Our strategy as anti-capitalists should be to retain and reinforce our differences from both the social-democratic and the right-wing critics of corporate globalization. This means continuing the work many of us are doing, in day to day struggles alongside the classes and nations which are most oppressed by Canadian capitalism. It also means promoting aggressive tactics at demonstrations and emphasizing our hostility to police and to the State, weak points for both the social-democrats and right-wingers.
Finally, it means keeping in mind that not everyone at our protests are our allies, even if they may claim otherwise.
Folks have different takes on what happened, and why, in Toronto during the G20. At issue is how the Black Bloc managed to trash a few cop cars and break countless windows while sustaining so few arrests, and what relation this accomplishment had to the mass arrests and police violence that were subsequently directed at non-Black Bloc demonstrators.
There is some disagreement – but not a lot – about what actually happened on the 26th and afterward. Where there are disagreements is in explaining how and why this happened. For that reason – and because i was not there, so have nothing new to add – i will not go over the events of those days. For those who have not read about them yet, i recommend pages 10-12 in Zig Zag’s Fire and Flames: a militant report on Toronto anti-G20 resistance, G20 Capitalism is attacked in the streets of Toronto by Jaggi Singh and Robyn Maynard, or any of numerous news reports about the protests.
Three Versions of How Things Happened
On the left, three versions have emerged to explain the actions of the Black Bloc and the police in Toronto on June 26 and afterwards.
1) The Black Block outmaneuvered the enemy, successfully carrying out attacks on police cars and smashing windows of banks and large corporations due to the tactical advantage it gained from its fluid, undisciplined form.
As one can read on on SnitchWire:
The Black Bloc against the G20 summit in Toronto was one of the fiercest, ruthlessly efficient and effective Blocs seen in North America in a considerable amount of time. This, of course, was brought by the momentum and experience gained by the anarchist movement in North America (under insurmountable odds in most circumstances) within the last fifteen years. Several police cars were set on fire, corporate property destruction and looting were rampant, and the pigs were fought in the street.
Or as comrade Zig Zag has argued:
The ability of the bloc to move quickly enabled it to outmaneuver the riot cops, who were hampered by a slow response time. Wearing up to 80-90 pounds of gear, they could not move fast enough over any distance. Just to get to an area required moving chartered buses or convoys of mini-vans through city streets (not an easy task even under normal traffic conditions).
2) The second theory as to what happened in Toronto is slightly more nuanced, and as such comes in several flavours. Unfortunately, almost all of these are defeatist.
Emphasis is put on the discrepancy between the massive repressive presence – $1 billion spent on security, tens of thousands of police mobilized, extensive pre-summit info gathering, etc. – and the seeming inability of the police to get a handle on the Black Bloc on the 26th.
What emerges is a theory that the police allowed the Black Bloc to do their thing, and may even have facilitated it, in order to be able to justify repression.
As support for this theory, there are numerous anecdotes of people hearing police say that they had orders to hold back. Furthermore, while some eyewitnesses claim they could hear munitions exploding in the burning police cars, others insist that the cars were empty of standard police equipment and had seemingly been left there with their gas tanks almost empty. One activist commented that, based on their experience in previous militant confrontations, “It just seemed too easy.”
As the anarchist (but anti-BB) journal Ideas and Action argued:
The noninterference of the police in property destruction – much remarked upon in Toronto – is a clear indication of its utility for the elite. Many observers have noted the usefulness of images of destruction in the media for justifying the $1 billion spent by the city of Toronto on “security” measures. Lest there be any doubt, the Toronto Police Department declared: “All you have to do is turn on the TV and see what’s happening now. Police cars are getting torched, buildings are being vandalized, people are getting beat up, and [so] the so-called ‘intimidating’ police presence is essential to restoring order.”
As the famed author and activist, Naomi Klein, observed, the police strategy consisted of “allowing what happened on Saturday [in Toronto] to happen with almost no intervention; and then… using that inaction as justification for scooping up hundreds of other activists, beating up journalists, just going on a rampage. Now, if they were serious about getting the people who had broken the windows, they would have done the arrests there at the time.”
