A Dialogue Within the Occupy Wall Street Movement Over “Black Bloc Anarchists”

by on February 14, 2012 · 13 comments

in American Empire, Civil Rights, Culture, Economy, History, Organizing, Politics, Popular

Editor: Author and radical observer Chris Hedges has opened up a current dialogue and debate within the Occupy Wall Street movement, in the shadow of last month’s confrontations between Occupy Oakland and the Oakland police.  He points the finger at what he calls “the Black Bloc anarchists” and calls them the “cancer in Occupy.”  In response to Hedges, David Graeber’s article below asserts that Hedge’s rhetoric is inaccurate and even “dangerous”.

The Cancer in Occupy

by Chris Hedges / TruthDig / Posted on Feb 6, 2012

The Black Bloc anarchists, who have been active on the streets in Oakland and other cities, are the cancer of the Occupy movement. The presence of Black Bloc anarchists—so named because they dress in black, obscure their faces, move as a unified mass, seek physical confrontations with police and destroy property—is a gift from heaven to the security and surveillance state. The Occupy encampments in various cities were shut down precisely because they were nonviolent. They were shut down because the state realized the potential of their broad appeal even to those within the systems of power. They were shut down because they articulated a truth about our economic and political system that cut across political and cultural lines. And they were shut down because they were places mothers and fathers with strollers felt safe.

Black Bloc adherents detest those of us on the organized left and seek, quite consciously, to take away our tools of empowerment. They confuse acts of petty vandalism and a repellent cynicism with revolution. The real enemies, they argue, are not the corporate capitalists, but their collaborators among the unions, workers’ movements, radical intellectuals, environmental activists and populist movements such as the Zapatistas. Any group that seeks to rebuild social structures, especially through nonviolent acts of civil disobedience, rather than physically destroy, becomes, in the eyes of Black Bloc anarchists, the enemy. Black Bloc anarchists spend most of their fury not on the architects of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) or globalism, but on those, such as the Zapatistas, who respond to the problem. It is a grotesque inversion of value systems.

Because Black Bloc anarchists do not believe in organization, indeed oppose all organized movements, they ensure their own powerlessness. They can only be obstructionist. And they are primarily obstructionist to those who resist. John Zerzan, one of the principal ideologues of the Black Bloc movement in the United States, defended “Industrial Society and Its Future,” the rambling manifesto by Theodore Kaczynski, known as the Unabomber, although he did not endorse Kaczynski’s bombings. Zerzan is a fierce critic of a long list of supposed sellouts starting with Noam Chomsky. Black Bloc anarchists are an example of what Theodore Roszak in “The Making of a Counter Culture” called the “progressive adolescentization” of the American left.

For the remainder of this article by Chris Hedges, go here. (We also posted the remainder of Hedges’s article after David Graeber’s article below.)


Concerning the Violent Peace-Police – An Open Letter to Chris Hedges

 In response to “The Cancer in Occupy,” by Chris Hedges.

By David Graeber / n+1 / Posted Feb. 9, 2012

I am writing this on the premise that you are a well-meaning person who wishes Occupy Wall Street to succeed. I am also writing as someone who was deeply involved in the early stages of planning Occupy in New York.

I am also an anarchist who has participated in many Black Blocs. While I have never personally engaged in acts of property destruction, I have on more than one occasion taken part in Blocs where property damage has occurred. (I have taken part in even more Blocs that did not engage in such tactics. It is a common fallacy that this is what Black Blocs are all about. It isn’t.)

I was hardly the only Black Bloc veteran who took part in planning the initial strategy for Occupy Wall Street. In fact, anarchists like myself were the real core of the group that came up with the idea of occupying Zuccotti Park, the “99%” slogan, the General Assembly process, and, in fact, who collectively decided that we would adopt a strategy of Gandhian non-violence and eschew acts of property damage. Many of us had taken part in Black Blocs. We just didn’t feel that was an appropriate tactic for the situation we were in.

This is why I feel compelled to respond to your statement “The Cancer in Occupy.” This statement is not only factually inaccurate, it is quite literally dangerous. This is the sort of misinformation that really can get people killed. In fact, it is far more likely to do so, in my estimation, than anything done by any black-clad teenager throwing rocks.

