The police and tactics at the Melbourne protest


Morgan, a Suitable Case for Treatment was a funny movie, but 100 Morgans running around is a political pain in the neck

Bob Gould

10:07am on Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Rehosted from Leftwrites

The old movie, Morgan, A Suitable Case for Treatment, starring a very young Vanessa Redgrave, is one of my personal all-time favourite movies. The penultimate scene, with the whole world chasing Morgan in his monkey suit all over London, is very funny indeed.

One Morgan is okay, but 100 or so southern-hemisphere Black Bloc wannabees trashing police vehicles at an otherwise peaceful but relatively small Melbourne demonstration, in the current reactionary Australian political climate, is something quite different to Morgan’s monkey suit.

The essential question is the fact that these irresponsible political adventurers disguise their faces. I agree strongly with Mick Armstrong’s post on this matter on Leftwrites, and I defer to his knowledge, based on his investigation as to who these people were.

The very act of people from outside a city invading a demonstration in another city with the clear intention of launching a semi-military attack on the cops, with their faces covered, irrespective of the consequences for the rest of the demonstrators, is a calculated political act directed against the bulk of the demonstrators.

People with covered faces who attack the cops, unless they are rather unlucky and their covering falls off, are very dangerous to everybody else at the demonstrations, and quite possibly include fascists and agents provocateur. (I don’t talk about agents provocateur lightly. Over many years of militant activity during the Vietnam agitation I was myself quite unjustifiably called an agent provocateur by assorted Stalinists because of my activities, and this demagogic accusation has just been revived by an apparent Stalinist on the Green Left List because of my view in support of the Hungarian Revolution in 1956. The people who run the Green Left have in practice acquiesced in this accusation, and I am still in dispute with characters who run the Green Left list on this matter. So I am pretty conscious of this kind of question. Nevertheless, real agents provocateur certainly do exist, and organised contingents with covered faces clearly facilitate the actitivities of real agents provocateur.)

The police under capitalism

There has been a rather heated exchange on Leftwrites about the cops. The first thing I would say is that in general socialists should always strenuously oppose increases in police powers for obvious political reasons. Nevertheless the police under capitalism are often shot through with contradictions.

They are usually recruited from poorer blue collar people. Over the years, there have been a number of quite spectacular police strikes over wages and conditions, mainly in English-speaking countries. The major police strikes were in Britain around the end of the First World War, when most of the strikers were sacked and some of their leaders joined the Communist Party; the Boston police strike in North America; and by no means least the Melbourne police strike in the early 1920s.

During the Melbourne strike there was a quite unusual incident when Melbourne Catholic Archbishop Mannix and Communist Party Seaman’s Union Leader Tom Walsh spoke on the same platform in support of the strikers. The police strikers were never re-employed and many of the activists in the strike later became activists in the workers movement in other industries.

As Robert Bollard points out, in some industrial disputes in Australia police loyalties have been divided. For instance in Sydney during the Maritime Union dispute the police were very reluctant to come down hard against the unionists and others picketing.

There have been other, similar incidents, such as the policeman in a Queensland country town who avoided arresting a bloke who threw a missile at Billy Hughes, which enraged Billy Hughes.

During the Depression in NSW, while the police were pretty brutal at Rothbury, on the NSW Hunter Valley coalfields, where a striker was killed, nevertheless the police in East Sydney joined in with the Labour Army and the Workers Defence Army to crush the New Guard when they attempted to smash up workers’ meetings at Taylor Square.

Police often have roots in their communities, particularly in country towns. This can pull them in contradictory directions. There is and no doubt that country police are often racist against indigenous Australians and this should not be glossed over.

Nevertheless, it’s important to look at all the contradictions. In modern Australia, it’s pretty well known that social and personal relations tend to exist between police, firemen and women, ambulance staff and nurses, and these different groups of workers are all linked by the fact that they deal with each other on a day-to-day basis.

They work unsociable hours. Their work is often hard and dangerous and it’s pretty well known that police and nurses often marry each other, being drawn together by the above factors.

In nearly 30 years of running a marginal late-night small business I have had to refine my practical attitude to the police. If shoplifters try to steal books I make a serious attempt to get the books back. I abuse the shoplifters and ban them from the shop. I don’t report minor property matters to the police.

If, on the other hand,someone tries to hold up me or my staff with a syringe or a knife etc, which has happened a few times, I do report that to the police because of the element of physical threat. If I am burgled anywhere I do report that for insurance purposes. If I witness a bag snatch, I do report that because of the physical assault involved.

Friends of mine who had their bag snatched also report such incidents to police. I am always courteous and civil to the coppers on the beat in the areas where I trade. I’d say that’s in practice the way most sensible socialists deal with the contradictory nature of the police under capitalism.

I see absolutely no value in either over-emphasising the oppressive aspect of the police under capitalism or demonising the police in their day-to-day civil functions despite the fact that I am well aware of the chronic corruption that plagues the police under capitalism, etc.

There is also, obviously, a new set of factors. I attended some demonstrations in Sydney over the past couple of years, several of which had the rubric of closing down some capitalist institutions such as the stock exchange. Despite declaring to myself that, at 67, I wasn’t going to get too close to the physical action, of course I did, and was the one greybeard among many young people squeezed by police horses around the corner from the Market Street building, which was effectively closed for a few hours by the demonstration.

