Filed under: Milwaukee area | Tags: anti-capitalism, austerity, black bloc, crowds, elections, milwaukee, occupy, recall, rowdy crowds, scott walker
Four arrests Wednesday evening. A “keep it in the streets” protest in downtown Milwaukee followed the re-election of Governor Scott Walker, and was scheduled to respond to the victory of either politician. At this time, four have been released and cited with disorderly conduct and one more recently released back into our arms a day later than the rest. The five that were arrested were almost arbitrarily chosen for their close proximity to the blind and fevered panic of the police. The police, despite their smirks, had far less control over the situation than they want to say. At moments they had to put their hands on their guns just to convince themselves of who was in control. Shit was out of control.
After a year and a half being wasted on a recall election, after all of the energy put into the Capitol occupation and state-wide strikes was funneled into useless electoral politics, there is now room to breathe and begin again. This newfound freedom to act was seen in the streets of Milwaukee with surprising clarity. What started as a gathering of talking heads quickly escalated into a push and shove match with police, whose aim was to corner and stop any unpermitted march from taking place. Within seconds of the march, protesters took to the streets as dozens of cops in riot gear attempted to contain them. The crowd was unwilling to be pushed aside, and worked together to shove back and wind around the horses, motorcycles, and beefy baton-wielding helmets.
The black bloc, though dormant in Milwaukee for years, seemingly reappeared (some in all black, some with red bandannas, and some other groups and individuals who wore some form of the mask) and it both engaged in confrontation and helped to defend individuals in the crowd, while others that weren’t bloc’d up joined in and initiated their own actions. Its very presence declared non-violence an impossibility.
Police tried to stop the crowds, but failed again and again to contain its excesses. People pushed against police lines and horses and pulled their friends to safety as cops attempted to arrest them. One startled cop had some unknown liquid thrown at his face during the first attempted kettle. At another moment of police provocation a member of the crowd wrested a baton from the grip of a cavalry officer, hit him, and threw the baton at another, then jumped into the cloak of the crowd. It was unruly, disobedient, and willing to shove, at least 150 deep.
After twelve or so blocks of low-intensity conflict, protestors made it to Zeidler Park, the planned to be space of occupation. At this point the PA once again became an instrument of boredom as the crowd was talked at by people that wanted to give speeches instead of dance, or eat, or fight. Attention was then shifted to supporting those arrested, and a small crowd moved to the local police station to await their release. No occupation happened, but for now that is ok. All in all, the event was a short but inspiring leap away from the silly matter of a recall election.
When asked about the protest, police chief Flynn was quoted saying that it was MPD’s job to “babysit” the crowd while they “pretend to be relevant protestors”. We couldn’t disagree more. It is only now that the police have been identified as a thing to be fought, and the recognition that democracy will always fail to appease its audience that Wisconsin joins relevant contemporary struggle. Last year at the Capitol there was some confusion as to whether or not the police could be considered a part of the working class and it is very nice to see this question can put to rest. There is nothing more salient to present-day politics than an antagonism towards police.
Meanwhile, the media acted with calculation, minimizing and simplifying events, as they are expected to, creating a safe distance from any possible intensity. To them, it was simply a protest, it was “40”, it was “several”. It marched roughly half the actual distance down the forgettable avenue of Plankinton, when the wildness really cut through Water Street, the center of downtown. We blocked traffic “briefly” (ahem, forty god minutes at least). Their tendencies are to be non-descriptive, to imply that those that got arrested deserved it, and to minimize the actual event as much as possible, acknowledging it only so as to explain it away.
Similarly, the Left attempts to erase the excitement and power we experienced at the march. They talk about a peaceful, nonviolent protest where police officers unjustly arrested individuals to stifle free speech. From their press releases to the photos they post, the shining activists of the 99% were all but crushed, helpless victims.
The truth is that the march wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t been as unruly and forceful as it had been, and there would have been many more arrests and injuries at the hands of the police. There was anger, and there was power.
To the rest of the world that is fighting and making 2012 the year that the world ends: Don’t wait for us, we’ll catch up!
We were not the 99%. We were 150, and we were angry.
Filed under: Milwaukee area | Tags: anti-capitalis, anti-walker, black bloc, conflict, elections, keep it in the streets, march, milwaukee, recall, wisconsin
Filed under: war-machine | Tags: anarchy, anti-capitalist, black bloc, may day, riot, seattle, violence
Filed under: war-machine | Tags: black bloc, capitalism, civil war, crime, identity, insurrection, non-identity, opacity, science, tactics, the streets, violence
Inquiry figure 1: The Black Bloc
Thesis: The black bloc is limited by obsolete aesthetic forms and reduced strategic imagination.
Hypothesis 1: The black bloc will spread antagonism more effectively if it can overcome these limits
Hypothesis 2: The black bloc should:
- Abandon identity
- Abandon predicates
- Develop collective intelligence
- Develop tactics
The black bloc is a method to prepare and hasten the clash. It is an anonymous way of being together, outmaneuvering police, and making attacks that radically alter the way we think about ourselves, power and our environments. Contrary to the critiques by those who fail to understand our contemporary situation, the black bloc is a long-term project engaged in a monastic work to develop undocile contagious practices.
The black bloc is a tension between insurgent identity and event. On the one hand, because the black bloc is a dynamic set of practices, it produces an unstable subject position: the black blocer. On the other hand, because the black bloc is also an event, rather than a fixed identity, it radically interrupts our functional roles as workers, citizens, students, etc. In this way the black bloc is always negotiating a tension between naming—and thus stabilizing—its subject position and becoming indistinguishable from the riot as a few antagonistic yet predictable gestures. While the latter claims an ethics of openness, it also limits how the black bloc can continue to stay unstable and tactically unpredictable.
At the heart of our self-analysis and critique is the question of the black bloc’s meaning. What does is it connote, describe, and do? For us the black bloc means: strategic antagonism.
The black bloc has the potential to connote “we who rebel intelligently.” However, it more often connotes “anarchism” because it is employed instrumentally to essentially advertise for that particular political identity. In most cases the narrative might go like this: there is a struggle, it has a dominant reformist discourse, anarchists feel marginalized and call for a black bloc in order to bring more radical ideas to the surface. In this way, the anarchists vote as bloc—the same way as other political groups—in order to be better represented in the struggle. However, the tactics deployed and the images produced create a heroic specter, whose glorious figure of revolutionary purity doesn’t correspond to the need for anonymity as a practical necessity of contemporary revolt. The use of the black bloc as such locates the figure of the anarchist, the criminal, and the militant all in one place. The black bloc’s objectives: contagiously reversing the operation of power on our bodies, taking back force, and elaborating practices of offensive opacity–are accomplished by diffusing these practices throughout the space and time of a struggle, not by consolidating them in single revolutionary subject. In this way, the very aesthetic that our anonymity rests upon currently works against us. The employment of all black everything separates us and functions to produce us as anarchist subjects with predictable motions and roles we fulfill. Even if a black bloc is composed solely of self-described anarchists, it must resist the ideological temptation to claim it as a terrain exclusive to anarchists. The black bloc should spread anarchy as a practice—not an idea or identity.
The challenge of resonance and contagion is exacerbated by the black bloc’s ahistorical ethical and aesthetic positions. The anarchist figure appears as a body detached from history, clinging instead to antiquated forms. Whereas each struggle to which we are bearing witness appears to itself as something new, the anarchist black bloc remains trapped by the image of Seattle ’99. This is not a problem of the techniques we use to destroy property—we’ve seen a lot of beneficial advancements in that—nor is this a problem in the techniques employed to confront the police. Here we have seen useful developments as well. The use of barricades, rocks and bottles, burning cars; the use of laser pointers to disorient the police; the use of Information Technologies to gather and disperse with greater speed and agility all amplify our tactical senses. The challenge we must overcome is the same challenge at the core of every struggle. How do we lose our predicates? How do we dissolve ourselves into a common?
