Home > Indigenous Solidarity, Olympics, Riot 2010 > A Response to Judy Rebick

A Response to Judy Rebick

The Black Bloc and the 21st Century anti-Colonial Movement at the Olympics

Judy Rebick, from her office in downtown Toronto, complained that “when a spontaneous anger against the Black Bloc emerged on social media, people berated us for ‘dividing the movement.’” She says that, in fact, “it is the Black Bloc that is dividing the movement.”

She is wrong.

I have been involved in a wide array of coalitions on various issues over the past half-decade, and never have I witnessed cross-movement solidarity like I have in the anti-Olympics campaign. In southern Ontario, as in Vancouver, radical groups from a variety of locations in the broader movement have come together to start to develop a shared anti-colonial analysis. This solidarity and unity, on the anti-colonial front, is deeper and stronger now than it has been at any point in the last ten years.

A strong example of that solidarity was on display during the February 12th “Take Back Our City” march. That march saw upwards of 2000 people march on BC Place during the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games. That march was lead by Indigenous women. When the march reached the police line outside of BC Place that night, the cops started pushing and shoving the front line of the stalled march. Indigenous women called for the Black Bloc to move to the front to hold the line. When the elders amongst that leadership group decided that the crush from the police was too much, the Black Bloc made space for them to move to the back of the crowd.

21st century anti-colonial analysis is one that is able to identify commonalities between the struggles of the urban poor and those of Indigenous sovereigntists. Where colonization is ongoing against First Nations, we are also able to see gentrification and the criminalization of homelessness and poverty as a form of urban colonialism. In Vancouver (and elsewhere) there is often no distinction between Indigenous soverigntists and the urban poor; they are often the same people.

This 21st century analysis is finally moving beyond political philosophies rooted in 19th and 20th century Eurocentric intellectual traditions (such as those fostered by anarcho-socialists like Mick Sweetman of Common Cause in Ontario, who still choose to see the world through the lenses of an industrial workers struggle). This new anti-colonialism is one that seeks to push out the old colonial patterns of European intellectualism to make space for fundamentally different cultural ideas rooted in places other than Europe.

This 21st century analysis is moving beyond the empty rhetoric of “revolutionary acts.” We no longer wish to seize the machinery of the State to use it for our own ends; we wish to see it dismantled, to be replaced by something other than a new Euro-American colonialism. A better world than that is possible, but it cannot come about until we move beyond the dominant paradigms of our culture. Statism and white supremacy must be resigned to the dustbins of history.

Part of the strength of the anti-Olympic campaign, as a watershed for the new anti-colonial movement, has been the solidarity and unity around a “diversity of tactics.” Part of that solidarity is rooted in the idea that you cannot attack one part of the movement without attacking the whole. When we remember to defend each other, we also remember to work together to build the movement and our communities. This cannot be done by succumbing to the classic colonial tactic of divide and conquer. Diversity of tactics means that one day we smash the system and the next we build alternatives. The Black Block is a wrecking ball tactic that makes space for more mainstream or creative tactics. The anarchists who participate in the Bloc are for the most part solid community organizers and people who are at the forefront of making space for creative alternatives to capitalism and colonialism. A diversity of tactics is meant to be complimentary—different tactics demonstrate different values and objectives, and all must be viewed in sum.

***

The highlight of the anti-Olympic convergence in Vancouver, for me, has been to see a coming together and mutual solidarity between Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES) and Indigenous sovereigntists (and their allies)—two demographics whom have been especially under attack by the Olympic and State machines. In fact, on the streets of Vancouver, increasingly it would appear that the sovereigntists and the anti-poverty activists are often the same people.

Working as allies, not just in a supporting role, have been a wide array of activists from many sectors. Prominent amongst the organizers in the Olympic Resistance Network (ORN) and throughout the convergence have indeed been anarchists who participated in the Black Bloc actions during the “Heart Attack” march on February 13 2010.

What Judy Rebick, and many other critics who have had little to do with the anti-Olympic movement, have entirely failed to notice is the fact that the Black Bloc was supported by almost every constituency of the ORN. This show of solidarity was not divisive—it brought us together and has built deep trust between activists who, in the past, have often had very little to say to each other.

Organizations that were publicly represented include (or had individual members present and unmasked): No One Is Illegal, the Council of Canadians, PETA, the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN), StopWar.ca, Gatewaysucks, the Vancouver Anti-Poverty Committee, Food Not Bombs, and many more. None of those organizations have denounced the actions of the Black Bloc that day. And they can’t, because their members know that on that day, they were there to support the Black Bloc. Anyone who says that they didn’t know what was going to happen is lying. There were 200 people in black with masks on, and “Riot 2010” has been a rallying call for the movement for more than two years now. Everyone knew what was going to happen, and they all marched anyway.

For Judy Rebick to claim that the Black Bloc had “come into the middle of a demonstration with black face masks [to] break up whatever takes their fancy when the vast majority of people involved don’t want them to,” is either dishonest, or a sign that she has stopped paying attention to what actually happens on the ground. The Black Bloc is not dividing the movement—people with aspirations for mainstream acceptance who distance themselves from other activists are.

Judy Rebick is going to have to decide whether she wants to be a celebrity, acceptable to the CBC and their mainstream audience, or work on the ground with people who are fed up with capitalism, with colonialism, and also with the paralyzing cult of non-violence. It is time to realize that there are people who are ready to fight back, and that it is time to support them.

***

After the police clashed with the Bloc that day, and affinity groups were forced to scatter (the Black Bloc doesn’t do peaceful arrests—the tactic dictates mutual protection from the police instead), the majority of the “non-violent” marchers continued in support. Some of them allowed themselves to be arrested by the frustrated police. Blaming anyone other than the police for the conduct of the police is merely a legitimization of the police presence on our streets—it would be like blaming the poor for the criminalization of homelessness. I expect people to know better. Cops are no more than armed thugs-for-hire.

In fact, the willingness of unarmed activists to battle with heavily armed riot cops, in order to de-arrest people they may have never met before and may never be able to identify, is one of the strongest forms of solidarity I have ever witnessed. We have to be willing to physically protect our own communities, no matter the cost, by any means necessary.

This is the type of message that the Black Bloc sends. The point is that we don’t need or want your cops or your capitalist colonial system. The point of such actions is not to convince bystanders or any particular audience to join us in the streets. The point is to put people on notice that there exists active insurrectionary resistance, right here in the belly of the beast.

For Judy Rebick to suggest that Black Bloc tactics “put other people and the issues we are fighting for in jeopardy,” is just preposterous. The mass audiences that dismissed the “Heart Attack” march are consistently the same mass audiences who generally dismiss every form of direct action and every radical cause. Judy may be too used to her celebrity status to notice, but most people aren’t paying attention to start with. So-called “nonviolent direct action”, with rare exceptions, is also summarily dismissed by most people, most of the time. They want us to go through so-called proper channels, not understanding that the system exists to perpetuate itself, not to accommodate change or the empowerment of communities under attack. Begging the government for change merely legitimizes their claim to be the rightful authority over land and people. Too many, enamoured with the cult of nonviolence, have too easily parroted the conservative media narratives that so predictably hamper our movements.

Further, it is not unity under a commitment to a “diversity of tactics” that stifles debate within our movement—that is what we call solidarity. It is a zealous adherence to dogmatic “non-violence” that shuts down any meaningful dialogue.

