The Black Bloc: A Disposable Tactic
southern africa |
anarchist movement |
opinion / analysis
Wednesday June 29, 2005 22:37 by Zabalaza - ZACF
The view of South African anarchists in the aftermath of Genoa
Usually masked - to prevent identification and as protection against the teargas used by the repressive forces - and dressed distinctively in the traditional anarchist colour of black, the so-called "black bloc" has provided anarchism with its greatest public profile since the mass protest movements of the late 1960s. But this is a class war and we need to be flexible in our tactics and change swiftly where needed in order to keep the enemy off balance. For now, it is time to drop the black bloc tactic, go unmasked in daylight, and blend in with the workers. Since they are prepared for the black bloc, we need new approaches that will catch them off-guard.
The Black Bloc: A Disposable Tactic
EVER since the 1999 "Battle of Seattle" which stunned the ruling
elites as they watched tens of thousands of militant workers,
activists, mothers and others shut down their secretive World Trade
Organisation summit, anarchists have been in the headlines: at the
barricades facing down riot police in cities across the world.
Usually masked - to prevent identification and as protection
against the teargas used by the repressive forces - and dressed
distinctively in the traditional anarchist colour of black, the
so-called "black bloc" has provided anarchism with its greatest
public profile since the mass protest movements of the late 1960s.
Willing to take on riot police, to un-arrest demonstrators, to
attack symbols of corporate and state power, and to help disrupt the
summits of the rich, the black bloc, as anarchist street fighters,
has become a favourite icon both of the left, which has to a greater
or lesser degree celebrated its militancy. As for the right, it has
used it as an example of the "violence" inherent in anarchism -
neglecting to mention of course that states and corporations are
founded on violence.
The fact remains that it is via the black blocs that many
militants are being introduced to anarchism for the first time. That
is a base we must build on.
Following the success of Seattle, militant black blocs - usually
working within broader "revolutionary anti-capitalist blocs" - took
the message of an outraged working class to the parasitic elites
every time they met: at the International Monetary Fund, World Bank
and G8 summit in Washington (April 2000); at the World Economic Forum
in Melbourne and at the IMF, WB and G8 summit in Prague (September
2000); at the European Union summit in Nice (December 2000); at the
Free Trade Agreement of the Americas summit in Quebec City (April
2001); at the EU summit in Gothenburg (June 2001); and at the G8
summit in Genoa (July 2001) - to mention only the "violent" ones.
Taken together, the protests since Seattle (and including Seoul
and Barcelona) have cost the bosses more than $250-million in
security precautions, damage to their precious property and lost
profit squeezed from workers. On our side of the barricades, hundreds
have been injured, scores jailed, tortured, criminalised and
deported, several shot and, in a shocking murder that echoed around
the world, a young anarchist, Carlo Giuliani, was shot dead by police
It is the anarchist message of working class direct action,
spurning the professional activist groups and politicians of all
shades, that has forced the world's wealthiest parasites to run away
into the Canadian Rockies and the desert of Qatar to plot and scheme
against us. The anarchist principles of mass, global, multifaceted
grassroots power and direct democracy are on the agenda like never
before in recent history. But our "Prague Spring" is over. The police
murder of Giuliani at the Genoa demonstration and the reconsolidation
of right-wing forces have seen to that. Following Genoa, many
anarchists have been calling into question the tactic of the black
Contrary to the attempts by the Italian and German states to
pretend that the black bloc is some sort of "terrorist organisation",
it is neither terrorist nor an organisation. It is simply a tactic
that has the following aims: to provide anarchism with a visible
presence (for reasons of public propaganda as well as safety and easy
co-ordination during chaotic protests); to maintain the militant
momentum of protests and prevent them being channeled into useless
talk-shops and petitions; to directly attack our class enemies and
their institutions; and finally to defend ordinary protesters from
The black bloc tactic has been remarkably successful if measured
against these aims, and among protesters, anarchists have gained a
lot of respect, especially for our non-sectarian defence of pacifists
and others targeted by police.
While most anarchist protesters were not involved in the black
blocs at Genoa, preferring to march, as they should, with the tens of
thousands of striking workers, the blocs themselves have increasingly
become used as a tactic by other para-anarchist groups such as the
autonomists, or non-anarchist groups, such as rank-and-file
Genoa showed that the practice of masking up and dressing in black
was provocateurs and undercover cops who then tarnished the blocs'
reputation by attacking illegitimate targets (non-state, non-police
and non-corporate) and brawling with ordinary marchers.
The enemy strategy is clear:
1) criminalise the anarchists and other militant
revolutionary protesters as "terrorists",
2) destroy the ties of goodwill which they have built with the
mass anti-globalisation movement in order to prevent the
radicalisation of the movement by criminalising the black bloc
3) stage-managing "non-governmental" social forums parallel to the
main capitalist summits so as to bog activists down in useless
lobbying and create an impression of consultation
4) crack down on independent media outfits to ensure corporate
media versions of events remain unchallenged, and
5) use the cover of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the
United States to introduce sweeping new police and intelligence
powers to be used against all radical activists, whether anarchist or
The photographs of Mussolini shown to tortured activists in Genoa
police detention show that the iron fist of fascism lies just beneath
the velvet glove of the Western bourgeois "democracies". In the last
century, the elites plunged the world into a 70-year nightmare of
fascism, bolshevism and genocidal war - all to prevent a true global
workers' revolution that between 1916 and 1923 nearly cost them all
their stolen assets. This time we know what they are capable of and
we must be on a war footing.
So, do we carry on protesting, agitating, educating, organising?
Should we still participate in these mass protests? Hell yes!
Anarchist ideas have taken centre stage in the new anti-capitalist
movement and there is no way we should surrender that hard-won
But this is a class war and we need to be flexible in our tactics
and change swiftly where needed in order to keep the enemy off
balance. For now, it is time to drop the black bloc tactic, go
unmasked in daylight, and blend in with the workers. Since they are
prepared for the black bloc, we need new approaches that will catch
In any case, in Southern Africa, despite our visible presence at
marches against privatisation, war and racism, there are simply too
few anarchist militants on the ground to constitute a tactically
significant black bloc at protests.
This stands in good contrast to the strength of our ideas, which
are winning an increasing audience among workers and the poor.
We must still wage a public information war against the elites
through the revolutionary independent media; we must also build our
own counter-intelligence networks and weed out infiltrators.
Far more importantly, we must build closer personal ties within
the communities, unions and groups that we fight alongside so that
trust is established, we build an indivisible web of support and we
watch each other's backs. Black blocs are not the best way to do this
That is class solidarity and that - rather than gasmasks and
molotovs - is, after all, what anarchism is all about.
This article was first published in Zabalaza:
A Journal of Southern African Revolutionary Anarchism #2 March