Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

June 30, 2010

Holding the black bloc up to scrutiny

Filed under: anarchism — louisproyect @ 8:48 pm

Although the black bloc tactic has been around since the 1980s, it was the Seattle anti-globalization protests of November 30, 1999 that lent it the high profile it would enjoy for an extended period. Around this time, anarchism had become rather trendy as this article from the Style section of the April 4, 2000 Washington Post would indicate:

“Is this the Anarchist Soccer League?” asks the girl with the pierced lip and eyebrow. She catches the eye of a guy whose black T-shirt identifies him as “Poor, Ugly, Happy.”

He informs her that, yes, this is the regular pickup game of the Anarchist Soccer League, held on Sunday afternoons amid the minivan-and-merlot enclaves of upper Northwest Washington.

She surveys the dusty field near Woodrow Wilson High School, where 30 players have amassed to kick a ball around to promote physical fitness, camaraderie and the defeat of global capitalism. They’re mainly college-age men and women–energetic, fairly decent players. They know how to cross and dribble. They wear cleats and shin guards. “It looks too organized to be the Anarchist Soccer League,” the pierced girl says dismissively. She adjusts the black bra under her white tank top, wondering whether to join in.

“I need a cigarette,” she decides, and roller-blades off to find one.

But soon she’ll return to get into the game. She’s a punk rocker, a supporter of an activist group called Refuse & Resist. She wants to free Mumia Abu-Jamal, the convicted cop killer.

Her name is Barucha Peller. She wears Abercrombie & Fitch pants and carries a Nine West wallet. She’s not entirely sure that she’s an anarchist–“I’m 17, too young to pick any ideology”–but she definitely doesn’t like The System.

In some respects, the black bloc tactic used by anarchists is something like a team sport, with young people (mostly white males) in uniform fighting over territory with other men in uniform—the cops. Breaking through a fence, stopping a meeting from taking place, inciting the cops to wade in and beat up peaceful protesters in order to educate them how “rotten the system is”—all this amounts to a GOAL in soccer.

For a good introduction to the black bloc tactic, I’d recommend Daniel Dylan Young’s article Masking Up And The Black Bloc: A Pre-Seattle History on Infoshop.org, a key anarchist website run by Chuck Munson, a ubiquitous presence on the Internet who goes by the nom de guerre Chuck 0. Young explains that the tactic was cooked up by European autonomists, a radical movement inspired by the writings of Antonio Negri, the Italian ultraleft Marxist and co-author of “Empire”, a book that ironically praised the penetration of global capitalism into the Third World, as long as it was done with the consent of the penetrated. As disgraced weatherman Tex Antoine once put it: “With rape so predominant in the news lately, it is well to remember the words of Confucius: ‘If rape is inevitable, lie back and enjoy it.'”

Here is the key passage in Young’s article:

From the beginning the West German state did not take kindly to young Autonomen, whether they were occupying nuclear power plant building sites or unused apartment buildings. In the winter of 1980 the Berlin city government decided to take a hardline against the thousands of young people living in squats throughout the city: they decided to criminalize, attack and evict them into the cold winter streets. This was a much more shocking and unusual action in Germany than it would be in the U.S., and created much popular disgust and condemnation of the police and government.

From December 1980 on there was an escalating cycle of mass arrests, street fighting, and new squatting in Berlin and throughout Germany. The Autonomen were not to be cowed, and each eviction was responded to with several new building occupations. When squatters in the south German city of Freiburg were mass arrested, rallies and demonstrations supporting them and condemning the police state’s eviction policy took place in every major city in Germany. In Berlin on that day, later dubbed “Black Friday,” upwards of 15,000 to 20,000 people took to the streets and destroyed an upper class shopping area…

In response to violent state oppression radical activists developed the tactic of the Black Bloc: they went to protests and marches wearing black motorcycle helmets and ski masks and dressing in uniform black clothing (or, for the most prepared, wearing padding and steel-toed boots and bringing their own shields and truncheons). In Black Bloc, autonomen and other radicals could more effectively fend off police attacks, without being singled out as individuals for arrest and harassment later on. And, as everyone quickly figured out, having a massive group of people all dressed the same with their faces covered not only helps in defending against the police, but also makes it easier for saboteurs to take the offensive against storefronts, banks and any other material symbols and power centers of capitalism and the state. Masking up as a Black Bloc encouraged popular participation in public property destruction and violence against the state and capitalism. In this way the Black Bloc is a form of militance that mitigates the problematic dichotomy between popularly executed non-violent civil disobedience and elite, secretive guerilla terrorism and sabotage.

With all due respect to Young’s well-researched article, this does not sound that much different from SDS Weathermen “trashing” that occurred a good fifteen years earlier in the USA. Property destruction was supposed to be an insurrectionary act, a kind of litmus test for whether you were a genuine revolutionary rather than reformist Trots with their peaceful and legal antiwar demonstrations.

From what I can gather, a shift took place in the late 1980s when the modern anti-globalization movement took shape. From that point on, the anarchists would employ the tactic from within the mass protests, like a kind of parasite. These protests were intended to be peaceful and legal like the 1960s antiwar demonstrations. At least back then and in the Autonomen protests in the 1980s, those who wanted to fight the cops went off on their own. At Seattle and elsewhere, including Toronto this week, the trade unions and NGO’s only sought to call attention to rotten trade agreements like WTO rather than get caught up into violent sporting events with the cops that would leave their members beaten and arrested.

There was a certain rethinking of the black bloc tactic when a youthful protester was killed in Genoa in July 2001. It was one thing to throw a riot and get hit by a rubber bullet or tear-gassed. Getting killed was another. This is not to speak of the usual round of beatings and arrests that a working class demonstrator sought to avoid.

But more to the point, the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon redirected the movement away from street theater and the propaganda of the deed and in the direction of serious and focused mass antiwar demonstrations. For several years the left was successful in mounting huge protests that limited the power of the warmakers to some extent. For example, Turkey denied the use of its territory to invasion forces.

It is beyond the scope of this article to analyze the shortcomings of the antiwar movement, but I would be remiss if I did not mention several important factors:

1. The Shi’ite leadership collaborated closely with imperialism.

2. The Sunni opposition was religiously sectarian and failed to project a revolutionary alternative to Baathist restoration.

3. The jihadists were even more sectarian than the Baathists and drove the Shi’ites even further into collaboration with the USA.

4. The antiwar movement in the USA was divided between the CP and its allies on one hand and the Workers World Party on the other. The first camp tail-ended the Democratic Party while the second maintained a tight control on its own “coalition” in order to preserve a narrow “anti-imperialist” perspective.

5. There was no draft, nor was there wartime austerity.

Given all these factors, it is remarkable that any resistance to the war was mounted at all.

During this period, the anarchists went into hibernation except for the occasional foray into one gathering of the imperialist ruling class or another. Fences were assailed, Starbucks windows were smashed, rocks were thrown at cops but world imperialism kept on its merry way.

Moving forward, we find a new opportunity for anarchist street theater when Greece was struck by a terrible financial crisis that forced working people into the streets against the austerity drive. We can expect such protests to proliferate given the almost unanimous consensus of the ruling class to follow Milton Friedman type solutions.

