I didn’t really pay attention to the G8/G20 summit protests in Toronto, either the events themselves or the preparations for them, but I have been reading a lot of the postgame commentary. The reason for the former is that at this date I don’t find summit-protest politics all that compelling; if the first wave of actions attempted to both disrupt the summits’ proceedings and create new political assemblages, the habitual impulse to protest since then seems to have accomplished very little of that. Some of the actions, in fact, seem to be no more than the pro forma registering of dissent and of faux outrage at politicians’ ignoring of demands and the police’s controlling of movement, as if anyone’s truly shocked when police repress. This isn’t to say that there’s anything inherently useless about summit protests, but only that the politics that have created them recently seem to me to be lacking in imagination and urgency.
But I have been investigating ex post facto the Toronto protests, which interest me more because they saw an unprecedented level of security preparation ($1 billion), juridical detainments (over 1,000 arrests), and black bloc disruption. This last is most decisive, not because the actions they carried out were novel or even perhaps that effective, but because their tactics, both their provocations of the police and the subsequent laying bare of differences among the protesting factions, were explosive and revealing. I’m less interested in critiquing block bloc tactics — though there is certainly lots of room for that — than I am at looking at them as an unhinging events, events that interrupt the studied antagonism between the police and civil society groups, which in turn engenders protests that are a repetition without difference. But black bloc suspends, even if only momentarily, this truce and gives the protest “space” a dangerousness and an opening that the other tactics can’t create.
It should be stressed, however, that this opening doesn’t exist just for black bloc participants: it’s a suspension of the whole proceedings. In this regard, most of the responses to black bloc, from state leaders to NGO representatives, have been as revealing as they’ve been predictable. For them, openings are the exact thing they don’t want, and so denunciations take a moral form but are just as concerned with the strategic dangers of black bloc. Slightly less surprising are other, unaffiliated radicals, who are attached to the structure of opposition and hold fantasies of pure mass movement, have been eager to lodge their moral complaints against black bloc and throw snits that it is a parasite on the movement.
More surprising to me have been the some anarchists’ criticisms, and not just the fact of criticisms but the tone and aim of them. This article, for instance, the comments to which rebut most of it very nicely. But I was also struck by the writer’s references to democracy. Especially:
Democracy requires discussing tactics in a format that ensures accountability to others organizing the demonstrations. Instead, the code words “diversity of tactics” are often used to cloak a range of actions that inevitably impact all activists involved in protests.
In these sorts of usages, democracy is either an empty signifier or denotes something roughly equivalent to consensus. But this writer’s use of it is perhaps more apropos than he realizes, because what he’s describing and advocating here is very much like nation-state democracy: the exorcising of multiplicities that don’t submit themselves to the rule of the one. The writer even wants other anarchists to take on the task of driving out black bloc:
[A] more cohesive critique of the impact of black bloc tactics from within the more serious currents of anarchism will only aid in diminishing the phenomenon.
I suppose it’s nice that the writer wants to use argument instead of police for the job, but the result is the same: a purging of the body politic of everything that disrupts unity. Especially odd to me is the lament that black bloc tactics “impact all activists.” Well, yes, that would seem to be the inevitable result of any movement that isn’t dictated from party headquarters: the noncontrolled intermingling of bodies to form a protest assemblage. No agreement is necessary to create such an assemblage. The writer of this article, however, wants some groups’ actions to be screened by other groups, though I suppose as a “serious” anarchist he would say that it should be decided by consensus rather than by a central committee. But that’s not movement. That’s democracy, in which the desires of multiplicities are given free reign until the ultimate, decisive moment, when they must be sacrificed to the whole.