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"The Missed Insurrection"
We found each other with a conspiratorial wink - our alliance affirmed. We spilled our secrets deep into morning, sparking at the resin in a stranger’s bowl. Under a sprawling canopy, amidst the snoring corpses of this futile left, we whispered the names of our ancient heroes - Malatesta. Berkman. Goldman. De Cleyre. Parsons. We shared a cigarette you had expertly rolled. Everyone around us was asleep. Or dead. We found each other as neighbors, unzipping our tents together each morning. Inured to the sartorial zombies shuffling past us to their offices, we’d lament that first hateful light of the day. “Fuck work,” you’d grumble. Then go, anyway. Returning drunk from other worlds, we’d reconcile at camp - outside our homes, cursing the bongos together. Or loving them. Screaming maniacally into the night, either way. We found each other in line at the toilet. Unprepared for a wait, we both went barefoot and overexposed. We arrived as strangers, but became comrades huddling together against an Autumn chill. “This bathroom is occupied,” came the reply to our final, plaintive knock. That joke was old before the first person ever said it aloud. We found each other in a large circle. There were forty of us there; our arms interlocked, our hands clasped tightly in front of us as if in desperate prayer. You wondered aloud how the hell we had gotten there. “Who gets arrested on purpose?” Not us. We muttered our quiet regrets through vinegar-soaked bandanas, our woe lost to the whirling helicopters overhead. We’d seen them try take the park - to try to hold that little space - but they were too few. We joined them first just to stare down that phalanx of cops - because where the pigs don’t want us is where we want to be. Just like that, we were trapped. An aging hippie kept reciting overwrought poetry, so we belted out the chorus of ‘Solidarity Forever’ together to drown him out. The chorus was the only part all of us knew. The battle between our repetition and his recitation proved a bigger struggle than the one he put up when the pigs finally pried him away. He hardly resisted. We were almost glad to see him go. We were the last subdued. We found each other tangled together in a dog pile. The pigs were twisting your foot. I screamed every time they did. It felt like my own foot was being twisted. I think that’s what solidarity means. We found each other at a secret meeting for some secret action. Everyone there was so solemn and serious. The organizer welcomed us as “the best and brightest.” Then spoke of armbands. Security. A new camp, free of the freeloaders. Their discussion turned to the tickets they’d distribute to prove people had worked - tickets they’d need in order to get fed. They plotted their occupation like incidental fascists. Then you raised your finger. When it was your turn to speak, you denounced them all - excoriating everyone in a righteous rage. We found each other on the ListServ. You had written a rambling manifesto about the CIA, the FBI or some other, alphabet soup agency you were certain they both worked for. You wanted to meet me, but you needed to find a safe place first. When we finally got a chance to meet, you wrote everything out to me on a notepad, despite us being alone inside of your van. “Certain this car is bugged” was the first phrase you wrote. You wrote so hard, you nearly tore the paper with the pen. I half expected you to eat that first page after you had finished scrawling on it with that trembling hand. You didn’t. You wrote more paranoia, but some of it made perfect sense. The last note itself read: “they’re too pretty and too smart to be hanging out with the two of us and not be getting paid.” I’d eventually learn you’d normally have been right. We found each other that day it rained, trapped under a tarp together for hours, listening in on a conversation - like two NSA spies - as a libertarian and Sovereign began falling slowly in love. We found each other in a bedroom, in a crowded meeting you doubtless don’t remember. You and a partner were languishing beneath the sheets in an oversized bed that dominated that space like unchecked, white privilege. For the first hour, I didn’t even know you were there. Your name had, as yet, only been whispered to me with a reverence oft-reserved for the dead. When you emerged groggily from beneath the covers to finally speak, I felt - for the first time - a totalizing sadness at the impermanence of life. When I looked in your eyes, I saw painkiller prescriptions. But the joy you all share reminds me I’ve often been wrong. I hope I’m wrong. We found each other after meetings, through meandering conversations that always seemed to end too soon, no matter how late it was. We found each other trapped between a chainlink fence and a skirmish line, tear gas already hanging heavy in the air. You had been busily clipping away at it with snips before I arrived to try to tear it down. Our numbers grew fast when the acrid smoke thickened. Then, like a failing dam, the fence finally burst and we poured over it in a torrent toward freedom. We were unstoppable - and in that moment - another world was possible. We found each other handcuffed to a pipe together in a police garage. Left alone - the two of us - strangers far behind enemy lines. We felt forgotten. Our conversation itself was an intricate dance, each of us hesitant to talk, neither of us knowing if the other was a cop. You’d ask me something and I’d only respond tersely. I’d ask you something and you’d barely nod. Wary of any topic that might possibly implicate us - the spell was only broken when we gushed about our cats. We found each other at Social Services. We were both applying to get food stamps for our first time. Each beset by our shame, we sat next to each other as they “taught” us how to write a resume. We hung our heads, too embarrassed to talk too much - speaking, at last, only when they asked us our names. It was hard for me to ever forget your subtle, Caribbean accent - harder still to forget your distinctive, whitening dreads. The day