Friday, 2 July 2010

Toronto, the EDO Decommissioners, and the case for direct action

As could be expected, the aftermath of the protests against the G8 and 20 summits in Toronto has seen criticism of "black bloc" anarchists.

The conspiracist wingnuts still can't get it into their head that black bloc is a tactic, not an organisation. Moreover, they credit this non-existent organisation with being "a police psyops group ordered to start the G20 riot."

By painting "the black block" as "undercover police operatives engaged in purposeful provocations to eclipse and invalidate legitimate G20 citizen protest by starting a riot" these idiots are perpetuating the same stereotypes as the authorities and mainstream media. That is, that those engaged in pointless acts of vandalism and/or violence are representative of the anarchist movement rather than an unhelpful minority.

Some of that minority may well be agent provocateurs. It's not unheard of. But that doesn't change the fact, which I've pointed out before, that these theories exist "to distract the masses from those truly responsible for the woes of the world and distract organised resistance to the ruling classes with outlandish strawmen."

In the mainstream press, some articles and op-eds actually acknowledged the history of anarchism with fair accuracy when they critiqued the black bloc.

For example, in Canada's National Post, Tasha Kheiriddin acknowledged the movement's "heyday in the 19th and early 20th centuries, as the labour movement swelled in response to the growth of capitalism." Unfortunately, he lists the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand - actually committed by a Yugoslav nationalist - between "toppl[ing] the Romanov Dynasty in Russia" and "nearly oust[ing] dictator Francisco Franco in Spain."

Inaccuracies aside, it's a fair attempt at balance. At least until it goes on an ad hominem attack against the "people who dress like skulking teenagers." Not to mention the tired old line of "if these anarchists had any spine, they would go to places like North Korea, Cuba and Zimbabwe to make their 'statements' against authority and its abuses."

The fact is that anarchists are critical of such tyrannies. And, twenty years after the Cold War ended, Tu quoque is still a logical fallacy.

Nonetheless, both the mainstream and the cranks will use this as a propaganda tool. Even though it is not, they have inextricably bound black bloc tactics with pointless and random acts of destruction. Thus, too, goes direct action - speak of it without derision and you're practically advocating terrorism.

As it happens, I don't think that black bloc tactics are effective. But this is because they are expected, and the authorities are fully prepared for them nowadays. More than that, they don't go far enough. Though often marred by violence, they still remain within the framework of static "protest" rather than as a push towards radical or revolutionary action.

There is too much broken glass and not enough occupied property.

But, whatever else may be said of the failure of the black bloc, it is not an argument for passive placard waving. Direct action works, as the victory of the parents who occupied Lewisham Bridge primary school and prevented its closure will testify. And today we saw yet another example.

From BBC News;
Seven anti-war activists have been cleared of plotting to damage a Brighton weapons factory after claiming to be preventing Israeli war crimes.

During their three-week trial at Hove Crown Court the activists said they were acting with "lawful excuse" during the break-in at EDO MBM in 2009.

Five Smash EDO activists were cleared on Wednesday, with the remaining two acquitted on Friday.

The defendants were from Brighton, Bristol and Islington, north London.

Extensive damage was caused to the EDO MBM Technology building in Moulsecoomb along with computer equipment and precision machinery.

EDO MBM is an approved supplier to the Ministry of Defence and governments worldwide.

The activists admitted they broke into EDO MBM in the early hours of 17 January last year and sabotaged equipment worth about £200,000.

But they said they were acting to prevent further alleged war crimes being committed by Israel against Gaza.
As Anne-Marie O'Reilly, Local Campaigns Co-ordinator for the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT), noted, "the Decommissioners' inspiring actions show that it is possible to have a direct impact on ending the arms trade in the UK. We wish them well as they celebrate their victory."

Peaceful protest can be used to great effect to engage with the public and to give an outlet to mass anger. But it does not achieve anything concrete, as the impotency of countless anti-war marches against Bush and Blair's desire to wage war on Iraq demonstrated.

Direct action, on the other hand, can yield positive results. As, globally, the working class face austerity measures to shore up the ruling class, we would do well to remember that.