Dissent from a distance – musings on the future of the British Black Bloc.

Watching last weekend’s events from afar was a strange position to be in.  For all that I wouldn’t swap my current geographical position for anywhere in the world I did feel, for one day at least, that I was somehow not where I was supposed to be.  Nablus, Palestine continues to fascinate, excite and educate me on a daily basis but on the 26th March I was once again cursing mankind’s failure to develop the technology to allow me to easily, cheaply and instantaneously be transported to anywhere on earth.  My head was sat in an office in the West Bank, my heart was wearing a black hoodie and a mask on Oxford Street.  I may not have been able to take to the streets of London as I wished but thanks to the wonders of the internet I was able to receive regular updates from those that could.  I felt proud of the enormous numbers, I cheered when UKuncut shut down every tax dodging shop in Central London, and yes, I unashamedly smiled at every paint bomb and broken window.

For those that know me, which let’s face it is all of you, you’ll be aware that I not only condone direct action but see it as an essential and valid part of any protest movement in the tradition of great socially conscious warriors of the past.  Of course, the subsequent media coverage was to be expected.  I think most people who’ve had the misfortune of dealing with the police, the media and public opinion from the wrong side of any kind of public order situation, be it a football match or a riot, by now are well aware of the prejudices, injustices and falsehoods that they will have to contend with on a regular basis.

But what struck me most in the reaction to Saturday’s events was the words of so many who had been on the TUC organised march.  Their assertions that their peaceful demo had somehow been hijacked by other groups and their disgust that the world’s focus wasn’t on them.  Now, I realise that such huge numbers (somewhere between 250 and 500 thousand depending on whose figures you believe) are naturally going to throw together a fairly broad demographic of attendees and this means that some of them are going to arrive ill informed, others are going to be the kind of peacenik pacifists who think that a world of no conflict is somehow easily achieved by simply submitting to all authority and for many it was their first event of this kind and they may have taken the media reports as gospel.  This is no bad thing.  That the TUC managed to get such huge numbers, from such a huge variety of backgrounds, out to take a stand against the government’s ideologically driven austerity package is a fantastic achievement.  It’s a beautiful thing to see people in England coming together for something and genuinely heart warming to see such a sense of community.  David Cameron’s big society is starting to build, it seems, though possibly not in the way he envisioned!

What needs to be addressed is how to bring the two parts of the movement together.  Unity is strength and as the old saying goes “fluffies and spikies together”.  A good part of this is undoubtedly achievable by simply creating a dialogue through which the concept can be highlighted to those who wish only to take part in the lawful march-and-sing type demonstrations.  Explanations and reassurances offered.  Yes, some of us believe direct action is an important part of creating change.  No we are not attempting to hijack your event, in fact we stand in solidarity with it.  We stand shoulder to shoulder with you in your fight and far from condemning your peaceful march, we see our actions as complementing it.  We are, together, the face of an angry nation, a people willing to do everything in our power to change our own futures.

But part of achieving this unity is also to look at the black bloc’s own tactics.  Historically the black bloc was a group of anarchists, anarcho-communists and activists who would attend more traditional marches, like the TUC march on Saturday, and counter the inevitable police brutality with disciplined, organised forceful resistance.  That affinity with the demonstrating majority has been somewhat lost over the years.  Perhaps it is time to reclaim and reinvent it.

Being black bloc means more to me than spraypainting walls and smashing windows.  It means being part of a movement and identifying yourself as someone who is willing to fight for it, literally street fight if required.  Of course the loose, informal nature of something that cannot even be described as an organisation leads to some form of natural indiscipline but with the ease of information sharing online there is no reason why the black bloc can’t act as a tactically organised body capable of quick, consensus based decision making, able to act in solidarity with other demonstrators in these situations.

When UKuncut wanted to occupy Topshop for a peaceful sit in protest, why were the police and security protecting the building not confronted with a tight unit of darkly clad, anonymous fighters willing to find a way in, safely escort the occupiers inside and keep the police busy while the store became transformed into a centre of resistance?  And why, when peaceful, if boisterous, protesters were kettled and attacked in Trafalgar square, were those protestors not able to rely on the solidarity of an organised bloc of police line-smashing activists forcing their way through the ugly sea of glow in the dark yellow and offering them a route to freedom.  Instead, the bloc disintegrated into a chaotic series of individually autonomous actions, each arguably valid, but none with the same impact as largescale resistance and every one of them easily manipulated by a mainstream media eager to apportion blame and misuse the word “anarchist” at every opportunity.  If fluffies and spikies are to work together, perhaps we should make an effort to show the fluffies we’re on their side.

Perhaps I shouldn’t judge events I didn’t witness, perhaps my geographical distance removes validity from my message but this is a suggestion based on more than just Saturday’s protest watching.  In order to affect change, resistance requires unity.


Published by: chubbywordsmith

32 year old nerd. Areas of nerdery: Global Development, International Relations (especially MENA, South and South east Asia), Political Economy/Macroeconomics. Lived/Worked in Palestine, Libya amongst other places. Works for an INGO focussing on peacebuilding and conflict issues. Loves Manchester United more than is healthy. @anarchasm

Categories Political rant3 Comments

3 thoughts on “Dissent from a distance – musings on the future of the British Black Bloc.”

  1. TBH we could have done without the Black Bloc. They may have had some kind of ethos back in the day but now they seem like a bunch of kids smashing shit up for the sake of it.
    Those sort of shenanigans aren’t going to win hearts and minds and it certainly didn’t impress me.

    Maybe if they didn’t something constructive and clever inside of waltzing around like a bunch of chavs looking for a fight I would stand with them but right now they aren’t needed.

  2. Because organisation is hard, and tactics are difficult, and getting people to work together is a little bit too much like taking orders for some of them.

    Not that I know, but I think most of the BB guys are more angry than thoughtful, and I don’t think there’s much communication between them. You can win a fight on rage but you can’t win a war.

  3. Great post Ben! I think BB is definitely needed. In country where people are manipulated to think they are in some sort of apathetic oblivion, presence of BB and looming threat of disorder would make them aware of their own capabilities to intervene in politics.

    I’m not an anarchist, but I do crave massive disorder and crisis. There is a social need for it. People do not have any obligation to win anybody’s fucking heart. It is certainly not about making an impression either. If anything, its the ruling class that should care about ‘winning hearts’ and ‘making a good impression’.

    BTW, I’m intrigued by your choice of a particular juxtaposition: ‘we’ and ‘angry nation’.

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