Thursday, February 9, 2012

David Graeber Explains It All To The Shade of Chris Hedges

David Graeber, of course, is one of the founding anarchists of Occupy Wall Street, and he's been involved in Movements of various flavors for many years.

I was glad he took on the responsibility of responding to Hedges' sad little meltdown over the Black Bloc "cancer" in Occupy. I was glad he pointed out how dangerous that kind of rhetoric is; it's the rhetoric of eliminationists, and no matter what you may think of Black Bloc and anarchists, no matter how negative you may be about them, eliminationism is a serious -- and deadly -- social malignancy; it's an attitude toward the dehumanized Other that leads to disastrous consequences, and not solely for the dehumanized Other. As I've said before, Hedges did something shameful by scapegoating and demonizing "Black Bloc anarchists." Being a writer, he knows the power of language to inspire fear and loathing and providing excuses for deadly action against the Other. He was in Bosnia. He KNOWS. Therefore, I do not cut him any slack on that account, unlike Graeber who tirelessly appeals to Hedges' better angels.

As Graeber puts it somewhat more powerfully than I do, let's go to the quote:

I am appealing to you because I really do believe the kind of statement you made is profoundly dangerous.

The reason I say this is because, whatever your intentions, it is very hard to read your statement as anything but an appeal to violence. After all, what are you basically saying about what you call “Black Bloc anarchists”?

1) they are not part of us

2) they are consciously malevolent in their intentions

3) they are violent

4) they cannot be reasoned with

5) they are all the same

6) they wish to destroy us

7) they are a cancer that must be excised

Surely you must recognize, when it’s laid out in this fashion, that this is precisely the sort of language and argument that, historically, has been invoked by those encouraging one group of people to physically attack, ethnically cleanse, or exterminate another—in fact, the sort of language and argument that is almost never invoked in any other circumstance. After all, if a group is made up exclusively of violent fanatics who cannot be reasoned with, intent on our destruction, what else can we really do? This is the language of violence in its purest form. Far more than “fuck the police.” To see this kind of language employed by someone who claims to be speaking in the name of non-violence is genuinely extraordinary. I recognize that you’ve managed to find certain peculiar fringe elements in anarchism saying some pretty extreme things, it’s not hard to do, especially since such people are much easier to find on the internet than in real life, but it would be difficult to come up with any “Black Bloc anarchist” making a statement as extreme as this.

There have been many more responses to Hedges. He is not getting away with his smears, but he may have his King of OWS crown repossessed.


Meant to post a link to this response to the Hedges Smear, but forgot I guess. It's from a Socialist perspective and it's quite good compared to a couple of others I ran across; the comments are good, too:

Against Hedges on the Black Bloc


  1. Che,
    I don't know if Kitt has found you; he is involved in one of the Occupies (and shame on me for forgetting which one!) and posted this link on UT. I thought it might be of some interest to you. Very interesting article, and gives some detail about what a bloody price the Swedes and Norwegians ended up paying for their non-violence. I think they have found it was worth it, now looking back, to have managed to throw the 1% out despite the cost.


  2. Thanks for the link, teri49. The need for that kind of inspiration couldn't be stronger, and as I work my way out of the noise of the current uproar over the question of nonviolence in Occupy (truthfully, it's rooted in a different question that's been there all along, but that's yet another longggg post.... sigh... ;-)I'll likely reference it and some other key articles that have shown up over at Waging Nonviolence throughout the Occupy campaign.

    Nathan Schneider is doing good work.

    Note that Lakey writes eloquently and repeatedly about the "militance" of the Norwegian and Swedish People in their struggle for social and economic justice.

    Nonviolent militancy is ultimately what breaks the stranglehold of the Overclass in western democracies. In some ways the struggle is far more difficult now than it was then -- in part because there is no Soviet Union to serve as a fulcrum for social justice. In part, it is because our Overclass does not want us to know that nonviolent militancy works.

    But they can't keep the secret forever! Heh.

    Say hey to Kitt, if you get the chance. Wish him well for me...;-)



    1. The Soviet Union acted as nothing else than as a more intense, and more pointless, copy of the Tsars' Empire is supposedly replaced.
      You might as well mourn the passing of piles as the USSR.

  3. Teri,

    Thanks for the link. Definitely want to take a close look at that today. Also, echoing Ché, give my best to Kitt for all he's doing . . .


    Graeber is right on. Surprised that Hedges went that route. Very surprised. He had been someone I could almost always count on to be on the right side of the issues and events of the day. To be a conscience for the good fight, etc.

    Very disappointed.

    I'm reading Graeber's book on Debt in between books on Zen Training, which makes for a very strange brew -- to say the least. About 100 pages in. Very interesting, though I haven't really gotten into the meat of his argument. An important voice, regardless . . .

    . . . .

