Blackspot

Is Rioting Revolutionary?

The London Riots as a political act.
Is Rioting Revolutionary?

Looters run from a clothing store in Peckham, London August 8, 2011 (Reuters/Dylan Martinez)

Watching the left's reaction to the London Riots, I am reminded of a discussion between philosopher Michel Foucault and French Maoist militants in 1971. The Maoists argued in favor of setting up a "people's court" to pass judgement on the police whereas Foucault took the contrary position and insisted instead on uncoordinated, unconstrained brutal "popular justice."

Foucault theorized that any attempt to create a judicial system, even a judicial system purportedly run by the people, would simply replicate the power structure that we intended to oppose. Nor did he shy away from taking this argument to its logical conclusion. Foucault went as far as embracing historic examples of disturbing mob behavior, explicitly recalling, and implicitly endorsing, the rash of extrajudicial executions carried out during the French Revolution's September Massacres of 1792 when over a thousand people were murdered by revolutionaries. This, for Foucault, was what "popular justice" looks like and even the "moral ideology" that finds these illegal outbursts repellant "must be submitted to the scrutiny of the most rigorous criticism." The Maoists, on the other hand, insisted that the people's fury ought to be channeled into appropriate (albeit revolutionary) party structures.

What Foucault and the Maoists were debating goes to the heart of how we imagine revolutionary change will take place. Will the revolution be an uncontrolled insurrection – whose symptoms include looting in the streets of London, for example – where the people's rage against consumerism is fully released and their judgements implicitly trusted? Or, will we fear the mob and act, more or less explicitly on the side of power and the status quo, to quell and control the released flows – grabbing a broom to keep the streets clean for the next day's ecocidal shopping?

This is, for me, the fundamental point: at what point does a riot become a revolution? Must the London youth don Black Bloc attire and shout utopian anarchist slogans while burning cop cars before their acts are recognized as a kind of political rebellion? Must they be able to articulate themselves in a way that is intelligible to readers of Alain Badiou, Giorgio Agamben and Antonio Negri before their riotous flashmobs are acknowledged as the highest form of networked insurrection yet achieved? I suspect that when revolution comes, the ones who have been too long waiting for it will be the very ones who miss it. For they will be too accustomed to looking in the wrong direction, waiting for the wrong words, the wrong actors, the wrong kinds of political deeds.

We are in a revolutionary moment. Prepare yourself: this global insurrection will unfold in ways we lefties may not like. There might be violence, although we desire nonviolence, and there might be pillaging, although we desire the peaceful transfer of wealth. But, let us pause to consider before passing knee-jerk judgement on the forces unleashed even if they do not act as we would prefer. Before we rush to set up approved structures of dissent, we should ask ourselves why we are so invested in denying that rioting is a legitimate political act. Rather than trying to channel, control or dissipate these forces, we must learn to play off of the chaos of the released flows.

"It is from the point of view of property that there are thieves and stealing," Foucault insisted at the end of his discussion. When we always see looting as nothing but thieving and refuse to grant to it the status of a conscious political act, an outburst of "popular justice" against a corrupt and corrupting capitalist system, we are assuming the point of view of the very forces we are trying to overthrow. The same goes for when we condemn any insurrectionary act that is not accompanied by an insurrectionary tract.

The London Riots may not be pretty but as the old-lefty adage goes: "Revolution is not a dinner party, nor an essay, nor a painting, nor a piece of embroidery; it cannot be advanced softly, gradually, carefully, considerately, respectfully, politely, plainly, and modestly. A revolution is an insurrection…" And the London Riots are, whether we like it or not, what an insurrection might look like if the forces of capitalism do not peacefully, voluntarily relinquish their stranglehold.

Micah White, micah (at) adbusters.org

Adbusters 111 Cover

On Newsstands December 3

At last we’re in Winter. It’s the year 2047. A worn scrapbook from the future arrives in your lap. It offers a stunning global vision, a warning to the next generations, a repository of practical wisdom, and an invaluable roadmap which you need to navigate the dark times, and the opportunities, which lie ahead.

Subscribe to Adbusters Magazine

274 comments on the article “Is Rioting Revolutionary?”

