[Marxism] Black Bloc killed Occupy?

Sophia Burns sophia.burns at protonmail.com
Tue Feb 7 16:56:42 MST 2017


I agree that consensus is a terrible decision-making method. You're absolutely right that it's every bit as anti-democratic as the democratic centralism of self-anointed vanguards. (And at least in my personal experience in such a group, majority rule didn't apply among the membership, either, except on paper.) And one fundamental line I push in the projects I'm part of building is that bloc voting by ideological groups is entryism, not democracy, and that entryists should be booted from anything that aspires towards participatory democracy.

That said, the protesters at Berkely weren't a single organized group. How, exactly, could a majority vote have been taken? I don't think any of us has the empirical basis to say what a majority of them did or didn't support. Also, I'd argue there's a fundamental difference between building a working-class institution like a union or neighborhood council and mobilizing for a specific protest. The former is much more important, but both are necessary, and ultimately they serve to reinforce and strengthen each other if they're being done well. But in a protest setting, "diversity of tactics" shouldn't be treated as a program to support or oppose but as an inevitable reality on the ground. A protest is made of everyone who shows up that day, and they will necessarily have different agendas and methods, from Black Bloc stuff to NVCD to collaborating with police to passing out campaign literature for Democratic candidates to doing the stuff that Leninist groups do during a march. If the Black Bloc has no right to impose its presence without somehow getting a majority vote beforehand, why do any of those other formations have the right to do so?

In the end, the Berkeley protests did succeed - they had a defined goal (stop Milo from speaking) and a defined rationale (he would have named undocumented students, and at previous campus talks he'd singled out other students for harassment, including a trans woman who dropped out of school as a result of the harassment incited by Milo's speech). The capitalist media and the individuals it made the choice to interview may have disapproved of the methods used by the Black Bloc, but those methods worked, and the fact of that success is something I've yet to see an anti-Black Bloc argument properly square with.

Finally, there's the repeated assumption that the Black Bloc (or anarchists generally, or "extremists" generally - from which liberals and conservatives do not exclude us, btw, even though we're not "horizontalists") is somehow separate from the rest of the activist community, or the general population of protesters, or (in the Berkeley case) the student body. But that's an absurd claim on the face of it - are we supposed to believe that there are no anarchists at UC Berkeley, or that the non-Black Bloc protesters didn't contain a large share of non-students? It's the "outside agitators" canard with slightly different language.



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-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Re: [Marxism] Black Bloc killed Occupy?
Local Time: February 7, 2017 3:35 PM
UTC Time: February 7, 2017 11:35 PM
From: marxism at lists.csbs.utah.edu
To: Sophia Burns <sophia.burns at protonmail.com>

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On 2/7/17 6:22 PM, Sophia Burns via Marxism wrote:
> The Black Bloc is not our enemy. Whether a given example makes large
> mistakes or doesn't, they're on our side and one-sidedly dismissing
> the positive examples just plays into the other side's hands.


The question of the effectiveness of the tactic is not the only
consideration. There is an equally urgent decision that the left has to
make, namely whether we can build a mass revolutionary movement when a
minority fraction is so indifferent to the wishes of the majority. As I
pointed out in my critique of David Graeber today, he dismissed the need
for a majority vote when the left is building a movement.

He said that he preferred "consensus", a more "horizontalist" approach.
I think this is a fundamental challenge to the socialist movement's
practice going back to Karl Marx. What gave the black bloc the right to
impose its tactics on 10 times the number of protesters at Berkeley?
What if they didn't want to see windows broken and rockets fired into
the lobby?

I have spent 20 years attacking the "vanguardist" methodology of groups
that impose their will through a democratic centralism where the
democratic part only applies within their ranks. Once they adopt a line,
that's where the centralism comes in. In the 11 years I was in the
Trotskyist movement, nobody ever questioned whether it was democratic
for our members to come to a meeting and vote for a proposal solely on
the basis of what our floor leaders signaled. I never would support that
kind of "hierarchical" intervention from a Leninist group today and I
certainly wouldn't support the kind of unilateral decision-making of
people wearing bandannas over their face.
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