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Monday, November 7, 2011

Violence And The Psuedo-Anarchist - Day 52 #OWS

Eric Thayer/Getty Image from Nicole Sandler radio or not

Latest FDL liveblog running: Live Blog for the #Occupy Movement: Day 51, Occupy Atlanta Continues to Confront City & Police. (Sticking with "52", me.)

There is some Sturm and Drang in this thread at Ian's place over the emergence of the "fascist" tendencies of the OWS movement in its attempts to retain its commitment to non-violent non-cooperation.

Ominously entitled How OWS actually works, it links to an essay by Fritz Tucker that ironically turns out to be a lament against the hijacking of OWS's core values by a cabal of greedheads called the "Spokes Council," which has apparently emerged in order to basically commandeer the $500,000+ dollars in donations that the Zucotti Park encampment has accumulated.

I say ironically because the subsequent thread begins to focus on criticism of OWS attempts to purge their midst of troublemakers. This was no doubt provoked by Ian in the original post:
The question about OWS has always been how it will metastasize. That remains in the air. At the current time, one ideological fight is over absolute non-violence, and an attempt is being made by many in the Oakland/SF area to drive the anarchists completely out of the movement.
StewartM writes:
Once again, the Left shoots its own left flank and does the Right’s job for them. That was true with the gay rights movement you mentioned, it was true about the AFL-CIO and its “Red” component, and from what you say it’s true of OWS.
In fairness, he also makes this observation:
First of all–anarchists (to me at least) seem to be a heckuva lot saner and less goofy than libertarians as a rule. Nor should they be associated with violence per se. I’m sick of the stereotype of “anarchist” as “bomb (or bottle) thrower”.
Which I completely agree with. On thing that I want to make clear is that I find that a true anarchist would have nothing to do with violence, and that the vast majority of serious anarchists are of this stripe.

Bomb-throwers are fake, psuedo-anarchists. The Raven:
Violence is inherently authoritarian, regardless of who is violent.
Oh c’mon now, what does that even mean? That may sound good but it doesn’t make sense.
My response:
One approach I will take will buttress Ian’s, um, “tolerance” for the occasional percolation of “useful” violence – and that one has to recognize that the firm hand of the system is indeed already engaging in a form of violence against the population, a violence that is directly responsible for the death and suffering of the un-empowered. That is authoritarian violence.

From the other side – a :”anti-authoritarian” rocks tossed at the establishment’s windows are open bids for an emerging, new authority. That’s the old “old-boss-meets-the-new” thing, and what must be avoided for successful revolution.
What I'd like to be the take-away here is that violence and authority are inextricably bound up with one another. One cannot eschew one without embracing the other.

A true anarchist has nothing to do with authority. Or violence.

As to the sophomoric characterization of the attempts the movement is making to distance itself from the violent, authoritarian, disrupters of the movement's goals, I give you Occupy's Asshole Problem: Flashbacks from an Old Hippie:
3. The consensus model has a fatal flaw, which is this: It’s very easy for power to devolve to the people who are willing to throw the biggest tantrums. When some a drama king or queen starts holding the process hostage for their own reasons, congratulations! You’ve got a new asshole! (See #2.) You must guard against this constantly, or consensus government becomes completely impossible.
Yes. That would be the rock-tossers... and those greedheads that coalesced around the cash in Zucotti Park as well.



  1. Hi Petro,

    I've welcomed myself here over from Ian's place as selise commented that she'd continue the discussion over here. I guess I'm the only one, for now.

    I'm really happy to see this discussion continue, in fact, it's still all over the liberal blogosphere (and being debated within the occupy encampments). I still contend that there is way too much over-reaction to the incident of vandalism and that it's also imperative that we stop conflating property damage with physical violence (against human beings). But more importantly, I'm excited that so many liberals and progressives are openly engaging more left-wing theory, whether socialist, Marxist, anarchist, etc. I can't even imagine these types of conversations a few short years ago. We really have nothing to be afraid of. The true radicals have already subverted our government and our social systems after all.

    But let me also say, I think it's somewhat disingenuous for you to imply that the "Sturm and Drang" at Ian's is about 'the "fascist" tendencies of the OWS movement in its attempts to retain its commitment to non-violent non-cooperation.' The only commenter there to use the word "fascist" was you. So your comment seems overly dramatic and counter-productive.

    Now, my initial interest in that thread (and others) was to call for non-reactionary thinking rather than the quick impulses and assumptions which seemed so prevalent. It seems to me that a lot of the immediate repulsion towards the vandalism was rooted in: assumptions about the corporate media and police, simplistic notions of histories of "non-violent" protest, and stereotypes about anarchism. That's not to say the black bloc action wasn't counter-productive, detracted from the day, or was potentially harmful to the OO movement. I don't know. But one thing I'm certain of is that the types of passive (as opposed to active), mass organizing tactics mainstream liberal organizations have been engaged in for the past 30 years have proven to be utterly insufficient.

