[Marxism] The Black Bloc Doth Protest Too Much

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Sep 19 07:17:02 MDT 2012


Indy Blog
The Black Bloc Doth Protest Too Much
By Ari Paul
September 15, 2012

It finally happened. After months of anarchists howling over journalist 
Chris Hedges’s controversial article “The Cancer Within Occupy,” the 
author debated the subject of non-violence and the diversity of tactics 
in the Occupy Wall Street movement with Brian Traven, representing 
CrimethInc, an anarchist group sympathetic to the Black Bloc tactics 
Hedges denounced in the article.

Both sides made good points in the exchange, which took place Sept. 12 
in before a packed audience in Manhattan. Hedges reflected upon his 
years covering wars and revolutions for the New York Times, saying that 
violence can hinder progress, while Traven brought up relevant questions 
about how we as a society define what is violent or criminal. But the 
real star of the show was the Black Bloc supporters themselves, whose 
main goal, it seemed, was to discredit any and all scrutiny of 
themselves and smear their detractors with ad hominem attacks. Traven at 
one point suggested that the police were taking cues from Hedges, who 
laughed at the idea of security forces being inspired by his railings 
against corporate capitalism.

For people who raise their middle finger to the man and brag about their 
fights with the cops, these rabble-rousers are perhaps the most 
thin-skinned activists I have ever encountered, as they have still yet 
to recover from the fact that a writer turned a critical lens on them in 
one article seven months ago. They simply cannot tolerate any dissent 
against their tactics, and they fight back the only way they know how: 
by being whiny little brats.

Both presenters had their faults. Traven’s main tactic for ducking 
criticism was to employ a post-modernist obfuscation of any inconvenient 
questions. When asked if the Black Bloc had ever succeeded, he 
questioned what success meant. When asked if the Black Bloc was marred 
by hyper-masculinity, he dismissed Hedges’s definition of gender. But 
for the most part, Hedges responded to these things respectfully.

Hedges has a tendency to put people off with his ministerial style. Some 
people find him condescending with his repeated reminders that he 
covered the wars in El Salvador and the former Yugoslavia. Regardless, 
during the debate he was constantly met with childish hisses, laughter 
and cries of “liar,” not to mention one suggestion that his career as a 
war correspondent was a cover for his employment with the Central 
Intelligence Agency.

This whole act was not just disrespectful to the participants and the 
event’s organizers, but the hordes of people who wanted to listen, who 
maybe could have been swayed into seeing things Traven’s way (he didn’t 
seemed bothered by the disturbances). And so I decided to photograph the 
troublemakers, despite being told that I could only take photos of the 
panelists and not the audience. As far as I was concerned, this was a 
public space (City University of New York property, to be exact), and 
once these people decided to be disruptive they have made themselves a 
news event.

And so I was escorted outside by an event organizer and a uniformed 
security guard and urged to delete my photos, as they had received text 
messages that I had pointed my camera in the direction of the shouters. 
Despite the delicious irony of anarchists deferring to rules and 
security, I am always perturbed by anyone who feels they should be 
shielded from the press if they are, in fact, doing something 
newsworthy. Out of respect for the organizers I complied and erased the 
frames, which didn’t matter because they were too blurry to be used anyway.

But this kind of entitlement to be at once disruptive and immune from 
accountability is emblematic of the kind of 
dish-it-out-but-can’t-take-it attitude they have displayed in reaction 
to Hedges’s original article. If they’re still having a tantrum about 
Hedges’s article, how can we expect them to hold up against the 1 
percent shock troops?

This is why I think it is ultimately wrong to classify this particular 
group as anarchists—that would sully the names of various movements past 
and present that have used and currently use non-hierarchical structures 
in anti-capitalist organizing. This particular clique is explicitly and 
actively against the left, and there’s a reason the CrimethInc book Days 
of War, Nights of Love reads like the ideological bastard child of Karl 
Marx and Ayn Rand. It rails against corporate control, but replaces 
class struggle with libertarian individualism. Capitalism and the state 
are oppressing you, and their flavor of anarchism is your struggle to 
liberate yourself from the mediocrity of the bourgeois state. You have 
to do whatever you can to do to save yourself.

This is why Hedges and Traven couldn’t come to a consensus. Hedges 
wanted to know what kind of society Black Bloc anarchists wanted to 
create, but never got a real answer, and that’s because they’re 
currently living in it. They’ll roam the city streets, living in squats, 
riding on freight trains, mocking all the losers in suits and blue 
uniforms for squandering their days for paychecks and health insurance. 
They live off the waste of capitalist society (if they don’t already 
have trust funds), cocooned in their punk rock Neverland. Their utopia 
isn’t a liberation of oppressed society but their personal secession 
from it.

This is the kind of anti-social narcissism that Hedges wrote about in 
the article that kicked off this whole mess. The rage against the 
police, press and fellow anti-capitalists has everything to do with 
their inflated sense of self and precious little to do with solidarity.

I’ve encountered it recently. In Chicago, during the NATO protests in 
May, Black Bloc participants gathered with other activists in Grant 
Park, wearing masks, waving banners and angrily confronting anyone who 
took their photo. My response was that if you don’t want your photo 
taken don’t go to a public protest where you know there are going to be 
hundreds of journalists. Further, picking a fight with the police only 
endangers journalists and other activists. While covering the Eurozone 
crisis in Athens this summer, I was confronted by so-called anarchists 
for photographing them, and in fact, they routinely assault journalists 
in demonstrations while later celebrating television news footage of 
their street fighting. They want to have their dumpster-dived vegan cake 
and eat it, too.

I don’t fully side with Hedges on his take on the Black Bloc. During the 
debate, for example, I bristled when Hedges suggested that there was 
some common ground for both OWS and the police because they are working 
class (see my articles in the Indypendent and The Guardian on the 
subject). But it is certainly a win for Hedges when his critics live up 
to his description of them.

“The Black Bloc movement bears the rigidity and dogmatism of all 
absolutism sects,” Hedges wrote. “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.”

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