[Marxism] Canadian Dimension editorial on the black bloc

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Jul 28 11:28:23 MDT 2010

Canadian Dimension editorial Sept/Oct 2010 | July 27th 2010
Once more around the Bloc
tactics, democracy, and mass politics

Our democratic freedoms hang by a narrow thread, and a police 
state is always near at hand — that is one of the lessons of the 
G20 debacle that unfolded in Toronto on June 26 and 27. The 
federal government spent a billion dollars on security and 
deployed 19,500 police on the streets of downtown Toronto. 
Activist groups were infiltrated, and organizers were targeted for 
preemptive arrest. Despite the overwhelming police presence, a 
small number of smashed windows and burning police cars shown on 
constant loop by TV news were enough to persuade much of the 
population that police violence and the arbitrary arrest of more 
than 1000 people were justified.

The responsibility for this unprecedented repression lies squarely 
with governments and police forces. All detainees must be released 
and trumped up charges against activist organizers must be 
dropped. Those who made the decisions to suspend civil liberties 
must be discovered and held to account. But they did not act 
without a pretext. That pretext was provided by a small number of 
people who employed “black bloc” tactics, masking up and smashing 
and burning things before disappearing into crowds of peaceful 

Some might argue that the tactics were a success, provoking 
awareness of the violent authoritarianism inherent in the 
capitalist state. Such claims reveal the privileged perspective of 
those who make them. Who, exactly, was not aware of the state’s 
violent authoritarianism? Young black men in the suburbs? 
Indigenous people? Immigrants? The poor? Those who were shocked at 
the police violence come largely from the privileged classes.

What has been mobilized in response is not a challenge to the 
system, but a defense of liberal democracy. Movements building a 
base for more fundamental critiques, like the Indigenous justice 
or environmental justice movements, have now been overshadowed by 
the movement to defend basic democratic freedoms. Headlines are 
about protest and policing, not about the sweeping cuts to social 
programs that will come out of the G20’s austerity agenda.

This brings us to the first problem with black bloc tactics: they 
do not work. There is no example of the successful use of “the 
propaganda of the deed” in liberal democracies. These tactics 
legitimate authoritarianism, which is fought by defending liberal 
rights. Black bloc, and similar tactics, disorganize and divide 
social movements and discredit radical ideas. They mire activists 
in legal process and court support. They serve the interests of 
the state, which is why liberal democracies have continually 
employed infiltrators and agents provocateurs to promote them 
within movements.

Black bloc tactics are also deeply undemocratic. Socialists and 
anarchists alike believe that those who are affected by a decision 
should have a say in making it. Black bloc tactics have a profound 
impact on the movements and place an additional burden of 
repression on those who are already most oppressed. Yet the 
decision to use these tactics is made by a small number of 
self-styled radicals without consent from the vast majority who 
will be affected by them. The unaccountable use of these tactics 
is just as authoritarian and colonial as the system they are 
supposed to fight.

Far from practicing accountability, those who favour these tactics 
have campaigned to impose on the movements the doctrine of 
“diversity of tactics,” which enjoins that no one shall be 
publicly held to account for the tactics they choose. This 
doctrine abandons mass organizing, collective strategy, and 
democracy for a kind of ultra-vanguardism in which those who use 
the most extreme tactics get to impose the consequences of their 
choice on the majority without consultation. Underpinning 
“diversity of tactics” is not an alternative vision of democratic 
collectivity, but a supremely entitled liberal individualism. That 
has no place in our movements.

Like police repression, the black bloc and “diversity of tactics” 
require nourishment to thrive. During the G20, the labour movement 
and NGOs provided this nourishment. Early on in the organizing, 
their representatives weakly acceded to the demands of “radicals” 
on diversity of tactics, which gave the black bloc the space they 
needed. The unions and NGOs were also incapable of providing 
ideological leadership or focus in the events they organized. The 
major mobilization of June 26, which saw tens of thousands on the 
street, was themed People First and its slogan was “We deserve 
better.” It had no clear demands or strategic goals, and no vision 
that inspired.

Like the black bloc actions, the labour march, which brought out 
20,000 people, was pro forma. While vibrant, unlike the black bloc 
actions, it lacked any tone of militancy. Organizers caved to 
police demands not to approach the security fence surrounding the 
G20 conference centre. With tens of thousands of people on the 
streets, labour leaders chose a symbolic demonstration of their 
weakness, turning away from the fence and circling back to their 
starting point. This was the context that gave power to calls for 
militant breakaway actions to go to the fence.

Some have used the opportunity of the G20 fallout to argue that 
protests don’t make a difference. Subsequent mobilizations 
defending civil rights have certainly put the lie to that claim. 
Certainly, weak protests and weak leadership don’t make a 
difference. While the black bloc eschews mass organization and 
accountability, organized labour is abdicating any leadership role 
in political struggle. That will only change by building mass 
organizations inside and outside the unions that can exert 
pressure on them and provide ideological leadership. Only when we 
practice political leadership, accountability to the base, and an 
orientation to mass politics can our movements for radical change 
be strong.

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