[Marxism] Chris Hedges: the black bloc is a cancer in the Occupy movement

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Feb 6 06:59:50 MST 2012

The Cancer in Occupy
Posted on Feb 6, 2012

By Chris Hedges

The Black Bloc anarchists, who have been active on the streets in 
Oakland and other cities, are the cancer of the Occupy movement. The 
presence of Black Bloc anarchists—so named because they dress in black, 
obscure their faces, move as a unified mass, seek physical 
confrontations with police and destroy property—is a gift from heaven to 
the security and surveillance state. The Occupy encampments in various 
cities were shut down precisely because they were nonviolent. They were 
shut down because the state realized the potential of their broad appeal 
even to those within the systems of power. They were shut down because 
they articulated a truth about our economic and political system that 
cut across political and cultural lines. And they were shut down because 
they were places mothers and fathers with strollers felt safe.

Black Bloc adherents detest those of us on the organized left and seek, 
quite consciously, to take away our tools of empowerment. They confuse 
acts of petty vandalism and a repellent cynicism with revolution. The 
real enemies, they argue, are not the corporate capitalists, but their 
collaborators among the unions, workers’ movements, radical 
intellectuals, environmental activists and populist movements such as 
the Zapatistas. Any group that seeks to rebuild social structures, 
especially through nonviolent acts of civil disobedience, rather than 
physically destroy, becomes, in the eyes of Black Bloc anarchists, the 
enemy. Black Bloc anarchists spend most of their fury not on the 
architects of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) or 
globalism, but on those, such as the Zapatistas, who respond to the 
problem. It is a grotesque inversion of value systems.

Because Black Bloc anarchists do not believe in organization, indeed 
oppose all organized movements, they ensure their own powerlessness. 
They can only be obstructionist. And they are primarily obstructionist 
to those who resist. John Zerzan, one of the principal ideologues of the 
Black Bloc movement in the United States, defended “Industrial Society 
and Its Future,” the rambling manifesto by Theodore Kaczynski, known as 
the Unabomber, although he did not endorse Kaczynski’s bombings. Zerzan 
is a fierce critic of a long list of supposed sellouts starting with 
Noam Chomsky. Black Bloc anarchists are an example of what Theodore 
Roszak in “The Making of a Counter Culture” called the “progressive 
adolescentization” of the American left.

In Zerzan’s now defunct magazine Green Anarchy (which survives as a 
website) he published an article by someone named “Venomous Butterfly” 
that excoriated the Zapatista Army for National Liberation (EZLN). The 
essay declared that “not only are those [the Zapatistas’] aims not 
anarchist; they are not even revolutionary.” It also denounced the 
indigenous movement for “nationalist language,” for asserting the right 
of people to “alter or modify their form of government” and for having 
the goals of “work, land, housing, health care, education, independence, 
freedom, democracy, justice and peace.” The movement, the article 
stated, was not worthy of support because it called for “nothing 
concrete that could not be provided by capitalism.”

“Of course,” the article went on, “the social struggles of exploited and 
oppressed people cannot be expected to conform to some abstract 
anarchist ideal. These struggles arise in particular situations, sparked 
by specific events. The question of revolutionary solidarity in these 
struggles is, therefore, the question of how to intervene in a way that 
is fitting with one’s aims, in a way that moves one’s revolutionary 
anarchist project forward.”

Solidarity becomes the hijacking or destruction of competing movements, 
which is exactly what the Black Bloc contingents are attempting to do 
with the Occupy movement.

“The Black Bloc can say they are attacking cops, but what they are 
really doing is destroying the Occupy movement,” the writer and 
environmental activist Derrick Jensen told me when I reached him by 
phone in California. “If their real target actually was the cops and not 
the Occupy movement, the Black Bloc would make their actions completely 
separate from Occupy, instead of effectively using these others as a 
human shield. Their attacks on cops are simply a means to an end, which 
is to destroy a movement that doesn’t fit their ideological standard.”

“I don’t have a problem with escalating tactics to some sort of militant 
resistance if it is appropriate morally, strategically and tactically,” 
Jensen continued. “This is true if one is going to pick up a sign, a 
rock or a gun. But you need to have thought it through. The Black Bloc 
spends more time attempting to destroy movements than they do attacking 
those in power. They hate the left more than they hate capitalists.”

“Their thinking is not only nonstrategic, but actively opposed to 
strategy,” said Jensen, author of several books, including “The Culture 
of Make Believe.” “They are unwilling to think critically about whether 
one is acting appropriately in the moment. I have no problem with 
someone violating boundaries [when] that violation is the smart, 
appropriate thing to do. I have a huge problem with people violating 
boundaries for the sake of violating boundaries. It is a lot easier to 
pick up a rock and throw it through the nearest window than it is to 
organize, or at least figure out which window you should throw a rock 
through if you are going to throw a rock. A lot of it is laziness.”

Groups of Black Bloc protesters, for example, smashed the windows of a 
locally owned coffee shop in November in Oakland and looted it. It was 
not, as Jensen points out, a strategic, moral or tactical act. It was 
done for its own sake. Random acts of violence, looting and vandalism 
are justified, in the jargon of the movement, as components of “feral” 
or “spontaneous insurrection.” These acts, the movement argues, can 
never be organized. Organization, in the thinking of the movement, 
implies hierarchy, which must always be opposed. There can be no 
restraints on “feral” or “spontaneous” acts of insurrection. Whoever 
gets hurt gets hurt. Whatever gets destroyed gets destroyed.

