In June 2010, comrades of the International Bolshevik Tendency participated in mass demonstrations against the G-20 summit of imperialist gangsters and leaders of “developing” economies that met in Toronto, Canada. The G-20 message was that “recovery” from a deepening global capitalist meltdown hinges on restoring profitability through savage layoffs, wage cuts and brutal austerity.
An IBT statement widely distributed at the protests linked the G-20 gathering to the unprecedented ecological disaster inflicted in the Gulf of Mexico by British Petroleum, and observed that:
“capitalism is intrinsically hostile to the interests of the vast majority of humanity. Most people who identify themselves as ‘anti-capitalists’ already know this and have concluded that appeals to the ruling class are completely useless, as are any attempts to achieve meaningful change by working within the system.”
We also pointed out that amorphous and disorganized “anti-capitalist” sentiment is not enough:
“Two decades ago, after the fall of the Soviet Union, bourgeois ideologues were trumpeting the ‘death of communism’ and proclaiming that globalized capitalism represented the ‘end of history.’ It is now obvious to tens of millions of people even in the imperialist heartlands that the ‘free market’ is a rigged game. The only way to guarantee a secure and sustainable existence for all is to expropriate big business and construct a rational, centrally-planned, producer-run economic system where human need, not private profit, determines social priorities. This requires building an international, revolutionary socialist party dedicated to the overthrow of all existing capitalist states and the dissolution of the cops, the military and all the other institutional mechanisms that ‘serve and protect’ privilege and inequality.”
Hundreds of young people, spearheaded by the anarchist Black Bloc, broke away from the main trade-union march on 26 June 2010, attempting to get through a police cordon and approach the site of the summit. Several cop cars were burned and shop windows broken. Police responded with random violence and unlawful detentions. In all, some 1,100 people were rounded up in the biggest mass arrest in Canadian history. Most were held in an improvised detention center and subsequently released without charge.
In a 27 June 2010 statement, we called for dropping the charges and noted:
“The G-20 presides over a global order in which tens of thousands of children starve every day. During the last decade, the imperialist powers at the core of the G-20 (including Canada) have killed hundreds of thousands of people in dirty neocolonial wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Emerging from fancy ‘working dinners’ where plans are fine-tuned for how best to offload the global capitalist crisis onto the backs of working people and the poor, the imperialist criminals and their spinmasters cynically denounce the ‘violence’ of a few broken windows and torched cops cars. Their hypocrisy knows no bounds.”
In the aftermath of the demonstrations there was widespread outrage at the police-state measures, yet many ostensibly Marxist organizations echoed the pro-capitalist social democrats of the New Democratic Party (NDP) and denounced the “violence” of the youthful militants of the Black Bloc.
The following is a 3 July 2010 letter sent by an IBT comrade to “Fightback,” Canadian affiliate of the International Marxist Tendency.
On 30 June , four supporters of the International Bol-shevik 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 observed:
“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 property damage.”
—“Summits of Deceit and Repression,” distributed on 30 June 
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, January 1932).
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.