When the Greek black bloc contingent threw a fire bomb into an Athens bank resulting in the death of three workers, there was a soul-searching that hopefully would retire this form of machismo politics once and for all. On http://www.occupiedlondon.org/blog/, a repository of anarchist reports from Greece, a penetrating critique was posted just a few days after the tragedy. It said:

Some people during the last general strike march, seeing 200,000 protestors roaring in rage and some even trying to storm the steps to Parliament, could only think of a means to perform their own petty identity as the vanguard of militancy. For that is what this cult has at its core: rituals of performativity, rituals of sustaining and reproducing the equilibrium of “toughness”, of “strength”, of “militancy”, of “fist-readiness”, or what may the symbolic order of rebel-masculinity consist of. Violence, so abstractly demonised by the bourgeoisie, is only a functional component of this process – not the objectified problem but the effect of an acutely problematic relation. A relation of competition for the most “advanced”, the most “dynamic” action, the most aggressive and seemingly uncompromising “attack”, the most one-dimensional being-in-the-world. What connects all these performances of “revolutionary singularity” is not their violence per se, but the vainglorious competitive culture of militaristic machoness. The establishment of a gendered hierarchy of “will” to the exclusion of the open mass-struggles that are developing throughout the country: a new Stalinism.

While this retreat from the madness that resulted in the death of three workers must be welcomed, there is still an unresolved contradiction in anarchist circles that persists to this day. It centers on the role of revolutionaries. In anarchist terms, it is clearly a self-mandated mission to inspire the non-radicalized mass of society into action through exemplary actions. Even if the Greek anarchists have renounced firebombing, there is still a nagging sense that they are in the business of “the exemplary deed”.

An article dated June 16th recounted an anarchist action against a supermarket:

On 14/06/10 we stormed into a super-market of the chain Masoutis on M.Kyriakou street, we took basic need goods (olive oil, pasta, milk etc.) and destroyed the anti-theft systems and the surveillance camera while we also smashed the cashiers and burnt all the money they had inside.

From the beginning we had decided that the goods of the appropriation would be distributed among the comrades who participated, not outside the super-market. With this choice of ours we want to make clear that this, and other practices aim not at promoting some of us as saviours of the society – rather, we want society itself to familiarise itself with such practices and to embrace them without waiting for the “revolutionary” philanthropist/ friends of the poor. Especially in a period like this one, where the rottenness of the present system is pushing it toward collapse. As for the term “Robin Hoodies” (in Greek: Super-market Robins) we believe it consists another typical attempt to twist the meaning of such actions by Mass Media, which present comrades as some sort of elite stealing for the poor. In result, the distribution of the goods is presented in a way that refers to the narcosis and the passivity reflected in the thinking “someone will think-act-take care of us”.

With all due respect to the anarchist comrades, this will not address the burning issue of hunger in Greece as the austerity drive mounts. It will take powerful mass actions to make sure that the bourgeoisie does not slash the social safety net—number one—and then to make steady encroachments on the state power to expand spending for working class needs, including jobs, housing, medical care and food. If it shows itself incapable of meeting those needs, then workers councils should move forward to replace the state with one that is so capable. This will take the spread of revolutionary consciousness and a tightly organized combat party to move all of society together against its sworn enemy, the rentiers and imperialist hangers-on—as well as the rotten social democratic politicians who are keeping the infernal thing going.

Finally, a word or two about the black bloc anarchists in Toronto who through its idiotic provocations gave the cops an excuse to beat and arrest 900 people. While this is likely not the last intervention from this crew, it certainly will serve a useful purpose by alerting the broader radical movement about its reactionary function. Whether or not they are cops in disguise is immaterial. Willy-nilly, they are doing just what the cops want them to do and they have to be stopped. Maybe the next mass anti-globalization protest will have some beefy trade unionists to keep this riff-raff in line.


  1. The police will beat up and arrest people whether or not there is a black bloc engaged in a riot.

    Comment by Greg McDonald — June 30, 2010 @ 9:31 pm

  2. Unfortunately it won’t be so easy to keep them in line. The ranks of unemployed youth swell while the ranks of trade unionists, most of whom aren’t youth, shrink. Moreover, like you mentioned, the trade unionists can ill afford to get arrested, which they will should street fights break out between anarchists & unionists. This is a big problem that’s going to get bigger before it gets resolved and many years will get wasted resolving it. Meanwhile the jackboots of militarism reinforce while the imperialists bulldoze unimpeded in all but a few corners of the globe. It’s as if aspects of Terry Gilliam’s movie “Brazil” were remarkably prescient.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — June 30, 2010 @ 9:54 pm

  3. Greg, the police understand public relations. It’s easy to demonize a movement when black bloc tacticians are there, whether they’re police stooges or not. Vandals are not revolutionaries.

    Comment by Will Shetterly — June 30, 2010 @ 10:37 pm

  4. A well organized movement would have cadre for workers’ defense and to maintain order at mass protests. The KKE / SYRIZA certainly should have.

    I’d question this however: “For several years the left was successful in mounting huge protests that limited the power of the warmakers to some extent. For example, Turkey denied the use of its territory to invasion forces.”

    The Turks hardly bowed down to pressure from anti-war forces. They would’ve acceded to the United States’ demands if they let them run incursions into Northern Iraq against Kurdish militants.

    Comment by bhaskar — June 30, 2010 @ 10:48 pm

  5. [“The police will beat up and arrest people whether or not there is a black bloc engaged in a riot.”]

    Greg. The police can only get away with beating peaceful protestors for a short while before it backifires on them and outrages the public. It’s the black bloc tactics that let police get away with brutality indefinitely.


    bhaskar – where’ve you been hiding? Why didn’t you post a follow up reply to the ridiculous accusations you posted on the “Sex in The City #2” blog, you know, about how “repugnant” was the idea of 911 being about “blowback”? Explain yourself man.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — June 30, 2010 @ 10:59 pm

  6. “This will take the spread of revolutionary consciousness and a tightly organized combat party to move all of society together against its sworn enemy, the rentiers and imperialist hangers-on—as well as the rotten social democratic politicians who are keeping the infernal thing going.”

    So, the black bloc is bad, but a Marxist-Leninist “combat party” vanguard is good. Sigh. No wonder the left is in such terrible shape globally. If there is any obvious development since the late 1960s, it is the fact that “all of society” is not going to acquiesce to a leadership role for a Marxist-Leninist vanguard group. People in society are going to act on their own. For example, successes in South America are directly related to community based, consensus driven forms of political action and organization. Clearly, that presents a lot of challenges, but to pretend that there is a prospect for a substantial mass embrace of a vanguard party under current conditions is myopic. By the way, I do agree that the antiwar movement, such as it was, had very little to do with Turkey refusing to participate in the invasion of Iraq.

    Comment by Richard Estes — June 30, 2010 @ 11:07 pm

  7. Richard. Hold your sighs for another occasion. I think if the author meant the “combat party” had to be “Marxist-Leninist” he would have said so.

    There are many historical examples that don’t have a “Marxist-Lenist Vanguard” for a “combat party.” In fact most of industrial unionism was won that way. For example in the 30’s the UAW had the “flying squads” that were crucial in the 1936-37 Flint Sit-Down Strike, the 1939 UAW Tool & Die strike, and the 1945 Windsor Canada UAW strike.


    Even IWW Anarchists, when they’re organized enough to reign in the recklessness of the black bloc brigades, discuss the need for revolutionary flying squad tactics here:


    There’s many other examples of the “combat party” fighting for social justice pre-dating Marx, say, in the Paris Commune or better still in the French & numerous other revolutions.

    Even the Cuban Revolutionaries formed their initial “combat party” under a banner other than Marxism-Leninism. Is was basically the attitude of the imperialists that forced Fidel to Leninist conclusions.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — July 1, 2010 @ 12:23 am

  8. The police will beat up and arrest people whether or not there is a black bloc engaged in a riot.

    Not a single mass antiwar demonstration going back to 1966 has ever been attacked by the cops.

