Final Remarks


Mark Bradford,
Mark Brad­ford, “Unti­tled” 2006.

This arti­cle is the con­clud­ing install­ment of  “The Cri­sis and the Rift: A Sym­po­sium on Joshua Clover’s Riot.Strike.Riot.”

The first thing and most impor­tant mat­ter is to express my grat­i­tude for this port­fo­lio. View­point has dis­tin­guished itself in its intel­lec­tual heft and focus on the most nec­es­sary top­ics. That they have devoted a dossier to this occa­sion is clar­ion tes­ti­mony on behalf of the book’s wagers and their time­li­ness. The wagers are these: that the riot can now be thought as a fun­da­men­tal form of class strug­gle rather than an impo­lit­i­cal spasm; that we can rec­og­nize in this the ascend­ing sig­nif­i­cance of sur­plus pop­u­la­tions within the dialec­ti­cal pro­duc­tion of capital’s antag­o­nists; and that the riot can be in turn seen as a sun­dial indi­cat­ing where we are within the his­tory of cap­i­tal­ist accu­mu­la­tion. One may hag­gle intel­lec­tu­ally over peri­odiza­tion, but the exis­tence and seri­ous­ness of the dossier together do a good job of telling time.

I count the con­trib­u­tors as com­rades. Like all com­rades, they dis­agree. The dis­agree­ments among them­selves are often telling. And so for exam­ple one insists that the book’s analy­sis is marred by an excess of the polit­i­cal; another finds a dearth of the polit­i­cal in pre­cisely the same place. One insists we shift our analy­sis to a higher degree of abstrac­tion in his­tor­i­cal thought; the two oth­ers in dif­fer­ent ways affirm the neces­sity of atten­tion to more con­crete prac­tices. One sug­gests that we can­not peri­odize in this way; another con­firms the book’s peri­odiza­tions, while sug­gest­ing they ought lead us to alter­nate recog­ni­tions. There are other such moments of blunt incon­sis­tency, some­times so much so that it is hard to imag­ine they have read the same book. If these diver­gences seem mostly to express the respon­dents’ own predilec­tions and research pro­grams, that is only to be expected. And col­lec­tive enter­prises take many forms, includ­ing tak­ing the oppor­tu­nity just to say what ideas you’ve been try­ing out and work­ing through, and con­tin­u­ing to puz­zle over them in the com­pany of oth­ers.

It may be the main point of con­tention lies not in speci­fic dif­fer­ences but in the rela­tion to the generic char­ac­ter of the­o­ret­i­cal-his­tor­i­cal mod­el­ing. I take many of the moments which dis­pute (and some­times mis­char­ac­ter­ize) argu­ments as aris­ing from the assump­tion of, or desire for, a dif­fer­ent kind of book. Per­haps that is just my ten­dency to min­i­mize dis­putes; every­body knows I shy from antag­o­nism. I will turn to this mat­ter of genre below. Before that, how­ever, some par­tic­u­lars, tak­ing the oppor­tu­nity to restate some of the book’s core argu­ments along the way — hope­fully with a clar­ity gained from these responses. I want also to take the oppor­tu­nity to agree — sim­ply and appre­cia­tively — with var­i­ous aspects of the responses. They often add miss­ing dimen­sions and cor­rectly iden­tify slip­pages and unclar­i­ties in the book. They add to the shared inquiry. For all this, I must leave a vast amount of these exten­sive and thought­ful responses unre­marked, lest this become over­long.

On Cir­cu­la­tion and Marx

Among what are for me the most use­ful propo­si­tions is Delio Vasquez’s asser­tion that while focus­ing on riot, the book’s “argu­ment is in fact bet­ter matched to other admit­tedly less spec­tac­u­lar forms of con­tem­po­rary strug­gle – forms such as theft, fraud, tax eva­sion, embez­zle­ment, bur­glary, and squat­ting.” This under­scores the pri­macy in the book’s argu­ment not of the mar­quee item of riot itself, but of the more capa­cious and sig­nif­i­cant cat­e­gory of the cir­cu­la­tion strug­gle as char­ac­ter­is­tic of con­tem­po­rary capital’s devel­op­ment. The cen­tral­ity of this cat­e­gory, which is exem­pli­fied but not exhausted by the riot, does not come through as well as it might in the book (per­haps because of the title and the times) and this more capa­cious view is help­ful. More­over, Vasquez’s focus on the prac­ti­cal aspects of these strug­gles is vital, as is his atten­tion to the way that crim­i­nal­iza­tion obscures this aspect. Even the riot, so sub­ject to spec­tac­u­lar­iza­tion and pathol­o­giza­tion by left as well as con­ser­v­a­tive crit­ics, involves a deeply prac­ti­cal set of activ­i­ties. This prac­ti­cal func­tion of cir­cu­la­tion strug­gles, par­tic­u­larly against the ten­dency to take them as cries of the immis­er­ated, is at the heart of the book. The response’s reminder that within the expanded field of cir­cu­la­tion strug­gles the col­lec­tive meet­ing of needs is cen­tral and deserves our close atten­tion is a crit­i­cal recog­ni­tion.

