Paris Riots II, the Left, and Black Bloc

r1263708551.jpgA scene of riots in Paris. Overturned and burning cars. Scenes of injured protestors and rows of riot police. All these have gone virtually unnoticed by the media. Compare this to the coverage given to the riots a few months back. The explanation is simple. One word explains the reason for widespread coverage of the riots for the terrible living conditions and unemployment rates of poor immigrants (and children of immigrants): racism. Racism because its intention was to show to the whole world the supposed barbarism of Arabs and Muslims. Make no mistake about it; this is exactly why the riots were so publicized. The fascists (for example, see the coverage dedicated to it by one pro-Israeli Jew: one, two, and of course how can one miss the Little Green Fascists coverage: 1, 2, 3, … n) were of course quick to jump on the opportunity and accuse the Arabs and Muslims of being uncivilized brutes. These same people ironically post no such photos of the riots at Sorbonne and elsewhere regarding the new labour law. This is what I call selective coverage. Now are you surprised that mainstream media and fascists go hand in hand? And I would not be surprised if quite a few of the relatively-well-off Sorbonne rioters criticized the poor rioters of November 2005 for doing the same things that they have been doing: burning cars, breaking windows, throwing stones, etc. Make no mistake, the Sorbonne protests and riots are not exclusively leftist in character. As in all protests there are bound to be hypocrites and fascists protesting alongside leftists, socialists, and anarchists, under the same slogans. I call that situational tolerance, although I doubt that anarchists and fascists would co-exist in the same rally… Now don’t misunderstand me. I actually support the cause for which these students and youngsters are protesting. But at the same time I am critical of the divisive (ethnic and religious) lines that seem to be part of most leftist movements. No class revolution is revolutionary if it is based on exclusivist agendas.

Another point that I would like to address is the violence issue. Is violence necessary? Justified? From my experience, most acts of violence during rallies are initiated or instigated by the police forces. As such, resistance becomes necessary, and violence unavoidable. But there is a different aspect to all this: violence as a strategy/tactic. Many leftists and in fact anarchists criticize the use of violence as a tactic. Of course, the most notorious “group” when it comes to violence are the black bloc. I was having a debate about them with someone the other day. I was defending their tactics, while he was attacking them. First of all, there are many misperceptions of the black bloc within the leftist camp, in no small part due to infiltrators who want to give effective activism a bad name. That the black bloc is interested in engaging in a fight with the police is a myth. Black bloc activists have been the least effected by police violence; they have been very effective at watching their and their comrades’ backs, and instrumental in freeing arrestees. That black bloc has been a “source of infiltrations” (according to the person I was debating with) is laughable. If there are any sources of infiltration, they are the pseudo-leftist groups that make up the bulk of the “activist” movement. These people not only believe in hierarchic / vertical set-ups, they have also been very much limiting the freedoms of protestors that they supposedly are advocates of. For example, they have, on more than one occasion, pushed protestors, ordered them where to stand and where to go, and so on. Some, on the front lines, have been very aggressive and inviting of police attacks. I for one have been on the front lines and have tried to calm them down, but not only was I accused of being “one of them”, I was also the scapegoat of the violence that the police enthusiastically took up. In activism there is a difference between unplanned violence and a planned one. The violence adopted by these pseudo-leftists has been for the most part unplanned and reactionary, often even pro-police. It is these irrational haphazard acts of violence that have turned off many people from attending rallies. The black bloc, on the other hand, while often engaging in property destruction, has a clear purpose and agenda. For example, read some portions of the communique issued by the ACME collective–black bloc in response to accusations following Seattle, 1999:

[P]rivate property–especially corporate private property–is itself infinitely more violent than any action taken against it.

Private property should be distinguished from personal property. The latter is based upon use while the former is based upon trade. The premise of personal property is that each of us has what s/he needs. The premise of private property is that each of us has something that someone else needs or wants. In a society based on private property rights, those who are able to accrue more of what others need or want have greater power. By extension, they wield greater control over what others perceive as needs and desires, usually in the interest of increasing profit to themselves.

Private property–and capitalism, by extension–is intrinsicly violent and repressive and cannot be reformed or mitigated. Whether the power of everyone is concentrated into the hands of a few corporate heads or diverted into a regulatory apparatus charged with mitigating the disasters of the latter, no one can be as free or as powerful as they could be in a non-hierarchical society.

The number of broken windows pales in comparison to the number broken spells–spells cast by a corporate hegemony to lull us into forgetfulness of all the violence committed in the name of private property rights and of all the potential of a society without them. Broken windows can be boarded up (with yet more waste of our forests) and eventually replaced, but the shattering of assumptions will hopefully persist for some time to come.

Speaking of this necessitates speaking of long-term versus short-term planning and execution of plans. The person I was arguing with is for long-term planning. I am for short and decisive steps that would set the stage for the long struggle ahead. It is pointless to plan for years – in the dark – only to be met with a new set of realities, or factors that were not taken into account. That would send you many years back. Instead work on actions that can make solid, albeit small, changes. Furthermore, the guy argued: if you smash a Nike store, you would be hurting the owner, not Nike. Yes, my friend, the owner is as much of an oppressor as Nike is. The owner makes a living off the backs of sweatshop workers. However indirect such a contribution is, it is undeniable that by selling Nike products the store-owner is supporting the use of cheap labour for corporate profits. This is the problem with the mainstream (and even some of the alternative) left. They place far more emphasis on “peaceful means” than on the end that they are supposedly pursuing. They fail to take note of the fact that none of the corporate owners hesitate to use violence and inhumane treatment for their capitalistic ends. What do these “leftists” propose? Fighting the violence of capitalism by absolutely peaceful means, so much so that they have made the smashing of shopping windows of Nike dealers and Starbucks corporate headquarters taboo. If we are to trust a bunch of armchair leftists and defeatists (not to mention centralists/hierarchists) like World Social Forum to bring us a revolution, we might as well start believing in the coming of the Messiah.

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