you first spoke before the assembly, you told everyone about those forty, proud years you’d worked as an electrician - and then bravely confessed the shame of that one day we’d only recently shared. I was so happy to see you there, with the rest of us, I quietly cried. It wasn’t until then that I knew I was finally in the right place. We found each other after the raid, huddled together in an abandoned intersection beneath blinking red traffic lights. The entire city was ours. Many among us knew each other by name, some of us - only as faces that we recognized and could trust. I’d never been so happy to see you - there with all of us. All around, a thousand strangers were shouting out their ill-conceived plans. “Let’s go back to the camp,” one voice roared. “Let’s take the freeway,” another. Hurriedly, we exchanged whatever intel each of us had. All rumors. Speculation. You got a call from someone who said they were kettled near the concert hall. “We have to get to them - to combine these marches.” I nodded eagerly. “We’ll draw the pigs away from the camp,” another comrade agreed. A hundred fingers twinkled; the quickest consensus I’d ever yet seen. I was sure this group could do it. I still thought we could do anything then. We found each other on a rooftop, chain-smoking cigarettes. She was yours and hers and his and his and I think his, too. I could never be sure. But what does it mean to be "someone’s," anyway? She was letting me sleep on her floor instead of being out in the cold. Whenever you came by, we’d sneak off to that resplendent rooftop - where the entire city itself flickered like fluttering little fireflies beneath us. What should’ve been a brief, smokers’ excursion often became a reticence to return. You would wax philosophical. Sometimes, I’d have to pretend to understand even half of what you had said. You were kind to never let on if you knew. We found each other long after the fire had already died. Back then, you hadn’t even been anywhere at all near its warmth. Somehow, we tell each other - we’re sure we’re related. Somehow, despite this, we’re sure we can fuck. There’s a lot going on now, maybe too much - in fact. To be honest, I’m unsure if I’ll come out intact. But I hope if I do - if that fire ever returns - you’ll be there beside me to watch as it burns. We found each other too soon - it turns out. In those heady days, after the raid, we had a lot of big ideas. Rolling actions would culminate in a General Strike. If we ever doubted it, we never said so. Everything had changed and we were determined to never go back. But time makes liars out of all of us, it seems. Slowly, our conversations lost their luster. After MayDay, the ordinary - always insistent - reasserted itself at last. All of our plans became less exciting. What was once talk of Chiapas, or training a militia, staying off the grid, eviscerating liberals, an upcoming action, doing shit - became complaints about work, mere survival, navigating friendships, and fights with your wife. We went through a lot of shit together, but you’re gonna have to go through this next shit alone. I love you, but her poison kills all that it touches. We found each other sitting in the last car. You were the driver. I was on “comms.” It wasn’t long before we had an escort - more pigs than I’d seen since the raid. I relayed this into the walkie-talkie. “Just so you know, uh… we have lots of pigs following.” A black militant chided me, “no shit,” crackling her response. Despite an inauspicious start, it felt like our plan was working. When the caravan stopped at 41st & Central, we were probably a half-mile back - so many cars ahead of us in the procession. By then we both had to pee so bad, we’d stopped talking - having to focus all our effort on not pissing ourselves in your car. We scrambled on solo missions to find a bathroom. When we returned, I confessed something I hadn’t yet told you. I’d actually met you long before all of this. In a club. Where you danced. When I told you, in my sheepish way, you laughed. You thought I was silly for not having told you long, long before. There’s a million stories like that between us now. I hope there are at least a million more. We found each other when you handed me a paper. You were always on the periphery, handing them out. I’m pretty sure I’m going to leave this city. I can’t figure out why you haven’t. If I don’t, if I stay here, I know I’d be lucky to end up like you. The truth is I’ve never had all that much luck. We found each other on the Playa. You took me aside and whispered, “you’re security culture is bad.” I laughed. I looked at the endless desert full of all of the fucked up dreamers tripping out on privilege and I was sure you were joking. You weren’t. We found each other after a heated argument. You said tersely, “I’ll be at the General Assembly.” I said, “I always am.” I lurked around the fringe that night, chain smoking cigarettes - staring hard into every unfamiliar face. Your emails always said, “sent from the heart of the revolution,” but we’d never met. Toward the end of it, a harmless-enough looking guy in glasses and a grin ambled up to me. Without a word, you gave me a hug. We found each other every night at camp. I’d steal you a tomato & mozzarella sandwich from work, because you don’t eat meat. We saw some shit together. It all seemed so fucking significant, didn’t it? I didn’t know anyone when it started. I don’t think you did, either. I always thought you were shy and aloof like me, but every time you had to step up, you did. Like there was nothing to it. Then, Covergirl. But you handled even that with a radical aplomb. If there’s one thing I miss about the camp, it’s you. We found each other splayed out on couches, our supine bodies intertwined, huddled behind velvet drapes deep within that cavernous, Queer bar - the one place where we all felt almost at ease. Buying each other round after round of watered-down shots, we raised our fists to every one of our comrades’ spirited toasts, sang our hearts out to all our rebel songs, and plotted the fucking revolution - the way it should be and hopefully will be again.
