Occupy everythingIn den USA ist der Black Bloc spätestens seit den Auseinandersetzungen um das Treffen der WTO in Seattle 1999 ein Begriff und auch für Europa markierten diese Proteste einen Aufschwung der "Antiglobalisierungsbewegung" um die Jahrtausendwende. Für die USA wird seitdem sogar von einem "Neuen Anarchismus" gesprochen. In der Occupy-Bewegung traten bei Protesten immer wieder Black Blocs auf, vor allem im besonders aktiven Oakland. Dies führte in diversen Städten zu "Gewaltdebatten" und auch linksliberale AutorInnen äußerten sich. Den Vogel schoss dabei der Journalist Chris Hedges ab, der "Black Bloc AnarchistInnen" als "Krebs der Occupy-Bewegung" bezeichnete und ihnen vorwarf, die Bewegung zu Grunde zu richten - und das im Februar 2012, als Occupy  hauptsächlich noch Akzente im radikalen Oakland setzte. Sein Artikel besteht größtenteils aus Halbwissen und Platitüden. Er wirft den AnarchistInnen etwa vor, gegen Organisation zu sein und sich an John Zerzan zu orientieren. Kontakariert werden seine eigenen Ausführungen u.a. durch ältere Artikel, in denen er Krawalle in Griechenland folgendermaßen bewertete: "They know what to do when they are told their pensions, benefits and jobs have to be cut to pay corporate banks, which screwed them in the first place. Call a general strike. Riot. Shut down the city centers. Toss the bastards out. Do not be afraid of the language of class warfare - the rich versus the poor, the oligarchs versus the citizens, the capitalists versus the proletariat. The Greeks, unlike most of us, get it." und "Think of the Greek riots as a struggle for liberation."

Aufstand - aber nicht in meinem Schrebergarten!? In Antwort auf Hedges Text erschienen mehrere Beiträge, von denen einige hier wiedergegeben werden. Auch David Graeber, einer der "Gründer" der Occupy-Bewegung, Anarchist und derzeit vieldiskutierter Buchautor hat sich zu Wort gemeldet.

Erstveröffentlicht am 16.2.2012. Am 1.3.2012 wurden zwei weitere Texte unten hinzugefügt. Der Text "God only knows what Devils we are" wurde u.a. von Crimethinc verbreitet, der zweite argumentiert aus einem religiösen (?! Sachen gibts...) Hintergrund heraus. Zudem werden aktuell grundlegende Texte zur Black Bloc-Debatte in den USA neu diskutiert. Blocs, Black and otherwise kann hier als PDF heruntergeladen werden, Can’t Stop Kaos: A Brief History of the Black Bloc gibt es hier zum Download.

Aktualisierung am 19.9.2012: In New York gab es eine offene Diskussion zwischen Chris Hedges und einem Crimethinc.-Vertreter. Die lesenswerte Zusammenfassung kann hier gefunden werden.


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David Graeber - Concerning the Violent Peace-Police: An Open Letter to 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.”

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.

Originaltext:N+1


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Peter Gelderloos - The Surgeons of Occupy

In his February 6 article entitled, “The Cancer of Occupy,”Chris Hedges attempts to analyze the political beliefs and practices of the black bloc, a group he characterizes as the scourge of the Occupy movement. Although Mr. Hedges evidently conducted at least a little to research his article, he does not quote a single proponent or participant of a black bloc, neither within the Occupy movement nor from any of the many other black blocs that have been organized in the United States. Such research would not have been difficult. There are a plethora of anarchist blogs, websites, newspapers, and magazines that discuss Occupy, the black bloc, and even the use of the black bloc within Occupy protests.

Despite this major failing, I cannot accuse Mr. Hedges of laziness. He does, after all, dig up an anarchist magazine published in Oregon ten years earlier and he quotes one particular article extensively. The magazine, Green Anarchy, is tied in to Hedge’s tirade on the basis of the unsupported and inaccurate assertion that anarcho-primitivist John Zerzan, one of the magazine’s former editors, is “one of the principal ideologues of the Black Bloc movement”. In fact, the black bloc evolved–as a tactic, not a movement–in Europe and came to the United States without any input from Zerzan. Zerzan’s only link to the bloc is as one of the few public figures to have endorsed it.

So why does he appear at all in Hedges’ article? Presumably to provide the link to Green Anarchy. And why Green Anarchy? Of all the anarchists and others who have participated in black blocs in the last decades, green anarchists or anarcho-primitivists have only been one small part. Labor union anarchists, anarcha-feminists, social anarchists, indigenous anarchists, Christian anarchists, as well as plain old, unaffiliated street youth, students, immigrants, parents, and others have participated in black blocs.

However, for a mainstream audience susceptible to fear-mongering, the anarcho-primitivists can easily be portrayed as the most extreme, the most irrational, and this kind of crass emotional manipulation is clearly Mr. Hedges’ goal.

Despite the tenuous to null connection between Green Anarchy and the use of the black bloc within the Occupy movement, he uses a skewed presentation of that magazine to frighten his readers away from a reasoned consideration of the political arguments on which the black bloc is based. For the more intrepid readers, he finishes off the job with inaccurate and unreferenced generalizations such as, “Black Bloc anarchists oppose all organized movements [...] They can only be obstructionist.”

Hedges introduces the widely read Zerzan merely as an apologist for the ideas of Ted Kaczynski (The Unabomber). Referred to by one NBC reporter as “probably one of the smartest individuals I have encountered” and “very low key, reasoned, and non-threatening,” Zerzan is a far more complex figure, but such details fall outside of Hedges’ plan of attack. His characterization of Green Anarchy, and by extension, of all black bloc anarchists, is based on a single article that only appeared in GA as a reprint some ten years ago. Neither does Hedges admit that the article itself, “The EZLN are Not Anarchist,” generated considerable controversy and debate among anarchists, nor that GA itself published a response by several Zapatistas, which criticized the article for “a colonialist attitude of arrogant ignorance”.

The openness to debate and criticism present in GA, is totally absent from Hedges’ latest work of journalism. The manipulation, cherry picking, and dishonesty that underlie his arguments show that for this award-winning journalist, fairness is only a courtesy one extends to those rich or powerful enough to press libel charges. This conception certainly abounds in the pages of the New York Times, Hedges’ longtime employer.

The medical language of Hedges’ title, referring to the anarchists as a “cancer,” should immediately ring alarm bells. Portraying one’s opponents as a disease has long been a tactic of the state and the media to justify the repression. This language was used against the Native Americans, against the Jews, against communists, and many others. Recently the police and the right wing used this same language of hygiene to talk about the occupations around the country as health threats so as to justify their eviction and generate disgust and repulsion.

In sum, Chris Hedges deals with the “Black Bloc anarchists” with fear-mongering manipulation and without the slightest glimmer of solidarity. But beneath the black masks, anarchists have been an integral part of the debates, the organizing, the cooking and cleaning in dozens of cities. Anarchists also participated in preparing the original call-out for Occupy Wall Street, and they played a key role in organizing and carrying out the historic Oakland general strike and the subsequent West Coast port blockades–probably the strongest actions taken by the Occupy movement to date.

The very fact that Occupy Oakland got out 2,000 people to fight the police for hours in an attempt to occupy a building, at a time when Occupy in other cities is dwindling or dead, contradicts the parallel claims that anarchists are trying to “hijack” Occupy and that their tactics turn people away. On the contrary, anarchists are part and parcel of the Occupy movement and their methods of struggle resonate with many people more than the staid, hand-wringing pacifism and middle-class reformism of careerists like Chris Hedges.

It would be useful to debate the appropriateness of aggressive tactics in demonstrations, and anarchists themselves have often encouraged this debate, but Hedges has passed over the critique and gone straight for the smear. He calls the black bloc anarchists “a gift from heaven for the surveillance and security state,” choosing conspiracy theory paranoia to distract from the public record, filled with cases of government officials and the media alternately serenading and threatening the Occupy movement into an acceptance of nonviolence.

Its proponents in the Occupy movement have generally protected nonviolence from an open debate, instead imposing it through manipulation, fear-mongering, and, when all else fails, turning their opponents over to the police. Hedges himself implies that illegal or aggressive tactics cannot exist in a space where “mothers and fathers [feel] safe”, ignoring the many militant movements built around the needs of mothers and fathers, such as his own favorite example, the Zapatistas. He also dismisses the concept of a diversity of tactics as a “thought-terminating cliché”, demonstrating a willful ignorance of–to name just one example–the many weeks of thoughtful debate that went into the “St. Paul principles“ that allowed hundreds of thousands of people with a huge diversity of political practices to come together in 2008 and protest the Republican National Convention.

Predictably, Chris Hedges uses the name of Martin Luther King, Jr., to gain legitimacy for his stance, again contradicting his argument that the “corporate state” wants protestors to fight police and destroy property, given that this same corporate state venerates King (or at least a well managed version of King) while demonizing or silencing the equally important Malcolm X or Black Panthers. Just as predictably, Chris Hedges does not mention that King vocally sympathized with the urban youths who rioted, youths whose contemporary equivalent Hedges calls “stupid” and a “cancer.” Ironically, Hedges refers to the famous Birmingham campaign attributed with achieving the end of segregation. What Hedges and pacifist ideologues like him fail to mention is that Birmingham was a repeat of King’s Albany campaign, which ended a total failure, all its participants locked up, and no one slightly moved by the supposed dignity of victimhood. The difference? In Birmingham, the local youths got fed up, rioted and kicked police out of large parts of the city for several days. The authorities chose to negotiate with King and replace de jure segregation with de facto segregation in order to avoid losing control entirely.

