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

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274 comments on the article “Is Rioting Revolutionary?”

Displaying 151 - 160 of 274

Page 16 of 28

Anonymous

the riots where not a protest nor a revolution or fight against the consumerist system !!! it the was just anarchistic opportunism simple as. The people who acted this way are scum, i live in Liverpool my area became a fucking war! and to Stanhopea26 its not that the people need to look at themselves, our government are completely disconnect from the people and do not care about us, they are only out for themselves. our fucktard of a leader cameron only just called it broken Britain but the people know its been broken for a while !!

Anonymous

the riots where not a protest nor a revolution or fight against the consumerist system !!! it the was just anarchistic opportunism simple as. The people who acted this way are scum, i live in Liverpool my area became a fucking war! and to Stanhopea26 its not that the people need to look at themselves, our government are completely disconnect from the people and do not care about us, they are only out for themselves. our fucktard of a leader cameron only just called it broken Britain but the people know its been broken for a while !!

Anonymous

hey fuck you asshole. why dont you stop complaining about looters and go out and get some yourself?

and what the hell is wrong with "anarchist opportunism?" Shit aint affordable- get yourself a deal.

Its better than being some racist reactionary asshole sitting on the sidelines, rooting for the pigs.

Fuck off.

Anonymous

hey fuck you asshole. why dont you stop complaining about looters and go out and get some yourself?

and what the hell is wrong with "anarchist opportunism?" Shit aint affordable- get yourself a deal.

Its better than being some racist reactionary asshole sitting on the sidelines, rooting for the pigs.

Fuck off.

Anonymous

The most interesting thing a shadow has been thrown on the purpose and cause for the social uprising. A black/mulatto was shot by the police! Now look at the images in the news, mostly black rioters looting shops and smashing private property in their own community.

No more cries from Blacks/Mulatto for being stopped and searched or discriminated against. This incident was just embarrassing and just proved how we produce the images and discourses to keep stereotypes alive.

Anonymous

The most interesting thing a shadow has been thrown on the purpose and cause for the social uprising. A black/mulatto was shot by the police! Now look at the images in the news, mostly black rioters looting shops and smashing private property in their own community.

No more cries from Blacks/Mulatto for being stopped and searched or discriminated against. This incident was just embarrassing and just proved how we produce the images and discourses to keep stereotypes alive.

Anonymous

Wow. Bunch of rich white kids on here yammering inanities about the poor and disenfranchised. Y'all are scared to death that a system that is weighted in your favor might be so easily deconstructed by the simple rebellious act of stealing from the rich.

Property is theft.
Wealth is theft.

Poor people let you run the world under such glaringly lopsided systems as free market capitalism so long as you throw them a bone every once and while and only abuse them 5 days a week instead of 7. And you have the nerve to chastise them for stealing your shit and burning your "property" when you can't even maintain your side of the feudal arrangement?

Quit your bratty yammering whitey. And be glad you still have your mom and dads third home in the Hamptons to go sob your eyes out in.

Anonymous

Wow. Bunch of rich white kids on here yammering inanities about the poor and disenfranchised. Y'all are scared to death that a system that is weighted in your favor might be so easily deconstructed by the simple rebellious act of stealing from the rich.

Property is theft.
Wealth is theft.

Poor people let you run the world under such glaringly lopsided systems as free market capitalism so long as you throw them a bone every once and while and only abuse them 5 days a week instead of 7. And you have the nerve to chastise them for stealing your shit and burning your "property" when you can't even maintain your side of the feudal arrangement?

Quit your bratty yammering whitey. And be glad you still have your mom and dads third home in the Hamptons to go sob your eyes out in.

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