There is a word for this—“criminal.”

The Black Bloc movement is infected with a deeply disturbing 
hypermasculinity. This hypermasculinity, I expect, is its primary 
appeal. It taps into the lust that lurks within us to destroy, not only 
things but human beings. It offers the godlike power that comes with mob 
violence. Marching as a uniformed mass, all dressed in black to become 
part of an anonymous bloc, faces covered, temporarily overcomes 
alienation, feelings of inadequacy, powerlessness and loneliness. It 
imparts to those in the mob a sense of comradeship. It permits an 
inchoate rage to be unleashed on any target. Pity, compassion and 
tenderness are banished for the intoxication of power. It is the same 
sickness that fuels the swarms of police who pepper-spray and beat 
peaceful demonstrators. It is the sickness of soldiers in war. It turns 
human beings into beasts.

“We run on,” Erich Maria Remarque wrote in “All Quiet on the Western 
Front,” “overwhelmed by this wave that bears us along, that fills us 
with ferocity, turns us into thugs, into murderers, into God only knows 
what devils: this wave that multiplies our strength with fear and 
madness and greed of life, seeking and fighting for nothing but our 

The corporate state understands and welcomes the language of force. It 
can use the Black Bloc’s confrontational tactics and destruction of 
property to justify draconian forms of control and frighten the wider 
population away from supporting the Occupy movement. Once the Occupy 
movement is painted as a flag-burning, rock-throwing, angry mob we are 
finished. If we become isolated we can be crushed. The arrests last 
weekend in Oakland of more than 400 protesters, some of whom had thrown 
rocks, carried homemade shields and rolled barricades, are an indication 
of the scale of escalating repression and a failure to remain a unified, 
nonviolent opposition. Police pumped tear gas, flash-bang grenades and 
“less lethal” rounds into the crowds. Once protesters were in jail they 
were denied crucial medications, kept in overcrowded cells and pushed 
around. A march in New York called in solidarity with the Oakland 
protesters saw a few demonstrators imitate the Black Bloc tactics in 
Oakland, including throwing bottles at police and dumping garbage on the 
street. They chanted “Fuck the police” and “Racist, sexist, anti-gay / 
NYPD go away.”

This is a struggle to win the hearts and minds of the wider public and 
those within the structures of power (including the police) who are 
possessed of a conscience. It is not a war. Nonviolent movements, on 
some level, embrace police brutality. The continuing attempt by the 
state to crush peaceful protesters who call for simple acts of justice 
delegitimizes the power elite. It prompts a passive population to 
respond. It brings some within the structures of power to our side and 
creates internal divisions that will lead to paralysis within the 
network of authority. Martin Luther King kept holding marches in 
Birmingham because he knew Public Safety Commissioner “Bull” Connor was 
a thug who would overreact.

The Black Bloc’s thought-terminating cliché of “diversity of tactics” in 
the end opens the way for hundreds or thousands of peaceful marchers to 
be discredited by a handful of hooligans. The state could not be 
happier. It is a safe bet that among Black Bloc groups in cities such as 
Oakland are agents provocateurs spurring them on to more mayhem. But 
with or without police infiltration the Black Bloc is serving the 
interests of the 1 percent. These anarchists represent no one but 
themselves. Those in Oakland, although most are white and many are not 
from the city, arrogantly dismiss Oakland’s African-American leaders, 
who, along with other local community organizers, should be determining 
the forms of resistance.

The explosive rise of the Occupy Wall Street movement came when a few 
women, trapped behind orange mesh netting, were pepper-sprayed by NYPD 
Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna. The violence and cruelty of the state 
were exposed. And the Occupy movement, through its steadfast refusal to 
respond to police provocation, resonated across the country. Losing this 
moral authority, this ability to show through nonviolent protest the 
corruption and decadence of the corporate state, would be crippling to 
the movement. It would reduce us to the moral degradation of our 
oppressors. And that is what our oppressors want.

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

“Once you are hostile to organization and strategic thinking the only 
thing that remains is lifestyle purity,” Jensen said. “ ‘Lifestylism’ 
has supplanted organization in terms of a lot of mainstream 
environmental thinking. Instead of opposing the corporate state, 
[lifestylism maintains] we should use less toilet paper and should 
compost. This attitude is ineffective. Once you give up on organizing or 
are hostile to it, all you are left with is this hyperpurity that 
becomes rigid dogma. You attack people who, for example, use a 
telephone. This is true with vegans and questions of diet. It is true 
with anti-car activists toward those who drive cars. It is the same with 
the anarchists. When I called the police after I received death threats 
I became to Black Bloc anarchists ‘a pig lover.’ ”

“If you live on Ogoni land and you see that Ken Saro-Wiwa is murdered 
for acts of nonviolent resistance,” Jensen said, “if you see that the 
land is still being trashed, then you might think about escalating. I 
don’t have a problem with that. But we have to go through the process of 
trying to work with the system and getting screwed. It is only then that 
we get to move beyond it. We can’t short-circuit the process. There is a 
maturation process we have to go through, as individuals and as a 
movement. We can’t say, ‘Hey, I’m going to throw a flowerpot at a cop 
because it is fun.’ ”

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