It’s also hypocritical that on the one hand Chris Hedges utilizes King and parades the dignity of nonviolent suffering while on the other hand he uses the fear of getting injured by police or spending a few nights in jail to mobilize his comfortable, middle class readership to reject the black bloc and the dangers it might bring down on them. “The arrests last weekend in Oakland of more than 400 protesters [...] are an indication of the scale of escalating repression and a failure to remain a unified, nonviolent opposition.” He goes on to detail the horrible ways police attacked demonstrators, and the conditions in jail.

It’s election year. Those who still have faith in the system, or those whose paychecks are signed by the major unions, the Democratic Party, progressive NGOs, or the left wing of the corporate media, know it’s their job to forcibly convert any popular movement into a pathetic plea to be made at the ballot box. The unmediated, experimental politics of the Occupy movement must give way to symbolic protest and dialogue with the existing “structures of power” whose members must be brought “to our side”. For the Occupy movement to be sanitized and converted into a recruiting tool for the Democratic Party, it will have to be neutralized as a space for real debate, experimentation, and conflict with authority. Its more revolutionary elements will have to be surgically removed. It is an operation the police, the media, and some careerist progressives have been engaged in for months, and Hedges’ contribution is just the latest drop in the bucket.

This form of co-optation and manipulation is nothing new for a movement that cynically harvested a few images from Tahrir Square–an unfinished popular uprising in which hundreds of thousands of people defended themselves forcefully from the cops, ultimately torching dozens of police stations–to declare a victory for nonviolence.

Around the world, people are fighting for their freedom and resisting the depredations of the rich and powerful. In the United States, there is plenty of cause to join this fight, but as long as people continue enact a fear-driven, Not-In-My-Backyard pacifism, and to pander to the corporate media as though they would ever show us in a positive light, the rich and the powerful will have nothing to worry about.

Peter Gelderloos is the author of several books, including Anarchy Works and How Nonviolence Protects the State, which is available for free download.

Originaltext: Counterpunch


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"To be fair, he is a journalist": a short response to Chris Hedges on the Black Bloc

It was a little weird to wake up today to an article by Chris Hedges on a website called “Truth-Out” when “truth” is in such short supply in the piece. Hedges was trained as a journalist and worked for years at such luminaries of lies like the New York Times, so it shouldn’t be a secret where he’s gotten his sensationalism, his tendency to lie, his hyperbole, and, most of all, his seeming inability to do rudimentary research. Nonetheless, when activist celebrities like Hedges (and his friend here, Derrick Jensen) write even complete nonsense like this, it tends to have a certain conceptual currency with people. And though I’d much rather be visiting with friends today (who promised me peanut butter cookies, no less!), I figured I’d take a few minutes to point out some of the more egregious distortions in Hedges’ terrible piece.

Definitions

First, we need to clear up some definitional problems. Now, as a journalist, I really don’t expect Hedges to be able to “research,”—it does seem to go against the prime directives of the profession, but let’s be clear: There’s no such thing as “The Black Bloc movement.” The black bloc is a tactic. It’s also not just a tactic used by anarchists, so “black bloc anarchists” is a bit of a misnomer—particularly because Hedges doesn’t know the identities of the people under those sexy, black masks. In fact, it was autonomists in the 80s who came up with the (often quite brilliant) idea in Germany. Protecting themselves against the repression of what Hedges calls “the security and surveillance state,” squatters, protesters, and other rabble rousers would dress in all black, covering up tattoos, their faces, and any other identifying features so they could act against this miserable world and, with some smarts and a sharp style, not get pinched by the pigs. This was true of resisters who were protecting marches (because the state never needs an excuse to incite violence and police are wont to riot and attack people), destroying property, or sometimes just marching en masse. That is, the black bloc has all kinds of uses. And in Oakland, where Hedges seems particularly upset by people actually having the gall to defend themselves against insane violent police thugs instead of just sit there idly by getting beaten, on Move-In Day the bloc looked mostly defensive—shielding themselves and other protesters from flash grenades and police mob violence with make-shift shields (and even one armchair). So, to be clear: The black bloc is a tactic used by lots of people, not just anarchists, and it has all kinds of uses. It’s not a “movement.”

Who Is This Straw Fankenstein?

And, importantly, people in black blocs don’t have “unity” with one another about politics. This is another bizarre part of Hedges’ hatchet job. He goes on this long diatribe about what “The Black Bloc Movement” (this weird straw Frankenstein he’s created) believes. We learn in his piece that this Frankenstein is “against organization” when members of the black bloc, anarchists included, have all kinds of ideas about organization (none of which are “against organization”). If Chris did a little research, he’d find that “The Black Bloc Papers,” for example, were edited and compiled by two members of a formal political organization. And while many anarchists do reject formal political organizations, no anarchists oppose “organization” as such. Rather, we have disagreements over organizational form, duration, formality, purpose, and so on. Not to state the obvious, but considering our collective failure to smash capitalism, the state, and all other manifestations of coercive power over others, uh, shouldn’t we be building those kinds of critiques? If Hedges were interested in honesty, he might know that’s also why many anarchists are critical of the Left (I imagine dishonest and divisive hatchet jobs by Leftist celebrities like this one is another reason why more and more anarchists reject the Left—among its many other shortcomings and failures).

He goes on to state that this Frankenstein he’s created is universally under the influence of John Zerzan, then attacks Zerzan. Again, this just shows how out of touch Hedges is and how he’s fooled himself into believing he knows what he’s talking about when he doesn’t (a very common trait for celebrity journalists). Apparently it needs repeating, the black bloc is not a unified “movement”—it’s a bunch of folks dressed similarly so they can’t be identified by the popo. There are all kinds of thoughts on Zerzan in such a grouping, some supportive, some not, some who, no doubt, have no idea who he is. But Zerzan doesn’t speak for the bloc—no one does. And so there’s this weird “guilt-by-association” in this piece which ends in blaming criticisms of the Zapatistas on this “Black Bloc Movement” that he’s created.

Gender Essentialism! It’s Not Just For the 70s Anymore!

Hedges also critiques the black bloc for its supposed “hypermasculinity,” engaging in a gender essentialism that belies his inability to keep up with contemporary radicalism. In Oakland, part of the militant march on Move-In Day was the “Feminist and Queer Bloc.” I’m sure they would be quite surprised to learn that self-defense against violent police thugs and petty vandalism is actually a man’s activity! Why, those poor, beleaguered women and queers are probably alienated from such militancy, along with the befuddled masses that Hedges seems to be writing for! Rather than a lengthy critique of this already-disposed-of pseudo objection, I’ll let Harsha Walia enlighten Hedges on the problems of wealthy white, men like himself attempting to speak for the alienated and frightened “victims” of such “masculine” activities as building a confrontational and militant movement against capitalism and the state. Check it out:

The Personal Is Antipolitical

Some of this is personal to me, in the interest of full disclosure. I have friends in Oakland. They’re brave and awesome. Seeing them stand up to police repression and attempt to take an empty building while people sleep in the streets was exciting and invigorating for me. It was a welcome sight in today’s age of non-violent fundamentalism, where so many are beset with the crippling belief that if we just get beat up badly enough we’ll attract “the masses” with our moral superiority and somehow the wealthy and powerful will recognize the error of their ways and give us the world back that they’ve so successfully turned into their nightmarish, authoritarian, and wasted playground. My friends were gassed, beaten, given broken faces, broken dreams, and locked in cages for their bravery. And now they’re being denounced by a comfortable journalist who wasn’t there who refers to them as a “cancer”.

I don’t want to suggest that they shouldn’t be critiqued. Self-critique is important for any improvement of practice—if it’s honest.

But here I feel betrayed. When Hedges wrote about the Greeks, notorious for their black blocs, he praised them for “getting it.” Indeed, according to Hedges, they knew what to do. In Hedges own words: "They know what to do when they are told their pensions, benefits and jobs have to be cut to pay corporate banks, which screwed them in the first place. Call a general strike. Riot. Shut down the city centers. Toss the bastards out. Do not be afraid of the language of class warfare—the rich versus the poor, the oligarchs versus the citizens, the capitalists versus the proletariat. The Greeks, unlike most of us, get it."

Apparently for Hedges, that’s good enough for the Greeks. But, by God, don’t you dare bring this filthy resistance to his home! You might accidentally (horror of horrors!) break a window! Perhaps it might belong to Hedges! Well, I passed around his piece on Greece thinking that perhaps there was, in fact, a journalist that “gets it.” I was wrong and I feel betrayed.

So I am angry at Hedges. I know it shows and it will look ugly to some people, but at one point, I trusted his work. And now, I have broken and brave friends that he is denouncing in a movement that he is dividing and presuming to speak for.

After the Move-In Day, the Mayor of Oakland, Jean Quan, asked the Occupy movement to “disown” Oakland because they were militant, uncompromising, and because they were willing to engage in the kinds of “class warfare” that Hedges once praised in Greece. Occupy groups quickly dismissed this as a divisive tactic, but Hedges and Derrick Jensen seem all too eager to help Mayor Quan out. We live in interesting times, but we need to see these kinds of attacks for what they are—forms of recuperating needed and justified rage. When rigid ideologues who think they have some kind of special access to “Truth” come in swinging like this, particularly right after being politely asked to by liberal Mayors like Quan to do so, it’s time to do some quick disowning. We should reject the attempts to divide us by the likes of Quan, Jensen, and Hedges and, more importantly, reject the lies and distortions embedded in these facile “critiques.” Shame on you, Chris. If you want to denounce “violence,” you might use your time to target the police and Mayor Quan instead of doing the work they’ve asked Occupy “leaders” to do for them.

