[Marxism] An analysis of the G20 protest and the black bloc

Nathan Weinstein nat at socialistviewpoint.org
Thu Jul 1 11:14:05 MDT 2010


Louis,
If you didn't write this well-thought out polemic in support of the Marxist
strategy of class struggle and the tactics consistent with it, who did?

Without quibbling over this or that formulation, I can  endorse the 
general line of the message below and I hope help revive the principle
of class solidarity and  the tactic of the workers  united front. Which  by
the way, is a tactic that can rise to the level of a principle-- all proportions 
guarded.

Comradely,
Nat Weinstein



On Jul 1, 2010, at 6:39 AM, Louis Proyect wrote:

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> 
> 
> (This appeared as a comment on my own article about the black 
> bloc. It is powerfully argued.)
> 
> 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.
> 
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