    Comment by louisproyect — July 1, 2010 @ 12:43 am

  9. Your point is a very valid one Lou but there were actually a couple police attacks at various demos I attended as a kid in various states (mostly in Chicago though) where I smelled the gas and saw the blood but only a relatively few heads were clubbed, a few tear gas cannisters shot, and a few arrests, nothing like 900 people rounded up like futbol hooligans in Toronto.

    Police attacks were actually fairly common during Vietnam protests, that’s why almost all old anti-war demo footage shows protestors, albeit a very tiny minority, wearing either football helmets, motorcycle helmets, or construction hard hats, and sometimes gas masks.

    The Chicago police did riot at the Democratic National Convention in 1968 which was obstensibly a peaceful anti-war rally.

    Students were gunned down at Kent State by National Guardsman, obstensibly cops in army uniforms.

    Several West Coast demos in Oakland, Berkeley, & Frisco had some tear gassings and head clubbings.

    In fact reporter Ruben Salazar was killed in LA by a police attack. According to Wiki: “Rubén Salazar (March 3, 1928 – August 29, 1970)was a Mexican-American journalist killed by a sheriff’s deputy during the National Chicano Moratorium March against the Vietnam War on August 29, 1970 in East Los Angeles, California. During the 1970s, his killing was often cited as a symbol of unjust treatment of Chicanos by law enforcement.”


    Some police attacks of peaceful protestors also occurred before the anti-war movement, namely, in strikes throughout American history, the Civil Rights movement in the South, and on Berkeley campus 1963 when Reagan was Governor.

    More recently at a peaceful IMF demo in 2000 in DC the local cops beat & arrested hundreds but were sued and lost 1.3 million bucks in a class action suit discussed here:


    Despite all this I say Lou’s point is still valid because none of the BIG anti-war marches, all obstensibly organized by various communist groups, had any violence.

    In many of these other cases the demos were much smaller, not lead by communists with “combat party” discipline, and the attacks were typically provoked by the precursors of black bloc type anarchists or agent provocateurs, going all the way back to Haymarket Square in Chicago, the incident that sparked the International celebration of May Day, recognized as a labor holiday by virtually every Nation on the planet, except of course, the USA, which went out of its way to set Labor Day months away from May 1st.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — July 1, 2010 @ 1:23 am

  10. Karl, I was talking about the really massive demos, the ones that had 200,000 or so people participating. Those were never attacked.

    Comment by louisproyect — July 1, 2010 @ 1:29 am


    Comment by THE GHOST of MARX — July 1, 2010 @ 1:46 am

  12. Of course Lou, which is why I made clear in this paragraph:

    “Despite all this I say Lou’s point is still valid because none of the BIG anti-war marches, all obstensibly organized by various communist groups, had any violence.”

    I’d only add that the SWP was the main communist group responsible for those huge, peaceful demos, the ones that shook up both the languishing public and the ruling class; the ones that obstensibly demoralized the troops — thereby helping the ultimate NVA victory — which strengthened ALL the progressive forces at home.

    So always remember Lou, despite your understandable railings about the time you wasted with the SWP, you should be proud of the fact that those times organizing those marches were far from wasted — they were a decisive victory for progressive forces at home, victories that if not won would have left this country infinitely more reactionary than it is today.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — July 1, 2010 @ 1:57 am

  13. Of course Louis banned me from his list but I see that on his blog he is still lying. I tried to tell some of the truth about what has actually happened in Toronto, since this is where I am from and I was there. But apparently Louis prefers his pseudo-analysis to actually hearing from on the ground Marxist-Leninists, or he takes the word of a bourgeois journalist. To make things worse he paints the situation as labour bureaucrats (trade unions) and NGOs on the one hand and Block Bloc on the other. The fact is many of the militant grassroots and radical organizations called to tear down the fence, these people are not BB. So it’s not that simple as Louis the bubble dictator makes everything seem. Plus the cops started making arrests long before the BB showed up and long after. The idea that klanadians would rise up in arms about peaceful protesters being beaten or arrested is laughable. Most people around here a parasitic morons who care more about “The Bachellorette” than anything else. In fact, I think a lot of this was a test by the state to see how much “fascism” they could get away with. Remember they basically have the media in their pockets and can easily disconnect the one’s they don’t. Learn about the battleground before you try to write it’s history.

    Comment by Marcel — July 1, 2010 @ 2:10 am

  14. [“The idea that klanadians would rise up in arms about peaceful protesters being beaten or arrested is laughable. Most people around here a parasitic morons who care more about “The Bachellorette” than anything else. In fact, I think a lot of this was a test by the state to see how much “fascism” they could get away with. Remember they basically have the media in their pockets and can easily disconnect the one’s they don’t.”]

    While I disagree that the BB has any progressive significance, Marcel has at least one valid point here. The above quote sounds much like the state of the US public. The media here has always been corporate but their propaganda tactics are far more sophisticated today than in the 60’s. Today they have the ability to convince the public that protestors deserve beatings no matter how peaceful they are. It’s a sad but predicatable irony that the collapse of the Soviets, despite all the fanfare & glee from liberals & conservatives alike, has actually encouraged Western govenments to see how much “fascism” they can get away with.

    It’s no accident that after 10 years of Canadians clamoring relentlessly for DIRECTV & Dishnetwork satellite systems they too have developed a cancerous hole in their culture which more closely mirrors Uncle Sam’s with each passing day.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — July 1, 2010 @ 2:33 am

  15. The Toronto media agrees with your view, Louis:


    And I kind of agree too..somewhat. And yet, who are you to lecture about how political activists should organize? Richard has a point when he says vanguardism doesn’t necessarily work

    Comment by Jenny — July 1, 2010 @ 7:28 am

  16. Perhaps I should sigh too, how many mass movements have fizzled out for lack of revolutionary leadership? Can we also have an end to ‘You said something I disagree with, that disagreed position is why the left sucks’ bull shit?

    Comment by SGuy — July 1, 2010 @ 7:51 am

  17. A few points about the events in Toronto:

    1. The Friday June 25th events were supposed to be open to all tactics. The BB was there in full force (in their costumes) but they marched peacefully with everybody else.

    2. The next day, June 26th was organized as a ‘family friendly’ event by the trade union movement and allies.

    In the weeks leading up to the G20 meetings, everyone agreed that there were going to be two separate events – June 25 (anything goes) and June 26 (family friendly).

    The BB reneged on their promise, and instead infeltrated the peaceful June 26th march. And what was their program? What was their political message? Other than some vague anti-Starbucks/corporate message, they made more enemies than friends.

    I must admit, prior to June 26 I was a little soft on the BB. I thought they would take on the police and maybe break a few windows. But now I see them as opportunists who are afraid of taking on the police and instead infeltrate peaceful rallies. And looking at some of the video, it’s obvious some of the BB are under-cover cops – especially the ones that started burning the police cars.

    I have a question for those defending the BB – how do these BB tactics promote a world of grass-roots democracy. It seems to me they promote a world that justifies billion dollar budgets for the police.

