Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

July 11, 2010

An anarchist critique of the black bloc

Filed under: anarchism — louisproyect @ 12:13 am

In the wake of the G8/G20 economic summit protests in Toronto, Canada this past weekend, black bloc demonstrators have once again sparked discussion on the left and hysterics in the corporate media. Closely linked to anarchism, the continued popularity of the black bloc tactic colors the reputation of protesters, particularly anarchists, and merits a response with greater clarity from anarchists.

The black bloc phenomenon reputedly emerged out of Germany in the 1980s. It is predominantly a youth movement and no doubt only marginally within the influence of even other anarchist currents. Nonetheless, a more cohesive critique of the impact of black bloc tactics from within the more serious currents of anarchism will only aid in diminishing the phenomenon.

There is no doubt that black bloc protesters are sincere and on the right side of the larger issues. However, their failure to seriously engage with the broader movement over the utility of their tactics is indicative more of a subcutural identity clique than a continuation of the serious organizing carried out by, for instance, the Spanish anarchists of the 1930s.

Democracy requires discussing tactics in a format that ensures accountability to others organizing the demonstrations. Instead, the code words “diversity of tactics” are often used to cloak a range of actions that inevitably impact all activists involved in protests.

Granted, if the existing political climate in North America were far more radical, and wide swaths of the general population understood destruction of corporate bank facades as an act of political opposition to class exploitation, the tactic would not be harmful. However, it is quite evident we are not in such a period.

Masked faces simply alienate the very people that must be organized. It does not help that masks also facilitate infiltration by the police. The context is important. In the Chiapas region of Mexico, concealing one’s identity may well be a canny response to police repression.

full: http://ideasandaction.info/2010/07/black-bloc-headed/


  1. It’s not a critique. Like your 8,000-word formless diatribe, it’s a scolding.

    Comment by Eric — July 11, 2010 @ 2:02 am

  2. So, in other words the black bloc would be ok if not for the fact imperialist country parasites were not so stupid. So we should be just as stupid as them. I thought Lenin said 1 step forward, two steps back. Not 100 steps backward. Let’s start recruiting people in the conservative party, after all that’s were the “masses” in klanada are. ROFLMAO

    Comment by Marcel — July 11, 2010 @ 2:50 am

  3. Eric, if it’s a scolding, it’s a scolding for a simple reason: the tactic is counter-productive. It makes life easy for provocateurs and transforms the message of a protest from anti-capitalism to pro-vandalism.

    Comment by will shetterly — July 11, 2010 @ 4:03 am

  4. @ Marcel:
    The unambiguous contempt for the “masses” shown by you is borderline nauseating. Of course, it cannot be surprising coming from someone who has openly declared that there is no such thing as a proletariat in the “first world”. Your likening of the masses to parasites reeks of every strain of misanthropic thinking from Nietzsche to Rand to the quack primitivists who have infiltrated contemporary anarchism.
    I am sure that your heart is in the right place, otherwise you would not have been drawn to this debate in the first place, but until the black bloc-ers drop this elitist Lone Ranger meets V For Vendetta posturing that they seem to revel in, they will never be a truly progressive force as they leave it to the rest of the radical left to rationalize their actions for them while simultaneously trying to organize the “parasites” that we need on our team to make a true revolutionary change.

    Comment by Rob — July 11, 2010 @ 4:48 am

  5. http://mondoweiss.net/?s=dance+hebron+viral

    IDF dance to Tik Tok

    Comment by Desmond — July 11, 2010 @ 1:03 pm

  6. No North American MASS protest (meaning hundreds of thousands) has ever been attacked by police. Partly because they were extremely well organized & marshalled, and partly because sheer numbers tend to intimidate police.

    The lesson therefore is to organize the masses as they’re the only entity that have ever truly changed history. There’s hundreds of millions of them out there being fucked over by this iniquitous social arrangement to be sure. The difficulty in this age of atomized individualism lies in organizing them. It’s a daunting task with enormous obstacles certainly, but not impossible.

    Whether it’s Russian Narodniks at the turn of the 20th century like Lenin’s older brother lobbing bombs at the Czar, or Al Quedans at the turn of the 21st century like Bin Laden flying planes into skyscrapers, historically the sociological roots of small group terrorism has always been frustrated intellectuals unable or unwilling to do the hard work of organizing the masses. Unfortunately there is no shortcut to revolution.

    The only thing that has ever delineated one epoch from another in history is wars and revolutions, both of which require the participation of the masses.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — July 11, 2010 @ 5:24 pm

  7. Right, Karl. It’s so much easier to play Lone Ranger than it is to go to meetings with difficult agendas to walk through. And if the stupid mass doesn’t get it, well, so much the worse for us.

    Comment by Michael Hureaux — July 12, 2010 @ 1:24 am

  8. The State desires to maintain its monopoly of violence and will not negotiate with a faction that uses the tactic of violence but will crush that faction with its overwhelming force and justify that action with its propaganda machine.

    Only when a faction in opposition poses a significant threat of disruptive violence to the State, will the State see increasing value in its relations with the factions of moderate reformers. The non-violent reformers, in their overt contempt for the tactics of the violent faction, gain status with the State as a reasonable voice with which to negotiate and they then gain a negotiating position for reforms.

    The State/Chamber of Commerce hates unions as the enemy of its desire for increased profit and power.