    I provided a few sources at Ian's, don't know if you've had time to read them. As I mentioned there, I'm no expert on anarchist theory or history, so I can't claim to know what a "real" anarchist is. But I do know there is a very long and complex history and that there is incredible heterogeneity within contemporary anarchist thinking, as there is in progressive or liberal thinking. And I also suppose anyone could throw a bomb.

    Finally, I've just ordered this from my local library, perhaps it might be of interest to you too.

    Kind regards,

  2. Welcome, Towner! Thank you so much for coming by. selise did in fact show up, electing to do so at my broken window post.

    I note with some bemusement that I was the one who dropped the "fascism" bomb in that thread. You're quite correct that it is a bit dramatic - yet it accurately describes the impression I was getting from the preceding commentary. That's not to justify my hyperbole, only to note what brought me there.

    It's an interesting point you make about conflation of violence against property with human assault, and I entirely agree on principle. As I've noted, I find the notion of "private" property an insult - insofar as it currently "exists" (in our minds), it lends a certain aberration to considerations of principle. So I would like to refine my thoughts on this within the bounds of the notion of private property, and then again in light of the more "idealistic" (see note, broken out into a separate comment for space purposes)* concept of all property as Common. It is gratifying that my conclusion is not modified in substance in either scenario.

    If a piece of property is private, then it is reasonable to expect that the holder of this property feel some identification with it, and any insult against it may be taken personally - much as one might react if you tore his shirt off of his back and lit it on fire. We can argue - and perhaps correctly and with great vigor - that a properly-enlightened human being would eschew such identification, but that doesn't change the facts on the ground. It is disingenuous to judge a person's reaction to events based on how they "should" be - as an enlightened being I take responsibility for my knowledge of a person's state of mind as it is. So, if I indeed proceed to spray paint an acknowledged greedhead's business (to state the extreme case of personal justification), then I am quite aware that I am provoking this individual, perhaps to violence. This is, as selise would put it, "anti-nonviolence."

    In the more "ideal" condition (the actual, real condition, as noted below) of property as being in the Commons, then acts of vandalism take on a particularly senseless and anti-social taint.

    And so, this is why - while I will not go so far as to say that it is in the same category of actual bodily assault - I can only come foursquare against vandalism of any sort.

    As to provocation in general - I am aware that the very essence, the need, of the revolutionary goals of non-violent non-cooperation is to provoke (more to say about that in another note, below)**. In light of this, my point is that we should be especially careful that the reactions we so ardently desire are limited to defensible exposure of the oppressor's pre-existing violent position against us, and not have the message muddled by ostensibly "justifiable" (albeit small-minded) defense of property... or shirt.

    This is admittedly in the dirty sphere of psy-ops, but it is a milieu that cannot, realistically, be ignored in this world of we, the reactive, social animals that we are.

    Finally, I'd like to address this sentence: "As I mentioned there, I'm no expert on anarchist theory or history, so I can't claim to know what a "real" anarchist is."

    Personally, as an anti-authoritarian - an anarchist, if you will - I do not rely on anyone's opinion, historical or otherwise, to inform my thinking. I do not think it would be impetuous of you to do the same.

    Thank you once again for commenting, and I hope the discussion continues to flower. This is delightful for me!


  3. *I note with some irony that "idealistic" is a word to describe worlds of thought-construct as opposed to objective reality. The fact that "private property" is so accepted as some sort of objective reality by so many turns this on its head, so that the "abolition" of private property appears to be aspirational.

    **I am a great admirer of Gandhi, but it is actually quite silly to call him non-violent. I even find some of his own writings at time to be somewhat unself-aware on this point. As a student of Krishnamurti, my own definitions of violence are more expansive - in fact, in the Krishnamurtian world-view "non-violence" is an impossibility. All actions are violent, insofar as they always provoke a reaction. Whether or not the reaction is a desirable "good" or not is, in this view, hair-splitting - often the criteria for such a judgment is determined by where a person is "standing." Now, one may reasonably argue that provoking a blush from a lover is a "good" indeed - but when it is brought into the arena of political, social action such arguments are transparently disingenuous.

  4. howdy petro, towner and all. will try to reply (beyond previous comment at broken window post) later. for now just a quick "howdy" and link (to add to towner's) i think contributes a lot to thinking this stuff through for ourselves.

