Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

November 27, 2011

Boots Riley on black bloc tactics

Filed under: black bloc idiots — louisproyect @ 12:32 am

(Posted to LBO-Talk by Charles Turner.)

An extended series of Tweets from Mr. Riley from Friday, 11/24:

Not that we need that, but some dedicated non-violent folks in the movement should know that u have2work with others to make change.

Folks dedicated to blac bloc tactics shuld understand working w/others as well. We can’t be dedicated2a tactic. We must b dedicated2winning.

I believe that breaking windows is not “wrong”- it just doesn’t work. For a number of reasons. That is a tactic that puts the mask wearers

in a “vanguard” position. It says “We are the revolutionaries- everyone else needs to wake up!” This either turns ppl off cuz their not at

that point yet, or it causes people to simply cheer from the sidelines. It’s problematic in a mass action where the masked ones know whats

about to happen and everyone else is caught off guard and more vulnerable to the police. The other problem is one of analysis. If we are

in the middle of one of the biggest, most overtly class conscious acts of the last 65 years- one that has the unity of action of 50,000 ppl-

one that caused millions in damage through an action that teaches class analysis and builds an apparatus for future action-why would u think

breaking a window at whole foods is taking it to another level? Its not. The message it gives to most is one of futile frustration. It makes

many feel that they can’t win, that all we can do is break windows. We are making a movement that can stop the wheels of industry. That’s

much more powerful than breaking some windows. Those tactics are ones that could b of use when masses of ppl aren’t taking action. But w/an

action in which 50,000 people are making a huge step and having a general strike, the message should just be “We are all awake.”

But, I think there is an ideological trend that i have encountered that leads to this- one that thinks that the ppl can’t win.

When I critiqued someone around a similar action a few years ago, saying it didn’t pull ppl in, & u can’t win w that tactic. they resonded:

responded: “You can never win, you can only choose how to lose.” Versions of this idea are at the heart of some of this, I believe.

I believe, now even more than a few months ago, that we can win. This is a new era. People are ready. We can win.

The other thing that I left out is that when a group of masked white kids break windows in a city that’s many ppl of color, it feels like

the white kids are claiming ownership, not saying that this city is all of ours. It makes it harder to build a viable mass movement.

I’m saying this knowing the truth, many masked blac bloc folks are NOT white. But, if everyone perceives u as white cuz u have a mask on-

then it has the same effect. We need tactics that help build that movement. That’s all. Black folks in the community I come from look at

marches on Washington and breaking store windows in a similar light- that they’re futile appeals to power. So people stay away.

The thing is, no one can show me a successful revolutionary organization who relied on the tactic of breaking windows as a lynchpin.

It’s like saying, in war, that ur gonna use 1 tactic in every battle, even if it doesnt work.

To be clear, I am speaking to people that I consider comrades. There is no “Blac Bloc”, it’s just ppl who deciding to use that tactic at that

To be clear, I’m speaking to folks as comrades. Blac Bloc is not a group, its folks deciding2use that tactic at a certain time.

But, I have to say, there is a reason why ppl suspect that as bein done by agents:

Recently- During the OscarGrant case, proven police agent, Mandingo, did similar things. There r other cases as well. The problem comes w

using those tactics in a crowd. If u wanna break windows do it separately, don’t have the crowd b the buffer btwn u & police.

Now, the only tactics I’m speaking of are vandalism and why that doesn’t work. There are other tactics that do work.

There are tactics I’ve seen, and that we used for the march to the port, in which we have a group of folks with shields that can push thru

a police line, blocking themselves from batons and bullets & creating a spearhead for the march to go thru. That’s a good one.There r others

Often as seen in OO’s thanksgiving video, police will charge@ one person, causing our line to break and allowing them thru.

We can use our own distractions as well2get thru their lines. This takes not being dedicated2 a certain tactic, but being dedicated2winning.

The main thing I’m saying is that every situation, every terrain, calls for different tactics.

For example, most of you wouldn’t know me if I had just made an album w different versions of “The Internationale”. We’r in a new situation.

For everyone quoting Gandhi: His movement wasnt the only reason India gained independence. U think the British were only fighting Gandhi?

India had been fighting for its independence for decades via MILITANT movements that still existed during Gandhi’s time.

Britain was involved in a BLOODY conflict w Palestine that soaked up resources. The Hollywood version of Indian independence amazes me.

Gandhi called strikes violent cuz they physically kept scabs out. He was at odds w many others in movement.

Lastly,2supporters of blac bloc tactics: it keeps folks away that would otherwise be militant supporters otherwise. We need the numbers.

We must be guided by what’s rightðical,not what’s legal. Blockin the port: illegal. Did we do it? Yes. Will we do it on Dec 12? Hell yes.

To answer some tweets- Nothing I said advocates assault. I advocate using numbers2make it so police can’t stop our movements.

Sidenote: I’m in Paris, doing shows. When I say I’m from Oakland, many say “Oh! Caleeforneea!”, but half say “Oui! Occupy Oakland!”


  1. Black Bloc tactics are wrong for many reasons such as the very small businesses that are looted are working class people trying to make it like convenience store owners and are certainly not bourgeois fat cats.

    Also, it makes the protests look like thug festivals and makes the movement appear to not have any credibility.

    In my opinion, the Black Bloc people just do it for the looting to load up with some free stuff.

    It’s criminal, not political. I bet most of them have long rap sheets.

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — November 27, 2011 @ 3:14 am

  2. Deborah: “In my opinion, the Black Bloc people just do it for the looting to load up with some free stuff. It’s criminal, not political. I bet most of them have long rap sheets.”

    Umm… no. Very much doubt it.

    Boots: “When I critiqued someone around a similar action a few years ago, saying it didn’t pull ppl in, & u can’t win w that tactic. they responded: “You can never win, you can only choose how to lose.” Versions of this idea are at the heart of some of this, I believe.”

    This is very close to the truth. It is a ‘tactic’ born of despair, weakness, impotence and isolation from both mass movements and the organized working class.

    Boots is a remarkable guy, and the role that he has played in Oakland has been very constructive. A lot of people listen to what he says.

    Comment by dave x — November 27, 2011 @ 3:52 am

  3. Also, Deborah, small business owners are not the working class. In my experience they are often among the most reactionary class element out there, though far less powerful than the big bourgeois or the financial sector. Doug Henwood just reposted this, you might find it interesting: http://lbo-news.com/2011/11/26/from-the-archives-the-small-business-myth/

    Comment by dave x — November 27, 2011 @ 4:05 am

  4. I’m accepting of the small business argument, though my friend owns a convenience store and after paying 8K a month in rent, overhead, employees and taxes’ he is comfortable but far from wealth.

    But Dave can you really say these thugs who damage property and loot are helping the cause?

    I disagree also with your assessment about the rap sheet comment.

    I would bet my life savings that this wasn’t the first time they have done something like this.

    Their actions are certainly not helping the proletarians, if anything they are just helping themselves and are no different than the greedy fat cats they’re supposedly fighting against.

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — November 27, 2011 @ 4:41 am

  5. “But Dave can you really say these thugs who damage property and loot are helping the cause?”

    Where did I say that?

    Comment by dave x — November 27, 2011 @ 4:57 am

  6. I wasn’t saying that you said that. I was asking what your thoughts about it were.

    I’m willing to bet the merchandise the Black Block loots, all while they claim to be allegedly protesting, is being sold as hot merchandise so they can make a profit. They’re not stealing from the rich to give to the poor.

    Taking something that doesn’t belong to you to make a profit.

    Mmmm sounds eerily similar to what the ruling class does to the working class and they call it capitalism.

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — November 27, 2011 @ 5:40 am

  7. Added to my last comment why it’s similar is because the nations wealth belongs to its people, that makes the ruling class thieves and that’s what makes them on par with the Black Bloc looters.

    Greed is greed and no circumstances justify it.

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — November 27, 2011 @ 5:48 am

  8. You did say I said that. If you don’t want people to think you are a troll then you should try and listen to what people are actually saying as opposed to just spouting off. Learning to listen goes a long way in both life and politics. For the record I am not an anarchist and I am opposed to ‘black bloc’ tactics, at least when that means ill-considered hooliganism that undermines mass actions. I think Boots pretty much hits it on the nail in the piece posted above. If you want to have something intelligent to say about contemporary anarchism then I would spend some time working with some serious anarchists (and I don’t mean black-blockers), there are plenty of them around. Listen to what they have to say, take the time to understand where they are coming from, and then maybe your criticisms will sound a little more coherent. Frankly, I have never heard of the black block engaging in looting during an action. Break stuff, set things on fire, yes. Steal, no. I doubt they would have any ethical problem with theft, but I don’t think it is their motivation and I don’t think if you got to know those people that you would find many hardened criminals. If you had evidence to the contrary you would have supplied it by now. But you don’t. Instead you are blowing hot air which is something you do a lot. Trust me, it doesn’t look good.

