Tuesday, 29 March 2011

The Black Bloc: A Modern Guerrilla

Firstly, I would like to point out that I am aware the black bloc is not a group or movement itself but a tactic used by a lose number of groups. For a good guide see Dan’s explanation. I also don’t wish to give the impression that black bloc tactics and actions have been carefully thought through and organised to achieve the effect they have.

Much has already been written about the events that transpired on Saturday’s March for the Alternative. However, what I have found lacking is an analysis of the motivations and tactics of the parties involved. The black bloc tactic sits perfectly within the modern age, making it surprisingly effective which, in turn has inevitably distracted attention from the rest of the anti-cuts movement and has damaged the effect of peaceful protest (as a result partly of police action).

Attending the march on Saturday and seeing it all play out I was shocked at the surreal nature of the interplay between the police, the media and the black bloc. The bloc tactics seemed surprising at first. By wearing full black and covering their faces from the outset the “trouble makers” were easily identifiable even before any action was taken. They were setting off bangers and smoke grenades before the first attacks on Santander and the Ritz. They were also always in groups the largest of which I saw numbered around 80 again, before any damage occurred (which is larger than most of the media footage displays largely due to the fact that they split into smaller groups later). Looking at the figures it would appear that these tactics were futile in resisting arrest. The police charged 149 people with a range of crimes due to civil disobedience on Saturday which is a significant number.

This number however includes the arrest and charging of 138 peaceful UK Uncut protesters at the Fortnum and Masons sit in. Therefore, only 11 other arrests were made. There have only been two charges of violent conduct made. The truth then is this, if you want to be involved in direct action using black bloc tactics and destroying property is less likely to get you arrested than a peaceful occupation. It’s clear that the police saw the Fortnum and Masons occupation as a honeypot of chargeable offenders that they could add to their very small arrest list.

Whilst the block bloc are clearly identifiable as outlined above they are not arrestable by police. You can’t arrest someone for wearing black. It's also difficult to arrest one person who has committed a crime after they have run back into a crowd of people identical to themselves. This exploits the media who are able to quickly spot and shoot trouble.

Look at any of the videos of damage on Saturday and you will notice that people with cameras and on lookers vastly outnumber the bloc. In the now famous “I’m a cop!” video you can’t help notice that of the 4 people in the bank 2 are journalists. Notice how many people are surrounding those pushing the bin through the front doors and how they are just standing watching and filming. Also notice how no one was arrested.

This is why they were so effective. Relatively small groups of 10-20 were free to roam independently causing damage unopposed. Once the police arrive their first priority is to stop the damage. Once this is done the group has already moved on, hit and run style. Only 11 police officers were treated for injuries on Saturday which shows the bloc’s aversion to direct contact.

The attack on the Ritz was stopped by about 6 police men just standing together even though they were vastly outnumbered. The result of these tactics is that the media gain a ton of footage and the bloc members aren't arrested and are free to go home and watch themselves on TV.

The media are already hooked on the bloc and after having run out of news are now reporting that the Royal wedding is the next target. Such an assertion fundamentally misunderstands the tactic since the Royal Wedding will be centred in a set of defendable locations surrounded by pro royal onlookers. However, the bloc could attack the same targets as on Saturday which will be completely undefended since the police will be elsewhere.

Do these attacks help further promote an anti-cuts/anti-government message? In all of the coverage I have seen on the attack on Topshop the fact that Philip Green dodged £285 million in tax is mentioned as a motive. Did the peaceful sit in by UK Uncut in that store in November get the same exposure? No. Will anyone reading an article focus on the damage of the tax dodge or the damage done to a number of buildings in London? If I was to burn down a whole hospital I would be unlikely to clock up £285 million worth of damage.

Would the march alone have gained as much coverage? Does the attention attained from this coverage help or hinder the anti-cuts movement? I am unsure. What I do know is that the bloc’s success promoted by the media and the police targeting of peaceful activists has left peaceful protesters the victims on Saturday.

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