Or as prominent canadian leftist Judy Rebick claimed:
I disagree with torching police cars and breaking windows and I have been debating these tactics for decades with people who think they accomplish something. But the bigger question here is why the police let it happen and make no mistake the police did let it happen. Why did the police let the city get out of control? And they did let it get out of control. The police knew exactly what would happen and how.
And as progressive journalist Justin Podur claimed:
The point here is that at least through a passive decision, and more likely through active provocation, the police helped see to it that windows and police cars were destroyed. Journalist Joe Wenkoff followed the Black Bloc for 27 blocks without any police presence. A police source told Toronto Sun reporter Joe Warmington that the police had orders to let it happen: “there were guys with equipment to do the job, all standing around looking at each other in disbelief.”
Unfortunately, some who hold this line have opted for a typically social democratic solution to the alleged police conspiracy to enable the Black Bloc: they have publicly criticized the police for not having “done their job” on the 26th!
All of which leads people to stop thinking in terms of solidarity, but instead to think in terms of being “aggrieved citizens”. Revolutionary consciousness is pre-empted by the consciousness of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition. It’s just a hop, skip and a jump from such positions to the odious discussion thread on rabble.ca, where people are urged to turn in photos of “vandals”, ostensibly with the logic that by doing so they will be “outing” undercover police officers. Whereas in fact what they are doing through such behaviour is providing evidence to the police. (Woe be it to anyone clean-cut and in shape who was around the Bloc – such individuals are being badjacketed and their photos tossed around the internet as part of the “they-must-be-cops” hysteria.)
3) A third, more obviously rightist version of events, holds that the Black Bloc itself is thoroughly encapsulated – that is to say, controlled by the state, with or without the BB members necessarily knowing it themselves. According to this theory, the Black Bloc is essentially a black ops connected to some secret police agency, deployed by the state to rob “peaceful” protesters of their credibility and deprive them of the moral highground.
This version of events draws on a distorted version of events at the 2007 Montebello protests where three agent provocateurs were identified trying to infiltrate the Black Bloc. In the days between summits, such theories have been the purview of the far right, with sources such as Alex Jones’ Prison Planet spreading the idea that the BB and in fact the entire anarchist movement is something between an encapsulated gang and a pseudo-gang, working at the behest of the New World Order.
But following the action on the 26th, even many progressive individuals who would find Jones’ politics to be anathema could be found wondering aloud whether or not “their” movement might not have been victim to such a byzantine state maneuver. The conspiratorial/populist website globalresearch.ca, run by the Center for Research on Globalization, has run a series of pieces with titles like G20 Riots: Is the Black Bloc a Police Psyops Group? As allegations surface of at least one deep cover agent around the broader anarchist scene, with perhaps more to come, this theory may gain added currency, especially amongst those who don’t have any personal contact with militant protesters.
The Fallout: “Socialist” Criticism tails Media Backlash
The police attacks on demonstrators who had no intention of breaking the law or engaging in militant confrontation traumatized and angered many progressive people. As in all such situations, the initial reactions were confused, and could vacillate wildly. Folks said stuff they would later regret – not only newbies but also experienced activists speaking in front of television cameras. People were outraged at the police for attacking the “peaceful” protests, and the media worked hard to instill outrage at the “vandals” in the Black Bloc who had apparently provoked it all.
At this point a variety of socialist and trotskyist organizations obviously felt they had an opportunity to score points against the Black Bloc and militant protest tactics, which they have never been happy with but have been politically unable to clamp down on ever since the anti-WTO protests in Seattle in 1999.
To quote Miguel Figueroa, leader of the soc dem Communist Party of Canada:
“It is high time that the anarchists and their misguided and counter-productive policies be publicly repudiated and condemned. Their infantile antics pose absolutely no threat to the ruling class and its state apparatus,” Figueroa said.
“On the contrary, such actions are extremely harmful in that they scare away the masses of working people from political struggle, and provide a convenient cover to those trying to further curtail the democratic rights of the people.”
