The violent bear it away

I’m told that there was a saying in the 1960s and 1970s among Vietnam War protesters:  The first person to propose violent action is the FBI informer.

In a democracy, the success of protest movements depends on gaining the sympathy of the public.  The sympathy of the public depends in large part on the behavior of the protesters compared to the behavior of the authorities.  As the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. understood well, the first side to engage in indiscriminate violence is the loser.

The Occupy Wall Street movement is vulnerable to two kinds of infiltrators—radical anarchists, who believe in violent revolution, and police infiltrators, who want to provoke violence in order to discredit the movement.

The video above illustrates the danger of infiltrators.  The mysterious hooded Black Bloc rioters, who have turned up in Oakland, Rome and other cities, are an example of the danger of revolutionary violence in a democracy.  Against the will of the majority of protesters, they engage in violence and vandalism.  Allowed to run wild, they will discredit the Occupy Wall Street movement, as violence by a minority discredited demonstrations against the World Trade Organization a decade ago.

Occupy Wall Street’s General Assembly system is particularly vulnerable to being undermined by a violent minority.  The assemblies make decisions by consensus, and they have no means of enforcing their decisions.

Revolutionaries in the 1960s and 1970s such as Che Guevara and Regis Debray advocated violent provocations against the police in the hope that the police over-reaction would be directed against the public as a whole, so that eventually the public would passively if not actively support revolutionary change.  My guess is that this is what the Black Bloc is trying to do.  This is wrong on many levels.

Mohandas K. Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. were, in their way, authoritarian leaders.  They insisted that their followers undergo training in nonviolence, and observe a strict code of conduct.  No individual in the Occupy Wall Street movement has that kind of moral authority.  That makes the movement vulnerable to infiltration by small, well-organized groups who reject its tactics or oppose its aims.

But if the Occupy leaders take action to prevent infiltration—screening, security checks, monitors, expulsions of people who don’t follow the program—then they give up the openness they are striving for.

I don’t have a good answer to this.  Any thoughts?

Click on Divisions in the #OccupyOakland Protest Seed Unrest for a Mother Jones article about the conflict between violent and nonviolent protesters.

Click on Drumming and the Occupation for an illustration of the dilemma of an anarchist consensus-based movement in dealing with a recalcitrant minority.  Loud drumming is an a nuisance to people in the Wall Street area.  The Occupy Wall Street General Assembly  passed a resolution asking drummers to limit their drumming to the hours between 12 noon and 2 p.m., and 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.  But although a majority of drummers were willing to comply, a minority would not.

Click on Occupy Wall Street for the movement’s home page and current news.

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