The Black Bloc is always with us


I learned about how a handful of people could screw up a major demonstration back in 1984, when the Democratic National Convention was in San Francisco and a fairly large number of peace activists had arranged a protest called the "War Chest Tour." The idea was to draw attention to the fact that Democrats as well as Republicans got big campaign donations from defense contractors whose business was making war. Back then, a bunch of the biggest war profiteers had offices in San Francisco, and the demonstration -- which attracted hundreds of people -- wound through the financial district with signs and banners. It was, generally, a great success -- except in the national press.

The thing is, the protest (like occupy Oakland) was prety anarchic, which a small "a" -- peaceful, but leaderless. There was no organization with an office and a phone that the press could call for comment, no easy way to identify the coalition that had put it together.

Oh, but there was one very organized group present: The Revolutionary Communist Party had maybe a dozen members marching (which may have been the entire local membership of that particular group, which has been on the margins of the American left for many years). The RCP members had T-Shirts, newspapers, people designated to speak to the media, handouts with an office phone number -- all the stuff that made lazy reporters' lives easier. So when the story broke, both locally and nationally, the first paragraph read:

"Revolutionary Communists protestested yesterday in San Francisco ...." And the whole point of the War Chest Tour, which my friends had worked on for months, was lost.

Those of us who have been around awhile knew, and know, that the RCP is always with us. There may only be a handful of them still around, but they show up for everything -- and don't seem to care if they undermine the message that event organizers are trying to put out.

The Black Bloc -- the "big A" Anarchists who broke windows in Oakland --  are becoming part of the same tradition. It's a relatively small group, but it's always around. The marches against the War in Iraq were huge, with tens of thousands of people, and entirely peaceful -- except for a few Black Bloc-ers who broke windows and set fires.

Now: I'm not here to blast the Anarchists, or even the RCP. The Maoist/Bob Avakian types have become almost a parody of themselves in recent years, but if that's what you're into, go for it. I'm not even going to get into the argument over whether property damage counts as violence; been there, done that, got the circle-A T-shirt. Destroying stuff and causing mayhem can be a powerful political statement, and there have certainly been times when it was appropriate, effective and considered more than acceptable.

But it's not always the right strategy, and in Oakland in 2011, I think it wasn't. I recognize that this is an emergency situation, that the class warfare has already begun, and that extreme tactics are necessary to fight back. And hell, I don't think smashing a bank window is so awful; smash enough of them and you put a lot of unemployed glaziers back to work. But in downtown Oakland, that tactic can too quickly backfire and lead to stuff like this. (Here's an idea -- how about a Shop Local day at Occupy Oakland, where everyone agrees to patronize small local businesses downtown? It fits right into the plan to withdraw your money from the big banks and put it in local credit unions.)

The problem with the Black Bloc (which isn't really a bloc at all, it's just a loose group of people who (a) think their tactics are appropriate and (b) love this shit) is that it's acting in direct conflict with the many, many people who worked really, really hard to organize what was supposed to be a peaceful event. Like the RCP, they're too quick to piss in the well.

You want to get violent? You want to break stuff? Show up for the general assembly, make your case, and see if you can convince the rest of the group that this is a good idea, right now, one that sends the right message and promotes the cause. Maybe you can do that; maybe everyone agrees. But if the majority of the group says no -- that respect for property (much as we may hate private property, particularly bank property, and all that) is a better way to go right now, today, in this situation -- then back off, dudes, and get with the program.


Your piece might have had more credibility if you hadn't said that. Once you start down that line of thinking, how are you going to know where to stop? Break a few legs to give more work to local nurses? Set fire to cars to give work to local car showrooms? See the problem?

As for the rest, it all sounds a little too convenient. Movements like OWS and OO inevitable decay into anarchic misbehavior because it attracts many of the wrong kind of people and lacks any central cohesiveness.

Dismissing every bad incident as the work of "infiltrators (or worse yet, government undercover agents) is simply too pat. As soon as something bad happens, it's always "one of them" rather than "one of us". Even when you don't know who did it.

In other words, you can never do wrong because, as soon as you do, it wasn't really "you", it was "them".