***

An important point that nobody seems to have picked up on, is that the targeting of the Hudson’s Bay Company actually opened up space for Canadians to stop and think about the colonial history of HBC, if only briefly. Those citizens still capable of critical thought were left with little choice.

Two days after the “Heart Attack” march, there was an anti-poverty march which was attended by many liberals and so-called progressives—MP Libby Davies, for example. A group broke off from that march, hopped the fence to an empty lot (owned by condo developers, under lease by VANOC) and cut the locks from the gates, opening them up for people to set up the Olympic Tent Village which will still stand at least until the end of the Olympics. Many activists who participated in the Black Bloc at “Heart Attack” have been there ever since, volunteering almost around the clock cooking meals, working security shifts, helping set up tents and keeping them dry, working the medic tent, organizing new actions with members of the DTES community, etc., etc. Meanwhile, more liberal folks (like Dave Eby of the BCCLA) showed up once or twice for photo ops without ever setting foot inside the camp or talking to any of the people without homes whom they build their careers speaking on behalf of.

It is not the champions of civil liberties, the democratic reformers or academics who are down at the Olympic Tent Village. While they are in their offices, it is community organizers and radicals who are on the ground working side by side with neighbourhood residents, participating in real community building. At the Tent Village the State machine has been shut out from the site. Inside, residents of the DTES are rising up.

I’ve been at the front gate doing security, for more hours than I have not, over the past ten days. In that time many conversations with Vancouverites or Olympic tourists who pass by have turned to discussions of the “violence” on the 13th. I have watched multiple individuals take off their HBC red mittens and toss them in the garbage. While these people may not take any further action, in the face of the gross poverty on the DTES, they had no choice but to be ashamed. It was the broken windows which identified HBC’s Olympic merchandise as an appropriate symbol to bear that shame.

Stella August, an Indigenous elder and a member of the DTES Power of Women group has publicly defended the Black Bloc’s actions during “Heart Attack.” Those who have chosen to denounce the action without any appreciation of the dynamics on the ground in Vancouver should be just as ashamed as the people wearing those mittens.

People and communities are under attack and it is time to fight back. If you’re not willing to stand up and fight, or to support those who are, please at least get out of the way.

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  1. February 28, 2010 at 10:29 am

    I agree with Alex’s analysis on this for the most part although I wasn’t there, but I want to know when he talks about a shared anti-colonial analysis at the protests, why is there no mention of those clearly visible in photos of ‘Heart Attack’ carrying large banners that read: “Seal hunt, Canada’s shame”?

  2. March 1, 2010 at 6:44 am

    Although I wasn’t there myself, I agree with Alex’s analysis for the most part, and I want to know when he talks about unity in the anti-colonial struggle, why isn’t there mention of the people who can clearly be seen in photos of the ‘Heart Attack’ march carrying big banners that read ‘Seal hunt: Canada’s shame’?

  3. March 7, 2010 at 11:46 am

    Alex:

    It’s one thing to disagree with someone’s position on the issue and for most of the article you stick with engaging with the various points of view out there. But you also needlessly personalize things like when you attack Rebick due to her “celebrity”. Also you start off with what looks like a very “old fashioned” sectarian attack on all anarchist-socialists just because you disagree with Mick’s position on the black bloc in Vancouver.

    First, you set up a false dichotomy between old and new or “21 century” ideas and whatever you don’t like you dismiss as outdated. Are anti-statism and anti-colonialism really “21st century” ideas or have they not existed since the rise of the modern state and modern colonialism. And do ideas like radical democracy, equality, feminism and others that emerged prior to the 21st century, no longer have value simply because they are “old”? Has the world really changed so much that theories, strategies and tactics developed throughout the 500 year history of anti-capitalist, anti-colonial, anti-state, anti-hierarchy struggles no longer have any value? Is fetishizing the perceived “new” not falling into the cultural logic of neoliberal capitalism? What are these ideas that you speak of that are unique to the 21st century? Is this really anything more than a rhetorical ploy to dismiss ideas you don’t agree with?

    And why do you create a strawman to criticize anarcho-socialism? Do you really believe that social anarchism is statist and that it only concerns itself with industrial workers? I mean, statist?! Really? I thought the founding moment of social anarchism was when the anarchists left the 1st international because their socialism was anti-state. And even at the height of industrial worker struggles before WWII social anarchists were organizing mass rent strikes, alternative social services like daycares and schools, mass peasant movements, mass anarcho-feminist organizations, and, you might be surprised to know, anti-colonial struggles in South Africa, Korea, China, and elsewhere. The Spanish anarchists who called for an anti-colonial uprising in Morocco certainly could make the connection between anti-colonial struggles and the struggles of the urban poor.

    You even seem to imply above that anarcho-socialism is white supremacist! I really hope this is a mistake because it is a slap in the face of the tens of thousands of social anarchists who died fighting fascism and who today continue to die fighting it in places like Russia and elsewhere.

    I really hope all of this is simply due to ignorance and not a sectarian attack. Maybe you’re just blowing off steam after what must have been an intense time in Vancouver. Maybe you don’t know very much about anarchist-socialism. Maybe you are just repeating what you’re read elsewhere and have not actually looked into this history. In that case, I hope you’ll make the Black Flame tour and pick up a copy of this book. Maybe you have not really taken a look at what today’s social anarchists are doing, many of them involved in the exact same struggles you’re involved in. In that case, maybe check out the recent articles that just went up on linchpin.ca. I’m sure you don’t think the struggle at Barriere Lake or anti-sprawl and anti-gentrification struggles are so “yesterday”.

    There are definite differences between social anarchism and however you define your politics. And we can and should debate and discuss these. But if you value solidarity and mutual understanding which I think you do, drop the caricatures, and empty rhetorical gestures and really make an effort to understand where us anarcho-socialists are coming from. Or if that is too much work, stick to debating specific positions not entire political philosophies as rich and diverse as mass anarchism.

    • March 7, 2010 at 11:47 am

      I forgot to sign off on the above quote:

      Alex (personal capacity)
      Common Cause

  4. Alex
    March 7, 2010 at 9:45 pm

    I re-wrote my comment up into a blog post. You can read it here:

    http://linchpin.ca/English/Let039s-build-culture-respectful-debate-response-Alex-Hundert

  5. March 9, 2010 at 2:18 pm

    Im not going to make my critique of Common Cause into a public debate (like Alex and Mick have done). Nor am I going to get into a “respectful debate” with them, because they seem to think that respectful inculdes throwing around words like “ignorance” and “idiots.” Luckily, my friend Testament has had enough of their platformist partisan hackery. Here is his repsonse (lifted from http://anarchistnews.org ).

    Since when is Common Cause against Sectarianism?
    by: Testament (an ex-common cause organizer)

    While the anti-Olympics convergence and the militant actions in Vancouver have been celebrated as successes by local anarchist organizers and their comrades around the world, two so-called anarchists from Ontario’s ‘Common Cause’ have joined the corporate media, police, and IOC in publicly condemning the black bloc. The traitors names are Mick and Alex, and they have a history of publicly insulting other anarchists, dominating Common Cause’s discourse with their own opinions, and even kicking people out of Common Cause for not adhering to their ‘party line’.

