Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

July 1, 2010

An analysis of the G20 protest and the black bloc

Filed under: anarchism — louisproyect @ 1:37 pm

(This appeared as  a comment by Ritch on my last post. It deserves to be highlighted as a guest post.)

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.

46 Comments »

  1. “The black bloc however, isn’t an oppressed community resisting oppression and defending itself.”

    People who use that tactic come from all backgrounds, including working class, immigrant, and indigenous peoples. This statement is ignorant and frankly offensive.

    “The tactic is far from radical because it does nothing to challenge capitalism in any way; it does nothing to instill confidence in others to resist.”

    You can define radical for yourself until you’re blue in the face and it won’t make it true for everyone. I know tons of people who do not find marches/rallies inspiring or confidence building AT ALL, because they know that these have been happening for years, with little success.

    How about we acknowledge that the g20 cops were doing what they do every day. Protecting the rich, the business interests, their property, and the status quo. They are paid to repress dissent, and as long as they are taking that pay cheque and wearing that uniform, they are in opposition to the change that you claim to want. It wasn’t like they were friendly allies escorting the march until a couple windows got smashed.

    Comment by Joel — July 1, 2010 @ 5:33 pm

  2. Joel, don’t forget the most important community that black block tacticians come from: the police provocateur community.

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

  3. Horrors! Broken windows and cop car fires.

    The damage must amount to thousands of dollars. No question, Harper wins. Let the austerity measures begin now that public opinion is on his side. Good loyal patriotic Canadians must be calling for cuts to their health care to assure that never again will such public disorder be allowed to happen because of insufficient spending on security.

    Surely the public now sees that one billion dollars was insufficient, and cries for two billions or more for security are sure to follow.

    Comment by Glenn — July 1, 2010 @ 6:04 pm

  4. I know tons of people who do not find marches/rallies inspiring or confidence building AT ALL, because they know that these have been happening for years, with little success.

    Of course. This is what gave birth to the SDS Weathermen.

    Comment by louisproyect — July 1, 2010 @ 6:07 pm

  5. In other news about tactics, this is a fantastic result:

    “Five activists who caused £180,000 damage to an arms factory were acquitted after they argued they were seeking to prevent Israeli war crimes.

    The five were jubilant after a jury found them not guilty of conspiring to cause criminal damage to the factory on the outskirts of Brighton.

    The five admitted they had broken in and sabotaged the factory, but argued they were legally justified in doing so………
    In his summing up, Judge George Bathurst-Norman suggested to the jury that “you may well think that hell on earth would not be an understatement of what the Gazans suffered in that time”.”

    http://jewssansfrontieres.blogspot.com/2010/07/criminal-damage-naughty-but-nice-and-no.html

    Comment by meltr — July 1, 2010 @ 7:11 pm

  6. No masked motherfucker is going to decide for me when I have to put my ass on the line in an armed engagement, oh no, no, no.

    Comment by Michael Hureaux — July 1, 2010 @ 7:43 pm

  7. Are you gloating because Hitchens has cancer, or are you giving us one of your little warnings from your Manhattan apartment

    Comment by Jurriaan Bendien — July 1, 2010 @ 8:27 pm

  8. ALCHEMISTS OF REVOLUTION (1987) by Richard Rubenstein is an excellently written resource about the historic assaults waged against imperialism by mass movements vis a vis BB tactics.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — July 2, 2010 @ 12:51 am

  9. Ritch’s characterization of events of 2001 in Genoa won’t do. “In Genoa, the black box ran through a group of nuns engaged in a sit-it which resulted in the police attacking the nuns.” This is misleading and shamefully inadequate. The truth is the government wanted no demonstration that showed any determination at all. It ordered the police to forget legality. Black box or no black box, violence was inevitable. Why talk about nuns and not the incursion of the police into the Diaz school where peaceful demonstrators were put up? They were beaten without mercy and had molotovs planted in their belongings. The other day, June 17, you could read in the Italian press that the Prefect of Genoa (De Gennaro) was sentenced to a year and four months and the head of the police (Mortola) to a year and two months for their part in the oppression. They will probably get away on appeal, but the fact that a politically protected Prefect, who has the power of a U.S. governor, is going to jail over Genoa 2001 should make Ritch realize that it wasn’t a story about trampled nuns. Sentences like that aren’t given often, except maybe in Illinois.

