Recently, Chris Hedges wrote a piece in truthdig called “Black Bloc: The Cancer in Occupy” in which he condemns what he refers to as “Black Bloc anarchists.” In the wake of the police attack on Occupy Oakland and the following debates over strategy and tactics in the Occupy movement, Hedges’ arguments have generated much controversy. We are posting one response below because it touches on the key contradictions raised by Hedges’ piece. It was originally written as a note on Facebook.
I do not want to repeat what many have said, more eloquently or timely. Any repetition will either be unconcious or inevitable – but I do try to bring some fresh perspectives, or at least accents. So bear with me.
Chronicle of a Death Foretold
Ever since the Oakland Commune came into national conciousness with their successful strike in November, liberals who initially became infatuated with OWS as a possible liberal Tea Party have been launching increasingly virulent attacks against OWS, and in particular, its most militant element.
Naomi Wolf was perhaps the first notorious salvo of the liberal commentariat, when going all in with her arrest cred called OWS protesters against NBC (a corporation) “fascists”.
While debate is healthy, and diversity of opinions and views is both inevitable and one of the refreshing things of OWS as a movement – the interventions from the liberal camp have been increasingly totalitarian, undemocratic, and full of factual and historical inaccuracies.
They have moved from honest, concerned, disagreement within the movement, to dishonest hit pieces worthy of the worse dirty politics.
And this is something we predicted – we knew that the primary contradiction within this movement would be the need of liberals and the Democratic Party machine to turn this movement into a huge astroturf to counter the successful cooption of the Republicans of the Tea Party – of sheer importance if Obama is to be re-elected.
This has been done with a carrot and stick approach: the carrot has been the apparently open arms of labor unions and non-profit organizations, not to mention several elected officials of the Democratic Party.
The stick has two sides: one is represented by poster child of all-that-is-wrong-with-the-Democrats Jean Quan and her Swine Corps of the brutal and brutalizing OPD – an OPD she ran on an unfulfilled promise to reform and transform.
In fact, it is in Democratic cities were the police repression and police action have been the strongest – Chicago even took the opportunity to institute surveilance and free-speech limitation ordinances worthy of 1984. Of course, aside from a few febble protests from the ACLU, this largely has happened with the silent consent of the liberal commentariat, and when not silence, with ineffective chatter coupled with “critical” support for the elected officials promoting these things.
The other side of the stick is the concerted effort of the liberal commentariat. At first rather benign, starting with the mantra – a sheer lie – that the movement had no goals, and with disingeneous criticism of liberal We foretold this: even at the very earliest most commited OWS activists knew this was coming.
We did not know how, but we had an idea, which is why we refused giving these commentators special status in the movement – we knew instinctively that they would turn on us come 2012 and the presidential election. Now it is upon us. Chronicle of a death foretold. None of this should come as a surprise, but buyer beware: you might think you agree – after all, the black bloc can be insufferably cocky and elitist, but you do not. Your legitimate tactical concern and strategic considerations are quite different from Chris Hedges’.
Pathologizing the Other: what abusers and represive regimes can tell us about Chris Hedges
As a large body of literature demonstrates, repressive regimes throught history have used this very technique to throw political opponents into jails called “mental hospitals”. Abusers – be them bullies or domestic – routinely try to smash the self-esteem of their victims by questioning their mental health. “You are crazy” is a favorite phrase of the abusive spouse or partner, of the abusive boss, of the abusive authority figure. Fear of being labeled “crazy” is in fact one of the most poweful ways of social coercion and social discipline know. Even good parents tell their kids they are being “crazy” when they do things they are not supposed to do.
Chris Hedges, in his hit piece, does several things of this sort: first he patologizes “violence” – using prose worthy of a pulp novel with Fabio on the cover they sell in supermarket lines. Then he claims the black bloc is “hypermasculine” – a ridiculous term pulled out of the same kindergarden infantislism that gives you a whole range of funny, yet unnecesary, superlatives. Without getting into this rather old and extensive debate, many feminist voices have eloquently countered the presumption – gendered and sexist in itself – that violence has a gender, lets just say that this confuses an important discussion on tactics with an ad hominem intended not to discuss, but to rally the liberal troops for an attack. In other words, exactly what he describes as “hypermasculinity”.
Unlike Hedges, I do not have a romantic, nihilist violent self buried inside. My views on violence are rather concious – do not initiate agression, but defend yourself from it. This basic human instinct seems beneath the elevated Hedges, whose superior god-like peace elevates him above us mere mortals.His god-like powers allow him to bury his violent instincts deep in his psyche.
