The Black Bloc has been in the news a fair bit over the last few years. They have made appearances at G5 meetings, at the WTO meetings in Seatle, at the NATO meetings in Chicago, and currently they are very much in the news here in Brazil.
The Black Bloc is, strictly speaking, a tactic. In protests, a horizontally organized group of individuals will wear black and cover their faces, generally move about as a unit and they may engage in some aspects of violence. In theory this is done to distract the police -- ideally in a way that enables the free movement of the main protest group. By dressing in black, they allow other protestors to know who they are and to stay away from them if they choose to.
Chris Hedges recently wrote a piece calling the Black Bloc “The Cancer in Occupy”. Hedges, like many others, believes that The Black Bloc is not tactical, but involves “feral” acts of violence, is “adolescent,” scared people away from Occupy, and made it easier for the State to demonize the Occupy movement.
Meanwhile, David Graeber has responded to Hedges, arguing that Hedges has his facts wrong and that in any case even Gandhi never renounced people who shared his cause -- even when they advocated violence.
Gandhi made it clear that while he was opposed to murder under any circumstances, he also refused to denounce the murderer. This was a man who was trying to do the right thing, to act against an historical injustice, but did it in the wrong way because he was “drunk with a mad idea"… Gandhi remained resolute. It is always morally superior, he insisted, to oppose injustice through non-violent means than through violent means. However, to oppose injustice through violent means is still morally superior to not doing anything to oppose injustice at all.
The news media has been having a go at the Black Bloc’s actions in the teacher protests in Brazil, and even publications like The Raw Story seem to be painting the actions of the Black Bloc as senseless violence. However, yesterday I was speaking to a teacher here in Rio – a woman in her 50s – who said “no the Black Bloc was protecting us from the police!” So there is that.I know some of you have views about this. Is Hedges right? Is The Black Bloc the cancer in occupy? Or is Graeber right. And what do you think of Graeber’s interpretation of Gandhi here? Comments are open.