Imagine the event of an insurrection as either a complex experimental symphony or a drawn out improvisational drama, with a touch of comedic elements and heroism. In either situation, all the participants will first begin with almost no plan or shared sense outside of their environment or their knowledge of their instruments—most times no one will have any intent on playing together. Something happens, someone begins to play, and when the rhythm touches others they join in. Or in the latter case someone speaks, asks a question, and others respond and build on the narrative. In each case the primary operation must be endowed with a force of seduction. This is not to say erotic or pleasurable even, but decisive in how it approaches its environment. The operation must pose a question that is irresistible to answer. An experimental composer once said “the hidden secret that makes this thing function is that the audience wants to be a part of the […] plot” This originary operation, the gesture that repeats itself even as it grows in complexity, must solicit the response “Yes, and.” This is how we can measure the success of the black bloc. In the experimental symphony, this is how each musician adds their own layers of emotion and aesthetics to the structure, even by altering the initial rhythm. In the improvisation drama, this is how the narrative grows essentially from nothing, then departs and returns to different plot elements. “Yes, and” must be the answer to rhythmic question “We need this, do you?” How this question is posed defines the particular meaning of the black bloc.
As the crisis deepens, revolt spreads. 1+1. simple math. However, instability is a familiar sensation for an economy based on the assumption of scarcity and constant expansion. Capital is well calibrated to crisis, and the arguments that “it will get better, when it gets worse” don’t fare well historically. As the economy is thrown into crisis, control and repression also deepen. In order to integrate antagonisms into a manageable framework, the fields of social sciences, anthropology, and psychology are enlisted to research the finest details of life. Meanwhile others specializing in police science dutifully work to calculate and predict the movements of antagonism in general. Once these antagonisms can be reduced to qualities and data, governments can begin to regulate, distribute and circulate these antagonisms in a way that produces value or guards against any further disruptions. One thinks of both the subtle integration and circulation of identities, the brute force of imprisonment, elimination through police bullets, and reduction through war. This governmental technique, sometimes called “risk reduction”, in practice functions as preemptive counter-insurgency. Here we see that counter-terrorism—as a set of policing measures and juridical transformations—was a maneuver that foreshadowed this epoch of crisis, developing its science over the course of several decades to be perfected just in time to stop the next revolutionary surge. We can’t count on the simple math.
As the environment of struggle shifts, so should our strategy. The contemporary sites of struggle are no longer demarcated spaces of confrontation—summits of the elite where our discourse congeals around a critique of financial capital and around a moral rejection of state violence. Revolt is now found in a delimited environment, more closely aligned with nightmarish war theory, where everything and everywhere is a potential terrain of conflict. There is an increasing need to develop common techniques that are easily appropriated. No one would have predicted that by 2010 a specter of university occupations would hang over the US, much less that a movement of occupations would erupt across the globe by 2011. But given the circumstances we believe this will spread, mutate and deepen. For our own safety locally and to contribute to the historical struggles emerging at a global level, black blocs must be able to pose the question: “We need anonymity, do you?” And as the lulzy hacker group Anonymous proves, the response “Yes, and” may not take the form we expect.
At the moment when struggles were cohering as a convergence of the antagonistic remnants of culture—the cycle of struggles that included environmentalism, third-wave feminism, anti-death penalty, anti-war, and anti-globalization—all black everything attacking the symbols of financial capital was clearly contemporary. The black represented a conscious sense of the way these ethical practices were excluded from capital, and financial capital was the example of shameless entrepreneurship par excellence. However, today our anti-social media darlings no longer conjure a meaning exterior to capital—mostly because these forms (culture) could be, and were, integrated into the general circulation of commodities. The black bloc and corresponding meaning that was linked to a set of subcultural identities is empty. There may remain a caricature in some newspaper making reference to one of our more loud participants–the anarchist punk–but as we all know, there is no longer a world for such a creature. Some may feel a sense of depressing nostalgia for how capitalism has drained our subcultures of what was living, but the emptiness of the black bloc—its abyss of potential chaos—is precisely what makes it more relevant than ever. The black bloc drained of identity has the potential to become open in ways impossible when it was only the practice of a limited set of subcultures. Strategic antagonism in a world increasingly composed solely of hostility now has the potential to shed its veneer and experiment.
* * *
What follows is a set of experiments to be immediately put into practice. The results should be examined, and analyses should be shared through our internal circuits of communication.
This text, although in public forums, is an example of how our communication works. We can say there is something, but there is no need to speak of its content. Thus, a cypher is put into public spheres. The cypher codes that a black bloc is called. The call speaks to those who hear it. It happens. If it happens well, if would appear that there was never a black bloc at all, only the event. However, the real of the event is not pure spontaneity, but the ease with which antagonistic techniques are able to spread and mutate.
* * *
Experiment 1. Street clothes is the new black. Plain colors on the first layer, prints, stripes or plaids for the second layer. Jeans for bottoms.
In some occasions, when the entire struggle is already located as criminal or revolutionary, all black makes sense—that is, it generates a certain meaning, a certain attention to our surroundings. “Black” for us should connote speed and intensity of attack, not ideology. Anonymity can be gained collectively through means other than the color of our clothing. Hats and scarves alone work quite well to make a surveillance camera less effective. An outer layer can be disposed. Shoes can be changed. A large crowd on its own also helps. If a few people in black are throwing rocks, they are easily isolated; if what appears to be “anyone” is throwing rocks, they are concealed by the contagion of the practice. A slow riot, drawn out street fights, the spread of undocile practices. These can be achieved when it is increasingly difficult to distinguish the law abiding citizen from the annotated figures of protest and revolt.
Experiment 2. Slogans and signs are a thin barrier between us and the police—use them accordingly.
Banners, yes; black flags, sometimes.
Black bloc has meant a different way of engaging in struggle. It has meant the advancement of tactical anti-police and property damage sciences. When shedding our facade, we need not lose the tactical intelligence of banners and flags. Banners call attention. Contemporary struggles do not cohere over “ideas,” and we first came to this realization through the black bloc. Like the myth of “free speech” under the reign of democracy, banners provide a thin barrier between us and police. Use them accordingly.
Here the movement of occupations has been very clever and instructive. The first wave of student occupations against austerity measures saw the use of shields painted as books—a tactic appropriated across an ocean and a few continents. In New York instead of the demand “Never work!” or slogans that cohere over ideas such as “against capitalism” banners, we see the intelligent use of an ambiguous narrative “I will never get a job in this economy.” While our creativity remains captive until we are emancipated from the regime of value, our use of slogans and text should be charged with the same meaning as our defensive technologies.
Flags on the other hand have a history which links them to identity, to nations, to a People. Being that there is no longer any People outside the global citizen-producing project of Empire, even those flags waved by the citizens of anarchism and communism are but an empty threat. Just as the Red and the Black flew next to the Serbian flag during the strike to oust Milošević, just as the Black Flag flew next to the Mexican Flag during the Immigrant general strike of ’06, these symbols no longer carry meaning.
Flags also have a different history, a technical history in both combat, and festival. Flags can be used to signal just about anything—a charge, a way of moving together, a certain time in which its good to disperse; they need not be black. And of course, flags are sticks with piece a of cloth attached. Here we would do best to not care if the image is a masked youth waving a black flag in front of a cloud of teargas or a surly old man swinging the stars and stripes at some cops, bellowing about taxation.
Experiment 3. Spread the disease.
Conspiracy means strategize together. The sense of a different way of being together, of getting organized, is one of the paramount achievements of the black bloc. We need to find ways to spread this sense across new fields of struggle. With confidence in our experience, we need to humbly experiment with applying our tactical knowledge to different conflicts, with people otherthan just seasoned riot-tourists.
The first wave of occupations in the US, from the Newschool in NYC to the University of California, saw quite a bit of this experimentation. A line of power grew from a house discussion, a classroom, a bar, a rooftop, and multiplied.