    After dedicating much of my time and resources into opening a new branch of Common Cause in London in the hopes of seeing it grow into a larger more effective force for spreading anarchism in South-Western Ontario, the higher-ups in this so-called non-hierarchical organization decided to strip me of membership in their euro-centric, academic, male-dominated anarchist club. The reason they cited for kicking me out was my refusal to participate in the extreme sectarianism of denouncing any and all perspectives that were not platformist. They told me I could not support any anarchist projects other than platformist ones and insisted that I break my ties with other non-platformist groups; specifically Crimethinc.

    Once this authoritarianism and aggressive sectarianism revealed itself, I no longer wanted to be a member of Common Cause and I distanced myself from it. It seemed ironic that an organization which preaches ‘Mass Movement’ incessantly would work so hard to fracture the anarchist movement. Even more ironic would be that I would get expelled from Common Cause for my efforts to building a mass anarchist movement that is inclusive to the whole anarchist family and that does not use patronizing and insulting language like ‘our misguided cousins’ and ‘idiots’ to describe our comrades.

    Still, I did not publicly criticize Common Cause, as I considered them an essential institution in my region and considered many members to be true comrades. But now that two of it’s most influential members are condemning the ‘Heart Attack Black Bloc’ and insulting other anarchists including my most solid comrades I can no longer stay silent. In a funny twist of events, Alex and Mick are now claiming to be the victims of a ‘sectarian attack’ after Alex Hundert responded to them publicly and called them on their shit. Now their saying it is wrong to engage in sectarian attacks on other anarchists even though they continue to do so themselves.

    Mick publicly called the anarchists in Vancouver ‘idiots’ while parroting the corporate media’s dominant narrative. Alex [from Common Cause] took it even further with attacks such as “crimethink-inspired ignorant sectarian drivel’ ‘embarrassing anarchist cousins’ and ‘fringe of the fringe’. This type of language implies that any anarchist who has been inspired by crimethinc is ignorant, that all anarchists who do not share his beliefs are embarrassing to the anarchist movement, and that only platformists are involved in mass movements while the rest of us are the fringe of the fringe. How much more sectarian could he possibly get?

    In any case, when it comes to Olympics resistance Mick and Alex [from Common Cause] should have minded their own business from the start and kept their mouths shut. Neither of them did anything to build a mass movement against the Olympics while most of the participants in the black bloc spent years building that movement. And while none of the organizations involved in this mass movement have denounced the black bloc (not even liberals like the Council of Canadians!), these two have chosen to publicly spit in our faces. How dare they condemn our tactics when their tactic for resisting the Olympics was to do NOTHING AT ALL!

    It is in the best interest of Common Cause as a whole to think very carefully about the way their members are alienating and attacking other anarchists at this critical time in Ontario with the G20 literally right around the corner. If Common Cause’s number one priority right now is to undermine and attack other anarchists in order to appease liberal celebrity Judy Rebick (so that she’ll fund their book tour), as Alex is suggesting, then Common Cause is a lost cause.

    Frank Lopez, submedia host and co-founder of Vancouver’s Media Co-op declared that “one of the most important things that came out of the convergence was seeing who our allies are and who our allies aren’t”. It is now painfully clear that Mick and Alex [from Common Cause] are not allies of the Olympic Resistance Movement, the indigenous sovereignty movement, or even the broader anarchist movement. It’s up to the rest of Common Cause’s members to decide how to handle this situation but at this moment Mick and Alex are jeopardizing Common Cause’s future as a viable anarchist organization.

    Mick’s first article denoucing us: http://linchpin.ca/English/We-need-mass-movement-not-black-bloc

    Alex Hundert’s Response to Judy Rebick and Mick Sweetman: http://alexhundert.wordpress.com/2010/02/27/a-response-to-judy-rebick/

    Alex [from Common Cause] suggesting alienating other anarchists in order to get money from liberal celebrity Judy Rebick. DIRECT QUOTE:

    I’m thinking here of his attack on Judy Rebick.
    BTW, I was thinking that what is at stake here for us is shown pretty clear by the fact that at the same time AlexH is personally critiquing Rebick, we’re asking for her financial support for the Black Flame tour. I know we don’t have a position here as an organization, but in my opinion, we do need to show an alternative anarchism in moments like this even if we alienate some of our anarchist cousins.

    ***editted upon request***

  6. violette.
    March 10, 2010 at 11:18 am

    Alex,

    I am guessing from your post that you do not live in the DTES, which is fine, I welcome and encourage your awareness and participation in our community. That being said, 5 years of experience is nothing; you are a child of the radical community. True radicalism, beyond cursory acts of violence timed to sync with corporate media saturation, involves a much more thorough and long standing engagement. You take jabs at academics, politicians etc., but what you fail to realize is those in positions of power are activists of a different sort, and perhaps were in the same place you now occupy, 10, or even 20 years ago. What you will realize, once you let go of your idealized banter, is that true revolution, true radicalism, takes a long time. No revolution is going to begin through violence. If it does, it will bring us back to where we are now; in chains. To be an anarchist is to recognize that, as you say, a host of tactics exist, none of which are condemnable nor venerable. The beauty of our activism, what we truly represent, is that we have the ability to hide without consequence, because only those who are fascists would decry another.

    Please, cause it appears your heart is in the right place and you may not sell out at age thirty-five, AKA: the general expiration date for university trained radicals (your language gives you away), re-think and re-evaluate how you see radicalism, and most of all, when to show your cards. One bullet is all it takes to end any radical, no matter how strong or intelligent. They will kill us if they can, and they have continued to do so for 150 years.

    While you may think there is currently unprecedented levels of anti-capitalist actions, you are wrong. Currently, there are unprecedented levels of capitalist actions, with no clear end in sight, even in the face of real and total collapse.

    I’m done with my old-timers barage here kid, but this is what I would like to leave to you in passing:

    Keep up the good work. Remember to look beyond your own activism, at the bigger picture, and engage as many as possible in the realization of an alternative. Lastly, dig your heels in and be patient, cause it is going to take a while, especially when people are telling you to get out of the way.

    best,
    a pseudo-capitalist sucker.

  7. David B
    March 10, 2010 at 8:18 pm

    “Part of the strength of the anti-Olympic campaign, as a watershed for the new anti-colonial movement, has been the solidarity and unity around a ‘diversity of tactics.’ Part of that solidarity is rooted in the idea that you cannot attack one part of the movement without attacking the whole.”

    I think solidarity is vital but not if it precludes any discussion or debate about tactics. It seems like many of the supporters of “diversity of tactics” use it as a way to shut down debate. Any debate or criticism of tactics seems to lead accusations of being “sectarian”, “anarcho-socialist” or somehow backward (19th or 20th century rather than 21st century). Without open, honest and respectful debate and discussion about strategy and tactics, we can’t move forward as a movement.

  8. tired (ex-common cause)
    March 12, 2010 at 1:08 pm

    Alex Hundert,

    Thank you for your article. I was having issues with Common Cause but this bull shit the nail in the coffin. The organization is dominated by a few conservative individuals wishing to build a “mass movement”. I can’t be associated with this kind of sillyness during the g20. Hope to see you again in Toronto!

    peace

  9. March 14, 2010 at 5:04 am

    Socialist Voice is Censoring debate on Diversity of Tactics

    Derrick O’Keefe has written a piece, “Activists Debate Vancouver Olympic Protests,” partially in response to my article. It is available here along with some healthy debate on socialistvoice.ca.

    http://www.socialistvoice.ca/?p=1053

    late last night I wrote a response to O’Keefe that was up on the website all day today. I woke up this morning to find out they had pulled. The irony, those in defense of diversity of tactics are being accused of trying to “censor” debate on the issue. (the comment’s status has returned to “awaiting moderation”) Who is the censor now?

