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(en) Red & Black Revolution #7 - Has the Black Bloc tactic reached the end of its usefulness? by Severino (Barricada Collective)

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Sun, 14 Dec 2003 08:48:32 +0100 (CET)

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This article, written by a member of the American anarchist
organisation, NEFAC, responds to an article by Ray Cunningham in
Red and Black Revolution no. 6.. Both it and the following one,
Anti-capitalist protest:global and local, were written last year.
Unfortunately this publication is a year late (our apologies) and some
of the references may appear dated. However, the central points of
each article are just as relevant and valid now.

As class struggle anarchists who recognize the importance of a
diversity of tactics in order to attack Capital, the State, and
oppression in an effective manner, we see the black bloc as an
important tool of struggle. Only one tool among many, but an
important one nonetheless. However, this by no means implies that
we feel it to be in any way above criticism. Indeed, we are very
troubled by how black blocs often operate, the manner in which
actions are sometimes carried out, and the direction that some black
bloc elements seem to want to head in.

It is for this reason that we were glad to see the text by our comrades
from the Workers Solidarity Movement (WSM). Particularly
refreshing was the fact that, unlike many other texts critical of the
black bloc, this one was clearly written in a comradely, honest, and
constructive fashion. This is the only way in which an effective and
useful dialogue on the subject can be had, and our response is with
the same spirit and intentions in mind. With that said, we do in fact
have several important disagreements with the WSM text, and will
attempt to clarify some of our positions in this article.
Has The Black Bloc tactic reached the end of its usefulness?

This is the first question posed by the WSM article, and it is a
question (and sometime assertion) that we are starting to hear quite
often in some anarchist circles. The reasoning behind it tends to vary,
involving anything from the symbolic nature of the confrontations
black blocs often engage in, to issues about whether or not it can
serve as a tool to encourage empowerment, self-organization and the
construction of dual power. In the case of the WSM text, the
argument is centered to a large extent around the issue of constantly
heightened security and enlarged police presence at large summit
type events, which hinders the ability of the black bloc to act in an
effective manner. In our opinion, this argument is flawed on two
important levels.

The first, is that it places all the responsibility for the failure, or at
least controversial nature, of several recent black blocs on the
actions of the police. To us, while indeed greater preparation and
numbers on behalf of the police are part of the problem, they are
actually a much lesser concern than the role played by the
opportunist, reformist, and moralist tendencies in the "move - ment" in
isolating the black bloc, and the tactical consequences for us of their

In both Quebec City and Prague, resounding successes in our opinion,
the police knew to expect a black bloc, often made reference to how
dangerous it was in the press, and tried to stop black bloc participants
from arriving. There was no element of surprise, just as in Genoa.
However, the difference between those two mobilizations and Genoa,
was not the police, but rather the relationship between militant
anarchists in the black bloc and the larger organizing groups.

In Prague and Quebec City, through INPEG and CLAC respectively,
the space of activists choosing to use militant tactics was respected,
allowing for mutual cooperation and coordination in the days before
the action. In both cases this took the shape of different zones for
particular types of action or levels of risk, thus allowing all tactics to
work together effectively and complement each other, while lessening
internal strife. However, when organizers try to isolate black bloc
anarchists in order to gain favor with the press, politicians, and cops
problems will inevitably arise, hindering the ability of all involved to
act in an effective and respectful manner.

This is exactly what occurred in Genoa with the actions of the Social
Forum. The GSF divided the entire eastern part of the city (the only
part reasonably accessible to demonstrators) into three blocs for the
main day of action, July 20th. These were the Network for Global
Rights, composed of some moderate social centers and grass-roots
trade unions; the civil disobedience bloc, composed of Ya Basta!, the
Communist youth, and a few others; and the pacifist/White hands
bloc, primarily composed of Lilliput network people. All these blocs
were within the GSF structure and had agreed to a "no sticks, no
stones, no fire" clause. A space for those with militant tactics was
nowhere to be found. What was implied? That we should go
elsewhere. When asked why this was, GSF people responded with
the very shaky excuse that, since anarchists were not in the GSF,
they were simply not taken into account. Furthermore, when
anarchists began meeting, to address the problem and begin effective
organizing in Carlini stadium (Ya Basta! headquarters) it was
immediately made clear by the Ya Basta! people in charge that they
would have to go somewhere else. Finally, to top it all off, even
though the GSF claimed to respect and desire to work with groups
and people who chose to go outside of its structure, only a few hours
after the posters for the International Genoa Offensive (i.e. black
bloc) had been put up at the convergence center, people wearing GSF
staff passes could be seen taking them down. There was no
co-ordination, no respect, and no solidarity.