  5. Hi! I have read the discussions regarding the connection between property damage and personal assault with great interest. I think it's both impractical and against what we know of human nature to suggest that people will willingly accept a system that denies the individual's attachment to personal property. As a police officer and compassionate person, I see the impact of property crimes like vandalism and theft have on individuals. To those who don't have enough to begin with, the prospect of being ripped off is terrifying. The poor can least afford collectivism, and history shows they will only submit to such a system at the point of a gun. To those of us looking in, the OWS movement isn't about the individual's economic rights at all. If Anarchy is Ayn Rand's glorification of selfishness turned on itself, Socialism has never been about anything but the consolidation of economic power in the hands of the few, except that elite few cannot create wealth and jobs for others in the process.

  6. I'd like to offer another thought, if I may be indulged. All philosophical discussions of what does or does not constitute violence are inherently disingenuous in the context of our movement. Much as Justice Stewart said in describing the difference between art and pornography, we sure as hell know what violence looks when we see it, or when we commit it. I urge your associates to ask themselves two authentic questions: First, will you engage in vandalism and assaults under the banner of your greater purpose; and second, will you take personal responsibility for the violent response your tactics are designed to provoke from Law Enforcement?

    If you must break things and hurt people to advance your cause, be honest about it, take responsibility, and accept the consequences. That's what credible adults do. They don't hide behind masks while hurling rocks at cops and breaking windows. If you can't commit violent acts openly and feel good about it, I advise you to truly embrace non-violence and leave the sophist rationalizations to the crazies who are so effectively discrediting your pacific ideals.

  7. Bruce, welcome.

    Very happy to have a police officer here chiming in. Just for the record, I don't think anyone here wants to toss rocks or vandalize - the question here is what to do with those who do.

    And also to clear up - OWS isn't about "isms," Social or otherwise. It's a bit of a Rorschach test, in that people will see what they are inclined to see, and I can certainly see why "socialism" might seem to be lurking about somewhere in there. In any case, your characterization of Socialism as having "never been about anything but the consolidation of economic power in the hands of the few" is not within its doctrine at all. You are speaking of the political distortions of various socialist/communist experiments, distortions that plague all manner of political and economic organization - especially capitalism, as we see today.

    That distortion must be addressed before any system can work and, not incidentally, any system would probably work pretty darned well if it were.

    I don't blame you for distancing yourself from Rand, of course, but "elite few creating wealth and jobs" is the economic argument she defend her soulless Objectivism. The "elite few" can spare me their paternalistic bullshit. Especially today's rich - most of whom wouldn't know where to begin if they had to clean their own toilets. They are nothing like you and me who, you know, actually do useful stuff that doesn't involve powder on a slope or on a mirror.

    On private property & human nature:

    What we think of as "human nature" is often colored by the times we live in, defined by the prevailing culture. For example, partitioning agricultural land into private farms didn't begin in England until the latter 17th Century. Prior to that, it was quite within the bounds of "human nature" to accept food production from the Commons.

    This partitioning led to more efficient food production - seems like a good thing, right? Until you factor in resultant population explosion, resource depletion, and wealth hoarding by these new "owners." And here we are, after over 300 years of this RECENT EXPERIMENT.

    I'm thinking that it was a bad idea.

    Thank you again - I'm a bit curious about where you stand via OWS, as you did reference it as "our" movement at one point - while the gist of your comments seem somewhat negative. Can I take this to mean that you recognize that "we" need a people's movement, and you perhaps are having problems with its apparent direction or form? Because if that is the case then you are free get in there and help mold it in directions that you feel are just!

  8. Hi All! (Towner here)


    First, in your first post you bring up a very important idea that easily gets lost in theoretical talk:

    "I think it's both impractical and against what we know of human nature to suggest that people will willingly accept a system that denies the individual's attachment to personal property."

    Petro already addressed the concept of "human nature," but I agree with your sentiment. But let's be clear, I don't think a collective ownership society is central to OWS in any broad sense. Just thinking of myself, I consider myself fairly Leftist in orientation yet I'm definitely attached to my personal property (my house!).

    But I don't think that's at all what's at stake here within the "vandalism" debate. At Ian's, Formerly T-Bear's last post cuts to the essence of how we should, and are, thinking about property:

    "The U.S. has been stripped of public assets until only national parks remain and they are under threat, public lands are routinely pillaged. About the only asset not fallen into private hands is the trust fund established to fund old age retirement, and it is under constant peril from perfidious keepers."

    ...there simply is no democracy without public property and public institutions. Our founders understood this well before Marx and we understand this as well. The capitalist vultures equated democratic public assets with socialism, which was all a game of course in order to steal and pillage. But then, the touted replacement of our commons, the neoliberal fantasy of a great privatized suburban utopia is also crumbling. What are we left with?