Originaltext: Libcom


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What Progressive Criticisms of Anarchists in Occupy Don't Understand: A Response to Chris Hedges

Chris Hedges' "Black Bloc" takedown is only the most recent in a series of critiques bashing anarchists within the national Occupy movement. Here's why they're not helpful.

January 28 was not supposed to turn out the way it did. After Occupy Oakland failed to occupy its first two targeted buildings and had a short-lived street battle in front of the Oakland Museum, police in riot gear contained the march of nearly 1,000 in a public park. There was a dispersal order, but no means of escape. Protesters with shields attempted to push the police line, which responded with several volleys of tear gas into the crowd, still trapped. Instead of enduring the gas, the crowd pulled down chain-link fencing that separated them from the street and safety.

As marchers, both masked and bare faced, continued north, taking the street, they chanted powerfully, suddenly and without reservation:

    "When Oakland is under attack, what do we do?"
    "Stand up, fight back!"

As the move-in committee said Monday in a statement on January 28: "This time, the chant was not an empty one."

This principle, this fight, appears to be at the heart of recent critiques of "anarchists," "Black Bloc" and the tactics some choose to employ in political protest, especially in Oakland.Chris Hedges' "Black Bloc" takedown is only the most recent in a series of critiques bashing anarchists and "diversity of tactics" within the national Occupy movement since January 28th's fog of tear gas has dissipated. While previous criticisms came from the right or center of the political spectrum, these perspectives are arising from the left and mainly from journalists who have not been in the field to witness these tactics in action and within context.

"A lot of anarchists today who are actively involved at all levels of the occupy movement - if you want to talk about inspiration, they look to places like Greece," says Tim Simons, an organizer with Occupy Oakland.

But so does Hedges. In May of 2010, amid global financial faltering, Hedges celebrated the Greek insurrection:

"They know what to do when corporations pillage and loot their country. They know what to do when they are told their pensions, benefits and jobs have to be cut to pay corporate banks, which screwed them in the first place. Call a general strike. Riot. Shut down the city centers. Toss the bastards out. Do not be afraid of the language of class warfare - the rich versus the poor, the oligarchs versus the citizens, the capitalists versus the proletariat."

But those strikes, riots and shut-downs in America are troubling to Hedges and other Occupy Oakland critics on the left. These critics focus on property destruction - such as the tearing down of those fences on January 28 - by perceived black bloc "hooligans" as a discrediting force in the movement, even while they understand the role of focused property destruction at, say, the Boston Tea Party, or in the International Longshore and Warehouse Union's struggle against EGT in Longview, Washington.

What many activists find most troubling is not the conclusions those critics draw about tactical choices within the movement, but the lack of information they apparently have in arriving at these conclusions and a lack of interest in why those tactical choices were made in the first place.

For example, they find Hedges' conflation of political ideology and protest strategy, at its core, problematic, as well as his apparent misunderstanding of the local Oakland activist community.

Oakland's large, active, organized community of anarchists and other political radicals are just that: large; active; and, above all, organized. It is true that many are young, white and not Oakland natives, though they are residents. But many believe in community building and mutual aid. And many of those using black bloc at occupy protests are not necessarily anarchists.

Hedges "is really out of touch with anarchists today," says Simons, who dismisses John Zerzan, the anarchist ideologue Hedges points to as the Black Bloc forefather. "Anarchists were very important in creating Occupy Oakland. They were in some ways the initial glue that held the camp together" - the one Hedges applauds as having such "broad appeal" that cities were forced to shut them down using oppressive means. "Very quickly Occupy Oakland became much more than that, but you wouldn't have Occupy Oakland if it wasn't for those anarchists," says Simons.

The 99 percent is a poor class analysis, especially for troubled Oakland, but it does point to the broad coalition necessary to create change in America today. "In this situation, even to make the most modest gains, you have to bring about a force that's nearly a revolutionary force," says Simons. "We have to show that we can fully disrupt the system, even if we just want reforms."

Of course, many within Occupy Oakland do not just want reforms - they want revolution, insurrection, overthrow and smash. But there has been only one event where that group came out in a bloc and utilized the tactics that so trouble Hedges and other Occupy Oakland critics on the left and it happened in the middle of what is arguably still seen as one of the movement's greatest victories: the General Strike.

On November 2, an autonomously organized anti-capitalist black bloc marched through Oakland, destroying windows and other property at banks and, allegedly, strike-busting businesses such as Whole Foods.

The tactic, which emerged in the early 1980s in Germany among autonomist protesters defending squatters rights and anti-nuclear activism, hit America hard in the anti-globalization demonstrations of the late '90s, especially in the "Battle of Seattle," which resulted in heavy damage of multinational retail property in downtown. That November 2 march was arguably one of the most focused showings of stateside black bloc in a decade. That march resulted in the Oakland police calling in mutual aid, but it did not result in a discrediting of the national movement; tens of thousands still marched on the Port of Oakland hours later.

"That was at the height of the Occupy movement; that was as it was cresting," says Simons. "There was so much else going on, you couldn't isolate that and point to it as the singular problem. And now the militancy of Oakland is sort of like the only thing out there." The peaceful but militant blockade of the Port of Oakland on December 12, with its lack of union leader support, garnered Occupy Oakland more criticism than the black bloc actions on November 2.

Black bloc is not a lifestyle choice, but a tactical one. When a protester takes off their mask and unzips their black jacket - as many did after that November 2 march - they are no longer "black bloc." A protester who engages in black bloc tactics on one march may not choose to engage in them again on another.

Hedges condemns property destruction in political protest by condemning black bloc tactics, regardless of the facts. The "local coffee shop" vandalism Hedges contends was committed by black bloc was in fact one window of a corporate coffee chain smashed in that post-strike fog of war - and by someone not wearing a mask, not wearing black. The people who broke into City Hall on January 28, and many of those who destroyed property there, were also largely unmasked. And both of these acts came immediately after, as in within minutes of, violent mass kettling and arrest actions.

Of course, when Hedges and other critics pointed to Occupy Oakland's failures on January 28, they were not talking about black bloc - those torn fences and an autonomous and unfocused city hall melee were the only property destruction Oakland saw that day. No, they mean Occupy protesters who choose to stand up to the police. And for Hedges and others on the left hoping Occupy makes strides toward national change, standing up to the police is a public relations liability and those who do it should be "purged" from the movement - an arguably violent claim in and of itself.

"People want a boogeyman," says occupier Laura Long. "They want to know what's failing. And they want to blame it on someone." Mayor Jean Quan repeatedly points to Occupy Oakland's lack of a nonviolence resolution as justification for repeated crackdowns and arrests. As one Oakland occupier said recently, "Even if we had a non-violence proposal, they'd still shoot us." And people would still throw things, as they do at Occupy Wall Street, which has a stated nonviolent mission.

The "diversity of tactics" Occupy Oakland embraces are ostensibly meant to promote a range of protest. "There is nothing preventing those who want to from organizing non-violent direct actions autonomously with clear guidelines as such," wrote the January 28 move-in committee. "This is what we mean by diversity of tactics."

Those who promote the necessity at times for property destruction in protest point to the history of violent revolution worldwide. "Even Gandhi wasn't in a bubble," one occupier said. "Others were being violent around him. That revolution took all tactics."

Hedges writes that the "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."

At least so long as they can squash those hooligans. "I think it was tactically embarrassing," says occupier Steven Angell of January 28. "Luckily there was little to no framing to it, except for, 'Fuck you, we're the Oakland Commune.' Which I don't know if that constitutes framing."

Hedges goes on to criticize black bloc protesters as using pacifists as "human shields." While Occupy Oakland has not passed a resolution stating as much, demonstrations have followed the St. Paul's Principles, which arose from protests at the Republican National Convention in 2008 - "a separation of time and place," according to Simons. This has held true since the November 2 General Strike devolved into a confusing mess of those diverse tactics, as some occupiers tried to take and hold a building, while others were more focused on lighting barricades on fire.

The much-covered weekly "Fuck the Police" marches, autonomous actions "in solidarity" with Occupy Oakland, explicitly acknowledge if not condone targeted property destruction and dissuade "peace police." Families with children broke off from the march to the building on January 28, before the brief street battle.

"There was no black bloc. The front lines of the street battle that captured all the images were peace signs. No one even mentions it: that was the image of clashing with the police," says Angell. "If that's what a black bloc is, that's depressing to me. I personally am not going to throw a brick through a window, but I have some investment in the black bloc as a tactic and if that's what it is, if that's it at its most threatening, then that's just really sad."

Angell promotes community organizing and substantive outreach as a way of growing the movement, but does not rule out the necessity of more militant tactics. Others who were shot at that day, including Simons, contend that "shield bloc" moved as one, and "really saved our asses" from further injury. "People were more aware and there was more communication that day than in past conflicts with police," says Simons. "In that way, it was a success."
To say, as Hedges does, that Occupy protesters across the country who threw bottles last week were "imitating" Oakland, were taken by that black bloc cancer, is to ignore a long history of destruction in protest by which activists are inspired, whether one might perceive that destruction to be tactical or not.

The tactical questions Hedges raises on Occupy Oakland's behalf are not unjustified. The radical inclusivity that Occupy Oakland champions in its diversity of tactics has and does alienate those dedicated to wholly nonviolent protest. But just as after the failed building occupation on November 2, Bay Area occupiers are questioning their strategies moving forward. Governments meet force with force - this is the tactic they understand best and may be the best argument against premature insurrection.