I had strategic misgivings about rhetoric on closing down the city with small forces, but those protests went off without too much difficulty. A striking feature of those protests was the appearance of a new breed, at least in Sydney, of obviously specially trained crowd control police wearing distinct blue or grey uniforms, physically as tough as nails, and drawn up in semi-military formation.

To people round about I described them as pitt-bull terriers, which raised a bit of a laugh. Incidentally, for no reason that I could fathom, they all seemed to be pretty short. I tried to chiak them a bit, but they weren’t having any, and remained grim-faced and hostile.

These cops weren’t obvious at the protests against the recent Lebanon invasion, which seemed to be policed by more or less ordinary coppers. At the first of those protests there was a very large police presence compared with the size of the protest.

I gave a bit of cheek to one of the commanders in front of his underlings, about why they needed so many coppers for a small protest. He was stoney faced, and refused to respond except in monosylables, but the ordinary coppers around him were cracking little grins. I don’t doubt that some police are hostile to “people of Middle Eastern appearance”, indigenous Australians and others, partly out of prejudice and partly because of the day-to-day contradictions of policing in some areas.

None of these realities seem to me a sound reason for ignoring the contradictions among the police, and instead treating them as a homogenous reactionary mass. Politically, what does that achieve?


Kath Wilson November 21, 2006 @ 11:18am  Bob Gould, what an excellent post. You’ve articulated clearly some things I fumblingly and inadequately tried to on another post. It’s important to hear the views of “the one greybeard among many young people”. It is, though, worth pointing out that the cops themselves used the equivalent of the hooded tactic at s11 by illegally removing their name-tags. Not that I’m suggesting tit for tat (on both sides, as you say, it’s counterproductive). But this might be why these people felt it was justified.

jeff November 21, 2006 @ 11:29am  I haven’t commented specifically about the controversy around G20 cos I don’t really feel I’m on top of what happened. It does seem to me that the media reports about “unprecedented violence” involve a degree of hype, if only because, as I said previously, I was a block away and didn’t even know that anything out of the ordinary was taking place.

That being said, whatever happened clearly hasn’t helped the Left in Melbourne.
At the same time, there’s an ugly element of xenophobia in the focus on “foreign agitators” and people on the left shouldn’t be adding to it.

As for Bob’s post, it seems to me to confuse theory and tactics. Obviously it is advisable to be polite and civil to cops that you encounter in your daily life.
The attitude taken to them in strikes or demonstrations depends on the situation — though in general the Left’s response to police brutality should involve mobilising enough people that brutality no longer becomes an option.

But none of this means, as Bob seems to imply, that police are just ordinary workers that they’re the same as nurses and ambulance workers. They’re not. They’re part of the state and they perform a distinct function — which is why they’re the only occupation officially mandated to inflict violence.

Gerard Morel November 21, 2006 @ 11:32am  Well I don’t disagree with most of Bob’s post, and I also agree with the last few (non-smiley related) posts on the “brief G20 report” thread about the pointlessness and irresponsibility of the bin-throwing activity on Saturday — although I also believe that the “mainstream” organising forces were somewhat irresponsible in not attemping to lead or organise the post-march part of the protest.

But we can win the argument about tactics on demos on their own merits, without having to create mythologies or slander people. My own “investigation” involved going to a debriefing barbecue last night for people who may or may not have been involved in unlawful activity.

I knew some of the people there; ex-colleagues. And what I was told was that at the Space Outside, the squatted building where the interstate and other visitors who were involved in more autonomist-anarchist-type politics stayed, there were three “maybe four at most” people from New Zealand, and no Europeans at all — unless they were just tourists who happened to be around on the day.

I’ve got no reason not to believe that person, who is known to many on this blog. Three or four, not “40”. This seems a pointless exaggeration, and we should just accept that the people who did the violent stuff on Saturday were basically people from around Melbourne and Melbourne’s left who, as my informants suggested, had their own ideas about “militancy” and inspiring people, and rejected what they felt to be other routine and depressing or “authoritarian” methods of conducting protests.

Their strategy seems pretty hopeless and maybe even pessimistic and possibly suicidal. They were clearly hell-bent on doing their own thing and if the couple of posts from them on this blog are anything to go by, some of them are pretty egotistically pleased with themselves, which is hard to take for anyone who has spent their activist life trying to achieve things with “unity”.

But perhaps there should be some thought about whether they were the only group “exploiting” the demo. I mean, I went there partly to hand out leaflets for another protest — David Hicks, December 9. Others clearly went to do something exciting or heroic according to their own lights. Others — who can say?

But the fact is that we got to the barricades, after months of alleged organising, and there wasn barely a banner, a placard, a person with a megaphone, a person with a “marshal” armband, just affinity groups doing their own thing, undercover cops presumably, journalists, and in between, a whole lot of people wondering what was happening.

