“The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.”
–Alfred North Whitehead

“black bloc” anarchists strike again…

Last fall, I expressed my frustrations with the “black bloc” tactics of some anarchists after attending the otherwise successful General Strike in Oakland (HERE and HERE). Now they are at it again, only this time in San Francisco’s Mission district.

Across the country in NYC, there have been reports of white powder being sent to the mayor’s office, corporate banks, and various media outlets.

All of this is further hampering the Occupy Movement’s attempts to gain respect and draw mainstream attention to the social, ecological, and economic injustices that have become the norm in America. Instead, it is becoming easier for the media to dismiss the whole thing as a juvenile temper tantrum and for the US government to begin using anti-terrorism tactics against it.

Is there anyone out there who might be able to explain the motivations behind these kinds of actions to me? I’m having trouble understanding the logic…






9 responses to ““black bloc” anarchists strike again…”

  1. Adam Robbert Avatar
    Adam Robbert

    I’m interested in this question as well. I think the “black bloc” exhibits an intense example of a widespread symptom. Namely, that there is a structural disconnect between the globally distributed networks of power (who’s centers are nowhere, and who’s circumference is everywhere…) and the locally situated acts of protest happening across the globe.

    Diabolical and unhelpful as they may be, the black bloccers demonstrate something interesting about our political predicament: it doesn’t matter how many windows get broken, how many bank franchises get picketed, or how many petitions get signed because the types of entities we are combatting, in some sense, exist within inaccessible zones of activity. “Thinking globally and acting locally” just doesn’t seem to be the way forward in this case.

    I don’t think the situation is hopeless, or that people should stop demonstrating. But we need to get smarter about how we protest and I think the black bloc just goes to show that the “lets meet at city hall and march downtown” — either peacefully or otherwise — attitude just doesn’t work when what you are protesting is global technocapital.

    I don’t know what the key is here, but that’s what I start thinking about when I see young kids in ski masks throwing rocks into windows in the hopes that, somehow, that kind of action will impact neoliberalism as a whole. Complicated stuff.

    1. Matthew David Segall Avatar

      Black bloc is a symptom of, and not a strategy against global technocapital. I agree with you there.

  2. Michael- Avatar

    Hey guys,

    As a former Black Bloc participant I can tell you for me and those I knew it was a mix of frustration leading to rage, hopelessness in a “mainstream” that may not have the capacity to care – as their lives are intricately dependent on wage-labor and the very systemic economic processes that anti-globalization protesters (what they were called before Occupy) are against – and temperament geared towards confrontation.

    We must remember that before the 2008 financial crisis the majority of mainstream North Americans had absolutely no interest in deconstructing a system that provides them their livelihood. And we still live in a world were more people vote for American Idol winners than political candidates. So who exactly are we supposed to be appealing to? Who are we to convince? Middle America? Are we going to convince the middle class to give up their relatively secure positions in the economy to totally reorganize the way things are done? Not likely. The American Dream is alive and well despite the fact that it has been revealed to be a total nightmare.

    So black bloc-ers ask why not tear the whole shit-box down? The problem is, however, that their smash and commotion tactics are useless. Misplacing rage by breaking things doesn’t help – either on the PR front, as Matt says, or in terms of operational disruption. I’m very much in favor of sabotage, confrontation and even destruction, but it has to be affective. Surface damage serves no purpose. Intelligent disruption has to take place at multiple scales and in the most subtle ways. We must think in terms of complex compositional changes.

    Let me sum it all up this way: the most sophisticated black bloc proponents are people who know how futile it is to appeal to fully owned and controlled media ecology or the docile middle-class they speak to, so they have no respect for or desire participate in efforts to reform dominating systems. They simple want to intensify the conflict (that is already part of massive structural violence) in order to accelerate the move towards its seemingly inevitable conclusion: massive revolution or complete repression.

    1. Matthew David Segall Avatar

      Thanks for the insights, Michael. This does contextualize things a bit more for me. All in all, I will repeat what I said above, that the “tactics” in the video above are the symptom of a violent system and not an effective strategy against it. Maybe you are right that sophisticated black bloc proponents are aware of this. I understand the frustration some might have in response to the bougie art galleries and botiques opening up in the Mission these days. But to attack these small business storefronts is misguided. I would be less aggrivated if they were going after Chase, B of A, Citi, Walgreens, etc.

      1. Michael- Avatar

        Agreed. Terrible tactics. Not what we need now.

  3. […] “black bloc” anarchists strike again… (footnotes2plato.com) […]

  4. Jonathan Cobb Avatar

    Hi Matt! I’d like to say that on May Day, I participated in my first black bloc. I did not engage in any property destruction, and it is a misconception to think that that is what black blocs are about. They are primarily a show of solidarity and street theater to present a leftist and particularly an anarchist critique of the thing being protested. Black bloc tactics include blockading, unarresting, and diversionary tactics to neutralize the power of the police. That day, four of my comrades got unarrested after police tackled one of them and others dogpiled on. There are some dogmatic advocates of “non-violence” who insist that one should always submit to their power and allow oneself to be arrested, but we anarchists do not recognize their authority to hold us captive against our wishes.

    As for property destruction, I think there are legitimate debates to be had about it, but I don’t believe in the sweeping generalization that it is always wrong. I think it is a tactical decision, and there needs to be a discourse about what are legitimate targets and when it is tactical to do so. People too easily forget that one of the founding acts of this country — the Boston Tea Party — was a far bigger act of property destruction than a few broken windows.

    For more information on black bloc, I suggest reading the Black Bloc FAQ: http://www.infoshop.org/page/Black-Blocs-for-Dummies

    As well as David Graeber’s response to Chris Hedges on the matter: http://nplusonemag.com/concerning-the-violent-peace-police

    1. Matthew David Segall Avatar

      Hey Jonathan,

      Thanks for your perspective on this.

      I agree that police abuse there power quite often. I wouldn’t go quietly if I felt I was being unjustly arrested. But I get upset when I see them vandalizing small businesses, and in my several run ins with black bloc people in the last several months, that is most of what they seem to be doing. As I said in an earlier comment, I can sympathize a bit more with vandalizing big banks, but even there, who is going to have to scrub the paint off the walls and replace the windows? Probably underpaid immigrant workers.

      As I see it, part of why Occupy is exciting is that it is encouraging local communities to come together to change things themselves, without necessarily looking to government officials. So far, all I’ve seen black bloc tactics succeed in doing is trashing local communities and putting local business owners in the hole for property damages. I have not read much about what the ideals of the tactic are in the abstract (though I have followed the Graeber/Hedges debate–I tend to side with Hedges, though I have learned a lot from Graeber’s anthropological scholarship), but what I’ve seen on the streets leaves me angry and confused. I was even a little afraid of their aggression when I was marching in Oakland, since they were going after people with cameras.

      From what I’ve heard, the incident on May Day here in SF was carried out by people who don’t even live in SF, much less in the Mission district itself. What is the strategic purpose of trashing someone else’s neighborhood?

      1. Jonathan Cobb Avatar

        Like I said, there are debates to be had regarding property destruction, and if they were trashing small businesses, I’m almost inclined to think they were infiltrators. Most anarchists I know would consider small, locally-owned businesses to be off-limits. Going after big, corporate targets is supposed to get them where it hurts. A corporation is a legal fiction that nothing but the bottom line, so getting them where it hurts can help sometimes. It also sends a message that all the Orwellian police state tactics thrown at us cannot stop us. I also think that has to be balanced against other concerns. What you describe in this particular incident does not sound very strategic. I would just be cautious about what broader implications should be drawn from this.

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