Let me just lay out a few initial facts:

1. Black Bloc is a tactic, not a group. It is a tactic where activists don masks and black clothing (originally leather jackets in Germany, later, hoodies in America), as a gesture of anonymity, solidarity, and to indicate to others that they are prepared, if the situation calls for it, for militant action. The very nature of the tactic belies the accusation that they are trying to hijack a movement and endanger others. One of the ideas of having a Black Bloc is that everyone who comes to a protest should know where the people likely to engage in militant action are, and thus easily be able to avoid it if that’s what they wish to do.

2. Black Blocs do not represent any specific ideological, or for that matter anti-ideological position. Black Blocs have tended in the past to be made up primarily of anarchists but most contain participants whose politics vary from Maoism to Social Democracy. They are not united by ideology, or lack of ideology, but merely a common feeling that creating a bloc of people with explicitly revolutionary politics and ready to confront the forces of the order through more militant tactics if required, is, on the particular occasion when they assemble, a useful thing to do. It follows one can no more speak of “Black Bloc Anarchists,” as a group with an identifiable ideology, than one can speak of “Sign-Carrying Anarchists” or “Mic-Checking Anarchists.”

3. Even if you must select a tiny, ultra-radical minority within the Black Bloc and pretend their views are representative of anyone who ever put on a hoodie, you could at least be up-to-date about it. It was back in 1999 that people used to pretend “the Black Bloc” was made up of nihilistic primitivist followers of John Zerzan opposed to all forms of organization. Nowadays, the preferred approach is to pretend “the Black Bloc” is made up of nihilistic insurrectionary followers of The Invisible Committee, opposed to all forms of organization. Both are absurd slurs. Yours is also 12 years out of date.

4. Your comment about Black Bloc’ers hating the Zapatistas is one of the weirdest I’ve ever seen. Sure, if you dig around, you can find someone saying almost anything. But I’m guessing that, despite the ideological diversity, if you took a poll of participants in the average Black Bloc and asked what political movement in the world inspired them the most, the EZLN would get about 80% of the vote. In fact I’d be willing to wager that at least a third of participants in the average Black Bloc are wearing or carrying at least one item of Zapatista paraphernalia. (Have you ever actually talked to someone who has taken part in a Black Bloc? Or just to people who dislike them?)

5. “Diversity of tactics” is not a “Black Bloc” idea. The original GA in Tompkins Square Park that planned the original occupation, if I remember, adopted the principle of diversity of tactics (at least it was discussed in a very approving fashion), at the same time as we all also concurred that a Gandhian approach would be the best way to go. This is not a contradiction: “diversity of tactics” means leaving such matters up to individual conscience, rather than imposing a code on anyone. Partly,this is because imposing such a code invariably backfires. In practice, it means some groups break off in indignation and do even more militant things than they would have otherwise, without coordinating with anyone else—as happened, for instance, in Seattle. The results are usually disastrous. After the fiasco of Seattle, of watching some activists actively turning others over to the police—we quickly decided we needed to ensure this never happened again. What we found that if we declared “we shall all be in solidarity with one another. We will not turn in fellow protesters to the police. We will treat you as brothers and sisters. But we expect you to do the same to us”—then, those who might be disposed to more militant tactics will act in solidarity as well, either by not engaging in militant actions at all for fear they will endanger others (as in many later Global Justice Actions, where Black Blocs merely helped protect the lockdowns, or in Zuccotti Park, where mostly people didn’t bloc up at all) or doing so in ways that run the least risk of endangering fellow activists.

All this is secondary. Mainly I am writing as an appeal to conscience. Your conscience, since clearly you are a sincere and well-meaning person who wishes this movement to succeed. I beg you: Please consider what I am saying. Please bear in mind as I say this that I am not a crazy nihilist, but a reasonable person who is one (if just one) of the original authors of the Gandhian strategy OWS adopted—as well as a student of social movements, who has spent many years both participating in such movements, and trying to understand their history and dynamics.