    Getting back to violence you write:

    "Much as Justice Stewart said in describing the difference between art and pornography, we sure as hell know what violence looks when we see it, or when we commit it."

    I couldn't disagree more with both you and Justice Stewart. But I'll stick to violence here.

    Mike Konczal has been posting some great stuff about student debt and the impending "student debt bomb." In this recent post he's thinking out loud about the "notion of a debtors strike." Interestingly, he draws a historical comparison between the force of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency (a 19th century version of Blackwater used for violently breaking strikes) with the force of credit today:

    "Let’s say, instead of the butt-end of a rifle in your nose, if you fought management the Pinkerton Boys could walk – wait, walk isn’t the right word, teleport instantaneously – to every potential source of credit you could get and tell them to lock down. Then they go to every single employer in the country, and flag you as someone they shouldn’t hire. Then let’s say they could teleport to every insurance company in the company and tell them to start charging you and other strikers more money. And, why not, they zoom over to every utility company in the country, and get them to start demanding deposits and higher rates for things like gas and electricity in the homes of those who are trying to strike."

    Which is more violent, a broken nose or displacement from basic avenues of daily survival? I simply don't believe that people really always know what violence looks like when they see it? This is just one example of course. Poor communities in America live daily lives within oppressive and violent systems. Somehow I think "they" get it. Growing numbers from the shrinking middle class are waking up to this violence. The kind of violence that leaves one homeless due to medical expenses for example.

    (continued below)

  9. Btw, debt relief and struggles against debt imprisonment were very much central to the American Revolution. See for example, Jill Lepore, "I.O.U.: How we used to treat debtors." Given the deregulated legal framework for finance, and the total regulation and surveillance of the individual today, perhaps we are worse off than our pre-revolutionary forebears.

    Now, let me try and return this conversation to where I think it all started, around the notion that symbolic acts of property destruction, like the original Boston Tea Party, were dangerous to the movement because The Media and The State will use such acts to "paint all the protesters as violent" and thus totally "discredit the movement" by disenfranchising (scaring the shit out of) "regular [suburban] Americans." The point that I and others were making was not whether "vandalism tactics" were useful or counter-productive or dangerous but that it was a total waste of time worrying about such relatively isolated incidents when the media and the state will do whatever it wants whenever it wants regardless. During the Oakland general strike there were several incidents of violence, not by protesters but by police and reactionary citizens. That went largely unreported. Since then, the media and police there have tried to tie the totally unrelated homicides to the Occupy movement. They're also dishonestly reporting (according to the Oakland Chamber of Commerce) the negative economic effects on small, local businesses. Its the same in the national media and all over the country.

    Teddy Partridge has a great run down of the Portland media's failed attempts to create a violent story line, his conclusion is spot-on:

    "The palpable frustration among the local newscasters...helped me understand that from the very top of our broadcast media to the very lowest rungs, there is a fundamental conflict between the message of the demonstrators and the needs of the media."

    But the conflict is even more fundamental than messaging. The media are part of the oligarchy that has absolutely no interest in seeing democracy flourish in America. The Corporate Media works together with the State to actively suppress We The People.

    Somehow, that last statement still sounds "radical." But it's not. It's a simple obvious truth. The radicals have already taken over our government, our courts, our media, and are commons. I suggest, that anyone overly concerned (I don't mean there should be no concern) with broken windows or graffiti does not yet appreciate the ways institutional violence operates.

    @Petro, thanks for hosting our conversation.

    Thinking through my own assumptions, I often wonder how different our general national discourse would be in relation to violence and OWS had center-left independent media simply ignored the hysteria and pushed forward with the narratives of Wall Street criminality and government collusion. The University of California police helped out! It seems to me that the blogosphere for example, will never meet its potential so long as it continues to react to corporate media rather than work independently from it. That's of course a gross oversimplification and I think there are good examples to the contrary. But this violence (filthy, dirty, radical, dangerous, "other") debate will not just go away. This is one of the oldest tactics in the how to discredit, divide and conquer an uprising playbook.

  10. @Selise, thanks for the link. Let me return the favor with a link, haven't seen it yet but I'm very much looking forward to "The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975."

    I tend to think the trainers alliance are on the right track. But that's because their work is informed by histories of social justice struggles alternative to the official "passive non-violent" histories the media and state narrate for popular consumption.


  11. @Towner, thanks for the link to Teddy's essay (I don't make it to the front page at FDL much since OWS and dissenter), and the link to the Black Power trailer - I didn't know about that movie coming out!


I welcome all reactions and points of view, so comments here are not moderated. Cheerfully "colorful" language is great. I'll even tolerate some ad hominem directed against me... each other, not so much. Racist or excessively abusive comments (or spam) will be deleted at my discretion.