    Comment by Peter Byrne — July 2, 2010 @ 9:45 am

  10. I fully understand that Ritch is saying the Black Bloc can give the authorities justification and cover for running riot. But what I’m saying is that the authorities don’t always need jusification. That was the case in Genoa ’01 where the order went out in advance to unleash violence. If pressed, the police will always find cover, with or without the Black Bloc. In Italy they keep a box of molotovs and rusty knives in the station house basement ready to be planted. Witnesses who will swear to anything are a dime a dozen.

    Comment by Peter Byrne — July 2, 2010 @ 7:05 pm

  11. “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.”

    It might help if people who purport to know about the Black Bloc actually took the time to understand them and their perspective before writing about them. I have ambivalence about Black Bloc tactics myself, but the Bloc has an ideological motivation for them that goes far beyond what Ritch says here. Mirroring what we think about the Block and treating it as fact isn’t a particularly helpful way of engaging these issues.

    Comment by Richard Estes — July 2, 2010 @ 9:45 pm

  12. 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 @ 9:53 pm

  13. “If BB anarchists ever held a union job they’d appreciate the discipline required on a picket line during a strike.”

    More sordid logic. First ya’ll claim that the bloc are cops (rank and file, aren’t they?), then ya’ll claim folks in the bloc have never had a job. Get your heads straight. Do us all a favor, and don’t write about things you don’t understand. It does nothing but confuse the facts.

    You think June 26 was “done on a whim, aloof from the rank and file?” What about the grassroots call out from folks in Toronto for a militant confrontational march? How can you ignore that the conditions for the actions that day were created by local organizers? The way I see it labour rank and file walking in a circle while reps of their organizations hang out inside the G20 fence is about as aloof from the rank and file as it gets.

    Face it: you lost. Let the next generation fight, cause they’re fighting to win.

    Comment by whiz kid — July 2, 2010 @ 11:33 pm

  14. Fighting to win WHAT exactly?

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — July 2, 2010 @ 11:36 pm

  15. Why the FUCK would you quote Trotsky?!

    Comment by James — July 3, 2010 @ 12:18 am

  16. Because, dumb fuck, he knew a thing or two more about overcoming armed gangs that defend property than you, nevermind he worked with a lot more revolutionary anarchists than you’ve ever even seen, and finally, this is a Marxist forum.

    You got a problem with that then go over to the fucking Unrepetant Bakunin blog and post something stupid. I’m sure your quite capable.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — July 3, 2010 @ 12:56 am

  17. Here’s the future of that Labor Aristocracy that Marcel was railing against:

    Schwarzenegger orders minimum wage for state workers:

    http://www.sacbee.com/2010/07/01/2864148/schwarzenegger-orders-minimum.html

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — July 3, 2010 @ 1:24 am

  18. Here you are all typing and going back and forth, sitting comfortably at your desks or possibly in your local coffee shop. Too bad those Black Block people, the ones some of you seem to dislike so much, are the only ones who have the stones to actually FIGHT BACK.

    So the G20 came and went from Toronto. So did the circus that moves along with it. Now that the G20 is over, whey aren’t you still out in the streets trying to get things changed?

    Sorry but as much as I consider myself to be left, I find it pretty ironic how people do all this talking about their convictions but are afraid to actually fight for them. Put your money where your mouth is.

    Comment by smores — July 3, 2010 @ 8:32 am

  19. If the powers-that-be can simply rule by decree and announce laws made in secret which have immediate effect and which abrogate significant portions of your Charter of Rights and Freedoms, then you’ve got a real problem. If you want to keep any semblance of freedom, you’ve got to get the people who did this out of office and out of power, and into jail, and quickly. Begging them for reforms, by means of demonstrations, is a foolish waste of time and effort. And from what I saw on video of the black bloc people, it doesn’t look like they’re cops or undercovers. I’m not sure what their actions were supposed to accomplish, other than making the police look like cowardly bullies, running from the least amount of forceful opposition, while brutalizing peaceful protestors. I will say this one thing – the black bloc is not making an appeal for those in power to reform their policies and actions, they’re looking to overthrow the people in power, and perhaps the very notion of concentrated political power, if I’m reading them correctly.

    This should be an object lesson to those who were brutalized by the police: do not offer non-violence as a defense towards violent action by bullies, because bullies will take advantage of this and hurt you and your friends. Always fight back, don’t take it sitting down, never give in to bullying by anyone, whether they’re wearing a police uniform or not. You do not have a duty to be physically assaulted by anyone, whether they work for the State or not.

