The Black Bloc: A Reading List

Kathe Kollwitz-Outbreak (1903)

With these words, he turned his broad back and strode with silent energy towards the wood. The others gave one glance over their shoulders, and saw that the dark cloud of men had detached itself from the station and was moving with a mysterious discipline across the plain. They saw already, even with the naked eye, black blots on the foremost faces, which marked the masks they wore. They turned and followed their leader, who had already struck the wood, and disappeared among the twinkling trees.”- G.K Chesterton; ‘The Man Who Was Thursday’

This is going to be a long one. After last week’s post, in which I attacked media narratives about ‘violent protest’ there has been even more drama from members of the left and also some fantastic articles such as this exchange between Owen Jones and Jonathan Moses. We have seen a direct attack from the media on ‘anarchists’ and a full-bore police manhunt. I don’t take part in black bloc actions myself as I don’t think they are the most efficient or effective use of my time, or possibly anyone’s for that matter; an excellent post from Student Theory recently pointed out that nothing is truly clear when it comes to the bloc and I agree- many people join a bloc with no theoretical engagement, or even a politics. But some also do.

The following reading list is one I have compiled in order to respond to what I’ve experienced to be an incredible lack of any reading around what the black bloc is- even the basics of the history of protest are often missing amongst journalists and activists.

I don’t treat it as an exhaustive list and I encourage you to add your own submissions below- there are loads of zines and movies that I haven’t had time for here- for those that wish to plumb such depths there is a collection called The Black Bloc Papers and also zine library (thanks again to Alex for pointing these out) . In this sense, this can largely be viewed as a list of ‘secondary’ texts; academic and journalistic studies that have compiled and sythesised primary sources into a framework.

Lots of very ‘obvious stuff’- particularly postcolonial texts, isn’t in here. This is because I focus here on the global north and the bloc as a tactic used there. Most of the work is in the English language, and as such has a certain bias towards some issue politics (particularly globalization) of which I am well aware. I know this is all very problematic but ‘whereof one cannot speak one must remain in silence’- I just don’t know all that much about the global south and if the bloc has appeared there.

As a result, I have also separated this list into three categories. The first is texts that directly mention and discuss the bloc and its surrounding milieu- the various social movements it is situated in. The second is theoretical texts that inform a reading of, and groups that participate in, the black bloc. The final section is three texts I have picked to illustrate the literary manifestations and influences the bloc as a tactic has. In many ways the book bloc has already done a lot of this work for me.

The list will come first, and then below that I’ve dissected the reasons why these books made it into the list and often a brief summary of the argument.

THE LIST

Action

CrimethInc. (2004) Recipes For Disaster CrimethInc

Day, Richard J.F. (2005) Gramsci is Dead: Anarchist Currents in the Newest Social Movements Pluto Press

Graeber, David (2009) Direct Action: An Ethnography AK Press

-On The Phenomenology Of Giant Puppets (available online: http://balkansnet.org/zcl/puppets.pdf)

Katsiaficas, G. (2006) The Subversion of Politics: European Autonomous Social Movements and The Decolonization of Everyday Life AK Press

Kingsnorth, Paul (2004) One No, Many Yeses Free Press

Martinez, E. (2000) ‘Where Was The Color In Seattle’ ColorLines (available online here: http://www.nadir.org/nadir/initiativ/agp/free/seattle/color.htm)

Thompson, AK (2010) Black Bloc, White Riot: Anti-Globalization and the Genealogy of Dissent AK Press

Tormey, S. (2004) Anti-Capitalism: A Beginners Guide Oneworld

Theory

Arshinov, P. (1974) A History of The Makhnovist Movement http://www.ditext.com/arshinov/makhno.html

Carter, A. (2005) Direct Action and Democracy Today Polity

Churchill, W. (2007) Pacifism as Pathology AK Press

Deleuze. G and Guattari F. (2008) A Thousand Plateaus London: Continuum

Fisher, M. (2009) Capitalist Realism Zero

Gelderloos, P. (2007) How Nonviolence Protects the State South End Press

Jacobs, H., editor. (1970) Weatherman Ramparts Press

Jensen, D. (2006) Endgame Vol. 1: The Problem of Civilization and Endgame Vol. 2: Resistance Seven Stories

Power, N. (2009) One Dimensional Woman Zero

Sorel, G. (2004) Reflections On Violence Dover

The Situationist International- various works

Tiqqun (2010) Introduction to Civil War Semiotext(e)

Woodcock, G. (1986) The Anarchist Reader Fontana

Fiction

Chesterton, G.K (1908) The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare ( http://www.bartleby.com/158/ )

Gibson, William (1984) Neuromancer Ace

‘Luther Blissett’ (1999) Q Arrow Books

COMMENTARY

Action

CrimethInc. (2004) Recipes For Disaster CrimethInc

-Breaking The Spell (film)

An old joke runs: “Q:How many CrimethInc writers does it take to change a lightbulb? A: none, but they will make a very nice pamphlet about changing it”. This book addresses some of those criticisms and has a chapter on the Black Bloc and more broadly looks at anti-capitalist/anarchist tactics. The film can be found on google and is a really good compilation of archives from the Seatte ’99 protests.