What were the objective results of the black bloc tactics? In the eyes of the state, the politicians, and their mouthpieces in the media, the violence of the black bloc delegitimizes the legitimate protests and demonstrations of the labour movement. It justifies the massive security expenditures and aggressive and intimidation tactics of the police. The labour movement can argue against the police presence and plead peaceful protest all they want, but because of the presence and actions of the black bloc, the police can always justify their aggressive presence and brutality. In the end, black bloc tactics justify the police action and brings the wrath of the police down on the labour movement. […]
The police and the black bloc are, in fact, two sides of the same coin. The police step up security and their presence, causing the black bloc to come up with increasingly bold and inventive ways to circumvent this security, causing the police to step up their presence and attacks on democratic rights. This week, the police were almost daring the black bloc to attempt to penetrate the security perimeter and fence, precisely so the police could physically assault demonstrators and workers, and assault their democratic rights.
And in the IMT’s newsletter Fightback: The Marxist Voice of Labour and Youth:
Unfortunately, a “Black Bloc” of one or two hundred was allowed by the police to vandalize the city of Toronto. The police abandoned select cars to allow this mob to torch them. This was then used as justification to attack the mass of peaceful working class protesters. […] We state that the Black Bloc are not part of our movement and there is no difference between them and police provocateurs. As seen in other protests, some of them may in fact be police agents.
(Need it be added that the IMT considers police unions to be part of their “labour movement”; i.e. see their 2008 piece on cops in the land that murdered Jean Charles de Menezes and so many others: Britain: Bolshevik Bobbies)
The official Socialist Project statement, in their e-newsletter, ironically named The Bullet:
On Saturday, in the midst of a larger demonstration (estimated at between 10-25,000), organized by the labour, anti-privatization and peace movements, a series of unwarranted acts of vandalism by a small number of protesters against stores, vehicles and buildings, was used as an excuse for a massive unleashing of repression and attacks by police against the democratic rights of both protestors, and Torontonians as a whole. (Like what happened at the Montebello Summit of North American leaders in August 2007, it will come out over the next weeks how widely the police had infiltrated some of the key groups — especially the so-called Black Bloc, knew the planning and participated as agent provocateurs.)
And as Ritch Whyman of the International Socialists argued, in perhaps one of the most intelligent anti-BB pieces:
…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. […] […] 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 radicalized 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.
While the Black Bloc is not above criticism, and a debate about strategies and tactics can always be interesting, to start spewing this shit at a time when people are behind bars, organizers are facing charges which could lead to years in prison, and the media and police are continuing to hype up public anti-BB sentiment, is astounding. You want to talk about strategy? Well, the choice to prioritize such point-scoring speaks volumes of the strategic priorities of the organizations involved. These criticisms, in their timing, are right-opportunist – they are examples of people trying to frame themselves as the “good” and “responsible”, as opposed to the “bad”, “misguided” or “manipulated” anarchists. Nevertheless, it is not enough to just say so – regardless of the timing or the motives, if we’re serious about something, we have to be prepared to answer out critics.
A Bit of History
The various socialist and progressive groups that held hegemony over the canadian left in the 1980s did not tolerate the kind of behaviour they have been moaning about recently. Especially at “peace” demos, to be even slightly rowdy – sometimes even just in the choice of one’s slogans – was enough to attract belligerent “peace marshals” who would zoom in on you, if need be pointing you out to cops for arrest or at least harassment. This was not a result of inexperience or ignorance in the movement, but was the preference of an alliance that held the reins, and was not about to let them go if they could avoid it. Non-violent civil disobedience was as radical as you were allowed to get, and even then only in the choreographed manner so aptly derided by Ward Churchill in his book Pacifism as Pathology.
