It was the linking of the arms, over 200 hundred rows made up of 8 to 12 people each and a sister from Berlin who whispered ‘because of the snatch squads’ that reawakened my dormant thoughts on ‘the black bloc’.
The Black Bloc is very much alive in Europe. Thanks to the rather successful abilities of these anti capitalists to come together and get angry, there have been riots throughout the ‘vieux continent’ during the last couple years.. Many. And at the anti-G8 protests this past week, riots were the topic of conversation on quite a few people’s lips. Maneuvering nationality, the various communities, collectives, federations and groups of anarchists and autonomists who gathered and lived together in Riddelich-the ‘radical’ camp a couple kilometers away from where the oligarchs of the G8 were meeting- and who presented their experiences and thoughts on the subject.
With pride les ‘totos’ from France shared stories of helping start the spontaneously resistance after Sarkozy’s election leading to over 100 cars burning, the riots that occurred in the banlieues, as well as the fights against the CPE. Folks from Greece told their stories of the fierce battles in Athens from the universities and various blockades they organized against the State. Hordes of fighters that descended from Copenhagen reminded people that street fighting was still on going since Ungdomshuset eviction two months ago and after Rostock, Saturday June 2nd, the Germans had another riot to add to their canon1, as well as the almost had riot of Plan B(erlin) of Friday the 8th. Alas, those of us from the small North American brigades had very little to offer in terms of experience sharing.
Having the occasion to participate in a shock therapy insurrection was obviously enough of a incentive to come together last week against the G8, but there was the underlining pretext of anarchists being able to have a collective report back on their various experiences of the last year or so. To tentatively sketch out conclusions as well as to immediately take action. The first demonstrations and the first ‘upsurges’- came out of an understanding of what methods to use with the German cops, but above all what strategies are used by the various tribes- the British, Italian, French, German, etc. The debate no longer centered around abstract scenarios but rather came out of experiences that were absolutely real.
For some, the riot ended the myth that the German ‘Autonomen’ had disappeared, supposedly gone were the helmeted rebels of the 80’s, while for others, all it took was the impressive cohesion of the ‘German’ bloc and its imposing defensive configuration (that was lacking in many of the other savage teams and who could easily be broken apart from their gaps and holes in their lines). Regardless, they were in the multi hundreds, our German comrades who hadn’t seen such a large masked contingent in a decade. Indisputably there has been a change in what can be a given on the international front between the black bloc and all the various police apparatus’s and those they protect.
What could have possibly caused such a change? If repression (post-911) could have caused in one form or another a reflect rejection of offensive tactics these last few years, how do we understand the sudden determined resurgence? In Europe no less, where the methods of control are being used in ways, that historically, are without precedent? It seems relevant to ask why North America, again, is flailing in its ability to join in this regained enthusiasm for riots?
The last time we went to a ‘black bloc’ demonstration in Canada was a while ago, whether one explicitly called for such in Ottawa during ‘Take the Capital’ (in 2002) or one that implicitly suggested for you to wear black and blend in with your fellow brother and sisters that were pissed off, such as the West mount demonstration in Montreal organized by Clac Logement (may your revival be swift and expedient!) in 2004. Sure there have been the crumbs of riot resistance that have swirled around Canada in the last 6 years-there were punks who smashed some windows after the annual COBP demonstration against police brutality this past March 15th, but there certainly was not an unspoken decision in the minds of anarchists to come together and get angry and use the tactic of ‘striking at the heart of capitalism and making them very scared’, as an impassioned Italian put it during one of the frequent 100+ attended spokes council meetings for autonomist affinity groups. That time has seemed to pass by us, unbeknownst to us as to why. One reason we are assuming, and putting out there is because the discourse has been severed, and the conversations don’t happen because people don’t really believe it is a possibility. Even with the student strike of 2005, nightly barricades at the CEGEP Vieux Montréal and the different blockades and occupations, we cannot recall a premeditated move towards a riot. Burning cars and fighting the cops in Canada? Well there was Queens Park and Quebec City (abit none of us ever called these events Plan Q) but these seem to be distant in memory and out of reach for us to build upon. How do you show, either collectively or individually that capitalism and that the whole system that upholds it is sucking our souls and killing millions of people around the world? The national mythology of Canadians being moral, kind, and above all peaceful people leaves very little room to articulate rage and anger.
