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Behind This Mask I Breath Fire: Against Whiteness, for the Black Bloc
In defense of proletarian action - attacking the present order defended by the Left.
Behind This Mask I Breath Fire:
Against Whiteness, for the Black Bloc
“The policeman arrested me in the name of the Law, I struck him in the name of Liberty". – Clement Duval
I am proud to call myself an anarchist. For over 100 years we have been hunted and imprisoned, arrested and tortured, rounded up to be deported, slandered and betrayed, placed as youths into detention facilities and ‘rehabilitation centers,’ snitched and sold-out on by activists and union bosses, assassinated by snipers and murdered by police. Militants within our movement have suffered at the hands of capitalists, fascists, and Leninists and we have filled prisons, immigrant detention centers, concentration camps, and gulags.
But we have never, never been victims. We too have been assassins. We have been the murderers of kings, captains of industry, and Presidents. We have picked the locks of wealthy business owners to fund our publications and have stolen millions of dollars in photocopies. We have armed ourselves with pistols to protect strikes. We have formed militias and armed columns of women and men to defend ourselves and our liberated territory from the Ukraine to Mexico just as we have formed crews of queers to attack homophobes. We exist in agrarian communes in Chiapas where we carry on the ideals of the insurrectionary Flores Magon as well as the urban squats of Europe and we defend both with guns and Molotov cocktails. We have taken over campus buildings in California and defended gardens in New York. We were the first to unionize Starbucks as well as the first to decry the mainstream unions for what they are, a police force for the working class. We support our prisoners, be it with benefit concerts or bombs. I am proud of our violent history, and it is violent, just as I am proud to be part of a long tradition of communities of working-class anarchists be they in Chicago or Mexico City. I am proud to be part of a material force that chooses a side in the war that is class society – for I am part of the proletariat, the class which reproduces the negation of such a world.
By the time I was 18, I learned what it meant to don the ski mask and stand with my friends and comrades in the streets and face down the police. I discovered the power that comes in placing oneself in danger and knowing that the only way to avoid a jail record, a beating or worse from the police, and possible jail time lay in my physical abilities and especially the solidarity and support of those around me. I learned what it meant to keep secrets and stay loyal to a group of people I had affinity with.
I became intimate to the sound of hammers against the property of those of a different class than mine. I lived through riots. I stood in stores being looted. I walked in universities I could never afford to attend while they were being occupied. I camped on land reclaimed by indigenous people who spoke of guns and their ancestors and welcomed me as a comrade. I saw fire.
I felt what it was like to engage in violence against the things which I hated and which kept me un-free, instead of feeling their violence directed against me.
When the Occupy Movement began, I too joined in. I again donned the black mask. I breathed the tear gas. I felt my heart racing in the streets. I watched as my friends were shot with rubber bullets and carted away to jail. I felt fear as never before. But I also learned what was possible within people and most of all, within myself. I learned what it was like when several thousand people decided to tear down a fence and physically take their freedom as the police mobilized to destroy it. I learned what it took to escape and take revenge. I learned what it meant to fight, not only with my friends, but with those from small towns, from cities, from ghettos, from reservations, and even those from lives of privilege who came to reject them.
I lived not through spectacles of another place, but in moments that others and myself reached out and made ours. These weren’t just material conditions in which possibility had simply ripened, but situations in which we acted within and organized ourselves. During this time, sometimes I donned the mask, sometimes I was behind a microphone addressing a crowd, most of the time I was quiet and simply taking in the moment and listening to those around me and learning, and other times I was organizing with friends.
Recently, journalists, activists, and Leftists have criticized people like me. This is nothing new and I am not surprised. I am an anarchist. It is not needed to go back and argue line by line and refute idiotic denunciations of our ideas – too much of that has already been done. But what is needed is a carefully look at what we do and why we do it – and how we can make our actions deeper and more subversive. We also need to look beyond the simple liberal and Leftist denunciations and find the deeper meanings behind them and expose them for what they are – all so that we may not repeat these same lies and slanders from within our own ranks.