I am appealing to you because I really do believe the kind of statement you made is profoundly dangerous.

The reason I say this is because, whatever your intentions, it is very hard to read your statement as anything but an appeal to violence. After all, what are you basically saying about what you call “Black Bloc anarchists”?

1) they are not part of us

2) they are consciously malevolent in their intentions

3) they are violent

4) they cannot be reasoned with

5) they are all the same

6) they wish to destroy us

7) they are a cancer that must be excised

Surely you must recognize, when it’s laid out in this fashion, that this is precisely the sort of language and argument that, historically, has been invoked by those encouraging one group of people to physically attack, ethnically cleanse, or exterminate another—in fact, the sort of language and argument that is almost never invoked in any other circumstance. After all, if a group is made up exclusively of violent fanatics who cannot be reasoned with, intent on our destruction, what else can we really do? This is the language of violence in its purest form. Far more than “fuck the police.” To see this kind of language employed by someone who claims to be speaking in the name of non-violence is genuinely extraordinary. I recognize that you’ve managed to find certain peculiar fringe elements in anarchism saying some pretty extreme things, it’s not hard to do, especially since such people are much easier to find on the internet than in real life, but it would be difficult to come up with any “Black Bloc anarchist” making a statement as extreme as this.

Even if you did not intend this statement as a call to violence, which I suspect you did not, how can you honestly believe that many will not read it as such?

In my experience, when I point this sort of thing out, the first reaction I normally get from pacifists is along the lines of “what are you talking about? Of course I’m not in favor of attacking anyone! I am non-violent! I am merely calling for non-violently confronting such elements and excluding them from the group!” The problem is that in practice this is almost never what actually happens. Time after time, what it has actually meant in practice is either a) turning fellow activists over to the police, i.e., turning them over to people with weapons who will physically assault, shackle, and imprison them, or b) actual physical activist-on-activist assault. Such things have happened. There have been physical assaults by activists on other activists, and, to my knowledge, they have never been perpetrated by anyone in Black Bloc, but invariably by purported pacifists against those who dare to pull a hood over their heads or a bandana over their faces, or, simply, against anarchists who adopt tactics someone else thinks are going too far. (Not I should note even potentially violent tactics. During one 15-minute period in Occupy Austin, I was threatened first with arrest, then with assault, by fellow campers because I was expressing verbal solidarity with, and then standing in passive resistance beside, a small group of anarchists who were raising what was considered to be an unauthorized tent.)

This situation often produces extraordinary ironies. In Seattle, the only incidents of actual physical assault by protesters on other individuals were not attacks on the police, since these did not occur at all, but attacks by “pacifists” on Black Bloc’ers engaged in acts of property damage. Since the Black Bloc’ers had collectively agreed on a strict policy of non-violence (which they defined as never doing anything to harm another living being), they uniformly refused to strike back. In many recent occupations, self-appointed “Peace Police” have manhandled activists who showed up to marches in black clothing and hoodies, ripped their masks off, shoved and kicked them: always, without the victims themselves having engaged in any act of violence, always, with the victims refusing, on moral grounds, to shove or kick back.

The kind of rhetoric you are engaging in, if it disseminates widely, will ensure this kind of violence becomes much, much more severe.

Perhaps you do not believe me, or do not believe these events to be particularly significant. If so, let me put the matter in a larger historical context.

If I understand your argument, it seems to come down to this:

1. OWS has been successful because it has followed a Gandhian strategy of showing how, even in the face of strictly non-violent opposition, the state will respond with illegal violence

2. Black Bloc elements who do not act according to principles of Gandhian non-violence are destroying the movement because they provide retroactive justification for state repression, especially in the eyes of the media

3. Therefore, the Black Bloc elements must be somehow rooted out.

As one of the authors of the original Gandhian strategy, I can recall how well aware we were, when we framed this strategy, that we were taking an enormous risk. Gandhian strategies have not historically worked in the US; in fact, they haven’t really worked on a mass scale since the civil rights movement. This is because the US media is simply constitutionally incapable of reporting acts of police repression as “violence.” (One reason the civil rights movement was an exception is so many Americans at the time didn’t view the Deep South as part of the same country.) Many of the young men and women who formed the famous Black Bloc in Seattle were in fact eco-activists who had been involved in tree-sits and forest defense lock-downs that operated on purely Gandhian principles—only to find that in the US of the 1990s, non-violent protesters could be brutalized, tortured (have pepper spray directly rubbed in their eyes), or even killed, without serious objection from the national media. So they turned to other tactics. We knew all this. We decided it was worth the risk.