A full plastic water bottle lobbed at police in full riot gear, whether it hits one of them or not, is enough to legally warrant the shooting of less lethal, rubber-coated steel bullets at a crowd. Occupiers, of course, threw more than just water bottles on January 28 - glass bottles, bricks, lawn chairs - but police, according to their own statements, sustained no injuries beyond two small cuts and one bruise. They sent more than one protester to the hospital that day for broken bones, internal bleeding and nerve damage. No one can agree on who attacked first.

The buildings Occupy Oakland marched toward were not targeted for destruction, but for squatting, for organization and for political and community building. And the protesters who came armed with plastic, wood and metal shields, who both moved on and defended others from the police, were not a bloc, were not dressed in black and did not move as one unit.

But Occupy Oakland was outmatched on January 28 and their efforts were met with overwhelming force.

"They got the sexy spectacle, which is what a lot of people were after, I think," says Long. "And a lot of occupy groups from all over got to have their fantasy happen elsewhere - they didn't have to live through the danger, but they got the sexy imagery of their comrades going through this sort of battle scene." And they didn't get their building.

When is, as Occupy Oakland says, "smashy-smashy" used for ostensibly political purposes and when is it an emotional reaction?

As one anarchist occupier said at a general assembly after November 2, "It's a lot more violent to foreclose on somebody and throw them out of a house than throw a rock through a window. And if that's how people deal with things, then that's how they get it out and we can't tell people how to live."

That institutionalized violence against people, especially people in Oakland, is something these critics gloss over. Some in Occupy Oakland call a consistent pacifist protest approach a "position of privilege" - a position taken by those who have not been in a situation where they have needed to defend themselves against violence, be it economic, physical or otherwise.

"Violence," "defense" and "fighting back," are subjective and malleable terms. To some, chaining oneself to a door in a blockade of a bank is a violent act. What of taking a street in an unpermitted march? That's criminal, too.

"I have no interest in being a 'peaceful protester,'" says Angell. "We're all criminals. People need to accept that." But many within Occupy reject this notion, stating that they are standing up for their First Amendment rights - rights that, for example, do not allow for the blocking of public streets, of banks, of ports.

Hedges and others state that images of peaceful protesters attacked by police will be enough to win the war of public relations, to win hearts and minds. For Hedges, pepper spray is something to be savored. When things "get violent," the onus is on occupiers to keep the peace; the moral authority lies with those engaging in political protest, those seeking change, as opposed to those maintaining the status quo. When the public sees that righteousness, this logic goes, they will be turned. Lay your bodies on the gears, protesters, be ground up and hope for the best. Hope for the cameras.

At this still-early stage in the movement, Occupy is a PR war. But to win that PR war, Occupy Oakland must rely on that information being consistently and accurately reported. The major networks and newspapers had few reporters out on January 28. Even the most spectacular planned events that capture media attention in this mid-sized, economically-depressed city are still reported in a way that mainly reflects the city's accounts of events. The 24-hour vigil at City Hall Plaza, the foreclosure defenses, the squats of foreclosed buildings, the pop-up gardens and tongue-in-cheek homemade boats on Lake Merritt - none of these actions captured the camera's gaze until the police came, until arrests were made.

The actions of black bloc occupiers in Portland this week have received far less coverage than the shields of Occupy Oakland. Smashy fits Oakland's narrative of violence, not Portland's.

"A riot is the language of the unheard," said Martin Luther King. And Oakland is a city of the unheard, a city of tremendous institutionalized violence, a city of empty and blighted bank-owned homes, a city that saw riots and mass arrests just a year ago in response to police brutality, all before Occupy has a name or public face.

Regardless of where that riotous energy is focused next, Hedges and others would be well served to spend some time in Oakland and its occupation in order to better cover it.

Originaltext: Alternet


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Salar Mohandesi - On the Black Bloc

A critique of the black bloc, which the author sees as coming from a specific context, time and struggle. Now, stripped of these things, it has become both a tactic and identity with an implicit strategy of grabbing attention or creating autonomous space through street fighting and property destruction.

The “internecine ultra-left argument of the moment,” says the Wall Street Journal, is the debate over the “black bloc.” And if this debate has led the WSJ to talk about “ultra-leftism,” it’s clearly a debate we have to address.

In a report called “Activists and Anarchists Speak for Themselves at Occupy Oakland,” Susie Cagle reminds us that the recent major instances of street-fighting, which have been cited by liberals critical of the black bloc, force us to abandon the stereotype of ski-masked vandals breaking windows. She writes: "The buildings Occupy Oakland marched toward were not targeted for destruction, but for squatting, for organization and for political and community building. And the protesters who came armed with plastic, wood and metal shields, who both moved on and defended others from the police, were not a bloc, were not dressed in black and did not move as one unit."

“Black bloc is not a lifestyle choice, but a tactical one,” Cagle argues. She points out that the only recent manifestation of the black bloc was during the November 2nd “general strike,” when bank windows were smashed, “STRIKE” was spray-painted on a Whole Foods, and the Travelers Aid Building was briefly occupied, all by a group clad in black.

But somehow, even though all sides acknowledge that the real issue is street-fighting as such, the black bloc has become the representative figure of the debate, summing up the tension between “nonviolence” and “diversity of tactics,” property destruction and legal marches, anarchism and liberalism.

This is no accident. The history of the black bloc reveals a great deal about our current moment – it can even help us to understand the nature of squatting. But before tracing this history, we should deal with definitions.

Strategy and Tactics

Since much of the contemporary debate over the black bloc has revolved around the meaning of a “diversity of tactics,” a concept which actually emerged nearly a decade ago, let’s take a moment to define “tactics.” This means defining “strategy” as well, since the two terms have no meaning outside their relationship with each other.

A tactic, it is often said, is a specific set of maneuvers used to win a localized engagement. A strategy, on the other hand, is the way these discrete engagements are coherently strung together to realize a broader objective. The two therefore form a reciprocal relationship in practice as well as in theory. Without a strategy, tactics only produce isolated skirmishes; without tactics, a strategy is only an unfulfilled dream.

Militant confrontation through street-fighting, which has been personified by the black bloc today, is a tactic, since it represents a specific way to win a specific encounter. It can stand alone or be complemented by a number of other tactics, such as peaceful marches, boycotts, or even voting, to name just a few. Calling for a “diversity of tactics” just means that all such tactics should be left open for future engagements. But this innocuous and seemingly obvious position, which, in theory, could refer to every imaginable tactic, has now come to adopt a highly specific meaning. The phrase no longer refers to the need to pursue a plurality of positions, but rather to the question of the continued viability of a single tactic: street-fighting, especially within the black bloc paradigm.

The obsession over the black bloc in the past few months is a distorted reflection of the very real predominance of this tactic in contemporary struggles. This is somewhat odd, because in our current cycle of struggle, the black bloc has genuinely appeared in only a few areas, mainly the Northwest United States. But while the tactic’s geographic reach is somewhat localized, its presence in the movement’s collective imagination has grown to immense proportions. It seems like the black bloc is everywhere, a palpable reality, something everyone has to take a side on – even, and perhaps especially, those who haven’t actually seen it in action firsthand.

But it’s precisely the continued obsession with this single tactic that prevents us from seriously interrogating the necessary other term in this relationship: strategy. The discussions over the so-called “diversity of tactics” indicate the problem: by focusing all our energies on disputing the merits of a tactic, we end up neglecting strategy altogether. A “diversity of tactics” has little to do with strategy; in fact, it seems to replace strategy with liberal pluralism. The question isn’t whether to pursue a “diversity of tactics,” but rather: what kind of strategy allows us to effectively incorporate a diverse range of tactics?

It soon becomes clear that the hypertrophy of this tactic is actually a direct result of the atrophy of any corresponding strategy. As Alberto Toscano has recently written, “if something marks out the contemporary resurgence of theoretical interest in communism, across its various species, it is the almost total neglect of the question of strategy.” We might also add that since strategy and tactics can only exist in a reciprocal relationship, the deformation – or perhaps even absence – of former can only lead to a destabilization of the latter.

The symptom of this destabilization is the compulsion to repeat. The tactic of street-fighting is now being repeated obsessively, overcompensating for the shortage of strategy. At its crudest, this just means repeating the same thing over and over again in the hopes of forcing some kind of breakthrough; some claim that the repetition of a tactic will in itself generate a strategy.

Others suggest that a tactical defeat might produce a strategic victory. On the one hand, this position implies the conceptual collapse of two distinct categories into one; on the other, it seems to represent the very essence of teleological thinking. Though they’re related, strategies don’t organically emerge out of tactics. Suggesting that the repetition of a single tactic will naturally and spontaneously give birth to a strategy does not do justice to the complexity of their relationship.

We have a militant tactic without a correspondingly militant strategy, locked into compulsively repeating the bloated tactic in order to miraculously produce the absent strategy. And since this whole impasse is being represented by the dramatic image of the black bloc, we should trace the history that led us here.

A Genealogy of the Black Bloc

The roots of today’s black bloc reach back to the experiences of the European “autonomist” movements of the late 1970s and early 1980s. At that time, capitalists in a number of states were consciously undermining the militancy of the mass worker by shifting to a new regime of accumulation. This restructuring was characterized by systematic decentralization, flexibilization, and territorial disarticulation of the production process. This shift, which has somewhat simplistically been regarded as a move away from industrial factories towards the more dispersed production of services, information, and knowledge, involved a transformation of the terrain of the city. On the one hand, public spaces once used by the proletariat – such as youth centers, parks, and meeting places – were destroyed. On the other hand, spaces once used by the great industrial companies – such as warehouses, factories, sheds – were being abandoned as capitalists reoriented their business practices. In Italy, for example, Pierpaolo Mudu notes that by the late 1990s, “industrial property across a total area of 7 million sq m had been vacated in Milan alone.”

