What’s the Black Bloc? And why is it important for the fate of the Occupy Movement?
For the past three weeks, I’ve been obsessed with the Occupy Movement at the moment. I think it’s the most significant development of the year — together with Arab Spring and the Indignados protests in Mediterranean countries.
Occupy is important for those of us who follow Peak Oil and Transition, because it has the potential to change the political equation. As the rising price of oil and other commodities continues to threaten living standards in the US and other countries, protest movements are inevitable.
The Occupy Movement has struck a chord with the “99 percent.” Occupy Oakland, for example, saw somewhere between 5,000 and 25,000 people out in the street dduring the General Strike there Wednesday, November 2.
I was struck by the presence of the black clad groups that appeared in the midst of the demonstration to trash stores, break windows, etc. These are the Black Bloc, a phenomenon which first appeared in the 80s and has been with demonstrations across the world ever since.
How the Occupy Movement deals with the Black Bloc is critical for its future.
Below is a collection of excerpts/links for those who wish to learn more.
Click on the headline (link) for the full text.
Many more articles are available through the Energy Bulletin homepage.
Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
A black bloc is a tactic for protests and marches, whereby individuals wear black clothing, scarves, ski masks, motorcycle helmets with padding or other face-concealing items and often carry some sort of shields and truncheons. The clothing is used to avoid being identified, and to, theoretically, appear as one large mass, promoting solidarity.
The tactic was developed in the 1980s by autonomists protesting squatter evictions, nuclear power and restrictions on abortion among other things. Black blocs gained broader media attention outside Europe during the 1999 anti-WTO demonstrations, when a black bloc damaged property of GAP, Starbucks, Old Navy, and other multinational retail locations in downtown Seattle.
“The Black Bloc” is sometimes incorrectly reported as being the name of a specific anarchist group. It is, rather, a tactic that may be adopted by groups of various motivations and methods.
Is “Black Bloc” hijacking Occupy Oakland?
John Blackstone, CBS News
Peaceful protests by the Occupy Oakland movement were overshadowed this week by violent clashes between a small group of demonstrators and police. Now there’s concern among the majority of protesters that their message is being hijacked. CBS News correspondent John Blackstone looks into this latest development.
It could be seen as a battle for the image of the Occupy movement. One demonstrator struggles to put out the flames of a burning barricade as others masked and dressed in black pull him away.
It wasn’t the only time during a huge Occupy demonstration in Oakland this week that protesters found themselves on opposite sides. When dozens of black clad marchers began attacking a supermarket, others urged them to stop — finally linking arms to protect the store from further destruction.
One demonstrator, Sheik Anderson, distanced most of the protesters from the violence.
“We called the mayor’s office the moment we understood what was going on over there,” said Anderson. “That was an anonymous action, that was nothing to do with Occupy Oakland.
To many demonstrators, a sinister mask, fashioned on Guy Fawkes, the revolutionary who attempted to blow up the British Parliament buildings more than 400 years ago, has become a worldwide symbol of anarchy and revolution.
For years, these black-clad demonstrators, known as the Black Bloc, have been showing up at marches in Europe and the U.S. Although often small in numbers, by destroying property and challenging police, they can hijack the message of otherwise peaceful protests
“I see Black Bloc as a tactic, not really as a movement,” said Ryan Andreola, an Occupy demonstrator. He said he believes in non-violence but is not ready to condemn the tactics of the Black Bloc.
(4 November 2011)
Jon Stewart On Occupy Oakland: ‘You Will Always Be Judged By Your Worst Elements’ (VIDEO)
Jon Stewart, Huffington Post
On Thursday’s night episode of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, the titular late-night host had some stern words of advice for the protestors of the Occupy Oakland movement.
While Stewart called the protests, “a visceral expression of frustration with our system’s institutionalized economic inequality,” he warned that, “you will always be judged by your worst elements and it’s very tough to wrangle a leaderless movement.”
… The comedian concluded by suggesting a method of reigning in the relatively small group of unruly individuals who have reportedly been been responsible for much of the vandalism: peer pressure.
“It was the only reason I started smoking in high school,” Stewart joked.
(5 November 2011)
Fringe Group Turns Violent
Bobby White and Jim Carlton, Wall Street Journal
Protesters Described as Anarchists Mar Largely Peaceful Gathering in Oakland
OAKLAND, Calif. — Violence broke out at an Occupy Wall Street protest for the second time in a little over a week here as agitators identified by police as anarchists broke into a vacant building, set fires in the street and attacked the police.
The clashes, instigated by hardcore group often called “the Black Bloc” because of their typically black garb, disrupted a largely peaceful demonstration.
Oakland police in riot gear fired tear gas and bean bags to disperse a group of about 100 protesters before 1 a.m. Thursday. Police said officers were pelted with “rocks, explosives, bottles and flaming …
(4 November 2011)
The rest of the article is now behind a pay wall. As I remember, the article was fairly good for the MSM. -BA
Black Bloc participants and defenders
‘Black bloc’ anarchists behind anti-cuts rampage reject thuggery claims
Robert Booth and Marc Vallée, Guardian
Masked protesters who hijacked London protests say their ranks have swollen to 1,500 and include social workers and nurses
They dressed in black, masked their faces and flew red and black flags as if they were a revolutionary army, but anarchists who smashed up shops, banks and hotels during last Saturday’s anti-cuts protests in London have dismissed government allegations they are “mindless thugs”.
Amid growing public anxiety about the actions of the so-called black bloc, the home secretary, Theresa May, this week threatened pre-emptive police action while Kit Malthouse, London’s deputy mayor, branded them “fascist agitators”.
But unmasked and talking to the Guardian, anarchists involved in last weekend’s violence claimed their direct action tactics were going viral. They said they were legitimate representatives of the public’s concern about public sector cuts and their ranks had swollen to an estimated 1,500, boosted by student first-timers.
