In a new article by Chris Hedges, “The Cancer within Occupy“, he calls out “black block anarchists” in a very big way. With an extensive set of half-truths and utter fabrications, he’s going on the attack against those who refuse to play by his liberal sensibilities, and the internet is now awash with responses.

Among the numerous questionable “facts” brought up by Hedges are claims that “Occupy encampments in various cities were shut down precisely because they were nonviolent” – a curious statement, since Oakland (which clearly was not) has seen some of the harshest repression. Other include claims that anarchists oppose environmentalists, unions and intellectuals (where exactly were liberals during the Nine-Hours movement?). Most laughable is his statement that anarchists oppose “populist movements such as the Zapatistas” – obviously missing the black masks, machine guns and autonomous indigenous villages run by consensus (as one friend remarked the other day – this is pretty much a quintessential anarchist rebellion). With all of these errors in the first two paragraphs alone, one has to wonder: Does Hedges even know what an anarchist is?

Beginning the third paragraph, it’s blatantly clear that Hedges does not. Virtually all of his research seems limited to back issues of “Green Anarchy” magazine (a primitivst publication many anarchists find more than a bit embarrassing). Claiming that “black bloc anarchists do not believe in organization”, he makes his own lack of research and comprehension clear. The “black bloc” is not a ideology, it’s a tactic. Most black-blockers are anarchists (though not all), and there’s never been a coherent set of “black block beliefs”. The black bloc has never been any more unified in ideology than the rest of the anarchist movement. Hedges picks and chooses from different fringes of anarchist thought (John Zerzan, anti-organizationists), creating a straw-man dogma. If Hedges wants evidence that John Zerzan doesn’t represent most anarchists, he need look only at the conflict he cites with Noam Chomsky – who is, by the way, also an anarchist.

Throughout the article Hedges continues to cite mainly Green Anarchy, yet strangely he has no problem taking the word of “his friend”, Derrick Jensen, who writes consistently about the moral importance of “taking down civilization” in thoroughly violent ways. The guy is a one-man pacifist wrecking crew. Jensen’s views and writings aren’t all that different from the most militant ends of the primitivist or insurrectionist fringes of anarchism (though he generally avoids the “anarchist” label and is often accused of being an authoritarian) – for anyone who’s actually read Zerzan, it’s almost impossible to read Jensen’s work without wondering where all the footnotes (and real analysis) went. As someone who’s met Chomsky, Zerzan and Jensen, it’s obvious that Hedges just doesn’t get the nature of anarchist infighting (and puts a little too much faith in Jensen).

Derrick Jensen can bash the black bloc if he wants – he’s free to contrast their petty insurrections with the broad-based coalition of eco-terrorists he proposes in his books (“Endgame”, “Deep Green Resistance” etc), which despite their best-selling status have yet to be conclusively linked to a single bombing, shooting or arson. It may be easy to write off rioters as “amateurs revolutionaries”, but if some would the real “insurgents” care to step up and demonstrate some “real rebellion”, then perhaps their condescending attitude might be a little more convincing. For an avowed moderate like Hedges to use Jensen as evidence here is really nothing but embarrassing.

As for “violence”, the definition Hedges is working by seems to include burning flags and holding shields – but does it include wrestling with black-blockers and handing them over to the police? What about Tahrir Square? Did throwing stones “discredit” their revolution? And if black-clad anarchists rioting is really so bad for movements, why did it prompt him to write such flattering things about Greek protests a short while ago?

Then there’s his paragraph about “hypermasculinity”, another testament to his faith in media stereotypes. As someone who’s been in, near, and around many blocs, they’ve never been exclusively male – women have even more reasons to hide their faces from (mostly male) police. The Oakland actions which Hedges complains about had a “Feminist and Queer Bloc” participating – something he left out. What we have here might be described in today’s popular internet lingo as a “white male gender-baiting fail”.

Hedges basic point contains a fatal contradiction. On one hand, he valorizes nonviolent protests which end up on the receiving end of police violence and openly acknowledges that nonviolence has not prevented many cities from facing brutal evictions. On the other hand, he continues to claim that “violent” protests by the black block instigate (or justify) such repression, which then isn’t valourous. The goal of nonviolence, supposedly, is to de-legitimize the establishment – but doesn’t explain how change is supposed to happen once people have lost their faith in power. Nor does he explain why countless examples of such violence haven’t galvanized the public yet. Worst of all, he claims that a few disorderly protesters “discredits” the hundreds of thousands around them, while ignoring how his own writings perpetuate this sad state of affairs. By essentially taking the side of riot police in these cases totally glosses over what actually happened on the ground, and reinforces all the same stereotypes authorities use to discredit radicals.

People are up on charges, Chris, because they dared stand up for the ideals you claimed to write about. Many (most, in all likelihood) weren’t “violent” at all, however you want to define it. They don’t need one of their self-appointed spokespeople publicly siding with the District Attorney. These words have consequences, and you should know that.

If this were a critique of the illegalist, insurrectionist and primitivist aspects of anarchist actions, like so much of what’s come across the anarchist news-wires in the last few months, I’d be glad to read it. Such an approach might require research with an adult reading level, and the admittance of other (often more prominent) anarchist traditions such as platformism or prefigurative politics. Sadly, Hedges draws no distinctions here – an anarchist is an anarchist in his eyes. There’s lots of problems with most black black block actions, which I have no problem admitting – but these types of critiques have a tendency to “co-opt” movements in far worse ways by shunning less-priviliged participants for not obeying their professional leftist strategists (like Hedges and Jensen), and showing a total willingness to co-operate with the establishment when it suits them. If anarchists frequently oppose leftist organizers, this is why – and any look at the largest unions, environmental NGOs or academic bastions of “radicalism” will yield countless examples of how ineffective and corrupt these self-proclaimed “leaders” can become.

There is a cancer growing within the Occupy movement. Like the environmental, labour and others before it, large parts of the struggle are hurtling towards irrelevance as the ideals it was founded on are being systematically stripped in the name of moderation and “unity”. This implied consensus never needs to be discussed since it’s trumpeted by all the mouthpieces of the status quo already. Opposing ideas treated as taboo, threatening to drive “normal” (ie: middle class, white and very privileged) people away, while the same questions are never asked about the effects of turning popular struggles into political parties and registered charities. The self-serving careerism of writers like Hedges is obvious here – more than willing to invoke revolutionary symbolism for their own purposes, but harshly critical of any actual radicals in their midst. This cancer, if it is allowed to grow, will eclipse all real potential the organization has, like so many before it, and “the masses” (and press) will move on to something more exciting.

Sorry Chris, but in this game, class war is a force that gives us meaning. Anything else, like a Che Guevara tee shirt from Old Navy, is just entertainment.

Some other excellent responses to Hedges’ piece:
Colonizer: A Postcolonial Reading of Chris Hedges – OLA Antisocial Media
I Respectfully Disagree, Chris – Bat County Word
To be Fair, he is a journalist – A Short Response to Chris Hedges on the Black Bloc – Facing Reality
The Folly of Christopher Hedges – Nihilo Zero
I am the Cancer. I am not a Human Being. I am the Beast – Birds Before the Storm

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