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“I believe in strategy. And so did many anarchists, including [Alexander] Berkman…”
- Chris Hedges, Our Invisible Revolution (Oct. 28, 2013)
While we weren’t startled to see Chris Hedges admit he’d “prefer the piecemeal and incremental reforms of a functioning democracy” to the anti-capitalist revolution many in “his” Occupy movement sought - there was still a ghostly specter haunting Hedges’ recent article that may spook anyone familiar with his odious oeuvre: Hedges’ ‘Cancerous,’ ‘Ⓐbsolutist Movement of Ⓐlways-and-Only-Black-Clad, Ⓐnarchist Bogey[persons]’ are apparently back! Eek!
Our Invisible Revolution, however, published just in time for Halloween, is more than merely another tired reprise of the endless demagoguing Hedges usually levies against his hallmark, hobgoblins of Occupy - “BLACK BLOC ANARCHISTS!” It’s also a case study in the hackneyed, historical cherry-picking that so often distinguishes his pretentious prose.
In his latest sermon, Hedges conspicuously manipulates history to exalt rather than impugn anarchists. The choice of Alexander Berkman for this first foray into anarchist hagiography, however, may ultimately serve only to exacerbate Hedges’ assuredly near-enfeebling dissonance. Berkman, after all, is probably best known to most as a failed assassin.
A quick bit of history for our old pal, Chris Hegemony:
In 1892, Berkman and Emma Goldman - actualizing the ‘propaganda of the deed’ strategy popularized by notorious firebrand Johann Most - traveled together to Homestead, PA. They went to avenge the 9 workers who had been martyred by strikebreaking Pinkertons on orders from Henry Clay Frick. Tragically, Berkman was unable to consummate the assassination plot and so the glorious revolution his strategy suggested a murder might ignite… regrettably never did.
Of course, Hedges doesn’t say a word about Frick in his anarchist-icon-appropriation yarn. He just says “strategy” is important to him. And that Berkman had a strategy. Isn’t that just like our slippery “Colonizer,” though?
[Thought Experiment: In a New Global Hedgemony, Chris Hedges - Imperial Eeyore, whines about absolute nonviolence then sighs, “I believe in mustaches. And so did many fascists, including Hitler.” Does this, then, mean that the Imperial Eeyore likes Hitler? Or even Hitler’s mustache? Does this mean anything at fucking all?]
Just as other self-styled “intellectuals” obscure the militancy in Tahrir, the bloodshed between Muslims and Hindus that ushered the Brits from Gandhi’s India or the crucial counterbalance black militancy gave to every liberals’ pacifist King - Hedges dignifies Berkman and Goldman’s strategy without revealing the details of their half-baked murder-plot topped with a heaping of their own, wild hope!
Could it be that if inconvenient facts can’t be made to fit into his narrative, Hedges just erases or ignores them? Or maybe he’d rather see assassinations than a broken window? Any other reason (aside from ‘recuperation’ or ‘shoddy research’) that I’m missing that’d compel a nonviolence-dogmatist like Hedges to pen a paean to a militant revolutionist?
We have to ask: bro, do you even Alexander Berkman?