The black bloc tactic involves masked militants moving in tight units cordoned by flags, vandalising symbolic property and sometimes attacking police. The group created chaos in central London’s busiest shopping area last weekend, seizing attention from about half a million peaceful anti-cuts protesters on a Trades Union Congress-organised march and terrifying onlookers,
(1 April 2011)
Interview with Black Bloc participants
Stephen Moss, Guardian
Two participants in the black bloc protest at Saturday’s anti-cuts rally tell Stephen Moss why they’re the true face of protest
“Meet us outside the British Library. That seems appropriate.” I’m due to interview two men in their late 20s who were part of the “black bloc” direct action wing of last Saturday’s anti-cuts protest. We’d originally agreed to meet at a bar in King’s Cross, but they tell me later it was “too media” for their security concerns.
I conduct an interview of sorts, but they are reluctant to tell me much about themselves other than that one is a “low-paid public sector worker”. In any case, they have come armed with handwritten answers to questions they have posed to themselves. Anarchists like to be in control. I agree to edit those answers for length, then show them the edited version. Their “self-interview” appears below. I never do learn their names.
Q: The media, police and other sections of the left have called the black bloc “criminals”, “hooligans” and “cowards”. How do you respond?
A: In the legal sense, those who damage property or fight the police have committed crimes, so yes they are criminals. But in everyday language, a criminal is someone who lives by criminal means. We saw plenty of nurses, education workers, tech workers, unemployed workers, students, campaigners and charity workers on the bloc on Saturday, but we didn’t see any criminals.
As for being hooligans or cowards, the black bloc formation is used for tactical purposes. We aren’t trying to be “hard” or to give ourselves a thrill. We are trying to give uncompromising opposition to capitalism an appropriate image on the streets – and not end up in jail. True cowardice would be not fighting an economic system that wants to destroy us.
The black bloc is not a group or organisation; it’s something that happens on marches or actions. It’s not pre-planned; it relies on people turning up with the same ideas and clothes. That is why there is a “uniform”: people who want to take direct action and resist containment arrive on the day in black and identify people with the same ideas this way.
(31 March 2011)
In defence of Black Bloc
Jonathan Moses, open Democracty
In his 2006 Malinowski lecture at the LSE, David Graeber observed that any relationship underwritten by violence is analytically unequal. That is to say that it is always the weakest and most vulnerable in a partnership that has to do the hard work understanding the other person: ‘interpretative labour’, as Graeber calls it, is really a one way street. Those with control of the means of violence have the rare luxury of stupidity.
Our relationship with the state is underwritten by violence. Max Weber defined it in exactly those terms: as that which has a “monopoly on the legitimate use of violence”. So it is little wonder that the British government could afford to be idiotic in its analysis of black bloc, the “mindless thugs” who, on March 26th, broke the windows of banks, the Ritz, a Porsche dealership and Ann Summers. To Wes Streeting’s horror, they even threw paint at Topshop.
There is a worthwhile internal debate to be had about the efficacy of vandalism, the limits and acceptability of ‘political violence’. But claims that this was the act of “idiots… Basic idiots… Advanced level Über-Idiots… thugs”, who did the anti-cuts campaign “huge damage” are absurd. The rapid clamouring of everyone – with the honourable exception of UK Uncut – to disown this element of the movement should be called what it is: a violation of the basic principles of solidarity, and a regurgitation of the semantic idiocy of the powerful.
Black bloc is not an organisation; it is a tactic which arose concurrently with increasingly draconian methods of modern policing. It has its own history, its own shared understanding. It is not homogenous – neither in its politics nor its advocacy of any one form of action over another. In so much as it has an order; it consists of numerous small affinity groups, each with their own perspective of what can and cannot be justified, and each with their own willingness to act in any given way. It functions solely on two key principles: collective anonymity and mutual aid.
Networks are formed around such basic values, which are then reified aesthetically. People who choose to mask up and wear black on a demonstration are not declaring their desire to attack property; rather that they respect the autonomous agency of others – and are willing to defend them as necessary. The rationale of black bloc then, far from the clichés of aggression, is inherently defensive. Individuals within the bloc act, but it is the collective who assume the burden of defence.
Jonathan Moses is a freelance writer, political activist, and aspiring historian, who is currently an organising member within the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts
(5 April 2011)
Owen Jones responds to this article in The Black Bloc – a dead end, also appearing in openDemocracy. -BA
Losing My Religion: My Night With The Black Bloc
Maxwell Black, Zblog
Driving in to work Friday night I ran into about an hour long back up for a commute that usually doesn’t take more than 15 minutes. However, I wasn’t troubled in the least, the traffic was so bad because of road closings due to planned citywide actions against the IMF in DC. Throughout this night there would be revolutionary street parties and carnivals of rage. Fuck Yes! The traffic also made me about an hour late for work. One hour not doing what I hate is OK with me, so I slid in a Strike Anywhere CD and let images of Seattle dance in my head.
Arriving in Georgetown around 8:00pm, I was met with the sight of a boarded up Urban Outfitters. At first I assumed there had been some kind of accident. Once I turned the corner from Thomas Jefferson Street. I started to get an idea of what was really going on, these corporate stores knew something I didn’t know: a mob of angry young anarchists could be coming this way! Fuck Yes, Again! When I got to the restaurant I manage, my general manager handed me a flyer handed out by the local police warning of dangerous vandals and hooligans storming through the streets that night. They even had a printout from the groups message board. My boss said to me: “You must be excited, aren’t these your people?” Indeed.
I had actual goose bumps and my adrenaline was up. Would there be some sort of righteous riot tonight in what would otherwise be another boring and humiliating night of making sure the son’s of Senators and media moguls got the their grilled salmon on time? To understand my lip quivering excitement here, you would have to understand this about me: with all of my fiery words of agitation, I’ve actually never participated in a direct action.