Day, Richard J.F. (2005) Gramsci is Dead: Anarchist Currents in the Newest Social Movements Pluto Press

As the title suggests this is a study of the influence of anarchism in post-cold war social movements. One of many books that came out in the early to mid ’00s in response to the anti-globalization movements. Contains a fantastic account of sedated ’90s local journalists in Seattle trying to describe the Black Bloc for the first time, with a clear sense of panic and uncertainty.

Graeber, David (2009) Direct Action: An Ethnography AK Press

-On The Phenomenology Of Giant Puppets (available online: http://balkansnet.org/zcl/puppets.pdf)

Graeber teaches at Goldsmiths and is an obvious influence on the present social movements in the UK. Direct Action is a study of the Summit of the Americas protests in Québec City in 2001. I should confess I haven’t read it myself but I have spoken to people who went to those protests and speak highly of the book. Phenomenology is rapidly becoming a classic in its own right. It studies the media response to Black Bloc actions, as well as alternative approaches to public images- the ‘jars of urine’ the police produce in press conferences echo the ‘ammonia filled lightbulbs’ that never materialized on the 26th.- in short, possibly the most pertinent article on this list for the present situation.

Katsiaficas, G. (2006) The Subversion of Politics: European Autonomous Social Movements and The Decolonization of Everyday Life AK Press

Crops up in bibliographies all the time and recommended by a friend. again, I haven’t been able to have time to read this. But apparently it is a study of the sort of movements that are associated with Black Bloc participation.

Kingsnorth, Paul (2004) One No, Many Yeses Free Press

I recommend this alongside and often over No Logo to anyone who wants to start studying the ‘anti/alter-globalization’ movement. It takes a broad sweep over various groups and tactics and gives you a bit of a look at each. Zapatistas, the Church Of Stop Shopping, the bloc, and their unloved cousins the Tutte Bianche. The description of the Genoa protests capture exactly what its like to go on a major march- being all too timely for things kicking off and finding yourself caught between rioters and police, or always getting to the interesting stuff 5 minutes too late, constantly ducking round corners only to bump into some new, chaotic affinity and its own possibilities.

Martinez, E. (2000) ‘Where Was The Color In Seattle’ ColorLines (available online here: http://www.nadir.org/nadir/initiativ/agp/free/seattle/color.htm)

The article that had a million white activists shifting uncomfortably in their seats for most of the 2000s, and worth a read now in light of the demonstrations in the west end of London, which still seemed remarkably white, and lets admit it, middle class. The jumping off question really is whether that invalidates such actions.

Thompson, AK (2010) Black Bloc, White Riot: Anti-Globalization and the Genealogy of Dissent AK Press

Possibly the only book in existence and on wide release that directly studies the Black Bloc as a tactic/strategy in depth. Thompson makes a case for a ‘political violence’ through an engagement with philosophy and theory. Perhaps of the most interest here is the theory of ‘violence as pedagogy’ which draws on the work of Paulo Freire and Frantz Fanon (two thinkers who share many philosophical sensibilities), and an argument for violence as a present and everyday category of existence. It also has a chapter on gender in riots that you don’t see all that often in books on violent protest. Personally I disagree, but this is a really deep engagement with a concept. The main problem is it tries to do too much in too few pages.

Tormey, S. (2004) Anti-Capitalism: A Beginners Guide Oneworld

I feel I have some obligation to include this- Tormey’s an influential academic in the field. It’s here and there, but when it hits its good. Contextualizes the Bloc within a broader framework of action.

Theory

Arshinov, P. (1974) A History of The Makhnovist Movement http://www.ditext.com/arshinov/makhno.html

Makhno’s Black army fought in the Ukraine during the Russian Civil War. Largely a forgotten chapter outside of anarchist historians, its more the aesthetic of Makhno’s army- the consistent use of black in distinction to the red and white armies, that has an impact on Bloc aesthetic choices (if it was purely a matter of concealing identity, any single colour could be applicable), and the high mobility of the Makhnovists that has an influence on the way the bloc forms today.

