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More Smoke Than Fire

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
More Smoke Than Fire

On May 18th, at 3:30 in the morning, a Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) branch in Ottawa was firebombed. It was severely damaged. A group calling themselves FFFC-Ottawa claimed responsibility.

In their communiqué FFFC-Ottawa cited two specific reasons why they firebombed an RBC branch. First, RBC was a major supporter of the 2010 Olympic Games. Second, RBC is a major financier of Alberta’s tar sands.

FFFC-Ottawa ended it’s communiqué with this statement, “We pass the torch to all those who would resist the trampling of native rights, of the rights of us all, and resist the ongoing destruction of our planet.”

Soon after the firebombing there were a series of statements released by groups and individuals.

The Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) released a statement calling on “all people who recognize the need to stop RBC’s dirty investments to honor the leadership of frontline Indigenous communities.”

Krystaline Kraus’s Rabble blog, circulated through the Toronto Community Mobilization Network, on May 20th pronounced there was now “blood in the water.” Kraus called for a quick denunciation of the firebombing. The activist community needs to “make clear to all that direct action does not include terrorism, that the communities whom this group claims to represent don’t under any terms want this kind of solidarity and support.”

On May 21st WarriorPublications.com released a statement on the RBC Arson attack that supported the action and spoke harshly about groups and individuals who denounced the attack and the concept of diversity of tactics.

On May 24th Steve D’Arcy and Syrah Canyon wrote an online article called ‘The Fire This Time: Burning Bridges.’ In it the authors denounced the FFFC attack on many fronts. They condemned the use of arson as a political tactic as the capitalist system can’t be burned down.

They also wrote that two ongoing campaigns, one against RBC ‘s involvement in the tar sands and the mobilization against the G20 in Toronto, were dealt a serious blow in their efforts to organize because of the firebombing.

The authors believe that the ‘ultra-left’ are hiding behind the rhetoric of diversity of tactics and are pursuing “minoritarian substitutes for mass action in the face of declining levels of popular struggle.”

The criticisms of the firebombing can be broken down into the following points:

1.You can’t burn down capitalism.

2. It was risky.

3. It was violent.

4. It made on-going campaigns harder.

5. It was vangaurdist.

6. It was ineffectual.

7. It meddled in struggles that it was not a part of.

8. It has been divisive.

Some of the critiques of the firebombing have contained salient points; others have merely muddied the waters.

8.This firebombing has the potential to be divisive if those responsible are ever caught. However, as of now, the firebombing has only illuminated long running debates on the left over movement building, solidarity, violence, strategy and tactics. The firebombing itself hasn’t divided anything. It has just exposed the fault lines.

7.The discourse around race and colonialism has been the elephant in the room. Not much is known about FFFC-Ottawa. People have their suspicions. They are suspected of being some white kids. If they are, as popularly perceived, white, what does this mean? Are they appropriating the struggle of indigenous communities or are they engaging in a form of solidarity against a common enemy?

The IEN wants people to respect the leadership of frontline communities. The Warrior publications point out that indigenous communities are not homogenous political communities. So what are privileged white activists supposed to do? The choices seem stark: appropriating and defining other people’s struggles for them or washing one’s hands of responsibility, being a lazy follower.

If you are white, you have a responsibility to act; you have a responsibility to use white privilege against itself. However it is a fine line between taking ownership of this and leading other people’s struggles. Ripping into FFFC- Ottawa because they are white people acting in the name of indigenous struggle may be justified but it’s certainly not simple.

6. It is hard to gage the effectiveness of the firebombing. First off, we aren’t exactly sure of the aims and goals of FFFC-Ottawa. I suspect that they want to raise the tension, especially in Toronto. But this is all conjecture. I can’t imagine the firebombing has successfully disrupted RBC or has inspired others to do the same. It was effectively carried out. The bank was burned. No one was hurt. It provoked discussion. It may have alienated some, but only time will tell.

5. This action was vangaurdist, though without a party. It was propaganda by the deed. It was a political action that involved few people, for obvious reasons. It was minoritarian. But is this always wrong? Aren’t all the actions we in the extraparlimentary left engage in minority actions. We shouldn’t condemn politics to the conservatism of numerical means, because all of us are in the minority. There is a difference between the actions of small clandestine groups and mass movements. One is open and one is closed. But they aren’t mutually exclusive. Most mass movements have impatient elements, small groups in the wings, whose actions can serve to propel a struggle forwards or backwards. They just go with the territory.

4. It has made organizing for the G20 more difficult. How much so is impossible to gage. By stating that they will be in Toronto the FFFC-Ottawa committed two errors. They gave the security apparatus detailed info and they have put parallel political struggles under greater scrutiny. It’s essential to be cognizant of other people’s struggles and goals in Toronto and elsewhere. That being said, the police presence would have been heavy-handed in Toronto no matter what.

3. Can property experience violence? We all know that debate. Sometimes property is an extension of ourselves, it contains our memories, our hopes, our unspeakable experiences. When people’s homes are being bulldozed in the occupied West Bank that is violence. It is not simple destruction of property but absolute violence. Beyond questions of what is violence, there resides the question of legitimate violence. Can we use violence in a way that furthers our struggles? The answer is yes. Violence has been and is a part of most extraparlimentary struggles. We cannot renounce violence. We should disagree with certain violent actions, but to rule out violence is to negate history. We should also not compare violences – a single bank branch being burned, the Canadian State. It is simply too absurd.

2. Yes it was risky. Killing people would have not been good. But risks have to be taken. We don’t need to condone risking peoples lives for a bank arson, to recognize the need to take risks in political action. Risk, in of itself, is not something any revolutionary political undertaking can avoid.

1. No you can’t. Capitalism can’t be bombed out of existence. Capitalism can’t be reformed economically nor defeated militarily. The problem is political and requires mass political action. The FFFC-Ottawa firebombed a hated bank. It was an act of violence. The problem is it was not violent enough. Zizek writes “the ultimate difference between radical-emancipatory politics and such outbursts of impotent violence is that an authentic political gesture is active, it imposes, enforces a vision, while outbursts of impotent violence are fundamentally reactive.” We need to own violence, to recognize the uses and misuses of violence. We need to stop denouncing petty acts. We need to stop renouncing violence. We are engaged in a violent struggle. We need to act with intelligence and be cognizant of others. We need to move on from the symbolic violence of burning a bank and get down to the business of tearing down the systematic violence of capitalism.





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Common Cause press release on RBC arson


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