Black bloc interview: 'Only actions count now'

Two participants in the black bloc protest at Saturday's anti-cuts rally tell the Guardian why they're the true face of protest

"Meet us outside the British Library. That seems appropriate." I'm due to interview two men in their late 20s who were part of the "black bloc" direct action wing of last Saturday's anti-cuts protest. We'd originally agreed to meet at a bar in King's Cross, but they tell me later it was "too media" for their security concerns.

I conduct an interview of sorts, but they are reluctant to tell me much about themselves other than that one is a "low-paid public sector worker". In any case, they have come armed with handwritten answers to questions they have posed to themselves. Anarchists like to be in control. I agree to edit those answers for length, then show them the edited version. Their "self-interview" appears below. I never do learn their names.

The media, police and other sections of the left have called the black bloc "criminals", "hooligans" and "cowards". How do you respond?

In the legal sense, those who damage property or fight the police have committed crimes, so yes they are criminals. But in everyday language, a criminal is someone who lives by criminal means. We saw plenty of nurses, education workers, tech workers, unemployed workers, students, campaigners and charity workers on the bloc on Saturday, but we didn't see any criminals.

As for being hooligans or cowards, the black bloc formation is used for tactical purposes. We aren't trying to be "hard" or to give ourselves a thrill. We are trying to give uncompromising opposition to capitalism an appropriate image on the streets – and not end up in jail. True cowardice would be not fighting an economic system that wants to destroy us.

The black bloc is not a group or organisation; it's something that happens on marches or actions. It's not pre-planned; it relies on people turning up with the same ideas and clothes. That is why there is a "uniform": people who want to take direct action and resist containment arrive on the day in black and identify people with the same ideas this way.

We had no idea of the numbers before the event on Saturday, and no idea it would be so radical in its actions. The black bloc idea spread like a ripple through the march. As people saw others in black, they changed into black themselves. Some marchers even left the protest to buy black clothing.

Is it not fair to say you hijacked the TUC march?

No. To hijack it would have meant taking the front of the march and leading it away. What happened was that thousands of marchers left of their own accord to support our direct action and do some of their own. The black bloc largely avoided the march route, only dropping into it twice, briefly. We support the other marchers who didn't take direct action, just like many of them supported us.

Don't you think the violence has invalidated your message?

Our only collective points were the promotion of a confrontational attitude and the use of symbolic direct action to show that direct action in the wider society was both valid and possible, and that there is a radical movement in this country that's going to put up a fight. We made these points. Anyway, you cannot be "violent" to property. The police chose to attack and arrest people in their defence of property, and got themselves hurt in the attempt. If they had acted rationally, and decided a cracked window was not worth a protester's cracked skull, they would have been fine.

Is the black bloc a reaction to police heavy-handedness?

We don't do "good cops" versus "bad cops"; whether they smile or snarl while they do it, their primary function is to defend the rule of the wealthy. We do not want the police to control us "more justly" in the interests of capitalism. We want them to stand back for a just society to be created. If they don't, they have picked their side, and they will have to be opposed.

Was the bloc anarchist?

From the red and black flags in the crowd it seemed to be, but there is nothing inherently anarchist about masking up. By the evening thousands of people had left Hyde Park and were taking action all over central London; the open class warfare of the cuts has convinced far more than the UK's minority of radicals that only actions count.

Do you consider the black bloc to be the most radical part of the new movement?

No. Occupations of universities and town halls are far more important, and this is where the anti-cuts movement has been heading. To develop, it needs to spread into workplaces next. The black bloc tactic was appropriate to give the day a confrontational edge, and to target the real enemies: the rich. The aim was to make people realise this is not an abstract struggle between "the economy" and us, but between a group of super-rich exploiters and those they are exploiting – the workers.

There is now talk of a "mask law" in response to Saturday's action. Don't you feel responsible for that?