The Italian working class responded to this restructuring by launching another cycle of struggle in which these abandoned buildings were seized all over the North, once the heartland of Italian heavy industry, and antagonistically transformed into bases of autonomous proletarian power. In fact, the first of these bases, or what would later be called “social centers,” arose in the vacant spaces of Milan in 1975. Though the social centers, which began to cohere into a kind archipelago of liberated spaces, or what would later be defined as “Autonomia,” engaged in a broad number of activities – facilitating political debates, offering legal advice, organizing solidarity actions for marginalized groups, establishing libraries, holding concerts, reaching out to surrounding neighborhoods, and so on – their significance for the Italian communists was in their role as “modern-day soviets,” or centers of autonomous power developed in direct opposition to the state.

The revolutions of the twentieth century were sparked by the challenge of syndicalism, which advanced the idea of self-management in workers’ councils – in Russia called soviets. Paolo Virno, who participated in Autonomia, has tried to theorize the general logic of the soviet form, no doubt strongly inspired by the social centers of his own time. Virno describes soviets as “the organs of nonrepresentative democracy,” the space in which the cooperation and creativity that capital increasingly relies upon for production can take on an independent public existence. Their goal is to “emancipate virtuosic cooperation from its present connection with waged labor.” In this regard the social centers are recasted as historical attempts to reanimate the soviet form for a context marked by “post-Fordism,” and the visible importance of knowledge and communication in the rapidly expanding service sector.

Soviets have historically been the foundation for revolutionary explosions; Virno writes that they “interfere conflictually with the State’s administrative apparatuses, with a view to eating away at its prerogatives and absorbing its functions.” This does not mean reproducing the state – for Virno, the soviets break totally with the the “normativity of comand,” the bureaucratic ideals of “representation and delegation”: "Whether it is a question of the distribution of wealth or the organization of schools, the functioning of the media or the workings of the inner city, the Soviets elaborate actions that are paradigmatic and capable of blossoming into new combinations of knowledge, ethical propensities, technologies, and desires."

The social center form of soviet power, though made famous early on by the Italians, was by no means limited to them – a very similar phenomenon took place in Germany. Though there was a “German Autumn” of militancy in 1977, the movement only really picked up a few years later, when the squatters first began to consolidate. Soon after 1980, the squatters movement took the initiative, retaking hundreds of homes throughout West Germany, and the “Autonomen” brought the soviets home. They began to form their own councils, organize national congresses of squatters, and, as in Italy, used their social centers to eat away at the state.

It became clear, however, that these militant spaces could never escape state repression. From the very beginning, in fact, the Autonomen were on alert, knowing themselves to be under attack, prime targets for the police. After the “Free Republic of Wendland” – a liberated space in Gorleben – was violently dispersed in 1980 by the largest deployment of police in Germany since Hitler, and after a wave of systematic attacks on squatters in West Berlin in December of that year, it became obvious that if they were to survive, the Autonomen would have to protect themselves in more militant ways. Groups of armed Autonomen, whose power was rooted in the social centers, quickly emerged to defend these spaces. A necessary task, no doubt, but one which would eventually consume all the energies of the movement, polarizing the Autonomen and weakening their solidarity.

“As their militant actions became attacked even by their allies,” notes historian George Katsiaficas, “radicals became increasingly autonomous – some would say isolated – from mainstream protesters and came to constitute their own source of collective identity.” These militant groups, who now engaged in offensive strikes as well strictly defensive maneuvers, began to forge a collective identity through the monopolization of a single tactic: militant confrontation through street-fighting. By the mid-1980s, as repression continued to escalate, these militant groupings solidified their cultural identity, sometimes in opposition to the rest of the movement. “The black leather jackets worn by many people at demonstrations and the black flags carried by others signalled less an ideological anarchism than a style of dress and behavior,” Katsiaficas writes. Black clothes, black flags, ski masks, helmets, and punk became “symbols of a way of life.” It is here that the modern black bloc was born.

But it was precisely at this point, when the black bloc began to fuse itself into a distinct entity, that the autonomous movements that originated it actually began to decline. This was the historical reality underlying the ideology of the black bloc. The tactic, in fact, emerged in large part as a way to stop this internal disintegration. Many activists believed that their instability was purely the result of state repression, and they assumed that the organized defense of the social centers would actually reverse this process of decomposition.

In truth, the autonomous movements, in both Germany and Italy, were on the verge of collapse. As they developed a strongly internal and oppositional identity, they found themselves increasingly incapable of reaching beyond the hegemony of a single proletarian figure. They failed to link with different layers of the working class, and were unable to form a coalition with the broader masses. Earlier in the century, when soviets were first born, this had meant linking the proletariat to the peasantry. In the late 1970s and 1980s, it meant linking the “advanced” sector of the proletariat, in this case the “social worker” – or less contentiously, a kind of amalgam of students, youth, and precarious workers that drifted through a disintegrating welfare system – to the rest of the working class. Unable, or perhaps unwilling to link the different segments of the class together, the black bloc became nothing but the rudiments of a defensive military force.

The eventual disappearance of the social centers, however, did not necessarily entail the disappearance of those militant groupings that were originally created to protect those besieged spaces. In fact, they lived on, but their function grew more and more ambiguous. In the mid-1990s, for example, some activists in Italy decided to form Tute Bianche, or the “White Overalls,” as a direct response to the disintegration of the surviving social centers. Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri describe the grouping: "The youths in the social centers began to recognize the new paradigm of work that characterized their experiences: the mobile, flexible, precarious work typical of Post-Fordism… Rather than the traditional blue overalls of the old factory worker, white overalls represented this new proletariat… They claimed they were the ‘invisible’ workers, since they had no fixed contacts, no security, no basis for identification. The whiteness of their overalls was meant to represent this invisibility. And this invisibility that characterized their work would also prove to be the strength of their movement."

The White Overalls represented a final attempt to revitalize the social centers in light of changed historical conditions. When it became clear, after 2001, that the effort had failed, that their social basis could not be resuscitated, and that their particular form of struggle had reached its historical limits, the White Overalls decided to disappear.

The fate of the black bloc would be different. The tactic was reborn, and in fact truly came into its own, only after being transplanted to the United States – specifically Seattle in 1999 – where a movement comparable to the German Autonomen had never existed. This geographical distance powerfully represented the historical distance between the reborn black bloc and its constituting organs in the earlier cycle of struggle. The American black bloc, unlike the White Overalls, was not born in the social centers.

It was really with the eruption of the anti-globalization movement, stretching from around 1999 to 2003, that the black bloc tactic, now totally disconnected from the very idea of the social centers, began to survive independently by refashioning itself into something other than just a tactic. The vast majority of those who formed the ranks of the black bloc in Seattle had no direct memory of the German Autonomen of the early 1980s, separated by a sharp generational divide, and so had little choice but to reconstruct a new identity for themselves. The rebirth of the black bloc came at a price: the insurmountable contradiction between its existence as a tactic and its existence as an identity. Though the defeat of the anti-war movement, the onset of the Bush years, and the decline of an organized Left, forced the black bloc to more or less disappear as a material tactic, it paradoxically consolidated its identity, granting it a mystical afterlife that is being resurrected and fetishized today.

A Floating Tactic

After decades of capitalist restructuring, there are no longer squatters to defend. With the definitive dismantling of the welfare state that once provided the conditions in which autonomous movements could emerge, and the violent repression of the social centers that remained, the squatters who once formed the social basis for the black bloc have disappeared.

Separated from these foundations, the black bloc has continued to live on as a kind of floating tactic. Now in its afterlife, the idea of the black bloc explicitly reproduces a single tactic in the hopes of rediscovering the strategy it emerged from. At a superficial level, it was a street-fighting tactic that used black clothes and masks to anonymously confront the state, and occasionally destroy property. But after its death and rebirth, the black bloc has become a particular ideology of street-fighting: the use of confrontation with police to displace contradictions internal to the movement. And the movement is left to oscillate between two supplementary ideologies, two unconscious strategies, in the name of the “diversity of tactics.”

The first involves deliberately planning police confrontations in the hopes of spectacularizing the movement for liberal consumption. More of a formula than a strategy, it is applied indiscriminately, with little concern for the specific context, and paradoxically makes the survival of the movement dependent on getting the state to listen.

The second involves trying to force the social centers, once the base of the black bloc, back into existence. Cut adrift, without the social centers that first called them into being, the black bloc ideology now tries to institute them by force. The extraordinarily hostile legal situation, and the overwhelming military power of the state, turn the taking of the building into a framework for street-fighting. And to a certain extent, it’s difficult to think past the performative gesture of reconstituting a social space, which seems to be the goal in itself, rather than the actual construction of the center. We have no reason to believe that a social center can be constructed in the context of street-fighting. The armed Autonomen never created the squatters’ centers; it was the archipelago of autonomous spaces that created the armed Autonomen. And recent experience indicates that in the context of an advanced neoliberalism, social centers probably won’t be the form that organized proletarian self-activity will take today.

In the first case, then, we have a liberal ideology of the present; in the second, a communist ideology of the past. One has led some of the most militant, energetic, and dedicated elements of the movement into unintentional reformism; the other has led these elements into fulfilling the directives handed down from a past that no longer exists.

