Notes on the Upcoming G20 Summit (and Countersummit) in Toronto
SKIP THIS PART IF YOU ALREADY KNOW YOUR SHIT
The leaders of the G20 major economies are meeting in Toronto on June 26 and 27. Since the global financial crisis of late 2008, the people who rule the world have already met three times to discuss means by which they can, together, make it through the social storm that’s just over the horizon for neoliberal capitalism. The Toronto summit marks the fourth such occasion. Presidents, prime ministers, and the King of Saudi Arabia will relax, hang out, and decide how the working class is going to pay for bourgeois fuckups.
In Washington (November 2008), there wasn’t really any significant protest activity to speak of.
In London (April 2009), the marches and demonstrations that paralyzed the City recalled the pre-9/11 heydey of the antiglobalization movement, particularly as social democrats, reformers, and left-liberals remember it: big, colourful, and about “speaking truth to power”. There was some militant resistance, and the cops even killed a person, but London ’09 did not become the new Seattle ’99, as some had cheerfully predicted ahead of time. The reason that Seattle was so thoroughly co-opted by the impotent left was because it struck a chord around the world, and the actions of the black bloc were an essential part of that.
In Pittsburgh (September 2009), a relatively small number of anarchists took on an enormous security force that was supposedly ready and waiting, and despite the odds of an epic beatdown happening, the few and the brave managed to wreak havoc for hours while the police were powerless to stop them. With particular respect paid to the Bash Back! action on Thursday the 24th, the events in Pittsburgh constituted one of the largest instances of countersummit rioting that the United States had seen in ten years. People felt empowered, as is natural when you are finally able to attack the structures that systematically oppress you and your comrades. This wasn’t a new Seattle, either. First, there was no pretense of “speaking truth to power”, at least among the militants; the only thing they sought from power was its swift destruction. Second, there was no existential quandary about the issue of “violence”, because some people whined about it and those who took direct action didn’t give a fuck – they did what they came to do. Third, Pittsburgh has thus far failed to work its way into the North American anarchist consciousness, because the fact that there was very little riot porn available meant that many (if not most) anarchists who weren’t present decided that it was a total failure (as one participant said, “if a police substation gets trashed and no one takes a picture, did it really happen?”).
So what will Toronto be like? It’s an open question at this point, but:
TORONTO WILL NOT BE A NEW SEATTLE
Seriously, FUCK Seattle. I wasn’t there, never been there, don’t plan to go any time soon. The antiglobalization movement was fucked, it died, and it should stay dead. We learn what we can from the past, we draw inspiration where possible, but we move forward, take action, fight now. The North American anarchist movement needs to get over Seattle ’99 like Trotskyists need to get over boring-as-fuck party politics. All it does is distract us.
SHOULD WE GIVE A FUCK ABOUT THE G20?
The G20 has nothing to do with the way I live my life and I presume it has nothing to do with yours. In my immediate experience, world leaders are simply images on TV screens, subjects in newspaper articles, voices on the radio. They are not people I can ever have a conversation with or whom I will ever get close enough to that I can punch them in the face.
As an organization, perhaps, the G20 might have (from a distance) a certain amount of impact on my life and the lives of others: there will be decisions, changes in policy, and new rhetoric to justify the continuation of capitalism and all of its manifestations. But the G20 is a distant oppressor. The immediate oppressors are those in my actual life, my lived experience, and it’s these people that I want to confront. They’re the ones who actually enforce the policies that come from on high. The police might just be doing their jobs, but they’re consciously making the decision to do so, and that decision has an effect. I want to face them and fight them, as well as those liberals who seek to become leaders within the movement, as well as all those little Eichmanns I know and see everyday, contributing uncritically to this system that threatens to destroy all life.
Summits attract people who dream of profound social change (or social rupture, whichever). And we’re enough. We should be taking advantage of the fact that, on occasions such as these, we find ourselves on the streets with many other potential friends, comrades, allies, and lovers. It is (at best) extremely unrealistic to think that we can convince our leaders of anything by showing up in large numbers or even taking part in black bloc vandalism – but if we find these things meaningful, we should do them anyway, for our own reasons.
ON BLACK BLOCS
When those windows got smashed in Vancouver, the nationalist hysteria it kicked up was palpable, but it was also mostly manufactured. Comments on news websites are no good measure of public outrage, despite what Mick Sweetman thinks. The journalists might have been confused, and some white yuppies who love “their country” might have gotten a little red in the face, but there’s no reason to think that this reflects anything of that “the public” thinks. The fact is that “the mind of the public” is, and always has been, entirely unknown and unknowable to every politician, policy maker, and activist that’s ever tried to appeal to the masses, manipulate them, direct them.
The most intelligent political strategy has always been to tell the public what it wants. The “silent majority”, for example, only exists because someone says that there is a silent majority which believes whatever. In the wake of the Great Window Smashing, the media has repeated images of decent people expressing outrage. Mick Sweetman highlighted this comment by Nuke the Whales: “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.” The point of that comment, as far as I can tell, is to make “everyday working people” feel strange about themselves if they ARE afraid of the police, if they ARE NOT afraid of the black bloc.