Why didn’t anyone try to take responsibility for this? All I’ve heard so far is “we didn’t really discuss that” — great. I mean — this is just a tiny example — the image on yesterday’s paper of a man throwing a plastic bread tray would have been almost ok if, say, there had been a placard in the background saying “Paul Wolfowitz = 655,000 Iraqi dead”. But there were no placards — the “farmers” yesterday had clearer visual messages than us legendary organisers and activists did.

jeff November 21, 2006 @ 11:36am  “That being said, whatever happened clearly hasn’t helped the Left in Melbourne.”

Sorry, that wasn’t very clear. What I mean by this is along the lines that Ninja argued elswhere: that the white overalls people have not even attempted to present a political justifiation for their actions (whatever they actually did) and so we’re left with a situation where most ordinary people don’t feel confident to defend the demonstration.

That wasn’t the case after S11, where, despite a lot of hostility from the media, most punters still felt pretty upbeat about the demo.

Jill November 21, 2006 @ 11:37am  “I agree strongly with Mick Armstrong’s post on this matter on Leftwrites, and I defer to his knowledge, based on his investigation as to who these people were. The very act of people from outside a city invading a demonstration in another city with the clear intention of launching a semi-military attack on the cops, with their faces covered, irrespective of the consequences for the rest of the demonstrators, is a calculated political act directed against the bulk of the demonstrators.”

I don’t know about this at all. I mean, yes, I don’t support the semi-military nature of some of the actions which are being celebrated over at Indymedia. But what is this attack on people from interstate coming to the rally?

As Shannon or someone said, we always encourage activists to do that. It’s hardly the main problem and does feed into the stereotyped media idea about “outside agitators”. Also, I’m not sure at all that Mick is right about who the white bloc people were.

From what a lot of people from RMIT say, it was a mixture of people, including some quite new people. Lastly, it’s fine to debate tactics but we also should make it clear in all our posts — we need to be swinging into action to support people who were arrested.

There seems to be a disappointing lack of awareness about where things are at with the arrests.

Kath Wilson November 21, 2006 @ 11:51am  There have been conflicting reports on the number arrested, which leads me to suspect there has been more than one erroneous arrest. Also: Costello has gotten political mileage out of the “fact” that this group was allegedly from interstate and overseas: something, curiously, that came about BEFORE reports of arrests. COSTELLO:
“We’ll have to have a look at who these people are, whether they’re in fact Australian citizens, and what benefits they’re getting.” “I don’t think taxpayers want to support people who use their time inside this country to trash our city and trash our reputation.”

Jeff: “which is why they’re the only occupation officially mandated to inflict violence.” What about cosmetic surgeons? What about boxers? Soldiers?

Chav November 21, 2006 @ 12:02pm  Why didn’t anyone try to take responsibility for this? all I’ve heard so far is “we didn’t really discuss that” — great. I’d say its a case of damned if you do, damned if you don’t, the far Left groups being labelled as authoritarian by the organisers and other affinity groups if they had attempted to lead the rally at its conclusion to anywhere other than the Street Party.

This would have been doubly so if the Left groups who did so hadn’t been heavily involved in the organising meetings. And besides, no one I spoke to had any idea what the Arterial Bloc was doing and where, so I don’t see what difference the non-autonomist Left leading the rally at the end would have achieved anyway.

jeff November 21, 2006 @ 12:04pm  Jeff: “which is why they’re the only occupation officially mandated to inflict violence.” Kath: What about cosmetic surgeons? What about boxers? Soldiers? Jeff: Cosmetic surgeons don’t perform nip and tucks on you without your consent. Boxers also consent to being hit when they go into the ring. Police, on the other hand, can — and, in some cases, are obliged — to inflict violence without consent.

Security guards would have been a better counter-example because, in some ways, they perform for one employer the function that cops perform for the employers as a whole. In certain circumstnaces, private security does shade into the state, but most of the time the circumstances in which security guards work are such that they function in a different way to police and have a different consciousness about their role. The nature of policing means that police mostly come to see ordinary people as the enemy in a way that security guards don’t.

Soldiers are mandated to imflict violence, yes, but (for the most part) on enemies abroad. The army is also much broader and bigger (especially in times of crisis) and so soldiers are far more likely to identify with the population as a whole than police, who see themselves as a breed apart. Though it’s true that there probably are elite army units who are essentially identical to police.

Chav November 21, 2006 @ 12:06pm Jeff: Bummer. What about Alan Jones?

Will Anderson November 21, 2006 @ 12:08pm  I think most are agreed that the G20 demo was not that focused or well organised. But instead of navel gazing, we should be talking about the meeting itself, which sounds like it was a total white elephant. Paul Wolfowitz seems to have got away without even being photographed, and didn’t give any statements at all. It was a load of hot air. Who benefited? Bono raised his profile, the arterial block raised theirs (and caused yet another fracture among the Left), and the taxpayer was left with a massive bill to pay for police to guard a Green Zone around a meeting from which nothing of consequence transpired.

I want to add just one thing about the violence on Saturday. I have no problem with attempts to disassemble blockades, no problem with trying to push back police lines, or marching on a venue. But throwing bottles and stones without provocation is not a justified form of civil disobedience.

Robert Bollard November 21, 2006 @ 12:08pm  Cosmetic surgeons is a silly example — the people they inflict their violence on agree to it.  Boxers inflict violence on each other.  The military are in some ways similar to the cops, but they aren’t allowed or expected (normally at least) to inflict violence on the Australian populace.  They do it overseas.  But, even then, it’s not part of their daily experience like with cops.

