Interview in the Guardian with black bloc protesters from 26 March breakaway splinter demo
“Meet us outside the British Library. That seems appropriate.” I’m due to interview two men in their late 20s who were part of the “black bloc” direct action wing of last Saturday’s anti-cuts protest. We’d originally agreed to meet at a bar in King’s Cross, but they tell me later it was “too media” for their security concerns. I conduct an interview of sorts, but they are reluctant to tell me much about themselves other than that one is a “low-paid public sector worker”. In any case, they have come armed with handwritten answers to questions they have posed to themselves. Anarchists like to be in control. I agree to edit those answers for length, then show them the edited version. Their “self-interview” appears below. I never do learn their names.
The media, police and other sections of the left have called the black bloc “criminals”, “hooligans” and “cowards”. How do you respond?
In the legal sense, those who damage property or fight the police have committed crimes, so yes they are criminals. But in everyday language, a criminal is someone who lives by criminal means. We saw plenty of nurses, education workers, tech workers, unemployed workers, students, campaigners and charity workers on the bloc on Saturday, but we didn’t see any criminals.
As for being hooligans or cowards, the black bloc formation is used for tactical purposes. We aren’t trying to be “hard” or to give ourselves a thrill. We are trying to give uncompromising opposition to capitalism an appropriate image on the streets – and not end up in jail. True cowardice would be not fighting an economic system that wants to destroy us.
The black bloc is not a group or organisation; it’s something that happens on marches or actions. It’s not pre-planned; it relies on people turning up with the same ideas and clothes. That is why there is a “uniform”: people who want to take direct action and resist containment arrive on the day in black and identify people with the same ideas this way.
We had no idea of the numbers before the event on Saturday, and no idea it would be so radical in its actions. The black bloc idea spread like a ripple through the march. As people saw others in black, they changed into black themselves. Some marchers even left the protest to buy black clothing.
Is it not fair to say you hijacked the TUC march?
No. To hijack it would have meant taking the front of the march and leading it away. What happened was that thousands of marchers left of their own accord to support our direct action and do some of their own. The black bloc largely avoided the march route, only dropping into it twice, briefly. We support the other marchers who didn’t take direct action, just like many of them supported us.
Don’t you think the violence has invalidated your message?
Our only collective points were the promotion of a confrontational attitude and the use of symbolic direct action to show that direct action in the wider society was both valid and possible, and that there is a radical movement in this country that’s going to put up a fight. We made these points. Anyway, you cannot be “violent” to property. The police chose to attack and arrest people in their defence of property, and got themselves hurt in the attempt. If they had acted rationally, and decided a cracked window was not worth a protester’s cracked skull, they would have been fine.
Is the black bloc a reaction to police heavy-handedness?
We don’t do “good cops” versus “bad cops”; whether they smile or snarl while they do it, their primary function is to defend the rule of the wealthy. We do not want the police to control us “more justly” in the interests of capitalism. We want them to stand back for a just society to be created. If they don’t, they have picked their side, and they will have to be opposed.
Was the bloc anarchist?
From the red and black flags in the crowd it seemed to be, but there is nothing inherently anarchist about masking up. By the evening thousands of people had left Hyde Park and were taking action all over central London; the open class warfare of the cuts has convinced far more than the UK’s minority of radicals that only actions count.
Do you consider the black bloc to be the most radical part of the new movement?
No. Occupations of universities and town halls are far more important, and this is where the anti-cuts movement has been heading. To develop, it needs to spread into workplaces next. The black bloc tactic was appropriate to give the day a confrontational edge, and to target the real enemies: the rich. The aim was to make people realise this is not an abstract struggle between “the economy” and us, but between a group of super-rich exploiters and those they are exploiting – the workers.
There is now talk of a “mask law” in response to Saturday’s action. Don’t you feel responsible for that?
Introducing a mask law would be a serious misjudgment. Already we’ve seen how the tactic of kettling has backfired on the police, creating a desire among the crowd to be mobile and in effect unpoliceable. A mask law would probably just make more people wear masks. If last Saturday is anything to go by, they already are.