With the revolutionary, Russian émigré invoked reverently in his lede and lionized repeatedly throughout, Hedges’ latest Truthdig post appears to be an olive branch to all the hardworking, anarchist organizers he pilloried (“stupid”), dehumanized (“cancer,” “beast”), misgendered (“hypermasculine”), racially-erased (“most are white”), infantilized (“adolescentization”), victim-blamed (“justify draconian forms of control”), outsidered (“many are not from the city”) and began shovelling under the bus (“criminal”) in February, 2012. Yet the chimera Hedges created in his “Cancer of Occupy” libel - the so-called “Black Block anarchists” of his own, inchoate inquiry and analysis - remain his favorite, talkshow topic today. [edit: a comrade recently reminded us of the oft-overlooked but inherent ableism also manifest in equating disease w/ inclusion/exclusion. Thanks, comrade.]
If an anarchist rapprochement was actually behind this otherwise unreadable bilge, as far as we at OLAASM are concerned - it’s far too little, too late - for that smug, snitch-jacketing, ineffectual, fascifist fucking opportunist! There must be a better place for his quasi-religious-zealotry, preferably somewhere far, far away from revolutionaries - where he can “stand with the right wing” and get frothily apoplectic about the sex lives of others?
Should this denunciation seem severe to some of you, or even crass, perhaps you’re missing some important context (or maybe you’re just a tone-policing fuckstick?) In the frenzy that followed his “Cancer” screed - a wildly speculative hatchet job that employed almost all of the maddeningly-familiar arguments of the ruling class itself - Hedges couldn’t resist the coup de grâce. His next post baselessly smeared OLAASM, suggesting we “infiltrate(d) the movement to foster internal divisions and rivalries.” In the end, the debilitating paranoia Hedges normalized in his “Cancer” piece was just as responsible as any other single factor for the downfall of “Occupy.” And worse that all of this, of course - Hedges didn’t even have the common courtesy to link back to our blog itself when he did!
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Remarks by our comrade, Craig, at the 2013 Ecosocialism Conference in Culver City, CA on September 21, 2013:
"To start: I’m bemused by my own inclusion on this panel. I don’t see myself as having any special access to information that isn’t available to all of us here today.
I don’t have a lot of personal experience in electoral politics. As you may have seen in my brief bio, the last time I voted was during the first season of American Idol and even then, I was phoning it in…
[pause for riotous laughter]
Being a non-voter isn’t much of a distinction, of course - only 12% of registered voters here in Los Angeles voted for our new mayor - Eric Garcetti.
I’d like you to join me in thinking about that for a moment:
We live in a city where 88% of those REGISTERED TO VOTE didn’t vote for the city’s leader. In fact, the overwhelming majority - including the undocumented, people with felony convictions and others denied participation - aren’t even included in that figure.
Reform-minded people believe this is an indication that we need better voter recruitment. But as I sit on this panel with three passionate advocates for social and ecological justice who have clearly devoted considerable time to that very project, I don’t see the tangible fruits of their labor. In fact, the level of environmental degradation during their lifetimes has worsened.
In fact, despite their tremendous efforts, for the first time since the Pliocine (2.6-5 million years ago), CO2 levels have now reached 400 ppm. I’m pretty sure this might be significant.
So what am I doing here? Why am I on this panel and what can I contribute to the dialogue we’re having today?
My original plan today was to demonstrate precisely how futile I think the electoral process is.
So, when I first accepted this token, anarchist position up here, I began scheming with my comrades about how to use this conference - and my privileged position on this very panel - to draw an elaborate analogy to the electoral process itself. The point would be to emphasize how the urgency of the issues today prove electoral politics are insufficient.
You see - right now - I am functioning as a representative - much the same way representative government allegedly functions in the United States today.
So as your representative on this panel - I now clearly wield a certain amount of power.
I can say whatever I want right now.
See? I just screamed “elephants,” apropos of nothing. That’s the kind of power I’m talking about. I’m controlling the dialogue.
And now I could talk about elephants for the rest of my time if I want in much the same way our elected representatives use feints and sleight-of-hand to distract us with topics like “debt ceilings” or “chemical weapons in Syria” and whatnot.
And let’s be honest: if this were a government post and not just a panel at a conference in Culver City, much like our elected representatives, the things I say and do would far more likely reflect the interests of the people the 12% who elected me and those who fill my coffers and ensure my re-election than those of the fine people we have assembled here today.
That being the case, in the performance I planned with my comrades to present to you today , I was just going to sit here in complete silence for my allotted fifteen minutes.
Yes - I was thinking of going full Andy Kaufman.
And I’d just sit here. I wouldn’t say anything to you. At all. We’d just wallow in an uncomfortable silence together. That was my plan, anyway.
I guess now I should confess something: this is my first panel. In fact, at this rate, it seems like it very well be my last. Knowing that - I have a lot of courage to shake up things up.