However, we are also aware that when the repression begins, some will break ranks and respond with greater militancy. Even if this doesn’t happen in a systematic and organized fashion, some violent acts will take place. You write that Black Bloc’ers smashed up a “locally owned coffee shop”; I doubted this when I read it, since most Black Blocs agree on a strict policy of not damaging owner-operated enterprises, and I now find in Susie Cagle’s response to your article that, in fact, it was a chain coffee shop, and the property destruction was carried out by someone not in black. But still, you’re right: A few such incidents will inevitably occur.

The question is how one responds.

If the police decide to attack a group of protesters, they will claim to have been provoked, and the media will repeat whatever the police say, no matter how implausible, as the basic initial facts of what happened. This will happen whether or not anyone at the protest does anything that can be remotely described as violence. Many police claims will be obviously ridiculous – as at the recent Oakland march where police accused participants of throwing “improvised explosive devices”—but no matter how many times the police lie about such matters, the national media will still report their claims as true, and it will be up to protesters to provide evidence to the contrary. Sometimes, with the help of social media, we can demonstrate that particular police attacks were absolutely unjustified, as with the famous Tony Bologna pepper-spray incident. But we cannot by definition prove all police attacks were unjustified, even all attacks at one particular march; it’s simply physically impossible to film every thing that happens from every possible angle all the time. Therefore we can expect that whatever we do, the media will dutifully report “protesters engaged in clashes with police” rather than “police attacked non-violent protesters.” What’s more, when someone does throw back a tear-gas canister, or toss a bottle, or even spray-paint something, we can assume that act will be employed as retroactive justification for whatever police violence occurred before the act took place.

All this will be true whether or not a Black Bloc is present.

If the moral question is “is it defensible to threaten physical harm against those who do no direct harm to others,” one might say the pragmatic, tactical question is, “even if it were somehow possible to create a Peace Police capable of preventing any act that could even be interpreted as ‘violent’ by the corporate media, by anyone at or near a protest, no matter what the provocation, would it have any meaningful effect?” That is, would it create a situation where the police would feel they couldn’t use arbitrary force against non-violent protesters? The example of Zuccotti Park, where we achieved pretty consistent non-violence, suggests this is profoundly unlikely. And perhaps most importantly at all, even if it were somehow possible to create some kind of Peace Police that would prevent anyone under gas attack from so much as tossing a bottle, so that we could justly claim that no one had done anything to warrant the sort of attack that police have routinely brought, would the marginally better media coverage we would thus obtain really be worth the cost in freedom and democracy that would inevitably follow from creating such an internal police force to begin with?

These are not hypothetical questions. Every major movement of mass non-violent civil disobedience has had to grapple with them in one form or another. How inclusive should you be with those who have different ideas about what tactics are appropriate? What do you do about those who go beyond what most people consider acceptable limits? What do you do when the government and its media allies hold up their actions as justification—even retroactive justification—for violent and repressive acts?

Successful movements have understood that it’s absolutely essential not to fall into the trap set out by the authorities and spend one’s time condemning and attempting to police other activists. One makes one’s own principles clear. One expresses what solidarity one can with others who share the same struggle, and if one cannot, tries one’s best to ignore or avoid them, but above all, one keeps the focus on the actual source of violence, without doing or saying anything that might seem to justify that violence because of tactical disagreements you have with fellow activists.

I remember my surprise and amusement, the first time I met activists from the April 6 Youth Movement from Egypt, when the issue of non-violence came up. “Of course we were non-violent,” said one of the original organizers, a young man of liberal politics who actually worked at a bank. “No one ever used firearms, or anything like that. We never did anything more militant than throwing rocks!”

