This is an interesting piece. It says a lot of useful things, and in other areas doesn’t make as much sense.
Let’s start with the useful and highly constructive bits of the article:
1) “Radical violent groups cling like parasites to popular protests. The Black Panthers, the American Indian Movement, the Weather Underground, the Red Brigades and the Symbionese Liberation Army arose in the ferment of the 1960s. Violent radicals are used by the state to justify harsh repression. They scare the mainstream from the movement. They thwart the goal of all revolutions, which is to turn the majority against an isolated and discredited ruling class. These violent fringe groups are seductive to those who yearn for personal empowerment through hyper-masculinity and violence, but they do little to advance the cause. The primary role of radical extremists, such as Maximilien Robespierre and Vladimir Lenin, is to hijack successful revolutions. They unleash a reign of terror, primarily against fellow revolutionaries, which often outdoes the repression of the old regime. They often do not play much of a role in building a revolution.” I couldn’t have said that better myself. And Occupy should take those words very, very seriously.
2) “The leaders were usually young or middle-aged, educated and always unable to meet their professional and personal aspirations. They were never part of the power elite, although often their parents had been. They were conversant in the language of power as well as the language of oppression.” I especially like the part about knowing the language of power as well the language of oppression – this suggests that those who know how things are practically achieved play an important role in social change. Those who know about injustice but have no idea how to practically go about rectifying it know half the story. I don’t know that it has to be a group of dissatisfied would-be intellectuals that provide the “language of power” tools, but those tools need to be provided – it can’t just be a big useless, collective scream. There has to be someone who knows how to get the policies changed.
3) “The defection of the security apparatus is often done with little or no violence, as I witnessed in Eastern Europe in 1989 and as was also true in 1979 in Iran and in 1917 in Russia. At other times, when it has enough residual force to fight back, the dying regime triggers a violent clash as it did in the American Revolution when soldiers and officers in the British army, including George Washington, rebelled to raise the Continental Army.” Indeed – and this is something Occupy needs to learn. Right now Occupiers seem to be into “taunting pigs” rather than recognising that the police are potential allies. (This is something that people in Wisconsin got clearly in their protests – the police unions joined the protests there!)
Now for some of the less useful bits:
1) “A change of power does not require the election of a Mitt Romney or a Barack Obama or a Democratic majority in Congress, or an attempt to reform the system or electing progressive candidates, but rather a destruction of corporate domination of the political process—Gamer’s ‘patron-client’ networks. It requires the establishment of new mechanisms of governance to distribute wealth and protect resources, to curtail corporate power, to cope with the destruction of the ecosystem and to foster the common good. But we must first recognize ourselves as colonial subjects. We must accept that we have no effective voice in the way we are governed. We must accept the hollowness of electoral politics, the futility of our political theater, and we must destroy the corporate structure itself.” Hedges provides zero guidance on what he means by this, and this flies in the face of the resounding slap in the face international capitalists just got in the Greek elections, as well as in the Icelandic referenda on bank debt. Voting matters tremendously. It outrages me that “progressives” want to tie the hands of political campaigners that can change our society for the better. I joined this group because it wants to Occupy Voting Booths, not mock them.
2) “This is what made Malcolm X so threatening to the white power structure. He refused to countenance Martin Luther King’s fiction that white power and white liberals would ever lift black people out of economic squalor. King belatedly came to share Malcolm’s view. Malcolm X named the enemy. He exposed the lies. And until we see the corporate state, and the games it is playing with us, with the same kind of clarity, we will be nothing more than useful idiots.” This is a severely revisionist view of civil rights history. Malcolm X wasn’t killed by the “white power structure”, he was killed by ideologues from the Nation of Islam who were alarmed at how far he had come to deviate from their own extremist political and religious views. Also, it’s odd to criticise radical violent groups for clinging to social change movements like parasites and somehow miss out on what the Nation of Islam was – and is. Malcolm X was far more threatening to “power structures”, white and black, when he left the reservation of the Nation of Islam and started to think for himself. The idea that Martin Luther King “belatedly came to share Malcolm’s view” is ridiculous. King and Malcolm agreed on many more things than they disagreed about, and Hedges states emphatically that he agrees with _King_ about nonviolence, so what is it he’s blaming King for? (Also, the idea that someone hounded by FBI investigators was somehow “in” with those in the “white power structure” should be treated with the disdain it deserves.)
3) “‘Sometimes people hold a core belief that is very strong,’ Fanon wrote in ‘Black Skin, White Masks.’ ‘When they are presented with evidence that works against that belief, the new evidence cannot be accepted. It would create a feeling that is extremely uncomfortable, called cognitive dissonance. And because it is so important to protect the core belief, they will rationalize, ignore and even deny anything that doesn’t fit in with the core belief.'” I have a mild problem with this, because it suggests that those whose beliefs aren’t sufficiently “revolutionary” yet have a false consciousness of some kind and will suffer “cognitive dissonance” as a result, but those whose beliefs are more appropriately “revolutionary” will have a true consciousness and will never be beset by a need to confront their own ideas ever again. I point this out because I know (and I think others of you probably know) people who arrogantly think their consciousness has no need of changing. I’m okay with the idea that occasionally my cognition is a little dissonant and I could stand to learn something. What about the rest of you, though?
All in all, a very interesting piece. We have a lot to learn from it. Mr. Hedges is to be commended for writing this.