[Marxism] Avoiding the black bloc?

Andrew Battle andrew.battle at gmail.com
Fri Feb 10 09:37:33 MST 2012


I was at the PEP event as well (this refers to the body here in NYC,
appointed by the mayor, that votes on school closings) that was attended by
Occupy the DOE as well as the UFT and other groups. There was a lot of
divergence around strategy, from what I could tell. I received leaflets
from ODOE and the UFT urging me to undertake diametrically opposed actions
(stay and "take over" the meeting or walk out) and the strategy was even
debated using the "people's mic," with ODOEers shouting "don't walk out" at
their UFT bretheren (if I have misinterpreted this, someone please correct
me). But the idea that "black blockers" would attempt to "hijack" an event
such as this is misplaced, I think, both for the reasons cited by many
(there is no such thing as a "black blocker," any more than there are
"sit-iners" or "symbolic arrestees" - it's a tactic, not an identity, and I
don't know why the term takes on quasi-professional connotations when used
to refer to this particular tactic; also, who's to say that there are no
"workers" who employ this tactic? and on and on ...) and because the black
bloc no more fits in logically with this kind of action than a lot of other
things that also were not tried. That people somehow imagine this was a
possibility shows that Hedges' ridiculous article was a success on the
needless misinformation front.

I want to be clear, though, because this is a serious issue, that while it
was heartening to me as well to hear students and teachers speak up about
the criminal scam that is Bloomberg's PEP and their charter-school
giveaways, the action was, on ODOE's own terms - to "shut down" the meeting
or prevent a vote - a failure. It was even reported on sympathetic outlets
(eg. Democracy Now) in this fashion, using this language. The board
proceeded with its vote as if the crowd were not present. This because the
public hearing is a formality, and as far as I can tell the goal is to read
the vote into the record and sit through the required public comment period
in order that the legal requirements for school closing be fulfilled.
That's the reason for the surreal scene you had last night of the clerk (or
whoever that was) insistently reading the official-ese into the microphone,
pretending not to notice the 1000+ people going ballistic in the audience,
completely drowning him out. They even had headphones set up with a direct
line to the PA system so that the board members could more effectively
ignore the public, no matter how loud the room got. The TV cameras for the
most part stayed turned around, toward the stage, creating the visual
impression that there was no audience. Honestly, they could just edit out
the audience noise if they wanted to, and I wouldn't put it beyond them.

The point of what I'm saying is that if the goal was really to take over
the meeting, shut down the PEP, and prevent the vote from occurring, then
last night's action was not effective. In my opinion, it was not actually
geared towards doing any of those things, since it seemingly failed to
recognize what "shutting down" the vote would actually mean. That would
have entailed interfering with the vote - occupying the stage, seizing the
communications equipment, inserting one's self between the board and their
TV cameras, ensuring that the failure to vote becomes a matter of record.
The thrust of the crowd's energy was instead dedicated to forcing the
speakers from the audience (students, other citizens, the now-standard
litany of local pols bandwagoning on occupy stuff) to "use the people's
mic," apparently in order that their "voice be heard." But their voice was
not heard in any meaningful way. Noise cannot shut down the vote, and it
didn't. The fact is that the PEP has never voted to keep a school open, and
after last night, that is still the case, 99% rhetoric notwithstanding. The
board is fine with people shouting a lot at their meetings - it makes no
difference to the desired outcome, which is to get this stuff on the record.

I say this not as a gleeful armchair critic but in frustration borne of
solidarity. Nor do I mean to suggest that I have the perfect answer,
because it would be no small thing to shut down a PEP vote (for those not
in NYC or familiar with the NYPD, the security at events like this is, um,
thorough). But for me at least, it was enervating and dismaying to watch
people pour their hearts out knowing that in the situation as it was
arranged, there was no hope of success - which is why, if there are going
to be organizers and leaders, those leaders should be clear about what
constitutes meaningful action and what doesn't.

I'm sorry this doesn't have much to do with Marx per se but seeing as the
anarchist thing is being debated on here as it has been everywhere for the
past few days, I will say at least, 100% anecdotally and unscientifically,
that there were a few organizers there who appeared to be hoping and
waiting for some of the "crazy" anarchists known to them to provide the
spark towards escalation (and I don't mean violence in any shape) that
would have moved the action in a potentially more effective direction. And
so as far as the relationship between other left groups and anarchists
goes, I don't think it's out of the realm of possibility to posit that some
members of these groups have a more ambivalent relationship with the
anarchists than they will publicly admit, in that they sometimes find
themselves relying (cynically, in my opinion) on anarchists' propensity for
direct action as a springboard that they can make use of and sometimes even
take credit for, just as Hedges has cut himself a new career path as an
occu-celeb, no matter how clueless he is about the origins of what's been
happening over the past several months. My two cents, anyway.