    Frank Lopez, (aka The Stimulator, http://submedia.tv/stimulator ) has also had his comment pulled from SocialistVoice.ca.

    I can admit that maybe words like “fuck” and “shit” are little bit too strong for SocialistVoice.ca and their audience. I can even admit that the tone of my article was influenced by a combination of my own inebriation and reaction to O’Keefe’s flagrant dishonesty (and hackery). However, I thought people were tough (and mature) enough to handle the real world along and a little bit of aggressive language. I also doubt that Frank’s so-called “unacceptable” language is a result of inebriation–his show looks pretty well produced to me.

    This is as much energy as I have to put into fighting this bullshit. Here, you can read the original comment for yourself, and do check out the above link to the debate thread on the SocialistVoice website. Maybe go tell them that you don’t appreciate Marxist-Socialists choosing to censor speech and debate–its kind of scary when Marxists do that, no?

    Here is my response to Derrick O’Keefe (in all its drunken honesty, uncensored):

    I don’t know Derrick O’Keefe so I can’t comment on his personal credibility beyond what he has said publicly. I do know Frank Lopez though. I can say for sure, that Frank calls ‘em like he sees ‘em, and he tends to be pretty on point. Though I’ll agree, Frank is sometimes perhaps a little juvenile in his articulation of other people’s character flaws.

    O’Keefe says that he doesn’t like to see this debate personalized. Well then, he probably shouldn’t have mentioned me be name repeatedly in his article. I know Judy Rebick and have worked with her on major projects before (like the “Sovereignty Sleepover” at Queen’s Park in Toronto ’08). I felt that it was important for someone from Ontario, who has worked tirelessly on this campaign, who also has had a working relationship with Rebick, to confront an ally who had made the fault of commenting out of context.

    I don’t know Derrick O’Keefe and he doesn’t know me. I don’t know why he felt the need to attack my position so directly, and Im not sure how O’Keefe expects this to stay de-personalized, but I’ll try my best to respond directly to his critique of my article and then extricate myself quickly from the Derrick O’Keefe shit show that seems to be propagating here.

    Okeefe claims that “Many of those who went along on the ‘Heart Attack’ did not know what was going take place” and quotes a source as saying that “some of those who engaged in property destruction appeared not to have solidarity with other protesters.” While some people may not have known exactly what was going to happen, anyone claiming that they had no idea is either being dishonest or they weren’t paying attention. His quotation of Eric Doherty is a joke. Eric said that he did not know exactly what was going to happen, that he disagrees with some of the choices, and that he is not sure of the efficacy of the action—that is very different from the way O’keefe has positioned him. That is being dishonest. I’ve met Eric Dorhety and I kinda like him. There is no need for O’Keefe to drag Eric down with him. In terms of not being in solidarity with each other, O’Keefe ought to check his head and realize which side he standing on. If he thinks that he is currently standing onside with the resistance movement, he is about to find himself standing all alone, or even worse… amongst a bunch of liberals.

    O’keefe challenges my assertion that the Black Bloc makes “space for more mainstream or creative tactics,” and claims that “the action failed to communicate clearly with that public.” Derrick O’Keefe has completely missed the point.

    In terms of making space, to put it as simply as humanly possible, it goes something like this… “Look at that peaceful Tent City, it is so much more reasonable than that violent window smashing.” It is all right for us to be honest about the fact that we understand dominant media narratives, and that we are clever enough to use them in our favour. All tactics must be viewed in sum.

    And in turn, the windows, the masks, and especially the de-arrests put people on notice that there are people willing to fight back—literally, to smash shit and throw punches at cops. This kind of open antagonism of capitalist order represents a real threat to the system. If this were anywhere else (other than North America) there would have been cars overturned and cops lit aflame from molotov cocktails. It is about open insurrectionary resistance; a display that is very difficult to achieve through typical (so-called) non-violent direct action.

    Black Bloc tactics are not meant to win over the mass populace. But activists who participate in the Black Bloc are also community organizers, advocates, writers, teachers, front line service providers, parents… Building the mass movement is not something that can happen in an afternoon, during a convergence, or even a campaign. However, sending a message can be done in an instant. Like the instant those windows were smashed.

    Respect for diversity of tactics is not a censoring mechanism. There is a fundamental difference between having an analysis and making a public denunciation. O’keefe, like Eby and Rebick made a public denunciation. Denunciation of allies is not ok. It is traitorous.

    O’Keefe also called “diversity of tactics” a “shibboleth.” For those who aren’t familiar with the term, he means that respect for a “diversity of tactics” is being used as a phrase to determine who is part of an ‘in-group’ and who is out. He is not necessarily totally wrong about that—he has definitely put himself outside the group through his acts of denunciation. And if he does not want to be part of the radical, grassroots movement, and thinks he should feel free to denounce people that are supposed to be his allies… then fuck him. So be it his shibboleth.

  10. April 17, 2010 at 9:57 pm

    The futility of activism using violence as catharsis

    I know Alex Hundert well. Alex took several courses with me, when I taught peace and conflict studies in a department called Global Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo from 2005-8. I watched Alex grow as an activist and a thinker. I decided to post this, Alex, because your invective deserves a public response.

    I preached non-violence at WLU – embracing non-violent conflict transformation, taking after the work of the Norweigian Johan Galtung and others. Violence will bring more violence, and the way out of violence is not through violence (structural, direct, or otherwise, in Galtung’s terms). But then, I suppose early on as I publicly embraced these principles and invited students to think about them, you may have been characterizing me, Alex, as just one of those ‘profs in their offices’.

    I’d like to focus on catharsis to help interpret the arguments and reactions in your invective. There is a deep-seated rage against injustice, Alex, which courses through you, and has for a long time – I honour that. Now, what to do with it? What will be effective? What will be defined as effective? Surely not letter writing or trying to encourage more dialogue, or other non-violent strategies – on their own. In order to create the space where alternative ideas are heard, Alex, you believe that violence is necessary.

    The fact is, that many, many more of us in the social movements disagree with you here. In fact, the embrace of this notion, we believe, leads to actions – which while cathartic to those taking them – cannot contribute to the transformation of the conflicts involved. Of course, the embrace of anarchist rhetoric (‘smashing the state’ – sigh), and railing against ‘statism’ are the perfect intellectual catharsis. It’s all crap!

    There is a sense of deep-seated elitism that goes along with the sense of rage against injustice in this. To give vent to that rage against injustice that you feel, you would strike a police officer to ‘de-arrest’ someone, thus provoking more violence through the use of violence. Being arrested, of course, contributes to the catharsis, but the indulgence in violence is the true catharsis here. Strike back at the authorities – the ‘hired thugs’, as you call the police. Fight back, or ‘get out of the way’!

