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 161 - 170 of 274

Page 17 of 28

JLZ

It's a U.S thing brohiem. Guess you wouldn't get it in U.K. Still the idea is the same: quit yammering. You're rich and white and privileged and you are a fucking minority. Be glad we haven't come to where ever your posh flat is and strung you up yet. Doh! Here come the commies!
Still you get the point: Oppression can be dangerous to your health if those who you oppress ever figure out that your wealth is stolen from them and compounded by exploiting their sweat and blood.

JLZ

It's a U.S thing brohiem. Guess you wouldn't get it in U.K. Still the idea is the same: quit yammering. You're rich and white and privileged and you are a fucking minority. Be glad we haven't come to where ever your posh flat is and strung you up yet. Doh! Here come the commies!
Still you get the point: Oppression can be dangerous to your health if those who you oppress ever figure out that your wealth is stolen from them and compounded by exploiting their sweat and blood.

Anonymous

yeah. no.

i understand the point the writer was trying to make, but it kinda feels like he's rooting for one side from the start.
I dunno. Looting? Stealing? and not just from the big, evil capitalist monster, no, from independent record shops and stores? and you make them out as if they all decided to stand against consumerism? Count me skeptical. People are selfish and greedy and stupid and that's the actual problem. the big problem.

not the current political situation and not your own problem with authority.

i have no actual point. just thought i would, well, point that out.

Anonymous

yeah. no.

i understand the point the writer was trying to make, but it kinda feels like he's rooting for one side from the start.
I dunno. Looting? Stealing? and not just from the big, evil capitalist monster, no, from independent record shops and stores? and you make them out as if they all decided to stand against consumerism? Count me skeptical. People are selfish and greedy and stupid and that's the actual problem. the big problem.

not the current political situation and not your own problem with authority.

i have no actual point. just thought i would, well, point that out.

Anonymous

It is very important to turn rioters into revolutionaries. The followings will help a great deal:

Revolt, long overdue
The heinous nature of the bourgeoisie
becomes evident only if you look at its
functioning that many female university
students have to turn to selling their bodies
to get an education.
Assault combined with humiliation!
They do not shoot you; they hand you a gun
to do it yourselves! Let’s give them a telling
lesson. Join the month-long uprising/strikes/
rallies against the bourgeois democracy= bourgeois
monopoly starting on Nov 15 all over W. Europe,
and Nov 19 in N. America.
The politicians will be arrested, brought to trial.
Copy, email; attach this in public bathrooms
From: the Liberation Front of W. Europe,
and N. America
--------------------------------

Time to wake up

200 million child labour in the world.
Some of them are 4,5,6 years old.
Who do they work for?
For a socialist in a socialist State?
Or for capitalists in capitalist States?
For 200 million injustices of this kind,
you need to eliminate 200 million capitalists
just to get even, if you understand logic,
and have some sense of justice.
Join the great, month-long uprising/
strikes/ rallies against the Bourgeois
monopoly/ Bourgeois democracy starting
in Nov 15 in the countries of USA, Canada,
UK, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, etc
Liberation Front
Email, copy; attach this in public places
(bathrooms, bus stations, etc.)
---------------------------------------------------
bamboos and sex objects
It is disturbingly shameful--
considering there are so many girls in the
world now--to see that they all(most of them)
have been turned by the Bourgeoisie to bamboos,
walking like whores, dressing like one, talking
like one. What happened to the revolutionary
spirit of their ancestors who participated
intellectually, and even physically in many revolutions.
Let's hope some wake up, waking up the others.Attach this in public bathrooms
daughters of N. American revolution DNR

Anonymous

It is very important to turn rioters into revolutionaries. The followings will help a great deal:

Revolt, long overdue
The heinous nature of the bourgeoisie
becomes evident only if you look at its
functioning that many female university
students have to turn to selling their bodies
to get an education.
Assault combined with humiliation!
They do not shoot you; they hand you a gun
to do it yourselves! Let’s give them a telling
lesson. Join the month-long uprising/strikes/
rallies against the bourgeois democracy= bourgeois
monopoly starting on Nov 15 all over W. Europe,
and Nov 19 in N. America.
The politicians will be arrested, brought to trial.
Copy, email; attach this in public bathrooms
From: the Liberation Front of W. Europe,
and N. America
--------------------------------