In the western territories, one saw the insulation of cliques formed through these struggles grow with experiment, not without the accompanying pangs and mistakes. The intensity leading up to the March 4th UC-wide student strike proved to be a misplaced nostalgia for summit demonstrations of yore. However, events which followed the fizzled climax generated a certain intelligence about how to engage with Marx’s maxim “Men make history but not in conditions of their choosing.”
The summer of ’11 saw an interventionary strategy, composed of “anti-cut” events revolving around a discourse of anti-austerity by a group called Bay of Rage. While the actions—mostly smaller street parties-cum-confrontations with the police—never generated the results that the initial Bay of Rage participants wanted, they did consolidate a shared sense between them, and recreate their environment as a laboratory of subversion. Moreover, the shared space to practice developed a certain endurance, sense memory, and refining of muscular and mental energy, that, when something happened, was tuned to the rhythm of struggle. Here the normal situation of someone murdered by police quickly took on new meaning as Bay of Rage went from a few hyped actions of die-hards to becoming host to riotous demonstrations of a few hundred. The shift against the Bart police also added to this chorus. The anti-policing sense gave birth to new rhythms and these resonated with others beyond those closest to the Bay of Rage. Anonymous, street youth, and an array of many other worlds joined this choir. The situation continued to build on itself, as more people responded with “yes, and.” We might see the impressive developments with Occupy Oakland in this light.
A small song booklet theorized how this taste for strategic thought might spread outside of our milieu. “When a couple of angry bus drivers, or grocery store workers encounter some of us in this or that place, and we say: ‘there are fifty of us, we have these means, and we want to fight.’ The rest is silence.”
Through practice we develop the means, consistent numerical capacity, and qualitative knowledge and techniques. When our practice effectively re-inscribes the meaning of an environment’s signs, architecture and geography, our presence is undeniable. In such a situation, the ease with which practices can cross-germinate and mutate also establishes the necessary condition of communication—translation, and audibility.
Nearing the end of March 2012 a wild fare strike subtly assaults the subway fare apparatus in New York. A proper action, smoothing the line between our well known clandestine figures and that of an everyman mass worker. The attack targets some 20 stations during the morning’s busiest hours and is claimed by the Rank and File Initiative, a collection of #occupiers and Transport Workers Union Local 100 and the Amalgamated Transit Union. Of course the union’s leadership denies involvement in any such thing. In the an anonymous interview posted on the Village Voice website, the Rank and File Initiative says there were around 3-4 people in each station all disguising their identities, and that union members were paramount to the logistical elements. While the action doesn’t immediately give birth to mourning shop owners, it does function to create rupture in the normal flow of metropolis precisely because those who didn’t pay were all complicit. Here we see the practical mutation and intelligent application of complicity, resonance, and opacity.
The anonymity we need isn’t limited to the streets. Zones of opacity must be established. We need intimate meetings where we can discuss, make plans, and sort out the real material solidarities and resources to achieve our objectives, without the threat of the police. We need to elaborate a system of deciding what levels of trust are required, and how to practically implement this. Perhaps we need a different culture than that of security. Perhaps we need a multiplicity of possible forms of trust. We may not need to know each other for a million years to engage in a collective criminal attack against capital—such as the Port of Oakland blockade—but we need to spread a fluency in this illicit dialect.
The practice of conspiracy, of strategic thought, of breathing together, must be a commons of skills and new forms that we all draw from. Here it is important to reflect on the NYC fare strike interview that followed the release of the communique because it highlights how they did it. Instead of just privileging propaganda to explain our actions through the matrix of social critique, we should explain how to participate—as if it were a game with simple rules. This, above all else, must be developed in the coming years.
Experiment 4. Determine our own terrain of struggle; become unpredictable.
Our enemies deeply examine the geography, duration, and intensity of struggles, and develop their techniques of policing from this. Recognizing that we cannot count on pure numerical superiority and spontaneity means we must elaborate a practice of unpredictable movements and gestures. A central contribution of the black bloc to the summit riots was its refusal to have its movements bared by conventional limits—police, fences, architecture, and protest marshals. A certain fluidity gave it decisive agency. We need to reorient ourselves to this intelligence. Our environments can change based on how we act within them. We don’t have to stay together as a unit, linking arms and marching as a bloc. This is true for a demonstration and the entire space and time of a struggle. We can move through a smooth field. The same techniques employed for communicating where to gather to march and where to regather can be used within the entire terrain of a social struggle and a gathering point doesn’t have to lead in a linear path to an objective. A flashmob could converge within a march at a precise moment, and a precise location (for example: behind the Teachers against Budget Cuts banner) and then disperse and reemerge once we reach this building, this line of cops, or some other sign which we endow with meaning through our self-organization. This could be extended based on our capacity and levels of organization. Using a higher level of technology to achieve a circuit of communication is not the only way to accomplish this, but today’s struggles from the Banlieue riots to the Flashmobs across the US to the Arab Spring prove that contemporary revolt has a penchant for collective intelligence. Spreading and refining these techniques may not be as troublesome as some might think. There may be ways that don’t require everyone involved having a trashphone, or smartphone with a secure text app; its up to us to experiment.
Experiment 5: Or if we really want to experiment with being unpredictable:
Imagine a game spread through the same message and image boards that generate the phantom, Anonymous, except it elaborates the “doing it for the lulz” project in real time. Simple rules: you have to be invited to play, and if invited, you have to play.
Through the spread of #occupy, one can’t help but notice those “live feeds.” With UStream, one can watch and hear the events unfold, and even communicate through IRC in real time with others watching and the person who’s broadcasting the live stream. Imagine some players on the ground, in a demonstration or something else, as avatars, while their friends literally direct their movement. The on=ground player might always decide to do different than what she is told, but it might also be more fun to be whatever, and lose one’s self. Such a game would generate complicities capable of producing a far more terrible practice of offensive opacity by bringing the logic of spectacle to its hyperreal threshold. While certain questions of how to establish the necessary trusting environment, or completely anonymous environment, for such a game are yet to be answered, the technological and social conditions are quite ripe. We see now the spread of YouTube videos highlighting both social struggles and absurd criminal acts of youth for pornographic consumption. Such a game might catch on with far more seduction and malleability than our old game of dignified militant struggle.
For almost a decade, for three rounds of struggles, an assemblage of anti-control sciences has been tinkering with techniques, environments, and dispositions of struggle. While its clear that the black bloc is not the single methodology of contemporary struggle, we privilege it as a site of development because of its easy entry-points, relative flexibility and by the way our conditions continue to summon it. Some have theorized a mythical Plan B in order to supersede the limits of the black bloc at demonstrations. Occasionally, this has been practiced as the black bloc’s ferocity and intelligence, deployed outside of the large demonstration arena. Plan B has also been “attacking your enemy where he is not” within demonstrations, and as smaller gatherings that make dramatic public attacks—using speed and anonymity to escape capture, rather than the cover of a large crowd. While these experiments are conjured by the same spirit, we believe the current situation–a growth of strange and impressive struggles–is not the time to focus on how to intensify struggle, but how to alter our environments in ways that expand the territory of struggle. To us, the musical question is more one of duration and frequency than intensity. Intensity will follow, providing that initial question is posed in a way to solicit “Yes, and.”
We will more than likely be forced to continue this work for another decade. This monastic work of building a long term project of street confrontation and undocile practices is not in order to prepare for an event in the future. It is monastic precisely because the time in which this project takes place is a time contingent on but external to the time of the work-day. Our victory will come not by messenger, nor by the final orgasm of history. Rather, revolution will be the complex unfolding of billions of relations of domination, accented and accelerated by insurrection. From the time we entered this project to the present, the general geography of everyday struggle has condensed and multiplied, continuously paving the urban and suburban human environment in revolt against this society. There is increasingly less time between capitalist normality and moments of rupture. We expect our victory will be the slow, painful saturation of this world in such ruptures. The task set before us is how we will develop the necessary endurance, means, and vitality to be able to make these ruptures inhabitable.
