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Their Laws—Our Loss

by Jeff Shantz

In events like the G20 protests and clampdown there emerge real opportunities for recognition and understanding that are not always so readily available behind the screen of “business as usual.” The learning curve shifts and some things become much more clear.

One of the interesting revelations of the G20 fallout is the extent to which many in the social movements or “the Left” are ruled by the morals, values and prejudices of the dominant classes. This has been expressed in the numerous calls for repression of the black bloc by would-be figure heads of the comfortable Left in Canada. I won't bother naming them, most have already read the stuff. A rather stunning case in point has been the number of open statements of support for, indeed appeals for, the state capitalist rule of law. For some the rule of law should have held against the black bloc. Others turn to the the rule of law as a statist security blanket providing the basis for—the very conditions of—their “peaceful protests,” which the black bloc supposedly infringed upon. One of the most striking examples comes in the form of an incredible statement from CUPE-Ontario (Canadian Union of Public Employees), my former union federation: 

“Property was damaged, publically-owned [sic] police vehicles were burned, and innocent people were attacked and detained as a result of taking part in protests. All of this is wrong. What we have witnessed is nothing short of the abandonment of the rule of law, both by a small group who took part in the protests, and by a massive and heavily armed police force who were charged with overseeing them.” 

Having equated the black bloc with the police in their scorn, the statement goes on to say: 

“And it's a sad day when some of those, who feel powerless to change the direction of their elected leaders, find in that feeling of powerlessness an excuse to break the law and vandalize the property of their fellow citizens and who, in so doing, silence the legitimate voices of so many others whose commitment to protest and dissent is matched by their rejection of violence and vandalism.” 

Suggesting that the black bloc is an expression of powerlessness rather than confidence is one thing, but suggesting that breaking the law renders any activists or organizers illegitimate, as the statement does, is incredible. It is the logic of the bosses and the state (who set the property laws and benefit from them in the first place). And why should we view capital as our “fellow citizens anyway?” (This is not about CUPE-O, this statement expresses sentiments that have been put forward by many erstwhile members of the Left).

Even conservatives, like the sociologist Emile Durkheim and those influenced by him (Marcel Mauss, Kai Erikson) have noted that lawbreaking can provide a tremendous service to society. Often rules are not what they should be. Violations of the rule of law can be a signal that something is wrong with the rules or that the organization of society itself is a problem. Some of the greatest social improvements have resulted from acts of law violation. Virtually every progressive social movement has engaged in acts of law violation to achieve successes that are taken for granted today. The lawbreaker by putting themselves at risk, may be acting to benefit conformers who would otherwise suffer in silence. In recognition of the positive social effects of deviance, Durkheim argued that a certain amount of lawbreaking is required by societies. It allows for innovation and progress. Those societies that have minimal lawbreaking (by the general population) tend to be marked by atrocities and excesses by the state (Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia).

When indigenous communities stood against the racist John A. MacDonald were they illegitimate? Should unionists have called for the rule of law? When gays and lesbians organized and fought (literally) against homophobic laws and practices were they illegitimate? Should supposed allies have argued for the bigots and their rule of law? When women had abortions—sometimes openly and in defiance of the laws—should unionists have stood with the moralists and “right to lifers” in support of the rule of law? All of these fights continue. Why should acceptance of the “rule of law” provide the basis for any of these movements? There are plenty of reactionaries who will wield adherence to the rule of law as a stick against movements for change (as Gary McHale has against Six Nations people reclaiming their lands). No need to do it to each other.

In expressing fidelity to the “rule of law” what is really being affirmed is fidelity to the state and to the bosses. Any union that expresses fidelity to the rule of law is not worthy of the name.

To do so is to negate the rich history of the working class and labour movements. For much of its history, right up to the present, the union movement has been “against the law,” its actions criminalized, its organizers arrested and worse. Anyone who's been on a picket line when it really mattered should know how to take the “rule of law.” Would CUPE-O have sided with the rule of law against the sit-down strikers of the 1930s, against the Windsor strikers of 1945, the Mine Mill strikers of 2000-01, against the various general strikes? What about the recent factory occupations? Siding with the rule of law really does make clear “which side you are on,” to answer one of labour's ancient questions. Union's that uphold the “rule of law” in the face of employers who steadfastly and routinely do not are accepting conditions of capitulation and defeat. Nothing less.

