Editorial: Debating nonviolence, Occupy and Iran

IssueMarch 2012
Comment by Milan Rai , Emily Johns

Progressive circles in the US have been furiously debating violence recently, after a forceful attack on the Black Bloc by radical journalist Chris Hedges. Hedges described ‘Black Bloc anarchists’ as ‘the cancer of the Occupy movement’: ‘obstructionist’ and ‘deeply intolerant but stupid’.

This brought an equally fierce riposte from radical anthropologist David Graeber, a long-time anarchist and Black Bloc participant, a co-founder of Occupy Wall Street and coauthor of what he describes as Occupy’s ‘strategy of Gandhian nonviolence’ which would ‘eschew acts of property damage’.

Graeber demonstrated that the Black Bloc is not homogenous, that (at least some) Black Bloc anarchists, far from being ‘obstructionist’, had been critical in initiating and developing Occupy, and (many) Black Bloc-ers are far from stupid and far from intolerant. (He also, unfortunately, went on to suggest that Hedges’ rhetoric was of the type used to justify extermination.)

As many have pointed out, these debates about violence continually recur in movements for change. Among many valuable comments, we would point to those by George Lakey (UK tour in July organised by PN) and Michael Albert (star of the Rebellious Media Conference co-organised by PN).

While the debate is important, and issues do need to be teased out, we remain convinced that Black Bloc folks, those who oppose a commitment to nonviolence, will be won over in the end by deeds, not by words.

The burden of proof is on those of us who want to leave Black Bloc tactics behind. It is up to us to organise militant mass nonviolent actions and movements that are both effective in securing change and satisfying for participants. If we cannot rise to this challenge, others will inevitably turn to ‘diversity of tactics’.


There is a way to prevent Iran developing nuclear weapons, establish an intrusive inspection regime in that country, and also meet Iran’s desire for (and right to) a home-grown nuclear cycle.

This is to place Iran’s uranium enrichment facilities under the ownership of an international consortium (including Iran), where foreigners would work at
every level (able to spot diversion and militarisation), and the International Atomic Energy Agency would impose stringent monitoring and inspection.

The consortium proposal has the support of former British and US diplomats. It has been publicly accepted by Iranian president Ahmadinejad. (See PN 2508 on both points.) It should be at the forefront of debate.

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