Chris Hedges calls Black Bloc anarchists a cancer to the Occupy movement

In hopes of continuing our conversation on the value that Black Bloc anarchists bring to the Occupy movement, I thought that I’d link to this new article on the subject by Chris Hedges. Here’s a clip.

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…

“Their thinking is not only nonstrategic, but actively opposed to strategy,” said (Derrick) 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…

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…

I love the phrase, “progressive adolescentization of the American left.” I’ve got to remember that.

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17 Comments

  1. tommy
    Posted February 6, 2012 at 9:49 pm | Permalink

    and I love the reference of ‘Black Bloc adherents detest those of us on the organized left’ First off, Mr Hedges doesn’t organize shit. He ain’t ‘us’. He likes to hear himself talk but I doubt whether his ass is actively involved in this movement except from afar – he is too good for that. Perhaps I’m wrong. As far as the Black Bloc goes – well, sometimes you just got to fuck some shit up.

    All that being said, Mr. Hedges is pretty spot on (except for the ‘organized’ part of the left)

  2. Citizen w/ Cane
    Posted February 6, 2012 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

    “At the 2001 G8 summit in Genoa, amongst the many complaints about the police there was mention of video footage in which ‘men in black were seen getting out of police vans near protest marches.’ In August 2007, Quebec police admitted that ‘their officers disguised themselves as demonstrators.’ On these occasions, some were identified by genuine protesters because of their police-issue footwear.”

  3. j
    Posted February 6, 2012 at 11:05 pm | Permalink

    Writing about “The Black Bloc anarchists” as though they all shared the same ideology just reveals how little Hedges knows. The black bloc is the Anonymous of street protests. Anyone can claim to be black bloc and do stupid shit or the absolute devine. I’ve been to protests where “members” of the black bloc have been sold out to police by others in the bloc for smashing windows at family friendly protests. I have also seen anarchists free comrades from police custody after smashing windows at not so family friendly protests. Hedges sounds like one of those nincompoops that whines about Anonymous being “irresponsible” from time to time. That’s the fucking point. The black bloc is a tactic. Sometimes its stupid, sometimes its just what’s needed.

    “Because Black Bloc anarchists do not believe in organization, indeed oppose all organized movements, they ensure their own powerlessness. They can only be obstructionist.” This is just stupid. Organized is not the same thing as heirarchical or centralized. Clearly Hedges has never actually seen the black bloc in action. Typically the most organized part of any protest is the anarchists in black.

    “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.” Truly delusional. The only reason any of us have heard the term “Occupy” is because we were all waiting around for the first person to throw a brick. Even if we couldn’t say it, we were all feeling it and in the back of our head, planning our helmets: http://www.disclose.tv/forum/lol-wtf-egypt-riots-improvised-helmets-t42663.html. Without that tension in the air, it’s just a bunch of dirty fucking hippies camping in the park. They were shut down because the authorities realized it wasn’t going to get that ugly when they did it. A couple hundred people who look and smell like homeless people arrested in the park = not news and no worries. Tear gas wafting through the financial district, police cracking skulls on evening news = total fucking nightmare.

  4. dragon
    Posted February 6, 2012 at 11:50 pm | Permalink

    Fuck Hedges. Three Hundred and Ten Million people, and he finds four or five willing to break some shit, and that means… (searching) ..liberals suck. He’s a puppy that’s been kicked one too many times.
    As long as there are more protesters, than “job creators”, ending up in hospitals, I’ll save my consternation.
    _
    In the next few days, ask every person you meet, “have you ever heard of “The Black Bloc anarchists””?
    I’ll take the over on that bet.

  5. j
    Posted February 6, 2012 at 11:50 pm | Permalink

    Sorry, not done. There’s just too much stupid here.

    “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.”
    You need a frakin’ memo? Everyone knows which windows deserve the rock; even the owners of the windows. Apparently the only people who didn’t get it were Hedges, Jensen and the handful of opportunistic morons that will always screw it up even if “it” is screwing things up. Next time we try a singing telegram?