Here was a man who understood what it takes to win a non-violent revolution! He knew that if the police start aiming tear-gas canisters directly at people’s heads, beating them with truncheons, arresting and torturing people, and you have thousands of protesters, then some of them will fight back. There’s no way to absolutely prevent this. The appropriate response is to keep reminding everyone of the violence of the state authorities, and never, ever, start writing long denunciations of fellow activists, claiming they are part of an insane fanatic malevolent cabal. (Even though I am quite sure that if a hypothetical Egyptian activist had wanted to make a case that, say, violent Salafis, or even Trotskyists, were trying to subvert the revolution, and adopted standards of evidence as broad as yours, looking around for inflammatory statements wherever they could find them and pretending they were typical of everyone who threw a rock, they could easily have made a case.) This is why most of us are aware that Mubarak’s regime attacked non-violent protesters, and are not aware that many responded by throwing rocks.

Egyptian activists, in other words, understood what playing into the hands of the police really means.

Actually, why limit ourselves to Egypt? Since we are talking about Gandhian tactics here, why not consider the case of Gandhi himself? He had to deal with what to say about people who went much further than rock-throwing (even though Egyptians throwing rocks at police were already going much further than any US Black Bloc has). Gandhi was part of a very broad anti-colonial movement that included elements that actually were using firearms, in fact, elements engaged in outright terrorism. He first began to frame his own strategy of mass non-violent civil resistance in response to a debate over the act of an Indian nationalist who walked into the office of a British official and shot him five times in the face, killing him instantly. Gandhi made it clear that while he was opposed to murder under any circumstances, he also refused to denounce the murderer. This was a man who was trying to do the right thing, to act against an historical injustice, but did it in the wrong way because he was “drunk with a mad idea.”

Over the course of the next 40 years, Gandhi and his movement were regularly denounced in the media, just as non-violent anarchists are also always denounced in the media (and I might remark here that while not an anarchist himself, Gandhi was strongly influenced by anarchists like Kropotkin and Tolstoy), as a mere front for more violent, terroristic elements, with whom he was said to be secretly collaborating. He was regularly challenged to prove his non-violent credentials by assisting the authorities in suppressing such elements. Here Gandhi remained resolute. It is always morally superior, he insisted, to oppose injustice through non-violent means than through violent means. However, to oppose injustice through violent means is still morally superior to not doing anything to oppose injustice at all.

And Gandhi was talking about people who were blowing up trains, or assassinating government officials. Not damaging windows or spray-painting rude things about the police.


Continuation of Chris Hedge’s article:

In Zerzan’s now defunct magazine Green Anarchy (which survives as a website) he published an article by someone named “Venomous Butterfly” that excoriated the Zapatista Army for National Liberation (EZLN). The essay declared that “not only are those [the Zapatistas’] aims not anarchist; they are not even revolutionary.” It also denounced the indigenous movement for “nationalist language,” for asserting the right of people to “alter or modify their form of government” and for having the goals of “work, land, housing, health care, education, independence, freedom, democracy, justice and peace.” The movement, the article stated, was not worthy of support because it called for “nothing concrete that could not be provided by capitalism.”

“Of course,” the article went on, “the social struggles of exploited and oppressed people cannot be expected to conform to some abstract anarchist ideal. These struggles arise in particular situations, sparked by specific events. The question of revolutionary solidarity in these struggles is, therefore, the question of how to intervene in a way that is fitting with one’s aims, in a way that moves one’s revolutionary anarchist project forward.”

Solidarity becomes the hijacking or destruction of competing movements, which is exactly what the Black Bloc contingents are attempting to do with the Occupy movement.

“The Black Bloc can say they are attacking cops, but what they are really doing is destroying the Occupy movement,” the writer and environmental activist Derrick Jensen told me when I reached him by phone in California. “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.”

“I don’t have a problem with escalating tactics to some sort of militant resistance if it is appropriate morally, strategically and tactically,” Jensen continued. “This is true if one is going to pick up a sign, a rock or a gun. But you need to have thought it through. The Black Bloc spends more time attempting to destroy movements than they do attacking those in power. They hate the left more than they hate capitalists.”

