Black Sheep are also Part of the Herd

Written on:February 15, 2012
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This post was written by Ro, a member of the extended RevolutionTruth Community. Ro has been a supporter of our endeavor since our inception.

It is almost an established institution where I live, the Black Bloc. And just like in Chris Hedge’s recent article on “The Cancer of Occupy”, since at least the 1970s, the Black Bloc is generally demonised and described as “anarchic”. Maybe because their autonomous character makes it hard for us to associate them with a clearly defined political conviction, maybe because the black flag is a current symbol for anarchy, maybe because the majority of our population simply doesn’t know what Anarchy truly constitutes, or maybe because the colour black is embedded in our psyche as a symbol for the vile and evil? I don’t really know! But what I know is that the liberals, as well as the Greens, as well as the anti-nuclear-, anti-globalisation- and anti-capitalism movements, as well as any right- or leftwing movement, radical or not, ALL may have a Black Bloc forming during their demonstrations, whereas riots are by no means part of their agenda.

A clear separation needs to be made between autonomous groups with leftist-libertarian-anarchic tendencies, and actual anarchists. And also, far more important than that, a very clear distinction has to be made between protesters deliberately provoking violence, and those simply showing courage and their readiness to fight if need be.

And yet, over the last decades a direct association between the Black Bloc groupings and violence has settled in our brains. Expressions like “anarchy” and “leftist” have degenerated into something very similar to curse words, and that notion is being spread, even promoted, by the mainstream media, and eventually adopted by your little guy on Main Street.

But far worse than that, when an accomplished man like Chris Hedges resorts to gross oversimplifications like “With or without police infiltration the Black Bloc is serving the interests of the 1 percent. These anarchists represent no one but themselves” one must assume, that this kind of distortion is being ruminated within our intellectual circles also. And in my opinion this is a dramatic situation, because when our role models, our sources of inspiration, start pinning blunt violence on terms like “anarchist” and “Black Bloc”, a terrible diversion is created, leading away from the real underlying problem.

Enforcing your will on others using “petty vandalism”, “repellent cynicism” or senseless violence is not the mark of anarchy and not the mark of right- or left-wing politics either….. It is the mark of fascism. And fascism propagates through ALL political and philosophical approaches.

When Hedges says “The corporate state […] can use the Black Bloc’s confrontational tactics and destruction of property to justify draconian forms of control […]”  I believe he is completely missing the point of what is really going on in our society. Because the corporate state cannot use it, it just does so … and we accept it!

What I mean with that is, that whenever an establishment finds excuses for the way it acts, the population accepts such excuses , without any type of resistance , without much further scrutiny , no matter how far-fetched, oversimplified or over generalised they may be.

If 20 individuals, out of 5000 peaceful protesters, run berserk, the media twists that into a demonstration having “failed”, as well as the cause for the demonstration being a “possibly” criminal one. The state just comfortably needs to pick that up, and then re-serve it to the public as an excuse for why they suppress yet another opposing political direction using ludicrous methods. And the public seems to be willing to accept that kind of false logic. We absent-mindedly pick up the accusation and echo it by pointing fingers. And when we let ourselves down to that, to explicitly point fingers at an “anarchic Black Bloc”, or any other type of grouping, we confirm that the removal of such a grouping would cure the problem and save the movement …  which consequently implies that their mere existence is in fact ABLE to destroy a movement, and that separating them from us would justify our motives and underline our right to exist.

But the problem we suffer from is nothing that could be summed up by a term like “Black Bloc”. It might be described much better by a term one of the community members in RevolutionTruth introduced, a natural organic phenomenon.

The problem is a handful of violent, fascist criminals, nothing less, but nothing more either. And this is a problem that we CANNOT extirpate from our movements, because in 5000 years of traditional human society the notion of violence and fascism has never yet been extirpated from human nature.

Hedge’s is right of course in saying that violence breaking out during OWS demonstrations alienates the mainstream; violence just has that effect. But when we give in to his kind of argumentation, that kind of a supposedly healing separation, and accept it as true value, we submit ourselves to taking on a Sisyphean challenge, and we hang ourselves in a paradox.  And that may just exactly be what a government would like to see amongst the supporters of an opposing cause.

Because we will ultimately arrive at a point in time, at which a Black Bloc as well as occasional violence are still present. We would have to admit at that point, based on nothing but their presence, that our group failed to proceed peacefully, if we stay true to the logic which Hedges decided to apply and describe in his article.  Consequently, we would be forced to hand over to our respective authorities the tools needed to slander our movements.  And from that point of view it is ultimately us ourselves who destroy our respective causes, by publicly accepting a direct association between us and random criminals, and also by accepting the methods our authorities chose to apply against rioting protesters.

Hedges mentioned in his article that “Police pumped tear gas, flash-bang grenades and ‘less lethal’ rounds into the crowds. Once protesters were in jail they were denied crucial medications, kept in overcrowded cells and pushed around”, and he reflects about that situation as if such inhumane treatment would be the Black Bloc’s fault, as if the display of vandalism by one group would justify, maybe even require an authority to respond in the same, inhumane manner. And he repeated that in his interview on Russia Today last week.

