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Thoughts on the anonymous communiqué from members of the Black Bloc

by Andrew Loewen 2010 Olympics

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As I read this defense, I can't discern an explicit strategic justification for the actions taken by the black bloc on Saturday morning, much less of how such action is likely to be represented and recuperated within the dominant (media) discourse. There is merely a tacit appeal to an arguably fetishized "autonomous direct action." Part of the argumentative appeal in this communique is to the "courage" of heroic (if anonymous) individuals, who come together in solidarity (at significant physical and legal/juridical risk to themselves) to take the all-important "direct action."

What is strange, however, is that in terms of direct harm to the corporations, smashing (insured) windows and knocking over newspaper boxes is of absolutely no consequence whatsoever. If there is any value in such "direct action" it as at the level of the symbolic, of the images and contexts in which representations of the actions circulate, not in their immediate material effects. But how symbolic acts are interpreted is largely a function of the dominant ideologies of an age (particularly as manifest in media). A key question then, is whether a particular symbolic act (always mediated except for those present at the event) has the power to puncture the dominant ideology, to somehow point to the unspoken but necessary contradictions of the object or system under critique or attack (in this case the divide between Olympic propaganda and the reality of the Olympics' devastating impact on communities, the poor and marginalized (Housing), indigenous rights, social services, the environment, democratic transparency and accountability, artistic freedom, and the commons most generally).

The authors of this communique recognize the importance of holding up a mirror to the system when they contrast the black bloc's minor incursions on corporate private property to the indefensible systemic violence (against people and the earth) of corporate capitalism itself.

If I were to offer a critique of this communique then, it would be that in a feat of uncanny ignorance of its own, it pretends not to have known how the mainstream media (and more diffusely the dominant ideology) might recuperate such "rioting" into the hegemonic liberal democratic discourse, which can generally accommodate peaceful "free speech" and deliberation, but not militant, embodied confrontation (especially when the action is of no material effect). Meanwhile, CTV, CBC and the other corporate media inevitably broadcast some earnest schmuck with a microphone standing outside Hudson's Bay, quoting security officials about "reckless," "criminal elements," and a huge share of the public have their reactionary biases confirmed about any and all resistance to the Olympics. Virtually nobody but anarchist, anti-capitalist sympathizers reads a communique like this, meanwhile. The relation between the audience of a major news network's coverage of the black bloc's actions and the make-up of the readers of this pro-black bloc communique is nonetheless formally symmetrical, in that neither seems capable of altering or penetrating the other's thinking or actions.

Given that the actions of the black bloc were of negligible material ("direct") impact, and given that they have all too readily been incorporated into existing thought and attitudes at the level of the symbolic, I'm uncertain of their value beyond affirming the individual heroism and courage of those involved--and the call to join them.

These thoughts are not intended as a denunciation of the black bloc or their tactics but rather as reflections on the tactical and strategic merits of such “direct action” in this case (In principle, I am certainly not opposed to destruction of corporate property or physical confrontations with the police).


~ Andrew Loewen

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One hand clapping

Gen-x not on same page just because. Cons just love it when da yutes overintellectualize protest. Sure, pop up beside a premier with a cream pie, but could you say anything cogent to the microphone? My MP is vital-signs-absent but she still knows how to call the cops and spin the reason why. Build your capabilities and be the media.

Reply to One Hand Clapping

 Obama, your reply to 'One Hand Clapping' for lack of any better words, hit's the nail on it's head, well put.

Intellect is a natural resource and not a byproduct so use it.

giving the state what it wants

The Olympic Police State desperately needed some supposedly "violent" incident to occur, to justify the billion dollars that they've spent on "security", and all the various forms of repression that are passed off under that label.

Now they've got just what they wanted. It's almost as if somebody planned it that way.

Perhaps it's worth considering the possibility that those who do the work of police provocateurs, may in fact be exactly that.

