2004 - Red Fists: Communist organization in street demos
Translated from the Summer 2001 edition of Socialisme Maintenant! magazine.
1.) Street demos are under the control of reformists of all kinds for much too long. Under their leadership, demos have degenerated into useless activities in regard to class struggle. But unlike the most reactionary bourgeois politicians, these reformists (so-called “left-wing” politicians, trade-unionists, members of the NGOs, non-violent pacifists, etc.) do not wish to do away with demos, but to transform their very nature in order to use them as means to control or lead ideologically and politically in the class struggle.
2.) Instead of calling upon the working class and the masses to take action – in street demos, for example, as part and parcel of the proletariat’s traditional means of class struggle – reformists will entertain a tendency of inertia, and this, by the very use of demonstrations. This may seem contradictory, but it is not in fact. Demos allow reformists to show their bourgeois partners that they have assumed perfect control and leadership over the working masses. They will exert tight control over the content (claims and political meaning) as well as the shape and form of the demo. The theme used in these circumstances (bland or terribly vague), the claims, the slogans, the chants, the course, the placards, the speeches, the means of transportation, serve in preventing the demonstrators from acting on their own initiative. This tendency of inertia is a bit thwarted by the need to stage a demo; a demonstrator must make his or her way to a given gathering point, provide for free time within her or his regular activities, etc. But once the demonstrators have gone through the necessary steps to partake in such an event, reformists will relish secretly the thought (…although this is less and less a secret), that these participants will be in fact reduced to mere passive instruments. This passivity will be wrongly construed as a political adherence, as a support to the ideological mechanism – put together by the bureaucratic organizers of the demos.
3.) Passive and totally predictable demos are consequently perfectly in line with policing strategies and the State. These forces wish to assume control and leadership over the population. This will to control, whatever one may think, is not in contradiction with these types of demonstration as long as the organizers are able to evaluate the crowd that will show up, the nature of its different components, their command over the time-space continuum (initial gathering – course – eventual break-up) and finally an overall well sought out planning of the political event.
In the following words, this was expressed in a document of the “Institut de Perfectionnement des Cadres de la Police” (Institute for Improved Training of Superior Officers) of the Canadian Police College: “Crowd control is important, for once a crowd is out of control, it is too late to plan an intervention .“
It is most important to carefully understand that police lose 50% to 60% of their efficiency (we are not talking here about its striking scene) when it must improvise an intervention that doesn’t fit in with its prior planning. There is an objective link between the ideology of control of the reformist-bureaucrats and that of the police and the State. This is detrimental of course to the struggle of the proletariat.
Olivier Fillieule (a French author) illustrates in pointed fashion this point of view. The following excerpts, in his work on policing in France, are particularly interesting to any activist who has felt trapped in between the police and the reformist organizers during a demonstration. What holds true for France, holds true for Québec and Canada.
“According to most French policemen who have been interviewed, a police intervention fails when security forces have been taken by surprise. The worst thing that can happen for them is to be taken by surprise. Planning is central to their actions.“
“The intelligence gathered from the organizers comes partly from knowledge of the groups going to take part in the demonstration. Unlike what is commonly held true, the police are not suddenly made aware of a demo. On the contrary, there is connivance, if not mutual recognition between both parties. In order for a demo to run smoothly, there are talks that take place between the organizers and the police beforehand or while the event is taking place. This is the most commonly used tactic. These negotiations are done on an informal basis rather than in a legal framework.“
“The effort made to reach a compromise can be made before the event, but during the event negotiations are equally important. This is why at every event there is a liaison agent. This agent must stay at the head of the demo and maintain communication with the organizers of the demo. […] Negotiations, on the spur of the moment, with the demonstrators are made a lot easier this way. These ongoing negotiations lead to close collaboration between police forces and the stewards if they share common goals. “
Fillieule gives an example of this, quoting a top police officer that partook in this kind of experience:
“If the procession is 800 meters long, we have to isolate the trouble makers and make sure that those who made the declaration – the group that detains a legal permit to demonstrate – will able to reach their destination. It is quite easy to do this with the CGT and other professional organizations. They have disciplined stewards that can isolate outsiders. They create blockades, either they stop the demo, or hurry its pace, or cut it off. Sometimes they inform us of their intention of pushing the rioters into a given street. However no student organizers will do this [this is to be proven!]. They do not want to be seen as collaborating with the police.“
4.) Big organizations such as trade-unions pretend that their strength resides in the impeccable organization of their passive and predictable demos. They say: “Look how well we can organize: there is nothing to worry about, our sound system is in perfect condition, we can be heard for miles [yeah, sure but a message of no importance!], our people are in a festive mood while remaining respectable, this goes to show their level of social consciousness”; etc. This is a lot of bull shit. These passive demos are not a show of force, but evince on the contrary weakness. The working class is prevented from waging true struggle by politically attacking the enemy. To protest as a worker is always to attack the enemy, the bourgeoisie !
