Paul's Internet Landfill/ 2012/ The Black Bloc: Anti-Capitalist Idiocy

The Black Bloc: Anti-Capitalist Idiocy

Recently I signed out The Anti-Capitalist Resistance Comic Book by Gord Hill from the library. I felt a great deal of ambivalence towards it. On the one hand books like this deserve to exist, and they illustrate a worldview we can learn from. On the other hand, the book irritated me on multiple levels.

I did not find the "comic book" aspect that strong. The art is passable but not very good; Gord Hill would benefit from some lessons in proportions and figure drawing. The book also suffers from a weakness of "tell, don't show": in many cases the narrative is driven by textual captions with illustrations tacked on, instead of the illustrations and text working together to move the story together. I am not saying that I could come up with anything better, but as a consumer I felt dissatisfied.

The book documents several mass political protests I remember: Seattle in 1999, Quebec City in 2001, the Vancouver Olympic protests in 2010 and the G20 in Toronto, also in 2010. The 2001 Quebec City protests in particular dredged up memories; I was not at those protests (and I had misgivings about them at the time) but I knew a lot of people who did attend. While visiting my mother in Mississauga I followed the newspaper accounts closely, and after the protests I heard a few stories involving lots of tear gas.

The book made me angry. It reminded me of how much those advocating violent resistance have done to undermine and neutralize whatever good mass political protests could have achieved. Hill does not share that view; he glorifies the Black Bloc, portraying them as heroes who are cheered on by the regular protestors, who smash things up and make cops and businesspeople cower in fear.

I disrespectfully disagree. The Black Bloc is stupid and ineffective. It does a great job of playing right into the hands of the media and police, and a lousy job of class warfare, political protest, or solidarity.

I am not a Black Bloc member. I am not even sure exactly what the Black Bloc is -- my best guess is that it is an organization in the same sense that Anonymous is an organization: a loose collective of activists that get together to cause havoc. Mostly, the Black Bloc shows up at political protests dressed in black. They attempt to violently resist the state by lobbing tear gas canisters back at police and via property damage: smashing windows of businesses, torching cars, and in one memorable case pushing a section of fencing around.

If the goal of the Black Bloc is to smash capitalism and/or the state then their tactics are pretty terrible. Even if you grant them victory in the Seattle 2001 protests (where they had the element of surprise) their record has been spotty since.

Are they actually trying to smash the state? Then why do they show up at political protests where the police are expecting them? Why do they try to confront an enemy face-to-face that has better equipment and better training than they do? Why do they think that causing property damage is going to make the wheels of capitalism grind to a halt?

Instead of smashing the state, they play right into the hands of the enemy. Both the state and the media love the Black Bloc:

Beyond its helpful assistance to its supposed enemies, the movement does an enormous amount to damage any effect that non-violent protest can accomplish:

And finally, many elements of the "violent resistance" crowd are cowards and hypocrites:

I have no interest in seeing the Black Bloc succeed in its tactics. I do not want to live in their world. Instead, I want to neutralize them, and take away the incentives they have to undermine political protest. Given that I am not actually a political protestor I have no legitimacy in giving advice, but if I was looking to neutralize the effectiveness of the Black Bloc and other violent protestors then I would consider the following:

I am sure that many political organizers already take these tactics into consideration. I worry that they are paralyzed by political correctness and so-called "respect for diversity" to put their feet down.

This is not my fight. I do believe that rallies and mass political protest have a role to play in political discourse, and I have attended a few local rallies. But I have deliberately avoided the big protests (I'm afraid of tear gas too), and I will probably continue doing so. It still frustrates me that so many well-meaning activists put in so much time and energy into these protests only to have their efforts go to waste, with few hooligans getting their jollies smashing cars and shop windows. And I am irritated that Gord Hill's book glorifies such hooliganism by spinning a story where such tactics work. If you want to read this comic book then go ahead, but if you do I advise you to hold some healthy skepticism for the narrative.