Despite this, black bloc participants did manage to coalesce and hold
several mass meetings beforehand. However, since the GSF refused
to coordinate efforts, or even accept the black bloc as a legitimate
section of the mobilization, choosing instead to defame and slander,
on the day itself people with very differing tactics found themselves
in the same geographic locations and the inevitable problems ensued,
with black bloc members being accused of being police officers, being
the tool of the police to justify repression, mindless hooligans, Nazis,

All this was not a simple accident, but rather the logical conclusion of
the relationship between the reformist and authoritarian sections of
the antiglobalization "movement," in this case exemplified by Ya
Basta! and ATTAC (under the umbrella of the Genoa Social Forum),
and the revolutionary anarchist movement.

The fact is, these reformists and opportunists are merely using the
anti-globalization "movement" as a vehicle to increase their power
and influence and gain their so badly desired "seat at the table" of
global capitalism. At one point they needed anarchists and direct
action as a tool to gain attention in the media and assert themselves
as part of the debate on the globalization of Capital. With this
achieved, the relationship between them and us has radically
changed, and it is this that has made the difference at the large
mobilizations, not the role of the police.

We, as anarchists, are not interested in watered down
demonstrations, false declarations of war, or ritualistic spectacles.
We are not interested in, and believe there to be no such thing as,
common ground for dialogue with the rulers and exploiters of the
world. Likewise, we have no interest in political maneuvers and
schemes. We are indeed an "ungovernable force", content with
nothing less than a total social revolution with the aim of creating a
new society based on the principles of mutual aid, workers'
self-management, decentralization, direct democracy, freedom, and

As such, we are a danger to the reformists and opportunists. We are
a bad influence on their drones, we ruin their parties, destroy their
spectacles and rituals, we expose realities which they seek to hide,
and most importantly, by truly confronting the State and capitalism we
make their phony "wars" all the more real everyday. The politicians
and reformists in the anti-globalization "movement" realize this, and
have for this reason begun treating us as their enemies, never
hesitating to try to isolate us, hand us over to the police, or send their
"pacifist thugs" to physically attack anarchists. Furthermore, a
massive whitewashing of history has begun which intends to sell the
lie that the anti-globalization "movement" has grown despite the
negative influences of militant anarchists, when in fact it has grown
precisely because of us.

In light of all this many comrades are starting to see
"anti-globalization politicians" as the enemies that they are, but their
suggested solution to the problem is simply to withdraw from the
anti-globalization struggle, and particularly the mass mobilizations.
We feel that this approach is both incorrect and dangerous, as it
would only serve to further isolate anarchists and anti-authoritarians,
while at the same time leaving the road wide open for the total
cooption of the tide of discontent with capitalism that is currently
sweeping much of the world.

In opposition to this, we suggest a battle against these elements
within the framework of the anti-globalization "movement" on multiple
fronts which include the following:

- Combating the constant attempts of whitewashing history which
seek to attribute the emergence and influence of the international
movement of resistance to capital to the work of the mainstream
NGOs and political parties.

- Constantly denouncing through propaganda and example those
who seek to manipulate the popular rejection of the current system in
order to advance their own ambitions of power. We must make clear
that reformists, the vast majority of NGOs, mainstream trade unions,
and 'institutionalized oppositions' are enemies, not only of anarchists,
but of all those who struggle for the creation of a radically different

- Clearly denouncing all those who seek to reign in and
institutionalize the growing tide of resistance and vigorously work to
expose as the enemies that they are all those who seek to 'dialogue'
and/or find com mon ground with' the exploiters of the world (for
example those planning to 'debate' with the IMF). There Is no debate
to be had, and no possible common ground. Only total rejection and

- Constantly go where they go. We must ruin their parties, crash
their debates, and turn their futile attempts to appeal to power into
insurrectionary events where people are encouraged to think and act
autonomously, thus freeing themselves from the chains, if not yet of
Capital and the State, at least of the reformist party/NGO apparatus.
This way we simultaneously present alternatives (be it by speaking at
their events, radicalizing a demo, breaking a window, or simply
distributing a flier) and avoid the political and tactical trap of isolation
which they place for us in order to discredit us and leave us open to
state repression.