Filed under: war-machine | Tags: anarchy, anti-globalization, black bloc, chris hedges, journalism, living and fighting, occupy, occupy everything, occupy wallstreet, terrorism, the movement of occupations, unitied states, violence
From Crimethinc and the IEF:
To counteract the recent backlash led by professional journalists against diversity of tactics in the Occupy movement, we sought out our comrades from the heart of the black bloc and asked them to tell their side of the story: where they come from, why they participate, how they see the world. Here follows an in-depth personal reflection on why the black bloc is so contemporary and what this means for social movements of all stripes.
The past few months have seen a backlash led by professional journalists against diversity of tactics in the Occupy movement. Rebecca Solnit represented our Dear Occupiers pamphlet as “a screed in justification of violence” simply because it endorsed diversity of tactics. Chris Hedges followed up by calling “black bloc anarchists”—an invented category—“The Cancer in Occupy.”Both allege that a violent fringe is undermining the movement and must be excluded from it.
What is taking place here is a kind of silencing. Defining people as “violent” is fundamentally a way to delegitimize them; Solnit and Hedges feel entitled to spread falsehoods about their political adversaries because their goal is to shut them out of the discussion entirely. That’s why Hedges acknowledges he never spoke to anyone involved in a black bloc in the course of composing his diatribe. Perhaps we shouldn’t expect better from journalists with their own wikipedia pages and glamor shots, who have much to lose should popular movements cease to be managed from the top down.
To counteract this silencing, we sought out our comrades from the heart of the black bloc and asked them to tell their side of the story: where they come from, why they participate, how they see the world. We do not accept the terms set by the mudslingers: our intent is not to compete for ideological legitimacy on a battlefield of abstractions, but to foster mutual understanding grounded in personal experience. As the expression goes, God only knows what devils we are: He can’t know anything else.
God Only Knows What Devils We Are
an apologia for the black bloc from the community that has no community
courtesy of the Institute for Experimental Freedom
Have you ever worn the mask one-two one-two,
(M) to the (A) to the (S) to the (K)
Put the mask upon the face just to make the next day,
Feds be hawkin me Jokers be stalking me,
I walk the streets and camouflage my identity,
My posse in the Brooklyn wear the mask.
My crew in the Jersey wear the mask.
Stick up kids doing boogie woogie wear the mask.
Yeah everybody wear da mask but how long will it last.
That’s why I live illegal
All my life I live illegal
Don’t give a fuck bout the law
When my pockets reaching zero
I’m fresh out the ghost town similar to your town
I’m probably where it goes down
He pretends he tolls down
-Ski Beatz & Freddie Gibbs
or thirteen years, for over a decade, I have donned the black mask. “Seattle”—that word still means “the days the world stood still” to me. “Genoa” still holds more terror and perversity than the North American September 11. In experiencing anonymous collective force, I have gained far more than a diversity of tactics in my tool box. The black bloc is not merely a tactic, as so many anarchist apologists claim; it’s more of an aesthetic development in the art of street confrontation. The black bloc is a methodology of struggle; it goes beyond a single color, and its intelligence reaches beyond the terrain of protests. The black bloc is irreducibly contemporary because only in its opacity can a ray of light from the heavens finally reach us. Allow me to explain.
It’s the summer of 2000. Many of us have given up on both Democrats and Republicans. The sense is that “anti-globalization” poses the only alternative to advanced capitalism. The Democratic National Convention: I am marching, drenched in sweat, through the catacombs that hosted the Rodney King riots. Sadly, the only remnant of those fateful days is a militarized police force that anticipates our every move.
We walk into an enormous play pen—the “free speech zone”—surrounded on all sides by a sea of navy blue wielding pepper balls and batons. Amid the most dreadful speeches and rebellious rock music, we find each other: the stupid, isolated, alienated, and utterly lost children of capital, just beginning our downward spiral—just beginning a precarious life, without promise and without hope.
We organize ourselves at the center and proceed to the margin, where things are unpredictable. Someone climbs the tall fence, reaching the limit of free speech; and then another, and another. A black flag is unfurled, and a figure waves it with pride, claiming this as a site of freedom with that stupid gesture. The pepper balls crash against your skin; they collide against your frail bones, exploding on impact and releasing a furious burning that traps itself in your oily clothes and sweat. The crowd collectively gains intelligence and transforms the signs bearing socialist slogans into shields for cover. We brace each other and press the signs against the fence. Shot with pepper balls, a figure falls from the apex of the fence; arms and femur bones snap against the concrete.
That putrid smell, the eyes glossed over in tears, the stomach churns and nausea overwhelms you. Vinegar-soaked rags help to soak up the poisonous clouds, but you can hear screaming everywhere as the blue tide comes rushing in, and your nerves twist and vibrate as the CS gas and police mutate into a single hostile terrain.
Suddenly, I am with six or ten people. I don’t know who. We’ve found a large road sign and we’re lifting it slowly. Plastic bottles soar impotently overhead. A small rock or two hits an officer. We press with what was once our labor power, straining to hurl the worthless product of our grandparents’ toil back at our overseers. The object tilts over the fence and falls to other side: clong. We cheer and revel in our functionless gesture. “Fuck the police” resounds throughout the night, however foolishly. A few bank windows collapse in glittery confetti. Spray paint decorates a wall. We journey to the end of the night; at its perimeter, we share drinks and laughs over our absurd gestures. Finally, back at the union hall, we crash in our sleeping bags, exhausted and dehydrated, to dream of the abolition of capitalism.
I am irreparably transformed.
Lets rewind. Sixteen years ago, I am an adolescent teenager. I have entered Alcoholics Anonymous—somewhat earlier than most of my family. There, I witness one friend’s overdose, another friend’s relapse and subsequent incarceration for manslaughter, and the spread of methamphetamines throughout my neighborhood. I watch Requiem for a Dream some years later, horrified by the cinematic juxtposition of “normal” and “marginal” addiction—it feels so familiar.
I am watching 20/20, an episode exposing Nike sweatshops. Through some extended leaps of logic, I recognize a link between those exploited by sweatshops and my own condition. With this heightened sensitivity, I conclude that
1) addiction has an economic function
2) the economy includes industries that tend to harm people—through exploitation, alienation, and immiseration, the reproduction of addiction being a subset of the last of these
3) the economy tends to hurt people generally.
My initial moral indignation passes; my sensitivity shifts from a moral compass faulting individuals for their choices to something more like class consciousness. The broke-ass cars in the yard appear starker. The drive-by shootings in our neighborhood gain a new meaning. The empty refrigerators’ sad grumble reverberating in our empty stomachs, my many stepbrothers’ sweet mullet haircuts—these bring me a certain revelation: I am white trash.
Seattle: the anti-globalization summits and corresponding riots. The beautiful rhythm: work, misery, chaos. They kill Carlo and we meet at the intersection of Colfax and Broadway to block traffic, frantically trying to show our tears and rage. The war. My sister is deployed to Iraq. We wear helmets and anachronistically chant “Bring the war home!” We spray slogans and burn effigies. We block the flows of the metropolis. As if to baptize our newfound agency, we are showered in pepper spray. Tear gas spreads across entire continents. We go from basement hardcore shows to warehouse parties. Our friends learn to DJ. Cocaine comes back into style and claims two victims; heroin gets a few more. The boredom and stupidity is suffocating. We attempt to wrest the noose from our necks. Democracy sweeps Bush back into office. We’re trashing a gentrified district of Adams Morgan. My friend records an MP3 of her heartbeat, shouts and heavy breathing accentuated by shattering glass and anxiety.
In the US, we hit a lull. Everywhere else the world burns.
As we get older, we find new ways to survive. A small meeting of coworkers transforms into an ambitious conspiracy. Without making any demands of the boss, we increase our pay and our quality of life. We eat well, we can afford cigarettes, we travel where we want to: Scotland and France, Italy and Germany. Can’t stop the chaos.
In Europe, the black bloc means “no media!” I watch a snitch in a tie go down among the kicks and punches of the hooded ones. A car burns. As the police battle two thousand rock throwers, a couple hundred advance through the marketplace, smashing everything. “Tremble Bourgeoisie!” is scrawled across a temp agency service.