    Comment by streamfortyseven — July 3, 2010 @ 8:51 am

  20. The “black bloc” – though I thought it was a tactic, not a group – may have had deep and earnest plans, but it didn’t look that way. It looked like they wanted to break plate-glass windows. Several yelled threats at people taking photos and videos of them (well, they *were* trying to be anonymous or mysterious or something). I only saw one instance of them coming face to face with “the man” (in this case, two unarmed security guards), whereupon they ran away….

    They may have a strategy, but it doesn’t look that way, and surely there’s a problem with “fighting back” or “forcing change” or whatever when so many of us just see them breaking windows like prank-loving teenagers on Hallowe’en.

    It doesn’t matter if they’re young, or clever, or justified (or how old, dumb and terrible the cops are). If the only thing they can communicate to the general public (read, “voting, buying public”) is the intention to smash glass and run away…. Well, it’s just silly.

    And, yes, unfortunate in its ability to draw public attention away from other protest messages (though, goodness knows, they had their own communication troubles).

    Comment by Wendell Dryden — July 3, 2010 @ 10:20 am

  21. I will say this one thing – the black bloc is not making an appeal for those in power to reform their policies and actions, they’re looking to overthrow the people in power, and perhaps the very notion of concentrated political power, if I’m reading them correctly.

    Putting aside the question of whether political power is concentrated in glass panes and parked police cars, by all the accounts I have read of events in Toronto, the BB were virtually given a free hand to go on a window smashing and car burning spree by the police who then directed their violence, not at the window smashers and car burners, but at the mass protest. Judging by the reactions of the police, it would seem that the people in power, as you call them, regard the BB rather benignly compared to the mass mobilisations which bore the actual brunt of their repressive force.

    Comment by Lajany Otum — July 3, 2010 @ 12:48 pm

  22. “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.”

    I’m a critic of ‘diversity of tactics’ but not all of whom or even most people who embrace this approach are those who favour ‘black bloc’ tactics. And the logic of ‘cover’ implicitly asks people to accept that community organizers are being targetted with trumped up charges. I’m sorry, I’m not gonna blame imprisoned community organizers who espouse this, for the black bloc, regardless of what they espouse. Most people who espouse “DOT” are not at all into property damage – its more about whether or not direct confrontation takes place. Again, I oppose it but think that the job of the Toronto Left right now should be to free the prisoners – all of them – and then we can have this discussion.

    Comment by JC — July 3, 2010 @ 5:01 pm

  23. Lajany Otum writes: “Judging by the reactions of the police, it would seem that the people in power, as you call them, regard the BB rather benignly compared to the mass mobilisations which bore the actual brunt of their repressive force.”

    I don’t think the police regard the black bloc in any sort of benign way. I think the police are cowards who run from any sort of physical threat. It’s in the moral character of the people who comprise modern police forces, and it seems to be fairly universal. In Los Angeles in the Rodney King riots, the police, when confronted by the prospect of physical harm, ran away, leaving the shopkeepers of Koreatown to protect their own businesses, which they did, with shotguns and rifles. In New Orleans, after Katrina, the police turned feral, and committed burglaries and outright robberies; when opposed by force, the police ran away.

    Time after time at demonstrations, when opposed by force, the police turn on their heels and run away. On the other hand, when demonstrators use non-violent tactics, the police assault and beat them, take the peaceful demonstrators prisoner, and subject them to humiliation and physical duress to the point of mild torture. These aren’t the actions of people who have any sort of positive moral character, they’re the acts of bullies, who oppress their victims until met with physical opposition at which point they run away and find someone else who won’t resist. This should serve as an object lesson to future demonstrators: use non-violent tactics and be beaten, captured, humiliated, and ignored – or use the tactics of the Black Bloc and not suffer any of that set of consequences.

    If the entire lot of demonstrators had used Black Bloc tactics, the G20 conference wouldn’t have lasted one day, the “world leaders” and suchlike would have been airlifted out of town before the end of the first day of the conference. That’s the real lesson being taught here by the State, that the days of peaceful demonstration are over.

    Comment by streamfortyseven — July 3, 2010 @ 6:07 pm

  24. […] Louis Proyect’s blog “Unrepentent Marxist” has a guest column by a certain Ritch: “An analysis of the G20 protests and the Black Bloc”. It mentions the gross violations of democratic rights, thepolice violence. But is basically blames […]

    Pingback by Toronto, G20, Black BLoc & summit protests « RedRebelRanter — July 3, 2010 @ 6:26 pm

  25. The Black Bloc people are cowards – cowards living in a make-believe world in which they are big tough heroes. In their dreams! The truth is they only go on their scripted window-breaking sprees when they have a big demonstration they can hide in.