Introducing a mask law would be a serious misjudgment. Already we've seen how the tactic of kettling has backfired on the police, creating a desire among the crowd to be mobile and in effect unpoliceable. A mask law would probably just make more people wear masks. If last Saturday is anything to go by, they already are.
Guardian

Comments

Jacques Roux
Mar 31 2011 15:42

Not bad.

KriegPhilosophy
Mar 31 2011 19:14

Brilliant.

just saw the comments liberals and conservatives are some of the most backward thinking people I have so-far ever come across.

Harrison
Mar 31 2011 20:54
KriegPhilosophy wrote:
just saw the comments liberals and conservatives are some of the most backward thinking people I have so-far ever come across.

i made the mistake of reading them too. seems you just can't argue with the home owning petit-bourgeois

wojtek
Apr 1 2011 03:17

Good interview! Maybe I'm pidgeon-holing readerships here, but would it not have been better to give an interview to the Daily Mirror rather than the Guardian?

Steven.
Apr 1 2011 17:07

It was only in comment is free - I doubt that many print journalists would let people write up an interview themselves wholesale

Khawaga
Apr 1 2011 17:24

Excellent.

axiom
Apr 2 2011 21:45

'Paint bombs and smoke grenades obstructed the work of various FIT teams who tailed the bloc, which had swelled until it made up a sea of red and black flags.'

'The Porsche centre in Mayfair was the last to fall, as the mob reached Hyde Park and was finally confronted by large numbers of knuckle-dragging TSG, drooling at the prospect of not having to engage asymmetrically, on unfavourable territory filled with bystanders. The terrible wave of black masked militants finally broke and scattered in every direction.'

'All afternoon the West End was ours.'

'We may have shaken the enclaves of the wealthy to their foundations but we have not dealt them their final hand.'

Whitchapel Anarchist Group offer us a lovely nosh-up:

*Starter of exaggeration*
*Followed by a large helping of poetic license*
*Next a spicy plate of hype*
*All washed down with...hot air.*

Surely — if revolutionaries are ever going to be able to connect with other workers — we need to cut the crap.

I personally think that this also applies to the weak statement made by the two representatives (?) of the Black Bloc.
(Also, isn't the name Black Bloc a label that the German media came up with?)

Yorkie Bar
Apr 2 2011 22:39
raw
Apr 3 2011 17:59

Over 1,100 comments and the most viewed ever guardian CiF piece. Not bad.

Chilli Sauce
Apr 4 2011 19:22

No shit!?! Wow.

rat
Apr 6 2011 17:31

I think that when representatives step forward — the process of mediation and recuperation begins.
As some French character once said...'This world tries to bring even the most radical of gestures under it's wing'.

In the near future, it is possible that black bloc advocates could call press conferences.

Harrison
Apr 6 2011 18:07
yearzero wrote:
I think that when representatives step forward — the process of mediation and recuperation begins.
As some French character once said...'This world tries to bring even the most radical of gestures under it's wing'.

In the near future, it is possible that black bloc advocates could call press conferences.

totally agree. then they can package the message however they like, because we have given them legitimacy as an information source by speaking to them.

rat
Apr 7 2011 20:20

'The media, police and other sections of the left'

What does this mean? Are the media and police sections of the left? Or do they mean other sections of the Left — other than themselves?

It's a mystery to me and will no doubt remain so forever...

piper65
Apr 8 2011 20:50

Hello, I've been reading libcom for some time now but never bothered to comment before.

As a far away observer:

Why suddenly such a a great media attention to the black bloc phenomena?
Why now and not before?
What's the meaning of this?