    Comment by dave x — November 27, 2011 @ 7:04 am

  9. I find the Black Bloc kinda silly – and suspect the involvement of provocateurs more often than not. However, I don’t quite get the panic and hand-wringing they bring out among sections of the left. There’s arbitrary boundaries of ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ at play here, and also questions of representation ie. anxieties about media talking points and police responses. Peaceful or chaotic, police responses would be brutal anyway; and mainstream media is almost always against domestic protest. I can’t say I’ve ever met anyone shying away from a protest because of the possible presence of Black Bloc. They’re a small fringe that usually have minor impact on mass protest, and they genuinely challenge the sanctity of property – which the police would enforce just as brutally if protestors cleaned up the town centre and paid the security bill. And no, small business holders aren’t the working class – most of them are firmly on the side of the police.

    Discussion about Black Bloc brings to mind how the UK left tended to discuss recent riots. A lot of which revealed anxieties about keeping the ‘unruly’ under control – invoking law and order and ‘hard-working families’ or talking over them with endless ‘theory’ and slogans drained of relevance. Both approaches could be ‘part of the problem’ as they used to say…



    Comment by W.Kasper — November 27, 2011 @ 8:29 am

  10. they genuinely challenge the sanctity of property

    As I have said repeatedly, I have no objection to some knuckleheads vandalizing a Starbucks. Just let them do it on their own time and place. As far as the liberal-minded NGO’s and church groups tolerating their antics in the name of “diversity of tactics”, there’s not much that can be done about that either. But it is important for the socialist wing of the left, the section of the left that agrees with Marxism on the futility of the “propaganda of the deed”, to expose these ultraleftists and to build a movement that understands that the real challenge to the “sanctity of property” is a mass working class movement organized around powerful demands, not spray painting a grocery store.

    Comment by louisproyect — November 27, 2011 @ 2:46 pm

  11. Dave X, I’m not a troll nor stupid.

    I don’t resort to name calling and your comments about me are condescending and reek of sexism and I resent it.

    I have listened to many commentators here and changed positions on previous topics, however, I stand by my commentary on this subject.

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — November 27, 2011 @ 5:17 pm

  12. There is a difference between an urban riot, and black bloc vandalism.

    Comment by purple — November 27, 2011 @ 6:20 pm

  13. I didn’t call you stupid and if I thought you were a troll I wouldn’t have bothered to respond at all. If your nom-de-plume was male would I have been harder on you? Maybe, but probably not much. This was the second time you put words in my mouth and like many people I find that very irritating. Your assertion that the reason d’etre of the black block is looting does make you seem very uninformed however and you have still not backed it up (for example a little internet research would reveal that the ‘black block’ in Europe has at various times engaged in ‘mass expropriations’, which would seem to make you argument plausible except that the ‘black block’ in Europe has always been a much more serious beast than over here in the US). Why do I care about the ‘black block’? I don’t really. I just want socialists to be able to have an informed and intelligent conversation about contemporary anarchism. I think we need one if we are going to be able to relate successfully to movements like OWS. If our starting assumptions are wildly off that isn’t going to happen.

    Comment by dave x — November 27, 2011 @ 6:32 pm

  14. So why are we fighting Dave?

    It appears that ultimately we both want the same thing.

    Truce comrade.

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — November 27, 2011 @ 6:48 pm

  15. Reading Purple in #12 splitting hairs over what’s a riot makes me wonder if the American contribution to 21st century Marxism isn’t going to be an increased respect for private property. The marginal phenomenon of the Black Bloc seems to be the new red herring. If we consider the U.K. riots of August there were irruptions of vandalism and even arson. But such things happen in major cities every Saturday night. Why collaborate with the conservative media by talking them up? Essentially the rioters were wannabe consumers. But since they had no jobs they had no money to spend. Looting is the shopping of the poor. Careful or we’ll regress to the morals of Chicago’s Mayor Daley in 1968. He told the police commissioner “very emphatically and very definitely that an order be issued by him immediately to shoot to kill any arsonist or anyone with a Molotov cocktail in his hand, because they’re potential murderers, and to shoot to maim or cripple anyone looting.”

    Comment by Peter Byrne — November 28, 2011 @ 4:00 pm

  16. There’s a huge difference between riots and vandalism taking place during a mass political protest. Riots are not designed to win demands. They are inchoate explosions that involve the masses. The violence is widespread and implicitly supported by wide social layers, the ghetto rebellions of the 1960s being the essential expression. We are dealing with an entirely different phenomenon with the black bloc. Their violence is not part of a general spontaneous action but a tactic designed to “educate” people that the state is repressive. In other words, they are the equivalent of the Weathermen who at least carried out their actions in isolation from the mass protests. I don’t expect the black bloc to disappear any time soon since there is a lumpen social basis for their behavior. With increasingly hard times economically, some youth will engage in adventures out of frustration with the status quo. The job of Marxism is to develop strategies and tactics oriented to the working class that can through its social power bring production to a halt through general strikes, etc.

    Comment by louisproyect — November 28, 2011 @ 4:09 pm

  17. Louis,

    I think the difference between Boots’ analysis of the BB and yours is that Boots Riley *gets it*. It is clear he has met people who have engaged in this tactic and has discussed it with them. Your comparison of the BB with the Weather Machine is absurd, not the least because BB is not some clandestine grouplet totally cut off from the rest of society. Many people who do this stuff are involved in what I think you would consider more “legitimate” (or whatever) political activity. And, frankly, you are never going to “get it” until you actually talk to people who have done a BB action – for obvious reasons of security, it just isn’t the sort of thing you can come out and talk about. (And, unlike the Weather schmucks, people who do BB may very well be endangering their employment or college enrollment by discussing it openly.)

    I mean, there is a huge, huge gaping difference between the BB and the Weather Machine. If you have some lingering resentment towards Weather, just polemicize against them, don’t build up a silly straw man version of BB that is really a stand-in for a long dead personal enemy. Boots Riley understands – *gasp* – that these kids might actually be sincere.

    Comment by kuf — November 28, 2011 @ 7:05 pm

  18. I am not sure that it would be worth my while to have a discussion with somebody who spraypaints the windows of a grocery store thinking that this is some kind of blow to capitalism. I think I’d have better luck talking to a chimpanzee about chess openings.

    Comment by louisproyect — November 28, 2011 @ 7:19 pm

  19. Sorry, that came across as more dick-ish than I intended (I generally respect your analyses, Louis). I too am critical of the BB. But I think your criticisms of it are misdirected, and therefore, not particularly helpful (useless, even). Some of these kids are sincere comrades, and your line of critique is of no use whatsoever in talking to them. Others really are just reactionary idiots. I just wouldn’t get too hasty in declaring, “they are the enemy! Seek and destroy!!”

    Comment by kuf — November 28, 2011 @ 7:22 pm

  20. Riley’s 2nd point on BB tactics gets right to the heart of the problem: It is actually a reactionary tactic in the context of the appearance of a real mass movement.

    @kuf: Per above, there is a common thread linking the BB tactic to the classical Marxist approach to terrorism (not couched here in the current inane usage of the word) – while defending them against state or private repression (we would never call the police, nor ‘citizens arrest’ them ourselves), we would denounce the reactionary effect of the tactic.

    Otherwise, don’t really see the point of talking with people who, in the face of a successful Nov 2nd action, obviously don’t have a clue about tactics, strategy or success. There are far more interesting people to relate with in this movement. So please, kuf, don’t further promote individuals who are already too full of their own sense of self-importance for anybody’s good. I am confident that, when broader sections of the working class enter into the struggle, we will all happily forget about the BB and their ridiculous “tactic”.

    Comment by Matt — November 28, 2011 @ 7:31 pm

  21. http://www.lettersjournal.org/blog/what-is-desire

    Here is how I think a good critique can be done, from the 2008 RNC. There is broad, broad, broad sympathy amongst anarchists for Black Bloc, even if only a very small minority ever carry out a Black Bloc action. I think it is worth critiquing the application of this tactic with them, although maybe you think all anarchists are idiots anyway? In any case, anarchism has a lot more prestige and weight amongst younger activists than Trotskyism (imo, a good development). It is worth the time and effort to understand what the kids are up to, and how to effectively combat mistaken ideas amongst them.