    Comment by Down but not out — July 1, 2010 @ 12:18 pm

  18. I am a disabled feminist activist in her sixteis, a resident of downtown Toronto. I don’t know who these people are, found this site through Google, but I was at the Toronto community demo of 25,000 and the cops’ attack on the Queen’s Park protestors. Marcel is delluded or lying. Down But Not Out has the story right. The cops did not make arrests (unless 1 or 2) before the Black Bloc action, nor did the cops attack peaceful protestors befor the Bloc’s action. In fact, the cops did not attack the Bloc to try to stop the little boys from breaking things. They waited until the Bloc had doubled back to the park to pursue its tactic of “blending in” with the larger crowd (i.e., hiding behind old ladies’ skirts). Then, the cops attacked us all – even people who had not demonstrated at all. We were nowhere near either the fence or the property damage. I guess anarchists would say it should teach us about the violence of the state. But we already knew about that. It only taught us what assholes the anarchists are.
    Marcel, the “everybody’ that you call idiots who only want to watch The Bachelorette – that “everybody” is the working-class. Without us, there’ll be no revolution. I’m certainly not opposed to violence against property (or people) on principle. There are times and places, but a little respect for other workers and activists would be useful.
    I was so happy that the organizers voted to have the march led by a contingent of women highlighting the protest against Harpers’ denial of abortion funding as part of Third World women’s health care initiatives, but our voices were not heard at all, nor were the many other issues raised. The media predictably focussed only on boys breaking things. Of course, the media is fucked, but we already knew that, too. Didn’t the Black Bloc?

    Comment by Cherie MacDonald — July 1, 2010 @ 1:02 pm

  19. Oh, and yes I know there were some young women breaking things, too. There always are a few, but it was mostly a white male thing. Boys and their toys.

    Comment by Cherie MacDonald — July 1, 2010 @ 1:07 pm

  20. The events at the G20 demonstration on Saturday have provoked a series of responses already. This article is not meant to review the events of the day itself but to look at the questions raised by the demonstrations.
    Suffice to say the reaction of the police in arresting, detaining, and brutalizing nearly 1,000 people in the largest mass arrests in Canadian history exposes the serious attacks on civil liberties we face.
    On Friday before the demonstration I was having a beer with a comrade in Halifax and of course discussion turned to the G20, we both agreed that this would be the perfect demonstration to go off without any property damage. If at the end of the day tens of thousands marched, thousands did sit-ins by the fence but the tactic of smashing windows was not employed then the summit would be a defeat for Harper.
    We drew this analysis based on the fact that every where you went there was anger at the billion dollar price tag for security. At a time when thousands are struggling to make ends meet and see the cost of the Summits as exorbitant. Many, consciously or not, recognize that this money is being spent to the architects of the crisis; protecting those who gave billions to the bank while leaving workers and the poor to pay for it. Furthermore, in the lead-up, there was a growing polarisation with many being angry or frustrated with Harper’s attacks on civil liberties, on women’s rights, on the climate, on the economy, and more.
    To have had a day of mass demonstrations and militant but non- violent action would have left Harper with egg on his face and given more confidence to those want to find ways to challenge Harper and the market.
    Instead, the day went just like clock work—much like other summits. There’s a mass demonstration. A layer of people do a split from that march and then some engage in expressing their rage against the system by smashing windows and other acts. Given the world we live in, it is surprising that more of this doesn’t happen more often.
    In response, the police hold back until the main march disperses. They wait for some damage to be done, and then they go on the offensive. They round-up and brutalize everyone left on the streets, including passers-by, peaceful protesters and those engaged in property damage. In Seattle, Quebec, Genoa, etc. this script has played out over and over again. The police wait until the mass organisations leave, then go after the rest. This strategy suggests that the police and the state are keenly aware of who they want—and don’t want—to provoke.
    Within this the “black bloc” and their supporters utilise the larger rally and split marches to launch attacks on property and the police. Usually the police wait long enough for damage to be created before they respond. In these situations it is one of the few times the police wait to crack down.
    Then, when the cops attack, the “bloc” usually retreats and tries to merge with others. In Genoa, the black bloc ran through a group of nuns engaged in a sit-in which resulted in the police attacking the nuns. In New York City, at a demonstration against WEF, the black bloc ended up running from the police and trampling down women Steelworkers from Toronto, who were then attacked by the police as the black bloc hid behind the Steelworkers.
    Then the media and police trot out the usual line “We are ok with protests, but a small minority of criminals can’t be tolerated”. Those innocents that were arrested were an unfortunate by-product of protecting the city and its inhabitants. The police and politicians then justify the violence against protestors as necessary to stop any further violence.
    In the process, hundreds get arrested while the media spends the next several days reducing the estimated numbers of demonstrators, erasing on-site reports of police brutality, critiquing the police as being too passive. Then the police say they weren’t able to protect property at the start because they were committed to facilitating the peaceful protest. Afterward they “did everything possible to restore order”. Throughout all this, stories begin to emerge about undercover officers mingling with crowd, engaging in and trying to stir up “action”. Eventually a handful get charged with some serious offences and the majority arrested get released with few or no charges.
    Despite the media hype there was nothing new about the events in Toronto. The question for militants is: what are the lessons? How do we interpret events and what do they mean for the left?
    To answer, we need to look at what the mobilisations can achieve and why they are important. This is the critical starting point. Since the rise of the anti-globalisation movement, this has been a point of debate.
    The mobilisations around summits are important because they provide an opportunity to mobilise people beyond the ranks of those already active. It is more possible because the media builds the events far beyond the reach of the left. The fact that the summits raise a broad set of issues, mean that they unite in opposition broad sets of movements. The demonstrations that result can often be greater than the sum of the parts of movements. They unite various movements – labour and environment for example. They provide an opportunity to bring wider layers into the.movement.
    Some have argued that these demonstrations are pointless one-off events and that those who go to them are “summit-hoppers”. Strangely these critiques are often raised by people who themselves go to the events.
    But this misses the point that while the mobilisations are one-off’s they are important in the sense that they pull struggles together and allow those not plugged into activism to find a space to join the movement. Secondly the protests show to millions of others that there is mass opposition to the system.
    Of course the idea that the protests themselves will change the agenda of the rulers is mistaken and naive. But the more important point of the protests is to galvanise and mobilise opposition to the system. For the left, the demonstrations offer a crucial opportunity to grow and sink deeper roots in new areas. These mobilizations also help maintain momentum and break down barriers between struggles that often go on in their own silos. In short, these protests forge new bonds of solidarity.
    So it is important to mobilise against these summits, not because we can change the agenda or that capitalism will grind to a halt if the summit is shut down. Some thought because of the collapse of the Doha round or the inability to get a deal at the FTAA Québec City round, that capitalism would be forced into a retreat. But the reality is that these summits are attempts to overcome divisions between various ruling classes in various nation states. What they can’t get through global agreements, they will try through regional agreements. What isn’t accomplished regionally is taken up bi-laterally. Basically, summits are where the world’s largest economies jockey with each other for a better deal for their own ruling classes.
    This doesn’t mean we can’t wrestle reforms from these leaders, and without the demonstrations it would be even harder to win reforms or prevent even more damaging policies from being implemented. Even NGO’s who aren’t committed to the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism, understand that mobilising is vital to back their call for reforms.
    In this context, the object of mobilising for the summits should be to try and take advantage of the moment presented to broaden and deepen the left and build the movements.
    This is the objective from which our tactics flow. It is not the summit itself that matters but the ability to draw larger numbers onto the streets and into action. It offers the potential to increase people’s confidence and consciousness.
    To establish tactics before determining the larger strategic objectives, raises tactics to a point of principle and robs the working class of the tactical flexibility that will maximize success. It is juvenile and creates the quixotic adventures we saw on June 26.
    So what about “diversity of tactics” and the black bloc?
    It should be clear that the actions of the black bloc reflect their politics. The actions in Toronto mirror those tactics used elsewhere. The tactics and politics regardless of their intent are inherently elitist and counter-productive. In fact they mirror the critique of reformism many on the left have. The NDP says vote for us and we’ll do it for you, the black bloc says in essence the same thing – we will make the revolution for you.
    At best the tactics of the black bloc are based on a mistaken idea that the attacks on property and the police will create a spark to encourage others to resist capitalism, at worst they are based on a rampant individualistic sense of rage and entitlement to express that rage regardless of the consequences to others. The anti-authoritarian politic they follow is imposed on others. Very rarely will you see a black bloc call its own rally, instead the tactic is to play hide and seek with the police under the cover of larger mobilisations.
    Further as has been noted in many cases, the tactics and politics of the black bloc and some anarchists and some others on the left, leave them prone to being manipulated by the state. In almost every summit protest, police and others (in Genoa it was also fascists), infiltrate or form their own blocs to engage in provocations. The politics of secrecy and unannounced plans and a quasi-military (amateur at best) approach to demonstrations leave the door open to this.
    The tactics also open the door for the justification of further police repression. This has been debated before, with some arguing that the state doesn’t need justification for repression. The idea that the state doesn’t need justification for further repression exposes the total lack of understanding of both the state and the consciousness of ordinary people.
    If the state didn’t need justification for repression, then we would all be in jail. Capitalism isn’t a democratic system, but needs the facade of political rights to maintain some buy-in about how free we all are. If the state didn’t need justification for repression, then we accept that people are just automatons who do what they are told.
    But the reality is that most people oppose police brutality and most people believe we are living in a democracy. Therefore when the police go on a rampage, they have to have an excuse. It is highly naive to think that the police and the state won’t and don’t need a justification to repress people. If they didn’t we wouldn’t have a war on drugs – it would have just been a war on the poor.
    Some argue that we have to support some of these tactics because they are “radical”. But what is indeed “radical”. Let us put aside the notion of “economic disruption” caused by a few burning cop cars and broken windows, as some use this to justify so called militant actions. The reality is the Tamil community created much more economic disruption with their non-violent occupation of the Gardiner Expressway in Toronto. Further the workers in Sudbury valiantly fighting Vale Inco are doing much more to disrupt the economy than a thousands black bloc actions ever could.
    The tactics of the black bloc make it clear that for them, it is more important to smash windows than to try and march with thousands of workers and engage them in arguments about how to move struggles forward or that the problem is capitalism.
    So how radical is it to trash a few windows? It depends on what one means by radical. Radical is about workers gaining confidence and consciousness to fight back, not just at work, but in solidarity with others. Radical is about developing a sense of mass power, organising based on moving others into struggle, winning others to challenge the power in their workplace or community collectively, beyond the individualisation of our society. Radical is about going to the roots of the system—not trashing its symbols.
    So it is much more radical organising a Starbucks, or winning co-workers to fight homophobia, or defending women’s rights than it is smashing a window.
    When the black bloc does its thing, does it move struggles forward or backward? Does it in the eyes of those questioning the system, or moving into struggle, or thinking that something is wrong, radicalise them and give them confidence?
    The answer is that outside of a small minority, these actions at best can inspire passive support from those who do not like police. But the majority have no confidence to engage in these actions themselves or agree with them. Instead of giving confidence, the tactics generally produce confusion and play into the hands of the state that would prefer it if no one ever protested. They allow the state to justify its repression and expenditures. In essence outside of an already radicalised minority they don’t leave anyone with a deeper sense of confidence about the ability to fight capitalism. Instead at best they leave the impression that the fight against capitalism can only be carried out by a heroic minority at worst they leave people worrying about going to demonstrations. The tactic is far from radical because it does nothing to challenge capitalism in any way; it does nothing to instil confidence in others to resist.
    The debate shouldn’t be about violence, per se, but about tactics and strategy. Of course we defend the right of workers and oppressed communities to self-defence. The response from the left to the riots in Toronto after Rodney King is a good example: many defended the justified outrage at both the racism of the justice system and the beating of Rodney King. It was a justifiable rage against a system of racism, but it also wasn’t a strategy to defeat racism.
    The black bloc however, isn’t an oppressed community resisting oppression and defending itself.
    Those on the left who see the problems with the black bloc and the cover given to them by those who elevate “diversity of tactics” to a principle need to organise coherent responses to this.
    We need to join the battle for interpretation without getting distracted by blanket pronouncements of “pro” this or “anti” that. We need to focus on strategy and the tactics that flow from it. This will allow us to regroup those activists who see the centrality of the working class as the key to social change, who recognize that intended or not, “diversity of tactics” is not radical but a cover for self-aggrandisement by some sections who have no faith in the self-activity of the working class.
    The need for a bigger stronger socialist movement in Toronto couldn’t be greater. But the role of socialists isn’t to gingerly tail those who support “diversity of tactics”, but to politically debate and expose the bankruptcy of those ideas for moving struggles forward. And it goes without saying that while we do that, we must also be defending those arrested, exposing the brutality of the police and patiently explaining to co-workers and neighbours what really happened and why people protested.
    We need this clarity to avoid the sort of splits that occurred after Québec City and after 9/11. We need this clarity and upfront politics to win those pulled by the anger at the system and its barbarism to a more effective—if less sexy—strategy, based on building a mass struggle against capitalism that can pull the system up by its roots.