    That comment, Alex, is oddly reminiscent of the most rhetorical pro-war bumper sticker I can think of: “if you can’t stand behind our troops, feel free to stand in front of them”. Perhaps you’d like to use this bumper sticker as new material for AW@L? It’s similar reasoning – and it’s poor reasoning at that. You’re a smart guy, Alex – you and I know that – but you’re not doing justice to your reason here. You’re doing justice to your gut. It feels good to you, perhaps, to spout rhetoric like “We have to be willing to physically protect our own communities, no matter the cost, by any means necessary”. It is essentially cathartic for you. Does it sound like a culture of peace?

    Let me compare your rhetoric to pro-war rhetoric again. You write “People and communities are under attack and it is time to fight back. If you’re not willing to stand up and fight, or to support those who are, please at least get out of the way.” This is very ‘pro-war bumper sticker’, but really, it’s also George Bush, and Stephen Harper, and NATO. Where is the way out of violence in all this?

    Or perhaps, in the end, for you, it feels good to do the violence, so you will indulge in it. I can see how this may be cathartic with respect to your rage against social injustice, but in this respect, it is fundamentally selfish. All the boring people in their offices or meeting spaces, doing dialogue, doing education, trying to change minds, awaken consciousness, all meaningless if violence isn’t employed under a ‘diversity of tactics’. I do blame the fabulous, and I mean that – fabulous – Naomi Klein for lending credence to this notion in No Logo. Your version of ‘diversity of tactics’, Alex, is a license for your – and others’ – catharsis. But that is not working for social justice. It may make you feel better to strike a ‘hired thug for statism’, and have that be a spectacle that you and others can point to as evidence of state repression. But it won’t help. Pressure will – of the mass kind. That is built in other ways than by violence-as-catharsis.

    I don’t harbour any delusions that you may actually believe that you are attempting to inspire a broad layer of activists with this type of rhetoric, and this type of thinking. Rather, I believe you don’t actually care what other activists think. You think you’re right, and others can line up behind you, or ‘get out of the way’. That is the kind of thinking that got us colonialism in the first place, Alex. That is the essence of violence. And while this invective itself may have made you feel better, more smug, more ‘holy than thou’, with respect to all the office-bound and ‘dogmatic’ proponents of non-violence whom you despise, I’m afraid that is all, in fact that you want from your way of thinking – catharsis.

    To base a whole approach to social activism on such catharsis through violence is the height of futility, if peace and social justice are our goals.

    • May 10, 2010 at 2:10 pm

      “Dogmatic pacifism builds complicity with state violence.” I put this up as my Facebook Status earlier today, as I have started working on a response to Adam Davidson-Harden [to paraphrase Marty McFly: Nobody calls me a coward]. For now, here is a comment on the FB update left by Rowland Keshena (http://BermudaRadical.wordpress.com):

      “In my opinion pacifism only offers a series of dead ends to those who are seeking to make serious change in the world.

      Time after time pacifist movement have come to an end either with their leaders murdered by the state, co-option by the state, or just a general ineffectiveness to bring through serious and lasting change. One has to … See morelook no further than the most heralded victories for pacifism to see the evidence of this. For example, Dr. King (who died a democratic socialist) was assassinated, following which the largest segmenets of his movement were co-opted into the Democratic Party and NGO apparatuses.

      Being Native I can see first hand the futility of strict adherance to pacifism as a means to social change. Ultimately we need a position that both avoids the dogmatism of pacifism as well as that of those who would advocate a philosophy of social change predicated on solely on guerilla warfare.

      I do agree with those like Taiaiake Alfred who argue that the capacity for armed self-defence is a vital one, and also feel that all possible non-violent means most be mobilized, utilized and finally exhausted before other means are attempted, however I also feel that a revolutionary movement should maintain the capacity for offensive action. In this sense I look to the Zapatista movement, which while at this moment is in a phase of armed self-defence and mostly non-violent struggle, it has never given up the capacity to again wage war with the Mexican state.

      In fact many resistance movements, by their nature, have utilized the entire spectrum of conflict, from passive non-violent forms to armed actions. History has shown that us that during the course of a resistence struggle, when an entire people are mobilized into that struggle, everyone participates & contributes in whatever way they can, whether it’s passing on information, not co-operating with government officials, or firing a rifle. An excellent example of this was the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, which was lead by an alliance of the African National Congress, South African Communist Party and Congress of South African Trade Unions. During that historic struggle the alliance made use of both non-violent means as well as a guerilla group, the Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation). Nelson Mandela, the main leader of the alliance and himself also a former resistance fighter, noted in a Time magazine article on Gandhi that, “Violence and nonviolence are not mutually exclusive; it is the predominance of the one or the other that labels a struggle.”

  11. Jesse Freeston
    May 3, 2010 at 1:00 am

    I have quite a few thoughts on your post Adam. My goal here though is not to debate about tactics with you, although I do have my own opinions about this debate. But I’m just gonna focus on the numerous problems in form that I’m seein here.

    1. PRAXIS vs. PISSING IN THE DARK

    Alex roots his analysis in his direct learned experience, supported by clear evidence of reflection. He demonstrates, with examples, what he is talking about, and gives some powerful ones at that. For me, his writing is very informative because it’s a great example of what Freire calls praxis, learning through a balance of action and reflection, where one informs the other. That doesn’t mean what he’s saying must be true. But it does mean, in my opinion, that it is a real and sincere attempt to understand the world he operates in, and then share his conclusions with the rest of us. I appreciate that and took a lot from his piece.

    Your contribution on the other hand is lacking a single example to back up any of your points. Alex’s “invective” was targeted at an argument made by Judy Rebick (and numerous others), encapsulated in Judy’s quote, as highlighted by Alex, that “it is the Black Bloc that is dividing the movement.” By contrast, you completely ignore all of Alex’s arguments. Your entire response is based on two things. One, you require us to forget all the arguments, examples, and references that Alex makes and instead accept your baseless determination that the whole exercise is just a self-help program for Alex.

    You talk about your decision to exercise influence from the university. I’ve made a similar decision to do journalism. So my question is, when you publish an essay in a journal, do you expect readers to respond to the analysis you write on the paper and the first-hand experiences (field research) that you relate? Or do you prefer that they throw all of that out the window and respond based their own calculations on your psychology and hidden motivations. After all, that is essentially what you’ve done here.

    It is true that Alex makes a similar assumption in suggesting Judy is defending her privilege, above and beyond simply being a proponent of her point of view for ‘the movement’s’ sake. But he also makes a dozen other points, his article doesn’t stand on that point of speculation. But also, the weighing of protecting individual or group privilege against effective solidarity is a constant tension that I can say that I deal with on a daily basis, and I imagine others do too. The phenomenon of writing long-form articles as a form of catharsis hasn’t been as well documented, and I don’t think stands-up as a singular argument.

    2. THE MEANINGLESS MAJORITY

    You say: /The fact is, that many, many more of us in the social movements disagree with you here. In fact, the embrace of this notion, we believe, leads to actions – which while cathartic to those taking them – cannot contribute to the transformation of the conflicts involved. Of course, the embrace of anarchist rhetoric (‘smashing the state’ – sigh), and railing against ‘statism’ are the perfect intellectual catharsis. It’s all crap!/

    Potential scenario A: We have no idea who’s got ‘many, many more of us in the social movements’

    I have no idea here how you’re defining ‘the social movements’, but I would like to see your data showing that the majority disagree with Alex. I would have hands down agreed with you during my time in university, but in my short experience with movements outside of North American campuses, I can’t say that I share your certainty anymore. Should you not have said data, but still state this as a fact, that’s okay too, because I understand. As a recovering pacifist (I even helped organize the Kitchener Non-Violence Festival one year), I know all about the need to claim majority support. After all, most theories of non-violent struggle require the movement to either actually achieve majority support in the broader society, or at least convince those in positions of power that you have such a following. With the final goal of creating defections and mutinies amongst those to which you’ve conceded the monopoly on violence. So, should you not have the data, you’re only doing your job by following the “fake it till you make it” strategy.