    If they are so brave and breaking windows is so radical, how come they never do it on their own? There are 365 days in the year. Why do these chickenshit “heroes” only do it on the one day of the year when they can use other people as cover? They’re like the kid who hides behind mommy’s skirt, dashes out and yells at somebody, and then quickly hides behind mommy’s skirt again.

    The truth is it doesn’t take any courage to participate in these fake-radical window-busting runs, because the cops NEVER go after the Black Bloc. At every summit, including Toronto, it’s been the same story: the cops pull all their people out of the way when the Black Bloc does their thing. All the cops vanish until the Black Bloc has finished. Then they go after the peaceful demonstrators. In Toronto, the people who showed real courage were all those who stood up to the cops at the detention centre, in Parkdale, on College Street, etc., while the Black Bloc were back in their bedrooms writing statements praising themselves.

    And why do the cops never go after the Black Bloc? Because they love the Black Bloc, who provide with them with the pretext they need for more repression. That’s why the cops have infiltrated the Black Bloc with agents provocateurs. They have an easy job of it, because while they calls themselves “anarchists” they are actually more like a cult, with a few leaders and a bunch of sheep-like followers who don’t have the guts to every challenge their leaders, no matter how idiotic they are. Anarchists? No way! Pathetic losers, is more like it.

    Comment by Rockford — July 3, 2010 @ 10:47 pm

  26. Comment by Karl Friedrich — July 3, 2010 @ 11:28 pm

  27. Rockford’s a copycat: see http://www.anarchistnews.org/?q=node/11644#comment-113559

    Comment by streamfortyseven — July 4, 2010 @ 2:08 am

  28. This post has been turned into an article available at the Socialist Project website:

    http://www.socialistproject.ca/bullet/381.php

    Comment by Doug — July 4, 2010 @ 2:47 pm

  29. I have very little interest in debates over websites/blogs, prefer the face to face kind of debate, which isn’t buried in anonymous accusations and petty name calling. But as the author i just want to clarify a few things.

    To the statement by JC that I implicity ask people to blame those who demanded that DOT be the guidelines for the mobilisations and accept the charges laid against them. Nowhere in the article do i call for anyone to face charges, nor do i support the state vs. the bb. I support, unfortunately I am out of Toronto right now, the myriad of efforts to have charges dropped, for the cops to be brought to bear for their violence, for the politicians responsible to be opposed and for the defense of civil liberties.

    From what others have told me the left – both the organisation I belong to, the International Socialists, and many others including independant lefts and community based activists and even many in the NDP have been mobilising to defend civil liberties and get everyone out of jail. Some have been bucketting for legal costs at the rallies against police brutality, others have been out at pride events leafletting and bucketting, others are mobilising for rallies on the 10th, others have been holding events to help those who went through the terrible experience of Torontanamo.

    I don’t think this means we shouldn’t have a discussion about tactics and more importantly strategy, nor should that discussion distract from the above.

    Comment by Ritch Whyman — July 4, 2010 @ 7:10 pm

  30. @Karl Friedrich –

    For all my agreement with your contributions regarding G20/BB following shows a patronising cantankerousness on your part –

    “and finally, this is a Marxist forum.
    You got a problem with that then go over to the fucking Unrepetant Bakunin blog and post something stupid. I’m sure your quite capable.”

    Are you making a case that this Marxist forum can and only be visited or contributed by marxists?

    Is it your forum? Is it your blog?

    If Louis wants to put certain constraints on who can contribute what then he should state it clearly.

    Has he?

    NO!

    So shut up and behave or go over to the fucking Unrepentant “Louis Proyect’s pet arse-licker” blog and post something stupid. I’m sure you’re quite capable.

    Comment by Eko — July 4, 2010 @ 10:48 pm

  31. Eko. GFY. When some dufus screams “why the FUCK” am I quoting a Marxist on a Marxist forum it’s not unreasonable to get cantankerous on his ass.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — July 4, 2010 @ 10:56 pm

  32. Rich

    Don’t disagree – a lot of us have been doing a lot – I was bucketting earlier and folks are doing a lot in general including folks from the IS – don’t get me wrong. My point is that some of the language you use can plausibly interpreted as blameful. I think there are those in the more “anarchist” identified left who are starting to feel betrayed by others now, given the congruence of language being used by various forces – including allies – and we need to be more delicate. Overall, again I share your criticism, just now your means of articulation.