Kath Wilson November 21, 2006 @ 12:11pm  Manufactured consent.

Karen Fredericks November 21, 2006 @ 12:42pm  Although I also agree with Bob’s practical approach to individual police “on the beat” in a period of little overt political struggle, of course police and prison officers and any other armed defenders of the bourgeois state are, by their very nature, not working class. They are (obviously) on the other side. Just check their role whenever the struggle hots up. I also think that the “Arterial Bloc” … or whoever they were … have been very effective in supporting the Vic Police Association’s election-time campaign for increased arming (including Glocks) of the Victorian Police.

When industrial battles heat up in the coming decades (as they inevitably will) we will have the hooded ones (amongst others) to thank for the increased firepower we will face. Ta.

Rose November 21, 2006 @ 3:20pm  Bob : “The very act of people from outside a city invading a demonstration in another city with the clear intention of launching a semi-military attack on the cops, with their faces covered, irrespective of the consequences for the rest of the demonstrators, is a calculated political act directed against the bulk of the demonstrators. ”

What has coming from “outside the city” got to do with anything?

“Seems mightily parochial, and irrelevant to me. People with covered faces who attack the cops, unless they are rather unlucky and their covering falls off, are very dangerous to everybody else at the demonstrations, and quite possibly include fascists and agents provocateur.”

Yes, but not necessarily either of these. Perhaps they believed, understandably, that since they were going to launch such actions, and since the whole thing was probbaly being videotaped and photographed, as the media pre-warned, and was to be expected, then the masks were specifically designed to make the actions “less dangerous” to themselves, in not being identifiable.

Re police: from memory, the debate on this started because Will said he felt sorry for the police and Kath and Jill backed him up, mentioning things like many are decent people in an impossible situation, and that getting injured was unfair to them. The responses then to that were firstly mine, which was I said they were not present at demos as individuals but as reps of the armed repressive apparatus of the state.

A summary of the Marxist position on the police, as I understand it (note to Kath — Patty Hearst was not a Marxist). The debate then broadened out from there to the class nature of the cops, generally, good cops vs bad cops, benign roles vs repressive roles etc etc.

Many of the points Bob said about the role, behaviour in some circumstances of the police are true, but it is not their fundamental role, and the fact that he or I (as I did once call a cop to help me move house and away from a violent partner and report a robbery or two) changes not one iota their fundamental class role. The main thing that strikes me most out of this whole experience is that it sadly speaks volumes about the weakness (and I’m not pointing any fingers or allocating blame, just acknowledging a reality for reasons that are apparent) of the broad left today and it is in the context of such weakness, that such actions, tactics, groups, etc, born of frustration, always arise and can become a major problem.

Particularly, since, as Bob says, they can leave the way wide open for manipulation by forces that are consciously hostile to our class interests. But we don’t know for sure that was the case at all here. And the former problem is probably the most pressing, ie the state of the organised left. And I thought Liz T’s post on this was very informative in that regard.

Robert Bollard November 21, 2006 @ 3:46pm  I think there is some relevance in people coming from outside if they are going to attempt these sort of actions, because they may not be around to cop the repression they provoke.  It has nothing to do with xenophobia — simply about taking responsibility for the political consequences of an action.

There’s nothing wrong with people travelling from anywhere to anywhere else to take part in protest, or revolution or whatever.  BUT, there has to be some responsibility taken by people for their actions.

What I believe Bob here, and Mick earlier, were pointing to was a sectarian mentality of elitist and irresponsible thrill-seeking that bears no relationship to building a movement. I realise, of course, that doubt has been raised over whether there is any significant external component to the Arterial bloc.  If they were a bunch of thrill-seeking blow-ins then that makes what they did worse.  If they were all locals, then there is still a fundamental problem with their approach. It remains elitist and disastrous for all the reasons people have said.

Finally, on the point about “provocateurs” that Andy got so hot under the collar about.  I personally suspect, and have done from the beginning, that there are no provocateurs involved, mainly because I don’t think that the cops here are that sophisticated — yet.  But provocateurs exist overseas, and the point made by Mick and Bob about the black bloc style tactics being tailor-made for sheltering provocateurs is valid.

There is the famous example from Genoa of people dressed like black bloc types being spotted by a famous film director emerging from a cop station, just before the violence in which a protestor was killed.  We may not have the vile traditions of the Italian state with its strategy of “tension”, but let’s not encourage the Australian cops to adopt it.

Jill November 21, 2006 @ 4:24 pm  “I think there is some relevance in people coming from outside if they are going to attempt these sort of actions, because they may not be around to cop the repression they provoke.  It has nothing to do with xenophobia — simply about taking responsibility for the political consequences of an action.”

In the context of what’s going on, I don’t reckon that’s a fair call. They clearly are copping the repression and I still think the comments about “outside agitators” are at best red herrings and at worse fuelling unhelpful stereotypes about demonstrators.

