Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Response to "Destructive Tactics" comments

A great thanks is in order for all the people who took the time to read and comment on this post. It took a lot of effort to create and I'm glad to see that it has succeeded in drawing out both agreement and dissent. I recently discovered this article from Canadian Dimension: How the 'black bloc' protected the G20. It expresses my feelings exactly, albeit in slightly more competent prose.

Below are some excerpts from the comments that the original post received and my thoughts in response.
Alex DP said...
“Well to be quite honest protest doesn't really win many converts at all. But who wants those anyway. Not me.
What gets allies is power, material security and spiritual community. These are the bread and butter of resistant communities. They come from alternative building, and oppositional institutional creation, not protest. Protest can protect them and highlight the awesomness of these new social places and spaces, but the point is to build a community that is trying to break free but is super inclusive, and all about taking care of each other...
working class culture and institutions are the missing ingredient to white radicalism of this day and age.”

You seem to have separated “converts” from “allies”. To me, they're the same thing. I think the right kind of protest can win allies, but far too often protest takes the form of people carrying signs and walking the streets while halfheartedly mumbling slogans. Good protests involve creativity and actions that capture the attention of everyday citizens. The bubble event I participated in yesterday did a decent job of achieving that ideal. I agree that alternative-building should be the major focus of the radical left. If I were to make a hierarchy of effectiveness of tactics, I would say 'alternative building'>creative protest>boring peaceful protest>property destruction. Could you elaborate on what you mean by “working class culture and institutions”?

slappy the dolphin said...

“I think we need a People's power that can make a decisive break from the what-is, and fend off the re-establishment of the old order. At the same time, we'll need to continuously struggle within the movement against forms of oppression that continue until all forms of oppression and exploitation are abolished. That's some historical task. And it's not one that's started and completed as easily as smashing a Starbucks' window.

Another thought I had recently is this: I see capitalism as the masking of a social relation between humans as the relation of humans to things via the market. Property destruction seems to be the other side of the coin here, where smashing a Starbucks' window is confused for smashing capitalism. Capitalism is a social relation, and it is only smashed when we revolutionize the way we relate to one another. We need to break with commodity fetishism.”

I agree wholeheartedly.

PSG said...

“Rather than discuss the topics of property destruction, per se, I'd like to raise the discussion up a notch and ask you to consider whether summit demos have passed their "best before" date. To get this discussion going, I suggest you read a thoughtful critique of the whole idea at http://narcosphere.narconews.com/thefield/4006/summit-protests-are-obsolete. Follow that up with a reading at http://canadiandimension.com/articles/3143/.

Keep the debate alive and maybe we can get past the destructive actions of a small gang of ultra-leftists and devise effective strategies and tactics in the years ahead.”

Both those articles are very well written and poignant. As I said in the post, I think protest actions need to be focused, organized, creative and designed to capture an audience's attention and goodwill. I disagree with your use of the term “ultra-leftists”. Is it possible to be too far left? I call myself a radical leftist and wouldn't disagree if someone tried to label me as an ultra-leftist. To me, leftism entails a valuation of equality, justice, human rights and freedom. Is it possible to value those things too fervently? I don't think that using the term “ultra-leftists” in a pejorative sense has any place in a discourse amongst thoughtful self-declared leftists.

Anonymous said...

“Personally I don't want to spend my time trying to convince the middle class fence sitters that something is wrong. "Winning" them over to your side it not my fight. I feel as a group the middle class has the privilege to information and the education and environment to understand how fucked everything is. I'd say most of them get it. Aside from the odd super conservative I meet everyone I know is "on our side" when it comes to protecting the environment and equal rights. In my mind the issue is not getting people on our side but showing people what it means to be on our side.”

Showing people what it means to be on our side is extremely important, but I disagree with your sentiment that people in general are already on our side. Most people are unaware that capitalism even exists and that there are alternatives to it. They just think that things are the way they always have been and the way they always will be. People may think that rights are good and the environment is good but class consciousness still needs to be raised.