But NO, absolutely not! Such thinking would constitute the end of any form of justice and governance there is. Our authorities act according to laws, they have to abide by strict sets of rules. If they dismiss those rules, for whatever reason, in response to whatever kind of crime, then they turn into the thugs they are supposed to fight. And the proper, logical conclusion to that is not the annihilation of Black Bloc related crime or any other source of turmoil hitting OWS. The logical conclusion is that such officers need to be fired to ensure that our legal framework will be upheld. Nothing else!

From what I understood Hedges and Jensen describe the influence of Black Bloc movements as being a major driving force which may discredit our cause and split our communities. But if we take a close look at our communities, we can see that they are splitting already, and a black militia has nothing to do with it.  And in my opinion the cause for that  is one, which  Hedges himself managed to wonderfully put in words in a way I never could have, but, respectfully,  with false reference: “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 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.”

I would like to demand that all of us read the above sentence again and replace “The Black Bloc movement”, “it” and “they” with “we”, “us” and “our”.

Our own communities are filled with members who think they are enlightened, that they alone understand. And we dismiss and ignore competing points of views, amongst “us”, in our own ranks!

Only a few weeks ago one of the leaders of the RevolutionTruth community uttered some harsh criticism on the very organisation for which the community had come to live. And no one asked questions to that, no one scrutinised the arguments given, and no one criticised the other half of the conflict, meaning the organisation. Instead, comparisons were drawn, painting the leader of the organisation as the martyr of all martyrs. And far be it from me to deny a man his well-deserved title, but this ultimately ridiculed the sacrifices of the leaders of our group.  A “higher authority” was almost mechanically interpreted into the organisation, and as a result of that evaluation all possibly differing points of view were dismissed and hived off from the greater community, willingly and actively. Such comparisons lead to a polarisation, which always ends up in division amongst us supporters.

And this is just an example of some internal quarrels within Rev.Truth. The occupy movement has no optional authority to turn to. It has to deal with human aggregates, who believe that members of the 1% have no right even to just have an opinion about the movement. Some members of the 1% accuse the 99% of being too uneducated to represent their own demands. Some groupings believe that only followers of socialist principles may claim to be part of the 99%. While some bring up racial issues, claiming that the whole movement would be nothing but yet another reflection of our society’s hypocrisy, since it came to live only now that enough “white supremacists” are also suffering from poverty, and not as a result of the black community drowning in our under classes, which has been a problem for many decades. And now, on top of all that, a new bad seed is introduced by our own intellectual elite: An anonymous, dark, threatening black militia. And yet another part of the bulk might splinter off of our common cause.

This is all following a pattern which we create, we submit ourselves to, and which allows any opposition to easily tear us apart at all times.

We all turn towards one common cause initially. We get heard and we become uncomfortable for the powers that be. But although we grow and grow stronger, all it takes is some entity reminding us of our very specific, very refined ideological standards to shatter our unity within the blink of an eye. And as if that were not enough, us supporters ourselves start to promote separatism. We will start flocking towards tiny splinter groups which represent our ideals as accurately as possible. Smaller and smaller communities form. We start valuing our own ideals higher than the ideals of our fellow supporters. We start dismissing each other’s efforts, belittling each other’s sacrifices. We fall out. In the end we’re all done apart.

And then, when we have all been driven into our respective corners … locked up from all outside influences, submerged in pointing fingers …  when we all have become lazy enough to stop refining our stances and positions, to stop asking questions … and when we waste our days patting each other’s backs in our battle weary state, it becomes SO VERY EASY to create a superficial, fake enemy like a Black Bloc to point fingers at, and thereby crack our last bit of communal cohesion, that it chills me to the bone.

In my opinion THAT is the cancer, not only of occupy, but of all social activism I ever dared to engage in …  not an insignificant, occasionally uprising  bunch of thugs.

The Black Bloc groupings have asserted themselves and offered their support to many good causes since their emergence. I myself have attended several demonstrations, which accommodated hundreds of Black Bloc activists marching peacefully with us. Their followers have shown tremendous amounts of courage when standing up against the unscrupulous counter-measures police forces resorted to against anti-globalisation protesters at many G8 summits. And when yet another building falls into the hands of pro-occupy squatters these days, one can be sure to find a significant amount of autonomists amongst them, persistently holding their grounds, so that the more fearful among us can go home without bruises and with a clear conscience.

When now and then some Black Bloc demonstrators fall out of line and indulge in senseless acts of violence they need to be dealt with – that is beyond debate.  But the group has made its sacrifices and lent its efforts to us. Its members deserve the same respect as any other group supporting Occupy. And if we decide to exclude them from our communities, we mutilate our common cause, and we sin against ourselves.