Re police: “From memory, the debate on this started because Will said he felt sorry for the police and Kath and Jill backed him up, mentioning things like many are decent people, in an impossible situation, and that getting injured was unfair to them. ” Uh, Rose, that’s not what I said. I said I’m for militant demonstrations, that the police exist to maintain the status quo (to prop up a violent competitive society) and to the extent that we can persuade people to participate in actions that reveal this to be the case, it’s a good thing.

I also think that police identify with each other as a group and, on a day-to-day level, see their interests as separate from that of the working class. In that sense, there is a problem in seeing them simply as “workers”.

However, you can think that and see that a lot of people who go into the police work start off as quite ordinary people from working class backgrounds — and in that sense, I can see why people feel sorry for them occasionally and I don’t feel the need to insist that they join in the fairly apolitical “death to piggies” chorus happening over at Indymedia.

I do feel the need to argue with them about supporting militancy.  Dunno — doesn’t seem that hard to understand this.

Joseph Cross November 21, 2006 @ 6:29pm  The role of the cops is made clearer by Inspector Mullett’s (Wellington Waterfall special branch) from the Police Association, reaction to G20, which was that the association’s members couldn’t adopt a softly softly approach to demonstrators anymore, and had to go in hard. The NSW police attended a special cop debrief on the G20 in Melbourne this week, with the aim of beefing up their tactics for APEC next year.

We will have the arterial bloc to thank for what will undoubtably be a hardline preemptively violent police presence at this demo.

Tom O’Lincoln November 21, 2006 @ 6:42pm  Just a point on the cops. I think a significant difference between solidiers and police is that the police (sections of them anyway) are in confrontation with civilians on a regular basis, not just in the streets but in jail, in court, wherever. This includes crims, workers on picket lines, militant demonstrators and revolutionaries — all of whom are, from the point of view of bourgeois society, “criminal”. That is, a threat to private property and social order. This hardens their mentality towards civil society.

Even police who’ve never been used against demonstrators can be readily deployed against them in a crisis, because they will tend to see them in this light. Soldiers are also used against the people, but not regularly, only in a crisis. So they don’t get used to it. Where police tend to develop an ingrained hostility to those they see as anti-social, soldiers often get quite a shock when they find themselves ranged against demonstrators or strikers. This makes it easier to win them over than is likely to happen with the cops. All the more so with conscripts of course.

Chav November 21, 2006 @ 6:53pm “They clearly are copping the repression  If they are getting arrested, they are copping the repression. Agree with Robert on this one. Of course as well as telling us to “get f*%ked” they’ll probably ask us to launch a defence campaign on their behalf … and I still think the comments about “outside agitators” are at best red herrings and at worse fuelling unhelpful stereotypes about demonstrators.”

Agree with you that its a red herring, but to the extent it’s true it’s an aspect of the demo we need to discuss. As for fuelling unhelpfull stereotypes, amongst who?  I thought this was blog for the Left?

Dave November 21, 2006 @ 7:40pm  The problem with this debate is that it is based on mythologies. Just what were the acts of violence you are critiquing? A bit self-indulgent but I will quote from a piece I have been writing today:  “Unfortunately it seems that in just a few short days after the Saturday events of the G20 even our own actual experiences seem to be fading under the neon light of the media simulation and the paranoia generated by the police repression. Indeed in the discussions about what happened, it seems that what did actually happen is the least important detail — rather speculation and invention are the order of the day.  Debates on Indymedia include reference a McDonalds being smashed up — to my knowledge this didn’t happen. To my knowledge some people tried to enter a McDonalds and failed. Melbourne was not trashed — I saw one piece of graffiti on the side on an ANZ bank; nothing compared to say the masses of graffiti at S11.

Police officers did not face any wanton attacks. As far as I am aware as part of an attempt to break a blockade and get in to the Hyatt, dumpsters were used against the barricades, the barricades themselves were used to charge the police lines and plastic bins and bread trays were thrown at the police lines.

From reports I find credible these were largely ineffective. Obviously these tactics cam be described as violent — they were a use of force. The failed attempt to break the police line did lead to an escalation of street clashes — which in the scheme of things, and again from credible reports seem pretty minor.

Indeed watching footage at http://engagemedia it seems very clear that the police were in little to no danger, the efforts of the demonstrator being solidly directed at breaking the barricades. The plastic bins that are thrown at the police lines just seem to bounce over the cops heads — probably less dangerous than a crowd surfer.

Indeed looking over the photos on indymedia it is clear that there is one side that is armed and using batons and other is mainly trying to get at the barricades.  It is understandable that the corporate media will label any action more militant that passivity “violent” and ascribe blame to the receivers of police brutality.

What is disappointing is the willingness be sections of the Left to discredit certain militants based on a fiction. Indeed the debate around the militant section of the mobilisation (which took place around the corner from the carnival and in no way subjected the safe space of the carnival to any threat of police violence) seems to have little to do with what happened and more to do with a prolific creation of myths.

The only thing that the Arterial Block seems to have actually done that differentiated it from a substantial section of the mobilisation (500+ people out of a crowd of maybe at best 3000), is wear white, have a public name and statement, and an internal decision-making process.