It is crucial to stress that during actions like the G20 demonstrations (as in numerous other cases before such as June 15, 2000 and Quebec City 2001) there were rank-and-file union members who chose to go to the front to challenge the police lines, fences and weapons that are the material expressions of the rule of law. Many refused simply to march to hear empty speeches or uphold the fetishization of “peaceful protest” regardless of actual effectiveness. After Quebec City, in fact, rank-and-file unionists, angry with the defeatist call of leadership to march away from the fences, demanded direct action training in their locals when they returned home. Many of those who called for and those who gave direct action workshops were CUPE members.

Even the conservative sociologists recognized that law breaking allows for freedom and growth within society. So why are so much of the Left (or at least those with access to mainstream media) having such trouble getting it after the G20 actions?

Why on earth would progressive organizers or activists call for the rule of law as a marker of the legitimacy of social movements? To do so is to call for the rule of (by and for) elites—in other words, the status quo. Who has made, and continues to make, the laws? Almost entirely they are political and economic elites. Working people and the oppressed have been largely excluded . The rule of law also surrenders social life to administration by elites, those who study the laws and legal procedures, who run the legislatures and courts. To call for the rule of law is to call for the maintenance of the system of inequality, exploitation, injustice and oppression that has given rise to and been sustained by the rule of law in the first place. All of this is what we are supposed to be getting rid of.

As Marxists have known, or used to know (before becoming professional passive-ists), justice is not about absolutes—absolute good or absolute bad—there is a class basis to it. We cannot let the capitalist state dictate our terms.

To adhere to the rule of law as a marker of our legitimacy is to accept the masters' rules. It is to wage a fight we cannot win—because the game is fixed from the start. Their laws ensure our loss. Where our social needs are impeded by the rule of law, there should be no question where our allegiance is, on which side our commitment rests.

Only when we confront and break through the rule of law do we stand a chance of seeing the authorities retreat, break ranks, run away. We cannot lose sight of that reality. A better world will not be legislated into existence, no matter how badly some might wish it so.


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J Shantz (Jeff Shantz)
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1400 words


Thanks for this article

Thanks for this article, it's really great. I appreciate it. I hope you've personally passed it on to those who called for the 'rule of law.' More of us need to see through this stuff.

Re: "Those societies that

Re: "Those societies that have minimal lawbreaking (by the general population) tend to be marked by atrocities and excesses by the state (Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia).'

You left this out. The Nazis and the Communists were the worst lawbreakers in history. During their ascendency to power, through lawbreaking, they attacked people and destroyed property and ruthlessly eliminated anyone opposed to them. When they became the rulers, they imposed draconian laws and were far more repressive, violent, and murderous than the regimes they replaced.

led me to think...

Reading this article it led me to think past the broken windows and into the stuff that was for sale in those stores. Isn't union labour concerned about the people who work in all those places? Or the effect of how all that crap *echem* 'goods' are made?

I wonder if the 'Rule of Law' is the first thing on the minds of all the farm labourers, factory farm workers, sweatshop factory workers, child labourers, transportation workers, resource extraction industry workers, Indigenous people whose land is destroyed for resources and factories, etc. that supply the goods for stores like Footlocker, Starbucks, Urban Brick, Subway, New Orleans Chicken, Hudson’s Bay, Tim Horton’s, Le Chateau, Winners…

I stumbled upon this information looking into sweatshop labour. In the 1920’s there was a large labour uprising in the U.S. by garment workers, who were mostly women. In March of 1911, a fire broke out in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. More than 100 workers died in the fire, either burning to death or jumping out of windows because the doors had been locked to prevent people from stealing or sneaking off for breaks.