Back home, our own temporary involvement in the economy—our precarious life—is reflected in the windows of the temp agency, the retail shop, and the café. The image of our desire is captured in the commodities to which we have no access. Our needs are displayed in advertisements that sell us happiness and grocery store aisles that mutate our tastes and relations to other living beings. Smashing, burning, and looting make sense to us in this context like nothing else could.
What Chris Hedges fails to understand about black bloc activity is that it arises from a real need. The “cancer” that Chris finds so disturbing—the contagion of an anonymous collective force—is precisely why and how it continues to outlive every social movement from which it emerges. These generations—we who fantasized about Columbine and now only know metal detectors at school; we who expected September 11 and now only know the politics of terror; we who grew up as the world crumbled all around us and now only know the desert—we need to fight, and not just in the ways our rulers deem justified and legitimate.
As workers, we’re excluded from unions, from collective arrangements of any kind. When we manage to find employment at all, it is meaningless labor that corresponds to our own superfluousness in the economy. We were raised by a generation so thoroughly defeated that it feared to pass on its history. We are the inheritors of every unpaid bill, of every failed struggle, the products of the insanely selfish individualism of advanced capitalism in North America.
Our entire environment feels hostile. Hence our hostility.
Chris Hedges cannot understand this because he misses the real historical conflict expressed in contemporary struggles. As David Graeber points out, his exhumation of the decrepit journal Green Anarchy shows how out of touch he is. The black bloc spreads because of a real need to take back force, which has been monopolized by the police. The black bloc spreads because it is a living practice of collective intelligence, redistribution of wealth, and improvisation; it spreads because it interrupts the ways we are confined in our identities as subjects within capitalism. The black bloc is tuned to the uneasy pulse of our time.
A paradigm of life is coming to an end. The black bloc is irrevocably contemporary because our age of unrest is reflected in this gesture. Populations everywhere are becoming ungovernable and doing so by casting off the fundamental assumptions of government, the techniques of policing, and laws of the economy. The paradigm of sovereignty is collapsing.
To see what is changing, we have to understand the nature of sovereignty. The modern state is founded upon an anthropological fiction of human nature and the surgical extraction of violence from living beings. Thomas Hobbes argued that the establishment of the civil state conveyed the human being from the state of nature—a war of each against all—to the loving arms of the sovereign, rendering him a citizen-subject on the condition that he leave “nature” at the door. But this discourse separates each being from collectivity: the subject of sovereignty is always already an isolated individual. And the arrangement keeps war at the center of the state, as the sole dominion of the sovereign. Ironically, what the subject lays down in return for security—the capacity to use force—is precisely what the sovereign must wield in order to ensure it: and this is wielded above all against subjects.
The form of sovereign power shifted as democratic governments replaced autocracies, but the content of state sovereignty remains. The modern state has shifted from techniques governing territory to techniques governing populations.
It is increasingly difficult to distinguish between totalitarian and democratic governments, as policing is identical under both. The police have the power to let live or take life—biopower—and the distinction between democratic and totalitarian becomes even more muddled as management and medicine also gain this power, determining who can access fundamental human needs. The mediation of capital creates a hellish environment in which practically everyone is integrated into a single hostile terrain, subject to its violence and its justice. If the cause du jouris enunciated as “fuck the police,” this is because the police are the living embodiment of Hobbe’s Leviathan, the state that keeps us at arm’s length from our own potential.
“The police” includes all who police; policing is an array of techniques, not all of which demand uniforms. Hedges’ cancer metaphor exposes his penchant for order, translating it explicitly into the language of biopower. Remember how Oakland’s Mayor, Jean Quan, and other authority figures used the discourse of health and risk to justify the repression of occupations around the US? Hedges continues this work of policing with his metaphor of an unhealthy social body in need of surgery. Whenever the basic assumptions of sovereignty and capitalism are called into question by those who defy state violence and the sanctity of property, the police are mobilized to discipline them. This disciplining is carried out by both the armed wing and the necktied wing of the police. It’s not a coincidence that Hedges invokes biopolitical language just as a portion of the population is beginning to discover the power of their bodies.
Less than seven years ago, in New Orleans an entire population was forced into a concentration camp by militarized police forces acting on a juridical state of emergency. The ones who did not obey this order could be gratuitously shot down. The justification given during Katrina was the health and well-being of the population. One can’t help but notice this same paradigm at work, albeit with less racialized brutality, in the violent evictions of the occupations. Safety, Health, Security: Necessity knows no law. These police actions only deviate slightly from the norm in terms of intensity, frequency, and grammar of “protection.” The deaths of Oscar Grant and Sean Bell attest to the murderous day-to-day operations of the police. The other casualties, the forgotten, continue to haunt every city block, where the police function to eliminate useless surplus—either out of economic utility or biopolitical necessity.
There is no document of civilization that is not at the same time a document of barbarism, as Walter Benjamin spells out in Theses on the Philosophy of History. It is terrifying to face the wreckage of history that constitutes the present. One loses count of the tragedies. Despair, recoded as “happiness,” runs through every aspect of social life, increasingly reflected by Hollywood and ironic television sitcoms as if to anesthetize us.
The arguments for orderly, passive demonstrations by Hedges and other liberal pundits miss all this. One doesn’t sweep the floor in a house falling off a cliff. In a world that feels absolutely hostile and alien, every element of social life acquires a sinister glow. In this light, the black bloc appears as a ray of optimism because it creates an opening that leads through to the other side of despair.
The new struggles increasingly take place outside of legitimate and traditional venues. When the factory was the contested site, the workers’ movement was the most vibrant and decisive space of contestation. During the shift from a factory-centered economy to an economy integrating social life, we saw the emergence of social movements contesting social spaces. Now that social life has been fully subsumed within capitalism, the mutant offspring of the proletariat and the counterculture is appearing outside the legitimate parameters of the old movements. This explains the spread of anti-social violence, anomic play, self-destructive revolt, irony. Chris Hedges may wish to turn away his gaze, but society is imploding.
We accept our conditions and get organized accordingly. Compared to the fatal and fatalistic strategy employed by school shooters, terrorists, and isolated individuals marked as insane, the black bloc, rioting, and flashmobs are collective and vital forms of struggle. The Left is obsolete—rightfully so, as it still clings to this collapsing society at war with its population. Society is decomposing and nothing will or should bring back the the good ol’ days—the days of slavery, hyper-exploitation of women, apartheid, homophobic violence, Jim Crow. We wager that organizing our antagonisms collectively and attacking this society where we are positioned, without anything mediating our force, is our best chance for a life worth living.
Remarking on how the black bloc assaults the sanctity of property, Chris says “there’s a word for that: criminal.” Even here he is behind the times. Once, it seemed that crime designated specific transgressions of the law, such as breaking a window. Today, this fiction is evaporating as crime is openly integrated into the economy. The black market, the gray market, the war on drugs, the war on terror. Branding criminal is not simply a maneuver in a public relations war—though it is that too; crime is the excess of law. Security cameras and Loss Prevention are not there to stop shoplifting and workplace theft any more than borders exist to stop illegal immigration. The designation of criminal is simply one more tool for managing populations, another line along which to divide and exploit.
The cynicism of the justice system is surpassed only by capitalism itself. There’s not enough money circulating any more for us to be fully integrated, so entire economies of ultra-flexible, superfluous, and precarious work have arisen. We don’t do anything that appears to matter, but somehow we have to do it all the time. Just to count as people, we have to gain all sorts of stupid commodities—a cellphone, a laptop, a specific knowledge of culture. Because our wages are so low and we work so much, our only options are illicit. Petty drug dealing, sex work, and pirating movies and music have become at once a normal practice for us and a constant opportunity for the police to rein us into the justice industry. The black bloc makes sense to us because it offers an intelligent way to do what we always have to be doing without getting caught.