These days, when not at work, one is more likely to find me whoring myself on MySpace or playing with my cat than pulling a ski mask over my face in lieu of doing battle with a Starbucks window. I came to my current worldview somewhat later than most radicals and thus kind of missed that phase where you can afford to get arrested and miss work. So sure, I go to protests when I can, but more as a spectator. These events are usually on the weekend which is when I earn my payoff money for the corporate mafia. Therefore, to guarantee I don’t get arrested before my shift I stay as far away for the “black bloc” anarchists as possible, even though my politics are closer to theirs than the “progressive” Democrats I usually hide with.
(May 25, 2008)
Black Bloc critics
Throwing stones through windows is not a revolutionary tactic
Judy Rebick, ZBlog
The first time I ran into people who believed that breaking windows was a revolutionary act was in 1972. We had just had 21 people arrested for occupying the campus at University of Toronto to set up a tent city for transient youth. We called it Wachea, a place where everyone was welcome, or so we thought. A radical new left group called Red Morning tried to convince the assembled masses that going back to the University and “trashing it,” in the parlance of the day, was the best way to protest the arrests. It was the moment I stepped into leadership, debating them for hours, saying that more violence was counter productive and would give more strength to the arguments against us. Instead we should protest on the grounds of Queen’s Park and demand that the government give us land for our transient community. In those days we didn’t have the notion of “diversity of tactics.” We believed in the group who was organizing the demonstration deciding democratically what to do. Red Morning withdrew their proposal since they couldn’t convince us.
I was in the my early twenties then, named in an injunction against the occupation, and risking prison, but still unwilling to see how deliberate vandalism furthers a cause. It’s almost forty years later, and protesting the Olympics is a much more important issue than setting up a tent city for transient youth, but breaking windows still risks derailing the important Indigenous rights, anti-poverty and anti-corporate messages of the thousands of protesters on the streets of Vancouver.
(16 February 2010)
The “Black Bloc’s” Tactics are Hurting the Occupy Movement
Sheila Musaji, The American Muslim
When I heard about violence and vandalism during a recent Occupy Oakland demonstration, I was horrified. The Occupy Movement has so far been very much a non-violent movement across the country.
As I attempted to understand exactly what had happened and who was responsible, the term “black bloc” came up, and I admit that I knew little about these folks.
I asked Rashid Patch (who has been regularly attending Occupy Oakland and also writing articles about events there) what he knew about them. Here is the response that he sent to me
They are called the “black faction” because they dress entirely in black, usually wear bandanas or scarves to cover their face. I don’t know if they chose the name themselves, or if it’s a name others gave them. They are punk-anarchist, political enough to claim anarchism as justification for taking drugs, acting out, and generally giving people a hard time.
“Mostly young, street-punks or wannabees; 50 years ago, they’d have been called alienated youth, or juvenile delinquents. Basically, these are kids who have been so trodden upon that they are desperate; so they become desparados. Angry, uncaring, sadly damaged, they are the people who were never socialized, perhaps barely housebroken. Often seriously abused as children, they are responding in kind to the world.
“Not as organized as a gang, but if they were less nihilist, they’d probably form a gang. Very easily infiltrated and influenced by provocateurs, but they are prone to vandalism and violence entirely by themselves. They like breaking windows and burning cars, for it’s own sake, so doing it with political justification is really fun. These are the kind of people who turn into Charlie Mansons – or followers of the Charlie Mansons.
“Some of them are astonishingly intelligent, brilliantly creative, and terribly, terribly bitter about every aspect of life. They are a symptom of society’s madness and violence. Some of them take on that role consciously, and argue with great fervor that their vandalism is a logical political response to the conditions of their life – that violence is the only rational response to a pathological society. They are the De Sade’s of the present revolution.
“Some may mature into creative and productive people. Some will self-destruct. Some may have to be forcibly restrained – and make no mistake, restraining them at all will entail extreme force. A number of Occupy Oakland people were beaten up when they attempted to stop vandalism by “black faction” members. How the Occupy / 99% movement takes responsibility for the “black faction”, and how it controls them, will be a sign of it’ maturity.”
(5 November 2011)
Occupy’s Asshole Problem: Flashbacks from An Old Hippie
Sara Robinson, Spocko’s Brain
I wish I could say that the problems that the Occupy movement is having with infiltrators and agitators are new. But they’re not. In fact, they’re problems that the Old Hippies who survived the 60s and 70s remember acutely, and with considerable pain.
As a veteran of those days — with the scars to prove it — watching the OWS organizers struggle with drummers, druggies, sexual harassers, racists, and anarchists brings me back to a few lessons we had to learn the hard way back in the day, always after putting up with way too much over-the-top behavior from people we didn’t think we were allowed to say “no” to. It’s heartening to watch the Occupiers begin to work out solutions to what I can only indelicately call “the asshole problem.” In the hope of speeding that learning process along, here are a few glimmers from my own personal flashbacks — things that it’s high time somebody said right out loud.
1. Let’s be clear: It is absolutely OK to insist on behavior norms. #Occupy may be a DIY movement — but it also stands for very specific ideas and principles. Central among these is: We are here to reassert the common good. And we have a LOT of work to do. Being open and accepting does not mean that we’re obligated to accept behavior that damages our ability to achieve our goals. It also means that we have a perfect right to insist that people sharing our spaces either act in ways that further those goals, or go somewhere else until they’re able to meet that standard.
2. It is OK to draw boundaries between those who are clearly working toward our goals, and those who are clearly not. Or, as an earlier generation of change agents put it: “You’re either on the bus, or off the bus.” Are you here to change the way this country operates, and willing to sacrifice some of your almighty personal freedom to do that? Great. You’re with us, and you’re welcome here. Are you here on your own trip and expecting the rest of us to put up with you? In that case, you are emphatically NOT on our side, and you are not welcome in our space.