    “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.”
    This is some impressive historical revision. Was Hedges out of the country or under a rock during Seattle ’99? Seattle is what happens when you mix black bloc tactics and street level organizing(!) with the numbers of (dis)organized labor. As the WTO protests have died over the years the only people still showing up are the anarchists, some participating in the black bloc, some not. Some of the Zapatistas’ strongest allies in the United States have been anarchists who participate in black bloc tactics. Odd using the Zapatistas as an example since they aren’t exactly known for their kumbaya tactics. If the Zapatistas showed up at Wall Street, Hedges, and everyone else on the handwringing left, would be in dire need of a diaper change.

    I wouldn’t care so much, but it’s rather obnoxious when some blowhard without any skin in the game shows up to lecture the people who are getting their heads kicked in, on how to go about it properly. It’s like being lectured by the dumb kids who smashed the indie coffee shop window. Seriously, about the same level of intellectual fuckupitude on display here.

    For the record, I have never participated in black bloc tactics or even been arrested, but if ever asked, no, I didn’t see anything.

  6. dr
    Posted February 7, 2012 at 1:10 am | Permalink

    Well, whatever the truth is about Chris Hedges, I’m a fully bonded member of the organized Left, and as far as I’m concerned those Black Block assholes (even this assholes merely employing a tactic) should get the fuck out of the way.

  7. Citizen w/ Cane
    Posted February 7, 2012 at 7:26 am | Permalink

    Armchairs all over town are losing their stuffing . . .

  8. Edward
    Posted February 7, 2012 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    While I concede that some of the people dressed in black, smashing things, are likely agent provocateurs, I think it’s ridiculous to suggest that they’re doing all of the property destruction.

  9. anonymous
    Posted February 7, 2012 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    Just think of how much more successful the civil rights movement would have been if MLK had encouraged people to smash windows and throw cups of piss into the faces of cops.

  10. alan2102
    Posted February 7, 2012 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    J: “If the Zapatistas showed up at Wall Street, Hedges, and everyone else on the handwringing left, would be in dire need of a diaper change.”

    I love the phrase, “handwringing left”. I’ve got to remember that. “Diaper change” was cute, too.

    J: “I wouldn’t care so much, but it’s rather obnoxious when some blowhard without any skin in the game shows up to lecture the people who are getting their heads kicked in, on how to go about it properly.”

    Particularly Derrick Jensen, a man — or should I say idiot? — who has called for the violent destruction of industrial civilization (!); never mind that that would involve the death of 6+ billion people.

    Posted for interesting contrast and as a sure-fire pee-in-pants item (got Depends[tm]?) for handwringing leftists; note the Jensen quote right up top:

    begin quote
    http://www.akpress.org/2007/items/pacifismaspathologyakpress
    Pacifism as Pathology: Reflections on the Role of Armed Struggle in North America, by Ward Churchill
    ISBN: 9781904859185
    Publisher: AK Press
    Release Date: 2007-03-01
    ITEM OVERVIEW
    “This extraordinarily important book cuts to the heart of one of the central reasons movements to bring about social and environmental change always fail. The fundamental question here is: is violence ever an acceptable tool to bring about social change? This is probably the most important question of our time, yet so often discussions around it fall into clichés and magical thinking: that somehow if we are merely good and nice enough people, the state will stop using its violence to exploit us all. Would that this were true.”—Derrick Jensen, author of EndGame, from the Introduction
    Pacifism, the ideology of nonviolent political resistance, has been the norm among mainstream North American progressive groups for decades. But to what end? Ward Churchill challenges the pacifist movement’s heralded victories—Ghandhi in India, 1960s anti-war activists, even Martin Luther King’s civil rights movement—suggesting that their success was in spite of, rather than because of, their nonviolent tactics.
    Pacifism as Pathology was written as a response not only to Churchill’s frustration with his own activist experience, but also to a debate raging in the activist and academic communities. He argues that pacifism is in many ways counterrevolutionary; that it defends the status quo, rather than leading to social change. In these times of upheaval and global protest, this is a vital and extremely relevant book.
    END QUOTE

    ………………………………..

    for anyone who might be interested, a PDF of the whole book appears to be here:
    PACIFISM AS PATHOLOGY
    http://zinelibrary.info/files/pap_imposed.pdf

    … and btw this citation should NOT be construed (nor should Churchill’s book itself be construed) as a defense of random infantile adventurism of the sort POSSIBLY wrought at the hands of the Black Blockers in question. If you want to know what Churchill is saying, read the damn book.