Time to wake up

200 million child labour in the world.
Some of them are 4,5,6 years old.
Who do they work for?
For a socialist in a socialist State?
Or for capitalists in capitalist States?
For 200 million injustices of this kind,
you need to eliminate 200 million capitalists
just to get even, if you understand logic,
and have some sense of justice.
Join the great, month-long uprising/
strikes/ rallies against the Bourgeois
monopoly/ Bourgeois democracy starting
in Nov 15 in the countries of USA, Canada,
UK, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, etc
Liberation Front
Email, copy; attach this in public places
(bathrooms, bus stations, etc.)
---------------------------------------------------
bamboos and sex objects
It is disturbingly shameful--
considering there are so many girls in the
world now--to see that they all(most of them)
have been turned by the Bourgeoisie to bamboos,
walking like whores, dressing like one, talking
like one. What happened to the revolutionary
spirit of their ancestors who participated
intellectually, and even physically in many revolutions.
Let's hope some wake up, waking up the others.Attach this in public bathrooms
daughters of N. American revolution DNR

Anonymous

Big and small burn them all is what they say....

Seriously yall, anyone here ever worked a shitty service work job for a noncorporate small place? Sucked, didnt it?

I think we can stop going on and on about local businesses blah blah blah- even if this IS adbusters' website.

If i was in london id be hot to get some free shit too, you better believe it. Its not because of an ideological consumerism- its cus shoes and clothes have gotten expensive, because food prices have gotten ridiculous, because free electronics can make their way to ebay and pay my rent for months. If there is any ism here it is and first and foremost survival-ism.

And what better incident to point out how the survival of one class is juxtaposed with the interests of police and businesses?
Anarchists should have been on this riot like crazy, in the streets participating, encouranging better targets, discouraging attacks on civillians when possible, scouting, providing any street experience possible (bring masks for folks to protected from CCTV, for example); generally helping to provide a little bit more anticapitalist content to the rage that was filling london.

Instead what ive seen is largely the same reaction as the broader white middle class left: generic statements that half-condemn, half condone the insurrection, that distance themselves from the looting (?!?!), that even play into media crap about shaming the protesters.

This is totally unacceptable, and is in fact embarassing.

This article, surprising to me to be in adbusters, actually is a little more honest and decent than most of the crap ive read. It is quite true that an insurrection is no dinner party, of course.

Many politicos seem to be dismayed at the lack of coherent "content," despite the fact that many similar insurrections of recent past (december 2008 in greece for example, or much of arab spring) had a similar quality. I would say that if that bothers you, all the more reason to get off the sidelines and be a part of the riot yourself, in a way that makes sense to you and whatever "content" you desire.

On the other hand, if the idea of looting and fighting cops just bothers you and THATS why you want to stay on the sidelines, you might want to check the content of your own politics. Personaly, I cant remember any anti capitalist revolutionary movements in the last century that didnt involve fighting cops and looting; i cant imagine why they WOULDNT have those elements, and aside from the attacks on civillians, i cant understand why observers would experience such elements as anything other than joyful.

Anonymous

Big and small burn them all is what they say....

Seriously yall, anyone here ever worked a shitty service work job for a noncorporate small place? Sucked, didnt it?

I think we can stop going on and on about local businesses blah blah blah- even if this IS adbusters' website.

If i was in london id be hot to get some free shit too, you better believe it. Its not because of an ideological consumerism- its cus shoes and clothes have gotten expensive, because food prices have gotten ridiculous, because free electronics can make their way to ebay and pay my rent for months. If there is any ism here it is and first and foremost survival-ism.

And what better incident to point out how the survival of one class is juxtaposed with the interests of police and businesses?
Anarchists should have been on this riot like crazy, in the streets participating, encouranging better targets, discouraging attacks on civillians when possible, scouting, providing any street experience possible (bring masks for folks to protected from CCTV, for example); generally helping to provide a little bit more anticapitalist content to the rage that was filling london.

Instead what ive seen is largely the same reaction as the broader white middle class left: generic statements that half-condemn, half condone the insurrection, that distance themselves from the looting (?!?!), that even play into media crap about shaming the protesters.

This is totally unacceptable, and is in fact embarassing.

This article, surprising to me to be in adbusters, actually is a little more honest and decent than most of the crap ive read. It is quite true that an insurrection is no dinner party, of course.

Many politicos seem to be dismayed at the lack of coherent "content," despite the fact that many similar insurrections of recent past (december 2008 in greece for example, or much of arab spring) had a similar quality. I would say that if that bothers you, all the more reason to get off the sidelines and be a part of the riot yourself, in a way that makes sense to you and whatever "content" you desire.

On the other hand, if the idea of looting and fighting cops just bothers you and THATS why you want to stay on the sidelines, you might want to check the content of your own politics. Personaly, I cant remember any anti capitalist revolutionary movements in the last century that didnt involve fighting cops and looting; i cant imagine why they WOULDNT have those elements, and aside from the attacks on civillians, i cant understand why observers would experience such elements as anything other than joyful.

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