According to our detractors, we must commit ourselves to non-violence in order to win over ‘mainstream Americans.’ Violent actions such as the destruction of property, fighting with police, the occupation of workplaces, Native land, and schools, and even an over arching critique and public contempt for the forces of authority and domination help to scare away potential allies to the Occupy Movement and the social struggles that have grown out of and taken inspiration from it. Our “petty vandalism,” as some put it, helps to chase away many people who would find affinity with us, and instead plays into the hands of the government.
At the same time, some anarchists take the position that such actions are merely ‘tactics,’ and that the black bloc is a way for people to target corporate property and ‘hurt the corporations.’ For many, the black bloc is simply militant activism. It is a way to say that we really don’t like a certain corporation or want to bring attention to it through our actions. Many proclaim that our actions are not violent at all, and that there is nothing violent about the destruction of property and when the police are engaged, it is always in a defensive strategy. Many young and inexperienced anarchists proclaim that the black bloc is completely ‘non-violent,’ and place our activity within the bounds of activism and within the tool box of the Left itself.
Both are wrong; both the naïve and activists within our own circles and also the intellectuals, journalists, and career Left politicians who would denounce us from the sidelines. Our activity is not to the Left of capital – but organized towards its destruction. We do not seek to highlight the atrocities of the global civil war – but give rupture to the possibility of our side winning.
When we become black bloc, we are not just rebelling in a way that we believe to be intelligent because it is anonymous, but creating space and sending a signal, nay, a hand, to others to join-in in the act of class conflict. We do not ‘send messages;’ we create situations. We seek to manifest the conditions in which revolt can be possible and always, to move class antagonisms out of the bounds of protest and ‘speaking truth to power’ into actual physical confrontation. Forever we seek to leave behind the theater of the summit and the protest and enter into that of open class warfare. We remember the nights in Seattle in which neighborhoods rose in open revolt against the National Guard’s curfew and fought the police and looted stores while activists and pacifists stood in front of them to protect their windows. In Prague, in Vancouver, Genoa, in Oakland and everywhere else…For it is here: within the battleground of insurrection in which the taking of territory is possible and process of communization can begin.
Attacking Whiteness, Affirming Class Conflict
“The whole point of talking about class and “the proles” is to insist on the very basic way in which people from different “communities” have essentially similar experiences, and to show that people from the same “communities” should in fact hate each other. This is the starting point to fighting the existing communities. When we begin to fight for our own interests we see that others are doing the same thing. Prejudices fall away, and our anger is directed where it belongs.” – Work, Community, Politics, War
“…[W]e imagine what it would look like to be a part of a social force that is not an expression of a moral impulse, but a need for survival and desire for utopia. What if “climate justice” meant seizing the means of distributing clean water and producing clean water systems in autonomous zones? What if environmental anti-racism meant the liberation and destruction of prisons? This is what will occur when we examine the realities we are attached to but arm them with fantasy.” – Earth First! Means Social War
When career activists, journalists, and writers proclaim that the black bloc is alienating the mainstream of America – what they are really saying is that we are alienating white people. This of course is a problematic statement, as what much of the official and mainstream Left (parties, unions, activist groups, NGO’s, etc) does, is alienating to them as well. Furthermore, a large segment of the white population also does support the institutions within society which use and are based upon, violence: the police, prisons, the military, etc. Liberals who call black bloc participants ‘criminals’ are telling because they shame the black bloc for not only alienating ‘white people,’ but also not acting like white people themselves.
Since the threat of a cross racial-attack on capital began with the colonization of the Americas, and the creation of ‘whiteness’ as a social category, white people in this society have been given the task of collaboration with their class enemies in exchange for various privileges ranging from longer life expectancy to lower incarceration rates, from landfills and toxic incinerators in other neighborhoods to the ability to get home loans, and so on. Furthermore, whites are given more voice in the mainstream press, are pandered to more by politicians, etc. Whites are expected to make up a much larger part of the politicized and ‘education’ class within the US. It’s from within this, that whites are supposedly given access to carry out reforms and give ‘checks and balances’ to the current system of power, but of course, always in a non-violent manner. But as the current system of financial capital breaks down, more and more whites are not only becoming proletarianized, but are also seeing through the cracks within the racialized order of capitalism in the US.
