Black Block

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by Jonathan Moses:

"Black bloc is not an organisation; it is a tactic which arose concurrently with increasingly draconian methods of modern policing. It has its own history, its own shared understanding. It is not homogenous – neither in its politics nor its advocacy of any one form of action over another. In so much as it has an order; it consists of numerous small affinity groups, each with their own perspective of what can and cannot be justified, and each with their own willingness to act in any given way. It functions solely on two key principles: collective anonymity and mutual aid.

Networks are formed around such basic values, which are then reified aesthetically. People who choose to mask up and wear black on a demonstration are not declaring their desire to attack property; rather that they respect the autonomous agency of others – and are willing to defend them as necessary. The rationale of black bloc then, far from the clichés of aggression, is inherently defensive. Individuals within the bloc act, but it is the collective who assume the burden of defence.

The aesthetics of black bloc, of any network, define the parameters of the actions which take place within it – which is why the division between people, rather than praxis, is flawed. UK Uncut for instance maintain a ‘civil’ form of disobedience – consequently their aesthetics are open, everyday, civilian. It is this aesthetic distinction which ensures the “trust and confidence that one’s fellow participants in a UK Uncut protest share a commitment to non-violence” which Stuart White worries they lose by not condemning black bloc. But Stuart’s formulation is incorrect: rather, it is the forum of UK Uncut that guarantees non-violence, not the philosophy of any and all individuals – how could a network self-police such an assurance? How can he be sure black bloc and UK Uncut weren’t fluid, interchangeable networks? This is why, as Aaron Peters points out, UK Uncut cannot, and need not, condemn anyone." (


Black Block is a Tactic, not a movement

David Graeber responds to Chris Hedges critique of the Black Block in his 'The Cancer in Occupy':

"1. Black Bloc is a tactic, not a group. It is a tactic where activists don masks and black clothing (originally leather jackets in Germany, later, hoodies in America), as a gesture of anonymity, solidarity, and to indicate to others that they are prepared, if the situation calls for it, for militant action. The very nature of the tactic belies the accusation that they are trying to hijack a movement and endanger others. One of the ideas of having a Black Bloc is that everyone who comes to a protest should know where the people likely to engage in militant action are, and thus easily be able to avoid it if that’s what they wish to do.

2. Black Blocs do not represent any specific ideological, or for that matter anti-ideological position. Black Blocs have tended in the past to be made up primarily of anarchists but most contain participants whose politics vary from Maoism to Social Democracy. They are not united by ideology, or lack of ideology, but merely a common feeling that creating a bloc of people with explicitly revolutionary politics and ready to confront the forces of the order through more militant tactics if required, is, on the particular occasion when they assemble, a useful thing to do. It follows one can no more speak of “Black Bloc Anarchists,” as a group with an identifiable ideology, than one can speak of “Sign-Carrying Anarchists” or “Mic-Checking Anarchists.”

3. Even if you must select a tiny, ultra-radical minority within the Black Bloc and pretend their views are representative of anyone who ever put on a hoodie, you could at least be up-to-date about it. It was back in 1999 that people used to pretend “the Black Bloc” was made up of nihilistic primitivist followers of John Zerzan opposed to all forms of organization. Nowadays, the preferred approach is to pretend “the Black Bloc” is made up of nihilistic insurrectionary followers of The Invisible Committee, opposed to all forms of organization. Both are absurd slurs. Yours is also 12 years out of date.

4. Your comment about Black Bloc’ers hating the Zapatistas is one of the weirdest I’ve ever seen. Sure, if you dig around, you can find someone saying almost anything. But I’m guessing that, despite the ideological diversity, if you took a poll of participants in the average Black Bloc and asked what political movement in the world inspired them the most, the EZLN would get about 80% of the vote. In fact I’d be willing to wager that at least a third of participants in the average Black Bloc are wearing or carrying at least one item of Zapatista paraphernalia. (Have you ever actually talked to someone who has taken part in a Black Bloc? Or just to people who dislike them?)

5. “Diversity of tactics” is not a “Black Bloc” idea. The original GA in Tompkins Square Park that planned the original occupation, if I remember, adopted the principle of diversity of tactics (at least it was discussed in a very approving fashion), at the same time as we all also concurred that a Gandhian approach would be the best way to go. This is not a contradiction: “diversity of tactics” means leaving such matters up to individual conscience, rather than imposing a code on anyone. Partly,this is because imposing such a code invariably backfires. In practice, it means some groups break off in indignation and do even more militant things than they would have otherwise, without coordinating with anyone else—as happened, for instance, in Seattle. The results are usually disastrous. After the fiasco of Seattle, of watching some activists actively turning others over to the police—we quickly decided we needed to ensure this never happened again. What we found that if we declared “we shall all be in solidarity with one another. We will not turn in fellow protesters to the police. We will treat you as brothers and sisters. But we expect you to do the same to us”—then, those who might be disposed to more militant tactics will act in solidarity as well, either by not engaging in militant actions at all for fear they will endanger others (as in many later Global Justice Actions, where Black Blocs merely helped protect the lockdowns, or in Zuccotti Park, where mostly people didn’t bloc up at all) or doing so in ways that run the least risk of endangering fellow activists." (

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