A woman who was a union organizer at the time, Rose Schneiderman, made this speech at a large memorial gathering in New York:

"I would be a traitor to these poor burned bodies if I came here to talk good fellowship. We have tried you good people of the public and we have found you wanting. The old Inquisition had its rack and its thumbscrews and its instruments of torture with iron teeth. We know what these things are today; the iron teeth are our necessities, the thumbscrews are the high-powered and swift machinery close to which we must work, and the rack is here in the firetrap structures that will destroy us the minute they catch on fire.

"This is not the first time girls have been burned alive in the city. Every week I must learn of the untimely death of one of my sister workers. Every year thousands of us are maimed. The life of men and women is so cheap and property is so sacred. There are so many of us for one job it matters little if 146 of us are burned to death.

"We have tried you citizens; we are trying you now, and you have a couple of dollars for the sorrowing mothers, brothers and sisters by way of a charity gift. But every time the workers come out in the only way they know to protest against conditions which are unbearable the strong hand of the law is allowed to press down heavily upon us.

"Public officials have only words of warning to us – warning that we must be intensely peaceable, and they have the workhouse just back of all their warnings. The strong hand of the law beats us back, when we rise, into the conditions that make life unbearable.

"I can't talk fellowship to you who are gathered here. Too much blood has been spilled. I know from my experience it is up to the working people to save themselves. The only way they can save themselves is by a strong working-class movement."

Then I wonder how much has changed in the last 100 years.

If Stephen Harper's G20

If Stephen Harper's G20 Summit belt-tightening economics prevails, it will be back to the future, another depression:

Challenge unjust laws, yes.

But just mindlessly smash shit up, what's that supposed to achieve? It's also laughable to equate the Black Bloc with the heroes of the labor, suffrage and minority rights movements. Did the Union eschew the breaking of ALL unjust laws, or did you just take an opportunity for a shallow straw man argument by exploding their opinions about an isolated incident of lawbreaking into a general position? The Black Bloc cover their faces, they hide amongst peaceful protesters (who they despise) and carry out cowardly acts of violence against undefended targets. What's to like about a bunch of morons who come out once a year to act out their violent fantasies? The Union got it just right about these morons.

 you're comment is

 you're comment is ridiculous. 


there is nothing mindless about targeted vandalism! 

corporate chain stores are hardly 'undefended'


holy rude and ignorant

holy rude and ignorant comment. Way to spread lies and disinfomration in big pile of hateful bitterness.


Dear Toronto Anonymous, You

Dear Toronto Anonymous,

You really need to get up to speed on this argument, black block is not a group, it is a tactic that different groups and individuals use. Thus to say that ‘they despise peaceful protesters’ is a statement that could never be correct, because there is no such thing as the ‘they’ in your statement.

More militant activists have been trying to coordinate efforts with non-violent activists for decades, and to a large degree have achieved success. Black bloc does not ‘hide amongst peaceful protesters.’

The corporate targets that were damaged during anti-g20 events may not have had armed guards standing right in front of them,  but they literally have armies of police and military and special operations forces at their disposal every minute of every day of the year around the entire planet.

Let’s hear you use the word ‘cowardly’ the next time you cut your fingers off in a sewing machine, or one of your loved ones is disappeared, or the river that your family has depended on for generations is filled with poison.

The union did not ‘get it right’ --their position is based on twisted information that reveals more of their prejudice against anti-authoritarian organizing and militant anti-capitalist action than any accurate reading of what really happened.

I'll use the word cowardly

I'll use the word cowardly every time I see a mob frenzy of violence and every time it's defended by misrepresenting the position of those prepared to stand up to it (as you're doing). Peaceful protesters who objected to the Black Bloc had rocks thrown at them. These are people whose source of courage is contained in the assurance that they wont be held accountable. They're spineless, contemptible, one-day-a-year activists. Not only do they not help, but they actively encourage and strengthen the mandate of the Police to work against those that do.

 the ONE time i saw a

 the ONE time i saw a "peaceful protester" try to 'stop' the black bloc was when this fellow threatened to 1. pepper spray some one dressed in black and 2. do a citizens arrest and turn them in to the cops. 

that is messed up behavior and should be not be tolerated. besides, if people want to 'stop' such actions they should do it before hand in the form of dialogue, not in the form of physical violence or threatened violence which is usually how it plays out on the street when tensions are high and people dressed in black are being threatened with arrest. 

people will do as people do... why try to control others and how they wish to resist? 