Anybody who feels the need to put their own personal crap ahead of the health and future of the movement is (at least for that moment) an asshole, and does not belong in Occupied space. Period. This can be a very hard idea for people in an inclusive movement to accept — we really want to have all voices heard. But the principles #Occupy stands for must always take precedence over any individual’s divine right to be an asshole, or the assholes will take over. Which brings me to….
3. The consensus model has a fatal flaw, which is this: It’s very easy for power to devolve to the people who are willing to throw the biggest tantrums. When some a drama king or queen starts holding the process hostage for their own reasons, congratulations! You’ve got a new asshole! (See #2.) You must guard against this constantly, or consensus government becomes completely impossible.
Sara Robinson is a Senior Fellow, Campaign for America’s Future
(4 November 2011)
The Return of Street Fighting Man
The Pathology of the New Progressive Violence
INTRODUCTION: RADICAL TACTICS REPLACE RADICAL GOALS
… Recycling an Old Tactic
The quotes above (and those below) reflect a new political reality in “progressive” activism in America and Europe–a widespread acceptance – especially in the 1999-2001 period — of the return of “street fighting man.” Street fighting man is the violent protester (often anarchist, usually anti-capitalist) who takes to the streets to smash up windows, stores and banks, build barricades and burn dumpsters in the streets, and confront, fling stones, bottles and even “Molotov Cocktails” (fire bombs) at law enforcement and/or his ideological, religious or ethnic opponents. While some of these young street fighters are women, men still largely promote and engage in street fighting, joining the legions of males worldwide and throughout history who prove their manhood through violence.
Street fighting tactics are hardly “new,” just re-labled with the euphemism “diversity of tactics.” They have existed throughout history, in every large city, on every continent, in almost every period of civil discontent–in this century from Hitler’s brown shirts to the Irish Republican Army to the American “Weather Underground” to the Jewish Defense League to the Palestinian Intifada. Many street fighters move on to armed struggle and terrorism in various leftist, nationalist or separatist insurgencies worldwide.
Street fighting as a tactic in First World nations existed on the fringes of the American and European anti-Vietnam War movements. It returned to Europe in the 1980s and 1990s, in part as a means of protesting any cuts in the welfare state. As one English organizer living in American told me, “Every time they cut the dole, we go out and have a riot.” American progressive reformist organizers also have admitted to me openly that if the press won’t pay attention to them except if there is the possibility of violence, then they tacitly will encourage those who might do violence to come to their larger street protests.
… Personal Note
… As an activist in the radical feminist, anti-nuclear, peace, libertarian, Green/bioregional, radical decentralist/secessionist, drug legalization and consciousness movements for almost 30 years, I have been one of the earliest and loudest critics of street fighting strategy. (See my Case Study of the April, 2000 IMF/World Bank demonstrations in Washington, DC.)
I have written this web page e-book to help those committed to nonviolence to understand, confront and transform the consciousness of those who espouse, practice or condone street fighting or terrorism and armed rebellion. Two generations of nonviolent activists working together could have a powerful effect. I also have written it to encourage libertarians, anarchists and decentralists of all stripes to recognize that anti-state, pro-freedom movements can succeed only if they are united on a common anti-state strategy and make sure that strategy is nonviolent.
(c) 2006 Carol Moore Updated August, 2006
Carol Moore has been involved in the radical feminist, anti-nuclear, peace, war tax resistance, libertarian, Green/bioregional, radical decentralist, drug legalization, and new age consciousness movements for forty years. She is author of the book “The Davidian Massacre” as well as many articles found at http://www.carolmoore.net. She is also web master of http://www.secession.net
Long piece with lots of links. -BA
Black Bloc: A Misguided Tactic for June 30
Maeve McKeown, New Left Project
On March 26, a movement that has existed for several decades but has largely been absent from UK politics, known as “Black Bloc”, emerged from the shadows and scared the living daylights out of Middle England. They blitzed central London, smashing the windows of the Ritz and the high street facades of corporate giants, threw paint and smoke bombs, and ran rings around the police.
The media quickly vilified Black Bloc’s activities, and “anarchist” became a by-word for hooligan. The blogosphere held more nuanced debates about the role of Black Bloc in the March 26 protests. Across the board, however, there was little consensus as to whether it was an effective form of protest against the cuts.
A few groups are calling for Black Bloc to take part on the trade union demo on June 30. Here I want to argue that the presence of Black Bloc on J30 would be a mistake. I am not making the claim that Black Bloc has no place ever; but I will suggest that the way it is currently being practiced in the UK, more generally, is misguided.
Engaging with Black Bloc
Black Bloc came to prominence in the Seattle protests against the WTO in 1999. As David Graeber pointed out in the New Left Review, after Seattle, anarchists became the driving force of leftist activism (if not theory). He suggested this was predicated by a growing anarchist movement in the Global South to fight neoliberalism, starting with the Zapatistas. It’s time, Graeber argued, that anarchists were engaged with politically and intellectually.
Anarchists are rapidly becoming influential in the UK. Many of those who took part in the student protests of 2010 have been inspired by the anarchist-influenced process of consensus decision-making. They also realized when they lost the vote on the Brown Report that the state acts in the interests of capital, not the people.
I respect the radicalization of youth and the anarchist position, and this article is not intended to refute it. Instead, my main claim is that the presence of Black Bloc on June 30 would be misguided, for the three reasons laid out below.
Black Bloc is a tactic not an organization (although this is contested). Anyone can join, it has no hierarchy, no membership structures, and few rules; although it does have a uniform – black clothes and a black mask.
Aesthetics are very important to Black Bloc’ers. As Jonathan Moses writes, the uniform represents the two pillars of Black Bloc thought – collective anonymity and mutual aid. Wearing all black symbolizes one’s respect for others’ anonymity and a shared understanding that you will help each other if needed. The sight of a mass of black-clad bodies moving in tandem also represents “a visual manifestation of social negation”; a challenge to the capitalist orthodoxy that excludes alternative viewpoints.
