Version 4.2 - January 31, 2004
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a Black Bloc?
A black bloc is a collection of anarchists and anarchist affinity groups that organize together for a particular protest action.The flavor of the black bloc changes from action to action, but the main goals are to provide solidarity in the face of a repressive police state and to convey an anarchist critique of whatever is being protested that day.
Is the black bloc an organization?
The black bloc is a TACTIC, not a group or organization. Just like there cannot by the "Civil Disobedience Group," neither can the black bloc be an organization. Some people are under the mistaken impression that one can join the "black bloc organization." There is no standing black bloc organization between protests. There is the anarchist movement which always exists (and has been around for over a century). You can think of the black bloc as just a temporary collection of anarchists that represent a contingent in a protest march. The black bloc is a tactic, similar to civil disobedience.
Why a black bloc?
There are several reasons why some anarchists do black blocs at demos. These reasons include: 1) solidarity - a massive number of anarchists provides cover against police repression and it demonstrates the principles of working class solidarity; 2) visibility - the black bloc as gay pride march; 3) ideas - a way to present an anarchist critique of the protest du jour; 4) mutual aid and free association - provides a visual example of how affinity groups can come together in a larger group and articulate common goals; and 5) escalation - a method for ratcheting up a protest so that it goes beyond mere reformism and appeals to the state to remedy injustice.
Does the black bloc promote violence?
Again, the black bloc is a tactic used at major protest actions. The tactics used by a given black bloc are decided by those in the bloc. There isn't always agreement within the bloc about tactics, but there is tolerance of different tactics.
Why do black blocs attack the police?
During your typical street demonstration, the police inevitably show up and start causing problems. People might be exercising their rights to march down the street, or they might be hanging out in front of some building, but the cops can be counted on to show up and start causing problems. When you see violence in the streets during protests coming from protesters, most of the time this is in response to police violence. The police have attacked numerous black blocs without provocation and some participants in these black blocs have opted to fight back.
Secondly, because the police are in the way. While most anarchists oppose police brutality and seek an end to policing and prisons, our main targets are the rich and powerful. Since the police are the violent face of capitalism--in other words, the guard dogs for the rich--they are on the frontlines when the anarchists show up to pursue our class war against the rich.
Does one have to wear black to be in a black bloc?
No. Black is the color of anarchism, which is one reason it is called the "black" bloc. Anarchists wear black to dramatize the color of our politics. Black is also worn during street demonstrations because it helps provide anonymity. With the terrorist police forces videotaping and recording every protest, the only way some of us can participate is to wear black, including the black masks.
Isn't the black bloc just a bunch of young hooligans?
Black blocs have been comprised of people of many different ages. While participants in black blocs tend to be young--reflecting the demographic of most protesters--there have been quite a few people over the age of 30 in black blocs. There have been reports of black bloc participants who are in their 50s and 60s.
When people accuse the black bloc of being "young hooligans" they are engaging in ageism and in the process of marginalizing people because they choose to engage in a tactic that sometimes involves property destruction and violence. A few activists can't accept the fact that other activists actually do engage in property destruction. Dismissing the black bloc as "young hooligans" is a feeble attempt to deny the agency and politics of those that engage in black bloc tactics. The unstated assumption in this accusation is that those who are engaged in the black bloc "are going through a phase they they will grow out of."
Do all black blocs do property destruction?
It depends. The black bloc that marched in Seattle during the N30 anti-WTO protests is the one that put black blocs on the international radar. They engaged in a variety of activites, including property destruction.This was not mindless and adolescent vandalism--it was done for political reasons. By the way, not all members of the N30 black bloc were from Eugene Oregon. If you have more questions about anarchists at the Seattle protests, see our special FAQ.
Why do black bloc members wear masks?
Anarchists using the black bloc tactic wear masks for many reasons. The main one is the fact that the police videotape activists for their "Red" files. The police do this surveillance and information-gathering to frighten moderate activists from participation in protests and social struggle. The police do this even when there are laws against it (see red squads). Masks promote anonymity and egalitarianism. Instead of a "leader" yelling instructions to a protest group via a megaphone, those in the bloc make decisions among themselves. They also protect the identities of those who want to engage in illegal acts and escape to fight another day. Finally, as Subcommandante Marcos once wrote: "There are some black bloc anarchists who don't wear masks during blocs. These are usually the folks who are "out of the closet," so to speak.
What are some typical black bloc tactics?
Tactics vary from black bloc to black bloc. Some common ones include unarresting and arm-linking. Unarresting is where the bloc frees people who don't want to be arrested. This usually works if you outnumber the cops. It also works because most cops are shocked that activists would try and free someone. Arm linking, or locking, helps a bloc maintain cohesion and makes it harder for the police to disperse members. It's kind of like a police formation, although more fluid and organic.
Where do black blocs come from?
The black bloc tactic originated in Germany during the 1980s. It was a term coined by the police to describe the militant squatter youth and Autonomen who fought them in the streets. The first black bloc in North America was organized for the Gulf War protests (1991).
What are some examples of past black blocs in North America?
The black bloc wasn't invented in Seattle in 1999. There have been numerous black blocs at demos throughout the 1990s. One of the biggest was the 1999 black bloc at Millions4Mumia in Philadelphia, which numbered around 1500-2000. This was a good example of a nonviolent black bloc whose purpose on that day was to show solidarity for Mumia Abu-Jamal and to remind the Leftists in the movement that they shouldn't take us for granted (in fact several post-M4M articles in the Left press completely ignored the anarchist presence at Millions 4 Mumia).
A brief listing of notable black blocs
- 1992- Washington, DC - Black bloc during anti-Gulf War Protest. Windows of World Bank smashed.
- 1992 - San Francisco - Columbus Day - BB marches to protest 500 years of First Nations genocide.
- 1999 - April 24 - Philadelphia - 1500-2000 anarchists march in black bloc during Millions 4 Mumia march.
- 1999 - November 30 - Seattle - Black Bloc engages in some "anarchist shopping" in downtown business district
- 2000 - April 16 & 17 - Revolutionary Anti-Capitalist Bloc (RACB) at the A16 anti-IMF/World Bank protests in Washington, DC. Around 700-1000 participated on A16
- 2000 - May Day (May 1) - Black blocs in New York City, Chicago, and Portland, Oregon. The New York black bloc takes several pre-emptive arrests.
- 2000 - August 1 - Philadelphia - Street actions during GOP convention
Wasn't the black bloc at the 2001 G8 protests in Genoa, Italy, organized by the police?
Anarchists from around the world organized and participated in black blocs at the 2001 G8 protests in Genoa, Italy. However, the Italian police also organized a fake black bloc using undercover police officers and neo-fascists from around Europe. These fake black blocs attacked other protesters, set cars on fire, and vandalized small businesses. It is suspected that the police organized these fake blocs to drive a wedge between moderate and militant protesters. Another goal may have been to demonize anarchists as "terrorists" in the eyes of the general public.
What are some common anarchist criticisms of the black bloc?
For starters, check out Jim Bray's (Working)Start of Critique of Black Bloc Technique.
Do you have more pictures?
Yes, click here.
I'm a journalist who would like to talk to anarchists. Who can I contact?
Please contact us.
"The Subversion of Politics: European Autonomous Social Movements and the Decolonization of Everyday Life" by George Katsiaficas (Humanities International Press).
- A few notes about the RACB
- Anarchist Black Bloc Press Release
- Anarchist! Get Organized!
- Jim Bray replies to Chuck0
Go to main Black Bloc page