Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A response to Chris Hedges

A response to Chris Hedges:

Today it was brought to my attention that Chris Hedges, a notable figure within the Occupy Movement, and celebrity liberal published an article in Truthdig titled “The Cancer in Occupy.” The article is essentially a hit-piece against “Black Block anarchists.” Don’t be fooled, as the black bloc does not only include anarchists, as it is simply a blob of black wearing anti-capitalists. This is an attack against the entire militant anti-capitalist left.

Some analysis of the article

Hedges opens his piece declaring these activists as “the cancer of the Occupy movement,” and continues, “The presence of Black Bloc anarchists—so named because they dress in black, obscure their faces, move as a unified mass, seek physical confrontations with police and destroy property—is a gift from heaven to the security and surveillance state.”

Quite a strong accusation, can Hedges back this up?

“The real enemies, they argue, are not the corporate capitalists, but their collaborators among the unions, workers’ movements, radical intellectuals, environmental activists and populist movements such as the Zapatistas”

Hedges here exposes his awareness that there are currently two opposing forces within the Occupy Movement: Capitalist “collaborators” and those who are fighting those collaborators. Hedges mention of worker’s movements, environmental activists, and the Zapatistas are nothing more than fluff to add weight to his claim that collaborators are not our enemies and therefore should be ignored. Hedges uses the immense credibility of the Zapatistas in his article to discredit those who take part in militant activity—essentially he uses the logic: If Anarchists would attack a movement as cool as the Zapatistas, then the anarchists are undeserving of any credibility. Here’s the flaw, Hedges quotes from an article written by an author named, “Venomous Butterfly” published in an anarcho-primitivist magazine called “Green Anarchy”. Hedges himself admits that the magazine is defunct, so is it really a representation of the various tendencies that make up any particular bloc?

“Because Black Bloc anarchists do not believe in organization, indeed oppose all organized movements, they ensure their own powerlessness.”

The black bloc in itself is a visual demonstration of organization. Is the ignorance in this quote even worth replying to? While there is a thread of anti-organizational thought within the Anarchist movement, it is clearly not demonstrated by the black bloc. Furthermore, of the tendencies that make up the black bloc, or the militant left for that matter, anti-organizational thought remains a tiny minority. Perhaps Hedges was attempting to touch on something other than organization in general, but rather centralized organization. If this were the case, by this logic Hedges would be arguing that those in the militant left are against centralized organization and are thus powerless—while those who are for centralized organization (capitalist collaborators, unions, progressives etc) are powerful. Is it a false sense of power that Hedges seeks? Does he seek the power that comes with collaboration with the ruling class?

Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale defined power together after much discourse as, “the ability to define phenomenon then in turn make it act in a desired manner." By that very definition, neither the black bloc, nor the forces that Hedges represents wield power. While some anti-capitalists may be well on their way to defining the phenomenon, no one has been able to make it act in a desired manner.

Hedges does make an important point about the rigidity and dogmatism of sects here:

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

The problem with this point is that it is directed at those who participate in a tactic, a temporal gathering of anti-capitalists and recreational rioters. This quote about absolutism can be applied to nearly all sects within Occupy including the pacifist and progressive sects.

While I think that there is a worthy critique to be made of silly actions that have been used by participants of black blocs, to suggest that the blocs are self-aware in any collective sense would be to imply organization--and while yes, there is some rudimentary organization, the blocs have not been in my experience, "self-aware."

It is important to understand that Hedges did not have to openly attack the black bloc. There wasn’t any reason for an attack or condemnation on this level. Rather than write a comradely critique with suggestions, Hedges wrote that “The Black Bloc Anarchists are a cancer of the Occupy movement.” He states in those words that they are an enemy that cannot be compromised with.

Why did Hedges pick now to attack militants?