    Potential scenario B: You’re right that you are on the side of the majority.

    To quote a truism from Immortal Technique, “universal truth is not measured in mass appeal.” In academic terms known as argumentum ad populum (the “appeal to majority” fallacy).

    3. CULTURE OF PEACE? OR BUBBLE OF PEACE

    You quote Alex saying: “We have to be willing to physically protect our own communities, no matter the cost, by any means necessary”

    And your analysis is: It is essentially cathartic for you. Does it sound like a culture of peace?

    – You’re right, a culture of peace is not being described here. Alex’s statement begins with a community under attack, so no, it doesn’t sound like a culture of peace. Once again, no reason given for why this is “cathartic”. It is treated as self-evident. For the record, it is treated as self-evident (i.e. not backed with argument) all of the 11 times you use the term in your post.

    4. PRETTY PLEASE WITH SUGAR ON TOP?

    Alex writes: “People and communities are under attack and it is time to fight back. If you’re not willing to stand up and fight, or to support those who are, please at least get out of the way.”

    You respond: This is very ‘pro-war bumper sticker’, but really, it’s also George Bush, and Stephen Harper, and NATO. Where is the way out of violence in all this?

    Just on the level of the meaning of the words, Alex’s ‘with us or get out of the way’ is fundamentally different than George Bush’s ‘with us or against us’. It doesn’t target those who disagree, it simply asks that they not obstruct (i.e. go work with others or ‘don’t hate, create’). On a side side note, Alex even throws in a ‘please’. Beyond the wording, I’m not going to get into the fundamental differences between US and Canadian wars of aggression and Alex’s solidarity work with communities who are the targets of state violence. But I would pose you this question. Would you criticize an Iraqi for having a bumper sticker that said “If you’re not willing to stand up and fight, or to support those who are, please at least get out of the way”.

    5. WE ALMOST HAD SOMETHING…

    You reference Alex’s quote again later on saying: You think you’re right, and others can line up behind you, or ‘get out of the way’. That is the kind of thinking that got us colonialism in the first place, Alex. That is the essence of violence.

    First I don’t see anywhere where Alex puts himself ‘in front’ of anybody. Nowhere is there an insinuation of anything even metaphorically resembling ‘lining up behind’.

    This was your opportunity here to actually constructively engage with Alex, because it appears to me that you brushed up on a fundamental disagreement with Alex (though I imagine you have more than one), which is the nature of violence.

    I’m not going to speak for Alex, but judging from his writing I imagine he would disagree with you on the ‘essence of violence’. You could have expounded on your idea here, which you leave a little under-explained in my opinion (how this is “the kind of thinking that got us colonialism in the first place”)

    For a moment you appear ready to explore this divergence (the roots of violence), an analysis that can often be at the root of one’s strategic and tactical decisions…

    You even pose a form of the question directly to Alex:

    Where is the way out of violence in all this?

    But instead of exploring that, you go right back to the well that keeps on giving, catharsis.

    Or perhaps, in the end, for you, it feels good to do the violence, so you will indulge in it.

    CONCLUSION: PREACHING

    I think you said it yourself at the beginning of your article. “I preached non-violence at WLU”. I can only speak for myself, but I’m sick of being preached at. Once again, I’m trying not to judge your ideas, but your form. And I think preaching is an appropriate description for this kind of dialogue.

    Because, like a religious authority, you feel comfortable forcing your point of view down the congregation’s throat with a series of personal attacks, baseless assumptions, logical fallacies, and dysfunctional (if not ass-backward) metaphors. And then, at the end of it all, you lay claim to the moral high ground.

  12. AW@L
    May 3, 2010 at 1:02 am

    On Diversity of Tactics: A Response to “The futility of activism using violence as catharsis”

    Following the direct actions taken against the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, and in the organizing lead up to the G8/G20 in June, the debate over effective tactics and forms of action continues. There is no doubt a myriad of perspectives on the possibilities and potentials of different forms of resistance and certainly constructive debate should be actively encouraged. We would like to take this opportunity to clarify our position as AW@L on this matter in hopes of moving beyond some sticking points in the debate.

    As an organization we have received comments on some of our members’ views on engaging in diversity of tactics as a core component of movements for social and ecological justice. In particular, a former professor at Wilfrid Laurier University (currently at Queen’s), Adam Davidson-Harden, has taken issue with Alex Hundert’s response to Judy Rebik’s article and Alex’s stance on diversity of tactics. We wish to formally respond to professor D-H’s cathartic writings.

    Prof. D-H asserts that our comrade Alex promotes and propagates a violent tactic of resistance as a cathartic and wholly self-serving exercise which does not take into account others in the broader social and ecological justice movements. Prof. D-H may not be in touch with the grassroots of these movements in Canada, for if he was, he would know that Alex Hundert is a well respected organizer with deep connections to many communities all across Turtle Island. Alex’s understanding and application of solidarity and responsibility has inspired and challenged many activists, academics, and community members. His respect for diversity of tactics and his ability to embrace and explain this cornerstone of contemporary activism is a clear example of comprehension and praxis.

    Far from cathartic, neither Alex nor AW@L undertakes actions expressly to relieve ourselves of some stress or emotional baggage, we do these things as we have embraced our responsibilities under the Two Row wampum and as products of colonialism – this embrace demands action. We do not qualify the success of our actions on how good we feel at the end of the day, our successes are framed by positive outcomes (for example: the change we want to see in the world) and momentum in our communities and for our allies.

    With that in mind, it seems pertinent to specifically define what is meant by diversity of tactics. In our view, a diversity of tactics implies respect and recognition that different groups engage in different modes of action which they deem to be most appropriate to their individual context and circumstance of struggle. This encompasses all forms of action from petitions, workshops, peaceful marches and militant confrontation as forms of direct action. To be clear, diversity of tactics acknowledges a continuum of tactics that range from passive to the confrontational. Diversity of tactics means that we struggle in different ways and acknowledge the right of others to determine their appropriate forms of resistance. Diversity of tactics is not bound by dogmatic adherence to either an overtly pacifist or violence-based form of action.

    To characterize a notion of diversity of tactics as blind, unthinking and dogmatic endorsement of all forms of violence is patently false, and derails the possibility of debate over which tactics themselves may be most effective. We do not, and would not endorse wholesale killing or violence as a dogmatic and unthought-of strategy for revolutionary social change. Diversity of tactics means diverse forms of action can be applied to the diverse circumstances in which struggle and resistance occur. There is no strict adherence to one specific strategy or type of action.

    The commitment and understanding of a diversity of tactics is observed in practice in the actions and forms of organization that occur within the newest movements of grassroots action and resistance. In the organizing that is leading up to the G8/G20 resistance in Toronto there is agreement between those involved that a diversity of tactics will be upheld and respected. This includes groups that engage in a variety of different forms of direct action, and groups that work on a number of diverse and complex issues and struggles. In the post-Seattle era of activism and resistance there is an understanding in the grassroots that diversity of tactics is the only acceptable means of organizing. It is those activists and organizers that are embedded within social movements themselves that advocate for such diversity, as they know diversity strengthens resilience. These are the folks who are in the meetings, on the street and the ones who will feel the brunt of the state security apparatus. In essence, diversity of tactics springs from the activists themselves, not some imposed top-down mentality.

