A Black Bloc Rebuttal To Chris Hedges

J27 black bloc at US Capitol with black bannerThank you to Calypso_1 for providing the link! A rebuttal by David Graeber to this earlier post, via n+1

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

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.”…

More at n+1

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  • Calypso_1

    From follow up interview on truth-out

    JAM: I have seen black blocs de-arresting their comrades (stealing people back from police custody), without hurting anyone or anything. I have seen them win a tug of war with the police and confiscate their kettle netting. I have seen them returning tear gas canisters from whence they came in order to mitigate the suffering of children and elderly protesters in their midst.

    CH: Let’s not paint these people as the Boy Scouts, come on.

    JAM: Did you speak to people who had participated in a black bloc in the compilation of this column?

    CH: No.

    • Jin The Ninja

       i have lost a lot of respect for CH now.

      • Calypso_1

        I am wondering who payed for the article (Hedges). Non-violence is an issue to be addressed but this piece was alienating and ignorant.

        • Jin The Ninja

           good question.!?

        • Jin The Ninja

          i’ve been read a lot of alienating things from late-comer progressives to OWS, there was a total hit piece on Naomi Wolfe on alternet. It seems protesting ‘inequality’ (with it’s vague abstract value) is acceptable, but don’t declare the police or the state or capitalism to be corrupt- and if you do- well you’re black bloc.

          • Calypso_1

            I believe you will see more of this as the primary season comes to a close and the Obama campaign comes into view.  They are staking positions by proxy for their constituencies in lieu of having to run against primary competitors.

  • http://twitter.com/MiGaOh Michael G. O’Hair

    Guy Fawkes masks.

    • Adam

      …are popular?

  • GregForest

    The primary goal of non-violent public disobedience is to make the powers-that-be look like the fascist brutes they are. When a group or individual utilizes violence or property destruction, you are using THEIR play book. You have been suborned by your enemies and are using their mindset for problem solutions. Responding to violence with non-violence is our path to victory.

    • Jin The Ninja

      There is a very similiar argument that declares non violence, as a tactic, to be subordinated to the state/capital.

      and property destruction is non violent. illegal may be, but it doesn’t seek to harm anyone individually.

      • Calypso_1

        Speaking of property destruction – I am thinking in my own city, where there are  factories, malls and property developments that have been bulldozed and are now vacant wastelands of weedy asphalt tax write offs.

        • Jin The Ninja

          exactly. why is the ‘reverse’ acceptable? the destruction of our public urban and environmental spaces, but a starbuck’s/gap/citibank window goes out, and some people act like you’re shooting blind into a crowd of nuns.

  • Redacted

    I was under the impression that “Black Bloc” was undercover Police playing agent provocateur. I’m not sure what else can explain a column of identically dressed men marching out of an alley, attacking police, and then marching neatly back into the very same alley, incidentally just as Police begin their wild orgy of violence.

    • Jin The Ninja

      oh yes, many of the black bloc who make the 6 o clock are just as you say- i remember an incident during the g20 in tdot, where a police car was left unlocked, unattended and abandoned surrounded by a blockade of police, and somehow black hoodie-types set it on fire and smashed it… it’s propaganda 101.

      • rtb61

         That is the real problem, regardless of anything Black Bloc think they are doing, what they are is the perfect vehicle for agent provocateurs.
        How often have so called Black Bloc members been dressed in brand new clothes, inlcuding tops, trousers, bandannas, gloves and strangely enough new police issue boots.
        How often have Black Boc members been see disappearing into police lines just before police attack protesters.
        Black Bloc have been shown to be straight up cowards, initiating the violence and the disappearing when police react to leave non-violent protesters to receive the attack by police.

  • ChristopherDemilio

    Disclaimer:  Not A Member of Occupy.  Just throwing two cents in.

    I would like to see the Black Bloc be the front lines against the advancing Police Lines trying to disrupt the Non-Violent Protesters.  Isn’t that what they should be there for?  The People’s willing servants of Civil Disobedience voluntarily getting in a tussle with Police and taking a club to the head instead of some 75 year old Lady? 

    If they’re not supposed to, I’m sorry for creating more misinformation.  Just seems like they are passionate enough to get a wrap sheet instead of some middle aged homeowner with his state job to lose and his mortgage to go afloat. 

    Just a thought. 

    • Jin The Ninja

       cannon fodder?

      • ChristopherDemilio

        The people are not outnumbered or placed in hopeless situations to lose.  So, no, not cannon fodder necessarily.  I was just suggesting that the police do some really brutal crackdown tactics and it would be nice to see someone shove back.  That’s all.

        • Jin The Ninja

          i can agree with the shoving back part.

  • eyeoftheaxis
  • Kenvallario

    Here is an open letter I wrote in response to both thinkers…

    http://kenvallario.com/blog/anxiety/open-letter-to-david-graeber-and-chris-hedges

  • Tuna Ghost

    I said it in the other thread, but even though Hedges obviously misunderstands Black Bloc tactics, the author of this piece obviously misunderstands non-violent Occupy protestor’s concerns with Black Bloc tactics and the people who use them.  

    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.
    Ensure what never happens again?  The violence, or activists turning Black Bloc-ers over to the police?  One serves every protestor, the other serves only those in black.  

    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”—

    Again, that seems to help those using Black Bloc tactics more than the majority.  If only a minority want to use violence, or at least feels that violence may be on the schedule or that violence is an option to consider, but ask that they be protected by the majority that doesn’tbelieve violence is an option at all, is that really going to seem fair to those who aren’t in favor of Black Bloc tactics?  

    –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.

    The “least risk of endangering fellow activists”?  I’m not sure how one measures that–it seems that any militancy is going to attract unwelcome actions by the police, and that attention will be focussed on everyone, not just the black bloc.
    Add in the fact that it is so very, very easy for a law officer to disguise himself as an anarchist using Black Bloc tactics and fuck everything up, isn’t it time to perhaps reconsider the whole all-black-plus-mask idea?  It doesn’t seem helpful at all.