After Genoa the perspectives for riots seemed beyond reach for most anti-capitalists around the world. But voilà! a couple years later, with a heavier handed police presence than ever seen before, the movement seems to have refound its abilities to use riots as a tactic. We suggest that the different dispositions in Europe and North America towards the present climate, certainly is impacted by the repression incurred to different forms of organizations.
There is a direct link that must be established between the various modes of organization, the types of relationships we live, and our disposition towards riots.
A riot played out reveals certain types of links which are essential in its mode of operation. The mode of spontaneously organizing into small affinity groups-thus the black bloc being only one possible manifestation- we can find at the heart of each smoky taking over of the streets, whether it be recently in Algeria or in the banlieues of France. No doubt affinity groups (like a gang of friends) never stopped being the central means of organizing aspects of ones daily life for the majority of anarchists in North America, but it seems it has been drained of its content, in terms of a organizational form to launch or elaborate upon a revolutionary strategy. When are we ready to come to terms with the fact that affinity groups don’t really go beyond collective living, leisure time, and for those who are lucky emotional support? Maybe this mode of operation had its strength taken away after the severe blows of repression were given, that were felt by many radicals, creating a condition that got folks favoring models less disposed towards direct confrontation, and more towards organizations and models that are more formal and ‘open’ organizations that have been created after those of the ‘anti glob-militant’ structures in hopes of not getting clobbered. As well, the idealization that often exists towards Assembly structures does not create a disposition for elaborating riot tactics. This reaction within ‘activism’ does not seem to have had the resonance on the continent east of the Atlantic. Maybe it’s from having a longer tradition of autonomous movements, more critiques of radical democracy as well as more mutual aid- cooperative modeled groups (extreme gauche, situationalist).The swift resurgence of black blocs at this recent G8 summit is primarily the result of a strong attempt to reestablish some consistency to the type of relations it functions through, and to give it strength again. It actualizes out of ones point of view towards riots, the war that is being fought and how to fight it. This position requires that one must consider organizing to carry an offensive in the streets that is no longer simply symbolic, to not remain stuck in the standard form of the ‘demonstration’.
Similar to love, a riot can sometimes take us by surprise, when we think we are not prepared, but that if one has an open disposition towards love, like riots, it will allow one to seize the opportunities, and the situations. It would be in vain to say that we can prepare a riot, though we can at least prepare for riots: do what it takes to help ignite the fire.
If the global elites picnics’ continues to be the pretext for meet, greets and confrontations, it seems that there is no longer any possible ambiguity: simple anti-globalization activism is no longer acceptable. One can no longer cling to ‘another world is possible’ but rather must elaborate on ideas and actions for a ‘world that is antagonistic because it wants nothing to do with this destructive system’. No more leftist, hollow indignant demands, but real affirmations. In Québec, we have been feeling this ambiguity from the anarchist movement becoming less blurred. The breakdown of the CLAC is one indicator. We are touching the end of a cycle, and we must find or rediscover forms, and establish new links. We can no longer avoid the questions surrounding taking an offensive position. 2
Recently with blockades in 6 Nations, Tandenagah and Grassy Narrows rightly going up for demands anyone with a basic understanding of colonialism of Turtle Island would view as legitimate, have been of course been portrayed in a racist, non sensical, a-historical barbaric way by the corporate media, and the main stream left by and large continues to be silent on these serious attempts to criticize and curb the on going gobbling of capitalism. There has been a concerted effort by anti-capitalists, radicals and anarchists to develop relationships, links and work in solidarity with these communities but I have not attended a solidarity action where the undercurrent was to take it back and get the establishment more than a little worried.