Neither a liberalism of the present nor a communism of the past is adequate today. The only thing we’re after is a communist strategy for the present. Our task is to attempt to lay the foundations for an organization of proletarian self-activity, in a form that is historically appropriate. It means reinventing the “soviets” for our time, as the autonomists did for theirs; discovering, through a process of collective experimentation, a form of struggle that will resonate with the composition of our class, linking together the various layers of that class, and recomposing this disparate body into an antagonistic subject. Only then will we be able to determine the place in our struggle for the tactic of militant confrontation through street-fighting. Without that, without a coherent communist strategy, all we have is a zombie chasing its own shadow.

Originaltext: Viewpoint Magazine


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Institute for Experimental Freedom - God Only Knows What Devils We Are. An apologia for the black bloc from the community that has no community

Have you ever worn the mask one-two one-two,

(M) to the (A) to the (S) to the (K)
Put the mask upon the face just to make the next day,
Feds be hawkin me 
Jokers be stalking me,
I walk the streets and camouflage my identity,

My posse in the Brooklyn wear the mask.

My crew in the Jersey wear the mask.

Stick up kids doing boogie woogie wear the mask.
Yeah everybody wear da mask but how long will it last.
-The Fugees

That’s why I live illegal
All my life I live illegal
Don’t give a fuck bout the law
When my pockets reaching zero
I’m fresh out the ghost town similar to your town

I’m probably where it goes down

He pretends he tolls down

-Ski Beatz & Freddie Gibbs

For thirteen years, for over a decade, I have donned the black mask. “Seattle”—that word still means “the days the world stood still” to me. “Genoa” still holds more terror and perversity than the North American September 11. In experiencing anonymous collective force, I have gained far more than a diversity of tactics in my tool box. The black bloc is not merely a tactic, as so many anarchist apologists claim; it’s more of an aesthetic development in the art of street confrontation. The black bloc is a methodology of struggle; it goes beyond a single color, and its intelligence reaches beyond the terrain of protests. The black bloc is irreducibly contemporary because only in its opacity can a ray of light from the heavens finally reach us. Allow me to explain.

I.

It’s the summer of 2000. Many of us have given up on both Democrats and Republicans. The sense is that “anti-globalization” poses the only alternative to advanced capitalism. The Democratic National Convention: I am marching, drenched in sweat, through the catacombs that hosted the Rodney King riots. Sadly, the only remnant of those fateful days is a militarized police force that anticipates our every move.

We walk into an enormous play pen—the “free speech zone”—surrounded on all sides by a sea of navy blue wielding pepper balls and batons. Amid the most dreadful speeches and rebellious rock music, we find each other: the stupid, isolated, alienated, and utterly lost children of capital, just beginning our downward spiral—just beginning a precarious life, without promise and without hope.

We organize ourselves at the center and proceed to the margin, where things are unpredictable. Someone climbs the tall fence, reaching the limit of free speech; and then another, and another. A black flag is unfurled, and a figure waves it with pride, claiming this as a site of freedom with that stupid gesture. The pepper balls crash against your skin; they collide against your frail bones, exploding on impact and releasing a furious burning that traps itself in your oily clothes and sweat. The crowd collectively gains intelligence and transforms the signs bearing socialist slogans into shields for cover. We brace each other and press the signs against the fence. Shot with pepper balls, a figure falls from the apex of the fence; arms and femur bones snap against the concrete.

That putrid smell, the eyes glossed over in tears, the stomach churns and nausea overwhelms you. Vinegar-soaked rags help to soak up the poisonous clouds, but you can hear screaming everywhere as the blue tide comes rushing in, and your nerves twist and vibrate as the CS gas and police mutate into a single hostile terrain.

Suddenly, I am with six or ten people. I don’t know who. We’ve found a large road sign and we’re lifting it slowly. Plastic bottles soar impotently overhead. A small rock or two hits an officer. We press with what was once our labor power, straining to hurl the worthless product of our grandparents’ toil back at our overseers. The object tilts over the fence and falls to other side: clong. We cheer and revel in our functionless gesture. “Fuck the police” resounds throughout the night, however foolishly. A few bank windows collapse in glittery confetti. Spray paint decorates a wall. We journey to the end of the night; at its perimeter, we share drinks and laughs over our absurd gestures. Finally, back at the union hall, we crash in our sleeping bags, exhausted and dehydrated, to dream of the abolition of capitalism.

I am irreparably transformed.

II.

Lets rewind. Sixteen years ago, I am an adolescent teenager. I have entered Alcoholics Anonymous—somewhat earlier than most of my family. There, I witness one friend’s overdose, another friend’s relapse and subsequent incarceration for manslaughter, and the spread of methamphetamines throughout my neighborhood. I watch Requiem for a Dream some years later, horrified by the cinematic juxtposition of “normal” and “marginal” addiction—it feels so familiar.

I am watching 20/20, an episode exposing Nike sweatshops. Through some extended leaps of logic, I recognize a link between those exploited by sweatshops and my own condition. With this heightened sensitivity, I conclude that

1) addiction has an economic function
2) the economy includes industries that tend to harm people—through exploitation, alienation, and immiseration, the reproduction of addiction being a subset of the last of these
3) the economy tends to hurt people generally.

My initial moral indignation passes; my sensitivity shifts from a moral compass faulting individuals for their choices to something more like class consciousness. The broke-ass cars in the yard appear starker. The drive-by shootings in our neighborhood gain a new meaning. The empty refrigerators’ sad grumble reverberating in our empty stomachs, my many stepbrothers’ sweet mullet haircuts—these bring me a certain revelation: I am white trash.

Seattle: the anti-globalization summits and corresponding riots. The beautiful rhythm: work, misery, chaos. They kill Carlo and we meet at the intersection of Colfax and Broadway to block traffic, frantically trying to show our tears and rage. The war. My sister is deployed to Iraq. We wear helmets and anachronistically chant “Bring the war home!” We spray slogans and burn effigies. We block the flows of the metropolis. As if to baptize our newfound agency, we are showered in pepper spray. Tear gas spreads across entire continents. We go from basement hardcore shows to warehouse parties. Our friends learn to DJ. Cocaine comes back into style and claims two victims; heroin gets a few more. The boredom and stupidity is suffocating. We attempt to wrest the noose from our necks. Democracy sweeps Bush back into office. We’re trashing a gentrified district of Adams Morgan. My friend records an MP3 of her heartbeat, shouts and heavy breathing accentuated by shattering glass and anxiety.

In the US, we hit a lull. Everywhere else the world burns.

As we get older, we find new ways to survive. A small meeting of coworkers transforms into an ambitious conspiracy. Without making any demands of the boss, we increase our pay and our quality of life. We eat well, we can afford cigarettes, we travel where we want to: Scotland and France, Italy and Germany. Can’t stop the chaos.

In Europe, the black bloc means “no media!” I watch a snitch in a tie go down among the kicks and punches of the hooded ones. A car burns. As the police battle two thousand rock throwers, a couple hundred advance through the marketplace, smashing everything. “Tremble Bourgeoisie!” is scrawled across a temp agency service.

Back home, our own temporary involvement in the economy—our precarious life—is reflected in the windows of the temp agency, the retail shop, and the café. The image of our desire is captured in the commodities to which we have no access. Our needs are displayed in advertisements that sell us happiness and grocery store aisles that mutate our tastes and relations to other living beings. Smashing, burning, and looting make sense to us in this context like nothing else could.

III.

What Chris Hedges fails to understand about black bloc activity is that it arises from a real need. The “cancer” that Chris finds so disturbing—the contagion of an anonymous collective force—is precisely why and how it continues to outlive every social movement from which it emerges. These generations—we who fantasized about Columbine and now only know metal detectors at school; we who expected September 11 and now only know the politics of terror; we who grew up as the world crumbled all around us and now only know the desert—we need to fight, and not just in the ways our rulers deem justified and legitimate.

As workers, we’re excluded from unions, from collective arrangements of any kind. When we manage to find employment at all, it is meaningless labor that corresponds to our own superfluousness in the economy. We were raised by a generation so thoroughly defeated that it feared to pass on its history. We are the inheritors of every unpaid bill, of every failed struggle, the products of the insanely selfish individualism of advanced capitalism in North America.

Our entire environment feels hostile. Hence our hostility.

Chris Hedges cannot understand this because he misses the real historical conflict expressed in contemporary struggles. As David Graeber points out, his exhumation of the decrepit journal Green Anarchy shows how out of touch he is. The black bloc spreads because of a real need to take back force, which has been monopolized by the police. The black bloc spreads because it is a living practice of collective intelligence, redistribution of wealth, and improvisation; it spreads because it interrupts the ways we are confined in our identities as subjects within capitalism. The black bloc is tuned to the uneasy pulse of our time.

A paradigm of life is coming to an end. The black bloc is irrevocably contemporary because our age of unrest is reflected in this gesture. Populations everywhere are becoming ungovernable and doing so by casting off the fundamental assumptions of government, the techniques of policing, and laws of the economy. The paradigm of sovereignty is collapsing.

To see what is changing, we have to understand the nature of sovereignty. The modern state is founded upon an anthropological fiction of human nature and the surgical extraction of violence from living beings. Thomas Hobbes argued that the establishment of the civil state conveyed the human being from the state of nature—a war of each against all—to the loving arms of the sovereign, rendering him a citizen-subject on the condition that he leave “nature” at the door. But this discourse separates each being from collectivity: the subject of sovereignty is always already an isolated individual. And the arrangement keeps war at the center of the state, as the sole dominion of the sovereign. Ironically, what the subject lays down in return for security—the capacity to use force—is precisely what the sovereign must wield in order to ensure it: and this is wielded above all against subjects.