The Black-Bloc Tactic and

The Black-Bloc Tactic and those who use it are one and the same. The Black-Bloc operates similarly to Al-Qaeda, loosely organized through "affinity" groups/cells which share the same ideology and, depending on the objective, operate independently or collectively. Those who use the Black-Bloc tactic are now limiting their violence and destruction to breaking windows, overturning newspaper boxes, attacking and burning police cars, attacking those who object to their behaviour but, if those limited "actions" don't achieve the result they want, they will escalate their violence and destruction potentially without limit. The time to stop them is now.

Who is responsible for

Who is responsible for creating terror? I did not feel threatened by the presence of the Block when there were 5 times as many armed and dangerous police officers who broke the laws they were supposed to be protecting, in the name of 'Justice'. I think we do need to face the fact that within our society the laws are designed by elites and the legitimacy of the law protected with ongoing violence and intimidation.

The security forces were the real terrorists this weekend, and my friends, family, and self can attest to that fact. If the state is granted the right to utilize terror against citizens, "they will escalate their violence and destruction potentially without limit. The time to stop them is now."

I felt torn about the Block's tactics when I saw franchise-owners cleaning the broken glass on Yonge street, but when I think of the violence that those Bell stores and H&Ms inflict on vulnerable populations around the globe (including right here in Canada!) it seems justified to me.

I was there too. Absolutely

I was there too. Absolutely none of the violence and destruction by anyone that occurred during the G20 was justified. Terror is terror regardless of who perpetrates it. The customers and workers in those businesses were terrorized by Black-Bloc tactics and the general public was terrorized by the "authorities". Just like during a war, the opposing forces suffer far fewer casualties than the civilians, that's what happened.

The Black-Bloc should have attacked the fence which is the most appropriate symbol of the G20 and would have focused the "battle" away from those who didn't want to participate in the attack. The technique the Black-Bloc used, veering away from their march to attack the fence, has been used in their other "actions" elsewhere. The police should have been prepared for it but they weren't either by plan or incompetence whichever we will probably never know but the results were known by the Black-Bloc, bring the force of the state down on the heads of the general population. That's terrorism!

The question is, if there was no violence and destruction by Black-Bloc, Anarchists, etc., would the police have acted differently and, if they would have, how differently? Sadly, we'll never know.

 1. people are responsible

 1. people are responsible for their own violence. you can not blame anarchists for the tactics the POLICE CHOSE to inflict on other people. anarchists didn't chose that - the cops did. the police are completely capable of making their own decisions

2. the police behave in an unjust and brutal manner daily in canada - most people just do not see it because they are privileged and are not 'forced' in to conflict with the state.

3. the fence was a target, but the police were severely guarding it. it likely would not have been possible to attack the fence with the relatively small number of militants that were in the street. also, it seemed like it was disorganized and that people were intimidated likely because of the police repression that was happening before the demo. 

4. corporate stores, banks, and police buildings are completely legitimate targets. 

1. Anarchists/Black-Bloc made

1. Anarchists/Black-Bloc made their own decisions to perpetrate violence and destruction and to cowardly hide among the non-violent which the police used as an excuse to attack. That decision to attack was made by the police but the Anarchist/Black-Bloc knew that would be the result of their tactics.