    Comment by Ritch — July 1, 2010 @ 1:28 pm

  21. Typical mindlessless post by Jenny: “And I kind of agree too..somewhat.” Has a more pathetic, wishy washy sentence ever been uttered on a left forum?

    “who are you to lecture about how political activists should organize?”

    How about somebody who was part of a socialist group that was decisive in organizing millions to march against the Vietnam war multiple times without police violence resulting in conscript soldiers becoming so demoralized that they began to refuse to fight and frag their officers to such a degree that that one of the 20th century’s most monstrous imperialist wars was ended.

    “Richard has a point when he says vanguardism doesn’t necessarily work”

    Where did anybody say that “vanguardism”, or a lack thereof, is the problem with the Toronto protests? What was said was that a “combat party” is necessary to keep anarcho glass smashers & car burners (meaning frustrated intellectuals too lazy to organize & possessing no sense of the masses’ ability to change history) in check.

    An example was given on the UAW’s “flying squads.” They were a “combat party” to be sure — but hardly were they the “vanguard” party of the working class. The 2 concepts are not synonomous.

    Now after reading Jenny’s posts I hear Keith Olbermann’s voice in my head commenting on one of Sara Palin’s latest gaffes: “That woman is an….”

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — July 1, 2010 @ 1:46 pm

  22. Down but not out and Cherie are simply unaware of the truth. Sat. morning about 4:00 AM about 16 people were arrested in raids and kidnappings by the pigs around Toronto, including my long time Comrade Julian Ichim (famous for hitting Stockwell Day with chocolate milk in 2000 federal election) and many others.

    There was no agreement about a militant movement on Friday (25) and family only on Sat. (26). Since the start of this, militant activists said that we will be aiming for the fence on both days, that those who wanted remain with the “peaceful” march simply go back to Queens Park. This caused the CPC (Communist Party of Kanada) and some others like Fightback! to denounce this and tell there members/supports not to break off. CPC released their statement on Friday, which I have in my inbox. Most of the younger members of CPC I know thought it was rather shit.

    However, the majority of people did ignore these bureaucrats, not because the BB told them to. Because they wanted to. If anything, the call to wuss out left the us with less socialist militants and only BB at the frontlines, with the exception of some harder line Marxists.

    Maybe if I am lying you can explain why Workers Communist Party Iran-Iraq, PCR-RCP, CPC(M-L), NOII, OCAP, many from CUPE, etc. all made the choice to go to the fence on Sat and were out in full force?

    BTW, there is no proletarian in the 1st world, so I really couldn’t give a shit or expect most of the so-called workers to give much a crap about the movement, material conditions are way to sweet for 1st worlders parasites.