If Chris Hedges is really concerned about crime, perhaps he shouldn’t praise anything in the movement of occupations. What attracts us to the black bloc is exactly what draws us to the occupation of a public square: all the different people with different experiences coming together to steal back the time stolen from us by work and the spaces stolen from us by ownership and policing, the collective crime of revolt. Hum the national anthem all you want and sing “dissent is patriotic” to the media, but the reality is that anything that breaks with the way things are is categorized in the same sphere of crime as “violence” and treated accordingly. So why not do it together and with intelligence?
Above all, the black bloc is contemporary because it is a site of self-transformation. Even the abused corpse of Gandhi is in accord: if we want to change the world we must change ourselves. To take this further, we might say we have to abolish ourselves.
Capitalism has only managed to stave off revolution by constantly reordering and diffusing social antagonism. At the center of the economy, it is increasingly difficult to distinguish between citizens and police, yet at the same time they appear to be at war with each other. At the margins, everything that once made antagonistic groups into “revolutionary subjects” is extracted—think of the fate of the Black Panthers—and the remaining husk works to gain entrance to the center or manage the disorder of the margins. Only an immediate break with the process by which we become subjects can open a window of potential. This self-transformative gesture is where tactics and ethics meet. If liberal commentators can’t handle the implications of this, this just shows the widening abyss between those who would defend citizenship and those who refuse to be governed.
Allow me to elaborate from our side of the barricades.
The black bloc is an anonymous way of being together. Anonymity allows me to shed the mask I have to wear at school, at work, in your parents’ house, in casual conversations at the bar. The black bloc enables us to interrupt the processes that make us into subjects according to race, gender, mental health, physiological health. Here, we can cease worrying about how power will extract the truth from us, and we can reveal truth to each other.
The black bloc assumes an intense ethics of care. Hedges alleges that it is “hypermasculine.” Not everyone who dons the black mask reads feminist and queer theory—Bell Hooks, Judith Butler, Selma James, Silvia Federici, Guy Hocquenghem—but these are extremely influential on our discourse. Had Hedges taken the time to research his subject, he would have found multiple discussions about the gender of anonymity.
Via the black bloc, we open the space to play with power. We radically reverse its operations on our bodies. Casting off the assumption that our bodies need to be protected, that we should give them over to the care of the state, we collectively re-inscribe them as as source of power. We also reverse the notion that freedom ends at the boundaries of individuals. I want you to put me at risk: in this axiom, we find the basis of love, friendship, and death, the three irreducible risks of life.
The black bloc is the site for a new sentimental education: a political reordering of our sentiments. We learn new sensations of love, friendship, and death through the matrix of collective confrontation. In the obscurity of the black mask, I am most present in the world. This unfamiliar way of being compels me to focus and intensify my senses, to be radically present in my body and my environment.
In the black bloc, I have to reconceptualize geographies. The event of the riot gives us a new mobility and space, a laboratory in which to experiment with public space and the relations of property and commodities. Moving through a one-way street backwards, I note how a slight displacement causes the flows of capital to malfunction. The metropolitan environment ceases to appear as a neutral terrain: suddenly I can identify all the ways it functions to channel all activity into a very narrow range of possibilities.
Drifting thus through urban centers, I become attuned to all the apparatuses at work and to how they can be caused to break down. Newspaper boxes and dumpsters can be moved into the street, blocking police from entering the space we are creating. Cars—the individualizing apparatus par excellence—can be put to collective use. All the pretty commodities in the window, usually the breadth of an entire social class away from me, are now a mere hammer’s distance from my proletarian hands. I can move through these spaces in which I am not authorized to be, transforming them. I can dance with mannequins or use them to smash out the windows of a storefront. I can trade the insanity of everyday misery for a collective madness that devastates the avenues of wealth.
For those of us who were excluded from the community of good workers, there is the black bloc. Like the myth of the historical proletarian community, it has no single organization, no membership, no written constitution. Through the black bloc, we find collective power, a sense of camaraderie, a historical tradition of living and fighting. It offers the possibility of immediately changing our conditions and immediately changing ourselves. Those who say it doesn’t act in the workplace misunderstand the forms work takes today and where it takes place. The black bloc has been instrumental in the recent port blockades on the West Coast and in the occupations of universities through Europe, the UK, the US, and Chile; the method is constantly being appropriated and adapted. When coworkers outsmart the cameras to take money from the register to share—when the hungry pocket goodies from an expensive health food store—when Anonymous strikes the credit card companies—wherever we use anonymity offensively, there is black bloc.
As I write this, Greece burns yet again, and more of the flexible, unemployed, and immigrant populations appropriate the tactics of the hooded ones—and vice versa. The black bloc can’t be cut out of the movement of occupations: there is no surgery that can extract the need for redemption from history, and there is no method better tuned to that task than this vital opacity. On the contrary, the so-called cancer will grow, spread, and mutate—and the movement of occupations, like other movements, will increasingly be indistinguishable from the black bloc.
Filed under: war-machine | Tags: 99%, anarchy, black, black bloc, general strike, oakland, occupy everything, occupy wallstreet, vandalism, violence
From Bay of Rage:
In addition to the marches called for by the General Assembly of the Oakland Commune, several marches were organized outside the formal processes at Oscar Grant Plaza. The organization of this, and other “unofficial” actions throughout the day is a point to be celebrated: the GA has consistently emphasized autonomous action and the strike has to be seen as a success in opening space for such autonomous activity. Most significant of these was the march that departed from the intersection of Broadway and Telegraph at 2 p.m. This march had been anonymously called as an anti-capitalist march. Both the poster promoting the march and the banner at its front boldly proclaimed “if we cannot live, we will not work; general strike!” An accompanying banner declared “this is class war.” This messaging of the march matched its stated intention and its subsequent action: to shut down those businesses and banks that remained open despite the strike (a promise it would make good on).
The small concrete triangle at the intersection of Broadway and Telegraph has great significance in the recent and long-past history of the struggle against class society in Oakland. In 1946, this intersection was the stage for the opening act of what would be the last General Strike in the United States before Wednesday. More recently, anarchists and anti-state communists in the Bay Area have used the intersection as a staging point for a series of three anti-capitalist processions in downtown Oakland. Named anticuts, these marches were a conscious attempt by anti-capitalists to carve out (anti)political space in Oakland from which to begin a non-statist / non-reformist response to the financial crisis, in the absence of any foreseeable social movement in the States. Each one beginning at Broadway and Telegraph, these three marches took to the streets of Oakland and took as their objects certain focal points of hate in downtown: particularly the jail and certain highly visible banking institution, but also the police whenever they came into conflict with demonstrators. To the extent that the intention of this sequence was to claim space for and build the offensive capacity of anti-capitalists in the Bay Area, the anti-captitalist march during the general strike proved this initial sequence to be a success. Noise demonstrations have returned to the jail several times through the course of the occupation, each communicating louder and more fiercely to the prisoners than the march before. However, it was specifically the downtown banks that attracted the ire of this particular march. The anti-capitalist march on November 2nd must then be understood within a continuum through time; it must be seen as the emboldened and enraged continuation of a communizing thread which aims to collectively claim and determine space within the city of Oakland.
Any reading of recent anti-capitalist street endeavors in the Bay Area also offers another discreet lesson to the students of social struggle: come materially prepared for the conflict you wish to see. Following this analysis, one could read this march as highly conflictual based solely on the obvious material preparations that went into it. From the outside, one could see that the march was equipped with two rather large reinforced banners at the lead, scores of black flags on hefty sticks, dozens of motorcycle helmets, and the now familiar book shields. Add to this the anonymity afforded by hundreds wearing masks and matching colors, and there is no question that these demonstrators came to set it off that afternoon. The black-clad combatants at the front of this march would retroactively be referred to with much notoriety as the black bloc, though this is perhaps a backwards reading of the events of the day. Rather than a coherent subject group or organization that set out to offer a singular political position, this tactical formation should instead be thought of as a void, a subjective black-hole where those who shared a similar disposition could be drawn to one another for protection and amplification. The so-called black bloc forcefully asserted a desirable situation for those who wanted to accomplish outlaw tasks despite repressive state apparatuses. Many will question the metaphysical implications or the contemporary efficacy of this particular form of making destroy. Yet regardless, it is important to emphasize that in the context of efforts to openly attack capitalist institutions in the face of intense surveillance, concealing your identity and rolling with friends will continue to be the best tactic. Additionally, this effort further expands the intention of anti-capitalist space in the bay area, offering a way for social rebels to find one another and act in concert.