While Black Bloc is certainly visually arresting, the conflation of dressing in black and masking-up with progressive challenges to the status quo is untenable. We only have to look at the UVF riots in Belfast last week to see that donning a mask is not always a sign of progressive politics; it can represent regressive, sectarian, thuggish, reactionary politics. There is nothing necessarily progressive about it. For a general public who are used to seeing balaclava-clad men portrayed as terrorists, and who are unfamiliar with the history of Black Bloc, it’s easy to mistake the latter for the former. To an outsider, Black Bloc looks scary.
To insiders, the Black Bloc uniform is inclusive and a symbol of solidarity; to outsiders it is intimidating and frightening. A swarm of masked men is not something you want to see if you’re on a demo with a buggy. The presence of Black Bloc might put-off people who would otherwise attend a protest. Maybe this won’t happen on J30, where people will want to get out and support their union; but if the bloc show up again, it might make them think twice in future.
(28 June, 2011)
The Black Bloc – a dead end
Owen Jones, open Democracy
I agree with fellow UCL occupier Jonathan Moses that there needs to be a tactical, rather than a moral debate. But it is genuinely beyond me how the Black Bloc ‘tactic’ is anything other than an entirely counterproductive dead-end.
I was active in the ‘anti-globalisation’ movement of the early 2000s. I was kettled on May Day 2001 in Manchester as a 16-year-old, which is where I first encountered Black Bloc-style tactics. It is interesting how the anti-globalisation movement is barely mentioned even on the left today. That is because – as a directionless, amorphous movement – it lost momentum pretty quickly and made no real lasting political impact.
Black Bloc tactics strike me as a militant twist on consumer boycotts: the same underlying idea (inflict economic damage), but posing absolutely no threat whatsoever to the capitalist system, however good it might make the participants feel.
Firstly, it provides a pretext for the state to crack down on basic civil liberties. For some, this is desirable: it’s long been a tactic among certain types of anarchist to encourage disproportionate actions on the part of the state in order to expose it. But in practice it just leads to repression that undermines the ability of movements to organise.
Secondly, the tactic alienates the vast majority, including most people who would otherwise be sympathetic to our aims. To me the ‘Black Bloc’ tactic strikes me as an example of what happens when activists are confined to a ghettoised radical milieu, without relating what they are doing to non-politicised people. While a poll has shown 73% in support of peaceful civil disobedience, only 3% support actions like smashing windows. To me, this is probably the least surprising finding possible. I don’t understand the rationale of a tactic that has no popular support.
Owen Jones is author of Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class, (Verso June 2011). He blogs at jonesblog.
(6 April 2011)
A response to In defence of Black Bloc“> by Jonathan Moses.
Black bloc: Tactic vs. Identity
TygrBright, Democratic Underground
The words “black bloc” are onomatopoetically rich. They can be interpreted as “powerful, threatening, secretive, forceful, doom-laden, etc.” So, using the term “black bloc” is frequently an attempt to co-opt those qualities for either a tactic, or an identity.
The difference is critical.
As a tactic, black bloc is essentially neutral. It is merely a tool employed by some group, to co-opt those qualities for its actions. Groups from almost every aspect of the left-right spectrum have employed black bloc at some point. Any time there is a need to deploy those qualities, to prevent recognition, to promote a sense of unity or solidarity, to send a particular message of power and/or threat, black bloc can be an effective tactic: People whose recognition-foiling black apparel and unified actions project that strength and/or power and/or threat. The black bloc may be deployed by organizers of an action as protection for other members of the group. It may be a tactic employed by agentes provocateurs to disrupt an action. It is merely a tactic, and has often been effective.
As an identity, however, black bloc takes on a different set of meanings, rooted in the nature and intent of the organizers. “Black blocs” may be splinters or sub-groups of larger groups, assigned or assuming a role both enhanced and cloaked by the apparel. Your perception of the qualities of the black bloc identity becomes based on your perception of its motives and purposes, and will vary based on your own motives and purposes. However, referring to the identity only as “black bloc” promotes confusion and may hinder effective action by or against the particular black bloc identity. This is why the most effective strategy to counter the black bloc identity is to impose an identity onto it by re-naming and framing the identity. Rather than referring to it as merely “the black bloc,” then, coin and attach a specific label with the desired semantic connotations.
In the case of the agents provocateurs infiltrating Oakland, therefore, an effective label should be generated and used relentlessly and repeatedly to describe these individuals and their actions. I’d suggest “Bankster Lackeys” or some similar term. The key will be to find a good term, one that sticks, is memorable, and clearly differentiates the nature of the agentes provocateurs and their aims from those of the OWS group. And to refer to them only by that term, thenceforward, depriving them of the threatening connotation inherent in the “black bloc” label.
Some effective counter-tactics for the black bloc tactic:
Immediately withdraw from the vicinity of the black bloc member(s), forming as wide a ring as possible around them, and deploying cameras, recorders, etc. to record their actions.
(4 November 2011)
An Open Letter to the Black Bloc and Others Concerning Wednesday’s Tactics in Oakland
A Medic, San Francisco Bay Area Indymedia
A statement concerning the occupation of the Traveler’s Aid building after the Oakland General Strike, written from the perspective of a long-time street medic.
I am street medic, and I have been a street medic for over ten years at this point. I want to make crystal clear that while I may not identify formally and publicly as an anarchist, I would say that many, if not most of my values are anti-capitalist, anti-hierarchical and incorporate an anti-oppression framework. In accordance with those beliefs, I do not believe property destruction is violence. I also don’t agree with the idea that cops can be provoked. I think using that term cedes ideological ground and legitimizes their behavior, inasmuch as they can justify their violence by saying they were provoked, or “forced” into action.
