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 noted “their 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.
The British climate movement’s ‘Big One’ brought out record numbers, but ran into a wall of silence. XR’s new strategy could turn this setback into a new lease on life.
Many are celebrating the recent convictions against the Proud Boys, but they will only strengthen the state’s ability to target the left.
A new book explores how Miss Major has persevered over six inspiring decades on the frontlines of the queer and trans liberation movement.
This is a problem on a number of levels and to me demonstrates the slipping grip of nonviolence-only advocates on serious social movements, and that is a good thing. It is nice for the author to acknowledge that those who employ visible forms of “violence” – almost exclusively against inanimate objects, mind you – “are as committed to the issues as anyone else in the movement.” This is not something most pacifists would have acknowledged 5 or 10 years ago.
But to start from there with an assumption that there is no strategy in the minds of those in the black bloc – which is only one form of the tactics it seems the author is scared of – is dishonest and wrong. Here are just three other similarly nonsensical statements:
“[Churchill and Gelderloos] are intellectual pablum written for the naive believer to confirm their simplistic caricatures of nonviolent struggle.” Simply not true. I learned more from Churchill and Gelderloos about nonviolent struggle – both the good and the bad, is the difference, rather than only the good – than from an entire semester long peace studies course, which is not to insult the course, because it was great. But the failures and oppressiveness of much of the implementation of a nonviolence-only framework was completely ignored. Authors like these 2, and many others, are willing to show the whole story of radical and progressive social movements, in which pacifism is but a small part.
“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. …” Again, simply not true. I’ve led three classes about violent/nonviolent tactics and the accompanying strategy in which both black bloc supporters and pacifists took part, and nearly all were able to enhance their own politics and move in a more radical direction without being at each others throats. I’ve never seen an anarchist physically – violently – confront a pacifist because she was upset at the other’s tactics. I have seen the opposite, often. I would argue that coercion/domination to demonstrate “my way or the highway” (or would blockading a highway be violent?) is violence in itself.
“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.” This is because advocates of a nonviolence-only strategy are not in the mainstream of a broader movement, at least not a movement towards any world I want to see. Struggling for radical change, and living the daily grind of capitalism and the state, exposes us to daily structural violence that we need all the tools available in the toolbox to overcome, regardless of whether you or I think a particular tool constitutes violence or not – and we should all know by now that we can all argue indefinitely about that simple aspect of the question.
I do think that Churchill’s take on nonviolence is simplistic and shaped to conform to his views and not fair. George Lakey wrote an outstanding response point by point, “The Sword That Heals.” Also, Churchill and devotees make stuff up about teachers of nonviolence like Gene Sharp that undermine our work and the long term success of struggles, which must include aftermaths when healing and reconciliation will be necessary.
Diversity of Tactics is a euphemism for some form of violence. People need to try to work with organizers and if nonviolence is called for, it must be respected or our organizing is being used for cover…akin to the military doing aid work, thereby threatening unwittingly those also doing that work who haven’t signed onto this other approach.
Black Blok-ers aren’t all one animal, of course.