“When I talk to my friends from those neighborhoods and say "look at this picture of someone throwing a rock at a cop" or "holy crap, they beat the fuck out of that storefront" I have never been met with shock or disgust. More often than not it's "Serves them right, fucking pigs" and I tend to agree.”

I don't believe that your sample is representative of the majority. Most people are shocked and disgusted by images such as those. In my experience, no one is harder on the underclass than the underclass themselves because they buy into the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality harder than anyone else. Because all they think they have is their bootstraps so they think it's their only chance for freedom and happiness. Also, they're too thoroughly deceived by the mass media and too deficient in critical thinking to question the idea of hating their neighbours for being just as poor as they are.

“I think "destructive tactics" strips the polished veneer from our neighborhoods. Those are the images that inspired me.”

You are in the extreme minority. It's great that those images inspired you, but when you count net gains and losses I think those images drive more people away than they attract. One needs to gain class consciousness and a radical perspective before those images can inspire. Without that awareness, people only see violence.

chris said...

"I'm like some of the other commentators, I wouldn't rule out property destruction/phyiscal confrontation and probably even violence, but the ends would really have to justify the means. i.e. I think the actors in that scenario would have to be damn good and sure that the merits outweigh the negative consequences.

Of course, there's also a massive, massive different between largely-white political activists committing property destruction at a summit rally and a directly-oppressed and marginalized community fighting back against the power of the state (Oka/Kanesatake, Gaza flotilla, whatever). But we can also see what happens when political violence goes 'wrong': the IRA had a generally good reputation internationally until they chose to pursue car bombing as a tool.

Obviously a few broken windows are not anywhere equivalent to a carbombing, but the point is that in both circumstances nothing was gained and something was lost: not exactly a formula for success.”

I wouldn't rule out property destruction/physical confrontation/violence either, and I hope I didn't give that message in my essay. I think that certain circumstances warrant a violent reaction and that in some circumstances, violence can be an excellent tool for gaining public support. The Gaza Freedom Flotilla incident is a perfect example of this.

Greg said...

"I don't have much use for empty platitudes such as “in solidarity,” and I reserve my condemnation for my ideological enemies."
'In solidarity' is not an empty platitude - it expresses a fraternal bond and unity in struggle.

Allow me to explain my thinking. In solidarity is meaningless in the way that most people use it because we should be in solidarity with all of our fellow victims of capitalism and state authoritarianism. From the poorest of the poor to the richest of the rich, we are all victimized in some way. The rich may be victimizers as well, but victims nonetheless. We should not discriminate between groups of people with our solidarity. Solidarity is the default position. Being in solidarity with the Black Bloc should be a given. The important question is, do you think their strategy is sound in that it will achieve our collective goals? I am in solidarity with them, as I am with all people, but I wish for them to re-examine their tactics because I believe they are doing more harm than good to the anti-capitalist struggle.

Anonymous said...

“I think one thing that you are not considering is what it means for some people to stare into a few lines of riot cops and not run away; to take a section of the city for a while and express their resentment directly on something tangible.”

I'm fine with staring at lines of riot cops and not running away. In fact, I encourage it. If that's all the black bloc did then I would be among their greatest supporters. Taking a section of the city for a short time or permanently is also great. However, expressing resentment directly should not take the form of random window smashing. Instead, let's use our not-insignificant capacity for imagination to think of ways to express our resentment in ways that the general public would be able to understand.

“Also protests are spoon-fed to the public by the media. I think it might be naive to think that any single message would ever get through to a significant portion of the population. People that consume such media already do not understand anarchism even in theory, never mind direct action.”

It might be naive, but it's not impossible. Not understanding anarchism is the default. Let's work hard to bring that understanding to the general public. I'm not willing to give up. Are you? The best way to perpetuate that non-understanding is by having the most visible representation of anarchism be black-clad window smashers.

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