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

Groups of Black Bloc protesters, for example, smashed the windows of a locally owned coffee shop in November in Oakland and looted it. It was not, as Jensen points out, a strategic, moral or tactical act. It was done for its own sake. Random acts of violence, looting and vandalism are justified, in the jargon of the movement, as components of “feral” or “spontaneous insurrection.” These acts, the movement argues, can never be organized. Organization, in the thinking of the movement, implies hierarchy, which must always be opposed. There can be no restraints on “feral” or “spontaneous” acts of insurrection. Whoever gets hurt gets hurt. Whatever gets destroyed gets destroyed.

There is a word for this—“criminal.”

The Black Bloc movement is infected with a deeply disturbing hypermasculinity. This hypermasculinity, I expect, is its primary appeal. It taps into the lust that lurks within us to destroy, not only things but human beings. It offers the godlike power that comes with mob violence. Marching as a uniformed mass, all dressed in black to become part of an anonymous bloc, faces covered, temporarily overcomes alienation, feelings of inadequacy, powerlessness and loneliness. It imparts to those in the mob a sense of comradeship. It permits an inchoate rage to be unleashed on any target. Pity, compassion and tenderness are banished for the intoxication of power. It is the same sickness that fuels the swarms of police who pepper-spray and beat peaceful demonstrators. It is the sickness of soldiers in war. It turns human beings into beasts.

“We run on,” Erich Maria Remarque wrote in “All Quiet on the Western Front,” “overwhelmed by this wave that bears us along, that fills us with ferocity, turns us into thugs, into murderers, into God only knows what devils: this wave that multiplies our strength with fear and madness and greed of life, seeking and fighting for nothing but our deliverance.”

The corporate state understands and welcomes the language of force. It can use the Black Bloc’s confrontational tactics and destruction of property to justify draconian forms of control and frighten the wider population away from supporting the Occupy movement. Once the Occupy movement is painted as a flag-burning, rock-throwing, angry mob we are finished. If we become isolated we can be crushed. The arrests last weekend in Oakland of more than 400 protesters, some of whom had thrown rocks, carried homemade shields and rolled barricades, are an indication of the scale of escalating repression and a failure to remain a unified, nonviolent opposition. Police pumped tear gas, flash-bang grenades and “less lethal” rounds into the crowds. Once protesters were in jail they were denied crucial medications, kept in overcrowded cells and pushed around. A march in New York called in solidarity with the Oakland protesters saw a few demonstrators imitate the Black Bloc tactics in Oakland, including throwing bottles at police and dumping garbage on the street. They chanted “Fuck the police” and “Racist, sexist, anti-gay / NYPD go away.”

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. It is not a war. Nonviolent movements, on some level, embrace police brutality. The continuing attempt by the state to crush peaceful protesters who call for simple acts of justice delegitimizes the power elite. It prompts a passive population to respond. It brings some within the structures of power to our side and creates internal divisions that will lead to paralysis within the network of authority. Martin Luther King kept holding marches in Birmingham because he knew Public Safety Commissioner “Bull” Connor was a thug who would overreact.

The Black Bloc’s thought-terminating cliché of “diversity of tactics” in the end opens the way for hundreds or thousands of peaceful marchers to be discredited by a handful of hooligans. The state could not be happier. It is a safe bet that among Black Bloc groups in cities such as Oakland are agents provocateurs spurring them on to more mayhem. But with or without police infiltration the Black Bloc is serving the interests of the 1 percent. These anarchists represent no one but themselves. Those in Oakland, although most are white and many are not from the city, arrogantly dismiss Oakland’s African-American leaders, who, along with other local community organizers, should be determining the forms of resistance.

The explosive rise of the Occupy Wall Street movement came when a few women, trapped behind orange mesh netting, were pepper-sprayed by NYPD Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna. The violence and cruelty of the state were exposed. And the Occupy movement, through its steadfast refusal to respond to police provocation, resonated across the country. Losing this moral authority, this ability to show through nonviolent protest the corruption and decadence of the corporate state, would be crippling to the movement. It would reduce us to the moral degradation of our oppressors. And that is what our oppressors want.