(See what I mean about pulp prose?)
In pathologizing the political, Hedges is re-establishing the patriarchal and racial supremacy of White male hetero-normativity: those who disagree with him are not normal like him, they are crazy, they must be excluded from normal society.
He is calling out his wayward children, like all good patriarchs do. Very hypermasculine.
Interestingly, his pathologizing doesn’t stop at mental health. It gets even worse.
As the title “Cancer of Occupy” explicitly tells us, the crazy children are not just crazy, they are a cancer.
Well, the use of “cancer” – and other body diseases – in political speech has a rather interesting origin that Chris Hedges either overlooked, or conciously deployed: Nazi eugenics and racial hygene. “Jewish bacillus,” “the Bolshevist poison,” “the Jewish plague,” “the Jewish parasites,” and the “Jewish cancer.
These are the ripped from the headlines terms of Hitler and the Nazi propaganda machine. Unlike Naomi Wolf, I only call fascists those who are actually fascist – I do not cheapen the word by using it to attack everyone that irks me – but it is indeed telling about the way Chris Hedges mind works that he chose this term.
What is the cure for cancer? Chemotherapy, radiation, extirpation, all which are extremely violent – and much less successful than what we would like them to be.
So Chris Hedges implies – in contradiction with his argument – that this cancer must be cured. He leaves the question open – but the emotional response in the reader, and this is by choice, is to respond as we all do: kill it with violence. No one loves cancer. No one thinks of the feelings of cancer. You try to kill it, or it kills you.
That is one from the Nazi playbook: its how a whole country was mobilized to destroy the “Jewish cancer”. Hitler did not need to order them what to do. We all know, intuitively, what to do with cancer. Hedges joins a proud tradition.
(Ironically, in the channer culture that gave birth to Anonymous “cancer” is also used to describe newbies to the culture – and if there is a hypermasculine place in the world, it is channer culture – Hedges does have a lot of self-hating to do)
And it is ironic too, that in purporting to be part of this movement, Hedges has no article calling the Democrats cancer. After all, the black blocs have yet to kill someone, but the Democrats have killed millions – often at the push of a button.
So lets pathologize – just to not combo break
That brings me to my title. A little flair of my own pathologization. In my defense, it is the game field Hedges presents.
So why Stockholm Syndrome? Well, as we might know, this syndrome is the apparently paradoxical psychological phenomenon in which hostages express empathy and have positive feelings towards their captors, sometimes to the point of defending them*.
A lot of the response to so-called “black bloc violence” smacks precisely of this phenomenon. Chris Hedges is either a victim of this syndrome, or an enabler of its suffering.
He makes a storm in a teapot on so-called “black bloc violence” – justifying the violence of the OPD, of the State, of our captors – of the very State and repressive forces of the dictatorship of the 1%. He is not one of them, yet defends them and justifies and covers their crimes.
A few broken windows are nothing compared to the hundred of extrajudicial killings on the part of police, or dozens of excecutions, not to mention overseas.
Let’s have a sense of proportion. Let’s break out of the Stockholm Syndrome. The violence that matters, the true violence, is that of the State, not the black bloc. We do not need to be uncritical of the black bloc – but to hide behind their actions to call for inaction when much greater crimes are being commited, on a daily basis and using your tax money, is to cower in fear in front of power.
Just like a hostage in front of their captor.
We are hostages to the 1%. Do we justify them or do we fight for freedom?
Violence, non-violence, and disingeniousness
Are we the 99% or are we Democrats?
For liberals of the Naomi Wolf and Chris Hedges brand, revolutions are something that happens elsewhere. Regimes that need changes are overseas – preferably in countries with long histories of “authoritarian regimes”. In their twisted wordview – and one that gets fed to us as somehow radical – what problems exist in the USA can be resolved in the framework of civil liberties provided by the constitution, the institutions being neutral servants of the common good. Such lofty ideals fly in the face of the actual realities of life in the USA, in particular for the 99%. The USA has, for example, one of the highest rates of extra-judicial killing and death penalty in the world.
A significant percentage of this country’s population express support for this appalling situation. So did, for that matter, a significant percentage of Egypt’s population before the Revolution threw the doors open to true dissent, rather than fear. Transformation is about critical masses, not simple majorities.
We cannot be both for regime change and for the Democrats, who are part of the regime.
The Democrat’s main funder is, consistently, Goldman Sachs – one of the worse criminals of the 1%.
In Chris Hedges’ view – Goldman Sachs is an upstanding citizen that makes mistake – a person worthy of our democratic respect. The black bloc is cancer.
He serves his masters well.