    Either you are going to support the politics, or watch your TV shows. The choice is not mine.

    Comment by Marcel — July 1, 2010 @ 2:42 pm

  23. @Cherie MacDonald – from “there were some young women breaking things, too.” to “but it was mostly a white male thing” to “Boys and their toys.” ???

    here comes the misandrist sexist generalisationand vitrol against the males – the real nature underlying identity politics of feminism (or at least your stripe of).

    Besides what about the dawn raids on the houses of known organisers? what about pre-emptive arrests of montreal activits? what about targetting francophones? what about targetting black (or as you, with your identity politics inspired self-righteouness, would say – people-of-colour) did that happen because or before or after the black bloc act?

    With the myopic hatred of males and creation and focus on mythological identities and victimhoods you and your cohorts did, are and will keep splitting the left.

    Comment by Bhasker — July 1, 2010 @ 3:11 pm

  24. The comrades who decided “to go to the fence” were trying to make a political statement about “our city”. However the BB’s tactic of rampaging on Yonge Street – is just playing into the pigs hands! BB is a bunch of thrill-seeking wanabees!!

    Comment by Margelllo — July 1, 2010 @ 3:13 pm

  25. It is true, as Marcel states, that there were arrests previous to the large demo. I was referring to arrests DURING the demo. These began after the Black Bloc action.

    Organizers of the major demonstration had asked that the anarchists’ action be scheduled for a different time and place. At one point, they thought they had agreement that it would happen at a different time (I believe, 3 PM instead of with the major demo at 1PM). This is the agreement that was later abandoned (although not without informing the marshalls). If the Bloc had gone two hours later, they would not have been able to hide behind us after they finished their little rampage.

    It is true that many and various people hoped to go to the wall symbolically. However, most of them did not plan to (and in fact did not) take part in the sort of action which the Black Bloc performed. The Black Bloc did not actually focus on the wall itself nor on struggling with the cops to get over the wall. I don’t think they actually spent much time at or near the wall.

    It was pointless to say that those not able to risk confrontation with the police could just return to the park as the Black Bloc led the police back to the park when they tried to re-enter the peaceful crowd to change their clothes and hide among us. That’s what go us bashed even though we had no intention of being anywhere near the Bloc.

    I am not anti-male. True, it is perhaps a low blow to emphasize that the Bloc was mostly white male. That in itself does not make their actions inappropriate. But it’s not an accident. That is the sort of person who can feel secure enough in their privelege to be less worried about police reaction than women with children, the elderly and disabled, immigrants, people of colour (guilty as charged -I use that term). Also, it would be foolish to deny that boys in our society are raised to find violence attractive and self-validating in a way that is not quite the same (yet) for women.

    It is not feminism that should be blamed for splitting the Left. It is sexism of the vitriolic sort which Bhasker exhibits. Thankfully, we rarely meet this level of feminist-bashing anywhere except on the Right nowadays. It certainly says something about the lack of respect for activists which characterizes those who make a fetish of the Bloc’s tactics.

    Marcel, you’re not living in the real world if you think there is no proletariat in Canada. Even the middle class does not benefit in the last analysis from capitalism and feels pretty alienated from any power over their own lives and their work. And there are plenty of working poor. But this will be an awfully long post if I try to debate all that with you. No wonder you don’t give a shit about further alienating workers, putting us at risk, or hijacking our attempts at political expression.

    Comment by Cherie MacDonald — July 1, 2010 @ 4:10 pm

  26. Cherie, Take a look at monkeysmashesheaven, check out the economics section. They thoroughly answer any questions about the labour aristocracy. There is no 1st world proletarian, I don’t know what you consider poor, but it sure isn’t to be seen in the GTA. And trust me, I live in the “real world” I grew up here in T-dot and lived in every section of the city. Did you assume I came from a different planet?

    As for your analysis about what happend on Sat., I don’t know what happened at Queen’s Park because I got caught in a box of cops around King and Bay and ended up being too far from the BB to see what they are doing. I generally like to keep my distance from them but be close enough to see what they are doing.

    We ended up ducking into “Made in China” after we escaped the box of cops and made it past a few checkpoints safely. One of the weirdest things we saw was a group of cops stop a taxi, make the woman take out all her bags, then they piled in and took off.

    As far as tactics go, I don’t think a static march just to the fence to square of with the cops would have been wise anyhow. It has to be a snake march.

    Comment by Marcel — July 1, 2010 @ 4:32 pm

  27. @Cherie MacDonald – from “there were some young women breaking things, too.” to “but it was mostly a white male thing” to “Boys and their toys.” ???

    here comes the misandrist sexist generalisation and vitriol – the real nature underlying identity politics of feminism (or at least your stripe).

    Besides what about the dawn raids on the houses of known organisers? what about pre-emptive arrests of montreal activits? what about targetting francophones? what about targetting blacks and indigenous activists (or as you, with your identity politics inspired self-righteousness, would say – people-of-colour) did that happen because of or before or after the black bloc act? are you even aware of these? or for you the “women” got abused/truamatised by the police as a reaction to the mad acts of “males” and/or “anarchists”?

    You say – “I’m certainly not opposed to violence against property (or people) on principle.”, in principle we all are saints, what matters is practice. You failed! How dare you talk about the working class write a backhanded rant against males, what else are we expecting from you – SCUM manifesto v2.0 ?

    And, how do you know the violence of the state and capitalist, imperialist globalisation? how many times have your house being bombed by the forces of civilisation or you were uprooted from the source of your livelihood? when did you come face to face with the naked nature of global system?

    When you had a chance, instead of supporting the folks who stood up, against and fought, you lumped the blame on males and anarchists and black bloc whilst churning out pious platitudes.

    With the myopic hatred of males and creation and focus on mythological identities and victimhoods you and your cohorts did, are and will keep splitting the left.

    Get you head and your politics sorted.

    Folks who stood up and raised their voices against the rulers and their stooges deserve solidarity, support, and respect in principle and action, period.

    Comment by Bhasker — July 1, 2010 @ 4:45 pm

  28. @Louis

    Just a rhetorical suggestion: I’d advise against couching your argument in a critique of masculinism if you intend on concluding your argument with call for masculinist violence on the part of “beefy trade unionists.” It undermines your argument, somewhat. It suggests that maybe this has more to do with liberal anxieties about insurrectionist violence and the “wrong people” doing that violence, than a sincere opposition to structures of domination.

    Comment by robert — July 1, 2010 @ 5:12 pm

  29. The revolutionary and militant stradegy of peaceful disciplined mass action flows from an understanding of how — and by whom — social revolutions are made.

    Comment by dave — July 1, 2010 @ 5:15 pm

  30. “Whether or not they are cops in disguise is immaterial. Willy-nilly, they are doing just what the cops want them to do and they have to be stopped. Maybe the next mass anti-globalization protest will have some beefy trade unionists to keep this riff-raff in line.”

    Louis, I am in favor of you calling out the Black Block in the strongest language possible. I am also in favor of diversity of tactics.

    Your call for non-violent actions against the State will gain efficacy to the extent that other group’s tactically violent actions intensify the State’s fear of popular conversions away from non-violence toward violent tactics if sufficient accommodations from the State are not gained by non-violence.

    One has only to see the interest of the state in making accommodations to the tactically non-violent moderate factions of the civil rights movement in order to limit popular defections to the tactically violent factions which were in turn so violently suppressed by a fearful State.

    I think you go beyond some bounds of propriety in calling for non-violent tactics against the State/Chamber of Commerce while at the same time calling for violent tactics against the BB in the manner of the “AFL-CIA” State sponsored suppression of dissent by business unions such as called for by Nixon.