Carter, A. (2005) Direct Action and Democracy Today Polity

Effectively a liberal study of direct action politics. It engages with ‘real’ actions and posits the possibility of direct action within a liberal state framework- ideas of ‘democratic deficit’ that have been used draw a lot from Carter’s 60s work and this is basically an update. More importantly it shows how a group like UKUncut have recourse within liberal democracy for forms of direct action.

Churchill, W. (2007) Pacifism as Pathology AK Press

Ward Churchill remains a controversial figure. This text, written in the 1980s continues to be discussed amongst activists today. Churchill’s argument is that certain forms of pacifism have become a mental illness used to prevent western left-liberals from confronting their own privileges and acting in solidarity with the oppressed. In particular it opposes ‘unthinking violence and nonviolence’. Its got a point but it’s also intensely overused, and if it was more recent people would probably argue that Churchill was ‘trolling’ the left a bit- it certainly feels that way sometimes. Still, it’s there and worth a read (a copy of the text is online I think, but you should hunt down the 2007 edition for its prefaces and afterword).

Deleuze. G and Guattari F. (2008) A Thousand Plateaus London: Continuum

Deleze and Guattari’s text, particularly the introduction, “Rhizome”, and the “Treatise on Nomadology” spent most of the 1990s being fussed over by cyberpunks and Hakim Bey libertarian types. Writers like Todd May, Saul Newman, Rolando Perez and to a lesser extent Lewis Call made a good effort of recovering them from a total fall into subculture oblivion during that period. Hardt and Negri’s Empire, too, really placed interest in D&G back into forms of resistance. The focus on ‘deterritorialization‘ has been used to great aplomb by activists and its clear those in the bloc have been reading them- see my earlier post on protest tactics.

Fisher, M. (2009) Capitalist Realism Zero

Seriously, Fishers book is the text of the hour. Its either a return to the political pamphlet or a new form of popular theory, but however you look at it it seems to be bloody everywhere, and deservedly so. Fisher’s main achievement is to give a name to something that’s been bugging us all for a while now and outline what it is and how it works. The final, controversial, chapter could be read as the case for the intervention of the bloc as a ‘marxist supernanny’, or to read it as a symptom of “bi-polar” capitalism; that which divides all into ‘good’ and ‘bad protest. I doubt there’s an anti-capitalist group left in the UK this hasnt done the rounds in.

Gelderloos, P. (2007) How Nonviolence Protects the State South End Press

I had a copy of this for a while but gave it away to a friend. Now it looks to be 100 quid on Amazon. Damnit. Anyway its a fairly workaday reading of nonviolence predicated upon state hegemony of force. Worth a gander if you’re either rich and foolish or, shall we say, more ‘internet-savvy’. Also good for the bit where Gelderloos has a go at Food not Bombs.

Jacobs, H., editor. (1970) Weatherman Ramparts Press

The Weathermen were a group in the 1960s and 70s who advocated property destruction as direct action- eventually going ‘underground’ to conduct a campaign of bombings. The latest stuff released on the Weather Underground has been largely mediocre stuff read backwards through the lens of the present situation and heavily edited and qualified by WU members- there’s also proliferation of historical accounts to wade through if you wish. However this collection that runs up to 1970 is full of utterly unapologetic literature. The Weathermen ‘days of rage’ action is a clear precursor to the Bloc as a tactic- head to the CBD of a major city and start smashing things you don’t like. Its also a record of SDS at a time when self-proclaimed ‘Maoist’ groups like Weathermen were tearing it apart through fetishising actions, and arguably trashing the new left with the weapons of the old- orthodoxy of politics and action. A warning if not anything else.

Jensen, D. (2006) Endgame Vol. 1: The Problem of Civilization and Endgame Vol. 2: Resistance Seven Stories

Much like Churchill, Jensen makes the case for destructive direct action to stop ecological apocalypse. He’s perhaps too alarmist and extreme, and doesn’t fully quantify what he means by ‘civilization’, but he’s also a great writer and asserts that ‘love does not imply pacifism’. It’s important to remember that many of those in the Bloc on the 26th will have acted out of love and that addressing compassionate emotion is not the preserve of hippies and non-violent activists. Watch his hilarious ‘Star Non-violent Civil Disobedience’ Skit here:

Oppenheimer, M. (1969) Urban Guerilla Penguin London

A fantastic and curious book that seems to have been totally forgotten. Effectively a study of tactics that might be used to create and take further 68-style events in major urban centres, Oppenheimer plays out a number of scenarios including non-violent protest, armed uprising and property destruction, and then critiques them. Its been a while, but I remember that he doesn’t let any tactic off the hook lightly.