    ………………………………….

    anonymous: “Just think of how much more successful the civil rights movement would have been if MLK had encouraged people to smash windows and throw cups of piss into the faces of cops.”

    Yes, and also think how ineffective the civil rights movement really was in achieving substantive (rather than mere cosmetic) change. But then, for the fake/hand-wringing/gatekeeper left, cosmetic change is all that really matters. Its how you LOOK that counts, not who you ARE.

    http://www.news.harvard.edu/gazette/2004/03.11/09-litwack.html
    HARVARD GAZETTE ARCHIVES
    ‘Failed promise’ of Civil Rights Movement
    Money, power gap between blacks and whites widening, says historian Leon Litwack

  11. anonymous
    Posted February 7, 2012 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    MLK doesn’t make the paper without the credible threat of social unrest. There was no lack of violence in the civil rights movement. MLK was the nice friendly face the liberals could negotiate with. Their options were MLK, Malcolm, or more burning cities. Next we’ll get to read about Nelson Mandela bringing an end to apartheid through the power of song and patchoulli. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Umkhonto_we_Sizwe

  12. Andy Cameron
    Posted February 7, 2012 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    I’m dumber for having read these comments.

  13. xxx
    Posted February 7, 2012 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    Just imagine how dumb you’d feel if you had written them.

  14. dr
    Posted February 7, 2012 at 11:37 pm | Permalink

    anonymous (IF THAT IS YOUR REAL NAME) – Read the Letter from a Birmingham Jail. MLK addressed this.

  15. Actual Leftist
    Posted February 8, 2012 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    Usually Hedges (who spent his life in the mainstream and leapfrogged to the front of the left commentator pack almost overnight) is annoying, but this is damaging reactionary bullshit.

    The Occupy encampments were shut down because of their message, pure and simple. And they were primarily shut down by corrupt urban DEMOCRATS. Look at places like Philadelphia where there was not the slightest hint of any form of “violence”, and where the same riot police were trotted out to evict people one way or the other. In the vast majority of cases it’s the POLICE who have been violent, and hitting people not some damn Starbucks window.

    Does Hedges seriously believe that there was ANY intent to allow Occupy to thrive? Is he COMPLETELY IGNORANT of the Homeland Security involvement in shutting down Occupy, and of the mayoral meetings (mostly DEMOCRATS, the real cancer of the left, sucking up its resources and killing the body…) to plan how to evict and marginalize?

    Having dealt with the anarchist crowd for the past 20+ years I’ve frequently found them frustrating for a number of reasons, but I would NEVER call them a “cancer”, which is harmful and stupid and divisive. Is there any group of people more dedicated to this sort of fight than the anarchist groups?

    The “cancer” of Occupy would be the attempts to turn the movement into a cheering section for Krishna, Jesus and (perhaps most perversely) Obama ’12.

    Hedges needs to go back to collecting his mainstream media paychecks, or perhaps back to the seminary.

  16. JC
    Posted February 10, 2012 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    Here is David Graeber’s response to the Hedges piece:

    http://nplusonemag.com/concerning-the-violent-peace-police

  17. Mr. X
    Posted February 10, 2012 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for sharing that, JC. It’s an interesting read, and, taken together, the two pieces have given me a lot to think about. I don’t know that I buy Graeber’s allegation that Hedges is suggesting that a campaign of “ethnic cleansing” be waged against the Black Bloc, but, otherwise, I think he makes some pretty good points.

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