Thus, when a group of white and non-white people takes to the streets, fights the police (which are of course supposed to uphold the racial divisions that exist within class society and thus whiteness itself), and destroys and loots private property – something is out of the ordinary. Such activity is clearly outside of, and contrary to the actions and tools which are promoted and made available by those in power to the population to address problems and grievances. Thus, when white people begin attacking class society, they also come into conflict with whiteness itself. This happens when groups of white, black, and brown people attack bourgeoisie businesses in the Mission District of San Francisco after a police shooting or when they riot together in Toledo against white-power skinheads. In doing so, they come into conflict with the racialized order of modern capital and are thus of course – criminals. To the state and its authorities, to class society, and to its oh so loyal opposition – the Left.
But, it is not that we seek to alienate white people, far from it, we seek to engage with them in the glorious project of attacking whiteness itself. The black bloc is part of this project and part of this trajectory and history of proletarian action.
And, it is only in these moments of revolt and proletarian violence that the breaking down of the racialized order of class society has ever been possible. In fact it was the united insurrectionary acts of indigenous people, workers, slaves, and indentured ‘white’ servants that lead to the creation of laws, police, prisons, and the modern post-colonial state itself in the Americas. For those of us in the US, the modern apparatuses of surveillance, policing, prisons, and incarceration are all in response to class conflict and organized in which a way to preserve the racial order of capital. Is it any surprise that we see this order being not only violently attacked by also broken down in moments of open revolt and class warfare from the LA riots to the uprisings after the police murder of Oscar Grant? And again in Anaheim, and again in the Mission in SF, and again, and again and again…
And, is it any surprise that time and a time again we hear of the same antagonist within all of these moments – the black bloc. In the media, from the mouths of the police, and from the Left? It is because we represent a villain that has always existed to class society – the proletariat itself. Not the condition, or the term, and especially not the image of a white man with a large wrench in a factory, but the actual historical embodiment of the negation of class society itself. And it is always this living and breathing and violent thing that will always, and must, attack whiteness within this society. By this we mean the solidifying actions and moments of revolt which brings the proletariat together in the act of negating itself and attacking class society. We need that rupture to bring us together, to discover a common humanity against all of our class enemies.
In these moments, we see the utmost criminal and also subversive elements coming to the fore. We see the most destructive associations of ourselves and the most liberatory.
This is not simple theorizing. We are not attempting to ‘alienate’ people; even ‘white people,’ as a whole. The same is true when women and queers march in Oakland and speak of forming ‘gangs’ to fight back against violence and rape directed at women and queer people – such actions push for a de-escalation of violence for everyone and safer social relationships in general. And, is it any surprise that such activity often looks like black bloc…? We are doing and acting in such a way that creates the conditions and situations in which people can become involved in struggles and moments in which a confrontation with capital is possible. We also organize ourselves in such a way in which we are less likely to be arrested or discovered by the state. We are organizing and acting for ourselves in ways that have always been part of the tendency which seeks to abolish the current state of things. It is the same when we picket a slum lord for evicting a tenant or take over a plot of land and plant food. We are not alienating people, we are attempting to engage with ourselves and others in such a way that we create the conditions in which action with them is even possible. Violence is part of this and it is simply is a reality.
We need working class whites to become involved in the revolutionary project, just as we need men and straight people to destroy patriarchy - but moreover, we also need them to attack the racial order of capital. This will look less like people speaking the language of the Left or reading certain books, and more and more like people fighting the police, the dismantling of the industrial system, the liberation of the land, and the burning of prisons. It will engage people from various communities that before had seemingly nothing in common and will create a war machine out of their shared negation and desire for a human community.
The black bloc is part of this project. It is hopefully one way in which some of these things may become possible – or at least the start of something which may lead to their birth.