I'm sorry but this response

I'm sorry but this response is whack. The media ALWAYS denounces radicals! Get with it already. They will denounce us no matter what tactics are used.

The only thing that makes me sad is that there wasn't even more windows smashed and an even larger presence of the black bloc. I mean come on, how badly do we want to stop oppression? Comrades, you've read the articles. You know how much we are being fucked by this system. Look at how there is such a large number of people willing to denounce these tactics, and so so quickly! How are we ever going to end this shit if we hide our tails and keep marching and chanting?

The more we pender to the media and what the elties want, the more disorganized we will become, and be uncapable of overthrowing oppression. Smash the state!

being (truly) effective

your comments make me think what is needed is just tacticians in affinity groups, collectives, blocs, and actions who can help identify the most effective way autonomous direct action can be used to actually shut some shit down, if that is your objective. as you point out, a lot of the dragging of newspaper boxes into the streets didn't do shit, ... See Moretactically or strategically. but i also have empathy for the argument that even ultimately ineffective property destruction is still a gateway drug of sorts, practice for bigger and better things, and at the very least delivers financial damage, albeit minimal to the point of irrelevance. anyways, the study of bottlenecks and choke points in cities used for such events would go along way towards informing blocs of strategically and tactically effective (suggested) targets that, if occupied and blockaded, would deliver maximum jamming of the targeted urban infrastructure, causing lockdown of traffic and effectively shutting down the target event.

Though inspiring to radical

Though inspiring to radical youths and such it does nothing effective but maybe stop a symbolic torch. On the other hand if one were to clog the highways where the supplies for hundreds of thousands of olympic revelers were to be clogged can you imagine the effect of 100,000's of people w/ no food and no toiletries. If you want to express how the impoverished live their lives in protest make the wealthy temporarily impoverished. Just a suggestion the next time people think that  a simple tactic of smashing windows gets attention.

Though inspiring to radical

Though inspiring to radical youths and such it does nothing effective but maybe stop a symbolic torch. On the other hand if one were to clog the highways where the supplies for hundreds of thousands of olympic revelers were to be clogged can you imagine the effect of 100,000's of people w/ no food and no toiletries. If you want to express how the impoverished live their lives in protest make the wealthy temporarily impoverished. Just a suggestion the next time people think that  a simple tactic of smashing windows gets attention.

Bakunin, we all know the

Bakunin, we all know the trite slogans ("smash the state"), but some of us would like to hear an actual argument made for the political utility or effectiveness of breaking a couple windows and overturning some newspaper boxes. How do such actions build and foster the anti-colonial/anti-capitalist/ anti-olympics movement? In what way do tactics which have no material consequence for the operations of capital, and yet which overwhelmingly invoke the ire of the general public (and not just elites), "stop oppression"? 

The non-violent protest the day before the Heart Attack action drew an alliance of approx. 2000 people into the streets (including the black bloc) with clear, articulate speeches and signs connecting the Olympics and their corporate sponsors to gentrification, homelessness, ongoing colonial oppression of indigenous peoples, and environmental devastation, and was lead by indigenous elders (women) of Vancouver's embattled Downtown Eastside. Many of the people mobilized to protest the Olympics do not condone the black bloc's tactics and find them counter-productive. This communique makes no attempt to address, or show any respect, to that share of the movement (arguably the larger share).

Instead of an intelligent defense of the black bloc's tactics--and an acknowledgement of any dialogue or dissensus within the movement--it uses self-congraluatory language of "courage" and heroism. Meanwhile, the consensus among some in the anti-Olympics movement is that the black bloc actions on Saturday were "stupid acts of two-bit vandalism"  which have better enabled the mass media to ignore the legitimacy of the movement as a whole, while serving to legitimate the police state in the eyes of the general public. If we acknowledge that the black bloc's actions have been very controversial (and arguably unpopular) within the anti-Olympics movement itself, is it too much to ask for a reasoned explanation of their tactical value? What were they suppose to accomplish? Did they accomplish it? 