    Comment by kuf — November 28, 2011 @ 7:35 pm

  22. @Matt I think I agree with you generally, except on the importance of understanding and arguing against this tactic. In my experience anyway, a lot of these folks are sincere activists who decide to occasionally fuck shit up. I mean, the whole “diversity of tactics” thing is basically code word for “don’t fuck with Black Bloc”. There is, I think, much more pervasive sympathy for it amongst activists than I think is being acknowledged here, and to effectively combat it, it must be properly understood. That is all I mean to say.

    Comment by kuf — November 28, 2011 @ 7:41 pm

  23. There is broad, broad, broad sympathy amongst anarchists for Black Bloc…

    Really? I was struck by the outpouring of opprobrium by self-identified anarchists against the Whole Foods action, etc. right after they occurred. The only place you will find any kind of defense of the black bloc by anarchists is on Chuck Munson’s infoshop.org and Munson is clearly a stupidhead of the first degree.

    Comment by louisproyect — November 28, 2011 @ 7:41 pm

  24. Totally unrelated with the article but you might find this diagram interesting:

    Click to access 26october2011_threats_diagram.pdf

    Comment by uair01 — November 28, 2011 @ 7:57 pm

  25. Louis, I think that is wrong.. Unfortunately Zogby doesn’t keep data on this. But bear with me for a second.

    To use a concrete example of what I mean. Look at the most recent New School occupation, a failure of the first degree. On the very first day of the occupation, copies of “The Coming Insurrection” were distributed, and all sorts of silly graffiti was put up on the walls (“Kill all cops”, “Extract use-value from your fists”, “Robespierre is back, motherfuckers”, etc). This effectively alienated just about everybody else from the occupation (a little more complex behind the scenes, but you get the idea). What could’ve been an action that advanced the struggle instead became a liability, and now a good deal of effort is being put towards damage control. As I see it, things were allowed to get out of hand in part because of a broad sympathy for certain militant rhetoric that eventually became a severe liability when acted upon.

    I mean, some of the kids spouting off insurrectionary gibberish are sincere radicals, others idiots (albeit idiots who read Bataille in the original). But the power of insurrectionary ideas exists nonetheless, and had very practical consequences in this one instance. (Sorry, I realize I’m moving from Black Bloc to insurrectionary anarchism here, but I think you see what I’m getting at?) And they are a serious liability. At least amongst the student movement as it exists in New York, insurrectionary anarchism is not marginal at all; indeed, even if it is a minority, it is an extremely vocal minority that effectively controls the student activist discourse to a shocking degree.

    I imagine this same situation exists elsewhere – I don’t think ignoring them, or calling them idiots, is going to fix the problem.

    Comment by kuf — November 28, 2011 @ 8:08 pm

  26. I imagine this same situation exists elsewhere – I don’t think ignoring them, or calling them idiots, is going to fix the problem.

    Quite honestly, my articles are not intended to change the minds of people involved in vandalism. Mostly it is an attempt to provide socialists with some historical background on why this tactic developed–starting with me. I often write about things in order to educate myself. This is no exception.

    Comment by louisproyect — November 28, 2011 @ 8:22 pm

  27. I guess we just have to leave it at that, since we’ve run aground on a disagreement of fact (ie, the popularity/ influence of Black Bloc) that is impossible to accurately assess.

    Anyhow, you might be interested in a critique of the recent occupation at the New School, which includes some really nifty/ shocking pictures of the aforementioned graffiti. This is where the student movement is at in New York City: http://www.chriscrews.com/?p=161

    I think this illustrates the importance of fighting back certain ideas. Maybe it isn’t what you are after, but maybe some of your readers can get something out of Crews’ critique.

    Keep up the good work, in any case.

    Comment by kuf — November 28, 2011 @ 8:42 pm

  28. I can relate to their anger and frustration because no one is more angrier at our fucked up system than I am.

    It’s just the vandalism and the looting I have a problem with because of the distraction from the main issue of the movement.

    It shifts the media focus away from the fight of income inequity and the seriousness of the need for change nationwide.

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — November 29, 2011 @ 3:30 am

  29. 14

    [NOTE: This account is being written w/o notes as the official notes for this mtg have not yet been distributed. This entry will be revised should I receive the notes. I apologize in advance for the lack of detail.]

    14-1) This was a meeting of the Occupation Wall Street – Labor Outreach Committee (hereafter, “LOC”) at DC 37 headquarters, 125 Barclay Street. It was the first meeting of the committee after the Bloomberg Raid. Prior to the meeting there was supposed to be a gathering of the facilitators. Again, as for the previous meeting, the site was set for an off-site location, again a coffee house similar to the Starbucks location last week and, in my opinion, unacceptable as a site for such a meeting. In any event, the point is moot as no one showed up ontime and, eventually, one other facilitator and myself met at the DC 37 location, which should have been used in the first place. I hope people don’t find this point too sectarian, but the fact that a labor group would meet at a pseudo-bohemian place like Starbucks or its ilk, really irks me.

    14-2) The meeting began with an attendance of about 25 and eventually grew to be about 70 people. I myself chaired the meeting. My impression is that the meeting was slightly smaller than the two previous meetings I attended but not significantly so. However, I did get the impression that there was a small difference in the people who attended. Previously, there has been a significant contingent of low-level union officials, shop stewards and several interns working at union offices. Most of these individuals were, I believe, no longer present. The meeting consisted more of Leftists and genuine rank-and-filers. I could be wrong on this, or it could be a coincidence as the shift only involved perhaps ten people. However, in the wake of the dominance of the mass demonstration on Novemenber 17 by organized labor, this may be a shift.

    14-3) The first half hour of the meeting, after introductions and announcements (mostly of actions coming up) was devoted to an assessment of OWS as a whole and the LOC in particular after the eviction from Zuccotti Park and the mass march the night before. It was the general consensus that some people are in denial about the seriousness of what had happened, and that the march the night before was not a compensation for the loss. However, it also was not a disaster was witnessed by the meeting that was taking place. My belief, almost two weeks after the raid and eviction is that the magnitude of the loss is/was underestimated.

    14-4) The second half hour was taken up by a discussion of future actions. It was generally agreed upon that the LOC should support a limited number of campaigns and not spread itself too thin. My impression is that, concretely, there are only a few campaigns that the LOC is actually involved in. This is in contrast to the constant stream of campaigns that individual members of the LOC are involved in and want the LOC to back them up with. Most of these are not directly union actions but have some relationship to labor, i.e. immigrant work or the struggle against post office closings and layoffs. While this latter is definitely a labor issue, the unions have yet to become involved so grassroots organizations have sprung up, but they have little to do but show up at hearings, send letters to congresspeople, etc.

    14-5) The one open Leftist at the meeting, a member of the LRP, continues to push the issue of government-created jobs. The upcoming labor march taking place, I believe, on December 2, is a pale reflection of a motion that was passed by the NYC Central Labor Council, spear-headed by the LRP. I have to say, though, that the individual involved functions almost as a parody of a Leftist in his appearance and behavior. All this vitiates the actual effectiveness of his work and makes a discussion, on the spot, of the demands being made, difficult and overly concerned with his personality.

    14-6) The most important result of the discussions above concern the relationship of the LOC with the upcoming labor march. It was proposed that LOC, and OWS if possible, march with the labor march (from 34th Street to Union Square under the slogans “It’s About Jobs! Fight For Fairness”). But to march under their own slogans (“Jobs For All!”) and continue the march furthere downtown, perhaps to Zuccotti Park. This discussion will continue at the next meeting.

    14-7) Another development, which was discussed at the previous meeting, is the possibility of a sub-committee of the LOC whose purpose will be to coordinate inter-union support actions.

    14-8) Discussions also took place of ongoing labor actions supported by LOC: Sotheby’s and Woodlawn Cemetery: both involving locals of the Teamsters Union, plus how the LOC can work with the TWU and Local 32BJ in the upcoming contract negotiations.

    14-9) At this point, rather than go into the details of other discussions, I would like to toss out some ideas as to what is going on with OWS and what its likely future is. People have pointed out that the November 17 march was two days late. There should have been massive labor intervention that afternoon after the raid. Had labor and the OWS organized the 35,000 people who showed up at Foley Square to try to reoccupy Zuccotti Park, the effect would have been very different from the Foley Square march, which can be likened to a big rock tossed into a pond. The splash and ripples were huge, but the water level did not perceptively rise. For anything real to happen; for OWS to be a real aid to the unions in New York in their struggles, the labor leadership/bureaucracy needs to take some risks, and at this point it looks like they will not do this. Big surprise.