The Black Bloc movement bears the rigidity and dogmatism of all absolutism sects. Its adherents alone possess the truth. They alone understand. They alone arrogate the right, because they are enlightened and we are not, to dismiss and ignore competing points of view as infantile and irrelevant. They hear only their own voices. They heed only their own thoughts. They believe only their own clichés. And this makes them not only deeply intolerant but stupid.

“Once you are hostile to organization and strategic thinking the only thing that remains is lifestyle purity,” Jensen said. “ ‘Lifestylism’ has supplanted organization in terms of a lot of mainstream environmental thinking. Instead of opposing the corporate state, [lifestylism maintains] we should use less toilet paper and should compost. This attitude is ineffective. Once you give up on organizing or are hostile to it, all you are left with is this hyperpurity that becomes rigid dogma. You attack people who, for example, use a telephone. This is true with vegans and questions of diet. It is true with anti-car activists toward those who drive cars. It is the same with the anarchists. When I called the police after I received death threats I became to Black Bloc anarchists ‘a pig lover.’ ”

“If you live on Ogoni land and you see that Ken Saro-Wiwa is murdered for acts of nonviolent resistance,” Jensen said, “if you see that the land is still being trashed, then you might think about escalating. I don’t have a problem with that. But we have to go through the process of trying to work with the system and getting screwed. It is only then that we get to move beyond it. We can’t short-circuit the process. There is a maturation process we have to go through, as individuals and as a movement. We can’t say, ‘Hey, I’m going to throw a flowerpot at a cop because it is fun.’ ”


{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Anna Daniels February 14, 2012 at 5:41 pm

It’s great that you posted both of these articles, Editor Dude. There is a legitimate debate happening here. I am familiar with both writers; consider both of them courageous in thought and deed; think they both operate from a position of moral clarity.

Maybe I’m going out on a limb here, but I think Hedges and Graeber would both agree that we need profound systemic changes to assure a truly democratic society. I am less concerned about their variant positions than I am about the disconnect of my friends, neighbors and family from the possibilities provided by a massive participation in the OWS movement.

The disconnect does not result from a difference of tactics or ideology from within the movement. It largely results from the mainstream media blackout or “selective” coverage of OWS. When I saw the videos (non-mainstream) of protesters at Berkeley and Davis being brutally bashed with police batons and pepper sprayed in the face, I awaited an immediate outcry from my fellow citizens. It didn’t happen. Many of the people I spoke to never ever saw those videos.

Something in my soul died when neither the chancellors nor the police were held accountable and brought to justice and our constitution vigorously defended. I can only hope that Graeber and Hedges can work together to assure that justice and that we find some mechanism to reach out more fully to the indignados among us.


avatar Monty Kroopkin February 14, 2012 at 5:54 pm

The OB Rag is doing our community a good service, by bringing this ‘debate’ to a larger audience (larger than just movement activists).

Our country is founded on a violent revolution. There are no small number of people who believe the “1 percent” will never give up the corrupt oligarchic power they enjoy, without another violent revolution. They believe that non-violent mass movements may create enough pressure to win concessions and important gains in our conditions of life (and that these are indeed worth winning), but that non-violent tactics cannot eradicate the basic inequities of power and the capitalist roots of that inequity.

There is no shortage of well written expositions of this perspective. It would be good if the OB Rag would publish some of those to counter-point the whole controversy about non-violence. Another way of framing this might be to recognize the ‘Arab Spring’ and the mass actions in Greece and Spain recently, and even the wave of strikes we’ve been seeing in China, and being part of the SAME global movement against the corruption of political insitutions by the super rich and their class warfare against all the rest of us. So, posed this way, we already are in the midst of a revolution worldwide, and the dominant popular thrust is nonviolence, however it is much more violent right now in some countries, compared to others.

