A Diversion We Don’t Need

Against the Current, No. 158, May/June 2012

Kevin Laird

NOBODY LIKES HAVING their meeting hijacked. Meetings are meant to be utilitarian affairs, venues to determine the best course of action to meet a goal. Nonetheless, the frustration of having one’s meeting taken over by someone with an ulterior agenda is nearly a universal experience.

With that frustration in mind, I am pleased to announce that I intend to provide a conclusive end to the Diversity Of Tactics argument. For those who have never experienced this particular argument, I am referring to a disagreement among radicals over the appropriateness of actions defined as “violent,” by the radical milieu and others.

Of course, every radical campaign has its own circumstances, which call for their own strategies and tactics. Yet again and again, the question of violent or nonviolent tactics is forced into consideration in disregard to what the action actually calls for. I believe this argument persists, even when the question of violent or nonviolent tactics seems irrelevant, because it is not posed out of a concern for the particular circumstances.

Put plainly, I believe the Diversity Of Tactics argument is not an expression of a practical concern but an ideological one. I believe we are hostage to this Argument because there are those that understand violence or nonviolence as a good unto themselves.

We know from our own experience that none of us wants to have the Diversity Of Tactics argument again. So why does it continue to happen? Because we radicals and anarchists have unintentionally become a Silent Majority, unwilling for whatever reason to prevent these ideologues, who are only a tiny handful of people with loud voices, from controlling the direction of our meetings.

I want to point out that we don’t necessarily need to consider questions of violence or nonviolence unless we believe such questions are strategically relevant. This is the first means to end the Argument: we must each individually insist on considering the circumstances at hand before considering any tactics and certainly before considering violence or nonviolence.

In the Argument, violence and nonviolence are ideological positions. Therefore, each position is equally wrong and equally at fault. The ideological nature of our understanding of violence and nonviolence creates greater confusion in how we think about each — rather than talking about tactics, we talk about violence and nonviolence as if they ARE tactics.

Violence and nonviolence are categories of behavior. A strategy, on the other hand, is a framework of consideration toward a specific outcome, and a tactic is a behavior defined by the imperatives of a strategy. In both, primary consideration is given to practical, material concerns, rather than to a category of behavior. To end the Argument we must stop considering Violence and Nonviolence as tactics.

A False Principle

I see fewer folks advocating for outright political violence than I do advocating what might be called anti-nonviolence, which we could define as a position that promotes the absolute right to use violence politically. It seems to be concerned with violence — or “violence” — as a principle, rather than an action with concrete effects for movements and individuals.

Nonviolence is seen as dowdy and ineffectual, or dangerously out of touch with the reality of state violence. Anti-nonviolence, by contrast, demonstrates (or is meant to demonstrate) an acknowledgement of the repressive power of the state and a serious political commitment.

This is significant not because violence, or anti-nonviolence, is necessarily wrong, but because it frames how we think about tactics. We need to consider an action or movement in light of that movement’s actual circumstances and needs. This is the next major means by which we end the Argument: eliminate the unchallenged acceptance of a position of anti-nonviolence.

There is a significant difference between anti-nonviolence and actual political violence. Whereas anti-nonviolence insists on the right to violence in the abstract, political violence requires commitment. The consequences of violence are hard to predict, and affect the entire movement. The difference between the two is so serious that it is disingenuous, even dangerous, to speak as we do of political violence as a “tactic,” equivalent to handbills or tree-sits.

Political violence denotes the end of one movement and the beginning of another. A violent radical movement and a nonviolent radical movement may actually be separate movements, with complementary aims, but with contradictory strategies. Perhaps each might be more effective were they to work separately. Therein lies another way to end the Argument: by organizing ourselves according to our tactics, we avoid the Argument altogether.

No Romance

I actively dread the day we will begin a real war with the state, which is precisely why we must not fight for the romance of fighting but that we fight to win. It is not enough to consider the State’s centuries of experience, superior weaponry and training and greater numbers — we must now also acknowledge that the State has been actively preparing for an urban civil war.

To win an engagement like this requires more than a few haphazard skirmishes during marches and rallies. It takes organization, training, planning and popular support. It takes, in other words, dedication. Another step toward ending the Argument is to refuse to practice political violence without dedication, and to recognize that a violent movement should be separate from a nonviolent one.

Nonviolent tactics are worth using because they’ve proven themselves effective across the years. Nonviolent protest is cheaper and still safer than anti-nonviolent protest (and certainly safer than any hypothetical guerilla war), resulting in fewer lengthy trials, fewer prison sentences and fewer injuries, and attracts popular interest in radical movements.

I would also like to assert that nonviolence does not mean non-militancy; nonviolence is ONLY effective when militant! The history of the successes of nonviolent action is a history of militancy. The correct practice of militant nonviolence requires the courage to endure confrontation with the police and the fact of State violence.

May/June 2012, ATC 158


  1. this is poorly written. you don’t even define violence. you throw up straw men and call yourself a radical. have you ever been beaten by a cop? been pepper sprayed? how about flash bang grenades or tear gas? do you honestly think that non violence is going to bring down the most violent state in human history?

    most of the people who scream about non violence, are the first to freak out when riot cops show up. they don’t even practice non violent civil disobedience when challenged. they are the first to condemn the actions of others, but never put their bodies on the line. they worship gandhi and mlk but when given the chance to do it, they never stand their ground. if everyone in the occupy movement would hold true to real gandhi-ing civil disobedience we could really push this agenda much much further. problem is the peace nazi’s don’t put their money (or their bodies) where their mouths are.

    is “violence” property destruction? no
    is “violence” the right to self defense? no
    is “violence” when cops beat the fuck out of protestors? yes.

    so what you are saying is you support a state monopoly on violence.

    in a non-heirarchical leaderless movement we don’t need the peace nazis to tell us how to protest.

  2. On May Day in New York, Occupy Wall Street put together a coalition of labor, immigrant rights groups, radical organizations and OWS itself. The march was 30,000 people and managed to tie up Lower Manhattan for hours.

    During preparations for this event, “rules” were hammered out to protect immigrant participants who, if they were arrested, and found to be undocumented, could face deportation. What was, in effect, a marshall system was developed that included all factions, including OWS anarchists.

    However, one anarchist faction decided that “diversity of tactics” was more important than the unity of the march, as was negotiated by all factions, including other OWS anarchists. It split to organize its own march of a few hundred people. A few dozen were arrested.

    Guess who got the headlines the next day?

    You call us “peace nazis.” I call you clowns, substituting the content of your own egos for radical democracy.

Comments are closed.