    Since Graeber handled the really important issue of the danger of Hedges' talk, it should also be noted that it just makes it easier for righties to paint the entire movement with one horrible broad brush, and they can cite Hedges to do so. Or anyone else pushing this line. What "the left" seems never to have figured out is that the only way we get anywhere in the face of massive reactionary resistance from a right-wing Establishment is to hold the line together. To-gether. Start turning on each other and the right just picks off the strays and breaks through the line altogether.

    Yeah, it's like an actual battle, and for decades, the left has been in retreat, tossing sacrificial lambs over their shoulders as they run screaming from the right-wing onslaught. The left thinks these "sacrifices" will appease and placate the right, but they never do. It all just strengthens them, attracts more to their banner and, yes, "emboldens" them to take over more and more ground.

    . . .

    Basically, to boil it all down, the left keeps losing because of the cowardice of key personnel and a tendency toward mass neuroses. Those on the left who aren't cowards tend to worry far too much about "nuances" the right couldn't care less about. They think that by calling out these "nuances", the Establishment will realize "the left" is correct on X, Y and Z. Naaaaw. The Establishment made up its mind thousands of years ago.

    We have to make up ours. Solidarity, not nuance. The stakes are too high for political gourmets.

  4. Che,

    I do not post on UT any longer, however, I gave Morning's Minion (with whom I stay in touch via e-mail) a link to your blog to pass on to Kitt. Hopefully she will do so.

    Gotta run,

  5. Cu-hool,

    I've calmed down a little bit over the Hedges Thing now that so many others have taken him to serious task over his article.

    It's been interesting to see how little support he has for what he wrote. Almost none. Black Bloc is simply not that important a factor in the Occupy firmament. He did a bad bad thing. His efforts to defend it are pathetic.

    On the other hand, I can't really say whether he did it deliberately with malice aforethought, or he was thinking strategically. You never know with him. As I say, he knows the effect that kind of language can have, and he knows it can be deadly. But the other part of it is that there is essentially no support anywhere in the Movement -- and hardly any outside it -- for that kind of monstrousness, and it's had the effect of reinforcing both militancy and solidarity -- and ironically helped increase support.

    So if he was trying wedge further division in the Occupy Movement, it didn't work; it had just the opposite effect. Of course there's still an internal struggle over "nonviolence," but I think it is really over something else, a much deeper concern which I've found I can't write about very well.

    Worrying about what the neighbors will think, or how the right or the media will use something against us must be hard wired into some people; I honestly don't get it, but I've known all my life that some people are obsessives about it. And I've always been a rebel.

    I'm seeing it in the intensity of feeling in the discussions of nonviolence/violence. I'm seeing a genuine but very misguided belief that if we would only get rid of everything about Occupy that "they" don't like, especially what's called "violence" -- but is actually effective nonviolent militant resistance -- then "they" won't hit us so hard, and maybe "they'll" like us... please?

    "They're" gonna hit us anyway, cause they can and they like to, just like any other bully.

    As chant in Oakland goes: "When Oakland is under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!" It works. In fact, just the chant alone is enough to cause trembling among some of our rulers.

    What could be more nonviolent than that?

    Hope you're doing well. Solidarity.

  6. teri49, re: UT. Too poisonous? I hope MM is doing well as well...


  7. Again, the opposition to OWS has already made up its mind. Saintliness won't matter to them. If they can turn someone like Saul Alinksy into a demon, they can and will destroy anyone, regardless of the facts. It's just better for us to make our case to the best of our abilities, stand up, stand together and stop taking shit from anyone.

  8. Looks like it cut off most of my post.

    Oh, well.
    . . . .

    Will respond some more later this evening.

    Hope all is well, Ché and Teri49. . . .

  9. "They can and will destroy..." Yes, they are very good at that.

    I've been going through the immense number of emails I've received in relation to the "nonviolence controversy," and I'm kind of gobsmacked at the level of submission to the propaganda machine that is "informing" this debate. The anti-anarchist and anti-Black Bloc propaganda must be intense out there...

    I don't have any reason to suspect the motives of those who sincerely believe in nonviolence, especially not if it is a belief in nonviolence as a life-way; but so many of those who are communicating with one another and with me about the issue strike me as far more concerned with the preservation and the imposition of authority so as to ensure there can be and will be no effective Movement via Occupy, even though they may be now or once were strong OWS supporters. (Most of what I'm receiving is from people in New York concerned about an upsurge in "violence" there that might theoretically be spearheaded by a Black Bloc, because there was a thrown bottle or two in solidarity with Oakland, and some people have been so confrontational with NYPD and it's just terrible and is destroying the Movement, etc, and it's got to be stopped somehow, we need a Peace Police (literally) to monitor the marched and keep people in line, and to prevent all this unpleasantness and build the movement, and Chris Hedges may have been a little harsh, but we've just got to do something, or the whole effort will have been wasted... And I'm just sort of staring at this goggle eyed, and wondering "Have these people gone completely crazy?"

