The black bloc, expansion of a controversial ultra-left tactic


A black bloc in Paris, May 22, 2018. ERIC FEFERBERG / AFP History of a…

The black bloc, expansion of a controversial ultra-left tactic

The black bloc, expansion of a controversial ultra-left tactic

A black bloc in Paris, May 22, 2018. A black bloc in Paris, May 22, 2018. ERIC FEFERBERG / AFP

History of a concept. Since 2020, black bloc has an official definition. He is a “a group of hooded individuals dressed in black who resort, in favor of demonstrations on the public highway, to concerted violent actions”according to an opinion of the Official newspaperwho recommends francizing it to “black block” or in “black hoods”. This institutional honor testifies to the rootedness in France of a phenomenon which has taken over the processions since the demonstrations against the “labour law” in 2016. The black bloc polarizes the media coverage of the social movement, causing amazement which simultaneously makes its notoriety and its discredit. His violent methods lead him to be identified “a bit quickly, to anarchy and a certain destructive irrationality”observes the political scientist Francis Dupuis-Déri in The Black Blocks. Freedom and equality manifest (Lux, 2019), French-language reference work on the movement.

In Black block. History of a tactic (Excess, 2022), Camille Svilarich regrets that strategy is often “confused with the urban delinquency of the French popular suburbs and the figure of the “thugs”” : this depoliticizing analytical grid interferes with the understanding of the phenomenon, which it defines as a “form of collective action” sporadic but coordinated by a group formed according to a logic of affinity, whose every word is nevertheless heavy with political signifiers.

Black, first of all, not only responds to the concern for anonymity; its optical power also makes it a “political aesthetics at work”, writes Maxime Boidy in his thesis “Sociology and visual culture of the black bloc” (University of Strasbourg, 2014). The block, then, corresponds to a “technique of appearing” which metaphorizes the strength of the mass, continues this sociologist in “What is a bloc in politics? » (Technics & culture2020).

Born in West Germany

The history of the black bloc crystallizes through two dates: 1980 and 1999. The first marks its birth in West Germany – the first black bloc would have formed there in May, in Bremen. The technique emanates from the local autonomous and anti-fascist movement, itself heir to the movement born in Italy in the 1960s-1970s on the fringes of official communism, with the desire for an anti-capitalist utopia to be realized immediately, in particular through action direct. Soon described by the media and the police as Schwarzer Block (“black bloc”), the tactic developed throughout the decade, before spreading abroad in the 1990s, “mainly through the network of punk and extreme or ultra-left counterculture”notes Francis Dupuis-Déri.

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