The Problems of Black Block Militancy: Milksop Liberalism is Not the Answer

A column by Clay Risen [IMC] begins with some interesting suggestions to the effect that the debate over the security fence marking off a no-free-speech zone for the upcoming IMF/World Bank protests in DC is probably something of a red herring: debate over the fence and security vs. the rights of demonstrators will eclipse the discussion of the actual meeting, individuals, and issues that they are demonstrating against. All this is very true. On the other hand, Risen quickly descends into feel-good liberal blather as he suggests that black-masked anarchists who will take direct action against the fence or other private property will cast a pall on the entire effort that peaceful, thoughtful people labored for. Predictably, he invokes the well-worn liberal platitudes about Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. to justify his sweeping dismissal of militant tactics and assumes that anyone who pursues them is simply an unthinking brute.

Well, look. A critique of Black Bloc-style militant tactics is in order. I know way too many would-be revolutionary white boys who have the time and the luxury to go to DC and throw things at police, but not everyone has the time, money, or legal protections and privileges that let them indulge in antagonism of police. But strategic use of direct action, including forceful direct action, can be a valid and important tactic. Police have proven in Genoa, DC, Philadelphia, etc. that they don’t give a shit whether you are violent or non-violent: they will beat the shit out of you and arrest you either way, and if they can’t figure out a reason they will make one up. Here, for example, the Black Bloc’s tactic of using force to un-arrest people from the police is a hell of a lot better than the passive acceptence of police state tactics urged by the liberals. Similarly, smashing barriers that keep demonstrators away from areas of wide public spectacle and media attention can accomplish the major goal of getting presence in the media (and directly in front of thousands of people) in a way that merely holding press conferences and peaceful marches will not do. Here a good example was the Black Bloc’s smashing of barriers between demonstrators and the motorcade route during the inauguration protests in DC.

We have, have, have to drop this one-dimensional mania for non-violent demonstrations and civil disobedience, along with its insipid, uncritical canonization of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. Strategic use of violence — violence in self-defense, violence against barriers which have no right to exist in the first place and which it serves a goal to destroy — is a hell of a lot more effective than marching around in a pathetic little circle with clever slogans on signs that the DC police have ensured no-one will see. Both violent and non-violent action are needed. India’s liberation was not accomplished by Gandhi’s march to the sea, but by both Gandhi and militants such as Communist workers. Black liberation in the United States, insofar as it has occurred, was not the invention of Martin Luther King Jr.; it was both Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, the Black Panther Party, etc.

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