In this focus on prac­tice, Vasquez mis­rec­og­nizes the entan­gled rela­tion between the abstract and con­crete senses of cir­cu­la­tion, end­ing up with a one-sided, non-dialec­ti­cal view. In main he reduces cir­cu­la­tion to con­crete prob­lems of con­sump­tion and to spa­tial move­ment, to con­crete ways “ways riots can dis­rupt circulation/consumption.” This comes at the expense of under­stand­ing that riots are cir­cu­la­tion strug­gles in part for the rea­son that their par­tic­i­pants have been excluded from pro­duc­tion and pushed into the social sphere of cir­cu­la­tion, defined in the last instance for the pro­le­tariat by mar­ket depen­dence and for cap­i­tal by the com­pul­sion toward effi­cient real­iza­tion of value.1 Thus the class of riot, con­sis­tently excluded along racial­ized lines but still mar­ket-depen­dent, must fight in cir­cu­la­tion whether or not they endeavor to dis­rupt, inter­fere, resolve con­sump­tion needs. This is cen­tral to the book’s argu­ment, and makes vis­i­ble the rela­tion­ship between explicit price-set­ting of the first era of riot and the racial­ized sur­plus rebel­lions of riot prime: the lat­ter is nei­ther a sim­ple return of the for­mer nor an unthink­ably dif­fer­ent phe­nom­e­non. Rather we find a dialec­tic of con­ti­nu­ity and rup­ture between them. Ah-hah but where’s the price-set­ting in a riot? misses this argu­ment entirely. 

It is easy enough to be sym­pa­thetic toward calls to focus on daily, lived strug­gle rather than the­o­ret­i­cal cat­e­gories. One might almost think from Vasquez’s essay that, in response to the riot, there is some annoy­ing pre­pon­der­ance of the lat­ter. The oppo­site is the case. There are far more books that take soci­o­log­i­cal and anthro­po­log­i­cal mea­sure of the activ­i­ties Vasquez men­tions, with noble atten­tion to every­day life, than there are polit­i­cal-eco­nomic the­o­riza­tions of the riot. It would be hard to weigh the two cat­e­gories and con­clude we need more of the for­mer — unless one had a polit­i­cal pre­dis­po­si­tion toward such a con­clu­sion. This betrays the larger lim­its of the response. Vasquez’s con­cern, for exam­ple, that a polit­i­cal econ­omy of riot has the dan­ger­ous con­se­quence of sug­gest­ing that “riot­ers are not really agents, but more like automa­tons who ful­fill their role in the pre­de­ter­mined march of his­tory” surely has good inten­tions. Read­ers, how­ever, will likely rec­og­nize in it the inter­sec­tion of post­struc­tural­ist cliché and lib­eral cant, of the sorts levied against ant­i­cap­i­tal­ist the­ory from the begin­ning. Agency not deter­min­ism, etc etc. The res­ur­rec­tion of the sanc­tioned and sanc­tion­ing jar­gon of decades past bespeaks the essay’s com­mit­ment to the con­ven­tions of anti-Marx­ism.

Fol­low­ing that tra­di­tion, the essay finally sub­scribes to the banal genre whose main maneu­ver involves attribut­ing to a text pre­cisely the argu­ments it is crit­i­ciz­ing, pre­tend­ing that it is tak­ing on the ide­olo­gies of the world it tries to describe. The exam­ples are too numer­ous to list. The impli­ca­tion of “euro­cen­trism” is curi­ous, given that the book declares its area of study (the early indus­tri­al­iz­ing nations, basi­cally) and explic­itly decli­nes to enforce its con­clu­sion on other regions.2 By the mea­sure Vasquez puts on offer, The Mak­ing of the Eng­lish Work­ing Class would be euro­cen­tric, as would Guide to North Amer­i­can Birds. Among other anti-Marx­ist com­mon­places: accu­sa­tions of “tele­ol­ogy,” of being “tied to a polit­i­cal pro­gram,” and so on.3 I learned long ago that these will be hauled forth as a sort of defen­sive spell against the ter­ror appar­ently inspired by Cap­i­tal. Still, it is bizarre to encoun­ter them regard­ing a book that is among other things an extended rejoin­der to per­sist­ing Lenin­ist Marxisms, and par­tic­u­larly to their insis­tence on a nec­es­sary and sta­tic view of his­tor­i­cal pro­gress which thus implies a sin­gle polit­i­cal pro­gram. The book is at pains to clar­ify its rejec­tion of such approaches, to insist on an ana­lyt­i­cally descrip­tive rather than pre­scrip­tive the­o­riza­tion, and to explore the mate­rial bases for tran­scend­ing the pro­gram­ma­tism of tra­di­tional Marx­ism, bases which the riot’s rise against the strike dis­closes. That is imma­nent through­out. For good mea­sure the book also devotes a cen­tral chap­ter to this issue, argu­ing against con­tem­po­rary thinkers “trapped in the amber of ‘what is desir­able.’” It con­tin­ues, “We must be open to ‘a fun­da­men­tal revi­sion of the old stand­point of Marx­ism,’ one based in the trans­for­ma­tions of social real­ity. One does not declare that a com­mu­nist does this or an anar­chist does that.” If this is a polem­i­cal moment, it is a polemic against pro­gram. The rea­son­ing is routed, it is true, through a dis­cus­sion of the mass strike from a cen­tury ago and “Luxemburg’s over­com­ing of pre­scrip­tive pol­i­tics.” I guess that will teach me to make use of alle­gory.