2. Yes, police are unjust and brutal daily and I am not a fan of the police, I think they operate like a gang and are out of control but that doesn't excuse that kind of behaviour in anyone else, individually or as a group. Most people don't have conflict with the police because they don't seek it like those who were violent and destructive during the G20. Others who are of colour, street people, mentally ill, etc., are targets of the police because they are at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder or defenseless, or because of racism. I am absolutely opposed to that police behaviour too and have expressed that viewpoint directly to the police and municipal, provincial and federal politicians. Personally, in the few interfaces I've had with police, I have not had good experiences. In one experience, I was threatened with being taken to the police station and strip-searched because I objected to being 'prospectively' stopped and questioned for no bonafide reason. Most Toronto police don't live in the city of toronto and, absolutely don't live in areas such as Regent Park, Jane and Finch/Sheppard, Malvern, etc., so they have no understanding of the community they are policing and don't usually act in the interests of the community, only themselves, that's why they don't get co-operation and help from the community. Their slogan "To Serve and Protect" only applies to themselves. Regardless, I don't condone acts of violence and destruction because of that, it only aggravates the problem and causes the community to suffer more.

3. Who cares that "the police were severely guarding" the fence and that there were a "relatively small number of militants". The point is to make a statement that communicates your point. The fence, which created a walled fortress, was THE symbol of the G20 assault on Toronto and the world and it was understood everywhere in the world. Attacking the fence instead of windows and police cars would not have alienated the general public and the 'battle' would have been focused there and on the Anarchists and Black-Bloc and police resulting in far fewer arrests and injuries. The tactic of attack should have been not to actually touch the fence but to stand and walk around it within the supposed 5 meter restricted distance and let the police arrest them which, as it turns out, was illegal because the secretly passed regulation didn't give the police that authority. That would have resulted in making the point and all charges being dropped for the relatively few who would have been arrested. The governments and police would have looked like fools instead of 'heroes'.

4. I agree that corporations, the police, governments, etc., are offenders in specific respects, and those specific respects are legitimate targets, but attacking corporate stores, banks and police buildings is infantile and uncreative, it is futile property destruction which is easily repaired and forgotten and which the customer or taxpayer ultimately pays for. Instead, be creative. cameras are cheap and You Tube, the Media Coop, and other websites are available to upload to to make a statement. Use the cameras to record various specific examples of abuse by corporations, police, governments, etc. and upload the pictures and/or videos with an explanation of why. Although you may not like Michael Moore and/or his work, his technique and his resultant films/video have had good effect in revealing abuses and helping people and communities to fight them and, sometimes, get a remedy. Destroying a company's good reputation is much more effective than destroying a bank's or company's outlet or franchisee's window.

To all those disrespecting the Bloc

Solidarity, do you know what it means?

You have the right to be angry with the Bloc if you disagree with the tactics, just like people who use the bloc have the right to be angry with peaceful protestors for not standing up to the brutality when, riot gear or not, the people outnumber them. However, the enemy is not the bloc. The enemy are the police, and the politicians holding their leash, the corporations backing them, the unjust laws, and policies they flaunt in the face of Canadians who want none of it. You can disagree, but if you let them divide us they WILL continue to conquer.

Me I like both peaceful and non-peaceful protestors, and unfortunately, both sides have been brainwashed and turned against eachother by people within and outside their ranks. History books glorify and idolize the leaders of peaceful protest, and sweep any of the forceful protest under the rugs when both are integral parts of change. Liberal brainwashees have been taught violence is bad, and no one should ever be violent, and if we sit here peacefully and chant enough everyone will agree with us and happy rainbows will grant all our wishes. Not Going To Happen. They are taught if one person steps out of line then the protest means nothing. Then no protest will EVER mean anything because there will ALWAYS be two sides to the coin, whether each side likes the other or not.

The Anarchists are angry and disillusioned, and when they see peaceful protestors peacefully chanting and getting beaten by cops it pisses them off.  Why don't they stand up for themselves? If the people fought back, the cops would be far outnumbered, and their riot gear would mean nothing in the face of thousands of Canadians fed up with police repression. They see the possibilities of a riot, being the spark that starts the revolution, and seeing it wasted on bleeting out phrases that facilitate no change just weighs down on what little hope they have.

