issues here:

    My beef with Hedges on this is that 1) he is talking in general instead of being concrete and specific and 2) OO and its BBers didn't do anything wrong in principal as of late (see all the footage posted at He is scapegoating BB for Occupy's difficulties which exist everywhere, BB or not.