On 26 June, thousands of demonstrators set out from Queen’s Park in Toronto, Canada. A broad spectrum of people were there to add their voices to the protest against global capitalism and its world representatives, as represented at the G20 summit. Groups represented ranged from Marxist Leninists, the Canadian Labour Congress and trade unions to Greenpeace, Oxfam, student organisations and feminists.
The events of the Toronto G20 protest
The demonstration was peaceful, with a carnival atmosphere. Many amateur videos have been published on YouTube showing singing, dancing and a wide variety of musical instruments being played. Chants of “Whose streets? Our streets!” and “This is what democracy looks like” echoed through the city centre.
The demonstration had been a huge success and was beginning to disperse around 3.00pm, when riot police appeared, lining the pavements and starting the usual pushing and shoving of demonstrators. These riot cops were dressed in black boiler suits with military style boots and were armed with tear-gas guns, full-body riot shields and truncheons, which they used first to break up protestors who had formed a bicycle blockade across the road.
These protestors were simply standing one behind the other with their bicycles in a silent and peaceful protest that was met with brutal truncheon-wielding thuggery. Completely uncalled for, this tactic could only be interpreted as an attempt to provoke a violent reaction. It failed. Protestors broke up the blockade and moved on without reacting.
Provocations used as a cover for state violence
As the protestors retreated, around 75-100 people who have subsequently been said to have been anarchist ‘black bloc’ members rallied. They left the main protest and started quickly back down Queen Street, heading east. They were easily identified by the black clothing, hoods and boots that they wore. All had their identities obscured from view by caps, scarves and the like. They stood out by the way they were all wearing the same clothes, and appeared to have protective shin, knee and elbow pads.
As they made their way down Queen Street, they encountered two occupied police cars, which they attacked, breaking the windows and kicking the lights from the car roofs. There were riot police at the intersection of each street that went south from Queen Street into the financial district, but in contrast to the earlier rough and heavy handed treatment of peaceful protestors, the police didn’t try to engage these rioters; they just watched them go by, smashing windows and spray painting.
When they arrived at the financial district, the protestors came upon three abandoned police cars, which they proceeded to smash up, setting one of them on fire. After around 15 minutes, they walked on, smashing windows as they went. Despite the masses of surveillance and communication equipment in operation on the day, there were no police to be seen anywhere.
As the mood turned ugly, the riot police moved in on the rest of the demonstrators. Protestors were forced to defend themselves whilst the anger spilled over, and people began to attack the symbols of capitalism: Starbucks, banks and exclusive areas and shops. The police tactic from this point was pure brutality as innocent people were clubbed and beaten and a record 900 arrests were made. It took several days to secure state control over the area.
And what of the ‘black bloc’? Videos show some of these same ‘rioters’ rushing towards the police lines as undercover police step forward with truncheons bared to cover their retreat. The riot police lines meanwhile opened up and allowed them in! No arrests were visible.
From the clothes, organisation, coordination and apparent assistance, at points, of the forces of the state, it seems only too likely that this ‘black bloc’, if indeed that is who they were, were agent provocateurs with the mission of starting a riot to justify the terrorisation of unarmed and defenceless protestors that followed.
It is always shocking to see the state bare its teeth in this way, but never a surprise! Communists in Britain will well remember the repression during the miners’ strike. They saw how agent provocateurs tried to start violence, how scabs were protected and union meetings bugged and swamped with spies. As capitalism is pressured by the working-class fight-back, it becomes vicious and bares its teeth. This is what we saw at G20; the naked growling of the capitalist state. Workers must never underestimate capital’s readiness to react.
Communist Party of Canada leader Miguel Figueroa was quick to denounce the wave of police repression that swept over downtown Toronto during the G20 summit. Calling for a comprehensive independent public inquiry, Figuera demanded a thorough investigation to identify those politically responsible for giving a “green light” for the police thuggery and the unprecedented number of detentions and arrests.