BOTH are needed though, and both are present when social change happens. Of course the media will always highlight the forceful few, because it paints the protest in a negative light, and the media is controlled by corporate interests, who never want change. But by BUYING into that BS, liberal activists are being traitors to their cause. It is the Anarchists job to scare those in power into accepting change for the better, cause the damage that makes a lack of change not cost effective, like they always have done. It is the liberals job to be the face of the change. Stop buying into corporate media, and MAKE yourselves the focus. BE the face, because it s what your purpose is. When you join the system that oppresses you, change can never happen.

The sad thing is, these freedom loving liberals never see how they are oppressing their fellow activists. You NEVER see Anarchists try to FORCE peaceful protestors to throw a brick. The two sides may not like eachother, but unless a liberal is threatening an anarchists freedom, the anarchist will leave him well enough alone. These so called activists however, are trying to work WITH the repressive state to put their would be comrades behind bars. And that is disgusting.


PS: When you see a black bloc member being violent towards an innocent person, ask yourself this question: Is he an anarchist, or a cop? there are videos SHOWING OFF the fact that cops infiltrated the bloc, and as history shows us, they like to be provocateurs, they like to paint anarchists interested in porperty destruction look like violent thugs who will attack anyone. As others have said, the only time they saw a bloc member get violent with a protestor is when that protestor threatened his freedom with pepper spray and the the possibility of a citizens arrest.

I can't express solidarity

I can't express solidarity with disguised vandals who use violence and I don't think most people will. Most people view those who use Black-Bloc tactics as violent misfits who are not interested in improving society, only tearing it down. Instead of Black-Bloc tactics, I use other, non-violent, methods which includes passive-agressive protest to effect changes for myself, my fellow workers, and the community I live in, and I have been mostly successful in achieving them . I will not reveal what those change achievements are because that would enable identifying me as some of them were well-publicized. Diplomacy, civil disobedience, picketing, legal avenues, etc., without resorting to violence, does work.

You're claims about brainwashing is partially true but there are many people who are quite conscious about what's what and agree with some policies and procedures and not others they are subjected to by employers, companies, governments, institutions, etc.; it's not a black-and-white situation, yet, where we need a revolution to effect positive changes to bad behaviours by businesses, governments, etc. There are places in the world where people are being killed and where even whole families, villages, and genocide is occurring, which does justify defense, not offense, through the use of force and weapons but that's not the situation here. One point I haven't made before is that I perceive the escalation of violence being promoted here as an import from the U.S., which is a gun addicted and violent society, where there's a socio-economic, racial, and political civil war occurring. The reaction to it is also an import from the U.S. I definitely don't want any of that to further escalate, that's another reason I don't condone Black-Bloc tactics.

Re: " You NEVER see Anarchists try to FORCE peaceful protestors to throw a brick." You're correct, but no peaceful protestor asked an Anarchist to throw a brick on their behalf and to take the consequences for the brick throwing (destructive) Anarchist. The violent and destructive Anarchists and Black-Bloc Tactic users imposed the violent police actions on the peaceful protestors, passersby, curious, etc., by hiding undisguised among them. That is also part of the Black-Bloc Tactic, to cause the authority of the State to be violently used against the non-violent public in order to radicalize them to 'rise up' against the State. We're not as dumb as that, we totally understand what's going on with the Black-Bloc and the Anarchists and we don't want it and many are willing to accept the obscene expenditure of taxes on a police state, and the suspension of civil liberties, to prevent it; a great achievement by the Black-Bloc and Anarchists. They should do something really revolutionary, give violence and destruction up and get involved constructively in changing society so that that tax money will be used for society's benefit and the police will do the work of protecting the people from crime instead of protecting the interests of the G8 and G20, and who they represent, at our expense.

Re: "PS: When you see a black bloc member being violent towards an innocent person, ask yourself this question: Is he an anarchist, or a cop?" Yes, that is a question which can't be definitively answered without revealing the face which is exactly my point about the wearing of masks enabling the police to infiltrate and be provocateurs. If the Anarchists and Black-Bloc stopped using violence and destruction, and didn't wear masks, then it would be most likely that anyone who did wear a mask and/or use violence and destruction is a cop and could be outed/identified. Don't wear masks and it will easy to identify the cops, if there's any.

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