It is also really important to refute any idea that there was a substantial preparation for violence. Many members of the demo did prepare to conceal their identities and there was a scattering of helmets (since the day I have seen photos of a ‘street knight’ complete with fake sword and shield).  I have seen no evidence either in the day or even in the media of any weapons — despite the claim of urine-filled water bombs and the like. The destruction of the windows of the police van is thus, I assume, a relatively spontaneous act.

This said, I don’t doubt that for some the violence experienced at what ever moment was terrifying and painful, just as I don’t doubt that for some the destruction of the police truck and the attempt (even failed) to break through police lines was inspiring and affirming. Whilst of course the subjective experience of a clash with the state is important it is not by its self enough to judge an action in regards to the development of revolutionary and anti-capitalist struggles.

The refusal of the sections of conservative-mainstream Left to challenge the simulations generated by the corporate media — a dominant pillar of liberal societies anti-democratic arsenal — speaks of crass cowardice and populist opportunism.

Dave November 21, 2006 @ 8:02pm Following my above comments I would like to ad that it is especially disappointing that there seem have been no attempt by the commentators to do any real journalistic work; rather they use the media image to unpack and re-heat some pre-cooked ideological arguments. Perhaps a process of interviewing a diverse range of people from Saturday would be an important political task? O redstars/blackskies

Tony Hartin November 21, 2006 @ 9:00pm  Hey, I have absolutely no problems with any of the acts you describe in themselves. I see no problem in breaking the window of a police van, throwing a wheelie bin or whatever. Possibly, those actions were designed as an attempt to break in to the G20 conference — I don’t know, I wasn’t privy to those discussions.

My main problem is that these actions by the arterial block seem to have been carried out in hostility to the majority of demonstrators. That assumption comes from anecdotal evidence from people who were on the demo and reported here. And also from my own previous experience.

The political attitude seems to be that the majority of protestors are complicit with the system because they are passive, or watch TV, or eat McDonalds, so fuck em all. Personally I think street demos have run into a cul de sac because of the fixation on “violence”. The powers that be tolerate the street demos only if they are bound by pre-determined limits — ie do nothing that really challenges “the law”.

There is a limit anyway in what a street demo can achieve. But there is a duty to argue these things politically throughout a demo. Not just to engage in a fait accompli on the day and leave others to pick up the pieces afterwards.

Ablokeimet November 21, 2006 @ 11:42pm  It seems I’m not the only one who jumped to a conclusion about the origin of the “arterial block”.  I can, however, say that I haven’t changed my mind about some things:  (a) The Anarchist movement in Melbourne is too small to have put that many people into that action.  There needed to be substantial beefing up by others, whether they be from interstate, overseas, or local non-Anarchists.  I am not (at this stage, at least) in a position to know how many people went along intending to have a confrontation and how many joined it spontaenously, but given that some were decked out in white overalls, it stands to reason that it wasn’t spontaneous on everyone’s part. (b) There has been a long-standing debate within the English-language Anarchist press (mainly from the US, but also from Britain) about the fact that some Anarchists deliberately do more confrontational things when they’re outside their own city than when they’re at home.  Pre-mobilisation press discussions often include a plea to people coming from elsewhere to remember that the local movement will have to live with the consequences of what visitors have done. (c) The tactics used (ie masking up, going with the intent of a confrontation with the cops if possible) are known within the Anarchist movement as the “black block”.  They are quite controversial even within the movement and are supported only by a minority. (d) The antics of the “arterial block” were stupid & grossly irresponsible.  I have no sympathy for the coppers (they showed what they were on about when they started laying into people after the media left) and the property damage was risible.  The real issue is that they showed no interest in the actual effects of their actions.  Instead, they (except, perhaps, some of those who joined in sponteneously) were attempting to demonstrate their moral superiority.

Coppers always want more powers – that’s a given.  Now, however, they’ll have the wind at their backs and, for the moment, massive public support for just about anything on their wish list.  That’s what comes from these arterial blockheads not thinking through what they’re doing. Of course, we’ll have to defend anyone who suffers State repression, blockhead or not.

What the blockheads have done pales into insignificance beside the crimes of the leaders of the G20.  They have, however, helped the media change the subject — another reason for me to be annoyed with them. On Leftwrites, I concentrate on my criticisms of the blockheads, since we need to understand what happened and learn the lessons.

In a more public forum, however, I’d be trying to change the topic back to the crimes of the G20.

Tony Hartin November 21, 2006 @ 11:51pm  It’s a question of politics only I disagree with. The geographical-ethnic origin of any demonstrator should be above question — particularly from the demonstrators’ own ranks. There’s more than enough Melbourne people capable of stupid politics. Even if there were paid provocateurs within the ranks — the geographical origin of these people is irrelevant.

Karen Fredericks November 22, 2006 @ 9:01am  One thing I haven’t seen much addressed re G20 is the impact of the highly organised, pro-capitalist “Make Poverty History” campaign on anti-capitalist organising. I think this has been a more significant factor than the arterial blockheads in reducing public support to the anti-capitalist protest.