The form of sovereign power shifted as democratic governments replaced autocracies, but the content of state sovereignty remains. The modern state has shifted from techniques governing territory to techniques governing populations.

It is increasingly difficult to distinguish between totalitarian and democratic governments, as policing is identical under both. The police have the power to let live or take life—biopower—and the distinction between democratic and totalitarian becomes even more muddled as management and medicine also gain this power, determining who can access fundamental human needs. The mediation of capital creates a hellish environment in which practically everyone is integrated into a single hostile terrain, subject to its violence and its justice. If the cause du jouris enunciated as “fuck the police,” this is because the police are the living embodiment of Hobbe’s Leviathan, the state that keeps us at arm’s length from our own potential.

“The police” includes all who police; policing is an array of techniques, not all of which demand uniforms. Hedges’ cancer metaphor exposes his penchant for order, translating it explicitly into the language of biopower. Remember how Oakland’s Mayor, Jean Quan, and other authority figures used the discourse of health and risk to justify the repression of occupations around the US? Hedges continues this work of policing with his metaphor of an unhealthy social body in need of surgery. Whenever the basic assumptions of sovereignty and capitalism are called into question by those who defy state violence and the sanctity of property, the police are mobilized to discipline them. This disciplining is carried out by both the armed wing and the necktied wing of the police. It’s not a coincidence that Hedges invokes biopolitical language just as a portion of the population is beginning to discover the power of their bodies.

Less than seven years ago, in New Orleans an entire population was forced into a concentration camp by militarized police forces acting on a juridical state of emergency. The ones who did not obey this order could be gratuitously shot down. The justification given during Katrina was the health and well-being of the population. One can’t help but notice this same paradigm at work, albeit with less racialized brutality, in the violent evictions of the occupations. Safety, Health, Security: Necessity knows no law. These police actions only deviate slightly from the norm in terms of intensity, frequency, and grammar of “protection.” The deaths of Oscar Grant and Sean Bell attest to the murderous day-to-day operations of the police. The other casualties, the forgotten, continue to haunt every city block, where the police function to eliminate useless surplus—either out of economic utility or biopolitical necessity.

There is no document of civilization that is not at the same time a document of barbarism, as Walter Benjamin spells out in Theses on the Philosophy of History. It is terrifying to face the wreckage of history that constitutes the present. One loses count of the tragedies. Despair, recoded as “happiness,” runs through every aspect of social life, increasingly reflected by Hollywood and ironic television sitcoms as if to anesthetize us.

The arguments for orderly, passive demonstrations by Hedges and other liberal pundits miss all this. One doesn’t sweep the floor in a house falling off a cliff. In a world that feels absolutely hostile and alien, every element of social life acquires a sinister glow. In this light, the black bloc appears as a ray of optimism because it creates an opening that leads through to the other side of despair.

The new struggles increasingly take place outside of legitimate and traditional venues. When the factory was the contested site, the workers’ movement was the most vibrant and decisive space of contestation. During the shift from a factory-centered economy to an economy integrating social life, we saw the emergence of social movements contesting social spaces. Now that social life has been fully subsumed within capitalism, the mutant offspring of the proletariat and the counterculture is appearing outside the legitimate parameters of the old movements. This explains the spread of anti-social violence, anomic play, self-destructive revolt, irony. Chris Hedges may wish to turn away his gaze, but society is imploding.

We accept our conditions and get organized accordingly. Compared to the fatal and fatalistic strategy employed by school shooters, terrorists, and isolated individuals marked as insane, the black bloc, rioting, and flashmobs are collective and vital forms of struggle. The Left is obsolete—rightfully so, as it still clings to this collapsing society at war with its population. Society is decomposing and nothing will or should bring back the the good ol’ days—the days of slavery, hyper-exploitation of women, apartheid, homophobic violence, Jim Crow. We wager that organizing our antagonisms collectively and attacking this society where we are positioned, without anything mediating our force, is our best chance for a life worth living.

Remarking on how the black bloc assaults the sanctity of property, Chris says “there’s a word for that: criminal.” Even here he is behind the times. Once, it seemed that crime designated specific transgressions of the law, such as breaking a window. Today, this fiction is evaporating as crime is openly integrated into the economy. The black market, the gray market, the war on drugs, the war on terror. Branding criminal is not simply a maneuver in a public relations war—though it is that too; crime is the excess of law. Security cameras and Loss Prevention are not there to stop shoplifting and workplace theft any more than borders exist to stop illegal immigration. The designation of criminal is simply one more tool for managing populations, another line along which to divide and exploit.

The cynicism of the justice system is surpassed only by capitalism itself. There’s not enough money circulating any more for us to be fully integrated, so entire economies of ultra-flexible, superfluous, and precarious work have arisen. We don’t do anything that appears to matter, but somehow we have to do it all the time. Just to count as people, we have to gain all sorts of stupid commodities—a cellphone, a laptop, a specific knowledge of culture. Because our wages are so low and we work so much, our only options are illicit. Petty drug dealing, sex work, and pirating movies and music have become at once a normal practice for us and a constant opportunity for the police to rein us into the justice industry. The black bloc makes sense to us because it offers an intelligent way to do what we always have to be doing without getting caught.

If Chris Hedges is really concerned about crime, perhaps he shouldn’t praise anything in the movement of occupations. What attracts us to the black bloc is exactly what draws us to the occupation of a public square: all the different people with different experiences coming together to steal back the time stolen from us by work and the spaces stolen from us by ownership and policing, the collective crime of revolt. Hum the national anthem all you want and sing “dissent is patriotic” to the media, but the reality is that anything that breaks with the way things are is categorized in the same sphere of crime as “violence” and treated accordingly. So why not do it together and with intelligence?

IV.

Above all, the black bloc is contemporary because it is a site of self-transformation. Even the abused corpse of Gandhi is in accord: if we want to change the world we must change ourselves. To take this further, we might say we have to abolish ourselves.

Capitalism has only managed to stave off revolution by constantly reordering and diffusing social antagonism. At the center of the economy, it is increasingly difficult to distinguish between citizens and police, yet at the same time they appear to be at war with each other. At the margins, everything that once made antagonistic groups into “revolutionary subjects” is extracted—think of the fate of the Black Panthers—and the remaining husk works to gain entrance to the center or manage the disorder of the margins. Only an immediate break with the process by which we become subjects can open a window of potential. This self-transformative gesture is where tactics and ethics meet. If liberal commentators can’t handle the implications of this, this just shows the widening abyss between those who would defend citizenship and those who refuse to be governed.

Allow me to elaborate from our side of the barricades.

The black bloc is an anonymous way of being together. Anonymity allows me to shed the mask I have to wear at school, at work, in your parents’ house, in casual conversations at the bar. The black bloc enables us to interrupt the processes that make us into subjects according to race, gender, mental health, physiological health. Here, we can cease worrying about how power will extract the truth from us, and we can reveal truth to each other.

The black bloc assumes an intense ethics of care. Hedges alleges that it is “hypermasculine.” Not everyone who dons the black mask reads feminist and queer theory—Bell Hooks, Judith Butler, Selma James, Silvia Federici, Guy Hocquenghem—but these are extremely influential on our discourse. Had Hedges taken the time to research his subject, he would have found multiple discussions about the gender of anonymity.

Via the black bloc, we open the space to play with power. We radically reverse its operations on our bodies. Casting off the assumption that our bodies need to be protected, that we should give them over to the care of the state, we collectively re-inscribe them as as source of power. We also reverse the notion that freedom ends at the boundaries of individuals. I want you to put me at risk: in this axiom, we find the basis of love, friendship, and death, the three irreducible risks of life.

The black bloc is the site for a new sentimental education: a political reordering of our sentiments. We learn new sensations of love, friendship, and death through the matrix of collective confrontation. In the obscurity of the black mask, I am most present in the world. This unfamiliar way of being compels me to focus and intensify my senses, to be radically present in my body and my environment.

In the black bloc, I have to reconceptualize geographies. The event of the riot gives us a new mobility and space, a laboratory in which to experiment with public space and the relations of property and commodities. Moving through a one-way street backwards, I note how a slight displacement causes the flows of capital to malfunction. The metropolitan environment ceases to appear as a neutral terrain: suddenly I can identify all the ways it functions to channel all activity into a very narrow range of possibilities.

Drifting thus through urban centers, I become attuned to all the apparatuses at work and to how they can be caused to break down. Newspaper boxes and dumpsters can be moved into the street, blocking police from entering the space we are creating. Cars—the individualizing apparatus par excellence—can be put to collective use. All the pretty commodities in the window, usually the breadth of an entire social class away from me, are now a mere hammer’s distance from my proletarian hands. I can move through these spaces in which I am not authorized to be, transforming them. I can dance with mannequins or use them to smash out the windows of a storefront. I can trade the insanity of everyday misery for a collective madness that devastates the avenues of wealth.

For those of us who were excluded from the community of good workers, there is the black bloc. Like the myth of the historical proletarian community, it has no single organization, no membership, no written constitution. Through the black bloc, we find collective power, a sense of camaraderie, a historical tradition of living and fighting. It offers the possibility of immediately changing our conditions and immediately changing ourselves. Those who say it doesn’t act in the workplace misunderstand the forms work takes today and where it takes place. The black bloc has been instrumental in the recent port blockades on the West Coast and in the occupations of universities through Europe, the UK, the US, and Chile; the method is constantly being appropriated and adapted. When coworkers outsmart the cameras to take money from the register to share—when the hungry pocket goodies from an expensive health food store—when Anonymous strikes the credit card companies—wherever we use anonymity offensively, there is black bloc.