It would be far more convincing if you accepted accountibility for what went down in Oakland, and talked about how you are going to fix your problem.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 07, 2011 @ 12:21 pm

considering the severity of the macroeconomic backdrop and colloquial tone of the author in the cited sentence, most literate people would recognize this as jest. Nobody is serious that windows should be broken simply to produce jobs. Nobody except you maybe.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 07, 2011 @ 7:43 pm

the problem isn't what we are doing the problem is 99% of the people are suffering because of what the greedy 1% at the top are doing!
lets keep some perspective here thousands of people are dying every week because the "healthcare system" serves only wall street, wars are going on all over the planet ( CIA, NATO, drones, and the army navy etc.) and there is planet wide destruction of the environment like BP and Halliburton in the gulf of Mexico

Posted by Guest norman on Dec. 06, 2011 @ 8:19 pm

A Black Bloc can do some good -- guarding peaceful and more vulnerable protestors against agitators and over-reaction by police.

I'm disappointed by the property destruction that happened last week as it was not strategic. And it may have weakened support for the cause, other radical actions that could do a better job of supporting the movement in the long term (taking over bank foreclosed buildings)!

Posted by Guest on Nov. 07, 2011 @ 1:42 pm

I was standing beside a tent when a mob of police officers rushed the tent city. By the time I could turn and run, an officer had gotten close enough that he could hit me in my leg with a baton. I hit the ground and the officer dove on top of me and put his hand around my throat. A black bloc anarchist threw a can of food at the officer (in riot gear mind you, so it wasn't going to hurt him) and knocked him off of me. I'm grateful that black bloc member was there, because without him God only know what that officer might have done to me. I was not only non-violent btw, but compliant with orders to stay within the tent city at Oscar Grant Plaza.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 07, 2011 @ 6:00 pm

Lighten up, Guest. Nobody wants to go that far. You're missing the point.

Posted by tim on Nov. 07, 2011 @ 1:54 pm

You wrote;

"And hell, I don't think smashing a bank window is so awful; smash enough of them and you put a lot of unemployed glaziers back to work."

Can you clarify your position on vandalism and wilful damage to property? Do you think smashing bank windows is "OK"? Or do you think it's a criminal act that undermines OWS and OO, and that should always be prosecuted under the law?

Think before you make throwaway remarks, because it tells us a lot about how you really think.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 07, 2011 @ 2:19 pm

Back in the 80's someone came up with the joke...

Q "why doesn't the RCP ever accomplish anything?"

A "they are too busy blaming the anarchists"

The goofy left keeps getting killed in elections, so some of them start smashing shit because we are all just too stupid to see their genius. These people then have the establishment liberals there for them to hem and haw, then obfuscate the issue.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 07, 2011 @ 2:24 pm

What do I think about property damage? I think sometimes, it's a legitimate form of protest (see Boston Tea Party, the real one). I think usually it's a strategic political mistake. I dont' see what's unclear about that at all.

Posted by tim on Nov. 07, 2011 @ 4:15 pm

not that it's morally wrong or illegal, but only that it sometimes damages your cause?

If I don't like SFBG, then is it OK if I come round to your house and break your windows? See the problem?

Posted by Guest on Nov. 07, 2011 @ 4:20 pm

Those people didn't have much say in the choices made by the English government.

American rioters are just upset that the rest of the nation doesn't vote right. These people are destroying property because 99% of the population do not want to live in mud huts down by the river. They are upset that we are all not willing to living the Utopian writings of some pamphlet they read once while stoned about the beauty of anarchy.

It's not about the right and wrong of destroying the belongs of others and stealing shit from footlocker, it's a bad idea because it might alienate some people and thus tactically wrong.

You're old enough to remember Randell Terry always being in the news whenever an abortion doc was shot in the 80's early 90's? It's pretty clear, you are like the people who hem and haw about abortion doc killing or abortion clinic's being bombed or blown up, and then jabber on about the babies and how you understand the killers, but don't condone them, sorta.

Posted by matlock on Nov. 07, 2011 @ 4:40 pm

You are, oddly enough, advocating property damage based on idealogy. So many awful places one can go with that, provided they are convinced that they are right.