That being said, I have a huge problem with what I witnessed last night at 16th and Telegraph between about 11:30pm and 3:30 am.
My problem last night was not with the specific police/protester interactions. In fact, watching two hundred black bloc-ers marching on the riot cops as they staged was amazing and powerful. That sort of act I fully support, and it is part of why I medic, as I want those who are willing to undertake that sort of action to know that I have their back in a tangible way. I want people to understand that half the power the cops have over us is our own internalized fear of them, and that sort of behavior begins to dismantle that fear in a powerful way, and I fully support it. This I feel is very, very important.
My concern was with the ill-conceived tactics used to occupy the building, in that it looked like an anarchist glamorshot instead of a committed and revolutionary act to actually acquire and hold that space. I am tired of direct actions being done in a way that turns them into photo-ops and nothing else. I am tired of watching barricades be built only to be abandoned the minute the cops open fire. In addition, the crowd on 16th around the occupied building was terrifying far before the cops ever showed up. As a woman and queer person I wanted to get the fuck out of there almost immediately as it felt wildly unsafe on multiple levels, and I feel like whoever orchestrated the take-over made choices that specifically facilitated the overall crazy atmosphere. There were fistfights, screaming matches, fires, and just a general vibe that people were out to fuck shit up, and absolutely no attempt on the part of anyone to shut that sort of in-group violence down.
The setting on fire of the barricades was totally unnecessary, and may make it necessary for the city to call for the camp to be cleared; the breaking of windows and vandalizing of businesses which supported the strike was utterly stupid and counterproductive; and watching black bloc-ers run from the cops and not protect the camp their actions had endangered, an action which ultimately left behind many mentally ill people, sick people, street kids, and homeless folks to defend themselves against the police onslaught was disturbing and disgusting in ways I can’t even articulate because I am still so angry at the empty bravado and cowardice that I saw.
I want people to march on the police. I want them to engage in significant and strategic property destruction, I want them to march on the police station, I want them to show the riot cops that they are not afraid, but I do not want them to do these things at the expense of the truly marginalized. That is what I saw happen last night, and it has made me incandescent with rage.
I want to win. I want our building occupations to last.
(4 November 2011)
Black Bloc and Occupy Oakland
I agree with Lambert’s comment in his Occupy Oakland posting – it feels that we’re reaching some sort of inflection point. In regard to this – the topic of black bloc involvement in Occupy Oakland leaves me feeling increasingly disturbed. Black bloc may be less peripheral than I’d earlier assumed.
It appears that the vast majority of people participitating in Occupy Oakland events comdemn the black block actions. Tens of thousand participated in the demonstrations (I’ve seen estimates ranging from 7000 to over 40,000 participants). The most common estimate for the number of black bloc people involved is only about 200 – obviously, a tiny minority.
But there appears to actually be a serious split among the core occupiers and in the general assembly regarding black bloc and use of violence/vandalism. I suppose this is not necessarily surprising. It makes sense that people who are able/willing to indefinately camp out under difficult conditions and constant threat of police raid, and those who are able/willing to consistently attend long GA meetings, may have different demographics and more radicalized beliefs than people who are more sporadically involved. I’ve seen this at prior occupations I’ve been involved with (e.g. the 1985 WI Capitol apartheid-divestment occupation comes to mind).
It seems that a large fraction of the Occupy Oakland GA attendees are unwilling to renounce violence/vandalism as a tactic. I don’t think this reflects the majority of attendees (many are passionately opposed to black bloc tactics), but it’s apparently not a small minority either.
… I’ve looked about pretty extensively online to find any examples of approaches that proved successful in dealing with black bloc (in Europe, Canada, or the U.S.). Essentially, I found nothing. Sometimes (as Vico notes above), extended dialogue can dissuade them from disrupting otherwise peaceful demonstrations. Though this seems to be difficult given their typical vanguardist thinking and intractability.
Sometimes, if their numbers are small and there’s an overwhelming concensus among other protesters to keep things peaceful, and a willingness to confront black bloc members, they will back down. But the latter tactic often only works at a specific time and location – black bloc will continue vandalism/violence at the event at another location or time, where the ratio is shifted in their favor. It seems that’s basically what happened in Oakland. Though the images and statements of other protesters challenging, preventing, and denouncing black bloc actions (and assisting in the cleanup) seems to have somewhat ameliorated the damage to the public’s perceptions of Occupy. If anyone is aware of any approaches that have worked empirically (in diminishing/neutralizing/dissuading black bloc), it would be great to hear about this.
(16 November 2011)
On the black bloc in Oakland
Nicholas Roberts, LBO-Talk
its pretty lame to keep trivializing the stupidity of Wed night, read the comments on IndyBay or actually ask people … there is a lot of cover your arse going on at the moment, a lot of obfuscation via dogma etc, a lot of lets spin our way out of the tactical errors and into a glorious future. Its the kind of caught red handed bullshit the 1% have built empires on.
I met one small business woman, must of been 25, black woman, she had an independent gallery really near the unilateral Travellers occupation, she had artwork stolen and some it ended up at the camp, and since has gone. She represents 30 independent, emerging artists. She came to the morning meeting to beg to get the works back, she was nice, sensible, but desperate. Her business, her livelihood destroyed. She was a black Oakland hipster trying to make a living in an incredibly tough market. This is what Oakland is about
Another store, on the mainstream, acted as a quiet safe space during the demo/strike and sold coffees during the day, they where basically an important resource for the day, when many other shops closed. They have 4 designers all sharing an expensive space. They had windows smashed, and I think stuff stolen.
Another large department store, was closed for the strike, the mens warehouse, with a prominent sign “we stand with the 99%”. A Tweet photo of this sign was the top tweet for nearly the entire day of the strike. They had their windows smashed (and I think, would need to verify, stuff stolen)
People went to jail, they didn’t want to be involved, but they got caught in the Black Bloc black hole.