Chav November 22, 2006 @ 9:17am  That’s a damn good point Karen.  While campaigning to build the rally earlier in the day I received a perplexed and slightly hostile response from a group of young women who had attended the ‘Make Poverty History’ concert the night before. They told me that the G20 was a good thing for the world’s pooer and couldn’t understand why we were against it…

Dave November 22, 2006 @ 7:07pm  I am still waiting for the critique of the militant breakaway ( which I say again was much larger than ANY ONE GROUP) to be based on actual events rather than this phantom that is being created here.

Robert Bollard November 22, 2006 @ 11:18pm  Yeah, it was big, 60 people who threw stuff at police. The finance ministers shook in their shoes and a political point was made — that some anarchists like to wear white overalls, hate socialists and police. This was oh so significant and we now have a load of pretentious waffle that reads like it was written by a confused sociology postgrad to explain what it was all about. You want a critique? If you want to break through a police line to make a point — done it myself, nothing wrong with that — then you weigh up what faces you. If you’re facing a summit of the finance ministers of the G20 locked down fortress style and there’s only 60 of you … Well you’re not gonna get through are you? Maybe, the 2000-5000 people in the main rally could have done something. Not get through perhaps, but made a more substantial effort. So, then, you try and get them to join you. You try to convince them. You at least try to do what you’re doing WHERE THEY ARE so that they can join in if they feel so inclined.

So, what were the A Bloc doing? Apart of course from the waffle about spectacle and space and the espistemology of masks or whatever … They were throwing things at police. Some of them are in deep shit as a consequence, and, maybe, some others who weren’t involved will be dragged in as well. The cops have had a spectacle that is of use to them. The media have had a spectacle that is of use to them. If 10,000 people were flinging stuff at cops to get through and then justifying it by pointing out the crimes of the the G20 — then they would have achieved something, because they would have established that there is a real debate, and your average punter would have seen that, whatever the media spin, a lot of people were really angry about this stuff.

But all we have instead is a media storm in a teacup that shaved not a sliver off the power of the G20 criminals but will probably land some of the left in the clink.

The point made by the SA statement has been criticised in this respect, for making links with the experience of automism and terrorsism in the late 1970s. As I understand it, this was not a prediction but a warning about the logic of elitist subtitutionism. It can work in other ways too.

There is footage available, apparently, of the German Greens politician Joshke Fischer as a young radical, putting his foot into a prone policeman. He was hanging with a millieu that were into that sort of stuff. It famously produced Baader Meinhoff. It just as famously produced Joshke Fischer who now hangs with a different millieu, even more prone to violence.

He was, until Merkel’s recent vitory, a cabinet minister, and supported sending German troops to Afghanistan. The thread linking both consequnces is an elitist contempt for the mass, for argument. And, yes, that argument may just be yelling a few words through a megaphone.
In 1982 I witnessed a crowd of 5000 being convinced to storm the Melbourne Club. The convincers were two women with megaphones. It’s probably safe to say now that they were Sandra Bloodworth and Liz Ross — both members today of SA.

Their argument was simple: “let’s go to the Melbourne Club!” repeated a large number of times. The point is, that they got the crowd to do it, and, along with the usual media denunciations we had expressions of concern that “the unemployed were now rioting in the street”. If the 30-odd members of the IS had gone and attacked the two cops who were standing at the doors it would have been a joke — but, probably a very costly one.

Tony Hartin November 22, 2006 @ 11:37pm  there were only two cops on the doors??!?? Man, those were they days. Remembering, again, way back when to the Austudy demo … the cop line we pushed through was a single ragged line of bewildered-looking trainees (and I still don’t feel sorry for them). Pushing through the line mounted to little more than squeezing through the gaps — and it still took all of our might to do it — nuthin like the ideological power of the state. Of course at the next demo, parliament house steps looked like Omaha beach the day before June 6. It was even better to march past them and give them the finger.

@ndy November 22, 2006 @ 11:59pm  Fischer was never involved in the ‘Baader-Meinhof Gang’-RAF; he was a “sponti”, one of thousands (it was obviously quite the fashion in Germany at one point). The photo-video in question caused him quite a lot of trouble … years later when it (re-)surfaced. A good (English-language) source on the development of autonomist politics in that period (post-1968) is George Katsiaficas’ The Subversion of Politics. (You can download a copy for free from K’s site, and it has also just been republished by AK Press.) And of course, the history of the European ‘far left’ is a lot more complex than I think Robert’s claims tend to imply.

Robert Bollard November 23, 2006 @ 11:05pm  Dave, I wasn’t there.  I was basing my argument on the descriptions of the demo I’ve read and if I got it wrong I’m sorry.  But there was no bad faith.  If what you say is true then key elements of my argument above is not particularly relevant — though there are still aspects that seem to condemn the tactics followed, whether others joined in or not.  I don’t always, or evenly normally, agree with what Bob Gould says, but his comments on the protest seem to be reasonable to me. @ndy, I never said that Fischer was in Baader Meinhoff, that would have been silly.  I just said that he came from the same substitutionist millieu that generated them.  There were similar connections between the politics of some of the Italian autonomist groups and the Red Brigades.

Yes, it’s very complex — far more complex than any of us can deal with in this sort of format.  But there is one strand that connects it all — and as I was trying to point out with the example of Fischer — with reformism generally.  Once anyone on the left thinks that they can subsititute their own actions for a dialogue with the mass, with an attempt to mobilise beyond their ranks, then that involves an elitism that can be destrucive in any number of ways.