Toward this end, the anti-capitalist march was quite successful in heightening the conflict in the streets of Oakland during the general strike. To the pleasure of a great majority of the several hundred demonstrators, an active minority within the march set about attacking a series of targets: Chase Bank, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Whole Foods, the UC Office of the President. Each was beset by a stormcloud of hammers, paint bombs, rocks, black flags and fire-extinguishers loaded with paint. The choice of these targets seems intuitive to anyone attuned to the political climate of Oakland. The banks attacked are responsible for tens of thousands of foreclosures in Oakland alone, as well as the imprisonment of Oaklanders through the funding of private prisons and immigrant detention. Whole Foods, in addition to its daily capitalist machinations, had purportedly threatened its workers with repercussions if they’d chosen to strike. UCOP, besides being the headquarters for the disgusting cabal that rules the UC system, was rumored to be the day’s base of operations for OPD and its cronies. Despite any number of reasons to destroy these places, the remarkable point of these attacks was that no justification was necessary. As each pane of glass fell to the floor and each ATM was put out of service, cheers would consistently erupt. Foregoing demands of their enemies, demonstrators made demands of one another, shouting wreck the property of the one percent! and occupy / shut it down / Oakland doesn’t fuck around! In 1999, at the height of neoliberal prosperity, participants in the black bloc at the Seattle WTO summit issued a communique detailing the crimes of their targets. A dozen years and a worldwide crisis later, such an indictment would seem silly. Everyone hates these places..
This isn’t to say that there wasn’t conflict over these smashings. A small, yet dedicated group of morons set about trying hopelessly to defend the property of their masters. In the name of non-violence, these thuggish pacifists assaulted demonstrators and sought to re-establish peace on the streets. Thankfully, these people were as outnumbered and ill-coordinated as they are irrelevant. Chair fights and brawls ensued, but each skirmish concluded with the hooded ones and their comrades on top. The anti-capitalist march and the formations that comprised it, should also be looked to as a practical means of neutralizing and marginalizing such peace police as well as the plain-clothed officers who fight at their side.
Property destruction is not a new element for the Oakland Commune. In the weeks prior to the anti-capitalist march, the property of various police entities were attacked by communards several times.:an anonymous communique claimed an attack on an unmarked police cruiser parked near the plaza; the riot following the eviction of Oscar Grant Plaza took a few more cop cars as its victim; a march against police brutality, days later, smashed the windows at OPD’s recruiting station next to City Hall. The destruction of the anti-capitalist march is set apart from these incidents for a handful of noteworthy reasons. Firstly, this demonstration marked the first large and coordinated act of collective destruction by the nascent Occupy movement. For a movement that fetishizes re-written narratives of non-violence in the Arab Spring, this event served as an act of forced memory. Clandestine attacks, however lovely, have a tendency to be overlooked, whereas hundreds of masked individuals comprising a march that makes destroy cannot so easily be ignored. Secondly, this symphony of wreckage marked a turning point in the naughty behavior of the occupations. Rather than reacting to police provocations (and in doing so feeding certain narratives about what justifies destruction) the demonstrators of the anti-capitalist march determined to take the initiative and the offensive in smashing their enemies without waiting to be gassed and beaten first. In doing so, they concretely refused the pacifist ideology of victimization that characterizes the dominant discourse of policing and violence. Lastly, in specifically targeting the dreaded banks and corporations, so hated by the occupation movement, these attacks served to equip he movement with the teeth it had previously been missing. Not only do these people hate the banks, they’ll actually make concrete attacks against the institutions they hate.
For enemies of capital, the shattering of bank windows and the sabotage of ATM machinery is beautiful in and of itself. It is intuitive that wrecking the property of financial institutions and forcing their closure is desirable. Some will argue that plate glass can be replaced and that any business closed by these actions would likely re-open the next day. This line of criticism isn’t wrong on the face of it, but it often misses a certain set of implications at the center of chaotic episodes such as this. For those seeking to destroy class society, chaos itself must be seen as a primary strategy at our disposal. Theorists of social control often cite the broken window theory: a way to describe the phenomena where the introduction of disorder to an otherwise perfectly ordered environment begets and creates space for further disorder. At the heart of this theory of governance is the understanding that biopolitical government must treat any interruption of order as a threat to order as a totality. Put another way, this violence against the facades of these capitalist institutions is damaging to said institutions in a manner far more grave than the cost of a few windows or the lost labor time. Rather, this activity sends signals of disorder pulsing through the imperial system. In the way that a broken window indicates the instability of an environment, the concerted efforts to smash the windows of various banks signals a coming wave of violence against the existent social order and its fiscal management. In the same way, attacks on police apparatuses signal the coming of far greater confrontations with the institution of policing. In a system as future-oriented and perception-driven as capitalism, this type of perceived disorder is catastrophic to investor confidence and to the key functions of the market. One need only look to the Eurozone to see the way in which anti-austerity revolt is intrinsically tied to the collapse of any illusion of security or confidence in the capitalist mode of production. Last year, blackclad haters in London smashed windows and attacked banks during a UK Uncut day of action. Months later, dispossessed people all over the England set about burning police cars, attacking police stations, looting stores and generally expropriating a future they were totally excluded from. Though the professional activists of UK Uncut were quick to distance themselves from the rioting in London, nobody was fooled. The actions of vandals during the UK Uncut events demonstrated that the crisis had arrived; that disorder was about to unfold. The left bewailed the nihilistic elements who had ‘infiltrated’ ‘their protest’, either anarchists intent on destruction or hooligans out to get theirs. When in subsequent months, massive segments of London’s underbelly rose up against their daily misery, they confirmed the fears of the bourgeoisie; the war was at their front door. In Greece and now in Italy, the violence of insurrectionaries in the streets corresponds to the chaos tearing through the countries’ economies. In each of these events, the reality that there is no future comes tearing into the present. To quote comrades in Mexico, chaos has returned, for those who thought she had died!
One can already see this instability rending its way through Oakland. The business leaders of the city are all too aware of the implications of this sort of anti-capitalist activity in the East Bay. In the days following the strike, bureaucrats from Oakland’s Chamber of Commerce went to City Hall to wring their hands about the previous day’s destruction. According to them, three businesses had already withdrawn from contractual discussions about opening their doors in downtown Oakland. Another downtown business association, comprised primarily of banking institutions and corporate investors, bewailed the existence of the Commune. They asserted that the activities of the occupation and the strike were causing a great deal of damage to Oakland’s business community and that many “local businesses” wouldn’t survive another month of its existence. Clearly it is wrong to locate a month of anti-capitalist activity as the cause of financial crisis in the town, but there is a truth buried beneath their denial. These events in Oakland cannot be conceived of outside the context of the crisis as it unfolds. By the same logic, the activities of Oakland communards cannot be separated from the social conflict which propels them and of which they are but a small part. Almost two years ago, social rebels in the Bay Area locked themselves into university buildings and ran blindly onto freeway overpasses declaring OCCUPY EVERYTHING and WE ARE THE CRISIS. The former slogan has become a self-fulfilling prophesy. Perhaps the latter is coming to fruition as well.
