Letter to Fightback (IMT)
on the Black Bloc et al
3 July 2010
On 30 June, four supporters of the International Bolshevik Tendency attended the
“townhall” meeting on police repression during the G-20 that you
co-sponsored with the Esplanade Community Group and the Toronto Young New Democrats.
As we were not called on during the discussion round, we are writing to clarify our
rather sharp differences with the leadership of Fightback and the International
Marxist Tendency (IMT) on this important question.
To begin with the obvious: the crackdown on dissent we have witnessed in the past
week powerfully vindicates the Marxist proposition that the capitalist state is
essentially a weapon wielded by the exploiters against their victims. The police
aggression toward bystanders and protesters alike—with Québécois
youth particularly targeted—was the largest display of state repression seen
in Canada for decades. Tens of thousands of people have seen with their own eyes how
the “fundamental rights and freedoms” supposedly guaranteed by law can
be arbitrarily (and secretly) shredded at the whim of the ruling class.
The duty of the left and workers’ movement is to demand the freedom of
all those arrested and thrown into the overcrowded cages at the
“Torontonamo” detention center and the dropping of all
charges—including those laid for breaking windows or torching cop cars.
Marxists do not share the illusion that trashing a few symbols of corporate and/or
state power will somehow pave the way for a revolutionary challenge to capitalism.
But we understand the anger against the manifest injustice of the capitalist world
order that motivates young militants, and we seek to win the best of them to
a strategy that can actually succeed.
Echoing Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair, who denounced “Black Bloc
terrorists” for the trivial property damage (Toronto Sun, 29 June),
various liberal commentators have decried the “violence” and criticized
the cops for not going after the Black Bloc “hooligans” hard enough. At
the Monday, 28 June rally to demand the release of the prisoners, Naomi Klein told
the cops: “Don’t play public relations—do your goddamned
job!” NDP leader Jack Layton earlier declared that “vandalism is
criminal and totally unacceptable” (National Post, 27 June).
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.
This issue has a history that stretches back to the anarchist “propaganda
of the deed” notion of the late 19th century. Then, as now, the
capitalist rulers made use of isolated actions by individual militants (sometimes
instigated by police agents provocateurs) as a justification for
repression. Yet anyone with an ounce of revolutionary commitment knows that the
real criminals are the imperialist mass murderers who were wined and dined
behind the G-20 security fence, and that the young militants who aspired to pull it
down are on our side of the class line.
The Marxist position on isolated acts of “left-wing
terrorism”—a category that could hardly be stretched to include the
relatively minor property damage that took place during the G-20—was summed up
by Leon Trotsky as follows:
“We Marxists consider the tactic of individual terror inexpedient
in the tasks of the liberating struggle of the proletariat as well as oppressed
nationalities. A single isolated hero cannot replace the masses. But we understand
only too clearly the inevitability of such convulsive acts of despair and vengeance.
All our emotions, all our sympathies are with the self-sacrificing avengers even
though they have been unable to discover the correct road.”
—“For Grynszpan,” February 1939
The response of much of the self-proclaimed “revolutionary” left to
the recent events in Toronto has been rather different. A Socialist Action leaflet
“The anger of the Bloc-istas against the social injustices
perpetuated by the G20 is understandable. But their tactics are worse than
deplorable. They proved to be straight men for Harper’s predictable punch
lines about how ‘security’ spending was justified. The Bloc-istas also
gave the cops ammunition to brutalize and jail over 900 innocents, using expanded
police powers of search and arrest granted by a secret Ontario Liberal Cabinet
decision just weeks prior to the summits.
“Now that a majority of the 900-plus detainees have been released
without charge, questions are multiplying. Why did 20,000 cops, including literally
hundreds of them within spitting distance of burning vehicles and shattering store
windows, just let it happen? Was it an exercise in policing or PR? And if cop claims
are true that they had infiltrated the Bloc-istas, how many police were involved in
prompting, as opposed to just spying on, the planners of mayhem? NDP and Labour
leaders should be expressing rage over these issues instead of obsessing over petty
—“Summits of Deceit and Repression,” distributed on 30
The description of the Black Bloc’s actions as “worse than
deplorable,” because the cops used them as a pretext for rounding up
“innocents,” aligns Socialist Action’s position with Jack
Layton’s denunciation of “criminal” behavior. There is a logic to
politics, and the NDP’s role as a prop for the capitalist status quo requires
those who want to find a home in the party of the labor aristocracy to accept its
bourgeois distinction between “innocents” and “criminals”
among the protesters.
The leadership of Fightback has been even worse than Socialist Action in its
repudiation of the young militants: “The labour movement must now fully
denounce the black blockers and draw a dividing line—they are not welcome in
our movement or on our demonstrations” (www.marxist.ca,
27 June). A few days later you went further: “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” (www.marxist.ca, 30 June). In your 27 June statement you even
claimed that: “The workers at Novotel, the trade unionists at Queen’s
Park, and the peaceful demonstrators downtown were all beaten, abused, and arrested
because of the black bloc…” (emphasis added). Suggesting that,
without the Black Bloc, the police would have respected everyone’s
“civil rights” can only sow dangerous illusions in the bourgeois state.
Marxism teaches that the way the police treat strikers, minorities, leftists, etc.
is not determined by legal niceties but rather by the exigencies of maintaining
capitalist domination and control.
Fightback’s apparent willingness to blame the Black Bloc for the behavior
of the cops contrasts with various accounts in the right-wing press. A columnist in
the Toronto Sun (30 June) headlined her report of how a bicycle cop gave
her a “bruised elbow and tricep” at the peaceful 28 June demonstration:
“Police brutality—on 2 wheels.” The “Report on
Business” section of the Globe and Mail (28 June) contained an
article in which the author, complaining that the police heavy-handedness was
“bad for business,” sardonically commented:
“Come to Toronto, for work or pleasure, and enjoy having your
civil liberties trampled and your right to free expression stifled. Avail yourself
of our hospitality in a crowded detention pen, with free stale buns and water when
(or if) your hosts get around to it. Partake of an invigorating massage, courtesy of
police officers wielding truncheons. The best part—there’s no charge!
Except that seems to mean the cops will pick you up, hold you, then let you go
without ever following through criminal charges or prosecution, suggesting they had
nothing on you in the first place.”
The refusal to defend the Black Bloc is particularly scandalous in light of the
IMT’s history of supporting police “unions” and
“strikes.” A year ago, Fightback’s own Alex Grant wrote that the
“lower ranks of the police and army are made up of working class boys in
uniform” (www.marxist.ca, 28 May 2009). Rob Sewell, a leading
member of the IMT’s British section, spoke glowingly of a “sea of burly
blokes with white base-ball caps” in describing a march by London police to
demand higher wages for their thuggery (www.marxist.com, 29
January 2008). The IMT’s view of cops as “workers in uniform” is
not only a difficult pill to swallow for those protesters who fell under their
batons—it flatly contradicts Trotsky’s position that a “worker who
becomes a policeman in the service of the capitalist state is a bourgeois cop, not a
worker” (What Next? Vital Questions for the German Proletariat,
Your demand that the subjectively revolutionary youths who smashed a few windows
during the G-20 be driven out of the movement is as alien to Marxism as your claim
that the cops who rounded up and imprisoned protesters are simply “workers in
uniform.” This is not Leninism, but social-democratic reformism. The first
step for members of Fightback who are serious about building a revolutionary
socialist party is to renounce this position and demand that all charges
against all G-20 protesters be dropped immediately.
for the International Bolshevik Tendency
See also: Terrorism and Communism, Spartacist,
August-September 1970, in our Marxist Archive