An demo/strike participant, a former Army Ranger, who runs a small business in Oakland (black, poor, hard working) runs a micro-brewery. He got beaten by cops near his house and has a damaged splean.
… its seriously dishonest, exploitative and destructive to create a coalition based on some well publicized actions and goals, and bring in nearly all of the marginalized and civil society and then by association connect them with looting, vandalism and the militant anarchism
(5 November 2011)
“lbo-talk is a forum for the discussion of economics, politics, and culture from a broad left perspective, sponsored by Left Business Observer”
Other posts by Nicholas Roberts:
Italy and Greece
Accusations fly in wake of Rome riots
Michael Day, Independent (UK)
Police yesterday raided hundreds of homes across Italy, from Milan to Palermo, in search of far-left Black Bloc activists who trashed areas of central Rome during Saturday’s anti-capitalism protests.
Police yesterday raided hundreds of homes across Italy, from Milan to Palermo, in search of far-left Black Bloc activists who trashed areas of central Rome during Saturday’s anti-capitalism protests.
Amid claims that the perpetrators of the violence had received guerrilla warfare training in Athens, ministers said anti-terrorism laws might be invoked to crack down on the culprits. But with the country still stunned at the ferocity of Saturday’s violence, accusation and counter-accusation sprang up on how the rioters, dubbed “anarcho-insurrectionists” by the Italian press, were able to run amok for so long.
The rioters used clubs and sledgehammers to smash banks and shops, torched police and private vehicles and hurled rocks, before the police with tear gas, water cannon and batons were finally able to quell the violence.
More than 100 of the 135 people injured were police officers. And only 12 people were arrested on Saturday, leading to accusations that authorities had completely mishandled the situation. This was denied by the junior interior minister Alfredo Mantovano.
(18 October 2011)
Fiddling While Rome Burns
Ingrid D. Rowland, New York Review of Books
On Thursday, my students and I walked along from the Colosseum to the Cathedral of Saint John Lateran in Rome. Two nights later, those same Roman streets became a battleground, as a group of about 1500 black-clad, hooded incognito street fighters succeeded in derailing one of the largest economic protests that has yet been staged in any western country. It had been planned as a huge non-violent demonstration by some 150,000 “Indignati”—outraged Italian citizens—to decry the Berlusconi government’s failure to face the global economic crisis, and it was meant to chime in with similar protests taking place in many other countries. But as the demonstration moved peacefully down toward the Roman Forum, the masked street fighters, both male and female, jumped into action, smashing shop windows, uprooting signs, burning cars, throwing bottles, cobblestones, fire extinguishers and petards, and brutally beating anyone in their way: journalists, peaceful demonstrators, and police.
As smoke bombs and tear gas choked the air, the vandals split the demonstration in two, turning its final rallying point into a pitched battle. After five hours, 135 people had been injured badly enough to be hospitalized, and several people barely escaped with their lives: an elderly couple sitting around the table after lunch in a building that had once belonged to the armed forces suddenly saw their roof collapse in flames; a policeman who had a cobblestone smashed straight into his Mylar-protected face; the man who instinctively picked up a bomb with his hands to get it out of people’s way; the Carabiniere officer whose vehicle was set afire.
… By causing so much mayhem in front of the cathedral of Saint John Lateran, the fighters ultimately prevented a final rally where the Indignati could air their concerns and their convictions; instead, some demonstrators flocked into the side entrance of the ancient church, where they sheltered underneath Francesco Borromini’s sublime Baroque arches. The rest faded away into the night, many of them weeping, and not because of the tear gas.
For the next month, all demonstrations are banned in Rome, as government and opposition try to figure out what to do and the economy spins down another ring of its descending spiral (Standard and Poor’s just downgraded its rating of 24 Italian banks). The Indignati are more indignant than ever. The spoiled kids who took over their demonstration are the direct descendants of the young men in tights who ran riot in Verona in the days of Romeo and Juliet: the Mercutios and Tybalts of our era, people who have never had to make anything in their lives and therefore have no idea what it means to create even a small thing like a window, a planter box, a store, a tree, a home, a work of art, a human hand, a face. With their sovereign sense of privilege and their frantic amassing of weapons, clothing, and technological gadgetry they are, in their own way, as much an expression of the rampant consumer capitalism they claim to deplore as the bankers they claim to be slaying on behalf of the rest of us.
(October 19, 2011)
The parallax view
Nick Malkoutzis, Ekathimerini (Greece)
We will probably never find out exactly what happened at Syntagma Square [in Athens] on Thursday, when an anti-austerity protest degenerated into an all-out brawl between members of the Communist union PAME and the black block of rioters intent on wreaking havoc.
The unionists argue that they were aware of a plot by the rioters to disrupt the peaceful protest, as they had done a day earlier, and took measures to stop them. Photographs and video footage seem to support the theory that the hooded troublemakers were lurking among groups of other protesters, biding their team before launching an assault on the riot police in front of Parliament.
However, a counter-theory put forward by some observers and members of other unions is that PAME wanted to hijack the protest for its own publicity reasons. A show of such force by a line of communists wearing motorcycle helmets that the rioters, normally a match for the well-equipped police, were forced back could indeed serve as a great advert or recruiting tool for PAME.
Then there is the debate about the role of the police and who the hooded assailants actually were. Self-styled anarchists? Neo-fascists? Delinquent youths? Soccer hooligans? Agent provocateurs planted by the police? Probably all of the above. The parameters are endless.
(21 October 2011)
Is firebombing a bank an acceptable tactic?
