The Black Bloc In Quebec: An Analysis

The Black Bloc in Quebec: An Analysis

As the dust settles from the massive and hugely successful anti-capitalist
mobilization in Quebec, it becomes time to take a look at where the
revolutionary anti-capitalist movement stands, some of the lessons of Quebec
(for the movement in general, and for black blocs more specifically), what
went well, and what didn't go so well. In addition, the events of the 20th
and 21rst in Quebec, coupled with the uprisings of the oppressed
African-American communities of Cincinnati, go a long way towards dispelling
several somewhat common claims of the liberal and authoritarian pacifist
left regarding black blocs, and more specifically, black bloc tactics and
their acceptance, or lack thereof, in oppressed and impoverished
communities.

The Media, the Grassroots Effort, and the Local Community
The first important lesson of Quebec is that there can be no understating
the importance of a radical movement, such as ours, developing a strong
working relationship with the communities in which we will find ourselves.
While it is true that the people of Quebec have a proud history of
resistance to authority and street-fighting, the massive participation of
the local population in the battles of the 20th and 21rst cannot be
attributed solely to this. Since a large part of the action took place
either in the St. Jean-Baptiste neighborhood itself or in the areas directly
surrounding it, a large part of the warm welcome that greeted the black bloc
and others, which included citizens opening their doors to militants,
offering water and vinegar, and often taking to the streets themselves, has
to be attributed to the public relations work done by CLAC and CASA, as well
as by local anarchists. We must make no mistake about, had it not been for
the massive participation of Quebec locals, chances are that the police
would have not had too much difficulty controlling, and eventually
dispersing, what would have been a group of very isolated militant
anti-capitalists.

This leads to another point which, although many feel should already have
been clear, until recently was resisted by just as many. This is that we
have nothing to hope for from the corporate media, we should expect nothing
from them, and we should absolutely not change any of our tactics or
messages in order to pander to them. We should instead treat them as the
servants of capital, and thus our enemies, that they are. This is not to
say that they are not on occasion capable of writing accurate or somewhat
positive articles about revolutionaries, as indeed several articles in the
Quebec press about the black bloc were quite good. However, it seems that
corporate journalists are only inspired enough to research articles and
abstain from repeating police misinformation after they are targeted by
demonstrators and shown that their lies and misinformation will not be
tolerated. Fortunately, this message seemed to be abundantly clear to the
black bloc participants in Quebec City, as people made it a point to deny
pictures to journalists, stop them from filming, taking their tapes and
rolls if they were caught doing so, and targeting any and all media vehicles
that crossed their paths. Once more, the massive propaganda effort carried
out by CLAC/CASA and Quebec anarchists, distributing tens of thousands of
newspapers and fliers, often door to door, was successful in countering the
fear-mongering of the police and media, and certainly changed the dynamics
of the demonstrator/local citizen interaction, from one of fear, to one of
solidarity. This is the clearest example possible that our energies should
not, as many liberal leftists seem to think, be directed towards developing
a 'good' relationship with the corporate media, but to fighting them while
at the same time developing our own links with people and strengthening our
media outlets and projects.

The Black Bloc: Material Preparedness

It can be said that, despite all the inconveniences and setbacks (which
were quite a few), the Quebec City black bloc was one of the most effective
in terms of actions performed, its relationship with other demonstrators and
locals, the number of arrests suffered, how far it went towards exemplifying
to 'middle of the road' demonstrators the importance of fighting back, and
the image it conveyed of anarchism (which is of course not limited to the
black bloc, but it is for the moment our most well known aspect). Once more,
the effectiveness of the black bloc, particularly during the course of
Saturday's actions, is not due to sheer luck. It is the result of several
very clear factors, some which are definitely positive, some which, while
they may sometimes work in our favor, certainly need to be analyzed more
closely, and some which are certainly negative.

In the run-up to the Quebec City mobilization, many expected the Quebec
black bloc to be the largest yet. Evidently, it did not turn out to be so,
mainly due to the border issue. However, the relatively small numbers,
definitely never more than 500-600, were balanced by the level of
preparedness and commitment of many of the participants, and the support of
the locals.