    It's a very different take on things, still sorting it out in my mind...

    BTW, I have noticed that Blogger's software sometimes eats entire comments and posts. Sometimes it's just a word or two here and there, But the best is when it randomly adds a link to a non-existent image.

    And of course you've experienced the thrill of being sent to Blogger Auto-Detention, where comments get to sit for a while until I notice they're there and release them.


    Please write again! (We will defeat the oppression of the Blogger System!)

  10. Che,
    Yeah, UT is pretty toxic any more. Also seems to be in the control of a couple of posters who just dominate the space - sadly, they aren't the ones particularly worth reading. I quit leaving comments a few months ago when they switched log-in procedures (didn't want to log in via my g-mail account). That's okay. I don't think I'm missing too much - the other day, there was a page and a half of fart jokes in the thread. And this was from the "old" regulars. Sigh.

    I get rid of some of my angst by writing on my blog, but I do miss the old back and forth that the comment section used to provide.

    Morning's Minion is fine, from what I can tell (she is a very spotty correspondent, at best), although I think she and her family are seriously considering leaving the country.

    I saw a very brief news clip from Pitts. which included Helen. She is still with OccupyPitt and will stay forever, if that's what it takes. She appears very tired, but my God, she's been living in a tent for months now.

    I actually had something to say, but I think I'll just stop now. I'm in too bleak a mood.

    Take care,

  11. Thanks for the update, teri49; believe me, I can understand your dismay and feelings of despair. Given what's going on -- just what we know about it -- bleak moods are called for. We're looking at a tough year ahead with much to worry about, especially if we care about other people.

    I'm so caught up in local-ish Occupy events, and the Black Bloc- anarchist-nonviolence "controversy" I haven't followed the situation in Pittsburgh closely, but I saw a brief notice on the scheduled eviction being postponed and then it was on again, then under way, and it seemed to me the authorities were embarked on an attempt at psy-ops against the Occupiers. My impression has been that the Pittsburgh folks have got their shit -- as they say -- together better than most (Helen, I'm sure, has something to do with that) and they will not be kept down.

    I chose to step away from UT a little over a year ago when I was challenged by a life-threatening condition (ie: pneumonia) that was far worse than I thought. I didn't need more poison in my life; the struggle to heal was tough enough without it. Stepping away was a real release and relief for me. My mood became almost sunny! Ha!

    And I've learned a lot in a whole other atmosphere that's mostly a very positive one, though if anything the challenges are greater than ever, and emotions run very high indeed. Explosively so sometimes. But that's another essay.

    It's understandable -- but think how sad -- that so many people who can leave the country are seriously considering the option. MM seemed so filled with light. She could see the looming darkness plainly, too.

    But again, there comes a point when Basta Ya! is not just a slogan. It's the existential truth.

    We do what we can and try not to be too hard on ourselves for our faults and failings. We try to tread lightly on the earth and step back from bringing harm to our brothers and sisters.

    Eek. I fell into homily! Must learn to control that... !

    Feel free to write whatever you want to here; this pop stand's always open.



  12. Ché and Teri, like you I struggle with the tone and tenor at UT. Some great posters and I learn a great deal from reading and posting there, but many are too quick to find fault and I find myself falling into that bad habit. There is a kind of constant bullying and hectoring that I am growing weary of...I like to think out loud, at times, and arrive at ideas. I no sooner post something than someone is nitpicking and blowing up a phrase or taking something out of context. I said...mea culpa; then I find myself doing the same and don't like it.

    I love the tone here, and am really wowed, Ché, by the caliber of your posts; you hit it out of the ballpark, as does Teri at hers. Great depth and detail and an admirable absence of snark. It's great to expand the pool. --Thanks MM

  13. Teri, thanks a million for the link to the Nordic labor movements. I was surprised that they didn't explore the overlap between an active labor movement and the ability to resist Hitler's pogroms. I have to believe there's a connection. The Swedes, and Danes, and Finns are among the few who can hold their heads high. No doubt the robust resistance to economic tyranny forged the kind of bonds that enabled them to resist the Nazi agenda to a greater degree than their neighbors.

    When I was in Scotland in '84, the miners were on strike; there was an overlap with CND (Committee for Nuclear Disarmament) because both groups knew that we were stronger together, but frankly we did not do enough to develop that charged interface. Building allies is key...

    1. You do know that the Finns were allied to the Nazis early in the war? That the Swedes were neutral? That Denmark approved fewer refugee applications (% wise)from German Jews than Fascist Italy did? That Norway didn't allow Jews to so much as enter Norway, even as visitors, until the mid/late 19th century?

  14. Just as a point of information, there have been a few intense arguments and disagreements in the comments here, but not with the kind of intentional-hurtful rhetoric that crops up on some other sites.

    As for snark, ...koff... I tend to be guilty of poorly thought through attempts at... humour... from time to time. It's not truly my métier, that's for sure!

    Carry on!