Louis Proyect, The Unrepentant Marxist
Yesterday three workers in Athens died of smoke inhalation on the second floor of Marfin Bank [in Greece in 2010]. It had been firebombed during violent protests by anarchists who had hijacked a peaceful demonstration of workers just as had been the case a decade or so when the Black Bloc was in its heyday. An open letter by one of their co-workers has been circulating widely on the Internet. It blames the government rather than the anarchists for the tragedy and even points to a police conspiracy: No member of security has any knowledge of first aid or fire extinguishing, even though they are every time practically charged with securing the building. The bank employees have to turn into firemen or security staff according to the appetite of Mr Vgenopoulos [owner of Marfin Bank].
The management of the bank strictly barred the employees from leaving today, even though they had persistently asked so themselves from very early this morning – while they also forced the employees to lock up the doors and repeatedly confirmed that the building remained locked up throughout the day, over the phone. They even blocked off their internet access so as to prevent the employees from communicating with the outside world.
While it is important first of all to recognize the high level of class consciousness that would allow such a worker to put the blame on the government, we still have not heard that much from the anarchists themselves. They are in something of a quandary it would appear. While they certainly would not want to be blamed for the death of innocent workers, they have trumpeted such tactics in the past.
… Given such a stupid and adventurist orientation, we can certainly expect the cops to infiltrate the anarchist movement in order to propose ever more “bold” tactics that will result in the injuries or deaths of innocent bystanders. The bourgeoisie does not give a shit about such “collateral damage” as long as the provocation results in the further isolation of the ultraleft.
… I confess to being something of a hard-liner when it comes to Black Bloc adventurism. At the age of 65, I saw firsthand the bitter fruits of ultraleftism in the 1960s and 70s. While there was not much of an anarchist movement back then, I saw the consequences of “off the pig” rhetoric and “exemplary” actions. American workers who had begun to develop the first signs of class consciousness would not identify with a left that seemed to have walked out of a Godard movie. I also saw how the cops infiltrated ultraleft groups with the same intention as they have today in Greece, namely to encourage tactics that will only backfire and isolate the left as a whole.
I thought I had seen the end of such stupidity as the 80s trod its weary way into the 90s. But as the “oughts” began, you saw a new spasm of anarchism. In 1999, the black bloc showed up at Seattle and set a precedent for “anti-globalization” protests that would be repeated over and over.
(May 6 2010)
G20: Toronto Black Block Get Green Light to Rampage? (VIDEO)
The Real News Network (TRNN), Dissident Voice
Who Are the Black Bloc?
A photo Journalist describes his experience following the black block as they rampage through the streets of Toronto during the G20 Summit. 20,000 police and security officials and a $1 billion security budget were not enough to stop 75-100 black block anarchists from smashing windows and torching police cars during a 1.5 hour rampage. The Black Block were able to rampage through the street for 24 blocks until they reached the ‘official protest zone’ where they quickly changed clothes dispersed through the crowd of peaceful protesters and then left the site. The police were fully aware of the rampage and watched the black block from a distance at a number of locations. It wasn’t until they had dispersed into a crowd of peaceful protesters who thought that they were in a sanctioned area that the police took action beating innocent people with batons and spraying them with pepper spray. Why was this allowed to happen?
(June 29 2010)
Agents Provocateurs: What and Who They Are
Sue Basko, Occupy Peace
I write this from my many years of experience in protest involvement, as an organizer, a participant, as one of the first media activists, and as a lawyer. I have helped a couple people who have been victimized by agents provocateurs – that is, goaded into activity they would not normally do and arrested for it.
I also know of a man who spent 6 months in prison awaiting being charged under the Homeland Security Patriot Act. He is a white guy in his 20s who went to his first protest demonstration to drive a friend there — and followed along when things got “out of hand.” What did he actually do? He wrote with spray paint on a government vehicle, an SUV. All the protest “leaders” scrambled for safety and he was left alone, being arrested. When it comes under Homeland Security (which a lot of acts do), the Patriot Act kicks into action and your normal civil rights do not apply. Normally, a person can only sit in jail for about 2-3 days and then they either have to charge you with a crime or let you go. Under the Patriot Act, that is not true. They can hold you for a long time and never charge you. There’s a lot of the other basic rules that get ignored. I write this because you should think very carefully before you act. You may think of your action as very minor, but it may not be viewed that way by others.
There are going to be people that do not like what I am writing. I am telling it like it is, really.
“AGENTS PROVOCATEURS” is the French term for people that come into a protest group and try to get you to do illegal or dangerous things, preferably to get you arrested or to set you up over time.
WHO ARE THEY? WHY DO THEY DO IT?
I think Agents provocateurs can be broken into 2 CATEGORIES:
1) Real agents provocateurs, and
2) undercover police, FBI, NSA, and Homeland Security.
… DO NOT FALL FOR ANY OF THIS. If you ever encounter any person who is proposing things that you do not agree with, say no clearly and quickly. Even if a person is persistent, you are best to block off all communication. In some ethnic or culture groups, there can be a strong tendency to trust others from the same group. There can also be a strong tendency not to want to be rude. It is very important to be rude and to say no if someone starts proposing bad plans, even if you think the person might be joking or not serious on following through.
Also, if someone comes to you with a plan or request to harm someone else, you should report this to the police quickly, so that you are not involved in the plan. This can be someone looking to shoot someone, someone wanting to buy bomb-making materials, someone planning a break-in or kidnapping, someone planning to bring weapons to school or a job. You should never feel locked into a promise of silence, even if you have promised that.
Note: I wrote this a while back. Rereading it, I realize that it takes a strong, clear head to be involved in protest activity and not get sucked into the many mind games played by people there. The main way is to only do things that are legal and safe and that do not possibly harm any other person. That may seem like an innocuous statement, but I get many people arguing with it. This blog post is not really meant for them; it is meant for people who want to steer clear of trouble.
Sue Basko is a lawyer in California and Illinois. Her website is Occupy Peace: How to Plan a Peaceful Protest or Occupation.
(no date – probably Oct or Nov 2011)
The anonymous, informal nature of the black bloc tactic makes it easy for anyone to join in, including police agents, opposing groups, etc.