It can lead to substituting yourself for the “backward” German workers by becoming a terrorist.  It can lead to the slippery slope of electoral cretinimism and managing capitalism.  It can also lead to the sort of mumbo jumbo evidenced in the statement by the two members of the arterial bloc.  Allusians to fricking Gormenghast, and a load of regurgitated babble that is incomprehensible to … well, just about anyone — including, I suspect, the people who wrote it.  Is this the language of people who are interested in building a movement involving real people?  Is this the language of revolutionaries? It reminds me of the rubbish produced by Situationists in the 1960s — cartoons in which characters from Marvel comics spouted slabs of Marcuse and other, even more incomprehensible, theorists.  And it is, just quietly, more damning than whatever they did on Saturday.  I’d rather someone threw a thousand bricks at the coppers than started spouting rubbish about semiotics.

@ndy November 24, 2006 @ 12:27am  Robert, OK. But your post seemed to suggest a strong link between the politics of the ‘Arterial Bloc’ on the one hand, and the activities of groups such as the RAF, on the other. The common element being, apparently, a departure from a particular form of Marxist orthodoxy regarding (radical) social change. You also approvingly cite SocAlt’s statement regarding (I think?) ‘autonomism’ and ‘terrorism’. My point, in alluding to the complex history of these ideas and practices in 1970s Europe, is that the two could just as easily be seen — and in fact, this is my argument — as opposing, not complementary, practices. It’s also worth noting, I think, that groups like the RAF in Germany and the Red Brigades in Italy espoused Marxism, and a fairly orthodox Marxism at that.

As for accusations of ‘elitist contempt for the masses’, I disagree. In fact, elements of that milieu (ie, the ‘autonomist’ milieu) have been very prolific in terms of propaganda, albeit if only a fraction of it has been translated into and is available in English. Further, their propaganda does not merely take the form of conventional propaganda, but ‘propaganda by the deed’ or ‘creating the new world in the shell of the old’: in essence, pre-figurative politics.

I’d also add that your argument is, I think, based on a certain conception of the relationship between revolutionaries and ‘the masses’ which, particularly post-1968, has been the subject of much theoretical disagreement. (One survey of this topic which I think is particularly relevant is Richard Gombin’s The Origins of Modern Leftism.) As for the SI, they exercised a profound influence on the revolutionary Left, and still do.

They also had little other than contempt for Marcuse, whose thesis regarding the bourgeoisification of the proletariat was demolished by the ‘events’ of May-June … And if the ‘Aterial Bloc’ statement by F and G is obscure and difficult (I disagree — I thought it was relatively straightforward) and on that basis is best junked, how on Earth is one to read Marx or a 1001 other thinkers…?

@ndy November 24, 2006 @ 12:32am  That’s ‘Arterial Bloc’. Damn.


Robert wrote: “Is this the language of people who are interested in building a movement involving real people?  Is this the language of revolutionaries?” Dave writes: Maybe there is no ONE language, or not only ONE way of communicating. And maybe revolutionaries don’t have to position themselves as if they are speaking to an undifferentiated mass. Perhaps there is the need for endless voices communicating at multiple levels. And where is this anti-intellectualism coming from? Is this “harder” to read than Marx or Lukacs or Gramsci or Althusser? And you do have the facts on the day wrong. I think in the current context when many people involved in the breakaway group may not want to speak publicly due to the coppers, the onus is on commentators to really do some decent research. Love and solidarity dave

Robert Bollard November 24, 2006 @ 7:49am  Marx, especially after 1848 when he began addressing a mass audience, wrote clearly.  Gramsci wrote obscurely to beat his gaoler.  Lukacs is difficult in History and Class Consciousness but quite clear in his pamphet on Lenin, which was written for a mass audience.  Althusser was a quasi-Stalinist with contempt for the working class.  If history is a ‘process without a subject’, as he believed, then there ain’t no subject to talk to in everyday language.  Innit?

Who was the audience for this piece of pretentious prose?  In any case, I have no problems with difficult writing when it’s actually saying something.  This was just a collection of half-baked cliches.  Its semantic content was virtually nil. Propaganda of the deed indeed.  There is a long and poisonous history with that idea.

And am I guilty of “Marxist orthodoxy” in this?  Guilty as charged m’lud.  The working class can change society and leadership must come from an organic section of the class.  Which is why btw terrorism has a history of association with Stalinism in the late 20th Century — just as it did with anarchism in the 19th.  I’ll trade you a Narodnik for Brigate Rossa, shall I?  It is also why some on the socalled “vanguardist” left don’t consider themselves to be the “vanguard” — because the vanguard has to be capable of leading the class.  IE it must have some size, some weight, some implantation in the class. What else?  Oh yes, the autonomists.  No, they were not associated with the BR.  But they too indulged in some “pretty stupid propaganda of the deed”.  Do you think it was neat for them to come to demos with pistols and fire them at cops — as they did in the late 70s in Italy? I’ll bet they justified themselves with reams of turgid pseudo-intellectual propaganda too.

Chav November 24, 2006 @ 8:32 am  Mad Props for that post Robert! Tell it like it is…


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