As I write this, Greece burns yet again, and more of the flexible, unemployed, and immigrant populations appropriate the tactics of the hooded ones—and vice versa. The black bloc can’t be cut out of the movement of occupations: there is no surgery that can extract the need for redemption from history, and there is no method better tuned to that task than this vital opacity. On the contrary, the so-called cancer will grow, spread, and mutate—and the movement of occupations, like other movements, will increasingly be indistinguishable from the black bloc.

Originaltext: Crimethinc. und www.politicsisnotabanana.com


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Dallas Darling - Black Bloc and a Theology of Anarchy and Freeing Property

When Chris Hedges wrote that Black Bloc was the "cancer" of the Occupy Movements taking place across the United States, (1) it brought back a discussion I had several years ago with a member of the anti-global and anarchist group. David had just participated in a massive and controversial street protest against the World Trade Organization and International Monetary Fund, along with their delegates who were meeting in Seattle, Washington. After spending time with David, a very soft spoken and extremely gentle and compassionate young man, it was hard to reconcile mainstream media accounts with fanatics smashing windows, vandalizing autos, and throwing Molotov cocktails.

David described how Black Bloc and other demonstrators had arrived early to control main intersections, so as to block delegates from entering the Convention Center. He also mentioned how police appeared confused by the number of protesters, and how they used tear gas and indiscriminately beat and arrested hundreds. David claimed that it was only after the police's brutality and suppression of civil rights that he and others started to smash storefront windows and vandalize autos, both symbols of the wealthy and powerful and of violent institutions that were preparing to convene.

(The New York Times later retracted a news report that flammable substances were thrown by protesters. It was also revealed the mass media emphasized Black Bloc protesters and exaggerated the destruction at the expense of more peaceful demonstrators.)

David explained how Black Bloc anarchists were against lawlessness and for responsible freedoms, where individuals act as autonomous, self-governing entities who respect the rights of others. He believed governments were unnecessary and harmful and used as a tool of the propertied classes. Corporate entities, which serve only themselves and their agendas and that impose involuntary servitude, cause divisiveness and wars through violent institutions and by propagating aggressive ideologies. Black Bloc consists of voluntary cooperation. By wearing the same masks and dressing in black, they are able to confuse the authorities which have destroyed the rights of assembly, petition, and speech.

Chris Hedges and I are both Christian theologians. I admire his prolific writings and his courageous war reporting experiences in Bosnia and Palestine and many other parts of the world. His work is extremely insightful, even prophetic, especially "War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning," "Empire of Illusions," and his most recent book, "The World As It Is." However, and with regards to the Black Bloc anarchist group being a "cancer" to Occupy Movements, both of us may want to revisit the life and narratives of Jesus, specifically the Freeing of the Peoples Property in the Temple-along with prophesying of its destruction, Jesus and the Passover, and Judas' Betrayal.

Temples played a crucial role in Jesus' time. Not only did they provide traditional forms of legitimization for rulers that came to power through violence, but they provided divine sanctions and blessings, leaving an impression that wealthy rulers came to power through "mandates from heaven." Temples also contributed to the economy of an empire through collecting tributes, offerings, tithes and requiring allegiance and sacrifices. While suppressing the masses, temples separated the peasants from the wealth they produced and from their rulers. Temples had many norms and codes that served the interests of the dominant elites, mainly by supplying religious justification for their exploitive order. (2)

Today in the U.S., secular and relegations temples still play an important role. Unlike the Jewish Temple, American temples consist of Congress, the Supreme Court, the White House, Pentagon, Wall Street, office headquarters of transnational corporations, and thousands of sub-temples, like banks and corporate stores and outlets. At the same time, thousands of military garrisons protect these violent institutions and temples of commerce and involuntary servitude. Like ancient times, they serve only the interests of the wealth elites. They usurp the powers of the poor and working classes, including their labor, produce, products, and wealth. A vast mass media aids in inducing utter allegiance.

It was in this "temple context," then, that Jesus vandalized, overturned and destroyed, the Temple tables and benches and impure wealth being exchanged by merchants. He set free the pigeons and doves, property of the State, which were bought by the poor, since they could not afford larger sacrificial animals. Still, he argued that something greater than the Temple and its commerce was here (life) and that mercy, not sacrifice, was desired. Jesus not only vandalize the Temple's commercialization and business arrangements that benefited the rulers, but he prophesied of the Temple's destruction. Jesus knew the Temple and its managers were an inevitable corollary of the poverty of the peasantry. (3)

Is the real "cancer" Black Bloc, or capitalist theology with its natural selection and the amassing of wealth as a sign of God's elect? In the Gospels, Jesus embraces anarchist action. He even uses vandalism to protest against, and free, what the State and wealthy falsely assume is their "property," specifically God's Creation. The Temple and Kingdom of Rome is established through violence and murder and by destroying humanity created in God's image. The Kingdom of God, though, advances with force and forceful humans lay hold of it. It strikes out at properties and wealthy symbols that states and corporations put before, and care far more for, than human life, while always respecting human life.

Jesus called the Temple managers a "cave of robbers" that exploited the poor. Worship became a travesty because the rulers who came to the temple had savaged and destroyed the social contract with God and others. Jesus even accused the rulers and priests of stealing and murdering, since they excluded the poor, foreigners, and strangers. Thus, the Temple is beyond redemption. It is governed by wealthy bandits and murderous robbers that continually seize, often forcibly, what belongs to others. The real robbers are not those hiding in caves, but Temple mangers who have monopolized the Holy of Holies. The Temple curtain, its hierarchy, class divisions, and bureaucracy, must be torn. (4)

Like Jesus, are Black Bloc anarchists tearing down a curtain, a veil, that has famished the poor and oppressed and kept them separated from sharing in God's bountiful Creation? By vandalizing state and corporate property that steal from oppressed workers and that demand allegiance, are they not reminding them that there are alternative narratives other than violent capitalism and its unjust and unequal institutions? Are they not apocalyptically revealing and living a more communal and prophetic, autonomous lifestyle, one in which the Kingdom of God and its egalitarian society is here and now realized? And are they not helping to prepare and set the Messianic Banquet?

Jesus' anarchist behavior occurred during Passover, a Jewish feast memorializing liberation from Egypt. Until then, he was on the periphery of the Roman and Temple Empires. His actions caused the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, and Temple elites to look for a way to kill him. Due to admiring peasant crowds, they could not. Like Black Bloc anarchists who protect one another en masse, and are able to publicly promote a powerful message that temple institutions are finite and can be overturned, Jesus' Freeing of the Peoples Property in the Temple-along with prophesying of its destruction, was one of the few times that popular sovereignty was realized, that a peoples covenant was lived.

Jesus' anarchist actions also took place just before he celebrated the Passover meal with his disciples. Whereas Judas betrayed Jesus for money, money that had Caesar's image on it, Jesus rejected such violent "tyranny of wealth" and "greed." Instead, he initiated a new social contract and consciousness, one in which there are no class divisions. He lived a new political, social, and economic creed by "voluntarily" offering his life not to the State and its rulers or the Temple elites, but to a new community of people. Jesus bids them to do the same. He refuses to be the violent property of corporate takeovers, wars, heavy borrowing, militarism, and predatory lending. He instead chooses voluntary communion.

Jesus understood property rights, but he also distinguished between destructive property and life-giving property. Just as Jesus overturned and vandalized the Romanized Temple and its oppressive financial institutions that preyed upon the poor, today would he vandalize and overturn the Pentagon, Congress, the Supreme Court and White House, along with the tens of thousands of military bases and missiles and weapons systems and drones? (Just imagine how many tens of millions of people these property entities have killed and starved to death!) Would he challenge and destroy abusive and rapacious multinationals and banking institutions that practice institutional robbery?

In challenging and vandalizing such destructive and murderous properties, ones that have been distorted and fashioned to destroy human kind and God's Creation, and then by transforming them into life-giving properties and redistributing among the poor and oppressed, Jesus is a kind of prophetic and messianic anarchist. He reminds humankind to always convert swords into ploughshares. He reveals that occupation is not enough, it must be followed by disruption and sometimes, even vandalistic disturbances. It is little wonder the authorities wanted to rid the Temple and Roman Empire of Jesus. And yet, the Gospels make it appear that Jesus controls even his own destiny.

But not only does Jesus' execution on the Cross show a final act of anarchy, one that undermines the myth that the Temple and State's power are absolute, but it showed that he would never become the property of the Temple and State, or Roman Empire. Eschatological anarchical groups, like Black Bloc, signals the beginning of a new life-giving narrative and a new Creation. It consists of a new community that undoes the destruction and killing by rulers and wealthy elites. It signals the end of their oppressive reign. This might be the most liberating, the most self-actualizing, and the most healing act in the midst of oppressive and cancerous temples and states.

Fußnoten:
(1) Hedges, Chris. "The Cancer in Occupy." http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/the_cancer_of_occupy_20120206/. Also see: "Interview With Chris Hedges About Black Block" at http://www.truth-out.org/interview-chris-hedges-about-black-bloc/ and "Activists and Anarchists Speak for Themselves at Occupy Oakland." http://www.truth-out.org/occupy-oakland/.
(2) Herzong, William R. Prophet and Teacher: An Introduction to the Historical Jesus. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminister John Knox Press, 2005., p. 153ff.
(3) Ibid., p. 160ff.
(4) Ibid., p. 168ff.

Originaltext: Publiziert u.a. auf Anarchist News


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