    However, when unions are crushed and wages are forced into decline, demand is decreased and the decline of sales leads to overstock, unused productive capacity, a decline in profits and the business unfriendly deflationary climate that demands inventory be sold at declining prices to mitigate otherwise larger capital loses. This is an example of conflicting interests that viscerally hate each other but, when in a balanced opposition actually serve each other’s interests.

    Yes, successful business union negotiations indirectly serve capital interests by moderating the concentration of wealth thereby providing market demand for their goods and preserving the value of capital investments which would otherwise sit idle and decline in value.

    This same dynamic plays out between the tactically differentiated factions advocating violence and non-violence. Members of both factions hate each other but both are marginalized before the State without a balanced conflict between each other. The revolutionary violent will hate the non-violent as reformist “sell outs.” The reformists will hate the violent faction for tarnishing by association the moral purity of their movement’s reasonable demands made upon the State. The reformers are credible with the State only in their complete disassociation with the viable tactically violent factions.

    The State and its reformers now both dominate the revolutionary factions so completely that the reformist opposition itself can now safely be completely disregarded by the State. The very source of reformist negotiating power is the hated violent revolutionary who provides the impetus for change and in the end is slaughtered, imprisoned, and deprived of the benefits negotiated by the reformers. He is a rare species verging on extinction. All that remains are the lone avenging wolves, flailing against the system that has promised and then deprived them of their ability to earn a living, driven them into debt, and finally stopped counting them among the propertied, that standard measure of personal worth in capitalist society at large.

    In the absence of the violent revolutionary, the State may now regard the reformer’s preference for an end to the present wars, or economic policy chnage, for example, as irrelevant as their preference for strawberries.

    Comment by Glenn — July 14, 2010 @ 3:55 pm

  9. Glenn: Sorry but your post is a bit rambling & incoherent. What exactly is your point? If you’re advocating something would it be possible to spell it out in one paragraph, preferably with a point, then an illustration, then an example.

    Another paragraph or two providing some real world historical examples of what you think works and what doesn’t would also certainly help.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — July 14, 2010 @ 8:56 pm

  10. I expect mutual advantages gained by conflict between antagonistic parties to remain difficult to perceive.

    The desire to totally dis-empower members of other factions may be so strong that the potential for dis-empowering your own faction in that process may not be apparent.

    The example of capitalists who manage to accumulate so much capital that industrial capitalism finds no demand (money) for its products should be easy to see. Had unions been able to negotiate higher wages, demand would still exist for the goods capitalists claim ownership of and workers cannot afford. The long austerity years for labor since the seventies have been times of excessive profits for capitalists. Now that money is concentrated in fewer hands, demand, in the bourgeois economist’s sense, is so low that the State/Merchant class has had to give rebates to sell cars to mitigate their own losses. This rebate was, in effect, a temporary restoration of wages not paid but diverted to profit.

    I am making an analogy between the total victory of capital over labor not serving the interests of capital very well, (except for the top 1%) and the victory of non-violent tacticians over the violent tacticians not serving the non-violent tacticians very well. The non-violent tactic presented to the state works best as an alternative to violent tactics but not at all when there aren’t any violent tacticians to oppose. Without both, there is no “good cop, bad cop” alternative for the people to present to the state in their negotiations with it.

    Strong antipathy between factions advocating pro-violent and anti-violent tactics was apparent in the civil rights struggle of the sixties. Violent tactics and riots in black communities elevated M. L. King to a status sufficient for the non-violent MLK to gain access to presidents. No riots, no violence, no elevation in status of MLK and non-violent tacticians, no concessions from the state. The state needs a reason to see the people it exercises its ownership over as other than insects.

    I am not advocating a solution but restating problems from a different point of view. One of the problems is the attempt at crafting an authoritarian one-size-fits-all solution when different tactics on many fronts may be more effective.

    Recent anti-war marches could not have been any less effective if the marchers carried signs saying “I like Strawberries” instead of “No Wars for Oil.” Agreed? If not, how so?

    I am not telling anyone what to think. Factions with a common end in sight must still have a sense of brotherhood while strongly disagreeing on tactics. That is a lot to expect in this atomized society.

    Comment by Glenn — July 14, 2010 @ 11:24 pm

  11. I don’t give a crap if the black bloc breaks windows or burns police cars. Just let the fuckers do it on a separate time and place from the mass actions. They are fucking parasites right now feeding off the mass actions, like a vampire bat.

    Comment by louisproyect — July 14, 2010 @ 11:31 pm

  12. Glenn: Much more comprehensible articulation of your views. Your points about capital accumulation since the late 70’s pauperizing the masses more than ever is an excellent one, and in combination with the profound atomization and de-unionization of the proletariat, leaves all of us with today’s organizing tasks in a situation profoundly different than the pauperized and non-unionized masses of a century ago, mainly because there’s a lot less workers rubbing shoulders together than there used to be.

    On the other hand Lou’s point about the Black Bloc’s parasitism feeding off the host of mass actions is also pertinent.

    Unfortunately this quandry has no simple solution so I can only fall back on the advice of the old school revolutionaries who advised during similar dilemmas that violent acts are certainly acceptable so long as they have clear objectives that actually advance the movement against capital.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — July 15, 2010 @ 1:39 am

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