    14-10) My opinion is that the task for members of the LOC for the near future will be to (a) continue with the ongoing actions, Sotheby’s and Greenwood, (b) enhance whatever relationship they have with unions that are already established, such as TWU and Local 1199 and (c) to “worm their way” into other unions, such as the UFT. This latter could be begun by the time-honored tactic of a rank-and-file group.

    14-11) Another possible strategy would be for the LOC to take the initiative to begin an actual organizing drive. The coordinating subcommittee mentioned above in entry 14-7 could be a potential vehicle for this.

    14-12) In any event, when the LOC meets again on Friday, December 2, it remains to be seen if the committee retains a forward momentum given the lack of focus of OWS as a whole in the aftermatch of the eviction.



    13-1) This was the evening of the mass labor march which took place two days after the police raid which closed down Zuccotti Park. As had been worked out the previous Friday, members of the Labor Outreach Committee were to circulate through the crowd with clipboards to get names of people interested in working with the committee and giving out leaflets detailing the committees workings.

    13-2) Originally, the form the march was to take was that “mic checks” would be set up in various places in Foley Square where people could testify as to the economic hardships they were going through. In my opinion, this represents both the best and the worst that OWS stands for. The best for its democratic spirit; the worst for the fact that it’s an opportunity for exhibitionism and self-indulgence. In fact, what occurred was that the SEIU showed up with massive sound equipment. (This was a legal demonstration, so sound equipment, unlike at Zuccotti Park, was permitted.) This was apparently in violation of an agreement that had been worked out between the OWS and unions. However, since the OWS is leaderless at this point, another expression of the best and worst of it, it was not possible for anyone to protest what the SEIU had done.

    13-3) The SEIU leadership, then, was able to set the agenda for the rally part of the demonstration, and the fact that the 99 people scheduled to be symbolically arrested included the National President of the SEIU, pretty much stamped this as a labor rally. This was both good and bad. Good in that it was the first mass labor rally in New York in decades. Bad in that much of the radicalism of the OWS was leached out of the event.

    13-4) The time for a mass labor demo was the day after the eviction, even if it had to be called ad hoc as was the labor resistance to New York’s Mayor Bloomberg’s original call to clear the park back in October. The could have been coupled with an attempt to reoccupy the park. However, this would have been a far more radical move than the labor bureaucrats are willing to countenance at this point. It is obvious that the labor demo planned for December 1, under the slogan “Jobs and Economic Fairness,” which is an extremely watered-down version of a march that was passed by the Central Labor Council itself (responding to an initiative from OWS and spearheaded by the LRP), will fit nicely into the Obama Administrations slogans (as opposed to any actions) for the 2012 elections.

    13-5) The labor leadership/bureaucracy in New York is in an interesting bind. On the one hand, they are taking it on the neck again and again from the Bloomberg Adminstration and from the employers in general, and they have not been able to mount any successful fight backs. The OWS gives them an opportunity to wave a red flag in front of the ruling class, but, on the other hand, there is the danger that its membership will start to take all this radicalization seriously. This would threaten the bureaucrats on their shaky thrones and threaten their relationship with the Democratic Party. Thus, they are simultaneously trying to use OWS to win some limited gains. But they also have to stifle its radicalism, which defeats their purpose.

    13-6) All this creates an unparalleled opening for the Left and gives it a kind of access to the labor rank-and-file that it has not had since the 1970s. The organized Left was slow to pick up on the opportunity of OWS and did not fully exploit it before the expulsion from Zuccotti Park. There was no attempt by any Left group to systematically relate to the occupation. At best, attempts at leafleting and distribution of material were spotty, and the material that was distributed was laughably unsuited to the occasion. The Left failed in this regard.

    13-7) The next step, I believe, will take place at an intersection between OWS as a whole, constitutent committees of the OWS such as the LOC and the Demands Committee, the union leadership/bureaucracy, elements of the rank-and-file and individuals that are active independent of the bureaucracy and the Left. The Left has a crucial role to play. If individuals and groups get off their asses, stop debating trivia, rid themselves of petty-bourgeois illusions, we face opportunities that have not been present for three decades.


    12-1) This visit was to attend meetings of the facilitators group of OWS Labor Outreach Committee (hereafter, the “LOC”) and then a meeting of the committee itself. Due to the Veterans Day holiday, the committee meeting was held at the headquarters of Local 1199, instead of the headquarters of DC 37. The preliminary facilitator’s meeting was supposed to be at a nearby Starbucks, but few people showed on time, and the place proved to be inadequate. The few of us who did show up moved the meeting to the union headquarters. (Part of this report comes from notes I took as the facilitator-notetaker of this LOC meeting.)

    12-2) The LOC has an agenda which it sticks to pretty closely, beginning with Introductions. The Introductions at this meeting indicated the presence of people from the following unions: Carpenters Local, UFT, UAW Local 2325, DC 37, SEIU, Local 30 Maihandlers, Local 100 TWU, Local 1199, Steamfitters Local 638, Musicians Local 802, CUNY Local PSC, Restaurant Workers, Teamsters Local 808 (Woodlawn Cemetery Workeres), Teamsters Local 814 (Sotheby’s Art Handlers), CWA. Hotel Workers Local 6.

    12-3) Reports to the LOC were as follows:
    A – SOTHEBYS – The LOC participated in the Sotheby’s picket line on Wednesday, November 9. People locked themselves together with bike locks. 8 people were jailed. At least 10 unions participated. There is a rally planned for December 8th.
    B – OCCUPY THE DOE – There was a GA Monday night (Nov. 7) at the Tweed Court House. Many teenagers there spoke out for their teachers. Future plans are to disrupt the next meeting of PEP (Panel for Educational Policy).
    C – IMMIGRANT AND NONUNION WORKERS – There is a call for a citywide boycott of Dominos Pizza.
    D) NOVEMBER 17 – The Labor part of the demonstrations begins at 5:00 PM at Foley Square. There will be lots of music. It was suggested that the LOC set up soapboxes and mike checks on economic horror stories. The demo will march from Foley Square to City Hall, encircle City Hall and then onto the Brooklyn Bridge. Organizations such as Unity New York, Local 1199, SEIU, UFT, 32BJ and many community groups are involved.

    12-4) Under General Business, the LOC considered a proposal, a demand actually, that originated with the OWS Demands Working Group passed the following:
    We demand a democratically-controlled public works and public service program, with direct government employment, to creat 25 million new jobs at good union wages. The new jobs will go to meeting the needs of the 99%, including educatin, healthcare, housing, mass transit, and clean energy. The program will be funded by raising taxes on the rich and corporations and by ending all U.S. wars. Employment n the program ill be open to all, regardless of immigration status or criminal record.

    The demand was accepted by consensus. Given discussions I have been involved in online, at revleft.com, for example, I assume that the origins of this demand and the strategy for its presentation is coming from the LRP.
    12-5) At the end of the meeting, the LOC considers requests for support fromm the Living Wage Campaign, the Verizon campaign of the CWA, the Anti-Super Committee (Social Safety Net) Campaign, Woodlawn Cemetery, Dec. 8 Sotheby’s, MTA Corruption, Stop PO Closures, Occupy DOE.

    12-6) The LOC voted to establish a mutual solidarity network,” whose purpose it would be to coordinate cooperation between unions to support each other’s actions. I feel that this move, which concretizes the best work that the LOC is doing, is the next step forward for the committee.

    12-7) At this point, the LOC stands, in my opinion, in the most crucial place in the OWS. It is attracting concrete labor support in the for of rank-and-filers actually engaged in struggles, shop stewards and low level union bureaucrats/leaders. While the OWS as a whole has served as a magnet for the labor bureaucracy and a focus for rank-and-file energy, the bureaucracy will always serve to use the OWS for its own purposes. The role of the LOC must be to, eventually, use the mobilzation which it helps to create, for its own far more left-wing purposes.


    11-1) This visit was a short one. I wanted, as usual, to collect impressions of the current state of the Occupation, talk to people and pick up some literature. I also, at the end, want to continue some of the speculations I began in entry 10 about the direction that OWS should go.

    11-2) My general impressions over the past several visits continues. Physically, the tents have taken over more and more space, including several large tents which have been purchased by OWS itself. The net result of this continues to be the inhibition of political discussion inside the park and causing it to take place out on the sidewalk. There were no left groups present either inside or outside the park. There was, however, a very active anarchist table on the sidewalk facing Broadway distributing free literature, including pamphlets on basic anarchist theory, rejecting life-syle anarchism, Noam Chomsky on “Government in the Future” and one on racism and capitalism.