About the Occupy Oakland incidents recently, which sparked the two above commentaries, I’ve seen many other pieces written. One of the best, I think, both for its sanity and its brevity is the statement agreed upon by the Occupy Los Angeles General Assembly:

“Occupy Los Angeles has always stood in unwavering solidarity with Occupy Oakland. After Occupy Oakland’s most recent victimization by the illegal and brutal tactics of OPD, Oakland City Council and Mayor Jean Quan, we feel it necessary to restate our unequivocal support for our comrades–we call for the dropping of charges against those arrested.

“We consider every horizontally structured, autonomous group fighting for social and economic justice, and intent on providing services for the community that the government has failed to provide, as our brothers and sisters. As long as the civil government of Oakland remains derelict in creating an equal and just society, it falls to the people to provide for themselves. We support and respect Occupy Oakland’s courage and collective state of mind that we must strive for in order to enact real change in our world.

“Oakland, Los Angeles and the United States have been the “playground” of the 1% and their lackeys in government for too long. We will not tolerate police brutality, the oppression of free speech and the systematic violence used against our comrades in any situation, and we will certainly not denounce or declare ourselves against those who fight for justice in a police state – particularly those adhering to our shared principles and values. An injury to one is an injury to all, with this call to denounce Occupy Oakland being only the latest in an ever-growing list. There are only so many injuries we will allow you to inflict upon us.”


avatar Frank Gormlie February 15, 2012 at 8:46 am

Thank you , Monty for helping us put this together.


avatar Terrie Best February 14, 2012 at 6:58 pm

Thank you, OB Rag for the great article/s.


avatar Abraham February 14, 2012 at 7:31 pm

I was attacked and berated constantly by BB Anarchists and those who support them for weeks.
They are a mob-mentality driven group and I’ve been a victim of that group on numerous occasions.
One elegant article by one single supporter is not enough to make up for how an organized group abused their own fellow protesters over the last several months. I don’t have much sympathy for them getting beat up a little by their fellow protesters when they beat me up for weeks without any reprisal.
That being said I still wouldn’t turn them over to the authorities or demand they leave the movement. They have just as much reason to angry with our state of affairs as I do.


avatar Anna Daniels February 14, 2012 at 8:08 pm

Chris Hedges will be here on Feb 28 at the Writer’s symposium by the Sea at Pt Loma Nazarene University http://tiny.cc/guyzr So we have an opportunity to engage him, and we should.

I also highly recommend a long chewy book review of Graeber’s book Debt: The First 5,0000 Years http://tiny.cc/6gj7v


avatar Dominique Sunscreen February 15, 2012 at 10:44 am

Just bought tickets – thanks!


avatar malcolm migacz February 15, 2012 at 8:45 am

i’m so black bloc, i throw bricks through my one widows.


avatar malcolm migacz February 15, 2012 at 8:46 am

that should be ‘own'[ windows] , i think my laptop’s on crack.


avatar Frank Gormlie February 15, 2012 at 8:47 am

Your black satire is showing.


avatar rick trujillo February 15, 2012 at 3:20 pm

To all, is there any way we can forward these wonderful, I mean it, comments to every Poli-Sci prof, and government history teacher, here and perhaps arrange a forum? Wouldn’t it be great to hear what the students (younger and older) think about this dialogue? This exchange is important, so very important.
At 67 I can’t help think back to my high school days in Oakland, Bishop O’Dowd H.S.–I was elected student body president class of 62–dumb popularity sexist contest—the vp slot went to a female–hey, I didn’t make the rules, then. We couldn’t dream of the internet or Droids or so much more, but we did get to visit southeast asia, some of us. I’m not going to my reunion, I heard my ex-english teacher/priest might show–he was a very good teacher, as a bishop, though, he failed to report numerous felonies (yep, you know what) against kids that were reported to him and he dutifully passed on/ reported to a higher authority at the Vatican office headed, then, by the now pope-guy. True story. If I attended this 50 year reunion, I might have to make a citizens arrest—My daughter is 19, I fight for all the daughters, and am glad to be alive to do so. Still, there is happiness around; we have made it so, not the government. We may have to die, some of us, to keep it or spread it—hell, we are up to it. I have learned that much. I really loved the nuns at my H.S. They were the first to remark on the Civil Rights Movement


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