    I disagree with your divisive call for violence between factions opposed to State exploitation. I would expect that your calls for violence against other factions would be reciprocated by them, leaving you to appeal to the State for protection.

    Comment by Glenn — July 1, 2010 @ 5:37 pm

  31. I disagree with your divisive call for violence between factions opposed to State exploitation.

    Monitoring a demonstration is not violence. We used to monitor antiwar demonstrations in the 1960s in order to make sure that they were not hijacked by the black bloc of our day.

    Comment by louisproyect — July 1, 2010 @ 5:43 pm

  32. so there’s no implicit violence in the call for “beefy trade unionists to keep this riff-raff in line”?

    Comment by robert — July 1, 2010 @ 5:53 pm

  33. so there’s no implicit violence in the call for “beefy trade unionists to keep this riff-raff in line”?

    None whatsoever, unless you define taking a brick out of a callow youth’s hands and escorting him out of the ranks of the demonstration as violence.

    Comment by louisproyect — July 1, 2010 @ 5:58 pm

  34. Ignoring the patronizing ageism of this hypothetical for a moment, supposing the “callow youth” chooses not to be policed by the beefy trade unionist. Then what? Anyone can remind people of the agreed upon rules of the demo. Why, in your scenario, does he have to be a beefy unionist, unless his function was to also threaten, or in fact, do violence if need be?

    Comment by robert — July 1, 2010 @ 6:14 pm

  35. Why, in your scenario, does he have to be a beefy unionist, unless his function was to also threaten, or in fact, do violence if need be?

    Because if they have to use force to weed out the provocateurs, being beefy helps.

    Comment by louisproyect — July 1, 2010 @ 6:16 pm

  36. And, further, how does this dynamic serve to check or undo any of the masculinist dynamics you were so keen to point out are plaguing insurrectionist contingents?

    Comment by robert — July 1, 2010 @ 6:17 pm

  37. So bullying other leftists is ok for louis, but breaking $tarfucks windows is not.

    Comment by Marcel — July 1, 2010 @ 6:21 pm

  38. In order to gain an appreciation for the utilitarian benefits of “beefy”, R and M should visit a picket line at their earliest, possible convienence.

    Comment by dave — July 1, 2010 @ 6:50 pm

  39. In front of a struck factory, that is.

    Comment by dave — July 1, 2010 @ 6:52 pm

  40. In order to gain an appreciation for the utilitarian benefits of “beefy”, R and M should visit a picket line at their earliest, possible convienence. – Comment by dave

    See how every human interaction devolves into violence?

    Every Communist must grasp the truth: Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun. – Mao

    Comment by Glenn — July 1, 2010 @ 6:59 pm

  41. Hah, that’s funny louis I spent 8 years making deliveries of beer, kegs and cases up and down stairs out on trucks, I have worked in supermarkets, warehouses and everything else I have even worked as union organizer. I wonder when is the last time L has actually been on a picket line or picket up anything heavier then his laptop.

    Comment by Marcel — July 1, 2010 @ 6:59 pm

  42. Or sorry that was Dave, same goes for you.

    Comment by Marcel — July 1, 2010 @ 7:00 pm

  43. <>

    Nope. Negri’s an autonomist, not a left communist, or in your bombastic vocabulary, an “ultraleft.”

    Comment by Mark S. — July 1, 2010 @ 7:29 pm

  44. Seems like maybe Louis has abandoned our discussion for now. I just want to make clear that I am not nitpicking here. I actually think that Louis’ call for “beefy trade unionist” violence demonstrates how unprincipled and in bad-faith his argument really is. He is appropriating a sincere critique of insurrectionist tactics – one that many people have been thinking deeply about for some time – and deploys this critique here, not to add to an already quite robust discussion, but to simply delegitimate the insurrectionist position. At the same time, in his conclusion and then here in the comments, he has no qualms about endorsing that exact same macho bullshit, just as long as the folks doing the violence are the ones he approves of. Look, don’t say you’re opposed to macho bullshit and then turn around and put out a call for macho bullshit.

    I’d also urge people to think more critically about what having more authoritarian mass demonstrations actually means for catalyzing support. I’m just speaking for myself here, but I am far more interested in a demonstration that confronts power, at multiple levels – if only symbolically – than one where I have to worry about some reactionary trade unionist clobbering me if I step out of line.

    @Dave, I’m not sure I get your meaning about hanging out by a picket line. Is it that I would be impressed or unimpressed by the “beefy” dudes?

    Comment by robert — July 1, 2010 @ 7:50 pm

  45. @Robert. Assuming you desired our hypothetical strike to be successful, I would think you’d be impressed.

    Comment by dave — July 1, 2010 @ 8:04 pm

  46. My most formative experience of this sort of mobilisation is the 1981 anti-Springbok Tour demonstration in New Zealand. This was, and remains, the most significant mass mobilisation in New Zealand history, in terms of both the number of people involved and the duration of the tour, and therefore also the series of demonstrations. I was 18 at the time and it was my first exposure to actual involvement in political activism, as opposed to gradually and quietly forming my views during my secondary school years. I have my opinions about what was done well in that campaign and what was done poorly, especially in terms of lost opportunities, but I have no disagreement with the strategy of direct action, some of it destructive of property, that was carried out during those months.

    The demonstrations against the Springboks’ actual games involved the tearing down of fences and attempts to storm and occupy rugby pitches, activities that could easily be characterised as “black bloc” style activities. I participated in many of those events. But I think that there are several key differences that set these events apart.

    The campaign had been prepared for well before the South Africans arrived, but the first “dress rehearsal”, both from our perspective and that of the state, was an attempt to disrupt the participation of South African competitors in the World Veteran Games right at the beginning of the year, (January or February, I don’t remember exactly). All we attempted to do was run onto the track and reveal a banner but it was a complete failure; the cops shut us down very quickly and we were pretty unprepared.

    The big mobilisations began with a May 1 demo and they continued up to the arrival of the team and then took place to coincide with every game that was played – two games every week, starting in July and ending in September, the last test being played, insultingly, on the anniversary of the murder of Steve Biko. The initial demonstrations were strictly passive affairs, but once the Springboks were in the country, a much higher level of militancy was expressed. People went down to the places where the teams were staying and kept them awake at night. In Christchurch they had to resort to sleeping on the floor of a Squash Court to keep them protected. Demonstrations were held in all possible centres to force the cops to stay in place throughout the country rather than being able to reinforce their numbers in the centre where the game was taking place.

    The first game was in Gisborne, a small city on the East Coast of the North Island. I went up to that demo. The official plan was to march peacefully to the game venue and protest outside, but the unofficial plan (which I didn’t know until it happened) was to try to tear down the fence and invade and occupy the pitch. The idea was that, being screened live in South Africa, it would send a powerful message to all the South Africans who had got up in the middle of the night to watch the game live on TV and also force the government to decide it was all too hard and that they couldn’t govern the country. A message was circulated through the crowd stating the intention to tear down the fence and advising anyone who did not feel comfortable with that plan to drop back to the back of the demonstration. Hardly anyone had been batoned by the police at this stage, only a single incident had occurred in Wellington a few days before. I ended up at the front and helped pull down the fence, but our non-violent strategy meant that we couldn’t get past a thin line of baton armed cops, so we just chucked mud at them . . . It was a stalemate but of course that meant that the game went ahead and was seen as a victory by the government and the cops. The second match was in Hamilton and they did manage to storm the ground, the only successful attempt to bring a game to a halt (and enrage the South African viewers as planned).

