Reforming The Black Bloc: Tactics And Ideology

Excerpt from March 2002 issue of Barricada, Agitational Monthly of the NorthEastern Federation of Anarcho-Communists.

The following is our response to issues raised by the "Open Letter to Those
Involved in the Black Bloc", printed in Volume 2, issue #12 of Willful
Disobedience http://www.ainfos.ca/02/feb/ainfos00513.html , as well as to a lot of criticisms and issues that arose on the
Infoshop.org newswire discussion around this letter. The response is not as
complete, or necessarily well structured, as we would have hoped, due to
time constraints, but we do feel that it goes a long way towards correcting
some of the misconceptions around our idea of what black blocs should be,
what purposes they serve, when they are of use, how they should be
organized, etc.

The Black Bloc is Outrunning it's Effectiveness

This is a claim that we are starting to hear very often in anarchist
circles. The reasoning behind it tends to vary, but is generally limited to
that black blocs are vehicles for purely symbolic action and confrontation,
that the police are too on top of it, or that it does not serve to empower
people or encourage community involvement and self-organization.

Many of us, coming from European traditions of autonomism and places where
black bloc actions are bolder, better organized, and much larger than in
North America (not to mention have been occurring for far longer than in
North America) are quite honestly a little insulted by these claims.
Anarchists in North America seem to have a tendency to want to abandon
tactics and approaches which they deem to be "old" or "boring," rather than
focusing on ways to develop and better them.

It is true that, now that police have come to expect them, black blocs are
no longer as easily made effective as they were only a few years ago. This
means that it is probably not wise to bloc up and do illegal action in small
demonstrations. Like with every tool, it is a matter of using the right
tools for the job at hand, and black bloc is not always that tool. We feel
that black blocs, as a large scale tactic, are still in their infancy in
North America, and that the solution to keeping them effective is to move
them to the next level. From the mob to the organized body, from the
symbolic confrontation to the true direct action, from something seen
primarily only at large summits, to a staple of local struggles.

If black blocs are moved in this direction, then they can serve to empower
people, to demonstrate anarchist organizational principles in action, to
move local struggles forward, and to encourage community involvement by
presenting a relatively safe body from which to express one's anger and
discontent (as it did in York, PA on January 12th). Clearly, as struggle
escalates, repression escalates, and police tactics adapt, successful action
becomes harder to carry out. However, the solution is to adapt our tactics
to the realities of our day, not to abandon them (particularly when nobody
has yet proposed any sort of alternative for the street aspect of our
struggle, much less a better one).

Black blocs have been around in Europe for approximately two decades now,
and the reality remains the same. When they are organized well, when thought
and planning are put into them, the police are still unable to contain them.
The same is true in North America. When we organize as we should (Seattle,
A16, the Inauguration, Quebec, for example) then we are effective, and when
we don't (New York City springs to mind), we are defeated.

The Black Bloc as Fashion: "If Cops Are Looking for Kids in Black, then
Anarchists Should Not Dress in Black."

On the points where we do agree, we should clearly state so. Many today do
indeed seem to view the black bloc as a fashion statement. This is wrong,
irresponsible, and above all dangerous. As we stated in our post-Quebec
analysis, while it is understandable that people need to be given time to
progress and learn in their militancy, the abundance of black bloc
spectators lures others into a false sense of confidence and, in the end,
endangers people. As anarchists, we need to have a clear sense of collective
responsibility and accountability, to us this means accepting that being in
a black bloc necessarily carries with it certain responsibilities and
duties, and that if you choose to ignore them, you are putting comrades at
risk.

This being said, we feel it is important to clear up a nuts and bolts aspect
of this discussion. There is a very good reason to stick to the black
outfit. Simply put, it makes it next to impossible for police to single out
and snatch people for particular actions which they may have committed,
unless the police are amongst the bloc and can follow at a close distance
(this should also not be occurring). Any other type of dress (other colors,
simply dressing normally, etc.) makes the task of the police much easier.
Furthermore, one should not arrive "in bloc" at an event, and one should be
adept at changing clothes rapidly. Anything short of this facilitates the
work of the forces of repression, and given the stiff sentences being handed
out in North America for politically motivated actions, these are advantages
which we cannot afford to give.

We are not content with running around in a fashion show of people dressed
in black. When we put ourselves at risk, we want to make sure we are being
smart about it. While we do not agree with everything in the communiqué on
tactics, we feel it is a step in the right direction, or at least in the
direction which we seek to move in. This is, from the mob, to the organized
body.

>From the Mob to the Organized Body

Many claim that the direction some people are calling for the bloc to move
in is reminiscent of an anarchist militia, and in some cases contradictory
to anarchist principles of organization. This is wholly inacurrate.

While our conceptions of anarchist organization may, and indeed do, differ
from those of Willful Disobedience, they are in no way unanarchistic.
Furthermore, we draw plentifully from the organizational structures of
anarchist organizations of the past, such as the FAI and CNT in Spain and
the Makhnovists in the Ukraine, to name but a few examples.