Furthermore, the effectiveness of the Quebec black bloc is without a doubt
to a very large extent due to how well equipped it was. Many people had the
basic gas masks and goggles, but a great deal also were equipped with
helmets, shields, padding, heavy duty gloves, bolt cutters, ropes, grappling
hooks, and not to mention the abundance of batons and hockey pucks. The fact
is, it was very probably the best equipped black bloc in North American
history. Evidently, this allowed people to resist tear gas attacks better,
stand up to rubber bullets, bring down the fence in different areas with
great speed, and in some cases even hold their own in hand to hand, or baton
to baton, combat with riot police. This all served to embolden the black
bloc, and others who were present, and allowed for scenes such as those that
took place during breaches in the perimeter with black bloc participants
chasing riot policemen or on the highway overpass with dozens of people
charging police lines.

The one nagging question is: Despite several important setbacks, such as
the arrest of the Germinal affinity group on it's way to Quebec with a lot
of material, and all the people, including most of Ya Basta! that were
stopped at the border with quite a bit of material as well, what would have
happened had it all arrived safely in Quebec City!? Hopefully, this question
will be answered this October in Washington DC, where for most people at
least, there will be no border to cross.

It is clear that Quebec City marked an important step forward for black
blocs in terms of material preparedness for action, and this is a trend we
can only hope to see continued in the future.

The Black Bloc: Tactics, Empowerment, and 'Other People'.

The Quebec City black bloc can also be seen as having been clearly
successful in dispelling the common claim of liberals, authoritarian
pacifists, and others who oppose militant street tactics. This claim, which
we have all most likely already had to listen to, is that the actions of the
black bloc are somehow the result of the alienation of middle or upper class
youths who, due to the boredom of their lives or some misplaced sense of
rebellion, seek cheap thrills at demonstrations, but that they are actually
alienating to those who suffer repression on a constant basis and in the end
counter-productive.

However, the fact is that oppressed communities, such as the
African-American community of Cincinnati most recently, are not afraid to
resist their oppressors by taking to the streets and fighting back. Militant
tactics are not alienating, but rather empowering, serving to demonstrate
that there is no need to kneel down and beg when faced with repression, as
the power of the people, when not pacified by reformism and the avenues of
the state, is infinitely more powerful.

This was again made clear by the willingness of the people of Quebec to
take to the streets to fight alongside the black bloc and other
demonstrators, as well as their healthy dislike of police. While the
situation of the French speaking people of Quebec has certainly changed
dramatically over the last several decades, a large section of the Quebecois
youth, and of the population in general, still identify themselves as
oppressed, primarily due to the question of national liberation. In any
case, the fact is that they took to the streets en masse and resisted
alongside the black bloc and other demonstrators. All this despite the fact
that repression after riots and street battles is often swift and heavy in
Quebec, and nobody is more aware of it than the locals.

The vast, and still growing, support for the black bloc and its tactics was
also made abundantly clear simply by the fact that almost anywhere the bloc
went in Quebec, it was met with cheers, clapping, and all sorts of
encouragement, whether from fellow demonstrators or from locals. Of course
this was to a large extent due to the fact that almost everybody's energies
were focused on the perimeter fence, which few people had qualms about
destroying. However, even the militant tactics (molotovs, stones, direct
confrontation) were overwhelmingly greeted with cheers.
There was however one glaring exception. This occurred when the black bloc
severely damaged the CIBC bank offices, destroying virtually every window
and setting fire to the inside. As soon as the action began several people
from SalAMI began putting themselves in the way, some physically interfered,
many booed, and one even pepper-sprayed somebody in the black bloc. Many
are claiming that this is proof that the only reason that the bloc had so
much support was that property damage was kept to a minimum, but that this
incident shows that it is not an accepted tactic.

This is simply false, and it is important to show it as such. While the
black bloc focused primarily on the fence, there was still quite a bit of
property damage. Several banks, a Shell gas station, a Subway restaurant,
quite a few media vehicles, and at least one police vehicle. All of these
actions took place in very crowded areas, and the only time they drew any
significant negative response was with the SalAMI authoritarians, who had
refused to work with CLAC/CASA precisely due to the issue of diversity of
tactics.

