Sunday, February 12, 2012

"The Cancer in Occupy": Chris Hedges misdiagnoses the illness

The real brutality at work in Davis CA
by Margaret Collins
member CWI USA

Chris Hedges has in the past, liked to invoke the recent uprisings in Spain and Greece. Greece in particular "gets it" he wrote back in May 2010.“Here’s to the Greeks. They know what to do when corporations pillage and loot their country... Call a general strike. Riot. Shut down the city centers. Toss the bastards out.  The Greeks, unlike most of us, get it....Think of the Greek riots as a struggle for liberation.” 

In Hedges' recent article, however, "The Cancer in Occupy", he summons up moral outrage against what he calls the "cancer" in the Occupy movement, namely the Black Bloc anarchist rioters in Oakland on January 28. In a hysterical rant, Hedges conflates the ideas of two anarchist ideologues, John Zerzan and someone called “Venomous Butterfly”, with the actions of a handful of young people in Oakland and their sympathizers across the Occupy movement. The reader is not supposed to look carefully and see if this guilt by association is justified, but simply recoil in horror. We are told that these "beasts" hate the "organized left", defend the manifesto of the "Unibomber" Theodore Kaczynski, are "infected" with "hypermasculinity" and criticize the Zapatista movement and Noam Chomsky. Not Chomsky!  Hey, they must be evil.

I guess the best thing about the "Greek riots" for Hedges were that they were... in Greece. Think about it. What was the difference between the social unrest that Hedges likes (Greece) and the social unrest he doesn't like (Oakland)? The first difference that comes to mind is the scale of the Greek uprisings. They had a mass character which pulled the majority of the poor and the working class behind it. Oakland, alternatively, had 1,000 at most, a few hundred at least when the events that Hedges recounts took place. In this case size matters.  And if that is Hedges' problem with the Oakland events, then I agree.

But that isn't what Hedges says in "The Cancer in Occupy". When referencing the burning of a flag and the window breaking of a relatively small group of people, Hedges says "There is a word for this—“criminal.”, unconsciously echoing the rhetoric of the Tory ministers after the youth riots and looting that swept through Britain in the summer of 2011.

Perhaps because the anarchist element and their sympathizers are overwhelmingly white and many come from the middle class, it makes the police brutality in Oakland appear less serious, less worthy of criticism. After all, would Hedges be as cavalier when talking about the police brutality of the state which is brought down on the heads of youth and people of color every day in this country? After all, Oakland is the home of the police force that murdered Oscar Grant. As a card carrying radical christian and guru of the soft left, of course Hedges would not. So why all the misplaced moral outrage? Hedges is in danger, as his "hero" Malcolm X said, of "...mak(ing) the victim look like the criminal, and the criminal look like the victim."

The real question, and the only question is "... Are the given means really capable of leading to the goal?"  Leon Trotsky "Their Morals and Ours" 1938 "..."Permissible and obligatory are those and only those means, we answer, which unite the revolutionary proletariat, fill their hearts with irreconcilable hostility to oppression, teach them contempt for official morality and its democratic echoers, imbue them with consciousness of their own historic mission, raise their courage and spirit of self-sacrifice in the struggle. Precisely from this it flows that not all means are permissible." Ibid

Let's take the actions of the anarchist influenced youth in Oakland and look at them through Trotsky's lens. Not moral condemnation but a discussion of tactics are in order. Wouldn't a direct appeal to the working class in Oakland, by fighting home foreclosures, evictions and high unemployment be a better tactic to grow the movement and hurt the ruling class? There are many in the Occupy movement that would agree and are making a turn to these very issues.

So who are the real culprits that Hedges never names? Hedges says "...Black Bloc anarchists spend most of their fury not on the architects of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) or globalism, but on those, such as the Zapatistas, who respond to the problem. It is a grotesque inversion of value systems." Well how about this for a grotesque inversion? Hedges expects young people who have never seen the trade union leadership in this country wage a a serious offensive battle to "spend most of their fury on the architects of NAFTA" when the AFL- CIO are unable to do it themselves. The same AFL- CIO which is unable to mount a consistent ideological and industrial offensive to big business or build a party of the working class and has poured 41 billion dollars into both big business parties since 1990. (

In recent days, especially connected to the Occupy ILWU events in Longview, we have seen quite a bit of hand wringing and tsk tsking of the soft pseudo left about the tactics of Occupy. If their criticism is really meant to strengthen the movement and not to provide a left cover to the real "criminals" ie: the labor bureaucrats and the parties of big business they support, then the bloodletting against Occupy must stop. Or be seen for what it really is. A distraction from the real "cancer" that lurks in the body of US society. A capitalist system that will multiply, devour, and destroy every healthy cell in our bodies.

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