An article by Chris Hedges in Alternet criticizing the black bloc as “the cancer in Occupy” has created a stir among anarchist sympathizers.
Susie Cagle replies that anarchists are inspired by struggles in places like Greece. Their critics, she says, portray property destruction “by perceived black bloc ‘hooligans’ as a discrediting force in the movement, even while they understand the role of focused property destruction at, say, the Boston Tea Party, or in the International Longshore and Warehouse Union’s struggle against EGT in Longview, Washington.”
To conflate property destruction by individuals with a mass movement of protest in Greece or anywhere else is a remarkable piece of historical confusion. Anarchists believe that by recreating the image of other struggles across the world, they can create a movement in America. However, this only satisfies their own egos and alienates potential supporters of the Occupy Movement.
Ms. Cagle writes approvingly that “On November 2, an autonomously organized anti-capitalist black bloc marched through Oakland, destroying windows and other property at banks and, allegedly, strike-busting businesses such as Whole Foods. … That march resulted in the Oakland police calling in mutual aid, but it did not result in a discrediting of the national movement; tens of thousands still marched on the Port of Oakland hours later.”
What she omits from this story is that the black bloc members were a small minority of the marchers on that day, and that after the success of the thousands who marched on the Port of Oakland – despite the black bloc, not because of it – the occupation of an abandoned building by a small group led to a violent confrontation which overshadowed the day’s action. At the time, Colonel Despard quoted a critical letter from a non-black bloc anarchist, “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.”
Ms. Cagle herself makes the best argument against individualistic black bloc tactics: “A full plastic water bottle lobbed at police in full riot gear, whether it hits one of them or not, is enough to legally warrant the shooting of less lethal, rubber-coated steel bullets at a crowd. Occupiers, of course, threw more than just water bottles on January 28 – glass bottles, bricks, lawn chairs – but police, according to their own statements, sustained no injuries beyond two small cuts and one bruise. …”
In other words, throwing objects at the police is completely ineffectual and only serves to give them legal justification for firing their rubber bullets. But anarchists turn up their noses at legality; they don’t want to fight a political battle, using the provisions of the First Amendment, to win over millions of Americans to their cause. Chris Hedges is right to point out the absolutist arrogance of anarchists on this point. “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 are motivated by ideological purity, not by any kind of concrete evaluation of the situation the Occupy movement is in. Another anarchist supporter, Kevin Carson writes in self-justification: “The state is simply a group of human beings cooperating for common purposes — purposes frequently at odds with those of other groups of people, like the majority of people in the same society. … The state is nothing but an association for armed violence on the part of those who make money at the expense of other people. … The state is by far the greatest concentration of organized violence, and it almost always employs such violence for evil purposes — whether at Tahrir Square, Hama, or Oakland.”
Are not Social Security and Medicare also functions of the state? Shouldn’t we fight to defend Social Security and Medicare? Carson’s simplistic nineteenth-century definition of the state excludes organs of mass persuasion like TV and the press, or the creators of ideology in universities and think tanks, and assumes the impossibility of political pressure placing limits on state intervention. If the state were such a monolithic entity in support of capitalism, why is it that the super-rich have spent literally billions of dollars to push for legislation in their favor at the federal and state level? It’s clearly important for them to reverse state-imposed limits by agencies like the EPA and the IRS.
Carson quotes Andy Robinson, a professor at Cambridge University, who critiques news coverage of the Occupy movement. “There’s no mention of the fact that police have repeatedly, violently attacked Occupy protests which consisted simply of sit-downs and camp-outs. … The fact that police use violence routinely and with impunity is not mentioned. In fact, police violence as such (as opposed to excessive brutality) is treated as uncontroversial.” Official lies by politicians and cops, Robinson argues, are a “psyop designed to conceal their own repeated use of violence.”
There is a psyops war going on, but the anarchists don’t want to fight this war. Otherwise they would recognize that black bloc activities assist the state’s psyop campaign to isolate and destroy the Occupy movement. We do have democracy in America, not a police state, and governments claim legitimacy for their actions by reference to the popular vote. Treating the state as always and everywhere engaged in violence against the people is an ideological justification for abstaining from using legal methods of struggle aimed at winning over the American people, who are the basis of popular sovereignty.