I also have no understanding of how this kind of thing works. One of my comrades - who actually has participated in this panel-type of thing before - was pessimistic about my ability to hold this space for a full fifteen minutes without speaking. She relayed her concerns to me:
“The emcee or moderator will interject pretty quickly if you sit silently and you’ll just end up forfeiting your time,” she warned me.
I still wasn’t discouraged. I figured I could then use that as part of the act - to say, “look, the moderator is the person with the real power. That’s the person with the money! Just like our politicians!” Or to echo the oversimplification of “occupy,” that 1 person represents the so-called 1% actually running things.
I could incorporate that into my presentation to great effect, I thought.
“Well, what if people in the audience leave?” She then asked.
“That’d be great, too,” I laughed. “I could shout out that leaving a panel, much like divesting from a sham election that gives power to wholly-owned, silver-spoon-fed neoliberal shill like Garcetti - that finding a better way to spend our time - is exactly what we SHOULD be doing!”
My comrade relented. It seemed I wasn’t going to be dissuaded by her reasonable points. So she instead joined in helping me plan this subversion.
As most of my comrades are sex workers and other academics, the rest seemed enthusiastic about my inclination to shake it up.
I thought such a performance here would aptly demonstrate just how wasteful electoral politics - especially in this time of crisis and environmental catastrophe - has proven itself over the years.
Sure, maybe some of you would think I was a clown - but some of you might agree we have to DO something besides pull a lever and wait for power to concede to our pipsqueak-sized, electoral ‘demand’ of incremental, ecological reform. Because even when we do win in that venue, we are rewarded with such pyrrhic victories as the Kyoto Protocol, which was never even ratified by the largest polluter on the planet - the United States. Domestically, we get the EPA, an agency that has been systematically defanged since its very inception in 1970.
Some of us call ourselves “revolutionaries,” my question is - what is revolutionary about waiting forty more years and engaging in an electoral war of attrition just to maintain the modest safeguards we achieved in 1970? The motto of this very conference is “System change, not climate change,” right?
I hold in my hands a book very few of you may recognize. I myself stumbled upon it in the vault above the Last Bookstore in downtown Los Angeles.
The book is called “Beyond Repair: The Ecology of Capitalism” by a Marxist-Leninist named Barry Weisberg.
It was published in 1971.
I’d like to read a few passages from Weisberg:
"The present environmental destruction is increasingly the product of a structure of economic and political power that consolidates and sustains itself through the systematic destruction of the human species and the physical world."
"We completely fail to grasp the magnitude of death perpetrated by the American colossus."
"As always, America has made out of a social crisis yet another commodity."
"The restoration of natural balance depends today upon the destruction of that social order and the birth of a new poetry of human relations."
Remember: these sage words were written in 1971. That’s eight years BC, or “before Craig” as I like to call it. And yet they seem just as applicable in 2013 as they should have been then.
Now let me be clear: I’m not against voting. If you want to vote, I’m certainly not going to stop you.
For me, however, electoral politics are merely an arrow in the environmentalist’s quiver. But I hope I’ve made it clear that I personally consider that arrow to be one of the least effective, low-impact weapons available in our arsenal. And while the empire reinforces its armored tanks and extends its array of fortified pipelines that no arrow yet has pierced, we’re still talking about how to sharpen those arrows.
If my good friends here want to vote, I’m not going to try to stop them. I’m not going to tell them or any of you how to spend your time. I can only tell you how I’m going to spend my time. And it isn’t in a voting booth, or going door-to-door on a GOTV campaign, or trying to find the representative who finally won’t succumb to the Siren-song of finance capital.
Going back for a moment to the 12% who voted for Mayor Garcetti, I want to remind you all that only 3% of the colonial population here fought in the so-called Revolutionary War. Only 10% actively supported the uprising against the British Empire.
So the question I wish to pose is this: would you rather spend your limited time on this limited planet while it hurtles toward mass displacements and widespread famine trying to get to maybe 13% of registered, Los Angeles voters to elect a representative who might instead talk only about elephants or would you rather spend that time trying to convince a mere 3% of the population that there is no other choice but to smash capitalism altogether?
To reappropriate the language of the capitalists, in a cost-benefit analysis, for me, the answer seems obvious.