    Comment by JC — July 4, 2010 @ 11:02 pm

  33. @Karl Friedrich – in the lingo that you understand – GFYMF.

    Btw was your previous contribution marxist inthe sufficient degree? if not, beware someone in this marxist forum will go cantakerous on your ass.

    Comment by Eko — July 5, 2010 @ 12:33 am

  34. I see that the Marxist-Leninist echo chamber in relation to anarchism and the Black Bloc is finally becoming quiescent.

    Comment by Richard Estes — July 6, 2010 @ 11:34 pm

  35. Richard: Let’s get something straight so there’s no more quibbling over semantics. Marxist revolutionaries love our anarchist brothers & sisters mainly for rightly coming quickly to the conclusion on who the primary enemy is & the urgent need to do something about it. We’ve both got our eyes on the same prize. We greatly appreciate their gusto for the cause, their youthful enthusiasiam, their revolutionary zeal, and their willingness for self-sacrifice.

    But for us & as well as a shitload of the toilers around the world without a lot of spare time on their hands it boils down to what Trotsky said regarding Anarchist Revolutionaries: “A bomb in hand can be a wonderful thing — but first let’s clarify ouRselves.”

    So I ask you Richard: Is that too much to ask — to clarify our motherfucking selves so that a bunch of righteous revolutionary energy is not squandered?

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — July 7, 2010 @ 12:38 am

  36. @Karl Friedrich – how long have been trying to find a clear reflection of yourself in the crystal ball of dialectical materialism? how long more will you wait, after all wasn’t it your YAHWEH whose inane proclamation goes – Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it?

    What have you done to change it except to quote Trotsky, who unlike your kind of e-marxist exhibited guts to use the bomb in the hand. The entreaty aimed at anarchist comrades suits him not you or your ilk.

    Comment by Eko — July 7, 2010 @ 1:22 am

  37. Eko – Ask not what the movement has done for you but what you have done for the movement? My credentials are documented over 40 years on barricades that encircle this globe and I’m still a relatively young man, willing to put a bullet into head of whomever the revolution sees fit. Got that. I’ve got no aversion to violence per se, I’ve just grown to see it as enough of a precious commodity that we revolutionaries first should adamently clarifiy ourselves.

    You got a problem with that prognosis then I suggest you go go rail over at the Unrepentant Bakunin blog and come back here once you hash that shit out. I’m game for whatever you all conclude so long as I’m convinced it actually leads coherently to the abolition of private property and its consequence — imperialst turpitude.

    When you all come up with that viable schema count me in as one of those stalwart torpedoes willing to go headlong into battle as I’ve got nothing left to lose but my life.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — July 7, 2010 @ 2:09 am

  38. To see the role of the Black Bloc vividly demonstrated, check out Counterpunch.org on 7/7/10 for link to “Website of the Day” where you’ll find a really good video called “Police State Control” by Bill Johnson. Sub-title of the film: “Provocation and Police Terror at the G20 Summit in Toronto”. Another probable way to access this video is by going to a site called VIMEO and for this particular entry, http://www.vimeo.com/13097041

    Comment by Jeff — July 7, 2010 @ 5:30 pm

  39. @Jeff: Three lessons learned:

    1. Cops dressed as “black bloc” are obvious and easily identified and forced out of the real black block. The differences are obvious, in terms of age, gender, clothing and physique. APs are males, heavily built, in their late 20s/early 30s. They look like cops, just wearing black clothing. There are other obvious differences as well.

    2. Cops don’t attack violent protestors, they let them do as they please, or the cops run away. This behavior isn’t limited to summit protests, it’s universal. In Los Angeles, during the Rodney King riots, the cops ran away when faced with a violent crowd. In other cities, when faced with the prospect of possible physical harm, cops run away.

    3. On the other hand, cops freely attack and brutalize protestors who offer no physical resistance; the more peaceful the protestor, the more brutal and vicious the resultant attack. This treatment continues in jail. No “pretext” for this action really needs to exist, it’s just a preference for a “soft target”

    The obvious lesson here is that non-violent protest creates a state of extreme danger for participants, where police forces are deployed with lots of paramilitary equipment. On the other hand, violent protest or at least a basic willingness to engage in mutual physical self-defense results in little or no chance of injury (or, for that matter, arrest). Peaceful protestors are beaten, gassed, arrested, and dragged through the “criminal justice” system, or jailed with charges dismissed; violent protestors suffer none of this.