    11-3) During the course of my visit, I deliberately set out to talk to people sort of a random around the site. Previously, I have mostly just been an observer without talking much to people. My general impression, gained from talking to half a dozen people, is that there is still no convergence on program or demands, nor is there any convergence as to what the direction that OWS should go in.

    11-4) I want to make some theoretical points here. My notion, as a Marxist, is that what we are dealing with here is basically a petty-bourgeois movement. That is, the class base of the occupation is petty-bourgeois. This is reflected in the absence of demands, the absence of coherent leadership, the obsessive and debilitating focus on consensus and a host of other phenomena. This is to be expected. The working class has been locked into the continuously failing policies of the union leadership and have come up with very few initiatives in the past three decades that might provide new directions for struggle.

    11-5) A similar situation occurred during the early Sixties, with the mass petty-bourgeois movements, the Civil Rights Movement and the Ban the Bomb Movement. Both these movements did, in fact, have huge working class participation, but this participation was curailed and controlled by the leadership of these movements, a combination of liberal, petty-bourgeois radicals and trade union leadership/bureaucrats. As a result, once certain limited goals were achieved, nothing more could be done. And as the student movement arose, with its creativity and sense of initiative, it was unable to reach out to the working class and turned in on itself with the results we know.

    11-6) In my opinion, the organized Left needs to take a stand, that the Occupation movement needs to turn towards the working class, and the working class needs to embrace the Occupation movement. This needs to be the message of the Left. This needs to be expressed tactically, strategically, organizationally and theoretically.


    10-1) This trip was for the purpose of taking a quick look at the site and then attending a Labor Outreach Group meeting. My previous observations on the general conditions stand. There are visibly more tents than even a few days ago, and the space for discourse inside the park is becoming more limited, thus forcing discussions more and more to take place at the periphery.

    10-2) There are continuous reports in the press of antisocial behavior, including rape. This is to be expected. In the absence of a viable security system for the park, such behavior must, inevitably, manifest. This has resulted in the women on the site building a “safe house” for themselves. There is also a piece the Daily Kos, written 2 ½ weeks ago by an African-American woman, describing the negativity that had already begun to accumulate. http://www.dailykos.com/story/2011/10/17/1027186/-A-Black-Woman-Who-Occupied-Wall-Street:-Why-She-Wont-Be-Going-Back (Thanx to tacosomoza at revleft.com for posting the article.) I myself witnessed an incident in which one individual was accused of stealing something. Some kind of “official” was called. In the end, I believe, the stolen items were returned.

    10-3) It should also be noted that on Saturday, November 5, toilets were installed near the site at the loading dock of a building owned by the United Federation of Teachers whose headquarters is nearly. This represents an indirect rebuke of Mayor Bloomberg who has opposed the Occupation from Day 1.

    10-4) At 6:00, I went over to DC 37 headquarters for the Labor Outreach Group meeting. Before the meeting started, there was already half a dozen people waiting, old lefties. By the time the meeting got underway, at about 6:15, there were over fifty people, self-identified as from over twenty different union locals. These included the TWU, CWA, Teamsters, UFT, Local 1199, UAW, SEIU, SAG and others. It is important to note that a goodly percentage of the attendees were self-identified as shop stewards, chapter chairpeople or lower-level union officials.

    10-5) In my opinion, the presence of so many people identified with the structures of various unions is not an accident. While the leadership/bureaucracy of the unions has been playing footsy with OWS, it is obvious that they realize that something has happened that can be used to their advantage. The fact that the OWS was defended largely by union members against Mayor Bloomberg’s plan to “clean” the site, is important. I’ll clarify that below.

    10-6) It was instructive to see how the “facilitators,” the leaders of the meeting, combined together to run the meeting. Often, when an unclear issue came up, a quick, informal, sometimes nonverbal consultation between the facilitators and a quick pronouncement from the presiding facilitator, moved things along. There would be nothing wrong with this, except that the facilitators are unelected by the bodies they preside over. The theory is that the only “facilitate,” the meetings they preside over. But this is an illusion based on some extremely bourgeois sociology. Here’s an example of the kind of material available:

    10-7) After some vague discussions about procedures, and introductions, reports were presented on various activities that the Labor Outreach Group is involved with. These included:
    (A) the November 17 mass action (http://www.revleft.com/vb/showpost.php?p=2286595&postcount=3);
    (B) support action for the locked out Teamsters at Sotheby’s (https://pastee.org/ffbt3);
    (C) a city-wide boycott of Domino’s Pizza;
    (D) solidarity with TWU Local 100 in its contract negotiations with the MTA (www.labornet.org/news/0000/twukick.pdf).

    10-8) After the reports, the Group broke down into smaller groups by unions. I was in the Teachers group. There was no real discussion in this subgroup, except the general impression conveyed by the three people in the group besides myself (public school and City Univeristy teachers) that there is broad, general support for OWS.

    10-9) After the groups reassembled, there were brief reports, mostly pertaining to the actions mentioned above. One significant moment came when there was a report from union workers at WNBC, who have been working without a contract for several months. They are planning a protest at The Today Show, and asked that the OWS support this. Almost immediately, one of the representatives of the Sotheby’s Teamsters said that their action is right around the corner from 30 Rockefeller Plaza, where The Today Show is filmed and offered support for the WNBC workers’ action.

    10-11) Present at the Labor Outreach Group meeting was one member of Socialist Action and, I believe, one member of the ISO and possibly one member of LRRP. I could be wrong about the latter two.

    10-10) I am slowly beginning to come to a conception of the direction in which the OWS, and especially the Labor Outreach Group should go. I believe that the OWS has already become a focus for mass discontent with capitalism. While I am aware that there are diverse forces with the OWS, including such bizarre groups as the libertarians, the main thrust is anticapitalist, radical and to the Left. (I’m choosing these words carefully.) So what we are seeing is the largest anticapitalist movement in the US in at least forty years and one which has, up to now, garnered a huge amount of positive notice. And, for Leftists, the most important element here is that there is undoubted support from organized labor in the form of individual workers, union officials and material support from the unions.

    10-11) It is crucial to notice that, unlike the previous movements in Wisconsin and Ohio, union officials and the Democratic Party have no traction in OWS with regard to their agenda for pulling all movements in line with support for the Democrats.

    10-12) The most important element, beyond the fact of labor support itself, is that the unions are “using” OWS. By this I mean that they are participating in OWS activities to further their own agendas, which are not in conflict with those of the main thrust of OWS. This support includes, that I am aware of:
    (A) Direct labor participation in OWS actions, such as marches.
    (B) Direct, though not organized, labor participation, such as the rescuing of OWS from Mayor Bloomberg’s rather heavy-handed attempt to shut OWS down.
    (C) Indirect support for OWS through material contributions, such as the UFT provided toilets for the occuption site.
    (D) Participation of unionized workers, shop stewards and lower-level leadership in an OWS group and bringing this group (the Labor Outreach Group) into union activity, including contract negotiations.

    10-13) In sum, I believe that it will be possible, in the near future for the OWS, in the person of the Labor Outreach Group to engage more and more in labor actions, including negotiations, strikes, and, hopefully, organizing drives. It is this potential where there exists, I believe, a really fruitful opportunity for labor, the Left and OWS to grow into something much larger and powerful and far beyond the limits of the existing occupations.


    9-1) This visit was to attend the sympathy march for the Oakland General Strike, which was happening that day. Prior to that, though, I spent some time walking around the OWS space. Much has changed. Since the victory over Mayor Bloomberg and his oinks several weeks ago, on, I believe, October 14, the use of tents has proliferated.

    9-2) This proliferation of tents has resulted in much less space within Zuccotti Park for debate and discussion. In fact, I noticed that most of the debate and discussion is now taking place in the much-reduced space around the staircase at the southeast corner of the park and in an around the library space at the northeast corner. Also, the space around the media center, the kitchen, the labor table and all other functions is sharply reduced by the tents.

    9-3) As earlier, I saw three or four people smoking dope. Bizarrely, I have also seen a proliferation of people smoking hand-rolled cigarettes.

    9-4) To put it straightforwardly, the general level of spontaneously joyful behavior and open discussion has been sharply reduced. This has been replaced by a somewhat grimmer, tighter and, paradoxically, more chaotic attitude. This is, of course, my subjectinve impression.

    9-5) After some confusion, the march began at about 6:30. There were some preliminary speakers who, in my opinion, did little or nothing to either inform the audience or motivate them. The “mic check” system was used for a relatively small crowd. One speaker, a woman whose name I didn’t catch, gave a speech on the connection between the events in Oakland and those in New York. The other speaker, an African-American man, talked about racism and what could be done t help the people in the ghettos.

