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We need a mass movement not a black bloc

category north america / mexico | anarchist movement | opinion / analysis author Friday February 19, 2010 15:29author by Mick Sweetman - Report this post to the editors

We must have the courage to take off the masks, to use our names, to explain and argue for our positions, to make democratic decisions and then implement those decisions even if we are in the minority opinion. Our co-workers and neighbours aren't going to join any movement that doesn't trust them enough to step out of the shadows of anonymity and struggle shoulder-to-shoulder with them as equals.

We need a mass movement not a black bloc

As I sat in an activist meeting at a union's downtown Toronto office on Saturday afternoon, discussing such exciting things as what type of brochure we should produce for the upcoming International Women's Day, a text message flashed onto my cell phone from the Vancouver Media Co-op.

“BREAKING VMC VIDEO: Anarchists Smash Windows @ the Bay”

I sighed, shook my head, and blurted out a single word in frustration, “Idiots.”

Why was I so frustrated by this almost predictable news from across the country? It's because I've seen it before and knew exactly what the backlash against not only the anti-Olympic protests but also against anarchism itself would be.

The reaction in the media was swift. An article on the CBC website led with the headline “Anti-Olympics rioters smash Vancouver store windows” and the Vancouver Police were ready to take the platform they had been given.

"The demonstration involving a number of anarchists, some of whom dress all in black and employ a tactic called Black Bloc. This included a loosely organized group of thugs from Central Canada known to attach themselves to any cause, travel to any event that attracts media coverage and promote anarchy wherever they go," said a statement by police.

This coverage led to over 2500 comments on the CBC website. To say the vast majority were not sympathetic would be an understatement. Here's a short sample of some of them;

> FieldMedic wrote: Yesterday's protests were at least non-violent. Can't say I agree with them denying the torch relay from reaching veterans and eager onlookers but at least they were civil. Whole other ball game today. Rioting, destruction of public property, intimidating pedestrians, throwing things at police officers. Disgusting.

Not sure what's sadder. The realization that people are desperate enough to resort to these measures or the idea that they are stupid enough to think this will get gain them anything but anger and contempt from the public at large.

granvilledeer wrote:
I was there on Friday's protest, it was peaceful and all the leaders cared for everyone's safety and was respectable to the elders and aboriginal protesters. But this is ridiculous. This makes the peaceful protesters on Fridays look really bad. Not all protesters are violent. Shame on you!

nuke the whales wrote:
As an everyday working person who respects the rights of others, I have absolutely no fear if I see the police in my neighbourhood. But I am very fearful if I see a bunch of anarchists walking down the street.

Northern_supporter wrote:
The anarchists are terrorists. They have little or no interest in the reasons for their "protest", it's simply an excuse to trash the city, intimidate people and be, well, anarchists.

It made me angry to see the literally years of hard work that organizers had put into opposing the capitalist and colonial Olympic Games shatter in the eyes of the public with the first broken window. It made me angry that anarchism was once again portrayed as mindless criminality. It made me angry that people who call themselves anarchists are doing the very things that keep anarchism a fringe movement instead of the mass workers movement that it has been historically.

As an anarchist-communist I want a revolution, a completely new society that abolishes capitalism and the state to the dustbin of history. I want to replace it with a classless society run directly by people from their local, federated, system of workplace and neighbourhood assemblies.

The first thing we need to recognize is that a revolutionary movement must be a mass movement. You can't make a revolution with a hundreds or thousands of people. At the very least we're looking at needing millions of people actively participating at the workplace and community level and the support of millions more to have a serious chance of making a revolution in Canada. For that revolution to be able to defend and extend itself we'll need literally billions of people fighting the capitalist class and their states internationally.

Given the small size and fractured nature of the anarchist movement, or even if we include all of the people who broadly consider themselves “left-wing”, this seems like a huge and almost impossible goal. I won't mince words — it is!

But even in Canada, a country with much more of a colonial history than a revolutionary one, we do occasionally get glimpses of potentially revolutionary movements. The 1972 General Strike in Quebec and the 1996 “Days of Action” rotating city-wide general strikes in Ontario were two of the more recent historical examples.

However, just because the task before us of building a revolutionary mass movement is daunting is no excuse for trying to substitute small numbers of people in a black bloc for that mass movement and declaring, “Whoever you are, one day you will join us.” as the anonymous authors of the only statement claiming to come out of the black bloc in Vancouver did. The problem with that statement is the mass movements don't have to join the anarchists, the anarchists have to join the mass movements.

We have to join the community and labour organizations of our class openly as anarchists. We also have to form specifically anarchist organizations to help co-ordinate our work inside those mass movements as anarchists and to conduct political education and anarchist publishing. Quite simply, we have to prove ourselves, and our politics, to the people that would make that revolutionary mass movement a reality.

We must have the courage to take off the masks, to use our names, to explain and argue for our positions, to make democratic decisions and then implement those decisions even if we are in the minority opinion. Our co-workers and neighbours aren't going to join any movement that doesn't trust them enough to step out of the shadows of anonymity and struggle shoulder-to-shoulder with them as equals.

When we're organizing for the G20 mobilizations in Toronto this summer we should be participating in The People's Summit, the Community Mobilization Network and in the Labour-organized march. We can be open and visible as anarchists in those movements, waving our red and black flags proudly, without the spectacle of a black bloc breaking windows and isolating us from the very mass movements that will make or break anarchism as a revolutionary movement.

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author by Mick Sweetmanpublication date Mon Feb 22, 2010 15:20Report this post to the editors

A follow up post on my blog:

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