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This system has got to die
So you stood and Occupied
Shirts in tow, describing the violence,
Supporting the overthrow
Our arms were linked
By struggle and descent
You denounced the bullshit about non-violence
While others chanted to peacefully resist
You saw the police, masked, and did not just sit
You did not just sit
When they told you no
You were down to break shit and keep it on the down low
But you kept it too low
Much too low
Cuz they took you out quietly and slow
Gave you the gun to extinguish your glow
The way of Billie Holiday
With a voice to shout for masses
Slowly overwhelming, dripping brown molasses
The strange fruit harvested for working classes
Masking the sorrows too big see
With a genuine smile
And pointy goatee
Like the GIs in the 60s tossing grenades at officers
Cuz they knew the war was to fatten the aristocrats coffers
Those privates would shoot down their own officers
Heroin subdued their justified anger
Encouraged the forget to rebel for sons and daughters
You know the CIA didn’t just do it with crack
Jazz and heroin, smacked the fight out of attack
They did it with Charlie Parker, Bradley and they tried with Ray C
kept the tracks bloody
bc the music industry said it improved their
… to make them money
from worries and misery
Saturated in oppression
they gave you drugs readily
the system knows you saw with clarity
their prosperity off our poverty
but when you sat in that room, solitary
it shut out that exploitative reality
concealed the pain from loved ones and family
Silence and stigma quiet weapons of treachery
Alex, they put you in a system so HUGE in the fight back
They used demoralization and un-employment another monkey on the backs
Of the working class
To eliminate the righteous drastic
Epithets to call the realistic- fanatic
1400 cops to destroy the fantastic
telling us equality belongs in straight jackets
City liasons keeping the movement plastic
And even though you saw through all that whack shit
The weight of oppression couldn’t keep you from
But we see you more than what took you down
We continue to resist amidst tears and frowns
Laughing, clowning, calling out the fake shit
It was more than us calling for political independence
From the capitalists
I can’t speak for you, Alex
Only what I saw
Glistening eyes, telling truth raw
We won’t be ashamed to speak the entire truth
They killed him with silent violence that comes with oppression and drug abuse
And we will tell it all
Those of us who know
The real about your fight
And the way they stole your glow
Rivers will run ‘round rocks
Learning about the father who cheerfully fought “the man”
And maybe he will stand with us someday
With a fist in the air
Ready to fight and play
Because your story is not over Alex
It’s only just begun
You were one of the voices who reminded me
It’s not over until we’ve won.
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The sudden volte-face of famed Liberal destroyer Chris Hedges in his recent demonization of the Black Bloc, sinisterly entitled ‘The Cancer of Occupy’, is a wonderful introduction for North American activists to the field of Postcolonial Theory. Edward Said’s seminal text ‘Orientalism’ examines how Western study of ‘The Orient’ contributes to the functioning of colonial power. Representations of ‘The Orient’ in Western texts purporting to offer knowledge and insight into ‘other’ countries, actually perpetuate the dichotomy between the West and ‘Others’ - in so doing, reaffirming the colonial relationship, even long after postcolonialism has apparently been established following the decolonizing process. The role of former colonizer is adopted in the discourse by the white, educated Chris Hedges, who writes glowingly of Greece’s response to their economic crisis in an article from May 2010:
Call a general strike. Riot. Shut down the city centers. Toss the bastards out. Do not be afraid of the language of class warfare—the rich versus the poor, the oligarchs versus the citizens, the capitalists versus the proletariat. The Greeks, unlike most of us, get it.
The Greeks, here, take the liminal role of “other”. In Hedges’ terms, they mimic his intellectual, activist ideals, without ever becoming equal to him. They are the student: he the master, echoing Thomas Babington Macaulay’s ‘Minutes on Indian Education’ printed in 1835, which set out an agenda to train ‘natives’ who were ‘Indian in blood and colour’ to become ‘English in taste, in opinions, in morals, in intellect’. These mimics would constitute a class who could protect British interests and help them in exerting rule over the empire. They would emulate, but never initiate or fully embody the ruling class values, in so doing ensuring their subjection and reliance on the colonizer. Hedges exhorts his ideal Occupiers to do the same, to denounce Diversity of Tactics, and to hurl their anarchist and Black Bloc comrades beneath the bus, by handing them over to the police. Hedges quotes indignant former eco-terrorist Derrick Jensen struggling with the radical aversion to resorting to the representatives of militaristic rule, to deal with internal problems: “When I called the police after I received death threats, I became to Black Bloc anarchists ‘a pig lover.’”
This indignity alone, it seems, is enough to fuel Jensen and Hedge’s disturbing anti-anarchist rant.
Frantz Fanon writes in ‘Black Skin, White Masks’, that:
… it is not the colonialist self or the colonized other, but the disturbing difference in between that constitutes the figure of colonial otherness - the white man’s artifice inscribed on the black man’s body.