On Fri, Feb 10, 2012 at 8:51 AM, Andrew Pollack <acpollack2 at gmail.com>wrote:

> ======================================================================
> Rule #1: YOU MUST clip all extraneous text when replying to a message.
> ======================================================================
>
>
> So last night I went to an incredibly energizing Occupy the DOE (Department
> of Education) event, where 3,000 young, very diverse teachers and students
> tried to stop a vote to close dozens of schools.
> I get home, and what has the discussion on marxmail about movement strategy
> been? Mostly Louis and Joe trading bon mots (and not very bon at that).
> What a contrast.
> But the saving grace for me was Flanders' comments below, which are really
> all anyone needs to know.
> PS: My god I just had a terrible thought -- what if black blockers tried to
> do their criminally stupid acts at an ODOE event?!
> I guarantee you if they ever try that at an event I'm at where there's
> masses of workers and their families, you'll see a response from THIS
> member of the Peace Police (to use Graeber's phrase) like you've never seen
> before.
> PPS: Below Jon's comments are my own, which nobody yet took up.
>
> On Thu, Feb 9, 2012 at 10:17 PM, Jonathan Flanders <
> jonathan.flanders at verizon.net> wrote:
>
> >
> > If its a tactic, ie, wearing black and masks, then I'm against this as a
> > tactic, period. It splits the people into two groups, the black clad and
> > everyone else.
> >
> > It smacks of some sort of Batman superhero posturing. Here comes the
> > Black Bloc to save the day! As the benighted masses look on stupidly or
> > cheer. Or get "educated" by a cop's nightstick after the superheroes run
> > away.
> >
> > If you think the the role of the working class is to liberate itself, as
> > itself, as a class for itself, there is no place for this sort of thing.
> >
> > It will have to be outgrown as an infantile disorder, as class
> > consciousness makes headway.
> >
> > Jon Flanders
> >
> > Andrew Pollack
> 1:12 PM (19 hours ago)
>
> to
> Some comments I made on this to another list:
>
> > http://nplusonemag.com/concerning-the-violent-peace-police
> >
> > Graeber's piece continues some of the predictable problematic arguments
> of
> other mainstream anarchists in defense of black blockers. But it also goes
> further and makes clearer how their moralistic arguments and poor tactics
> flow from rejecting any notion of strategy, which in turn comes from not
> having a class analysis nor a perspective of seizing power. Partly it does
> this by sins of omission; like other anarchist defenders of the BB, its
> argument revolves completely around the impact of "violence" on the
> movement's image, unity and diversity. Not a word about its impact on
> building a social base that can be at the center of a movement which will
> ultimately contend for power.
> 1. The repeated references to "peace police" are an explicit rejection of
> the right of protest organizers to provide security for actions or to
> maintain order. (He also claims such "peace police" have violently attacked
> black blockers; this needs to be verified.)
> 2. He, like some others defending the BB, explicitly equate violence with
> "revolutionary" or "militant" politics, and nonviolence with reformism.
> 3. He completely misrepresents the "violence" in Egyptian demonstrations.
> The ultras and others fighting the cops with rocks were a mass force of
> hundreds, perhaps thousands, preventing the army and cops from attacking
> rallies of hundreds of thousands in Tahrir Square. That is, they had a
> legitimate tactical purpose, and were not a venting of spleen (the latter
> being, in Graeber's eyes, a perfectly appropriate response to cop
> violence). And in a REAL example of "diversity of tactics," these mass
> actions and their militant defense in Egypt prepared the way for what will
> likely be a huge general strike and civil disobedience actions on February
> 11th.
> 4. The discussion of "nonviolence" vs. black blockers never mentions
> Malcolm X, the Deacons for Defense, Robert F. Williams, etc. -- i.e. Black
> revolutionaries who protected others in the movement, and NEVER engaged in
> puerile vandalism. (Can you even imagine any of these Black revolutionaries
> encouraging a Black black block?)
> 5. Finally, I have to remind comrades of the incident at the end of "1905"
> where Trotsky urges members of the Soviet, which is about to be disbanded
> by the military, to lay down their weapons, and he declares for the police
> and all other witnesses to hear that no-one would fire unless they are an
> agent or provocateur. This from the man who would later lead the Red Army.
> The point being that "nonviolence" is a meaningless concept unless it's
> discussed in the context of a strategy for taking power.
> Andy
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