    If protestors came to protests with the means to defend themselves if attacked and the will, training, and discipline to use them, the outcome might be significantly different. I’m not talking about guns here, either; there are lots of means of self-defense which do not involve the use of firearms. No democratic government has any legitimate power to violently attack citizens engaged in the exercise of their basic civil rights. Governments which do this rule under false pretenses, and their laws and rules are a fraud on those subjected to them.

    Comment by streamfortyseven — July 7, 2010 @ 6:50 pm

  40. In response to #42, there has never been a mass antiwar demonstration that has been attacked. Part of the reason for this is that they tend to be a lot better monitored with little tolerance for “diversity of tactics” bullshit.

    Comment by louisproyect — July 7, 2010 @ 6:58 pm

  41. Yes there was. The anti-war march at the 2008 RNC was attacked. There were others, too.

    Comment by JJ — July 11, 2010 @ 3:11 am

  42. No there wasn’t. The RNC incident was definitely not a MASS protest, having but a few thousand easily encircled protestors at most, and probably a majority registered democrats, which hardly represents the masses. Historians define MASS protests as crowds in the hundreds of thousands. No protest with hundreds of thousands in US history has ever been attacked by police. Partly because they were extremely well organized & marshalled, and partly because sheer numbers tend to intimidate police.

    The lesson therefore is to organize the masses as they’re the only entity that have ever truly changed history. There’s plenty of them out there being fucked over by the system to be sure. The difficulty in this age of atomized individualism lies in organizing them. It’s a daunting but not impossible task.

    Whether it be the Russian Narodniks at the turn of the 20th century with guys like Lenin’s older brother who lobbed bombs at the Czar, or Al Queda at the turn of the 21st century with guys like Bin Laden who flew planes into skyscrapers, historically the sociological roots of small group terrorism has always been frustrated intellectuals unable or unwilling to do the hard work of organizing the masses. But there is no shortcut to revolution.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — July 11, 2010 @ 1:10 pm

  43. […] Loius Proyect, aka The Unrepentant Marxist, notes in his blog, what happened in Oakland followed a well-worn scenario: There’s a mass demonstration. A layer of […]

    Pingback by Sign O’ The Times: BART police sticker intervention « beyondasiaphilia — July 22, 2010 @ 5:38 am

  44. i think the article is actually quite elitist in itself, trivializing the commitment and sacrifice of our comrades in struggle while trumpeting about the “proper” way to go about challenging (not overcoming) state oppression and attributing attitudes and motivations to “the black block” which in my experience do not exist; furthermore, no one in the struggle against state oppression smashes windows because it is “sexy” – it is because people believe that state violence must be challenged in a serious way, and fighting back is the most serious way to do that. We may disagree with their tactics, but many honest, sincere people who are fighting for a better world have sacrificed their lives in whole or part for this cause, and they deserve neither condemnation nor ridicule, especially from those who supposedly are fighting for the same goals, albeit in different ways. -NF

    Comment by Niki Forova — September 21, 2010 @ 3:19 am

  45. Niki, you are daft.

    Comment by Louis Proyect — September 21, 2010 @ 1:29 pm

  46. In Seattle during the WTO it was definitely true the cops let the small group of window breakers run wild. They were too busy tear gassing and beating peaceful demonstrators and bringing down a reign of terror on residential neighborhoods and those guys were giving them an excuse. Also in my experiences in the US you would be hard pressed to find one of the people who actually does the black bloc thing who isn’t white. And while there may be a few exceptions mostly white upper middle class, this is their brief moment of rebellion while their young, they hide their face because they don’t want mommy or daddy or someone from their future fancy grad school to see what they’re doing. Their blind rage and f@#$ the police type stuff seems comical since they are really the people in society with least reason to feel that way. Sure they could come to a realization about racism and police brutality and get involved in trying to change it but this can not be called them taking vengeance for injustice they never personally faced. Be that as it may can you really do something so severely damaging to your supposed cause and supposed comrades who are giving their blood sweat and tears and call it good because you believe you are a revolutionary because you believe you are doing the right thing and any pesky person with the nerve to say wait a minute don’t screw all of us is “authoritarian”. If you could sum up the beauty of Marxism and Dialectial Materialism in a sentence it would be something like reality not ideas it whats real. Reality molds ideas not the other way around. Is it acceptable to do so much damage and destruction(and I’m not talking about the damn windows but harm done to the movement) because your ideas tell you it was the right thing to do?

    Comment by Taylor — March 27, 2012 @ 4:18 pm


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