The “black blocks”, a violent protest that focuses on “symbols”

Ⓒ AFP – Thomas SAMSON – | The “black blocks” of the radical protest movement during the demonstration of May 1, 2018 in Paris

The “black blocks” that have severely disrupted the parade of May 1 are a heterogeneous mixture of ultra-leftists activists sometimes spectacular actions, but the limited strike force and focuses on symbolic targets, says AFP Sylvain Boulouque, historian of the radical left.

Question: Who are these “Black Blocks”?

Answer: These are people dressed in black and hooded who come to stand in front of the head of the procession of demonstrations, hence their other name of “Procession of head”. The first “black blocks” date back to the 1980s in Germany. They appeared in other countries like France in the late 1990s at the time of the big demonstrations against the international summits (OMC, G7, G20). It is an international movement: some will confront the police in demonstrations abroad. There are various groups in favor of confronting the forces of order from anarchism, Marxism-Leninism … who hope to overthrow the capitalist system. Socially, it is more likely to be inner-city populations, young graduates and middle-class / upper middle-class families. Not necessarily financially favored, but culturally favored. Several generations live side by side: former mobilized since the 90s, intermediaries since the 2000s, a new generation of 20-25 years formed around the challenge of the labor law in 2016, and new students or high school students who come arrived.

Question: Where do they rank politically?

Answer: In the movement of the ultra-left, which refuses any form of parliamentary and union representation. On the air of the “Ras-the-bowl of the unjust society as it exists today”, they attack only symbols of capitalism, as we saw yesterday in Paris: McDonald’s, car dealerships, banks. We are purely in symbolic violence. They want to show the good fight, knowing that they refuse any reforms, which in their view only lead to the development of capitalism without destroying it. They are anti-capitalist, utopian and radical, ready to use relatively violent means of action against society and the order in place. But there is also a dimension of camaraderie, fraternity, a follower side. Some followed the processional head as they heard it scream “Everyone hates the police”: they are not necessarily violent but they too can hate the police.

Question: How big is the phenomenon, and is it expected to expand?

Answer: Counting very broadly we have a spectrum of a few tens of thousands of people, it is very little compared to the rest of society. The audience of the radical left today is relatively weak. We must not exaggerate the phenomenon of urban violence, because it is marginal in France. For a hundred years, violent demonstrations have been a relatively relative phenomenon. But with the information in continuous, these acts are taken again in loop and without distanced glance, it gives “Paris is with fire and blood” whereas there are only some cars which burn. A priori the phenomenon of “black blocks” will not stop. There will be highs, lows, peaks, reformations. It depends on government bills. But it has growth potential, especially if the government does not want to negotiate anything. Some may then say that if there is nothing to gain, we must turn to other forms of political action, and violence is one of them. There is also a potential for revolt against police violence, stronger than before, which can one day foster closer ties with young people in the suburbs. Another risk, if some are sentenced to prison, they can develop an even stronger hatred of the authorities. But if there are risks, there is so far no call for a more radical violence: we are still in an almost carnivalesque aspect, we attack symbols.

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