Curiously, the way that he speaks of violence vs non-violence echoes the same way that the current Regime in Egypt speaks of the Revolution – and we see this world-wide: the “good” protester versus the “bad” protester. Even in Syria, there is the opposition that meets with the Regime, and there is the Free Syrian Army. It is not a new argument.
Now, I also have a sense of proportion – we are far from living in a situation where we need a Free America Army. But the black bloc is not that. Its worse violence is a few broken windows – if that.
To begin with, there is much conflation here: the black bloc is not responsible for all the so-called vandalism or violence. The poster child for the liberals, the Whole Foods vandalization in Oakland, was by all accounts the work of a few individuals against which even black bloc members intervened.
The black bloc however, has been responsible for successful evasion, even de-arrest, of activists – of protective, defensive, non-violent tactics, such as the use of shields, the lighting of bonfires (which clears tear gas quickly), and providing first aid and med evac. They have intervened against sexual and criminal predators in occupations, serving as stalwarts of discipline in a chaotic environment. This is the reality of those of us who actually are the boots in the ground. Yes, there is much to be critical of them – but lets leave that for another time: much better commentary is floating around in this respect. They are not cancer – they are part of the body that is maturing, and causes growing pains.
So why the fuzz?
There seems to be a problem of definition in which non-violence is equated with non-resistance. This flies in the face even of Ghandi’s and Dr. King’s tactics: non-violent resistance is still resistance. It is non-compliance with orders from the powers that be. “We shall not be moved”. All those water cannon that Dr. King endured were a result of his movement’s steadfast refusal to obey orders from above – to force change.
We can agree that throwing a rock is violent. But is throwing a paint bomb (which obscures police visors) violent? Are shields and grenade nets violent? I do not think so. They are forms of non-violent resistance, practiced by the black bloc – that protect the movement from the inevitable onslaught of the police.
This is not trivial: I understand the need to be non-violent as a tactic, but when non-violence gets reduced to picketing in circles in a “free speech zone” there is no resistance – we are not following Gandhi or Dr. King, we are following the instructions of the regime. No regime has fallen when people obey it. They only fall when people cease to obey it.
Hedges and co-commentators miss this point. Entirely. They equate any resistance with violence.
And without resistance, how can we Occupy? Its says it right there in the name.
Diversity of Tactics and Unity of Strategies
What will kill OWS is not violence, but the people who want to have meetings and voting drives instead of actions of resistance, occupations, and protests. Do not get me wrong, we need meetings – but with a purpose. As for voting, I voted for Obama and all I got was a lousy t-shirt, which I had to pay for.
With protests and occupations, with masses of people out in the street, will come repression. And on the edges, so will want to fight back by means we might not agree with.
Its worth the price, no matter what the anti-resistance commentariat tells us. That is the lesson of Tahrir Square.
Its time we stop lying to ourselves, and realize that his regime – regardless of what party is in power – is repressive regime, based on war profeetiring, a racist prision industrial complex, extrajudicial violence, and destroying the ability of people to achieve their dreams by concentrating wealth and power on the 1%. Dictatorships do not fall on their own.
We live in the dictatorship of the 1%. The time for regime change is long overdue.
That is the stark reality that faces us. If for you a few broken windows are too much to oppose the regime, then it means that for you, windows are more important than the millions who have their lives destroyed and extinguished by this regime – in the ghettos, in the prision industrial complex, overseas, and in the soul-killing petty dictatorship of the workplace.
We need to have real solidarity – the more militant of us need to consider that not everyone is willing or able to, emotionally and physically, to deal with the outcomes of militancy. Those who advocate non-violence out of true principle, need to understand that the deep emotional commitment this requires – while noble – is not for all.
Honest diversity of tactics is a strenght, not a weakness.
But we need to be united on the strategic goal of regime change – of transforming the dictatorship of the 1%. And there are those, Chris Hedges and his ilk, who hide behind the language of non-violence to bambozzle and split the movement: he is pretty happy supporting a government that breeds war – while he can speak against it and sue it in court- supporting real violence perpetrated by this regime. He remains silent as police murders people extrajudicially – the very real violence of the State.
What is worse, as argued, he uses the age old tactic of abusers and repressive regimes throught history: he pathologizes those he disagrees with, calling into question their mental health and treating them as a public health issue that needs a hygenic response – in the tone of the Nazi racial hygene. Chris Hedges and his ilk, defend the regime in deeds and words- they are at best a loyal opposition content with commenting rather than transforming. Do not join them.
Join the resistance: the path is long, the path is painful, but the path is righteous.
Refuse and resist!