One hundred years ago, in October 1911, the first issue of The McGill Daily hit the stands. Shortly after, across the ocean, Leon Trotsky wrote a piece entitled “Why Marxists Oppose Individual Terrorism” for the German social democratic newspaper, Der Kampf. In light of two recent events: the revolutions around the Arab world and Sam Neylon and Al Blair’s defence of the black bloc (“Arresting anonymity,” Commentary, March 21) – though not comparable in their scope – the question of individual terrorism is being posed once again.
Marxists do not oppose the method of individual terrorism because of moral consideration. Trotsky explained it aptly: “In our eyes, individual terror is inadmissible precisely because it belittles the role of the masses in their own consciousness, reconciles them to their powerlessness, and turns their eyes and hopes towards a great avenger and liberator.”
The outbreak of revolution in the Middle East has broken the clutch of individual terrorism – assassination, suicide bombing, kidnapping, airplane hijacking, et cetera – that has dominated Middle Eastern politics for the past three to four decades. The Arab world once had a proud tradition of mass political action, one based on the democratic and militant mobilization of the masses. The recent Arab revolutions, with millions of people mobilized on the streets and in the factories, have brought back that lost tradition. All the cynics who have dismissed the ability of the Arab masses to organize themselves are now silent.
Revolution has demonstrated the superiority of mass action, and it is therefore unacceptable that there are still people out there who are defending black bloc tactics, which are nothing but another form of individual terrorism. Neylon and Blair did just that with their recent article.
Anarchist theorists can argue all they want about the so-called “propaganda of the deed,” about the stimulating effect of such action on the consciousness of the masses. In his piece, Neylon and Blair argued that the presence of black bloc “represents an attempt to reclaim the bodily sovereignty.” Others argue that the physical destruction of capitalist symbols – McDonald’s, banks, et cetera – is a protest against consumerism, and that it will act to alter people’s frame of mind. Nevertheless, however one wants to justify it, the black bloc is nothing but a group of great avengers and liberators that belittles the role of mass organization.
I am sure that Neylon and Blair believe in mass mobilization. But one cannot believe in mass action and individual terrorism (i.e. the black bloc) at the same time. This smacks of vulgar eclecticism. This is not a question of diversity of tactics, another word that the proponents of black bloc like to throw around. Diversity of tactics assumes that the black bloc tactic is not counterproductive to the cause. Yet it is. The black bloc tactic, as Trotsky pointed out, “reduces the interest of the masses in self-organization and self-education.” Why would you organize, why have mass meetings, why class struggle, why strike when you can challenge the system just by donning a black mask and smashing windows?
Police brutality and indiscriminate arrests are something to condemn, but don’t justify black bloc tactics. I will be the first in line to demand the release of the arrested black-clad protesters, but I will also be the first one to vigorously point out the mistake of the black bloc, and to fight against their tactics without mercy. o