Power, N. (2009) One Dimenional Woman Zero

A late addition to the list- the bloc has traditionally been heavily gendered, often cast as male-dominated. This hasn’t always been the case in my experiences meeting bloc participants. Power’s book, on the same publisher as Fisher and the same length, often gets touted alongside it- in short its a book for now, not posterity. There’s a wealth of feminist texts out there but almost none of them approach the issue of property damage as a tactic- Power doesn’t either; yet the destruction of a branch of Ann Summers amid relatively well-targeted actions demonstrates a strong awareness of the commercialization of female bodies, and the subsequent communique may have just quoted Power (it’s not just about “who can have the chocolatiest sex”  apparently) and been done with it.

Sorel, G. (2004) Reflections On Violence Dover

Fanon didn’t make it here because he’s too well known to really be dealt with, and focuses on anti-colonialism. Sorel, on the other hand emphasises the role of violence as a mythology to encourage workers in their struggle. Be warned that bits are ragingly anti-semitic (Sorel ended up a fascist of sorts), but it’s also the first real study of violence as a tool of the left.

The Situationist International- various works

http://www.cddc.vt.edu/sionline/

http://www.nothingness.org/SI/

http://www.bopsecrets.org/ -probably the best of these three.

The Spectacle must be smashed! The smashing is The Spectacle!

Tiqqun (2010) Introduction to Civil War Semiotext(e)

While The Coming Insurrection didn’t make it on here (too obvious and they don’t advocate the bloc!), this, its more theoretical sister, does. Its a reading of society as a civil war, in which individuals and collectivities duke it out. The emphasis on heightening not only conflict with ‘Them’ but also between groups on the left as a tool of creating new alliances between ‘forms of life’, facilitates a reading of the bloc as something that might strategically ‘split the left’ in order to create greater conflict. In other words; complaints that the bloc does just that could be ill-judged indeed. Groups like Escalate have an Tiqqun-esque vibe, and generally they’re a bit too hip for their own good these days. Wordy, intense thought from “mental French lefties” as my friend says.

Woodcock, G. (1986) The Anarchist Reader Fontana

Read it, its one of the best Anarchist readers there is. Short, sweet extracts: A ‘toilet book’ for political theorists.

Fiction

Chesterton, G.K (1908) The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare ( http://www.bartleby.com/158/ )

An utterly bonkers novel and possible religious allegory about a group of ‘anarchists’ who meet with their superhuman leader in plain sight at fancy hotels, plot the overthrow of order, try to find the police in their midst, and generally act like stylish fuckers. A book on identity, discord, and theology. It’s all a nightmare, of course. Of most interest here are the complaints made about ‘radical philosophers’ who are the enemies of order- which seem very familiar to anyone working in philosophy or critical theory today, and Chapter 11 in which a large band of masked ‘Anarchists’ dressed in black chase the protagonist, a secret policeman, across the European countryside- the first appearance of the bloc, perhaps.

Gibson, William (1984) Neuromancer Ace

Gibsons 1980s fictional ‘Panther Moderns’, who run around hyper-capitalism creating chaos, crossing the boundary between human and animal, reek of the following decade’s property-wrecking antics.

‘Luther Blissett’ (1999) Q Arrow Books

Showed up on the ‘book bloc’, which is probably the most recent major semiotic protest tactic to emerge out of Europe. It’s a novel about students, identity (again), fear, government crackdowns and radical politics. ‘Luther Blissett’ itself was a pseudonym used by anarchists across Europe at the turn of the millennium and still crops up from time to time.

Thats it from me! As I said, you can post your suggestions below. Or perhaps someone might make a ‘black bloc discography’?

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2 Responses to The Black Bloc: A Reading List

  1. heath says:

    Thanks for putting this together, I hadn’t seen this blog before, excited to poke around a bit.
    I think it came a bit later, more with the Insurrectionist crew, but also:

    Giorgio Agamben “The Coming Community”
    Hakim Bey “Temporary Autonomous Zone”

    You mentioned SI, but specifically probably
    Vaneigem’s “Revolution of Everyday Life”

  2. zeroref says:

    Neuromancer? I love that book, but I’d argue against it being listed here. The Panther Moderns are barely a sketch, and the other resources you point to are much more heavyweight.

    Plus, if Black Blocs were like Panther Moderns they’d be 1)Terrorists (the PM’s deploy chemical weapons against the public, remember?) 2)Mercenaries (the PM’s accept payment for what they do, though not exclusively so) and 3)Have a much cooler/scarier reputation extending beyond that of mild vandalism (this applies mainly to the N.American bloc’s involved w/Occupy as of Jan 2012. I hear Europe is different).

    This looks like a great list. Already stoked to discover Ukranian anarchist armies during the Russian Revolution.

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