Fanon’s works examine the psychological affects of colonialism upon people of color in a predominantly white world. His work remains salient, particularly in the context of the Western desire to appropriate, claim and ‘orientalize’ the revolutionary activities in ‘other’ countries, in order to inscribe their name upon the successful results. Egypt under Mubharak is characterized as bad and anti-American, anti-democratic, inhumane…. Egypt revolting in order to embrace democracy is appropriated, through Western discourse, as a prodigal student of Western ideals. This can be seen clearly in Hedges’ ‘white man’s artifice’ - the approbation he gives to his students, the Greeks. “Riot. Shut down the city centers. Toss the bastards out”, Hedges’ exhorts Greece gloatingly. Compare this to his contradictory attitude to the “cancerous” anarchists of the Black Bloc, who, it seems, follow similar tactics to those Hedges admires in Greece - though the Black Bloc of Oakland have not yet come near to the violence and chaos of Greece. Despite this, Oakland’s Black Bloc has provoked the ire of a Master who finds himself discarded and bypassed - overtaken, unwanted, and left to struggle in their wake. Hedges does not recognize the autonomous discourse the Oakland Black Bloc utilize - or perhaps he feels slighted that they abandoned the “accepted” discourse, and appropriated another, before he, the patriarchal father, gave permission. The Oakland Black Bloc is not subject to Hedges, the colonizer, does not, therefore, have “the white man’s artifice inscribed on the black man’s body”, and so is rejected and penalized by Hedges:
Random acts of violence, looting and vandalism are justified, in the jargon of the movement, as components of “feral” or “spontaneous insurrection.” These acts, the movement argues, can never be organized. Organization, in the thinking of the movement, implies hierarchy, which must always be opposed. There can be no restraints on “feral” or “spontaneous” acts of insurrection. Whoever gets hurt gets hurt. Whatever gets destroyed gets destroyed.
There is a word for this—“criminal.”
Greece: the underdogs of Europe, the European ‘other’, are allowed - even encouraged - to riot. Violence, looting and vandalism are approved when it is to cast out the Colonizer’s enemy, which could, perhaps, result in the strengthening of a new colonialist discourse, the ‘other’s’ continuing subjection to a new colonizer - that which Hedges represents. Fanon notes that “The effect consciously sought by colonialism was to drive into the natives’ heads the idea that if the settlers were to leave, they would at once fall back into barbarism, degradation and bestiality”.
We see this at play in Hedge’s dark fear-mongering of the consequences of diversity of tactics in Oakland and the “Black Bloc”:
…the Occupy movement, through its steadfast refusal to respond to police provocation, resonated across the country. Losing this moral authority, this ability to show through nonviolent protest the corruption and decadence of the corporate state, would be crippling to the movement. It would reduce us to the moral degradation of our oppressors. And that is what our oppressors want.
Yet these are the same tactics - less violent, less widespread - that Hedges applauded in Greece.
Hedges is not alone in reproducing paradoxical colonialist discourse when talking of ‘other’ countries. Frequently, self-proclaimed ‘nonviolent’ participants in the Occupy movement talk in adoring terms of those in Tahrir Square and Syria, invoking the misty-eyed myth that their struggles with state oppression and police brutality in America, are somehow comparable to their comrades’ battles in the Middle East. Again, Said’s ‘Orientalism’ is worth invoking with the central tenet that knowledge is never innocent. Knowledge is always profoundly connected with the operations of power. Holding up Gandhi and Dr Martin Luther King as fuzzy and politically correct (because brown) proponents of nonviolence, Western nonviolent pacifists conveniently slide over the white lauding of both Gandhi and MLK precisely because both these figures failed to threaten the hegemony of the ruling classes by participating in the colonialist discourse in the language of the colonizer. Both Gandhi and MLK were, in a sense, “different” in blood and color, but “western” in taste, in opinions, in morals, in intellect, and in perpetuating the moral and ethical superiority of the nonviolence both individuals had appropriated from the western discourse itself. Gandhi’s notion of nonviolence was forged as a hybrid between Emerson, Thoreau, Tolstoy and ‘Ram Rajya’. King’s was formed predominantly by Gandhi’s influence, and a trip to postcolonial India in 1957.