    9-6) The only left group in evidence was the ISO, which had a lit table in a very good position at the northeast corner of the park, at one end of what I call “the living poster wall,” where people stand with various posters facing the heavy traffic on Broadway, the most traveled street in Lower Manhattan. However, the table had no handouts, pamphlets, leaflets, etc., directly addressing the OWS or the events at Oakland that day. When I pointed this out to one of the comrades at the table, he seemed not to understand what I was talking about. He pointed to copies for sale of Socialist Worker, whose lead article was, indeed, about OWS.

    9-7) The march began with a circling of the park twice. There were so many people jammed into the park at that point, and on the sidewalks around the park, that the march was virtually invisible. Just as the second circuit was completed and the march was about to step off towards City Hall and 1 Police Plaza (New York City Police Headquarters), a large, spirited march of students that had come down from Washington Square Park, joined up at the rear and provided a lot of new energy.

    9-8) The line of march was north along Broadway to the north end of City Hall Park, where it turned east, marched through the Muncipal Building, to the plaza beyond it which is also connected to 1 Police Plaza. The march covered three city blaocks. I estimate the crowd at about 2-3 thousand. The cops had blocked off all the side streets, so the march could proceed directly to 1 Police Plaza with not stopping for lights. The entire march lasted about twenty minutes. We were flanked by cops on motorscooters and on foot the whole way.

    10-9) The only organized political group evident during the march was the Workers World Party, which had a large banner and numerous placards. Once the march reached the end, a rally began. At the point, I ducked out.


    8-1) This visit also had the purpose of attending a Labor Support/Outreach Group meeting, which I was finally able to do. But before that, let me make some observations on OWS as a whole. The overall situation seems slightly grimmer. (Remember, these are subjective observations of mine.) It is, of course, getting darker and colder. (Snow is forecast for the weekend.) However, with all the talking going on, “mic checks,” etc., there does not seem to be any growth or development at the site.

    8-2) The only Left group that I saw present tonight was the Workers World, which had, in addition to the usual boring lit table, a leaflet dated October 19, which manages, on the one hand, to mention the working class, and on the other hand to make it marginal to other struggles going on.

    8-3) At the meeting, which was in the basement of District Council 37 (the umbrella group for AFSCME unions in New York), it was cool to actually be in a union headquarters and see the OWS Labor Outreach Group meeting on the bulletin board (to say nothing of the fact that DC is lending its space). As the meeting opened, most of the people there were alter cockers like me. (For you boychiks and girlchiks who don’t know what an “alter cocker” is, it’s a Yiddish phrase meaning “An old and complaining person, an old fart.” http://www.sbjf.org/sbjco/schmaltz/yiddish_phrases.htm). But, gradually, as he room filled up, there were more and more young(er) people. I would guess that at the height of the meeting, there were about 80 people.

    8-4) The first order of business involved a sister from Occupy Chicago, a journalist, who earnestly asked permission to attend. There was all kinds of quibbling and nonsense until it was approved. I am always amazed at how important some people think everything they think or have to say is important. (I am an alter cocker, indeed.) It is easy to grow impatient with the hair-splitting over small details. And some micro-discussing (to coin a phrase), leads to bureaucratic mainpulation to keep things moving.

    8-5) The chairperson of the meeting was a facilitator from some larger grouping within the OWS and a union member (CUNY staff congress, I think). (It’s amazing how fast a structure has evolved on the one and, in the absence of real organizational democracy, a leadership with a genuinely bureaucratic style has also evolved.) He attempted to run the meeting GA stylebut the meeting was obvious bored by his presentation of the minutia of finger wiggling.

    8-6) A retired brother from the longshore union next gave a report on the upcoming general strike in Oakland. I forget his name, but he was obviously an experienced left-winger. He gave a history of the previous general strike in 1946, the last general strike in the US. What was not clear to me was the relationship between Occupy and Oakland.

    8-7) Unfortunately, due to a prior commitment, I was only able to stay at the meeting for an hour, and at that point I had to leave.


    7-1) This visit had a purpose: to attend a Labor Support/Outreach Group and to attend a meeting of the General Assembly. The Labor Support/Outreach Group meeting was postponed to 6:30 PM, Friday, October 28, at DC 37 Headquarter, 125 Barclay Street.

    7-2) Practically the first thing we saw when my wife and I arrived was a group from a Brooklyn SEIU local, but they left before I could find out why they were there

    7-3) My general impression of the OWS site continues to be one of stagnation. While there was, as before, a large amount of purposeful activity going on, it all related to the maintenance of the site and none of it related to activities to bring the Occupation out from the site.

    7-4) Outreach activities are going on in the form of almost-daily marches, but, again, there is no development or escalation. And the marches seem to have heft only when they have labor participations.

    7-5) Then General Assembly started promptly as 7:00. I was fortunate to be able to get a spot right next to the facilitators. Unfortunately, I had to leave after half an hour, but I got a pretty good idea of how the GA functions. (This is not to say that I have a bead on the issues it’s dealing with.)

    7-6) The GA is perhaps the best example I’ve ever seen of the manipulation of a rank-and-file by a leadership. The fact that this leadership is unelected and supports the illusion that it is in fact not a leadership makes this even more reprehensible. To add to this the cumbersome, rapidly evolving structure, and we get a very gamy situation.

    7-7) I have a half hour video which I shot showing the GA addressing the issue of the schedule that the Drum Circle was to adhere to. Much of what went on was familiar: a speakers list, a secretary (a woman) taking minutes, etc. What was different was the weird handsignals and the very blatant manipulation that was obviously occurring. When any kind of problem arose during the discussion, concerning, especially, information about what was going on in other groups, the facilitators quickly consulted among themselves to see who had the information and what the answer would be. The “hidden leadership” of this GA was about 5 people. The attendance was about 60-70.


    6-1) This being a Saturday, there were less people taking a break from work or coming to work or going home. However, the number of people at the site was huge: the biggest I’ve seen yet. Spirits remain high. The overall impression, for me, was one of constant, largely purposeful activity but still unfocused. There is no sense of stagnation or decadence. The only sign I saw of the latter is that the site, in addition to the occupiers, has become a camping ground for some obvious drug users.

    6-2) Surveying the geography of the site, it goes something like this: the total rectangular area is, I’ve read, about ½ acre (about .2 hectares). It is bounded on the north by Liberty Street (hence the common name “Liberty Park”), on the south by Cedar Street, on the west by Trinity Place (which changes its name a few block north to Church Street), and, importantly, one the east by Broadway, the major artery in Lower Manhattan. It is one block east of Ground Zero. It shows up on Google Maps as Zuccotti Park. (John Zuccotti is the current chairperson of the Brookfield Corporation, which actually owns the site.)

    6-3A) The internal geography of the site is something like this (I’ll divide this into several entries: if this bores you, skip to entry 4): on the east side, facing Broadway, there is free access, and this is the location of what I call the “living poster wall.” This I call the East Sidewalk. Here, people stand facing Broadway with mainly homemade signs on a huge variety of subjects. On the southeast corner, on the sloping steps, under a huge, orange sculpture called “Joie de Vivre,” is perhaps the main speaking area, where, I believe, the General Assembly is held. There is a sidewalk along the north side of the site (the “North Sidewalk”). There are also numerous posters displayed along this side, plus some other activities, such as street theater (which curiously doesn’t seem to be too common). Right behind the North Sidewalk, below the steps leading onto the site from the street level, is a north-south passage, which I call “East Street.”

    6-3B) Also, along the North Sidewalk, you can get a t-shirt silkscreened. About 30 feet in from the north sidewalk is what I call the “North Lane,” which runs east to west for then entire length of the site, gradually curving north to meet the North Sidewalk at the northwest corner. Walking along the North Lane, first is the Library, with tubs and shelves of free books on many subjects. Then comes the Media Center, which includes a live feed to a website. Just about opposite the Library is the Labor Table, where a bunch of old farts are generally sitting around talking about the Spanish Civil War and playing pinochle (not really). Just at the Labor Table is a passageway connecting the North Lane and the South Lane (see below), which I am call the “East Street.” Continuing down, on the left is the food areas, which is well-organized and the food actually looks good.

    6-3C) Continuing along the North Lane going west, there are sleeping areas on the left and right. Just before the sleeping areas is another passageway connecting the North Lane and the South Lane (the “Center Street”). It was here I saw people who definitely looked like their presence was pre-pre-pre-political. At the northwest corner, of the site is an information table with some basic, very nonpolitical and boring literature.