Black Bloc Spectators?

That we live in a spectator/consumer oriented society is no news to most
people. However, with the recent rise in acceptance of the black bloc and
its tactics a phenomenon that is most likely the result of this spectator
society seems to be spreading to the black bloc. It was true in DC during
the inauguration, and it was certainly true in Quebec. Whether it is
something to be criticized, accepted as inevitable, or encouraged remains
unclear (at least to this writer), but it certainly needs to be addressed.
Quite simply, this is the phenomenon of the 'black bloc spectator'. People
who dress in black, march with the black bloc, chant, etc.
Yet, when conflict begins, be it unarresting, property damage, confrontations with
police, or whatever else, they disappear, or watch safely from the back.
Examples of this would be the people who ran as soon as the first line of
police appeared in DC during the inauguration or those who disappeared when
the fence was torn down on Friday the 20th in Quebec. In both cases after
events such as these, the blocs numbers were halved. Of course some of this
is due to other factors, such as dispersal, being lost in a crowd, etc., but
a fair number of people in the black bloc seem to be there simply to add to
the numbers.

This does have its advantages however. The first is that the larger the
mass of people, the more the cover for those doing direct actions.
Secondly, regardless of to what extent one participates or not, being in a
black bloc is in itself a risk that one has taken and implies a certain
level of commitment, and it is very possible that those who are shy about
taking part in direct actions are so only out of inexperience, but will
eventually learn from watching others.

Yet, the disadvantages of having many 'spectators' within the bloc are also
clear. Among others they include giving people who are doing actions a
false sense of security and making large cohesive actions more difficult to
carry out. However, the greatest disadvantage is that going to a black bloc
without being prepared to assume the possible risks and consequences is to a
large extent irresponsible. The black bloc is a tactic, and like any tactic
the people carrying it out have to meet certain criteria in order to make it
effective. If one is not willing to deal with heights, one should evidently
not enter an affinity group doing banner drops from buildings for example.
Likewise, if one is not prepared to fulfill at least one of the functions
generally expected from people in a black bloc if the need arises, then it
is probably a bad idea to be in one.

A clear example of this is the effectiveness of the black bloc on the 21st.
While relatively small, fluctuating between 50 and 200 people for most of
the day, it was composed primarily of people who were prepared both mentally
and materially for the risks associated with being in a black bloc. This
resulted in people staying tight, avoiding arrest, being mobile, and
accomplishing many very effective actions.

Being a tactic, the primary concern of any black bloc should be
effectiveness. If a black bloc is not effective, whether it be at getting a
message across, heightening visibility of anarchist or revolutionary
presence in a struggle, or performing specific actions, then it serves no
purpose. It is not meant to be an all are welcome free for all. This is
something that the German autonomes understand (precisely the reason why
each line is composed only of people who know each other, to weed out cops
and tourists), and it is probably something we in North America should begin
to think about.

Anarchism is about freedom, but it is also about personal responsibility.
If one is not willing to accept that as a participant in a black bloc one
is, amongst other things, responsible for looking out for the safety of
others (i.e being willing to perform unarrests) and having other people's
backs when they need it, then you are not acting responsibly.

Conclusion

Despite the inevitable shortcomings and setbacks, it is fair to say that
Quebec City marked a step forward for the revolutionary anti-capitalist
movement, and certainly for the black bloc. It is becoming clearer and
clearer that we are riding a wave of popular discontent, coupled with
interest about (and open minds towards) anti-authoritarian alternatives to
capitalism, that North America has not seen in many years. What we need to
begin looking at now is how to better structure ourselves in order to be
more effective in future actions and in order to defend ourselves from the
inevitable repression of the ever more threatened state, how to continue to
build our links to other communities, and how to begin laying the groundwork
for a new society. In short, how to build an effective, grass-roots,
anti-authoritarian movement towards a classless, stateless society. The
infrastructure is to a large extent already in place, it is a matter of
using and expanding it intelligently.

See you in October! Until then....Class War! Anytime, Anywhere!

Nicolas
Barricada Collective