Occupy Oakland has an ideological war on its hands. A group of anarchists wedded to the black bloc tactic of violence against property is entrenched in the occupation and hell-bent on imposing their own agenda on the movement.
A participant in the Occupy Oakland General Assembly on Friday November 4 describes the report-back from small group discussion: “… in what appeared an orchestrated tactic, each time a small group recommended ‘taking over vacant buildings,’ it drew the loudest applause. Alternately, when there was any criticism of violence, or mention of non-violent actions, the dissident members, and their compatriots dispersed throughout, yelled out almost in unison, ‘diversity of tactics, diversity of tactics.’ It is clear that the dissident anarchist group of some 150 or so is deeply embedded within Occupy Oakland. …
“The anarchists see #Occupy as a ‘resistance movement’ requiring a vanguard to wage war against oppressive forces (the police). During the dissident actions on ‘General Strike Day,’ non-violent [Occupy Oakland] members who attempted to halt acts of property destruction being perpetrated by the anarchist group, had their own safety threatened with claw hammers.”
Affinis comments in Corrente: “It seems that a large fraction of the Occupy Oakland GA attendees are unwilling to renounce violence/vandalism as a tactic. I don’t think this reflects the majority of attendees (many are passionately opposed to black bloc tactics), but it’s apparently not a small minority either. … Friday’s GA did not repudiate the black bloc tactics. Also, apparently previous proposals at OO GA meetings to renounce violence/vandalism have been rejected.”
Clearly the anarchists are working to coopt the Occupy movement using the inclusiveness of the occupation to subvert the principle of consensus and gain ambiguous support for their own agenda. They argue that they are engaged in a revolutionary struggle against capitalism, and so random acts of vandalism against property are inflated by their philosophy into acts of sabotage against capital. Anyone who opposes them carrying out such acts is a supporter of capitalism, and deserves to be thrashed.
Sound familiar? This simplistic worldview is a throwback to the 1990s, when there was an economic boom and there was no mass movement against the system. And the violence of the dissident anarchists today is directed against the very people who are making the greatest challenge to the capitalist princes in Wall Street: BagNews draws attention to a photo showing an Occupy security member being beaten up by the black-garbed provocateurs.
The naivete of the anarchists’ political agenda is apparent from their justification for breaking into the foreclosed building near to Oscar Grant plaza: “We had plans to start using this space today as a library, a place for classes and workshops, as well as a dormitory for those with health conditions. … the ferocity of the police response surprised us. Once again, they mobilized hundreds of police officers, armed to the hilt with bean bag guns, tear gas and flashbang grenades, despite the fact that these so-called ‘less-than-lethal’ weapons nearly killed someone last week. … Whereas the blockade of the port – an action which caused millions of dollars of losses – met with no resistance, the attempt to take one single building, a building that was unused, met with the most brutal and swift response.”
They just hadn’t realized that the police would respond differently to a mass demonstration than an isolated group taking over a building in the middle of the night. Clearly, they were not serious about building support for such a takeover. An open letter by an anarchist to the “Violent November 2nd” faction points out: “Thousands of citizens took to the streets and shut down the 5th largest port in America. You burned some garbage and broke some glass. Thousands of people took to the streets and marched on banks to shut them down. You painted some walls. Thousands of people made headlines by organizing successfully a massive general strike that drew attention from the entire world. You made headlines by throwing rocks at the police, who incidentally didn’t show any use of force, who were in fact not even a significant presence, until your actions. In other words, you brought in the police. Thanks for nothing.”
In a response to objections by supporters of the violent faction to the letter, he adds: “What is the goal of employing property destruction, as exercised here in Oakland? … according to you, if I understand you correctly, some anarchists are both organizing to address human needs like food, shelter, and medical attention AND participating in property destruction. If that is correct, they are undermining their own work.”
The fact is that attacks on property are not part of a discussed and worked-out goal, but are an individualistic response to the power of the police and an implicit acceptance of the state’s cohesiveness, when in fact the police can be restrained with the right tactics and were restrained by the political success of the Occupy Oakland general strike following the October 25 police attacks.
The anarchists don’t understand that the strength of capital does not lie in the ownership of buildings or machines: it is a social power which underpins the moral imperative to repay debt, reinforced by the state. It doesn’t rest on brute force alone but on an ideological acceptance of its inevitability. Once that is ended in the popular imagination, capitalism is finished.
So the family members, babies in strollers, teachers, lawyers, and accountants who demonstrated nonviolently during the day in Oakland and whom the anarchists despise are the people who really express this questioning of the foundations of capital – not the amateur-hour but dangerous antics of black-clad vandals.
“Occupy Wall Street/We are the 99 percent” has grasped this at a visceral level. That is what is disturbing the ruling elite; what the movement has done is to create a new political imaginary which evokes the possibility of a more just economy.