5.) To these well known passive and predictable demos can be added a new variety of non-violent civil disobedience actions. One aspect of this new variety is that it allows for a more vigorous way of struggling, appealing to young workers and students. However, its second aspect curtails the struggle to that of reformism. Trotskyism served the same purpose in the 60s and 70s by seducing scores of young protesters and young activists with a form of radical and critical speech. But after a lengthy detour of five, eight, ten years they led people back to classical reformism: socialist parties, State apparatuses, trade-unions, etc.
Civil disobedience has achieved the same thing, but in a lot less time. Many protesters have already in fact likened civil disobedience to civil obedience. This perception is quite truthful. By popularizing like a piece of merchandise the gesture of being voluntarily arrested, and in turning it in mere spectacle of symbolic value for the media, the most resolute supporters of this type of political action have simply converted once again struggle in regards to its fundamental content, even though different in form, into a link between reformist and police control.
A demo organized by Opération SalAMI in Montréal revealed this quite pointedly. We are referring to one of its most famous actions, the one that took place in front of the Sheraton Centre, the sit-in to protest against the OECD vying to reach a multilateral agreement on investments. During this action about a hundred people were arrested in 1998.
This is how things went on at that occasion: While the demonstrators were spontaneously gathering at their meeting place as do all demonstrators, the police force did not hesitate in clearing René-Lévesque Street. With sporadic nubs of their bludgeons and occasional spurts of pepper spray they kept the demonstrators at bay on the sidewalk. However as soon as the ones leading the demo (leaders in the broadest sense, including animators, sound technicians, media groups, organizers) moved forth to begin the demonstration (it is safe to assume that the police was aware of the time of this manoeuvre), police withdrew in order to let SalAMI start a slow walk down René-Lévesque, as planned. This led the marchers away from the Conference Centre. Thereof, at each street comer they came across, they covered the street sign bearing the name of that very street with a piece of cardboard on which was written another name.
SalAMI had organized a non-violent disobedience protest, but one that had strong approval by the police. This is of course perfectly contradictory. In fact civil disobedience is everything but what was settled on between SalAMI and the police. A spontaneous and untimely taking to the streets in order to disrupt the protest timetable, is an example. But the way SalAMI acted, there is no question they didn’t stage a civil disobedience protest. It was nothing more than a symbolic action approved by the police force and staged for the media. It was a civil obedience action.
The same things goes for planned “sit-ins” or “teach-ins” that take place in areas or in streets where it was agreed upon with police so that circulation can be re-routed. These political actions are empty in content. It is a trickery that is meant to fool the demonstrators. Once again, it is a mechanism linking the reformists’ political control to the State’s repressive control.
6.) The greatest danger that stems from these passive and predictable demos is that revolutionaries become complacent and reproduce within their own organizational structures those of these types of protests. Instead of putting to use the knowledge already gained by the revolutionary movement, they give into the disorganization proposed by the reformists. This will have as a result that any denunciation will become senseless, because the form of protest will be unworthy of properly conveying the message.
7.) More and more this danger is perceived by revolutionaries who are striving, in truth of fact, through trial and error, but mainly in a manner that is unfortunately not unified, to make protests significant. This is one of the brightest aspects of class struggle since the last decade.
It must be said that faked-communists (revisionists) have completely estranged themselves from these firm and solid advancements. They have adopted in fact the discipline and the legal practices imposed by the bourgeoisie. This results in demos where the demonstrators are passively kept in toe with the reformist leaders.
Once the dangers of this dominant current are well understood, the dangers being of ending up caught disorganized within the frameworks of these sham protests, then we can work towards countering of these methods in order to give to proletarian protest the tactical nature they are suppose to have. To do this we must fully understand revolutionary methods in street demo organization. These ways of organizing will offer us an ironclad stronghold to lead struggles and the numerous upcoming protests.
What are Red Fists?
8.) In demos, our most basic form of organization, are the Red Fists. Red Fists are, above all, based on a method of communist organization. A way of putting to full use our strength and of assigning roles for a street demo. Secondly, Red Fists are an active and lively form of solidarity shared by the vanguard where revolutionary activists pull together and partake in a concrete communist action.
Why do we use the expression “Red Fists”?
First of all, the red color serves to express the communist and revolutionary content of the activity, considered as a whole, and not in its parts. This content is one of propaganda. It is this revolutionary and communist content which is determinant and decisive. It is not empty of meaning, a thing with a propagandist character that is undetermined, or void.
The fist is to underline a parenthood with one of the most practical, versatile, powerful and flexible tools known to humankind, something that comes from our very existence and our development on earth: the hand. A hand can be held opened, or it can be clenched in the form of a fist. Like a fist, the Red Fist has the following characteristics:
- It is united, inseparable and its members stick up for one another. A Red Fist is made up of five comrades who are in definition welded to one another. Ultimately they are called upon to stay united and stick up for each other for the duration of the demo, and in each different phase of the demo. Acting within a Red Fist is to act in order to preserve and safeguard this unity.