In canada, this left gradually waned throughout the 1990s, as rapid changes on the international scene, neo-liberal austerity programmes (i.e. the Axworthy reforms, and various provincial versions thereof), the 1990 Mohawk uprising and its aftermath, and many other factors eroded the “common sense” position that violence and militant action were somehow uncalled for on the left. A position that large numbers of people had known to be untrue, and that had been particularly unappealing to a younger generation who did not enjoy dynamics that made left-wing demos resemble school outings, complete with monitors, rules, and procedures undemocratically imposed by their elders. (No joke: at their extreme, some “peace” activists in the 80s even spoke of imposing dress codes on younger members, specifically complaining about punks and their “violent” attire!)
To a new generation which – as new generations always do – was providing the most dynamic energy to the left, anarchism was attractive in part because it was not associated with the movement leadership, and with its ties to punk rock and a “no holds barred” ethos, it seemed to be an appropriate antidote to the latter’s boring rituals of dissent, their stifling rules about sex and gender, and what seemed to be their legacy of failure and compromise. (That such judgments were unfair and based on exaggerations and misperceptions is of course another aspect of what new generations always do…)
In Toronto, anarchists had become more and more central to new political activism throughout the decade, culminating in the 1988 Survival Gathering, which included a “day of action” riot. But what truly sealed the deal was the rapid rise of a neo-nazi street force focused around the Heritage Front in the 90s (secretly influenced and supported by CSIS, you know), which necessitated a violent, non-symbolic response. While a wide gamut of progressive forces coalesced against the HF, the leading edge was the more and more anarchist-dominated Anti-Racist Action, where groups like the International Socialists with their conservative orientation to politics simply found themselves unwelcome.
In Montreal, similar developments took place throughout the 90s, building on actions organized by the Comite des Sans Emplois, and a series of ad hoc antifascist coalitions (against the Heritage Front, the French National Front, and the right-wing catholic group Human Life International). The first time i believe the Black Bloc marched in Montreal, it comprised of antifascists from Toronto who were participating in the 1993 anti-FN demo. Then following arrests at the anti-HLI demonstration in 1995 that Montreal’s Citizens Opposed to Police Brutality (since renamed the Collective Opposed to Police Brutality) was formed. Building on a series of (primarily youth-) riots, a kind of anti-institutional class war anarchism was also developed around the newspaper Demanarchie, and the latter was briefly repressed following the 1996 Quebec City riots, during which the national assembly was set aflame.
On the continental scale, the pivotal event everyone points to is the Black Bloc emerging at the 1999 anti-WTO protests in Seattle, two years after the spectacular use of pepper spray against non-violent protesters at the 1997 APEC summit in Vancouver. Seattle made it official: you could no longer impose blanket “non-violence” on the left – not even on the relatively privileged white left. A militant practice that had been nurtured and developed in specific cities and scenes, often within the antifascist movement, was now introduced as an essential element of the “new” antiglobalization movement.
As Xtn of Chicago ARA would later recall:
the Battle of Seattle grabbed everyone’s attention and made us sit up. Images of thousands of protesters clogging the streets of downtown Seattle were broadcast on every television across the world – so too were scenes of the Black Bloc and the attacks on capitalist property and police. Newspapers were scrambling for info on the new street militants and their ideology of anarchism. And debate started to rage in the radical press. The Black Bloc was seen by some as wrongheaded youth interested only in adventurism. Sometimes the Black Bloc was condemned outright and treated as criminal – an attitude that rolled in from the established Left. […]
The actions by the Black Bloc and anarchists turned traditional politics on its head. The black-clad voice in the protest movement wasn’t content to beg the politicians and capitalists for reforms. The Black Bloc symbolized a new generation of activists wanting nothing short of revolution. (Confronting Fascism: Discussion Documents for a Militant Movement, pp. 2-3)
This is about when i first started hearing about “diversity of tactics”, and while i could be wrong, it struck me at the time as a face-saving compromise. Under the watchword of “diversity” anarchists and other radical factions signaled their willingness to work alongside people who vehemently disagreed with illegal tactics, without forcing the point – and the latter were given an open invitation to join with us, and a fig-leaf to hide behind when things got heavy. So contradictions lay behind this new catchphrase.