    After a few experiences with the cops the front ranks of the marches took to wearing motorcycle helmets and various attempts at body armour and shields. By the time the tour was ending, virtual pitched battles were fought in the streets of Auckland although everyone still refrained from actually beating up the cops. Quiet suburban streets had their picket fences destroyed to provide missiles. Police cars were overturned. The main demo in Auckland was divided into squads with names like Biko and Patu (a Maori war club). It was like nothing anyone had ever seen in New Zealand before, or since.

    The reason I’ve gone into a bit of detail for those who aren’t aware of the history, is that I think the experience of the 81 Springbok Tour highlights some significant differences to the G20 type events where the black bloc have put in an appearance. Few people who attend G20 events have been involved in regular and frequent protest activity immediately prior to the big event. In New Zealand, a significant build up had occurred prior to the upping of the militancy. Also, to the extent that it was possible, peoples’ involvement in the events was democratic. The more serious protest did not require “cover” from unwilling participants. People had a choice as to what their level of involvement would be and it’s my impression that they had a high level of respect for and trust in the leadership.

    Random property destruction did not occur. The only property damaged, apart from the picket fences and pieces of road, was specifically connected to the cops or the tour.

    However, the heightened militancy was also clearly something that grew out of the movement. I’m sure the black bloc would claim that that is true for them too, that they are “of the movement”, but it is not the same phenomenon. I am not arguing that there might never be a place for disguising your identity or whatever, but it strikes me that they are substituting for a level of militancy that does not yet exist. I never got that feeling about what occurred in 1981. When the “violence” did break out, there was virtually no criticism of it from “moderates” within the movement, only from those who were already opposed to the whole anti-apartheid movement. At worst, some people bemoaned the breaking of the non-violent “principles”of the movement, but expressed that with a sense to of being able to understand why people had done it. We’d been arrested and beaten by the cops for months and people had got really angry. For some of course, especially working class Maori and Pacific Islanders from South Auckland, they’d been putting up with that sort of crap all their lives. The demonstrations finally gave them the chance to hit back with virtual impunity.

    The state will never give up power without a fight, so I firmly believe that peaceful mass mobilisations will not be the only tool of the revolution. But what the black bloc don’t seem to realise is that they can’t just wish a revolution into existence. If it were that easy, we’d have done it already.

    Comment by John — July 2, 2010 @ 4:17 am

  47. Marcel, I have a question for you. What was your attitude toward the large community/labour demo? Did you think it was great? Effective? or they might as well have stayed home? Or they are part of the enemy? Do you think that such demos are of any use (other than as a hiding-place for anarchists), or would it be just as well to just have Bloc-type actions even if they are small and not waste our time building mass demonstrations if the larger numbers of people are not ready to engage in the Bloc’s actions?

    Comment by Cherie MacDonald — July 2, 2010 @ 4:19 am

  48. Comment from a FORMER Black Bloc member: “We know that the cops frequently use agent provocateurs to start fires, smash windows, throw rocks, and spark riots. So then, my question is this: Why the bloody hell would any protester in their right mind choose to do what essentially amounts to scabbing cop labor, and perform that work for them?”

    Comment by Cherie MacDonald — July 2, 2010 @ 10:50 am

  49. This reminds me of a fairly recent account written by one of the more prominent Weathermen (not that there were all that many to begin with), of the eerie feeling that came over him as he was about to depart the environs of Washington D.C. for a life in hiding and irrelevance on the very weekend that a million anti-Vietnam war activists were streaming in for a major mobilization (If memory serves me well, April 1971). The point being, as he acknowledged, that he was heading out while the masses were heading in. Likewise, formations like the Black Block will recede in importance as the new mobilizations that are clearly on the horizon proceed forward. When that happens, there will plenty of “beefy” trade unionists, and others as well, male and female alike, on site to ensure that those called out into the streets will rest comfortably in the knowledge that they will be attending the action they thought they were attending.

    Comment by dave — July 2, 2010 @ 1:21 pm

  50. I agree with the basic points of Louis’ post re: the Black Bloc. I would add that Anarchists (Liberals with an attitude) deliberately separate themselves from working people in terms of Anarchist fashion, habits, culture, lifestyle and most importantly here, political organizing, including tactics on demos… so that any Anarchists who believes they represtent any kind of pole of attraction for working people are just completely out to lunch. Once this complete alienation from working people becomes evident to your average upper-middle class Anarchist, they just start voting Democrat, take off the black and get a good job through family connections. If I had a dollar for every Anarchist that told me they voted for Kerry (!) or Obama, I could quit work and dress in black too.

    Comment by Jeff — July 2, 2010 @ 8:48 pm

  51. “Can we also have an end to ‘You said something I disagree with, that disagreed position is why the left sucks’ bull shit?”

    Well, when someone seeks to substitute their vanguardism by maligning the vanguardism of others, what other response is appropriate?

    Comment by Richard Estes — July 2, 2010 @ 9:50 pm

  52. Socialist revolutionaries have always tried to give wide lattitude and respect to their anarchist brothers & sisters because ultimately they have the same goal — a classless, egalitarian society.

    The question has always been how do we get there from here? History shows that when it comes to confronting those armed gangs defending property — a.k.a the State — then success without some discipline and a cohesive combat party is as unthinkable as the French Resistance thwarting the Nazis or the Iraqi resistance making a decisive impact on Uncle Sam’s invaders.

    If the BB anarchists sincerely believe that there’s really “no proletariat” in Canada (like Marcel claimed on the previous blog) then he should note that anarchism as a social movement in Canada is doomed.

    Maybe he concedes there’s a working class but feels, as he claimed, that they’re all part of a parasitic labor aristocracy? Well he’d be wrong. Not only is the Canadaian population probabaly a vast majority working class (at least 80% have to sell their labor to survive) but insofar as trade unionism is on the decline in North America, while unemployment & home foreclosures are on the rise, then they can hardly be parasites and there can be no rational talk about an influential labor aristocracy anymore. Even if one conceded the existence of a labor aristocracy certainly it’s not labor aristocrats that dominate the G20 demos, for why would a so-called labor aristocrat give a damn what the G20 is up to since they’re just willing pawns in the bourgeoisie’s chess game?

    The bottom line is the proletariat in the advanced countries is being relentlessly immiserated and thirdworldized in direct proportion to the loss of union jobs. Wealth has been transferred from the bottom fifth to the top 5th over the last 30 years at an unprecedented world historic rate, while the middle is pushed downwards and is stampeding under the pressure. Some in the middle turn toward the left but even more turn toward the right. What else explains the rightward drift of Canadian politics over the last 20 years?

    If BB anarchists ever held a union job they’d appreciate the discipline required on a picket line during a strike. Sometimes during particularly bitter & protracted strikes violence, destruction & sobotage becomes a necessary tactic. But that’s not done on a whim, aloof from the rank & file.

    Like the famous Russian Revolutionary Bolshevik Leon Trotsky always tried to patiently explain to his anarchist comrades: “A bomb in hand can be a wonderful thing — but first let’s clarify ourselves.”

    The problem with today’s BB tactics is there is no clarification how exactly smashing windows and burning cars furthers their aim of overthrowing capitalism, assuming that is still their aim?

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — July 2, 2010 @ 9:51 pm

  53. Fast forward to 2012 in Oakland CA. Barucha Peller (the girl quoted from the Washington Post article) is now one of the main organizers at Occupy Oakland and also organizes the weekly “Fuck The Police” marches. So far, the “diversity of tactics” promoted by the Black Bloc has only hurt the movement. Provoking police violence is not the same as violence towards peaceful protestors. Provoking violence only serves to give the police justification for their brutal actions.

    Comment by Zas — February 19, 2012 @ 7:04 am

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