And I also remembered something I read a while ago:
an article by the S.I

Some highlights of the text:

Quote:
Reactions from all sides were most revealing: a revolutionary event, by bringing existing problems into the open, provokes its opponents into an inhabitual lucidity. Police Chief William Parker, for example, rejected all the major black organizations’ offers of mediation, correctly asserting: “These rioters don’t have any leaders.” Since the blacks no longer had any leaders, it was the moment of truth for both sides.
Quote:
Governor Wallace and Martin Luther King led the Selma marchers on March 10 to stand back at the first police warning, in dignity and prayer. The confrontation expected by the demonstrators was reduced to a mere spectacle of a potential confrontation. In that moment nonviolence reached the pitiful limit of its courage: first you expose yourself to the enemy’s blows, then you push your moral nobility to the point of sparing him the trouble of using any more force. But the main point is that the civil rights movement only addressed legal problems by legal means. It is logical to make legal appeals regarding legal questions. What is irrational is to appeal legally against a blatant illegality as if it was a mere oversight that would be corrected if pointed out.
Quote:
The looting of the Watts district was the most direct realization of the distorted principle: “To each according to their false needs” — needs determined and produced by the economic system which the very act of looting rejects. But once the vaunted abundance is taken at face value and directly seized, instead of being eternally pursued in the rat-race of alienated labor and increasing unmet social needs, real desires begin to be expressed in festive celebration, in playful self-assertion, in the potlatch of destruction. People who destroy commodities show their human superiority over commodities. They stop submitting to the arbitrary forms that distortedly reflect their real needs. The flames of Watts consummated the system of consumption.

The text talks about something different from what's has been happening in London but things cannot be considered in isolation either. It's necessary to put things in a larger context and remember a little history. One should not let oneself get carried away by bullshit debates.

I'd rather see my city become watts any day and burnt down to ashes than living "peacefully" all my life.

The fight against the cuts should rediscover its roots in the broad workers movement history and extend itself or it will die. It seems to be just an opportunity for now, real action has yet to begin

"never in Europe have the forces of repression been so weakened, yet never have the exploited masses been so passive." (Raoul Vaneigem, 2009)

Something that should be done is raise awareness of the systemic nature of the problems and reveal it as something, not raising from circumstances, but from the nature of the system.
Fight against the self-righteous position that the unions and representatives have taken in front of this media phenomena. They talk as if "their" work has been hijacked and "their" message has been drowned. But they have done a nice job using this in their advantage posing as the only and the right representatives of the worker class, something which history has disproved (remember '68?)

I may be way off with this, I don't know.

I look forward to see what develops out of this, and I hope something happens that brings some truth out. Let's see where do the unions stand in front of the possibility of a general strike in the future.

and remeber to live without dead time.

rat
Apr 9 2011 10:44

The next stage in the process of institutionalisation — the fashion shoot.

The Evening Standard:

‘The man calling himself an anarchist organiser spoke to the Standard on condition of anonymity. The father of two proudly displayed the contents of the backpack he says he takes on violent protests. It contained a masonry hammer for smashing plate glass and reinforced windows, a catapult for firing steel ball-bearings at windows and police horses, and an S10 British Army-issue gas mask.

The activist said he always carries high-impact protective sunglasses, a helmet, head-torch and surgical gloves. He revealed that anarchists often carry extra Sim cards and pay-as-you-go phones to avoid detection.’

tomparcelbomb
Apr 12 2011 00:37
piper65 wrote:
Something that should be done is raise awareness of the systemic nature of the problems and reveal it as something, not raising from circumstances, but from the nature of the system.
Fight against the self-righteous position that the unions and representatives have taken in front of this media phenomena. They talk as if "their" work has been hijacked and "their" message has been drowned. But they have done a nice job using this in their advantage posing as the only and the right representatives of the worker class, something which history has disproved (remember '68?)

I may be way off with this, I don't know.

I wrote:
NO. You are not way off. You are bang on with that one. I talked to people on the 26th March, and I found them confused as to what they were angry about. Although, angry they were. I have also argued with Tories. I am homing my skills of analysing the intricacies of international finance, and they always conclude with the abolition of capital. When people take part in any anti-cuts action, we need to be able to put the bigger picture in to laymans speak. We need to be able to point out why and how the cuts aren't inevitable, and they are ideological. The TUC argument, and strategy are wrong, and we can argue that at grassroots.
Shorty
Apr 13 2011 16:49