Peri­ods and Tran­si­tions

The ques­tion of the polit­i­cal also cen­ters Alberto Toscano’s response. His essay is flu­ent and capa­cious as I have come to expect, with for­mi­da­ble eru­di­tion. More­over, he has under­stood the book’s stakes in the ways I would have hoped: no more as a text about riot than one which uses the his­tor­i­cal emer­gence and reemer­gence of forms of strug­gle as a frame­work with which to sit­u­ate our­selves in the his­tory of cap­i­tal. We need not our­selves be par­ti­sans of riot or strike to rec­og­nize there is con­sid­er­able con­se­quence in whether we per­ceive capital’s sun still near its zenith and just fuck­ing hang­ing there, or instead con­clude that we fight within a tra­jec­tory where twi­light has fal­len. As a Greek com­rade reminded me last night dur­ing a dis­cus­sion of cri­sis the­ory, another end of the world is pos­si­ble.

In what I take to be Toscano’s intel­lec­tual pivot, his essay makes the deci­sion not to engage the his­tor­i­cal argu­ment on its par­tic­u­lars, but instead to turn toward an abstruse line of rea­son­ing which seems to con­clude with a warn­ing regard­ing how “dif­fi­cult it is for the instru­ments of peri­odiza­tion not to mutate into the slo­gans of a phi­los­o­phy of his­tory.” Con­trar­ily, he avows, we need to eschew the pro­duc­tion of polit­i­cal-eco­nomic peri­ods in favor of a sense of seem­ingly per­pet­ual tran­si­tion (import­ing here his own recent research) wherein we can rec­og­nize its “prop­erly polit­i­cal valence.”

This fate­ful pivot deserves a care­ful engage­ment. It occu­pies much of the sec­tion wit­tily titled “1973 And All That”, and begins, “I do not wish to inter­ro­gate here the con­tent of these peri­odiza­tions – the his­to­ries of cap­i­tal and col­lec­tive action whose deft inter­lac­ing makes up the bulk of the book – but the prin­ci­ple of peri­odiza­tion itself.”

What fol­lows is a remark­ably detailed and patient non-engage­ment with the argu­ment. It seems anx­ious about the book’s “splic­ing of Robert Bren­ner, Gio­vanni Arrighi and value-the­o­ret­i­cal accounts of cri­sis,” but, while he con­cedes that much will depend on how one under­stands this oper­a­tion, he elects not to work through it. One could argue against the map­ping of Arrighi’s his­tor­i­cally grounded schema (show­ing peri­ods of mate­rial expan­sion led by expand­ing indus­trial cap­i­tal and employ­ment at the core of the world-sys­tem, fol­lowed by finan­cial expan­sion led by merchant/banking cap­i­tal and typ­i­fied by manufacturing/industrial con­trac­tion and gen­eral volatil­ity) onto the era of cap­i­tal­ism defined by Brenner’s per­sua­sive his­tory — with the bases for the volatil­ity and even­tual decline of each cycle to be found in Marx’s the­ory of cri­sis that cul­mi­nates in Chap­ter 25 of Cap­i­tal (vol.1). This coun­ter­ar­gu­ment is not forth­com­ing. Per­haps Toscano hopes that the poetic res­o­nance of the word “splic­ing” will do a cer­tain eval­u­a­tive work. Later he repeats the device in ways that will be even more telling:

Rather than think­ing tran­si­tion pri­mar­ily through the world-his­tory of cap­i­tal gen­er­ated by the meld­ing of Bren­ner, Arrighi and Tilly, might it not be more effec­tive to think of the con­di­tion of tran­si­tion (of the kind traced here in machine-break­ing or the “black mil­i­tant strike”) as much more illus­tra­tive of con­tem­po­rary strug­gles than the “pure strike” or the “pure riot”?

