Subscribe to EIR Online
This article appears in the August 24, 2001 issue of Executive Intelligence Review.

The Black Bloc Tactic

[PDF version of this article]

The message printed on the inside of 9,000 black ski masks distributed at the June 18, 1999 "Carnival Against Capital," which had been called for by People's Global Action (PGA) to vandalize the City of London financial district, read:

"Those in authority fear the mask for their power partly resides in identifying, stamping and cataloguing: in knowing who you are ... our masks are not to conceal our identity but to reveal it.... Today we shall give this resistance a face; for by putting on our masks we reveal our unity; and by raising our voices in the street together, we speak our anger at the facelessness of power."

This "Black Bloc" tactic, which may also include black dress, black helmets, gas masks, padding, steel-toed boots, and sometimes even the equivalent of riot police shields and batons, has been prevalent at every major PGA-linked "global day of action."

At the Nov. 30, 1999 demonstration and terrorism against the World Trade Organization Summit in Seattle, Washington, somewhere between 100 and 300 anarchists and others adopted the "Black Bloc" tactic, carrying a rucksack with a change of clothes, so that after attacking police lines, they could blend back into the crowd of less militant protesters.

However, as the online news service "A-Infos" makes clear in a piece entitled, "Autonomia and the Origin of the Black Bloc," there is nothing new about this tactic, which dates back at least to the May 1968 anarchist barricades in Paris. Soon thereafter, in the "Hot Autumn" of 1969, the Italian Autonomia emerged in what "A-Infos" characterizes as "the rapid proliferation of direct action, strikes, rent strikes, mass squats [of buildings], streetfighting, university occupations and other popularly supported radical actions." With the crackdown against the Autonomia Operaia group in 1979, when Toni Negri and 150 others fled indictment by going underground, the movement spread to what was then West Germany in the early 1980s, as well as to the Netherlands and Switzerland. Especially in West Berlin and Hamburg, vast networks of squatters occupied whole city blocks and built walls around them from which "Black Bloc" members would emerge to battle the police, who sought to evict them.

One notable event in Hamburg occurred in 1986, when police tried to evict a complex of houses occupied by squatters, known as the Hafenstrasse. The police were met with a 10,000-person march (under the banner, "Build Revolutionary Dual Power"), of whom 1,500 people employed the Black Bloc tactic, battling police for 24 hours before the latter went into retreat. The next day, fires were set in 13 department stores, causing $10 million in damage.

Similar tactics were employed in virtual irregular warfare against Germany's nuclear power plants.

More than ten years before Seattle, 80,000 protesters, of whom many used the Black Bloc tactic, mobilized against a meeting of the International Monetary Fund-World Bank in Berlin in 1988.

In an August 2000 public critique of the eruptions in Seattle and elsewhere, written by the Canadian Security & Intelligence Service in preparation for the Quebec City Third Summit of the Americas, the agency notes: "Circumstances also have promoted the involvement of fringe extremists who espouse violence, largely represented by Black Bloc anarchists.... Extremists currently achieving the most notoriety are among anarchists and members of the Third Position.... The Black Bloc is a loosely organized cluster of anarchist affinity groups and individuals, estimated in North America to number a few hundred, who come together to participate in protests and demonstrations. The Third Position, largely a European phenomenon but spreading rapidly to the U.S.A., is a curious mixture of extreme Left and Right political motivations which include the use of violent means of protest."

The International Third Position (, originally based in England, is truly a strange hybrid. Both the British and the American branches are presently involved in a campaign to stop German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder from using the Constitutional Court to ban the neo-fascist National Democratic Party (NPD) of Germany. The two main ideologues of the International Third Position are G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc, who were the feudalist Catholic leaders of a movement in the 1930s known as the "Distributists," who allied themselves at that time with the pro-Confederate Nashville Agrarians. The "Distributists," who initially praised Adolf Hitler, tried to reorganize the economy under medieval craft guilds, which is essentially the outlook of Edward "Teddy" Goldsmith, who has his own fascist ties. (See EIR Aug. 3, 2001, "How the `Lost Corpse' Buried America's Intellectual Tradition," by Stanley Ezrol.)

NEXT: The World Social Forum

Back to top