I found the article to be a very weak analysis from Hedges which was surprising to me. Hedges while on the pseudo left, generally writes with a little more depth. Recently in Seattle, the militant anti-capitalists of the Marxist tendency found themselves on the receiving end of a hit piece written by Socialist Worker titled, “The Solidarity We Need for Longview”. I've written several activists about this.

To me, the piece by Hedges is an extension of that attack by the pseudo leftists against the militant anti-capitalists. The tip off was not that the Black Bloc was criticized, but rather in the way it was criticized--through well publicized libel and smear. There was an effort by Hedges to drive a wedge between militant anti-capitalists and “unions, workers’ movements, radical intellectuals, environmental activists and populist movements such as the Zapatistas” In a sense, Hedges like the Socialist Worker, joined the capitalist media’s campaign against militant anti-capitalists.

By publicly breaking with the black bloc; the tendency of reformism and capitalist collaboration that Hedges represents hopes to usurp the “undecided” proletariat within the occupy movement—that is, those persons who have not firmly sided with either the anti-capitalists or the reformists. The capitalist collaborators hope to take advantage of any weakness in theoretical understanding by the militant anti-capitalists, arrogantly pushing for a premature split. Unless anti-capitalists can learn to work together, create trust, open lines of discussion, comradely critique, and forge a unified alliance and network—we will be divided and conquered.

For more information on the ISO attack against the militant anti-capitalists please read the Black Orchid Collective’s response to the ISO’s SW article:

The quality of comments are well worth the time reading.

This repost was originally published at artfrancisco.wordpress.com 2/7/2012


comrade x said...

Again, I am glad that the Occupy movement is composed primarily of ordinary working people who do not swear allegiance to one political party. But would you not agree that there needs to be a better job at self- policing? Something beyond the usual parade marshalls. A Committee of public safety, so to speak.
I am not refering to a specific group and trying to pin blame, like Hedges is. I just think it would be a good idea to prevent wanton vandalism and deter predatory criminals from taking advantage of these situations.
See Dresden's article on security below.

Art Francisco said...

Excuse the messy reply, the comment field is small,

Self-policing was a big topic of discussion regarding the encampments that characterized the Occupy movements. There have actually been work groups created and dedicated to this purpose. Ours in Seattle was called "The Peace and Safety Committee."

There was always an issue of rogue activity whether it was an addict shooting heroin in a tent, teenagers passing whiskey bottles, or a group that decided on squatting a house.

The conclusion that I have come to regarding such activity is that:

[1] Many of these rogue actions are results of the society that we live in.

[2] Many of these logistical issues are not urgent and critical issues that we must address immediately.

[3] Many of the silly actions are coming from rogue elements like recreational rioters or insurrectionists. These elements join the movement confused because there is an advocacy of contradictory theories and tactics with a vague perspective of the present and future. The militant youth that make up these rogue elements are both directionless and disempowered, yet feel the urgent need to create social change. Throwing water balloons or flares at cops, and smashing windows, is a tactic of despair. This shows itself more clearly through the fear of the consequences, arrest, and reliance on the majority for safety. This crisis of theory, organization, and tactical unity, is exacerbated through alienation.

[4]Wanton vandalism is not the same as physical violence. The physical violence presented primarily by the state carries with it a higher degree of concern. While Wanton vandalism is annoying, it is not an immediate threat to the movement.

Most vandalism so far has been directed against the multi-national corporations and not against institutions of proletariat interest. If an activist lashes out against other workers, or against a community center used by the proletariat--that activist should be scolded and condemned immediately.

More important than constructing a security force, we must build a security culture concerned with advancing the movement within the context of theory. What prevents this from happening is a weakness in theory.

[5]When we get bogged down into self-policing the movement or other logistical issues we are neglecting more urgent and critical issues. I believe these issues are the development of a unified theory (not necessarily orthodox marxist or anarchist) and the means and methods for advancing our goals. Once a theory is developed we can determine if means and methods reflect in the interest of advancing that theory.

Dresden Scott said...

Interesting perspective. I enjoyed reading this!