Chris Hedges misses the point with his column calling the bloc black a cancer. Regardless of what you think about the black bloc, the column is filled with what I believe is a dangerous message directed at those within social movements who employ the black bloc tactic (and let’s remember, black bloc is a tactic, not an organization). More than anything, what Hedges’ attack on the black bloc represents is a fear of radical left politics taking hold in this country. Hedges often gives the impression he believes “revolution” is the only answer, but I think here he reveals that maybe he isn’t so comfortable with the idea in this country at least. As someone who believes we need revolution, I think Hedges needs to be challenged more so we can know what he really thinks about the revolutionary potential in this country. I have a feeling he isn’t so big on it now that we’ve begun to see it in action. Believe what you want, but don’t let this Chris Hedges piece turn you away from revolutionary beliefs because that is what it’s designed to do.
Hedges strikes me as a privileged star of the left although I admit, I have liked some of what he’s written. These types of people (basically well-known figures who take progressive positions) have a tendency to become detached from the movement itself if they ever were in fact a core part of it. I’m not writing to say the black bloc is always a success or that we even need more black blocs, just that Hedges is probably out of touch with what’s going on and that the black bloc is a strawman, as he really just opposes the revolutionary left. He lives in a world where, due to his position in society, people hang on to every word he says and he probably has grown accustom to being admired as opposed to fighting for justice. Even though I don’t want to talk much about the black bloc, I will say that those who participate in black blocs probably have a lot more intelligent and wise suggestions for the occupy movement going forward.
Why did he write his Truthdig piece? It’s pretty simple: he sensed that the energy and power behind Occupy had diminished and he felt he could offer an explanation and solution. His answer? Exclude those wearing black and masks. Now, I definitely agree with Hedges that Occupy is not the same now as it was 2 or 3 months ago, that’s obvious, unfortunate, but kind of expected given the repression of the movement. The last thing we need to do is begin turning on each other who have been trying to build this movement together, but that is what the author specifically advises. He wants aggressive exclusion of the black bloc. The real problem with the Occupy movement to me (as someone who has been involved in the one near me) is not nearly enough concentration on the true problem: capitalism.
The Occupy movement has basically been necessitated by the historic financial collapse of 2008 (which was caused by extremely wealthy people) and inspired by the global movement for democracy in the Middle east and North Africa. The response to the financial crisis should be a firm denunciation of capitalism. This is something that I think is very hard for many to fathom considering there hasn’t been a vibrant anti-capitalist movement in America for many decades. Because of this, there is a hesitancy by those who proclaim to be on the left (especially celebrities) to directly oppose capitalism due to this position being seen as a taboo. The point is, there should be healthy suspicion regarding the motivation of the Chris Hedges’ of the world. Some well-known lefties are certainly well-meaning but not all of them. Let’s not give Hedges or anyone else the benefit of the doubt. Let’s scrutinize them.
I think Hedges is symbolic of the larger movement within Occupy that wants only a more “just capitalism” (as if that’s possible) to discredit and marginalize anarchists, socialists and communists who want a total abolition of capitalism. Ending capitalism is a lot more difficult than achieving some solid reforms (though some of those reforms could be good things). Ending capitalism implies a revolution that would send our current society into an upheaval to bring about a more just society for everyone. Deep down, too many people are not willing to accept that as the inevitable solution to things like gross wealth inequality and corporate malfeasance, but that is the only answer I believe.
I think he was frightened by actions like the November 2nd Oakland general strike (a tremendous and monumental success in my view) which directly confronted the capitalist system at a very high level. He probably is also a little frightened that the encampment at Oscar Grant Plaza was known as the Oakland Commune (tribute to the Paris Commune). Maybe he doesn’t want to be someone who is considered to have inspired a general strike or maybe he just doesn’t like general strikes to happen in this country ever, but either way I think that type of action far surpassed his idea of an appropriate step towards justice. I think things like that make him and others uncomfortable because they have it in their head that building a new world will be easy (if they even want it at all) and will not require destroying the old one that has caused so much environmental damage, economic hardship, and rank militarism.
The funny thing is, many black bloc participants probably helped do a lot of the work for the November 2nd general strike and a lot of other Oakland Commune stuff. I think he and others know that, but had to find a clever way to condemn radicals in the movement. The reason the Left has not been able to mount an offensive against capitalism is that people like Hedges and others get comfortable as the moral voices even while the world goes down the drain. It is more important to him to be “the guy who was right all along” or something than to actually do anything to remedy the situation, even if that means pushing the boundaries of acceptable behavior and thought. To be clear, I don’t want this piece to come off as demeaning anyone who doesn’t think capitalism needs to go or that revolution needs to happen. If you ask me, more people don’t think those two things is because 1. They are hard conclusions to come to and sometimes it takes a while to do so and 2. Left celebrities like Hedges want to take the wind out of the sales of more radical movements.
The real problem in Occupy isn’t the black bloc. It’s people like Chris Hedges who steer the conversation away from eliminating capitalism through revolution and towards more feel good solutions that allow them to still be at the front of movements whether successful or not. I think it’s up to those of us who are involved in the Occupy movement and struggles for justice to realize that people who some may consider leaders of the Left should be completely legitimate targets of criticism and that sometimes we will find those same people should no longer be looked to for direction so frequently. Hedges may be only comfortable telling Obama and the Democrats why they are wrong and while that is something that needs to happen, it has to go further. I guess I fear that people like Hedges need the Democrats to give them someone to be morally superior to while never doing things to make Republicans, Democrats and others who fear and oppose revolution obsolete and insignificant.