Any serious activist reflects upon the effectiveness of political tactics and actions. Thus far, members of the black bloc and their supporters haven't demonstrated any sense there was a tactically acheivable goal to begin with.

So let's hear it.


"the consensus among some in the anti-Olympics movement"

"Arguably the larger share"

Talk about self congratulatory. Andrew, the word your looking for is opinion not consensus. 

My opinion is that there is not a strong case that the 'larger share' of the anti-colonial, anti-capitalist, or the anti-olympics movement is in agreement and denouncing the action on the 13th.  perhaps you could site your research.

As for the march on the 12th, it was great and fun and touching; and well behaved.  I think its important to question our good behavior. Where does it come from, is it normal to accept calmly the power dynamics of the world? Clearly we are afraid to do what is clearly not permitted. 

As for the benefit of the tactic, which is rightly called a symbolic attack, I think it's important to look at the bigger picture.  Some people attacked physically a historic symbol of genocide.  The other option is to not take struggle to a physical level.  It's not new you know, people all over the world are resisting the oppressive murderous nightmare of capitalism, physically with their bodies and lives and guns.  There are people dying all over the world.  These are black days. But there are people fighting for survival all over the world. And do you still think you are part of the majority of the anti-colonial movement? Anti-capitalist?

Those fighters and their spirit, and their rejoice to learn that others are also taking to the streets in an attack mean more to me than your definition of consensus.  To me the bigger picture is bigger than Vancouver.  I hope those that feel solidarity with the oppressed and sickened by the rules taught to us by "civil society" will continue to fight and yell and break anything they see fit.  I won't be asking the opinion of the next governing party, the 'arguably larger' (read more important) share. 

Will you still be anti-capitalist when we learn there will be no dental plan? 


I agree with you that what

I agree with you that what I called consensus is much more aptly termed opinion. I also agree--and using the term "arguably" gave me some weasle room on this--that it is by no means clear what portion of those involved in the anti-Olympics movement supported the black bloc's tactics. In fact, I'd say that the majority of core ORN organizers where not opposed at all.

Fwiw, what I wrote here originally was introduced as me "thinking aloud," but I edited out that caveat when a friend asked me if she could re-post my thoughts here.

These were initial thoughts in direct response to a specific text (the communique) and my thinking has evolved both through discussion with activists and reflection. I hope to post some of my current thinking in the days to come.


Thanks for responding.

Response to BB


It's an info war

And the Black Bloc is losing.  In fact they have set back the progression of social uprising and political protesting.  I was going to say years but that would have been a good thing because the protest movement used to be much stronger.  Now, the mainstream media and the public at large sees those who protest as the lunatic fringe.  They haven't the foggiest idea as to why anyone would protest and furthermore they cringe at those who are loud and billegerant.  And then along comes the BB to confirm all of what they have been told.  Then come the generalizations of painting the entire protesting body with the same brush.  You can almost hear the collective idealism being flushed down the toilet.

It's simple.  The anarchists which guide the BB serve as useless idiots to appease the whims of the ruling class.  They are the bad child to which our masters can point out and say, see - we don't condone that sort of behaviour now do we?  And we don't.  We don't like seeing things smashed to bits.  We don't like seeing innocent bystanders taking a shit-kicking for fun.  We don't get that anger.  We don't know what the hell it is you are trying to say.  No one understands collonialism.  It is a word that gets used maybe once every two years in the public vernacular.  The lot of you are not getting your message across.

This is an information war.  You are fighting a gigantic mega mothership of information and propaganda with tiny miniscule pebbles that pop like air bubbles against its large hull.  Instead of bullying your way like some wild chimpanzees, use your intellect to get your point across.  Be creative.

We need a mass movement not a black bloc

It's not a direct response to the above article, but I would encourage readers to read my recent blog post on We need a mass movement not a black bloc

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