- It is a tiny work association. The five members of the Red Fist work together as a team, mutually assisting each other and strengthening themselves reciprocally. Imagine for a minute your very own hand at work. Most of the time, your five fingers work in unison. Once in awhile, to allow the index and the thumb to act, the other fingers are going to exert pressure on a given point; or they might circumvent an area, free it of some obstacle to foster eventual action. In other circumstances, all five fingers will act together, in oneness, to grasp an object. In truth of fact, we are faced with a very broad array of subtle combinations in which an action, even a very modest one, is done with the indispensable support of each and every finger.
- Only one thing is performed at a time. A Red Fist cannot, as a hand cannot, efficiently perform more than one task at the time. Could you, for example, knock at a door, count your money and open peanut shells all at once? It would be quite difficult, wouldn’t it? One must choose. Only one thing can be efficiently done at any given time. It could however be possible to perform a planned series of actions. But one must determine if such a course of action would be useful and must seriously consider if each individual action will be well accomplished.
- A Red Fist does not decide on its own what task it is going to perform. Does your hand decide on its own if it will crack peanut shells? Of course not. It doesn’t decide on its own either if it is going to count money or knock on a door. Your hand responds to a will. Even if this will is transient, and swift, as sudden as a bolt out of the blue, it proceeds nevertheless from a spontaneous and immediate plan conjured up by the brain. The Red Fist is strong and its action is warranted insofar as it is responding to a will. It knows that it is part and parcel of a broader scheme, the scheme that must take place in a demonstration. Each Red Fist understands that it has a role to assume, one that has been rationally assigned to it. The scheme is to fulfill certain propaganda aims during the course of a demo. This is why all Red Fists are fully and rigorously united in solidarity with one another. This solidarity is perfectly expressed when any given Red Fist fulfills what it has been assigned to do.
This is why if a Red Fist is assigned to look after a banner, there is nothing more important politically during the time of that assignment then to look after that very banner. The Red Fist must protect this banner, it must bring it to where it must be brought so that it can be seen by whom it must be seen.
In this same sprint, a Red Fist that must hurl projectiles on a line of police officers must aim as well as they can to hit as precisely as possible their target. Nothing is more important politically for them than that task.
- It is flexible, swift and assumes responsibility for itself. A Red Fist is part and parcel of a broader scheme, but this does not make it a dead weight to be looked after by other Red Fists. Quite the opposite. It is not either a small appendage that is inseparable from the crowd, an appendage that acts in perfect unison with the crowd wherever the crowd goes or whatever the crowd does. It is sufficiently coached to know how it must move and where it must go, how it must defend itself and through what means, how it must retreat.
9.) The general characteristics of these tiny groups give them great practical value – for action and for propaganda in street demos. More specifically, they foster communist organization and the fulfillment of objectives related to the demo in the following manner:
- They foster the practical participation of all communist demonstrators. No form of participation is useless. Likewise no task is unimportant. Someone may feel ill-prepared or unfit to fulfill a task, however he or she may support the overall scheme and may be willing to play his or her part in the demo by participating in a Red Fist in a way that suits this person better. The overall scheme must provide for everyone participation. At the same time, the role of each Red Fist must be well planned in order to fit in with the overall scheme.
- They foster preparation over improvisation. A Red Fist must be well prepared when it comes into a demo. This holds true for each and every demo. Members of a Red Fist must have met with each other at least once or twice beforehand. In a matter of fact, they should meet as many times as needed in order to properly carry out their mandate.
For example, members meet over a coffee or lunch. On this occasion the group goes over every detail in a careful manner so that everyone clearly understands his role and is able to perform it well. In this way each member of that given Red Fist can rely on each other. The means of transportation must be taken into consideration. Whose car will be used? Will it be a car borrowed from a friend, or your own or a rental? Is the given vehicle in good working condition ? Does the owner have any traffic fines to pay? How much money does the Red Fist need? At the place of destination, where is it safe to park the car ? Is the group knowledgeable about the area in question? Hour by hour knowledge of the day’s schedule: time of arrival, of departure, when the protest is going to start, how long will it last, the trip back home. The roles assigned within a Red Fist. What will be needed ? Who will put the needed stuff together ? When will it be done ? So on and so forth. For every question that comes to mind, there must be a simple and practical answer. One must have foresight.
- Autonomy is fostered. A Red Fist is by and large autonomous in regards to its organization. It provides for its own transportation to and from the event. It is responsible of its own gear. Either they carry it with them, or they know where and how to get it. It is also responsible in carrying out its task in the demo. It is not continually reliant upon orders, or counter-orders, or signals or directives.