This “diversity” was always being challenged and renegotiated, but one thing it did prove was that the leftover leaders of the previous decades’ movement were aware that they could not unilaterally impose their tactical preferences. They had been unable to maintain (never mind expand) their own base, so they needed the energy and dynamism of the more militant, younger activists, no matter how distasteful these might be.
In this light, the statements of social democrats, trots, socialists, and others about the Black Bloc, are a part of a long debate, a long and constant process of negotiation and renegotiation. Their timing in exploiting this fig leaf may suck, but we shouldn’t feel too betrayed.
At bottom, as noted by Ritch Whyman of the International Socialists, these tactical disagreements represent different strategies. But we shouldn’t trust him to characterize what these differences are. Instead, we should do some thinking of our own – when we do, we can see that in fact the arguments being put forward by the socialist left flow not only from differences in strategy, but from different ways of looking at the world. The Black Bloc, and similar tactics, do not make sense from their point of view, and with good reason. Where they hope to go, this kind of militant practice is indeed counterproductive. Rather than build a movement separate from the State, self-reliant and prepared for the heightened levels of violence that we see coming, the vision that unites most of these detractors is one of gaining influence within various institutions already somewhat integrated into the State – the “labour movement” (by which they mean the trade unions and the NDP), various NGOs, and recognized progressive lobby groups.
When the IMT bemoans the fact that “In the eyes of the state, the politicians, and their mouthpieces in the media, the violence of the black bloc delegitimizes the legitimate protests and demonstrations of the labour movement,” partly they chose an unfortunate way to phrase their concerns, but partly, like a Freudian slip, there is truth behind this embarassing outburst: key to their strategy is the goal of being seen as legitimate by “the state, the politicians, and their mouthpieces in the media.” Or if they can’t be, then they hope to hold key positions in organizations (the NDP, the trade unions, etc.) which are. This is not an exaggeration: the most craven examples of the entryist tradition, the IMT stands out from the pack by its continued position in Britain (its home base) of working within the Labour party. For folks like this, by smashing things up, the Black Bloc can indeed upset their entryist fantasy.
When groups like the IMT and the IS talk about mobilizing a “mass movement”, they essentially want masses of people to swell their ranks – or the ranks of the institutions they have infiltrated – without essentially challenging the consciousness or way-of-life as experienced under capitalism more generally. They would like a chain-of-command for protests, with the bulk of people passively attending events organized by them – or ideally by coalitions of forces in which they will have a critical voice. That they so rarely get what they want is testimony to the failures of their style of “coalition building”/united front/entryism (which generally leaves everyone from militants to liberals feeling used and disrespected), and also the way in which their kind of micromanagement leads to less dynamic and more dull events.
In their criticism that the Black Bloc is “undemocratic”, these groups posit an abstract and unified “working class” as counterposed to any specific offensive organizations or innovations that might “alienate the masses”. Like some anarchist anti-vanguardist strawmen, this argument ignores the ways in which the organizations and initiatives of oppressed people are (like everything real) flawed and impure, and only appealing to some people, sometimes only a very few at first. These critics feel that instead of working with and supporting such particular expressions of resistance, they should be condemned out of hand for not representing the abstract and incorporeal “masses”.
Socialists and other progressives often agree with us that capitalism is becoming more and more brutal, and that as people’s living conditions become more difficult life is getting a whole lot shittier. Like some of us, they see value in defending social infrastructure, legislation, trade unions and other aspects of the 20th century welfare state. But where they clearly take a wrong turn is that this seems to be their only plan, in practice if not in theory. And to this end alliances with “progressive” forces – some of which are not really very progressive at all – are key to their entire strategy, even though they obviously have no chance of radicalizing these “allies”. A rearguard action with no exit strategy.
Socialist politics is for them a holding pattern, at best a game of getting your group to have influence amongst the right people or in the right institutions (generally trade unions or the NDP, sometimes broad “progressive” coalitions active around some issue). The only hope for their much-vaunted mass movement fantasy is if some external factor will come along to push people to become interested in left politics – at which point i guess the idea is that the group with the most spotless resume and the “correct line” will be well-placed to suddenly gain a broad hearing and wield an influence far beyond its small numbers. (They steadfastly refuse to consider the possibility that external factors might push many people to the right, not the left, or to consider what kind of strategies would be needed in such an eventuality.)