“Most of the 900 people – mainly youths – arrested on Saturday and Sunday were not engaged in any unlawful activity … nor were they anywhere near the perimeter fences. They were expressing their democratic right to dissent in public,” Figueroa said. “Even media workers and curious bystanders were victimised when the police charged and began indiscriminately beating, bloodying and detaining all those in the vicinity.”
Many of those arrested were held in cold, dirty and cramped quarters, and denied even basic access to food, water or bathroom facilities, in violation of their rights, whilst awaiting their bail hearings. The Communist Party, along with many other organisations, joined a campaign to handle the mounting evidence that police sent in undercover agents provocateurs to mingle among the protesting anarchist groupings and instigate property damage and the torching of police vehicles in order to provoke clashes and justify the heavy-handed police attacks.
It appears that the anarchist ‘black bloc’ carried out similar roles in 2007 when Canadians protested outside the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America (SPP) summit in Montebello, Quebec, as well as at other summit protests around the world. Campaigners point out that the aim is to frighten people away from attending mass protests against the capitalist policies of the monopolies, the banks and their governments and to pave the way to ever-more authoritarian limits on civil liberties and political rights. This also sends out a clear message to the organised working class: if you dare to protest against the excesses of capitalism, this could be you!
Attempt to dupe the proletariat and to disarm it ideologically
On this occasion, it would appear that the bourgeoisie is attempting to trick the working class and oppressed masses into believing that the bourgeois state only resorts to violence when it is outrageously provoked. The truth, however, is just the contrary. The state is an instrument wielded by one class with a view to suppressing another class whose interests are antagonistic.
This is the case with the bourgeois class on the one hand and the working class on the other. The interests of the working class can, in the ultimate analysis, only be promoted at the expense of the bourgeoisie, and vice versa, which is why the ruling class has a state that can – where deception fails – be deployed to hold back the struggles of the working class by force.
In the current circumstances of economic crisis, the ruling classes of North America and Europe are trying to save themselves at the expense of the working-class masses, cutting jobs, benefits, wages and social provisions in ways that cannot but cause severe hardship and loss. To take away people’s livelihoods or to strip them of the little they possess by subjecting them, for instance, to harsh taxation regimes, are also acts of violence by the bourgeoisie, which often give rise to retaliatory violence by the dispossessed.
An example in this country arose when, on demonstrations against the poll tax, the fury of those being taxed beyond what they were at all able to pay was expressed during demonstrations in the breaking of shop windows and destruction of luxury motor cars. In that case, this violence contributed to the government’s eventual reluctant decision to withdraw this iniquitous tax.
Such violence on the part of the oppressed masses is legitimate, even if there may be situations when it is ill-advised, and we would not condemn it. However, this does not seem to be what happened in Canada on this occasion.
The effects of imperialism, against which the Toronto protestors were demonstrating, can never be overcome without the overthrow of the whole imperialist system itself, which we know will never leave the scene unless it is forced to do so. In desperately trying to cling on to power, the imperialist ruling class will deploy, without any hesitation whatsoever, untold barbarities and cruelties by way of violence on the working class that is seeking to overthrow it.
That counter-revolutionary violence of the bourgeoisie can only be countered by the revolutionary violence of the organised proletariat overwhelming the forces of reaction to impose a proletarian state and proletarian order, against every effort of the bourgeoisie to perpetuate its decadent and corrupt reign by means of terror.
Knowing all this, the imperialist bourgeoisies of the world are trying to use the events in Toronto as part of their ongoing campaign to delegitimise the violence of the proletariat against the bourgeois order. One would hardly expect them to do otherwise, but it is important that the proletariat should not be taken in by the pious phrases of the bourgeois media, which are condemning the alleged violence of protestors at the Toronto demonstration, while applauding elsewhere the unspeakable violence of imperialism against the peoples of Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine and egging on the bourgeois authorities in their plans to extend their warmongering for instance to Iran.
If we succumb to bourgeois pacifism, then bourgeois violence will continue unabated. We must not allow this to happen.