- Making clear that, while black blocs and other forms of mass
militant confrontation are important aspects of the anarchist struggle,
they are certainly not the only ones. Anarchists, and anarchist
influences, are everywhere in the resistance (as medics, in
Indymedia, in non-violent civil disobedience, as cooks, and
everywhere else) and anarchists accept and embrace people of all
tactical outlooks as long as they are respectful of others.

- Most importantly, we must build, develop, and coherently present
the anarchist alternatives to the project of the parties, NGOs, and
reformist unions by continuing to develop the anarchist culture of
resistance and self-management. From autonomous collectives of
struggle on particular issues, to squats, to cooperatives, revolutionary
unions, federations, community power organizations, and all other
projects which serve to render the NGO / party / boss / union / state /
capital apparatus irrelevant while at the same time building anarchist

In order to be successful in this task, we will need all the tools and
tactics available to us, and this very much includes the black bloc.
Clearly, there are reforms that need to be made in the black bloc if we
are to heighten its effectiveness and defend against some of the
problems that are beginning to arise (infiltration, contradictory
actions, etc.), but that is a different article altogether.
The Black Bloc Beyond Anti- Globalization Protest

The second level on which we find the arguments made in the WSM
text flawed is that of what context black blocs are viewed as
operating, and being effective, in. The analysis of black blocs in the
WSM text seems to be centered wholly around the antiglobalization
"movement," something which to us (and we know that the WSM
agrees), should only represent one part of the anarchist struggle. We
believe that the black bloc should be a tactic that transcends
struggles. In fact, we feel the largest potential for future black bloc
lies precisely in not being limited to summits, but becoming a regular
staple of community and workplace struggles, adding an often much
needed militancy and power to such conflicts.

The black bloc carries enormous potential as a tool that, rather than
being limited to primarily symbolic action around mass convergences,
is used to reinforce class struggle at the grassroots level. Indeed, this
is not something unheard of, as, for example, the historical
significance of the role of black blocs and street-fighting in the
struggles for housing, against gentrification, and against streetlevel
fascism in Europe (primarily, but not limited to, the Netherlands,
Germany, and Italy) and in struggles in South Korea (not waged by
anarchists, but in terms of tactics, clearly black blocs) cannot be
denied. Other recent examples include the tactics employed by the
Anti-Expulsions Collective in Paris during the immigrants' struggle of
'97-98, which included storming police offices, using mass militant
action to stop trains being used to deport immigrants, and inflicting
massive damages on hotels used as temporary immigrant detentions
centers, or the black bloc in the U.S. which recently took action
against Taco Bell in solidarity with workers struggling for union

These are all clear examples of black blocs, or at the very least black
bloc tactics, being used to reinforce class struggle through the use of
methods and tactics that other people, for a variety of reasons, are
either unwilling or unable to use. This by no means is to imply that
other tactics cannot be as, or more, militant. Nor are we arguing that
black blocs are any sort of vanguard of struggle. Clearly, this would
be an exceedingly narrow conception of militant struggle. We see
them rather as an appendage to struggles that, because of its militant
and anonymous character, can at times be used to advance and
intensify struggles.
Revolutionary Cells?

The WSM text, in our opinion, presents us with a false dichotomy by
pitting effective and organized direct action against mass actions of a
participatory nature. As anarchists, we believe firmly in the ability of
people to take mass militant action in a fash - ion which is
simultaneously effective and participatory, democratic and

Again, drawing from our experiences in the anti-globalization
"movement," we can see examples of incidences where, despite all
the harassment from the forces of repression (both the state's and the
anti-globalization "movement's") many hundreds of militant
anarchists were able to come together and organize their actions in a
participatory and democratic manner via general assemblies. This
was the case in Prague, Gothenburg, and Genoa, to give some recent
examples, where the black (or blue as the case may be) blocks were
organized in an open manner with very broad (as far the anarchist
movement goes) participation and involvement.

