The Cancer in Occupy
Source Louis Proyect
Date 12/02/10/00:35

The Cancer in Occupy
By Chris Hedges

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.

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

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.’ ”

[View the list]

InternetBoard v1.0
Copyright (c) 1998, Joongpil Cho