The Economics of the Black Bloc

The black bloc, at least as I have experienced it, is a very extreme departure from everyday economic life. 

No one buys or sells anything — in fact, you shouldn’t even bring your wallet to something like this. They’ll use it to ID you. Instead, everyone gives everyone else things — if you need anything in the bloc, you just ask around. Someone will get it for you. There are no laws, of course — within the bloc, all legalities are suspended. So far, so anarcho-communistic. 

It would seem as though I should be quaking in my LWMA boots at this disproof of everything I’ve been saying!

But there is also a lack of other hallmarks of communism: there is no reputation, or at least no long-term reputation. We become nearly indistinguishable within the bloc — nearly fungible people. There are no commune-wide meetings. There isn’t even anything resembling a commune! There is no production within the bloc, or at least no production of physical objects. There is consumption of goods, certainly, but no production of them — just as there could be said to be production and consumption of services. If it is a sort of communism, it is a deeply post-left and insurrectionary sort — Crimethinc, not Kropotkin. 

However, despite the absence of workers, there is a sort of quasi-hierarchy, based on –of all things– ownership. When I show up to the bloc in nothing but my simple blacks, I am treated as disposable and accorded no respect. When I show up with a helmet, a shield, armor, a visible weapon, goggles, a gas mask, and so on — why, when I do that, I’m treated far better. I am treated as someone to take seriously. My questions are answered, supplies are provided for me much more readily, I am allowed to tag along with even established groups, and so on. Further: the more gear I show up in, the more such respect and resources I am accorded. One who needs little is given much, and one who needs much is given little. Is this communism? One would likely think not. 

How do I explain any of this? Through economics, of course. 

When we all come together in the bloc, we form an impromptu firm. We all know that we have a common purpose, and the cost of trying to coordinate ourselves in a more sophisticated way than this sort of quasi-communism is very high, much higher than any benefit we might get from it, especially given that we engage in no production processes during the bloc. Without production processes, there is very little for any would-be market to optimize. We are become beasts of consumption and appropriation, only. These would-be costs of trying to coordinate ourselves are only made higher by our having no money or credit instruments at hand, and no way to track each other even if we did. Further lowering the benefits of any would-be market, and raising the costs of trying to engage in it, is the knowledge that anything we bring might very well be seized at the end, or have to be discarded in the final panicked flights with which we often conclude — there is no point in having any savings, in consuming or giving out any less than the absolute most that we could. 

The reason why having better gear gets me better treatment is that it signals to others that I am someone serious. All other signals are obliterated by the bloc — I could be anyone, absolutely anyone, under the mask. My own mother couldn’t pick me out. No one can keep track of me. Literally the only info my fellow antifascists have on me is what gear I have brought with me — and so they must assume that, if I am willing to spend my money on that gear, I must know what to do with it. As such, of course, I can only be judged as an efficient use of the firm’s resources — after all, I have shown that I think that my resources are used efficiently on me. Who could find a basis by which to doubt me? No one, no one at all — there is too much noise, and that is the only signal anyone can receive.

The bloc is an expression of the dynamics of economics, just as all social activity ultimately is. We organize the way that we do, not because of particular insurrectionary ideas that we do or don’t have, but because (absent the centralized and organized coercion of the state) we naturally and inevitably find ourselves working together to accomplish our individual desires. Fueled by noise, by a common desire to kick nazi ass, by whatever we can spare, by our bodies, by everything we can find, we make these ramshackle economic machines and run them off the cliffs to joyous doom.

The Anatomy of Escape
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
Free Markets & Capitalism?
Organization Theory
Conscience of an Anarchist