The thing is, there is no public and there are no masses. Our society is a ghost, the spectral image of capital. Canadian values do not reflect how most “Canadians” feel, but only how the most affluent and the most influential of them do – and because the organized left, in this country and elsewhere, has always tried to appeal to those bourgeois sentimentalities, it has consistently alienated many of the people who stand the most to gain from revolution, from a new society, and all the rest of it. This is the reason that the faces of the left are predominantly white, predominantly academics, predominantly from middle-class backgrounds, predominantly straight or assimilationist queer. This is the reason that the left, by which I mean those organizations and tendencies that seek to build mass movements above all else, will remain marginal.
The black bloc, on the other hand, is not nearly as marginal as it is portrayed in the popular discourse. Many people have participated in black blocs, and there are many more people whose friends and lovers have. There are entire networks of support. The people in the black bloc are the same people who participate in peaceful marches, who talk on panels, who organize people’s summits, who involve themselves for months and years in long-term projects before and after the summit. The people who participate in black bloc actions come from a variety of backgrounds: people of colour and white people, men and women, trannies and cissies, queers and heteros, people from working-class and middle-class families. With just a minimum of equipment and knowledge, most able-bodied people can participate in a black bloc – and sometimes many, many people do take part. In Vancouver, people off the street joined spontaneously. It may happen again in Toronto, especially if people have extra bandannas to hand out.
I’m not arguing for a black bloc, and I’m not arguing against peaceful protest. And I’m not arguing for diversity of tactics, because diverse tactics will be used either way. What I want to see is genuine respect for diversity of tactics. Even if you disagree with the tactics used – you are entitled to, of course, and you should express yourself to contribute to a healthy culture of critique within the movement – you should not condemn some of the most dedicated revolutionaries for the actions they have decided to take part in.
The state is the source of violence, not the black bloc. If the police are provoked, it is the members of the black bloc who are the most likely to suffer beatings and prison sentences. The police will find excuses to beat and arrest “peaceful protestors” if they can, regardless of what the black bloc did. They may use agents provocateurs to justify a response, for example, as they did at Montebello. Black blocs have historically done their best to avoid implicating others. When the left fails to recognize this, their hopes for a mass movement whither away as they alienate the people who know the reality of state and economic violence in their lives every single day.
WHEN THE G20 COMES TO TORONTO…
…some windows will probably get broken. The people who already have something against us will call us thugs and criminals, whereas they’d call us nuisances, whiners, or possibly thugs and criminals if the windows didn’t get broken. We shouldn’t worry about those people. From the people who we are fighting for and from whom we wish for support, there will probably be critique. Some might think the action was generally awesome, some may think the action was stupid but what’s the harm really, some may think that this hurts the movement and should no longer be practiced at all. All of these are valid concerns.
But the correct response is not to reject or insult comrades within the movement, nor to threaten to police each other, nor to make blanket pronouncements against particular tactics from on high. These things are done with the intentions of building a movement, of making particular organizations or political programs more attractive, to attract members. And yet that’s not the way a movement is made. Revolutionary movements are composed of contradictory elements: there are diverse tactics, differing objectives, and there is usually very little in the way of ideological unity. This is what makes these movements powerful, and this is how they are different from the state, as well as those parties that would seek state power. This is why the contemporary anarchist movement, which could be the most ideologically balkanized revolutionary movement in history, is also the most quickly growing revolutionary tendency in our society today, predominantly attracting youth.
To be clear, I wish for a mass movement against capitalism, imperialism, and all forms of oppression as much as any radical leftist. But the notion that a mass movement can be built, like you build a house, is absurd. Mass movements are cultivated; we can try to make conditions ideal for them to emerge, but they ultimately come about by themselves. And saying that “breaking windows is not a revolutionary act” – which is a decree, not a critique – is the equivalent of salting the earth.
WHAT I WANT TO SEE IN TORONTO
Toronto deserves what happens to it. This city is about as thoroughly gentrified as it gets. Downtown is a vast wasteland of yuppies, hipsters, affluent artists, self-important workaholics, and a million businesses that cater to these people. There are banks, there are offices of multinational corporations, there are establishments that sell poison masquerading as food. I want to see people realizing that they have the power to tangibly change this environment, which was clearly not made for human habitation. I want to see the homeless who live in this desert, and the workers who can’t afford to, taking part. And I want to see the youth who navigate this soulless downtown in search of some elusive meaning finding that meaning in the destruction. I want the black bloc to hand out bandannas to anyone who wants them.
If a TV camera finds a few militants deblocking, I want to see that camera ripped out of the operator’s hands and smashed on the concrete.
I want to see a lot of people from south of the border. Let’s do what we can, on both sides, to make sure that anyone who wants to come can come.
I want the countersummit in Toronto to lead to new friendships, new comrades, new bonds of solidarity here and intercontinentally. I want good memories, or at least bad memories that inspire us to fight anyway. I want the anarchist movement, and even the left more broadly, to gain momentum towards the destruction of this society and the creation of a new one.
And to be clear: I don’t want to be part of any mobilization which fails to disrupt the business-as-usual of capitalism, and just makes our society look more tolerant because this country is enlightened enough to allow free speech. I don’t want to be part of any mobilization that would rather be politically impotent than negatively portrayed in the mainstream media it is supposed to oppose. And fuck any mobilization that would soften its rhetoric because the leaders think the most privileged segments of the population might be alienated, never minding the legitimate rage against this society felt by the oppressed or the angry or the poor.
This entry was posted on February 25, 2010 at 5:28 am and is filed under Corporations, Direct Action & Civil Disobedience, Environment, Immigration & Borders, Indigenous, Police State, Revolution with tags G20 Toronto, insurrection, social war. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.