    The Community Mobilization Network, which is the umbrella organization facilitating opposition to the G8/G20, has put forth a Statement of Unity (http://g20.torontomobilize.org/SolidarityRespect) agreeing to a diversity of tactics. The endorsers of this statement include a wide variety of social justice groups as well as the Peoples Summit, which is an initiative focusing on debate and engagement around the G8/G20 and not on carrying out direct actions itself. The Peoples Summit, is an amalgamation of NGO groups (such as the Council of Canadians, the Canadian Labour Congress and CUPE) and academics who recognize the need for diverse forms of resistance to the policies of the G8/G20. They state as one of the principles guiding their organizing, “To respect a diversity of tactics, for which individual organizations will be responsible.”

    In this light, the most fundamental components of conceiving of a diversity of tactics are the daily meetings, outreach, education, publication, independent media, community building, dialogue and consciousness awakening. It is absurd to characterize a diversity of tactics as not involving these core components of political struggle and resistance. Diversity of tactics, and it must be said again, encompasses all forms of resistance, action and engagement that are required for a vibrant, dynamic and effective social movement.

    Part of a diversity of tactics is the engagement with the academic realm around debate and critique of social movements and their practices. Any movement ought to welcome constructive criticism and debate on the effectiveness of its practices and methods. Academia has much to contribute to developing effective forms of resistance. It is, however, not enough. We must also strive to put our theories and words into practice. We must take action. And we must take the action that is most appropriate and effective and available to the situation in which we find ourselves.

    It has not been, as a general comment, the academy that has taken a leading role in the organizational capacity of social movements and their resistance efforts. This has come, again generally, from the younger grassroots and community-based activists. Organizing around the G8/G20 has itself mirrored this model. There is a noticeable lack of academics in the organizational committees and the time, resource, and sanity consuming prep work of laying the ground work for resistance to the G8/G20. This is not to say that academics have not participated in any capacity, but rather that mobilization and organizational roles are undertaken by those embedded within social movements and not those in their offices. Perhaps academia can assist in breaking the dogmatic commitment to singular forms of action in the tradition of critique and engagement.

    In our view, therefore, diversity of tactics seeks to break away from rigid and debilitating allegiances to singular forms of action. We believe that for a healthy movement we must employ the wealth of skills, perspectives and possibilities that act as parts of the overall movement. We believe dogmatic “non-violence” as well as violence are both unproductive as means of engaging in struggle and resistance. Part of this view recognizes the inherent violence that exists within society.

    Violence is an inescapable reality of human existence, whether we like it or not. This is not to say that there are aspects of life where we can limit the effects of violence and cultivate alternative forms of being and relating, but rather that violence is a frequent part of life. This includes both physical and overt forms of violence and those that are less obvious as systemic and indirect forms. We must recognize that many of our actions have violence attached to them. When we buy something the earth is destroyed, and frequently someone is exploited in the production process. When we sell our labour there is a violence of the system at work. When we live under capitalism and the statist system there is the oft-repeated violence of the state and police that hangs over us. This culture relies on violence for its continuance and we must recognize that violence permeates so many of our social relations.

    In Vancouver, for instance, brave people fought off the police who were trying to abduct their friends, lovers, and allies to the violence of a prison, and the economic punishment of the court system. When the system you live in does not support the ideals of justice, is it not your responsibility to help defend those at risk of persecution?

    To say that an action is “non-violent” negates the systemic violence, the privilege that exists and the effects that may be felt by any and all parties in the exchange. A sit-in blocks traffic or slows business, which means some person is deprived of their economic means. A banner drop uses materials from the earth, has the potential for arrest and jail time and carries a disruptive potential. Even “non-violent” action has violent repercussions in a systemic sense, but we cannot discount these methods as unjustified or ineffective. The point is that we undertake these methods to resist the greater violence of the system. The point is that we begin to think about what is justified and necessary for such resistance. Resigning ourselves to the debate of “non-violence” vs. violence does not allow us to think about what is necessary and effective, it simply negates the material realities of the systems in which we live.

    We are not here to dictate the tactics and strategies of resistance that communities must undertake. To do so would be to reinforce the hegemonic nature of our privilege on to others. We are here to allow for a multiplicity of perspectives and actions in order to strive for social justice and recognize the ability for diverse communities, in diverse contexts, to undertake diverse forms of action. Colonialism exists when one community impresses its views upon another with an air of self righteousness. We want to break that cycle and strive for community empowerment and autonomy, while recognizing that we are all in this for a better and more just world. A diversity of tactics acknowledges this view and allows for a diverse set of means to achieve such an end.

    The Zapatistas are perhaps one example of a diversity of tactics. They have used a diverse number of forms to create autonomous space for their communities and have used militant confrontation to defend their communities when necessary. They have also engaged in community building projects, alternative media, and “non-violent” action in order to fight for social justice. They have used solidarity to draw links between a variety of struggles and their own. Their success, we think it is fair to say, has been a direct result of the willingness to engage with a diversity of tactics. Perhaps the same can be said for Indigenous communities here in Canada, which Oka as one example where a diverse number of tactics were used, including more militant ones, with success and justification. Diversity of tactics means that we acknowledge the need for self-determination of communities in all forms, including their means of resistance and that such efforts should be supported, or at least not publically condemned by supposed allies in the social and ecological justice movements.

    A diversity of tactics means that we are committed to respect, solidarity, mutual aid and support of allies who are engaged in struggle. It centers our focus in acknowledging what is necessary for resistance in self-determining communities. It commits us to engagement and dialogue around what forms of resistance are effective and therefore ought to be employed. It means we acknowledge that we must care about what others think and work together to create a better world. It also acknowledges that disagreements will occur, but that such disagreements will not hold our movements back. AW@L does not feel that we have any place in limiting or condemning someone for how they respond to social and ecological injustices.

    A diversity of tactics acknowledges that there are diverse communities, in diverse contexts with a need to engage in diverse tactics. It acknowledges that we don’t have all the answers and that our tactics and strategies must evolve, moving beyond the paralysis of dogma. A diversity of tactics means that we are committed to doing what is necessary to resist injustices and support others who do the same.

    • May 4, 2010 at 10:04 pm

      So, I’d like to reply to this collective response from AW@L. There’s an awful lot of shoddy reasoning in here, and I’d like to get to that. But first, a question for Alex. I wrote my blog as a response to Alex’s piece on rabble (links at the bottom of this reply). I wanted to hold Alex’s invective to account. In it, he advocated for the justifiability of striking a police officer to ‘de-arrest’ someone as a preferable ‘tactic’. He also used inflammatory rhetoric, concerning the need to ‘stand up and fight’ and telling those who did not wish to do so, to ‘get out of our way’. In his piece, Alex mirrored alot of the pro-war rhetoric and the stance around violent confrontation that has been trumpeted to support war in Afghanistan and elsewhere…. so I have a question for Alex:

      Alex, why are you hiding behind a collective response from AW@L? I find it a shade cowardly of you to not come out and defend yourself personally – or do you find it difficult to defend yourself? Is it difficult for you to stand up and write that you think that ‘yes, we should hit police officers!’ And yes, people should get out of our way if they’re not prepared to use violent tactics!