Plan B(erlin) was the decision to get the heck out of the demobilizing zone of fields and forests that surround Heillingdamm and bring the fight to the city. During the time of the G8 there were 9 helicopters that flew over us at all times, hundreds of tanks, dogs, horses, thousands of police, a jet and an unknown amount of undercover agents that added to the massive fence that made the wall of QC seem like an architecture undergrad class project in comparison. Plan B did not lead to a riot in Hackesche. Markt. But it did lead to the rich tourists, locals and merchants feeling very uncomfortable in this nouveau ultra yuppie area in east Berlin, where only 17 years ago one could find squats and couches to rest on during the on going nightly street parties. Thanks to gentrification one would be hard pressed to realize the rich history of the neighborhood between the now situated Häagen-Daaz shop, Mercedes’ Benz showroom and glitzy clothing stores. Instead of a riot we got a hovering helicopter and hundreds of national and city police. Arguably it would have been a suicide mission to try to ‘start the riot’ as we were practically on a 1:1 ratio of black blockers to cops. And they do have the guns. But from 9pm till 3am, that part of town didn’t have the same ignorant life is beautiful feel of bling bling and consume till you vomit that so many similar upper class neighborhoods around the world carry with them. . No. There was the strong stench of resistance; that this system isn’t working and people are not going to be remain silent. Maybe plan B was not the utopian full scale riot, where the residents and workers came out and ‘the masses’ take to the streets but last night, while watching a little of the old TV, seeing Italian brothers and sisters lighting the match in their city with Bush’s arrival (bravo!) a comrade from Poland let me know that, well, 14 cars burnt on Friday was better than none, a welcomed surprise to me.
There is going to be another student strike in Québec soon. There will be another G8 in Canada in 2010, the same year the Olympics will be in British Colombia. Will radicals and anarchists be talking about organizing riots? Will we be wearing black and linking together to make sure that the police cannot break us and take one of us?
There is still time to reflect, but we can’t hold off forever. The situation is must too critical. New methods are being drawn into our practices, and there are theories and studies that let us peer into the cracks that will be widening soon. In France, what has been heating up, and recently bubbled over could be felt in various texts and actions on a lesser scale beforehand. While not surveying every single new publication, it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to see there is increasing interest in people like long time forgotten Blanqui, an agitator from the XIXth century who was a riot advocator, who has been recently republished with a new preface, bringing new light to his ideas. As well, there is the bestseller, maybe thanks to the sexy title ‘the Insurrection to come’ that people are buying and talking about.
In Québec, the latest expanded version of ‘Les Black Blocs’ by Francis Dupuis-Déri has just been published by Lux Edition, and in Toronto, A.K Thompson will soon publish ‘Black Bloc, White riot: Anti Gloalization and the genealogy of dissent’ both being books that focus their discussion on tactics within the Canadian context. We very much hope these will encourage debate and discussion of strategy and tactics. We say it often, we are living in the belly of the beast. We must ask ourselves what will it take to get angry and fight? If it is not rioting in the streets, what is it? If the time of the black bloc is dead in Canada, what is to replace it? Or are we to let our sisters and brothers in Europe make the rich and the Establishment nervous without us?
Two companer@s from the Calisse Brigade.
June 10th, 2007
‘Maintenant, If faut des armes’, Auguste Blanqui,
Réédité par la Fabrique Éditions, Paris, Févririer 2007
L’insurrection qui vient, par Le Comité Invisible,
La Fabrique Éditions, Paris, Mars 2007
Les Black Blocs’ par Francis Dupuis-Déri
Lux Edition, Montréal, May 2007
‘Black Bloc, White riot: Anti Globalization and the genealogy of dissent’, by AK Thompson
To be published, Toronto, September 200