 

References:

Assembly, Move-In. (2012) A Statement from Occupy Oakland’s Move-In Assembly.Occupy Oakland, [blog] February 6th, Available at: http://occupyoakland.org/2012/02/a-statement-from-occupy-oaklands-move-in-assembly/

Hedges, C. (2012) ‘Black Bloc’ Could Kill OWS. Available at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kzVPxYEM_ew

Hedges, C. (2012) The Cancer in Occupy.Truth Dig, [blog] February 6th, Available at: http://www.truthdig.com/report/page2/the_cancer_of_occupy_20120206/

Kilkenny, A. (2012) Harlem Gives Occupy Tense Reception. In These Times: Uprising, [blog] January 20th, Available at: http://inthesetimes.com/uprising/entry/12594/harlem_gives_occupy_tense_reception/#.TxmZDz3-ha8.facebook

Morris, D. (2012) Anarchism Is Not What You Think It Is — And There’s a Whole Lot We Can Learn from It. AlterNet, [blog] February 13, Available at: http://www.alternet.org/economy/154126/anarchism_is_not_what_you_think_it_is_–_and_there%27s_a_whole_lot_we_can_learn_from_it

6 Comments add one

  1. As a long-time follower of Chris Hedges and an anarchist in the same Christian anarchist tradition, I do not think his comments on the Black Bloc were a “gross oversimplification” if they are understood strategically, as I think he meant them to be. Essentially, he is saying that associating the Occupy movement with violence is a sure strategy for allowing the security apparatus of the 1% to repress the movement. The major asset that the Occupy movement has is the approval of a majority of Americans. This allows the police repression to work in the movement’s favor since Americans can identify with the Occupiers. As soon as the movement tolerates violence this sympathy will dissipate like morning mist. The Occupy movement should explicitly renounce violence and should publicly expel anyone who practices it from their midst. Far from being a distortion, this is strategic common sense.

    Because the corporate state does need excuses for its violent repression. One of the primary missions of the corporate media is to supply these excuses. I share with Chris Hedges and Martin Luther King a faith in the power of truth. Even if the corporate media pumps out lies about Occupy violence, if we can make a firm stand against it and enforce that stand, the corporate propaganda cannot prevail. But if we actually do tolerate violence, then our hypocrisy will doom us.

    Of course the media will present lies about movement violence – that’s their job. Chris is well aware of media dynamics. The more important point is that we build the movement in the integrity of our spirits and the struggle against violence is the animating spirit of this integrity. As Gandhi and King have shown us, extirpating violence from our natures is not an impossible utopian task as the author implies, but the very heart of the struggle. Cling to truth, cling to nonviolence, and our victory, though delayed, will be the more satisfying when it comes.

  2. Joe says:

    In my opinion, Black Bloc serves a purpose in that they can “attack” the institutions that oppress us, rather than simply protesting them “non-violently.” Sure, violence is defined by everyone differently, and maybe some define property destruction as violent. We need to be clear there is a difference between black bloc, anarchy, and leftists of course, but also about the difference between reactive and proactive forces.

    Black bloc can serve a purpose of “punishing” those institutions that do wrong, by causing a real financial damage that can force leaders reassess questionable policies, and their supporters to reassess their associations. Businesses are capitalist, meaning they operate with profit margins in mind. If a coordinated strike to maximize costs (by destroying infrastructure, interfering with operations, and generally disrupting the process of exploitation) for a corporation or government is employed, it is a tangible force that transcends mere moral appeals via protest, marches, etc (which may demonstrate solidarity, without consequences). Black bloc is based in forcing consequences by assuming another method for social change.

    Occupy Wall Street is not simply a reaction against the last few decades of economic inequality. It is a reaction against the relations of society in general that make up an unjust economic system which reinforce inequality and oppression. Call it capitalism, industrial growth, or whatever, but this is an insurgency against the elite plutocrats who are in control of the system. Direct Democracy is a great idea, but oppression must be defended against with more than just free speech. Black bloc represents a militant force with the potential to confront, violently if necessary, the militancy of state or corporate repression.

  3. AB says:

    Just one thing: we may not be able to extirpate violence from erupting, but we can extirpate our association with any violence that does erupt BEFORE it occurs. This can be done by Occupy GAs and working groups publicly and loudly denouncing violence, publishing statements agreeing to utter non-violence, and denouncing violence before and after it occurs as entirely against the ethos of Occupy. If that would be done, we could at least have an argument for those who would associate violence and Occupy.

    • Joe says:

      AB-

      I think you are conflating and confusing violence with property destruction. The World Health Organization defines violence as the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment or deprivation; that is to say that HUMAN BEINGS are targets of violence.

      Unless you believe that corporations are actually people, I think you would have to consider the fact that Black Bloc has not used violence yet, and in fact it is antithetical to the anarchist belief that life has value above capital and private property. On the other hand, such corporations in fact DO propagate violence against individuals and communities, structurally and personally, whether it be through the commodification of ecosystems or contributing to the impoverishment of human beings through policies.

      If the government has been compromised (via the inextricable relationship between corporatism and bureacracy), it becomes necessary for citizens to enact justice how they see fit.

      So embrace the Black Bloc–while you’re still marching down the street waving your little signs and yelling at buildings, they’ll be driving the costs of maintaining those buildings up so high (through firebombs and coordinated attacks) that their profit margins will fall drastically making it unsustainable to be anything but accountable to the general public.

  4. Joe says:

    Eliminating violent institutions is not violence, but a cleansing in the vein of a surgical removal of a parasite or cancer.

    Black Bloc is not the cancer. Its targets are.

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