      Here’s the segway into responding to AW@L’s response. The authors attempt to sidestep the argument by dismissing ‘violence’ and ‘non-violence': “Resigning ourselves to the debate of “non-violence” vs. violence does not allow us to think about what is necessary and effective, it simply negates the material realities of the systems in which we live.”

      Newsflash, folks: smashing stuff is violent. Hitting people is violent. Throwing stuff at people is violent….. these types of things are qualitatively different than non-violent tactics, as much as you wish to blur the lines in the attempt to justify violent tactics! That’s one of the points of shoddy reasoning I wanted to address. Let me extend this critique of poor arguments. The statement also reads: “We believe dogmatic “non-violence” as well as violence are both unproductive as means of engaging in struggle and resistance. Part of this view recognizes the inherent violence that exists within society.” Read that a couple times and tell me with a straight face that it makes sense. I get the first part: ‘dogmatic non-violence’ is the label you ascribe to those who criticize the kinds of violence that Alex defends, or that I give examples of above. Dan Kellar, for instance, sent me (no doubt proudly) a picture of a postbox smashed through an HBC window. Wow, really ‘effective’.

      That’s also a decent point to return to. You mention ‘effectiveness’, but don’t really get into what defines ‘effective’ to you. The same goes with your assertion that “we must take the action that is most appropriate and effective and available to the situation in which we find ourselves.” I must infer that you simply define as ‘effective’ any action (that may use violence) that you employ. After all, you decided to do it – it must be ‘effective’!

      this is mirrored in the statement’s figuring of ‘positive outcomes’. I will suggest that your idea of ‘positive outcomes’ of the use of violence in the way that Alex suggests (and that you more obliquely defend) is badly informed. If a ‘positive outcome’ is drawing attention of the corporate media to tar the whole movement with the brush of smashing things and hitting/provoking cops, then perhaps you have it, yes. But that’s not positive in my book. If ‘positive outcome’ is isolating yourself from a broader movement that eschews the types of violence you espouse, then perhaps you have a positive outcome. Both of these outcomes are indeed, utterly self-serving – and reflective, I believe, of the only truly effective nature of these types of actions, in a form of catharsis…. that vents your rage through violence.

      However, back to the collective response. You mention two provocative examples: the Zapatistas and Oka…. Now, with the Zapatistas, I heard from the mouth of a catholic priest who was in deep communication with the movement initially and throughout its first phase post-1994, and in communication with Subcommandante Marcos himself, that the ‘weapons’ they wielded were fake, and used for intimidation. Let’s put that aside for the moment. Let’s assume they used real weapons for the sake of a thought experiment. And let’s extend your use of that example and Oka with a defense of the use of weapons in the pursuit of social justice…

      Are you going down the path of ‘just war’? Do you believe, along with Ward Churchill (who reputedly challenged some academic colleagues to learn to assemble and use an automatic rifle that he brought to a conference), perhaps, that ‘targeted military strikes’ or the use of guns are as legitimate as picketing and marching? Do you really want to go down that road? Is it the road to peace?

      The moment we start using violence is the moment that we forget peace and indulge in war. I urge you not to take this thinking to its logical extreme. It involves picking up a weapon and being perfectly ready to fire it at your enemy, and that, my friends, is what war is all about…. and correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought you were ‘anti-war at Laurier’. Or is that just ‘anti-some wars, but not the wars we like’.

      In this context, the statement attempts to cover up the tolerance and preference for violent tactics and actions under the umbrella of the ‘diversity of tactics’. That has been the idea all along with the use of this term and idea in organizing. You write, triumphantly, “In the post-Seattle era of activism and resistance there is an understanding in the grassroots that diversity of tactics is the only acceptable means of organizing.”

      Oh really? Whose understanding is that? Not mine, and not many others’. This debate rages globally – it is just as entrenched in Europe as it is here. Activists there are just as frustrated with other activists’ willingness to use violence as a tactic as they are here. On your specific references, I’ve already written the People’s Summit, as well as the CLC, CoC and CUPE on this – I’m interested to know whether they directly support ‘diversity of tactics’ – I am guessing that they don’t, though I’d like to see it in writing. I would be prepared to bet, though, that none of these organizations would condone Alex’s recommendations of striking a police officer to ‘de-arrest’ someone, nor would they enthuse at his rhetoric, which mirrors that of the warmongers. I’ll of course let you know if and when I receive responses there…

      I dearly hope I can help to change some folks’ minds, and help to invite them to clarify their own thinking on an individual and organizational level in this ensuing dialogue, which all sprung from my response to Alex…. and ironically, Alex, you’ve been quite quiet in all of this…

  13. May 10, 2010 at 2:09 pm

    “Dogmatic pacifism builds complicity with state violence.” I put this up as my Facebook Status earlier today, as I have started working on a response to Adam Davidson-Harden [to paraphrase Marty McFly: Nobody calls me a coward]. For now, here is a comment on the FB update left by Rowland Keshena (http://BermudaRadical.wordpress.com):

    “In my opinion pacifism only offers a series of dead ends to those who are seeking to make serious change in the world.

    Time after time pacifist movement have come to an end either with their leaders murdered by the state, co-option by the state, or just a general ineffectiveness to bring through serious and lasting change. One has to … See morelook no further than the most heralded victories for pacifism to see the evidence of this. For example, Dr. King (who died a democratic socialist) was assassinated, following which the largest segmenets of his movement were co-opted into the Democratic Party and NGO apparatuses.

    Being Native I can see first hand the futility of strict adherance to pacifism as a means to social change. Ultimately we need a position that both avoids the dogmatism of pacifism as well as that of those who would advocate a philosophy of social change predicated on solely on guerilla warfare.

    I do agree with those like Taiaiake Alfred who argue that the capacity for armed self-defence is a vital one, and also feel that all possible non-violent means most be mobilized, utilized and finally exhausted before other means are attempted, however I also feel that a revolutionary movement should maintain the capacity for offensive action. In this sense I look to the Zapatista movement, which while at this moment is in a phase of armed self-defence and mostly non-violent struggle, it has never given up the capacity to again wage war with the Mexican state.

    In fact many resistance movements, by their nature, have utilized the entire spectrum of conflict, from passive non-violent forms to armed actions. History has shown that us that during the course of a resistence struggle, when an entire people are mobilized into that struggle, everyone participates & contributes in whatever way they can, whether it’s passing on information, not co-operating with government officials, or firing a rifle. An excellent example of this was the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, which was lead by an alliance of the African National Congress, South African Communist Party and Congress of South African Trade Unions. During that historic struggle the alliance made use of both non-violent means as well as a guerilla group, the Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation). Nelson Mandela, the main leader of the alliance and himself also a former resistance fighter, noted in a Time magazine article on Gandhi that, “Violence and nonviolence are not mutually exclusive; it is the predominance of the one or the other that labels a struggle.”

  14. Mike Adamson
    June 30, 2010 at 6:01 pm

    An interesting discussion. OTOH, I don’t believe that a peaceful society can be produced through the application of force and war. OTOH, I also believe that violence is the midwife of history.

    I can’t wait to see how it all turns out.

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