You are *absolutely* invoking the same creepy logic that leads to people smash windows at a Gay & Lesbian Youth Center that receives some trickle of state grant money or burn down a Planned Parenthood. Or wait, even advocating for the Burger King that happens to be located two doors down from the Planned Parenthood to get smashed up. And I know you're going to tell us all about how neither of those things caused a global financial meltdown, etc... I know. I get it.

But it was a tremendously stupid and short sighted position to take. Terrible.

Posted by Longtime Lurker on Nov. 07, 2011 @ 5:47 pm

Randell Terry was trying to kill people. That's very different from breaking a window.

And actually, the problem is that a lot of Americans ARE living in the equivalent of mud huts by the river. That's what the current political and economic system has brought us. The protesters are doing exactly what they should be -- trying to convice other people to join with them to change things. In the end, I think that means voting for new elected representatives. What's wrong with taking to the streets (or the parks) to make your voice heard?

Posted by tim on Nov. 07, 2011 @ 5:13 pm

Exclusively occupy private and public property for weeks at a time, breaking windows, lighting fires and throwing missiles at police is not.

See the difference?

We have an election tomorrow. That's how we achieve change.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 07, 2011 @ 5:42 pm

"It's pretty clear, you are like the people who hem and haw about abortion doc killing or abortion clinic's being bombed or blown up, and then jabber on about the babies and how you understand the killers, but don't condone them, sorta."

Posted by Guest on Nov. 07, 2011 @ 5:49 pm

Our own group of OCCUPY supporters and protesters here seek to make our feelings known at the respective candidates campaign offices and also at the different caucus sites. However, we will not assist or approve of shutting down the caucus's themselves or interfere with the caucus participants. On the other hand, ANONYMOUS seeks to actually shut down the Iowa Caucus. Feel how you may about the Iowa Caucus, it is against the legal rights of those who wish to participate to interfere with the function.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 07, 2011 @ 6:53 pm

One of the most ridiculous days in American politics.

"Police riot" the once commonly used term to describe police running amok for no real good reason.

Police riot in Oakland, the product of a progressive idiot in charge of Oakland.

Reading these comments about the black bloc being a good thing are interesting, considering it was a progressive idiot mayor who sanctioned the police riot, and then it was the black bloc who were rioting in response.

I deduct from this, progressive "logic"

To start the revolution in SF we need to vote Avalos, who will make the cops go ape shit, then the revolutionaries who are upset that we don't vote correctly can run amok. This violence started because of a progressive mayor will then grow, because people who are upset that we don't vote progressive will have even more reason to run amok.

Am I missing anything?

Posted by matlock on Nov. 07, 2011 @ 10:36 pm

Interesting little rant of yours.



~ 1984

Posted by Aragorn on Nov. 07, 2011 @ 11:36 pm

The Elvish queen requesteth thy presence lord. Beware the orks. Thy dagger shineth in their presence.


Posted by guest on Nov. 07, 2011 @ 11:55 pm

Is the lunch room, where they discuss how changing words will make wrong thinking impossible.

Note how not using the term "undocumented" instead of "illegal" elicits ravings of racism from the progressives in the hopes of silencing the speaker.

In this day and age it's odd to see a leftist try and quote Orwell.

Posted by matlock on Nov. 08, 2011 @ 9:22 am

Orwell was a leftist, a highly aggressive leftist at that. he fought with the POUM (Non-USSR communists) and the anarchists in the spanish civil war, and wrote a book about it, Homage to Catalonia, in which he said that police and workers are natural enemies, and he would forever be for workers and against police.

authoritarian leftists cannot quote Orwell, but neither can conservatives, as if they had lived contemporaneously to him they would have found themselves on precisely opposite sides of the barricade.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 08, 2011 @ 12:44 pm

These are our aggro 20-something frat boys, we've got to learn healthy ways to deal with them because there are always more coming up behind them.

There are many who see pacifism and nonviolence as a religion. I oppose any absolutism that would have precluded Stonewall.

Posted by marcos on Nov. 14, 2011 @ 10:13 am

without the threat of anarchy peace would not be possible.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 27, 2012 @ 10:17 pm