FIRST NOTE: WE ARE NOT PEACEFUL
Predictably, dogmatic pacifists responded to the vandalism and fighting by screaming PEACEFUL PROTEST and NON-VIOLENCE. The majority of demonstrators responded by taking up the chant, WE ARE NOT PEACFUL. Since the strike, this particular conflict has played out in innumerable discussions. In each case, the meaning and efficacy of ‘violence’ is drawn out and debated ad nauseum. In the skirmishes between occupiers and university police that played out the following week on University of California campuses, this discourse surrounding violence escalated to pure absurdity. After UC police beat protesters on the UC Berkeley campus, police and university officials declared that such beatings were in fact not violent, while those students who linked arms in the face of police assault had themselves committed a violent act. Within the logic of power, force dealt out by police batons is not violent, while solidarity and care in the face of such force is violent. In the clearest way possible, this tragicomedy demonstrates precisely why it serves us to avoid discussions of non/violence. Violence will always be defined by Power. Those who resist will be labeled violent, regardless of their conduct. Likewise, brutality at the hands of those servants of Power will always be invisible.
There is an intelligence in this declaration against peace, but it cannot be reduced to this or that position on violence. Any attempt to define violence will always fall back upon abstraction. Any attempt to deploy such a definition is always already useless. Rather than being for or against violence, it behooves us to instead position ourselves against peace. In defining peace, let’s avoid abstraction. We can name every miserable element of the daily function of capital as peace. Peace is our terrible jobs, our lack of a job, our workplace injuries, the time stolen from us and the labor we’ll never get back. Peace is being thrown out of our homes and freezing on the streets. Peace is when police officers kill us in cold blood on train platforms and in our neighborhoods. Peace is racism, transphobia, misogyny and anti-queer attacks. Peace is immigrant detention and prison slavery. When the apologists for class society declare their intentions to be peaceful, we understand as their desire for the perpetuation of the day to day atrocities of life under capital. To raise one’s fingers in a peace sign in the face of our armed enemies can only be seen as the greatest act of sycophancy. The tragically common chanting of PEACFUL PROTEST should really be read as NOTHING, NOTHING, MORE OF THE SAME! It should be abundantly clear, then, that we are quite done with peace. Reading peace as a euphemism for the horrors of the present, we must take as our task the immediate suspension of social peace.
The dominant discourse of peaceful protest bears a more troubling implication. Many who advocate for peaceful protest, actually do so quite cynically. It isn’t out of a desire for an absence of violence (as evidenced by their violent efforts to police others and enforce their peace). Rather, these peace-warriors operate on an assumption that so long as they are sufficiently meek, their cause will be just. Following from this, so long as they are passive, the inevitable violence enacted upon them by the police will appear illegitimateThis attempt at self-victimization, beyond being a foolish tactic, is a specific measure to invalidate resistance and to justify the operations of the police state. Any criticism of peace discourse must also be centered around an understanding that this language originates from, is advocated by, affirms the position of, and is in itself the State.
Rejecting the logic of social peace, we instead assert a different rationale: social war. Social war is our way of articulating the conflict of class war, but beyond the limitations of class. Rather than a working class seeking to affirm ourselves in our endless conflict with capital, we desire instead to abolish the class relation and all other relations that reproduce this social order. Social war is the discrete and ongoing struggle that runs through and negotiates our lived experience. As agents of chaos, we seek to expose this struggle; to make it overt. The issue is not violence or non-violence. What’s at issue in these forays against capital is rather the social peace and its negation. To quote a comrade here in Oakland: windows are shattered when we do nothing, so of course windows will be shattered when we do something; blood is shed when we do nothing, so of course blood will be shed when we do something. Social war is this process of doing something. It is our concerted effort to rupture the ever-present deadliness of the social peace. It is a series of somethings which interrupt this nothing.
SECOND NOTE: WE ARE THE PROLETARIAT
In the course of the anti-capitalist march, like countless before it, many attempted to take up an all too familiar chant. WE ARE THE 99%! However this consensus was quickly disrupted. Anti-capitalist demonstrators quickly took up a different chant: WE ARE THE PROLETARIAT! From an anti-capitalist perspective, this is as important an intervention as a hammer through any financial or police apparatus. Firstly, the prevailing conception of the 99% must be recognized primarily as a means to control the activity of rebellious elements within a mass. Originally a reference to crazy distributions of wealth in the United States, the 99% has come to be an empty and abstract signifier for any dominant group. A relevant example of the application of this normalizing concept is the recent letter from the Oakland Police stating that they too are part of the 99%, and struggle daily against the criminal 1% comprised of thieves, rapists, and murderers. Another odious deployment of the concept is the way that lovers-of-bank-windows declare that anarchists are in fact the 1%, opposed to the peaceful 99% of protesters. Even more absurd is an assertion by police-apologists that, in fact, 99% police officers are good people and that only 1% of them are sadistic sociopaths. Each of these examples points to the fact that wherever it is cited, the meme of the 99% is always synonymous with one undifferentiated mass or another. Cops and mayors are part of the 99%, anarchists and hooligans clearly are not. Acting as a normalizing theoretical concept, it always functions to otherize a deviant element and to inflict disciplinary measures on that element. Insofar as it is a reference to a mass – an abstract, peaceful, law-abiding mass – the 99% can only mean society itself.
We cannot, however, read this use of the concept of the 99% as a misappropriation of an otherwise correct term. From the beginning, the concept is totally useless to us. There is no such thing as the 99% and it can never serve to describe our experience of capitalism. The use of such a framework requires a flattening out of a whole range of power relationships that constitute the real structures of our lives. In my daily life, I have never met a member of this mythical 1%, nor do I analyze this 1% as some elusive enemy in my hand-to-hand conflict with capital. I have never been directly oppressed by a member of this 1%, but I have been oppressed and exploited at the hands of police officers, queerbashers, sexual assaulters, landlords and bosses. Each of these enemies can surely claim a place within this 99%, yet that does not in any way mitigate our structural enmity. The strength of certain anarchist critiques of capital is to be found in their location of diffuse and complex power relations as being the material sinews of this society. The world is not miserable simply because 1% of the population owns this or that amount of property. Misery is our condition specifically because the beloved 99% acts to reproduce this arrangement in and through their daily activity.
Fleeing from this miserable discourse, we assert that if the 99% percent is real, we are not of it. Rather we are the proletariat. Often misconstrued as being synonymous with the working class, there is in fact a discrete distinction in our efforts to define ourselves as such. Rather than referring to a positive conception of wage-laborers, our use of proletarian is meant to negatively describe those who have nothing to sell but their bodies and their labor. Having nothing, being the dispossessed, the proletariat is the diffuse and yet overwhelming body of people for whom there is no future within capitalism. Those who comprised this proletarian wrecking machine perform any number of functions in society – sex workers, baristas, medical study lab rat, petty thieves, servers, parents, the unemployed, graphic designers, students – and yet we are united specifically in our dispossession from our ability to reproduce ourselves in any dignified manner within the current social order. In a post-industrial economy, an attention to our economic position must be central to our efforts to destroy that economy. Where in the past the proletariat was primarily comprised of industrial labor, it was conceivable that workplace takeovers and seizure of the means of production made a certain amount of sense. For those of us with absolutely no relationship to the means of production, an entirely different set of strategies must be cultivated. Being a genuine outside to the vital reproduction of capital, our methodology must valorize the position of the Outside and must pioneer ways in which this outside may abolish the conditions of its exclusion.
For those trapped within the field of circulation, this will mean an interruption of that circulation and an expropriation of the products to which our labor adds value. For those engaged in informal and criminal practices, it will mean developing new methods of collective crime in order to loot back a future that isn’t ours. For those excluded from economic structures, it will mean efforts to blockade and sabotage and destroy those structures, rather than any attempt to self-manage the architecture of our exclusion. For those who need homes, it will mean occupation. For those who hunger, it will mean looting. For those who cannot pay, it will mean auto-reduction. This is why we steal things, this is why we smash what can’t be stolen, this is why we fight in the streets, this is why we make barricades and block the flows of society. As proletarians – as those who have nothing but one another – we must immediately set about creating the tactics to destroy the machinery that reproduces capitalism and at the same time forge means of struggle that will sustain us for conflicts to come.
Filed under: war-machine | Tags: anarchists, anarchy, anti-capitalism, bay area, black bloc, broken windows, capitalism, general strike, oakland, oakland commune, port shut down, solidarity, vandalism
A letter of solidarity.