With their trademark black outfits, their standoffs with riot police, and their willingness to engage in property destruction, practitioners of Black Bloc tactics invoke the legacy of the German and Italian Autonomen of the 1970s and 80s (whether the current-day practitioners recognize this lineage is irrelevant, as the key here is to trace the origins of the form, not the intellectual trajectories of its advocates).
Amidst the social and political ferment of the 1970s, these groups built autonomous squatter communities, complete with community centers, housing services, canteens, and other resources. The original Black Blocs emerged to defend against violent police repression of the Autonomen communities. Horrified by the levels of police brutality, which hadn’t been seen since the days of the Third Reich, many Germans sympathized with the Autonomen. The attacks put the legitimacy of the state into question, so the militant and violent defense against the attacks seemed justified. But as the battles wore on, support began to wane. As the communities crumbled under the weight of state repression, the Black Blocs took on a life of their own, detached from the now non-existent communities they were set up to defend.
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