To us, immediately revocable delegates, federalism, direct democracy, and
collective responsibility are basic principles of anarchist organization,
and the pillars of the future society which we seek to create (along with
communism of course). Thus, moving the bloc in this direction to us is
merely a way of bringing the inner workings of the black bloc in line with
the shape which we hope to see the world which we create take. This is no
way represents a militarization, but rather a next step forward in building
and developing our structures and tactics.

Furthermore, we most certainly do not view the black bloc as an "anarchist
militia." To us an anarchist militia would be a permanent structure with an
area of activity significantly different from that of the black bloc. While
we certainly don't think that an anarchist militia would be a bad idea, we
do think that it is, unfortunately, something that we are nowhere near being
ready for.

All this said, we view with concern some of the claims made in the Willful
Disobedience letter, particularly regarding the linking of democratic,
popularly controlled delegation with traditional bourgeois and hierarchical
methods of organization. As we stated earlier, these are to us basic tenets
of anarchist organization, and pillars of the society we seek to live in. To
us, what is indeed hierarchical and anti-anarchistic is what often happens
at black blocs when there is a lack of a process through which to make
decisions, which is that the loudest voices wield the most power (tyranny of
structurelessness), and the democratic process is completely thrown aside.

It seems apparent that our vision of anarchism is fundamentally different
from that of Willful Disobedience. In opposition to our beliefs outlines
above, Willful Disobedience states that “the central aim of anarchist
struggle is the subversion of existence, [and] the reappropriation of life
by each of us as individuals.” With all due respect, it is difficult to even
fathom what that exactly is supposed to mean. However, in the tradition of
ascribing to those we disagree with the most logical interpretation of their
argument as possible, it seems safe to say that for Willful Disobedience
anarchism is a process of individual liberation from the constrains of
hierarchical society. In the tradition of other individualist anarchists,
they emphasize these ideas of individual autonomy and liberty to the
detriment of other anarchist principles, such as collective responsibility
and free association. We, as anarcho-communists, question the possibility of
individual freedom without a social context. Furthermore, while Willful
Disobedience may perhaps find it possible to attain their personal freedom
from all forms of oppression through a strictly individualist understanding
of anarchist struggle, we are still left wondering what kind of world their
revolution would leave us with.

To those who accuse of "militarizing" the black bloc, or thinking only in
terms of strategy, we say again (and this cannot be said enough) that our
organizing on the streets is meant to reflect the shape of the society we
seek to create. As anarcho-communists this society is based on federalism,
direct democracy, voluntary association, democratic delegation, and
communism. This is the direction we aim to see North American black blocs
move in. Thus, the aim is not only to improve performance on a purely
tactical level, but to bring the black blocs in line with how we seek to see
society operate.

>From Symbolic Confrontation...To Direct Action

Those who are familiar with Barricada will know that we believe that in
order to defeat capital and the state we must attack it on all fronts and
with the use of a variety of tactics that complement each other. Thus, we
believe that symbolic confrontation, which consists of the majority (though
not all) of what occurs at large summits and similar events, certainly has
it's place and it's purpose. We have repeatedly outlined what we feel these
to be and will not do so again now. However, we also certainly feel that in
order to be effective as a movement with a relevance to the day to day lives
of people, we need to focus more on building dual power in workplaces and
communities. We feel it is a false dichotomy to pit black bloc activity
against community and workplace based struggle. Indeed, the black bloc can
be a very valuable tool to bring militancy to community and workplace
struggles by carrying out direct actions related to the struggle at hand.

Yet, effective and concerted direct action on a mass level often requires
precision and planning, as it is not enough to simply lash out against any
manifestation of the state and capital (as it is for symbolic action), but
rather it is a matter of striking directly those who are the enemies in the
struggle in question. To do this, in any sort of effective and coherent
manner, the black bloc cannot be a mob of people running in any direction
that is either away from police or where the person with the loudest voice
is yelling. Because we seek to see militant tactics become a more frequently
used tool in grassroots struggles, and precisely because we would like the
black bloc to serve as a link between communities and militant, direct
action oriented, anarchists, is why we urge for better organization and
planning. It is not with the intention of becoming any sort of elite and
militaristic entity, but rather with the intention of making the tactic
effective and relevant to struggles that build a revolutionary dual power.
The current mob is not capable of doing this.

In Conclusion...

We hope that we have undertaken this discussion in a comradely and friendly
manner, despite the very strong differences of opinion that exist. When we
do indeed speak vehemently against certain ideas, opinions, and tendencies,
it is not out of bad faith, but rather because we quite often see or hear
our ideas being misrepresented and our motives questioned.

We believe firmly that struggles that choose morality over tactics and fail
to face the enemy head on are doomed to failure. To us, the existence of
black blocs, and the spirit that they embody, has allowed many a movement
and struggle to break the death-grip of legality and truly fight on it's own
terms. Furthermore, we feel there is a very strong potential inherent in
black bloc activity to sow seeds of effective anarchist organization for the
future, while at the same time securing concrete gains and victories for our
movement. However, this is accomplished by breaking out of the mob mentality
and format and becoming an organized body that can think and act coherently,
quickly, and above all, democratically and tactically. The move from
symbolic confrontation to direct action will not come easily, and it will
certainly require organization; organization which is more efficient
tactically, completely in line with anarchist principles, and conducive to
individual liberty.

Severino For the Barricada Collective (NEFAC-Boston)