A look at the shadowy “Black Bloc” radicals who protest capitalism by rampaging violently – in a city near you.
Last Tuesday, an army of left-wing radicals descended, in a violent May Day rampage, upon the city of Seattle. They smashed shop windows, vandalized banks, and even carried out a number of unprovoked assaults on innocent people who were sitting in their cars. So bad was the chaos, that Seattle mayor Mike McGinn went on television and announced that he would use his emergency powers to expand police authority to subdue the “anarchist or Black Bloc type individuals” who were now infesting his city, just as they have previously infested other cities in the U.S. and Europe.
Who exactly are these “Black Bloc” individuals cited by Mayor McGinn? Black Bloc is not an organization, but rather a protest tactic employed by anti-capitalists and anarchists. Clad in black helmets, black ski masks, and black garments to conceal their faces and whatever distinctive clothing they may be wearing underneath their dark coverings, Black Bloc radicals make their presence felt by participating in all manner of left-wing demonstrations against free-market capitalism and Western culture; they generally are far outnumbered by fellow protesters who, while likeminded, are more traditionally attired. Because the Black Blockers so carefully hide their identities, they are often able to engage in criminal behavior—most notably property destruction—with impunity. In instances where they are pursued by police—whom they contemptuously regard as nothing more than “guard dogs for the rich”—fleeing Black Bloc protesters typically shed their dark coverings and blend into the crowd.
The animating core belief of Black Block, as explained in the Green Mountain Anarchist Collective's Black Bloc Papers, is that “private property—and capitalism, by extension—is intrinsically violent and repressive and cannot be reformed or mitigated.” Lamenting “all the violence committed in the name of private property rights,” the document charges that “corporate private property” in particular “is itself infinitely more violent than any action taken against it.” By this logic, the destruction of a storefront window can be redefined and justified as the laudable creation of “a vent to let some fresh air into the oppressive atmosphere of a retail outlet.”
The origins of Black Bloc can be traced back to about 1980 in West Germany, where black-masked countercultural radicals calling themselves “Autonomen” (Autonomists) demonstrated against such despised targets as Western popular culture, conservatism, patriarchy, traditional gender roles, nuclear energy, and capitalist “greed.” They channeled their efforts chiefly toward the destruction of property belonging to corporations and financial institutions, because of their significance as symbols of capitalism.
In June 1987 a contingent of some 3,000 Black Bloc demonstrators were among the 50,000+ marchers who swarmed the streets of Berlin to condemn the policies of the conservative, pro-capitalist U.S. President, Ronald Reagan, who was visiting the city at that time. Berlin was again the scene of Black Bloc tactics fifteen months later, when demonstrators protested against the World Bank and International Monetary Fund meetings which were being held there.
The first organized Black Bloc initiative in North America took place on October 17, 1988, when a relatively small number of black-clad protesters were among the 1,000+ demonstrators who convened outside the Pentagon to demand an end to U.S. intervention in the El Salvadoran civil war; the rally was organized by the communist Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador.
On Earth Day in 1990, Black Bloc militants were among a crowd of some 2,000 demonstrators who gathered on Wall Street in New York City to protest the allegedly anti-environmental practices of major American corporations. The protesters' goal, as one supporter put it, was “to shut down business-as-usual in the heart of the capitalist beast.”
When the first Gulf War began in January 1991, several hundred Black Bloc demonstrators participated in a massive anti-war rally in Washington, DC. At a certain point, the Black Blockers broke away from the main hub of the protest and proceeded to smash windows at both the Treasury Department and the World Bank, to drive home the idea that “imperialist wars” are underwritten by “capitalist institutions.”
Embracing the premise that Western culture and its promoters are irredeemably evil to their core, Black Bloc demonstrators in 1992 marked the 500-year anniversary of Christopher Columbus' arrival in the New World by denouncing, in numerous cities nationwide, the “five centuries of genocide” that Europeans and their descendants had brought to the Americas.
And because every anti-capitalist movement needs its Marxist heroes, Mumia Abu Jamal has become a revered figure in Black Bloc circles. In 1999, some 800 to 1,200 Black Bloc activists took part in Millions 4 Mumia, a massive Philadelphia rally in support of the convicted cop-killer and former Black Panther.
At the 1999 anti-World Trade Organization (WTO) riots in Seattle, a contingent of Black Bloc anarchists trashed the storefronts of multinational corporations and helped force the WTO meetings to collapse. As one supporter puts it, the Black Bloc struck a blow against “the insulting and deadly march of corporate power,” as embodied by “irresponsible, money-starved vampire [capitalist] organizations who feed themselves by the selling and trade of increasingly trivial and noxious products.” Four years later in Cancun, Mexico, Black Bloc demonstrators played a role in forcing yet another round of WTO talks to break down.
Given the similarities between the worldviews of Black Block and Occupy Wall Street (OWS), it is not at all surprising that a number of Black Blockers have found a home in the Occupy movement—prompting some OWSers to complain that Black Block's destructive tactics may tarnish Occupy's reputation. In light of OWS's well-documented history of objectionable and criminal activity—as evidenced by the thousands of arrests which have been made at Occupy sites nationwide—that complaint is laughable. Black Block and Occupy Wall Street are merely two sides of the same socialist coin.
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