Displaying 141 - 150 of 274

Page 15 of 28

Anonymous

WHAT IS SO WRONG WITH TAKING FREE STUFF FROM CAPITALISTS??!?!? FUCK THOSE RICH MOTHERFUCKERS.

CAN SOMEONE EXPLAIN TO ME WHEN WE STOPPED WANTING TO STEAL FROM THE RICH AND BECAME A BUNCH OF MORALIZING DO GOODER - LEFTISTS?

Anonymous

WHAT IS SO WRONG WITH TAKING FREE STUFF FROM CAPITALISTS??!?!? FUCK THOSE RICH MOTHERFUCKERS.

CAN SOMEONE EXPLAIN TO ME WHEN WE STOPPED WANTING TO STEAL FROM THE RICH AND BECAME A BUNCH OF MORALIZING DO GOODER - LEFTISTS?

Anonymous

So that's why looters stole and burnt independent shops then!?! and the police 'attempted' to protect the corporate shops!?! mmm...

Anonymous

So that's why looters stole and burnt independent shops then!?! and the police 'attempted' to protect the corporate shops!?! mmm...

Anonymous

well you take a risk when you join the capitalist machine even if you are "independent" and still sell nikes and ipods and shit.

You lay down with dogs you may get fleas.

Also best not to piss people off man cuz mob-think aint pretty. instead of blaming the symptoms maybe yall should be looking at the cause. typical westerners..

Anonymous

well you take a risk when you join the capitalist machine even if you are "independent" and still sell nikes and ipods and shit.

You lay down with dogs you may get fleas.

Also best not to piss people off man cuz mob-think aint pretty. instead of blaming the symptoms maybe yall should be looking at the cause. typical westerners..

Anonymous

We just had a similar but smaller scale riot here in Vancouver, BC. Trust me, all those people weren't smashing windows and stealing stuff because they were yearning for political freedom. People are just ugly and greedy.

Anonymous

We just had a similar but smaller scale riot here in Vancouver, BC. Trust me, all those people weren't smashing windows and stealing stuff because they were yearning for political freedom. People are just ugly and greedy.

Anonymous

That riot was prompted by the loss of a hockey game; it had an extremely loose demographic of folks from different social classes and had more the character of a macho party than anything else.

This was a 3-day insurrection that was prompted by the racist police murder of a black man, that consequently brought primarily participation from poor blacks and some poor white folks too, and that involved looting stores as a central focus.

Though both involved a kind of hooliganism and even attacks on civilians, i think your comparison is, in the least to say, a bit lacking in utility.

Complaining about people being ugly or greedy is besides the point. there are ugly or greedy people in every class everywhere, to be sure. But this was a SOCIAL rebellion - you cant explain it away in terms of personality dynamics. The rich, after all, are quite ugly and greedy themselves, arguably much more so or they wouldnt maintain the social position they have. They dont loot because they ve already looted EVERYTHING. They dont fight the cops because the cops WORK FOR THEM.

And of course we see no army of reporters and armchair commentators rushing to condemn the greed of the rich in anything like similar terms (arrest, violence etc.) No, they get bailouts and golden parachutes and loans.

Anonymous

That riot was prompted by the loss of a hockey game; it had an extremely loose demographic of folks from different social classes and had more the character of a macho party than anything else.

This was a 3-day insurrection that was prompted by the racist police murder of a black man, that consequently brought primarily participation from poor blacks and some poor white folks too, and that involved looting stores as a central focus.

Though both involved a kind of hooliganism and even attacks on civilians, i think your comparison is, in the least to say, a bit lacking in utility.

Complaining about people being ugly or greedy is besides the point. there are ugly or greedy people in every class everywhere, to be sure. But this was a SOCIAL rebellion - you cant explain it away in terms of personality dynamics. The rich, after all, are quite ugly and greedy themselves, arguably much more so or they wouldnt maintain the social position they have. They dont loot because they ve already looted EVERYTHING. They dont fight the cops because the cops WORK FOR THEM.

And of course we see no army of reporters and armchair commentators rushing to condemn the greed of the rich in anything like similar terms (arrest, violence etc.) No, they get bailouts and golden parachutes and loans.

Pages

Add a new comment

Comments are closed.