- It fosters self-defense. It is unthinkable to be staging a protest that is important for the proletariat in which the demonstrators, in a spirit of capitulation, would surrender to arrests, or still worst, would let themselves be voluntarily arrested. Such a way of acting is a terrible waste. Red Fists call for resisting arrests.
It is known that the police will arrest people while being in numeric inferiority, because they assume (on account of their experience or their training) that the demonstrators won’t resist. However police are taken aback by man to man resistance when an arrest is in process and they are unable to proceed in their usual fashion. Because they are in inferior numbers, they have to re-deploy their forces. Precious time is gained in this way by the revolutionaries.
Members of a Red Fist must stay together and act in solidarity. Behavior such as walking up front as a lone-ranger, bearing a flower, or pissing in front of the police is to be proscribed. This type of behavior is merely suitable for the TV cameras. A Red Fist must stay grouped together and unless this unit has any other mandate, it must stay close to the masses.
Members of a Red Fist must intervene if one of them is hassled by a policeman. The surrounding masses must be alerted by a few words or something to that effect. But one must not wait for their reaction. One must take the initiative and hope that the surrounding people will follow suit. The goal is to free the comrade from the grasp of the policeman or the policemen – one must remember that they are acting in inferior numbers. One’s fists, boots, sticks or anything that will make the officer(s) release their hold. The Red Fist can also intervene for another demonstrator. The Red Fist must again act in the same fashion, this is to say act in group formation.
Different types of Red Fists
10. The existence of many different types of Red Fists in a demo is possible. In fact there is no set limit. All depends on the complexity and the importance of the demo. The main types of Red Fists are the following:
- Sales and distribution. This type of Red Fist takes part in a relatively simple form of agitation: distribution of leaflets, of newspapers, sales of brochures and magazines, etc. A single Red Fist or several can be used for a demo. It must be assured that it brings the right number of published material and it must provide for a way to get more if needed. Members of a Red Fist must decide upon who will hand out the propaganda (2 or 3 people) and who will assist and protect them.
- Political identification. This Red Fist carries with it a banner or any other manner of political identification. When it is carrying a regular type of banner, two of its members must carry the banner and the rest of the team must assist them and protect them. These latter comrades can possibly bear red flags.
- Communist agitation. According to a pre-established plan, this type of Red Fist sees to the delivery of a particular message among the demonstrators. This message may be a particular slogan, or specific watchword (advance in such or such a direction or proceed to such and such a place). The Red Fist bears red flags. It hands some out to the demonstrators around it. It strives to rally around it all who bear a red flag through its determination, enthusiasm, and tactical efficiency.
The Red Fist must be fully devoted to the masses, be strongly united with the people that surround it, offer advice, set an example by way of its actions, be communicative with the surrounding crowd, etc. It must be also very exuberant, evince a great deal of combativeness and of determination among the ranks of the demo.
- Action. The task of this Red Fist is to attain a target. The target in question could be a billboard conveying a message of a particularly despicable nature. Other examples are the shut gate of a factory that just has been closed down, a police car, the entry to a given building, a policing device, a meeting centre, etc. This Red Fist must dispose of all the necessary material to enable it to accomplish its task. The aim of its action, at the moment it is accomplished, is to endow the demo with some sort of political direction, firstly intended to be coordinated with the task of a communist agitation Red Fist. Once the target is hit, agitational tasks must be spread throughout the demo.
If the attack has been very well carried out the demo will have been all the more successful in terms of efficiency in striking at the class enemy!
Depending on the circumstances, other Red Fists may be useful such as ones that stays on the look out or one that provides information, or one that serves as a communication link, etc.
11.) Each Red Fist member must see to its own preparation. Of course, during prior meetings this aspect must be dealt with. But if any comrades fail in this task, this could badly damage the outcome of the demo.
This preparation must take into consideration certain difficulties that may be encountered in demos that will be tough to carry out. It is this level of difficulty that will determine how much preparation is needed, and this even though the difficulties don’t show up as planned.
- No drugs, alcohol, agendas, notes, documents or bags.
- Loose seasonal clothing, preferably too warm then not warm enough, equipped with big pockets to replace an encumbering bag.
- Dispose of a change of clothes, worn preferably underneath, allowing one to swiftly shed the clothes he or she wore during the demo, clothes that could help the police identify the demonstrator.
- No contact lenses; eye glasses must be secured by something in order not to be lost.
- Eyeware protection, such as swimming goggles, a mask, a scarf or a piece of cotton. The scarf serves to make the demonstrator unrecognizable. It also protects partly against tear gas.
- At least one bottle of plastic (such as a soft drink bottle), filled with vinegar. One for every Red Fist.
- Any protective equipment: gloves, pads, or something similar fastened with tape, etc., that will make one reassured if there is any close combat with the police.