    6-3D) There is a “West Street,” which runs down the west side of the site, separated from the sidewalk on Trinity Place by steel barriers. (This is only place on the site where these barriers reamin.) At the north end of the West Street is the Community Altar, a place for those inclined to spirituality (mostly non-Western) and meditation and such. The altar is attractive and very well maintained. Going south along the West Street is the main music area. During the day, there is almost constant communal drumming and much dancing. This is very reminiscent to me of hippy days in Tompkins Square Park.

    6-3E) Just north of the music area, the South Lane starts, which runs east-west connecting Broadway and the East Street and the West Street. It is much narrower than the North Lane, and on Saturday is was difficult to walk steadily. Mostly, the South Lane goes through the sleeping areas, but just beyond the Center Street the space opens up to an area where the are frequent circle meetings, etc. The South Lane continues to the base of the Joie de Sivre statue, where it joins the East Street. Finally, there is the South Sidewalk where there are several literature tables facing outwards. the South Sidewalk. About 2/3 of the way down towards Trinity Place, a low wall begins, which is festooned with posters and with people sitting on top of it. And now, after this little walk around the OWS site, you can buy refreshments from commercial trucks and food stands on Cedar Street, facing the South Sidewalk. ☺

    6-4) Finally there is an actual, if miniscule, LEFT PRESENCE!!!!!! I saw tables from:
    • the SWP – One small table, on the East Street, just north of the Joie de Vivre construction, manned by one person; all books, etc., wrapped in plastic. No handouts specific to OWS. No free stuff; finally got a copy of The Militant. The headline did not pertain to OWS. The comrade, a middle-aged woman, told me they, “Try to get down there for a few hours on weekended.” Verdict – BORING! Grade – D
    • IWW – One medium-sized table at about the center of the South Sidewalk. Lots of stuff on the IWW, but no handout specifically aimed at the OWS. Two 40ish male comrades (or older). Verdict – BORING! Grade – C-
    • PL – Two comrades, along the North Sidewalk, giving out copies of Challenge whose headline did not pertain to OWS. When I mistook them for the RCP, I came the closest I have gotten in six visits to being assaulted. (Not really, but they were mad!) The comrades were both women in their 50s or 60s. Verdict – BORING! Grade – D+
    • Socialist Appeal – Medium-sized table about the center of the South Lane on the south side, with three male comrades, 30s-40s, with lots of stuff, virtually none of it free. No handouts specific to the OWS. I was actually able to get into a discussion with a male comrade in, perhaps, his late 30s. Only then was I offered literature. Verdict – BORING! Grade – C-

    6-5) The above speaks for itself. The organized Left, at least with regard to a presence at OWS, does not get it. The very fact that not one group had a handout specific to the OWS. I not even going to mention the groups who didn’t bother to have their funky asses present to have a lit table and distribute literature to maybe 5000 people. You got something better to do?

    6-6) While there were posters expressing every possible politcal notion and demand, from election reform to revolutionary overthrow of capitalism, the OWS remains pre-political. Except for one UAW lollipop poster, and the guys (all men in their 40s-60s) at the Labor Table, there was no organized labor presence on this beautiful Saturday afternoon.


    5-1) There was virtually no police presence at OWS. The police were confined to about 10 cops, mostly concentrated along the west side of the Occupation along, I believe, Church Street, the same number to the east, along Broadway, and a few on the north side, where their vehicles are parked.

    5-2) Because it was relatively late (the Occupation observes a quiet time from 10:00 PM to 8:00 AM), there was no drumming at the southwest corner, but there were some folksingers, who could have come right out of the Sixties.

    5-3) The OWS has put out a document: The Occupied Wall Street Spokes Council Proposal.
    It contains a detailed plan for the structure of the Occupation. There is a revleft.com discussion of it here:

    5-4) Without getting into the document itself, let me say that it represents a very cumbersome but sincere attempt to deal structurally with the ephemeral nature of those supporting the OWS, those actually occupying, passersby and, weakly, organized groups, especially labor. It should be seriously considered and discussed as this is actually, as for as I know, the first actual “official” document of the OWS.

    5-5) The OWS continues to struggle with the issue of demands (or goals). This is not an accident. The demands or program are close to the heart of any movement. And a movement so new as the OWS and largely run by people with little or no political experience should have difficulty with them. However, this difficulty also conceals the fact that this is a petit-bourgeois movement at this point, which makes it almost impossible for it to focus on a concise set of demands. Until the labor movement, organized and unorganized, and the organized left become involved, giving the OWS a “social weight” it currently lacks, this problem with program will persist.

    5-6) There was still no sign whatsoever of organized left-wing activity. We can no longer call this an accident. What few forces the organized left has should have been thrown into this struggle wholeheartedly. I am not talking about actually sleeping down there (not that a few resident comrades from each left-wing group wouldn’t be enormously useful), but maintaining an active presence. I saw no evidence of left-wingers engaged in debates (although this was after the nightly General Assembly) or of left-wing stickers, leaflets, newspapers, etc. It is obviously to me that the organized left, with few exceptions, is taking an abstentionist attitude. I mean, Comrades, not even one mass distribution? I know that some groups are working within their unions or with unions they are in touch with, but this needs to be publicized, especially at OWS itself.

    5-7) Kudos to the LRP for pushing through a motion at the New York Central Laor Council for a mass labor march on march, I believe, November 5th.

    5-8) The discussions that I heard going on, and I witnessed two or three of them, involved someone who was obviously a “leader type,” explaining to others the function, purpose and necessity of the structure as mentioned in “3” above. A leadership is emerging, as any leftist knows it must. However, it will act informally, without sanction, undemocratically, even clandestinely, so long as a real structure does not evolve, which is probably impossible at this point.

    5-9) The site, in general, is clean but had a generally disorganized look. However my overall impression was a heightening of discussion and more political focus.

    5-10) Reports I have read indicate that the reason Bloomberg backed down on clearing the site was the massive, if somewhat uncoordinated, organized labor presence on the morning that the clearing of the site was to take place. The occupiers were dug in to resist arrest, but the entire site was encircled by union people, with union jackets and hats, ready to resist the cops. The cops were vastly outnumbered by the workers.

    5-11) To summarize, the Occupation remains at a pre-political stage. There is more indication of labor presence. Still virtually no indication of a presence of the Left. The illusions of petit-bourgeois radicalism: extreme spontaneism, an absolute rejection of an effect structure geared for action, a lack of demands, persist.
    The beat goes on.


    4-1) Compared to a few days ago, the attitude of the police is noticeably different. They are not standing close to the edge of the site. They are not hurrying passersby along. They are mostly just standing around passively.

    4-2) Barriers remain along the west and north sides of the site. There is a stone wall on the south side. The east side, which faces Broadway (the busiest thoroughfare in Manhattan) is open.

    4-3) There are two focuses of energy: the southeast corner where the general assemblies are held and the southwest corner where there is constant drumming of about 6-8 drummers.

    4-4) Finally, there is a labor table. It was not manned nor was there any organized activity going on. The half a dozen people who were sitting around the table were all self-identified as union members, including one man from the structural ironworkers and one from the painters. This latter is interesting as during the time of the Civil Right Movement and the Vietnam War, the construction workers unions were the most reactionary.

    4-5) There was no sign whatsoever of organized left-wing activity: no stickers, posters, newsletters, tables, individuals leafletting, etc. THIS IS A FUCKING DISASTER, A SHAME AND SERVES TO EXPOSE THE WEAKNESS AND COWARDLINESS OF THE ORGANIZED LEFT.

    4-6) The site was noticeable cleaner and better organized. However, it should be noted that when I visited it last, it was disorganized but not particularly dirty.

    4-7) There is a noticeable absence of tension, probably having to do with the fact that the cops have been faced down and the mayor, may he rot in hell, backed off. I have read that the mayor’s live-in girlfriend is a stockholder in the company that actually owns the site.

    4-8) There is still virtually a complete absence of politics in the sense that the Left defines it. While there are constant little groups of people forming, reforming and talking, the issues are scattered and the discussions are unfocused and have a kind of casual nature. I may be projecting, but I get the distinct feeling that people are waiting for someone, some group, to make a definite statement or, at very least, provide a focus for the discussion.

    4-9) There is no indication of a coming together on a set of demands, goals, whatever. I heard people talking about: bribery of public officials, taxing the rich, use of hydrogen for power (I kid you not), etc. The self-identification of the occupiers as the “99%” is everywhere, but there is little beyond that in terms of a class analysis.

    4-10) The occupiers are mostly young, women and men, and beautifully ethnically mixed. Compared with a week ago, I would say there are less people hanging around the edges, less curiosity seekers and passersby. The novelty has worn off, but there is no “feeling” of jadedness. I do get an underlying feeling of impatience.