In the meantime, it remains vital to not “alienate” the wrong people – which translates into not doing anything risky, anything that will provoke a strong reaction or challenge people’s preconceptions of what is right or acceptable.
Despite their criticisms of the Black Bloc, they don’t “movement-build” themselves, or at least not in the way that we understand the term. They merely engage in a perpetual hunt for “allies”, all the while sucking in a certain number of students to join and maintain their organizations, the majority of whom will leave after a few semesters, some disillusioned, others well-groomed for careers in the sinking ship of social democratic politics.
What’s It Good For? Speakin’ ’bout My Friends
The Black Bloc is a form of political-cultural intervention, and in my opinion a positive one. Its tactics, while overwhelmingly symbolic, embrace a willingness to break the law, and a vision of an autonomous movement or movements that do not depend on the State for their “right to protest”. It can expand the space for other forms of activism, and provides a potential avenue of attack against the State’s hegemony (in the Gramscian sense of the term). Potentially, it is a complement to – or, for some people, a beginning of – counter-power.
At the anti-capitalist May 1st demonstration in Montreal earlier this year there was no Black Bloc. The police were trying to intimidate people, roughing them up, confiscating banners, searching bags. At one point they tried to arrest a young man – he was wedged in between two cops on horses, while others stood around, batons out and ready to strike. Personally, i was terrified about what might happen to him. But the crowd would have none of it, and i saw a woman comrade physically intervene, unarresting the young man as the crowd engaged in and withstood a shoving match with cops, and a very intimidating large police dog.
The people who were able to – non-violently but forcefully – rescue this man from what seemed to me to be certain arrest, did not fall from the sky. They were not born with these skills, with this willingness to potentially engage in a fight with cops. They weren’t karate experts or super-heroes or anarcho-ninjas. These skills are something they learned, and i know where many of the individuals in question did so: in precisely the kind of militant confrontations, often under the banner of the Black Bloc, that some people would like to see ejected from the movement.
Again: from the socialist, social democratic, and many trot points of view such skills are simply not necessary. Just not a part of how they envision taking power. While they may acknowledge a need for occasional violence, that’s what the trade union security is there for, no need for members of the “vanguard” to dirty their hands with such things. It is telling that on June 26th members of the International Socialists stood side by side with members of the Canadian Labor Congress as marshals separating people from the cops protecting the security fence – they were faced off against the protesters, not the riot squad, yet another indicator of who the IS would be using force against, if it came down to it.
Even those trot groups that do show some sympathy to the Black Bloc – i.e. the sparts and the IBT – do so from a patronizing perspective of the mature “teachers” observing the “confused” youth (they always say these groups are all youth) whose desperation and weakness leads them to adopt such tactics.
For instance, although the IBT take the IMT to task for the latter’s unprincipled attacks on the Black Bloc, their position remains that:
Marxists do not advocate the tactics of the Black Bloc because, however emotionally fulfilling for the individuals involved, they are at bottom an expression of frustration by powerless and socially isolated (if personally courageous) militants. Their focus on striking symbolic blows against the oppressors is conditioned by the absence of a mass working-class movement with a level of political consciousness sufficient to potentially overturn capitalist rule.
At their best, these comrades mistake a step in the right direction for the pathos of everyday life under capitalism.
Against this i’d say that, as an experiment, as a technique, the Black Bloc is worth engaging in. It may not be the do-all and end-all, but it represents a positive attempt to push things in an interesting direction. There are many situations where it would be counterproductive, and participants seem to have no problem realizing this and protesting “just like everyone else” on countless other occasions. But when used it will inevitably put questions on the table that – while irrelevant to their left – are central to ours.
