The comparison has been made at least once between Indigenous warrior societies and the black bloc. It is a fascinating one, which I’d like to expand a little bit. (Anyone who is interested in the topic should watch Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance, surely one of the finest documentaries made about Canada’s sordid history. It is particularly timely; this weekend, the community of Kanehsatake will be marching to mark the 20th anniversary of the Oka standoff.)
The similarities. Both conceal their identities with masks, both do battle with the police and defend their own against same, and neither are shy about damaging property. (This, it should be said, applies to some warrior societies; many warriors do not mask up, display arms, or battle the po-po physically.)
The differences. Warrior societies are community-based. This means that they are constituted primarily of members of the community they are defending. People from outside the community often participate, but in the end, both community members and outsiders are accountable to the community. This, either because they are members of the community and will have to live with their families and neighbours for years after an event, or because there is a political body that decides on the overall strategy for the confrontation in question. Just as significantly, their actions emerge from a set of traditions, stories, texts, and discussions that they share with their community.
It is not necessarily one group telling another what to do, but the fact that whoever takes action has to account for any actions they have taken to their friends, family and neighbours.
The black bloc tactic, in contrast, is not inherently required to answer to anyone but the immediate members of affinity groups, thanks to its inherent anonymity. A great many commenters have affirmed in various ways that the principle of autonomy and diversity of tactics means that they can do what they consider to be resistance, and folks who don’t agree should at least “get out of the way”.
Does this mean that the black bloc is not accountable to anyone? Not so fast.
In his article about the anti-Olympics actions in Vancouver, Alex Hundert writes:
A strong example of that solidarity was on display during the Feb. 12th “Take Back Our City” march. That event saw upwards of 2,000 people march on BC Place during the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games, and was led by indigenous women. When the march reached the police line outside of BC Place that night, the cops started pushing and shoving the front line. Indigenous women called for the Black Bloc to move to the front to hold the line. When the elders amongst that leadership group decided that the crush from the police was too much, the Black Bloc made space for them to move to the back of the crowd.
In this case, Indigenous women made a request, and the practitioners of the black bloc tactic complied.
This interesting precedent introduces questions and complexities into the bloc’s modus operandi of autonomous action and mutual protection from police assault. What if Indigenous elders, or organizers, or some other non-anonymous political body, called on a black bloc to use their tactic in a particular way? What if they asked them not to carry out certain acts?
The totalist interpretation of autonomous action says they don’t have to do what anyone says. What if the practitioners of the black bloc tactic chose, collectively, to cooperate with and complement the actions of others?
That would be interesting for a few different reasons.
It would mean that the black bloc isn’t, or doesn’t have to be, as Hundert wrote in the same article, “a wrecking ball tactic that makes space for more mainstream or creative tactics.”
It would mean that there would be less room for police or any other kind of agitators to set the agenda by undertaking actions that are attributed to the bloc as a whole. Even a partial strategic prescription would shine a light on tactical choices that do not contribute to it. (As Oshipeya acknowledges, ”any particular black bloc may be infiltrated by police for any number of police purposes, open activist groups are susceptible to long-term infiltration, in which police can attain positions of authority within the organization…”). That would also mean less room for tiresome attacks that brand the bloc as consisting of agents provocateurs, an attack which is nonetheless rooted in the anonymity inherent the tactic.
It would open the possibility for a deeper relationship between militants and the movements which support them to varying extents.
It would mean the particular practitioners of the black bloc becoming a little more like a warrior society.
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