World System Riot 2 CHS

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  “World-Systems Riot”  Joshua Clover, Professor, University of California Davis 30 November 2012   1  World-System Riot  ABSTRACT: The riot has taken on a new force and popular momentum in the midst of global economic crisis: a motion turned increasingly toward the core of the contemporary world-system. This calls for a reconsideration of riot’s significance. Recent studies have tended toward data-determined correlations (food  price riots) and political periodization (riots as expressions of political disorder). Beginning with the historical shift from riot to strike as primary form of political agitation in the 19  th   century, this article argues that the recent shift back toward the riot form is entangled with the secular decline in the current cycle of accumulation, and is best understood as a development proper to an age of declining industrial profitability and the concomitant shift away from the industrial wage form and real production. The three phases of a hegemonic cycle described by Braudel and Arrighi (merchant, industrial, financial) are understood as led by competition in circulation, production, and circulation successively. Struggles for profits in the sphere of circulation are more vulnerable to the blockade or interruption than to the downing of tools; the marketplace supplants the  factory or mine as the place of social antagonism. All of this implies a preference for riot over strike. The data-driven and political accounts can be coordinated by this fact; they are both secondary expressions of the underlying collapse of a hegemonic cycle of accumulation. KEYWORDS: capitalism, crisis, strike, riot,  production, circulation, accumulation, E.P. Thompson, Alain Badiou, Giovanni Arrighi.  We have entered into an age of riots; we are early on yet. This essay proposes a structural reinterpretation of the riot: its place, its occasion, its determinations and purpose. The riot is often taken to be both a pre- and extra-capitalist form, lacking in political content specific to capital beyond its ideologically determined reenactment of imperatives to acquire and consume. I mean to argue otherwise.  That said, the claims of this essay must be partial. We do not yet have adequate data on contemporary riots from the standpoint of the political — despite the efforts of the Bibliotheque des emeutes   (a group of independent scholars who for several years assembled a database of political perturbations around the globe, accompanied by analysis), Aufheben (the name both for a British collective of political historians and their journal, which has given over considerable space to the matter of riots in the Anglophone west), and a few others. Further, the significance of the category “riot” clearly bears regional variations; Ching Kwan Lee’s persuasive work on riots in contemporary China, for example, reveals an event distinct in character from the riots of Tottenham or Tunisia—Chinese riots being, effectively, collusions between crowd and local administrators to solicit specific dispensations from provincial or national governments, in a way formalized enough to suggest an armed plebiscite.   2  This example bears in some degree on the logic of riot set forth herein. For present purposes, however, “age of riots” designates on the one hand the riots moving steadily toward the core of the US-centered world-system, such as those in Greece, France, Spain, and the UK, and now beginning in United States (most notably in Oakland, California, from the Oscar Grant rebellion to the Oakland Commune); and on the other, riots that approach the status of revolution, as those still passing through the Maghreb and Mashreq. These two categories might be distinguished as “anti-austerity” and “anti-state” riots; we may yet see a greater unity between the two.  That we are in an age of riots is an assessment shared by, e.g., the New England Complex Systems Institute and the political philosopher Alain Badiou. Their influential new studies represent two methodological poles of Riot Studies. The former prefers a positivistic, quantitative science, a single-bullet correlation wherein the authors “identify a specific food price threshold above which protests become likely.” source: “The Food Crises and Political Instability in North Africa and the Middle East”   3  The latter offers an abstracted, qualitative sense of the political moment; Badiou identifies “intervallic periods” between political sequences which, lacking an organizing Idea, host the disordered proto-political mode of riot. I believe that we can describe these riotous tendencies as characteristic actions of what I shall call intervallic periods. What is an intervallic period? It is what comes after a period in which the revolutionary conception of political action has been sufficiently clarified...and on this basis has secured massive, disciplined support. In an intervallic period, by contrast, the revolutionary idea of the preceding dormant. [Badiou 38-39] Both methods are portable. Each extends itself, for example, to the European situation in the earlier nineteenth century. For the Complex Systems team, it is a matter of “widespread droughts” preceding the volatility of 1848. Badiou sees an “uncanny resemblance” between our age and the French Restoration following the final defeat of the Republican spirit: …from the start of the 1830s it was a major period of riots, which were often momentarily or seemingly victorious (the ‘Trois Glorieuses’ of 1830, the workers’ riots pretty much everywhere, the 1848 ‘revolution’, and so on). These were precisely the riots, sometimes immediate, sometimes more historical, characteristic of an intervallic period. [Badiou 41]   E.P Thomson, in his remarkable “The Moral Economy of the English Crowd in the Eighteenth Century,” locates this previous riot-charged age somewhat earlier, tracing the sequence that begins in 1709 and becomes a regular feature after mid-century with a periodicity strikingly similar to the modern business cycle. Those years which brought English agriculture to a new pitch of excellence were punctuated by the riots — or, as contemporaries often described them, the “insurrections” or “risings of the poor” — of 1709, 1740, 1756-7, 1766-7, 1773, 1782, and, above all, 1795 and 1800-1. This buoyant capitalist industry floated upon an irascible market which might at any time dissolve into marauding bands, who scoured the countryside with bludgeons, or rose in the market-place to “set the price” of  provisions at the popular level. (Thompson 79)  Thompson’s national focus provides a somewhat different periodization of riot than the French examples above, and for us a more useful one, as it unfolds within not just the horizons but the heart of a world-system hegemon; as the task before us is to resituate the riot in relation to hegemonic cycles of accumulation set forth most lucidly by Giovanni  Arrighi and Beverly Silver, this will prove quite useful.
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