This said, we do agree that the real victory lies not in the "military"
feat of shutting down this or that summit or gathering of the rich, but
rather in forcing them to cower behind thousands of armed thugs,
denying them legitimacy, and bringing forward the contradictions that
exist in class society. We further agree that the most important and
significant aspect of mass mobilizations lies in the large scale
experiences of self-management and direct democracy that they
provide, not only for us as anarchists, but for those who believe these
ideas to be dreams unworkable in reality. So indeed, we must strive to
maintain that character of participation and anti-authoritarian
democracy. However, again, to us, it is the stifling influence of the
political elites that seek to build their future on the back of
"anti-globalization" (the ATTACs, Ya Bastas. and Bonos of the
world) that is killing that spirit, not black blocs or militant

All this having been said, we do believe that there are also times
when other tactics and methods of organization are warranted,
because of the risks involved or other security concerns. We firmly
believe that actions of this sort can still be very much positive in the
advancement of anarchist and anti-authoritarian ideas when organized
with a strong regard for security culture, via networks of trusted
affinity groups, and in line with anarchist principles of voluntary
association. The critical difference between anarchists organizing in
this fashion and Marxist-Leninists is the conception that the
particular group has of itself. Evidently, Marxist- Leninists see armed
or underground formations as revolutionary vanguards. On the other
hand, anarchist or anti-authoritarian influenced groupings try to serve
as appendages to struggles, to complement them through other
means, much like the Autonomous Commandos of the Basque
country, who carried out actions to aid striking workers or against the
forces of repression, or Direct Action and the Wimmins Fire Brigade
in Canada, who also sought to advance ongoing struggles by bringing
attention to them, while at the same time radicalizing their character.
In Conclusion...

We are indeed opposed to the fetishization of the black bloc, which
leads, among other things, to the phenomenon of black bloc
spectators as well as "black bloc as fashion." We further agree that
the black bloc, being but one tool of many available to us, is not
appropriate for all circumstances. Indeed, for it to remain effective, it
is imperative that it be used intelligently. Also, like the WSM, we see
some serious problems developing within the black bloc tactic that
merit serious attention and open discussion.

However, while we cannot stress enough that we are open to
discussions of militant tactics and strategy, we feel that discussion
around the issue is often tackled from an exceedingly narrow and
short-sighted perspective. This often leads to an analysis that we
deem to be significantly problematic and that could have important
consequences for anarchism as a serious political movement.

First, this analysis views black blocs solely within the context of the
antiglobalization struggle, and more precisely, the mass convergences
that often come with it. To us, these mainly provide outlets for
symbolic action, while the greatest strength of black blocs, when
used appropriately and organized effectively, is real direct action used
to advance day to day class struggle, in the form of strikes, housing
occupations, antifascist struggles, immigrants' rights struggles, etc.,
all of which are fronts on which the black bloc tactic has already
proven its efficiency and value.

Furthermore, this line of thinking places a dichotomy between
effective militant action and participatory and directly democratic
forms of selfmanaged struggle and organization. This is dangerous in
that it threatens to dissuade anarchists from using what is very likely
our most powerful weapon: our disregard for legality and our
willingness to engage in militant mass confrontations, coupled with
confidence in the ability of people to organize themselves to take
back power and control over their lives.

Finally, by identifying the battle between police and militant elements
as the prime motivation for the increasing difficulty of revolutionary
anarchists to find a place for themselves in the anti-globalization
"movement," this outlook ignores the quite blatant reality of a
"movement" being rapidly hijacked. A "movement" being hijacked by
power seeking reformists and opportunists, who need to isolate and
discredit revolutionaries and all those who maintain that a profound
change in society is not only desirable, but possible and viable, in
order to harness the growing power of the anti-globalization backlash.
These are the Lenins, Trotskys, and Stalins of our day, willing and
able to persecute, betray, discredit, and isolate anarchists in order to
advance their ends. Movement criticism and analysis are indeed
important things, but this is a case where looking inwards by placing
responsibility for the State's escalation of repression on militant
tactics risks making us blind to the challenges we face from within
the "united front" of anti-capitalist groups. This has been one of the
most painful lessons of anarchist history, and if we are truly striving
for an authentic antiauthoritarian revolution, rather than another
change of masters, we should endeavour to not make the same
mistake again

more info

Where to Now? Anti-capitalist protest - global and local by Gregor
Kerr http://flag.blackened.net/revolt/wsm/rbr/rbr7/blackblocreply.html

It is certainly hard to avoid the conclusion that anti-globalisation
protests that avoid direct action will kill off the movement, or at least
greatly reduce participation in it.

* Against capitalist globalisation

This page is from Red & Black Revolution
(no 7, Winter 2003)
Print out a PDF file of Issue 7

Most recent Red and Black Revolution

Part of the pages of the
Workers Solidarity Movement

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