Breaking through Their Glass is Just the Start
“..[A]vail yourselves of those little methods of warfare which Science has placed in the hands of the poor man, and you will become a power in this or any other land.” – Lucy Parsons
“There is a violence that dominates. It is gay bashing. It is rape. It is the clear-cut and the vivisection lab. It is the bank and the local coffee shop. It is the patrol car and the prison. It is your job, your late rent, your rotting teeth, your wounds that won’t heal. It is the silence that maintains all of the above. There is a violence that liberates. It is the murdered homophobe. It is the knee-capped rapist. It is the arson and the mink liberation. It is the smashed window and the expropriated food. It is the cop on fire and the riot behind bars. It is work avoidance, squatting, criminal friendship, and the total refusal of compromise.” – Dangerous Spaces
Many will concede several points. Yes, capital is racialized within the Americas. Yes, perhaps violence will be needed to take on capital and its governments. Yes, perhaps the collective acts of violence, either engaged in by anarchists or as shown in historical moments such as the LA Riots or the movement around Oscar Grant in Oakland point to the cross-racial liberatory possibilities of violence…But what does that have to do with wearing black and breaking things?
Many of us that have participated in black blocs have all been to things that do not pop off. Marches that have broken away, all to simply march around the city, doing nothing. Perhaps playing a cat and mouse game with the police, perhaps simply watching them from afar. All of us are waiting for someone, or something to act, and to ‘pop it off.’ Why is this? Why do we need this physiological break in the social peace to occur in order for the state of affairs of what we are doing to change? It is because when various actions occur, a signal is set off to others that there has been a break within the norms of reality and something new is possible. Just as the wearing of masks speaks to others the possibility of acting anonymously, so does the unpermitted march speaks to those standing on the sidewalk passively. To those on a march, the destruction of property signals the start of a riot, just as the free distribution of commodities signals the communal carnival atmosphere of looting.
Anarchists, to a point have become good at upping the ante in recent years. We have managed to turn protests into militant demonstrations, and demonstrations into unpermitted marches, and marches into riot or at least, near riots. This is largely because we understand that people need physiological breaks with normalcy for themselves to be drawn into a situation in which large scale confrontation with capital it possible. This is needed for all of us. Thus, the destruction of property is not as important because it shows a gesture that “this is bad,” but because it signals that the government and capital have lost control of a certain situation and people are starting to negate its authority. The same goes for looting, as it signals to those that perhaps may not be interested in the destruction of commodities; and instead their free distribution.
For Leftists, liberals, and the dreaded “peace police,” the supersession of the power of the state over all our lives and instead the implementation of proletarian power over the streets – is terrifying. Stores are looted! Graffiti was written! The police are nowhere, they cry. YES.
Our end goal is not simply the riot. But we understand that in the current context, any imposition of proletarian action and desires on this society will be met with the full force of the state. Thus, to declare ourselves ‘insurrectionaries’ is simply to declare ourselves to be realistic about our situation. To oppose the current order, take space, and attempt to meet our needs will be met with violence. We must organize ourselves to defend each other. It is also only in such a rupture that we can begin the communization of the areas around us. We seek to meet our needs directly. We seek a new relationship to the land outside of civilization. We need a new social organization outside of patriarchy.
So I embrace the negation. It is the only thing that reminds me of what I am. It is the only thing that tells me that I should still be on this earth. The negation is not just the simple rejection of what is for me, it is the constant desire to valorize myself and destroy totally all that which defines me in this society so that it will forever be no more. It is the splitting open of the world and the suppression of all of that which is class society and the creation of that which must be made. It is the process of discovering my own worth and my own being; of being human, of being proletarian. It is the social euphoria of power directed and organized; in being able to actually feel expressions of frustration and disgust. It is the constant fellowship; the realness of comradeship and the understanding of reciprocity. It is knowing that even if we ‘do not win,’ at least we continue. That the seas of alienation have been crossed and I have found others and our desires for subversion, class fellowship, and revolutionary violence are not simply criminal impulses, but growing tendencies of a material force.
It is stabilization of the moments in which all that which we are supposed to be is suppressed, and all that which we may become is allowed to rule.
It is the desire for love and a human community; for it to mean something and be something between people. It is the desire to fight for it, to not wait and to never except, this.