Diversity of tactics is a strategy for mass civil disobedience in which a movement makes periodic use of force for defensive or disruptive purposes, stepping beyond the limits of nonviolence, but also stopping short of militarization. History shows this to be the most effective form of direct action for social revolution.
The first clear articulation of diversity of tactics came from Malcolm X (Malik El-Shabazz) and other radical leaders in the African-American Civil Rights Movement of the early 1960s. Shortly after Malcolm announced his departure from the Nation of Islam, he gave a speech entitled “The Black Revolution” where he promoted solidarity between those who practiced nonviolence and those who practiced armed resistance against racism. As Malcolm put it:
Our people have made the mistake of confusing the methods with the objectives. As long as we agree on objectives, we should never fall out with each other just because we believe in different methods or tactics or strategy to reach a common goal.*
This synthesis of nonviolent tactics and collective self-defense is widely acknowledged to be the key to the civil rights movement’s victories.** Indeed it was key to most of the social advances which occurred in America during the 1960s and 1970s, and to much social liberation that has been achieved around the world since. There are hundreds of instances, if not more, where diversity of tactics has advanced social change.
Diversityoftactics.org is devoted to the study of this strategy.
*Malcolm X, April 8, 1964, quoted in Malcolm X Speaks, p. 46-49
** See for example Disobedience and Democracy: Nine Fallacies on Law and Order by Howard Zinn, Radio Free Dixie: Robert F. Williams and the Roots of Black Power by Timothy Tyson, We Will Shoot Back: Armed Resistance in the Mississippi Freedom Movement by Akinyele Umoja, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle by Charles M. Payne, Deacons for Defense:Armed Resistance in the Civil Rights Movement by Lance Hill, Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement by Barbara Ransby, Pure Fire: Self-Defense in the Civil Rights Movement by Christopher Strain, Challenging Authority: How Ordinary People Change America by Francis Fox Piven, and many others
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