Defensive Triumphalism: Speaking to My Friends
i was not at the G20 protests. In a sense, this puts me ahead of the pack in following that established left tradition, of not letting facts stand in the way of a good argument. A practice that normally indicates some kind of dishonesty, but a condition which – at this point in the discussion – characterizes us all. And reminding ourselves of this, that whether one watched the protests on tv, via the web, or whether one was smashing windows and running from cops, it is too early to gauge the “success” or “failure” of the police actions, or even of our own.
It is understandable to be angry and somewhat defensive given how our “allies” in the socialist and trot camps engaged in their full court press following the 26th. That said, it’s important to remember that the Black Bloc is a component of our movement, not the other way around, and that our movement is aiming to challenge worldwide capitalism, not just its social democratic pals and its socialist critics.
Many people seem to feel that if the cops left their cars to be burned, or if they allowed property destruction to be carried out, that that discredited the actions of the Black Bloc. This belief seems to be shared by pro-BB and anti-BB voices alike, and so people’s versions of what took place and why on the 26th seem to be largely ideologically-driven, everyone promoting the theory that makes “their side” look best.
This is unfortunate, because we can’t know as of yet exactly how the State managed (or failed to manage) the protests on the 26th, and whether or not a tactic is legitimate and useful only partially depends on whether the enemy deploys countermeasures. Tying oneself too tightly to the concept that “we’re fluid and free so we out-maneuvered, out-ran, and out-thought the cops” begs the question of how one will respond if – as is entirely possible – it is revealed that police were not as clueless as all that.
Furthermore, it equates the Black Bloc’s effectiveness with military success, while failing to appreciate the degree to which this is both constrained and permitted by political factors. While a revolutionary movement needs to constantly challenge itself, ruthlessly re-examining its tactics and preparing for the worst, triumphalism is self-congratulatory, and doesn’t lead to any conclusions other than perhaps “do more, do bigger”. The Black Bloc ceases to be a tactic grounded in particular conditions, one we can use at the present historic juncture while building for better things (and worse days) ahead, and instead simply becomes good enough to leave alone.
Similarly – like the conspiracy theorists – such triumphalism requires forgetting that the State had several objectives, and preventing the Bloc from doing its thing wasn’t necessarily #1. World leaders were arriving on the 26th, and there were motorcades throughout the city – making sure nothing happened to these criminals was certainly the highest priority of the cops’ list, and in that they succeeded. It’s not like the 20,000-strong security force was all there in order to vamp on the Bloc, they had other things in mind too. Three cop cars given or taken was not really the point.
Even if the police were caught completely off guard by the Bloc, the arguments put forward in some quarters suggest that they never would try to manipulate us or use us for political ends. That for them, the military confrontation with the Black Bloc is all that counts – which is really silly when you think of it, as they could wipe us out in one long weekend if the military was not subservient to the political. We do have to acknowledge that under certain circumstances, the police could try to exploit the knowledge that a Bloc would be active, for political purposes. That doesn’t mean that’s what happened in Toronto on the 26th, but it does mean that – in our own interests, as well as in the interests of democratic dialog – raising the question does not mean one has crossed the line and become a class enemy.
Movement history is replete with examples of the state allowing revolutionary organizations to develop, even to carry out offensive activities, preferring to keep them under wraps, under control, or at least knowing roughly who might be doing what. To this day there is still a question of whether or not the police watched as the Wimmin’s Fire Brigade torched those porn stores back in the 80s, and there is evidence that the RCMP was keeping tabs on certain FLQ cells as they carried out their activities. i am not stating that the Bloc is encapsulated, just that we should not shrug off the question of what the State’s strategy is as if it were irrelevant. While there is not much chance of our being outmaneuvered by our trot critics, the same is not true for the State, which has plans inside of plans and which can easily think in terms of of years or decades.
Questioning how the Black Bloc sustained so few arrests, examining the possibility of infiltration, and trying to learn as much as possible about the State’s countermeasures – both military and political – strike me as essential components to further developing and advancing the Black Bloc tactic in North America.
It doesn’t mean not setting their cars on fire, it just means keeping your spidey-sense on, keeping an eye out for traps, and an open mind about why things might sometimes “seem too easy”.