Diversity of tactics: The noise before defeat

Over at News Junkie Post, Mike Kaulbars uses a Sun Tzu quote – “Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat” – to frame his thoughtful critique of the Black Bloc, which is worth quoting at length:

While it is true that there is a certain amount of “hey look at me” frat boy element to the Bloc’s actions, it is a mistake to dismiss them as simply kids out for a riot. Many of them are as committed to the issues as anyone else in the movement. They are usually able to articulate at least [the] basics of Insurrectionary anarchism, and as Martha notedtheir vandalism is clearly focused on the links between everyday economic violence and institutions,” ie it is not random libertinage. They are angry and violent, but they are not simply rioting.

However, having a cause and a politic is not the same as having a strategy.

The intellectual underpinnings of Insurrectionary anarchism are over a century old and framed within an entirely different social and political context. The modern defences of the methods (ie tactics) that the Bloc uses such as Ward Churchill’s ‘Pacifism as Pathology‘ and Gelderloos’ ‘How Nonviolence Protects the State‘ are laughable. They are intellectual pablum written for the naive believer to confirm their simplistic caricatures of nonviolent struggle. That anyone takes them seriously should be a mystery, but there is a reason that they do.

The basic pro-violence arguments as they articulated by the Bloc and supporters are summarized here. These may seem like parodies if you have never heard them, but they’re not. The entire case for violence rests on a cartoonish misrepresentation of what nonviolent struggle is and how it works. The alleged arguments are easily refuted (eg here) , so why are they so rarely challenged and exposed for the nonsense that they are?

In part because of the repressive tactics of the Bloc. Anyone who has attempted to have a rational discussion about tactics when Bloc sympathizers are present is aware that they practice silencing any dissent with a variety of tricks, from ad hominem attacks to accusations of not being in solidarity, etc. The faux anarchists really are a case study in the ‘Tyranny of Structurelessness.”

In part due to effective marketing. The phrase “Diversity of Tactics” (DoT) is inspired as an euphemism for violence (it puts “collateral damage” to shame) and allows the use of yet another logical fallacy to be used to prevent intelligent dialogue. Blocists will not allow any discussion of violence, you have to say “Diversity of Tactics.” In that way they try and force the false choice between accepting violence or being against diversity. It’s middle school debating tactics and logically incoherent, but it works to silence debate.


While the above is certainly true, the main reason most do not calmly refute the DoT nonsense is that they do not know how to. We in the broader movement have failed to clearly articulate how and why non-violence can work, how and why within the context of our society it is more effective than violence. We have failed to do so because most of us don’t know how. Our choice of nonviolent methods is too often rooted in habit, comfort, or even fear.

If the Bloc may be accused of not having a strategy, much less a coherent one,  the movement as a whole would seem not to either. If we do, most people don’t know what it is or how it is supposed to work, which is pretty much the same thing. Like the Bloc, we use tactics out of preference or familiarity rather than because we understand how they will or can lead to success.