The translation which occurs in Western colonial discourse mythologizes these Middle-Eastern struggles as somehow equal to North American struggles, and yet different to them. Such myths either promote the idea that the Egyptian revolution has been ‘nonviolent’ and ‘non-violent’, or that the violence on the side of the oppressed in, for example, Tahrir Square, is accepted and acceptable, without acknowledging or explaining the contradiction that it is never acceptable in North America. This promotes and sustains the idea that those in Western countries are, again, the same but different. They are different because they are better. North Americans and Europeans cannot expect revolutionaries in foreign lands to adhere to the same moral and ethical superiority as themselves, the true practitioners of nonviolence and pacifism. The Egyptian revolutionaries protesting in Tahrir Square get a free pass to throw stones because they are ‘less than’ North American protestors, and it sustains North American superiority to characterize our struggle in the West as a struggle which takes place on a higher moral and ethical plain. Despite the fact police brutality is a common and everyday occurrence for many Americans, particularly those living in poverty and homelessness, middle-class educated Occupiers such as Hedges decry the notion of violence as daily routine, because it occurs mainly to uneducated, socially, economically and racially ‘inferior’ sections of the American population. Revolutions on American soil must therefore adhere to a puritanical notion of nonviolence that brings the terminology under the Hegemonic control of those privileged few such as Hedges, who manipulate the discourse to give themselves the advantage, and discredit those who are ‘other’:
This is exactly what pacifists have done in phrasing the disagreement as violence vs. nonviolence. Critics of nonviolence typically use this dichotomy, with which most of us fundamentally disagree, and push to expand the boundaries of nonviolence so that tactics we support, such as property destruction, may be supported within a nonviolent framework, indicating how disempowered and delegitimized we are. - Peter Gelderloos
This emphasis on creating clear, defined dichotomies in order to “delegitimize” thinkers is another tool favored by the colonizer to oppress. The conflation between violence and diversity of tactics is thus another method of controlling and subjugating difference through language. The colonizer creates “the other” in order to define themselves by the perceived deficiency. Hedges’ draws the Black Bloc as the “other”, using colonizing language to create a fantastical, faceless bogeyman against which he can define himself and the “good” members of the Occupy movement, not these fakers, these hooligans, these “Black” bloc anarchists. The binary opposition of black/white bad/good is never explicitly stated, but played upon through Hedge’s powerful, derogatory language. Language is power. In deliberately misappropriating the tactical term ‘black bloc’ as an adjective, and in some cases even a noun, Hedges, perhaps intentionally, creates a mythical, frightening, all-powerful and wholly evil enemy… which does not actually exist:
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.
The struggle for the power to name oneself is enacted within words - to remove that power of naming is a specifically colonial, patriarchal act. No matter to Hedges that the diversity of tactics advocated by the anarchists he quotes and praises in the article on Greece, pushes not towards the replacement of hegemonic nonviolence with an “absolutist sect”, but rather towards a coalition of thought and action which represents the broadest spectrum of thinking and action by which to challenge the structures of oppression. To Hedges, preaching the exclusion of these faceless ‘black bloc’ individuals (which he later clarifies, somewhat disparagingly, given their impressive build up, as “a handful of hooligans”) there is no apparent contradiction. All who approve of violence in Egypt / Greece / Syria by the revolting masses, cannot ever hope to introduce it into their actions in North America. To do so is tantamount to a revolution - against the white, educated face of Hedges and his reformist sect. In a patriarchal twist of breathtaking hypocrisy, Hedges justifies his bigotry by claiming to be speaking “for” segments of the Oakland activist population who apparently cannot speak for themselves, presumably, in Hedges’ eyes, because of their race:
These anarchists represent no one but themselves. Those in Oakland, although most are white and many are not from the city, arrogantly dismiss Oakland’s African-American leaders, who, along with other local community organizers, should be determining the forms of resistance.
The contradictions of colonialism lie in its attempt to “civilize” its “other” - in this case, the Black Bloc anarchists - and simultaneously to fix them into perpetual otherness. We see this clearly in the apparent acceptable face of Diversity of Tactics in Syria, Greece and Egypt - but it’s abhorrence in North America and Europe.
In the process of decolonization, intellectuals and activists in the immediate political fall out of the deconstruction of empire, must still fight with its continuing legacy. In order to succeed in successfully destroying the dominant definitions of race, class, language and culture, they must offer an alternative to the old colonialist discourse, a new form which establishes itself as a formidable, powerful and distinct identity. This is what Oakland’s Black Bloc, the anarchists and the radicals of the Occupy movement are doing. The fact that they face resistance from the colonizer, represented by the white, educated face of Hedges, is only evidence that they are succeeding in challenging the old hegemonic ways of thinking. In the meantime, they leave Chris Hedges and his ilk struggling with the internal contradictions faced by their role as former colonizer, striving vainly to justify and sustain their old methods of control in the face of tumultuous revolution.
Like Sisyphus, we must imagine them happy.