How the ‘black bloc’ protected the G20
One of the most intriguing things about the chaos of the G20 in Toronto has been the effectiveness with which the black-clad violent individuals (who we’ll indulge by calling the ‘black bloc’) have contributed to the protection of the G20, its message, and what it represents. I consider it more than likely that there were agents provocateurs of various police services among the black-clad mob. It is certain, however, that if so, they were standing shoulder-to-shoulder with non-police - supporters and perpetrators of violence and endorsers of the idea of ‘diversity of tactics’, which provides a tacit legitimation and sanction for violence in the name of protest. That fact in and of itself is perhaps the best irony, and to committed ‘black blocistes’, the most salient paradox of the useless chaos perpetrated in Toronto this past weekend by those in black. It is fatuous to attempt to convince oneself that they were all provocateurs. The fact is that there are individuals out there in the movements who like violent tactics. The preference for violence is usually couched in a strong anti-state perspective, which questions the legitimacy of police services at all - thus many who would style themselves as anarchists have attempted to lead the charge in defending and advocating for violent tactics.
For the better part of two months, I’ve been publicly attempting to debate, discuss and criticize the advocacy for violent tactics by those who think of themselves as activists or protesters, both on my blog and at rabble. It started with a reaction to a former student of mine - Alex Hundert - who has been arrested along with three other self-styled anarchists from the Kitchener-Waterloo and Guelph areas. In his article criticizing Judy Rebick and celebrating ‘black bloc’ violent tactics, Alex made a public statement I felt deserved a public rebuttal, and I’ve been attempting to engage in this debate publicly ever since.
Now, ironically, I come to grips with the reality that Alex’s anarchism-inspired militant group, AW@L has more than likely been infiltrated since April 2009, along with other groups. The sheer logistics are interesting to consider - to gain trust, such undercover agents would have had to help nurture and support the type of defense and advocacy for violence on offer. Thus the agents have been complicit in helping nurture the kind of culture of support for violence that I and others criticize…
I also come to grips with the fact that the black-clad mob [protestors] in Toronto has left a lot of people not only in the general public but in the wider nonviolent social/global justice movements in Canada feeling disgusted, demoralized and dispirited. Just the result you want if your goal is to marginalize and stifle dissent. I would suggest that what the ‘blocistes’ accomplished was what many feminists have termed ‘silencing’. While the more numerous non-violent voices were indeed heard on the streets and at Queen’s Park (25 000 in the main march!), they weren’t ‘heard’ in the more meaningful, mass sense as loudly as the same reels of destruction overplayed in the media, and the same accounts of destruction and violence witnessed to on the ground by journalists, activists and citizens. The blocistes, in other words, are the most effective tool on the ground for silencing the valid concerns of the broad social movements questioning neoliberalism, corporations, imperialism and war - because like a ball dropped in a glass of water, they take the discursive space away from the broader movements, inviting and indeed compelling the public (through the media, of course) to only focus on the violence of smashing, burning, destroying, throwing, hitting… which are all pointless, repulsive, destructive, and frightening.
The stories of injuries to protesters from police batons, even of chilling night-time gunpoint raids in search of ‘persons of interest’ are all-too-easily marginalized in favour of the reality of the black-clad mob, wantonly doing violence and frightening anyone in their path. In turn, the media seized all too easily on the reality that many organizations and activists are reticent or refuse altogether to condemn violent tactics.
This major weakness in the movements is directly attributable to the aforementioned ‘diversity of tactics’ - which, if it were a ‘nonviolent diversity of tactics’, would not be destructive in serving to legitimate and justify violence under the cover of ‘refusing to judge’ activists. In the end, this is impossible - we all take moral positions, whether tacit or explicit, and accepting a ‘diversity of tactics’ is certainly a position that helps tacitly justify and legitimate violence.
The icing on the cake from the viewpoint of stifling dissent and effectively protecting the G20 is the reality that the violence of the black-clad mob served as a pretext for the completely undemocratic rounding up of hundreds of activists, some of whom are still detained as I write on Monday, reportedly in abhorrent conditions.
This movement on the part of the police only fuels the fire of the particular brand of violence-advocates who loathe the state - in fact it helps reinforce, from their point of view, a desired spectacle.
All of this is so much distraction from questioning the G20. The billion-plus Harper dollars did their part, but the violence-supporters in black ultimately did the more important cultural work of protecting the G20 and what it represents from criticism, by inviting justifiable criticism onto themselves.