    4-11) To summarize, the Occupation is still at a pre-political stage. In my opinion, without the presence of organized workers, as part of their unions or as independent delegations from the unions (NYC is the most unionized city in the USA) and without the presence of the organized left, stagnation and frustration will soon begin to increase.

    4-12) Also, it should be noted, the weather is noticeably colder and it is getting dark markedly earlier than a month ago when the Occupation began.

    Uncoordinated notes on my third visit to Occupy Wall Street – Wednesday, October 12 – About 9:00 PM

    3-1) The sensory impression of the Occupation at night is completely different than from the day. People are entirely within the barriers (still a large area of a full city block) and everything feels more concentrated, more intense.

    3-2) The impression is of even less politics at night than during the day. I had hoped to see a General Assembly or some large-scale discussion going on but no such.

    3-3) People are talking, talking, talking to each other. But there are few buttons, leaflets or any common method of conveying points of view. We are still at a very pre-poltical stage.

    3-4) The music and dancing (it shuts down at 10:00 PM) were intense, almost frightening. My wife, a professional singer and song writer said that the music was neither angry nor fearful by a way of avoiding anger and feear: “pure trance,” she called it.

    3-5) Absolutely no indication of the presence of organized labor or the organized Left.

    3-6) People are well supplied with food and plastic tarps against the weather. It rained briefly tonight, and the temperature is about 60 F with a wind blowing.

    Uncoordinated Notes on My second Visit to Occupy Wall Street – 10/11/11

    2-1) Compared to 8 days ago, the Occupation is slightly larger.

    2-2) The attitude of the cops is slightly more hostile. Parts of the Occupation space are now enclosed by steel barriers.

    2-3) The space retains a distinctly hippy quality; however, the space is neither dirty nor does it have decadent feel to it. People appear positive and engaged.

    2-4) Dope smoking is going on relatively openly on the site.

    2-5) People with a “spiritual message,” i.e. yoga and meditation, are very much in evidence.

    2-6) While many of the slogans on the numerous signs are political, the Occupation does not have a political feel to it. It remains “pre-political.”

    2-7) While I was there, roughly at rush hour (4:30 PM to 6:30 PM), there was no evidence of a presence of organized labor.

    2-8) The only presence of the organized Left was a single, rather forlorn, individual giving out a leaflet for Socialist Appeal.

    2-9) Hostility to the Democrats is obvious.

    2-10) Hostility to the banks is prevalent, to other corporations less so.

    2-11) Generalized hostility to capitalism is evident and open.

    2-12) Use of the “human mic” is common. Whenever anyone speaks, people gather around and the human mic comes into use. It is quite amazing to see.

    Okay, here are my impressions, that’s impressions and not any kind of systematic observations, based on a brief visit of less than an hour to Occupy Wall Street in New York. [October 3, 2011]

    1-1) The site is terrific: one block east and north of Ground Zero and a couple of blocks north and west of Wall Street itself. The park is a large open space with some trees with Broadway on the east and very tall building to the north and south.

    1-2) When I was there with my wife, about 4:30 this afternoon, grey skies and kind of cool, there were, I guess, about 4000 people there. There were a large number of tourists and people who work in the neighborhood and a group of about 500 who were engaged in the business of the occupation.

    1-3) The overall impression of the occupation is very positive. It looks and is very large for such an undertaking.

    1-4) The occupation itself, remember I’m viewing it from the outside, reminded me of the May Day Tribe demos in Washington in 1971. There was a purposeful, cheerful disorder. There are no tents allowed but there are make-shift one-person shelters (this is an inadequate term; think plastic sleeves with sleeping bags in them).

    1-5) There was a meeting going on when we were there, being carried out in Amislan (American Sign Language). It was difficult to discern if this was a group of deaf students just temporarily at the site or a permanent group.

    1-6) The most important communication medium for people there is large numbers of homemade signs on the ground on the north side of the site. People are encouraged to put make their own signs.

    1-7) There is a media center with a generator that connects the site to the Internet.

    1-8) There are tables, more like long, low platforms, where vegetarian food is served to all comers.

    1-9) Unfortunately, while we were there, the only group activity besides the Amislan group was a bunch of dancing Hari Krishnas without orange robes. It reminded me of Tompkins Square Park ca. 1968.

    1-10) There were no cops visible at all. None.

    1-11) My overall impression was of an activity more turned in on itself at this point. There was no systematic attempt to engage passersby. Since there is no coherent “official” line and not much organization, this is not surprising.

    1-12) There was no sign of organized leftist activity or organized union presence.

    1-13) I was surprised at how fast the whole thing has taken on a definite hippy look.

    1-14) Through my eyes, this occupation is at what I would call a pre-political stage.

    I’ll try to get back there in a day or two, but I work full-time, and I have a lot of stuff on my plate.

    Comment by RED DAVE — November 30, 2011 @ 2:21 am

  30. […] Oakland’s Boots Riley on black bloc tactics (affinis). Read it all. […]

    Pingback by Links 1/15/2012 « naked capitalism — January 15, 2012 @ 11:52 am

  31. No critique of the Black Bloc will be sufficient if it does not address the main argument it makes- that private property is not sacrosanct or moral or anything like that. Anarchists are trying to say that the problems of the world are created by the capitalist concept of private property, and the only way to change it is for everyone to stop playing along with it. I agree that Black Bloc tactics are not appropriate for the Occupy movement right now for the reasons Boots says. But you’ve also got to argue dialectically- *incorporate* the arguments and ideas of the thing you’re arguing against, and create a synthesis that is acceptable to everyone. Direct action to communalize private property is what we need to be doing; tactical questions have to keep that in mind.

    Comment by RanDomino — January 15, 2012 @ 8:16 pm

  32. I would have no problem supporting BB actions IF they actually targeted the correct targets. Breaking windows at local stores and markets does NOT strike at the 1% one iota. They are attacking the locals. They are targeting the Little People. I would LOVE to see BB actions causing chaos, fear, and disruption to Wall Street (and Wall Streeters) themselves – members all being villians. Damage the property of Big Bankers, Big Finance, destroy their limos, wreck their Mercedes’ and BMWs.

    Sorry, but Whole Foods? Seriously? Go after Monsanto, go after ConAgra, go after BoA, go after Wells Fargo, go after Congressmen and women. They are ALL 1%ers and ALL looters.

    Comment by Praedor — January 15, 2012 @ 8:18 pm

  33. @Praedor Whole Foods is a large, anti-worker, greenwashing corporation. The leadership is right-wing neo-fascists. The whole operation is a scam to take money from ignorant liberals.

    Comment by RanDomino — January 17, 2012 @ 9:15 pm

  34. […] the Chris Hedges article. That got a yawn. I posted this piece by a black activist in Oakland Boots Riley on black bloc tactics, they could care […]

    Pingback by anonymous, black bloc, occupy, occupy la — February 8, 2012 @ 4:07 pm

  35. @ Praedor Whole RanDomino’s right, and Wholefoods collaborated with Monsanto recently. Fuck Whole Foods–

    On another note:
    I was happy to see their windows smashed by the BB. It was a very inspiring scene to witness such a small degree of corporate accountability. While the kids in the BB may fuck up sometimes, they do a lot of good actions, they pick a lot of good targets. All of the jazz about the BB being used by the capitalist press—the capitalist press will spin things however they want bloc or no bloc. Quit trying to make friends with your enemies. This is a war, there will be collateral damage, feelings will get hurt–you can cry about it or you can step up. For a clear analysis of the liberal attacks against the “black bloc anarchists” as well as militant marxists please visit my blog: artfrancisco.wordpress.com.

    Criticism is important, what Hedges did however was treachery.

    Comment by artfrancisco — February 8, 2012 @ 8:34 pm

  36. This is a war, there will be collateral damage, feelings will get hurt–you can cry about it or you can step up.

    Of course it is a war. Just up the street a Tea Party member fired a rocket launcher at Carolyn Maloney’s office. I understand that her militia supporters are planning to retaliate with a mortar attack. I was going out for sushi later but now will have to postpone my plans until the fighting is over.

    Comment by louisproyect — February 8, 2012 @ 8:39 pm

  37. […] Boots Riley of the Coup on Black Bloc Tactics (from whom the title of this post is taken) […]

    Pingback by When We Start the Revolution all they’ll Probably do is Snitch « Undustrialism — February 10, 2012 @ 7:06 pm

  38. […] Boots Riley on black bloc tactics […]

    Pingback by A Little of this and a little of that~recapping last week~By rj sigmond | Project World Awareness — November 3, 2013 @ 7:27 pm

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