He wishes more atten­tion given to the coex­is­tence of strug­gles across his­tory, which would demon­strate that we are always within tran­si­tions; this coex­is­tence, he indi­cates, is more in tune with real­ity that some con­fab­u­lated peri­ods of, as he puts it, “pure strike” or the “pure riot.” The reader may won­der after the quo­ta­tion marks sup­plied in his text. Nei­ther of those phrases appears any­where in the book. The match­ing con­cepts are sim­i­larly not to be found. In fact the book states quite clearly the con­trary, reject­ing the very for­mu­la­tions Toscano requires for his argu­ment to make sense. Page two: “Since the pas­sage marked by Tilly [at the dawn of the nine­teenth cen­tury], both tac­tics have existed within the reper­toire; the ques­tion con­cerns which pre­dom­i­nates, pro­vid­ing the pri­mary ori­en­ta­tion in the cease­less war for sur­vival and eman­ci­pa­tion.”

Toscano’s impro­vi­sa­tion here pro­vides a sense of the counterargument’s shape: ide­al­ized antin­o­mies absent from the book are con­jured, peri­ods of pure this and pure that, so that they can be shown to be exces­sive, inat­ten­tive to “pol­y­semy” and mul­ti­plic­ity, to the het­ero­gene­ity within modes and forms of cap­i­tal and of strug­gle. Despite his mis­lead­ing syn­op­sis, we more or less agree on this point: shit is com­plex. It is here that we draw quite dif­fer­ent con­clu­sions. I would argue that — for all the het­ero­gene­ity — we can still speak of lead­ing forms, of ori­en­ta­tions, of ten­den­tial direc­tions, of cen­ters of bal­ance within the whorl of things, coor­di­nates that per­sist for a while until they don’t, and begin to give onto a dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tion which may itself, for all its com­plex­ity, also per­sist for a while. We can still speak of his­tor­i­cal change, even if it pro­ceeds impurely. Obvi­ously it pro­ceeds only in such a man­ner. We can try to deci­pher the bases for both a given arrangement’s per­sis­tence and its end. Doing so can be a use­ful frame­work for thought.

Toscano would pro­pose that the com­plex­i­ties of the sit­u­a­tion rule this out. Instead, what with every­thing going on at once, the sit­u­a­tion is more or less always con­junc­tural, tran­si­tional. This in turn dic­tates that the course of strug­gle is con­di­tioned more sig­nif­i­cantly by the polit­i­cal. “Here lies, to my mind, the most ques­tion­able pre­sup­po­si­tion of Clover’s book, which thinks tran­si­tion as a polit­i­cal-eco­nomic or his­tor­i­cal-soci­o­log­i­cal cat­e­gory — in other words “objec­tively” — under­es­ti­mat­ing its prop­erly polit­i­cal valence.”4

Toscano there­fore prefers the book’s chap­ters on tran­si­tion. So do I. They were fas­ci­nat­ing to research; there is far more to say about, say, Detroit in the Six­ties, its extra­or­di­nary volatil­i­ties and inter­sec­tions, the dra­matic and bril­liant thought it gave rise to — James Boggs most of all. Well, a book must have rises and falls, and it seems likely that the chap­ters on tran­si­tion, with its intrin­sic dynamic, will achieve a greater drama.

But: rises and falls. There are no peaks with­out val­leys, no tran­si­tions with­out non-tran­si­tion. The his­tory of Detroit in the Six­ties with its dynamic coex­is­tence of mil­i­tant labor and non-labor strug­gles, its back­ground of pro­le­tar­ian energies and rapid dein­dus­tri­al­iza­tion, has great his­tor­i­cal force in no small part because it is not like the present — not in Detroit, not else­where in the early indus­tri­al­iz­ing nations, I don’t think (though there are some very imper­fect resem­blances here and there in West­ern Europe). Dein­dus­tri­al­iza­tion won. Employ­ment con­tracted dra­mat­i­cally. Black­ness was crim­i­nal­ized with a new inten­sity in part to man­age those no longer dis­ci­plined by the wage. Life there changed. DRUM and the League of Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Black Work­ers don’t exist any­more. Sur­plus pop­u­la­tion does.

Being inter­ested in tran­si­tion and sug­gest­ing we con­tinue to be in “the con­di­tion of tran­si­tion” are two quite dif­fer­ent things. And one of them I fear, verges on the mean­ing­less. Just as his­tory with­out tran­si­tions is not his­tory but homo­ge­neous time, tran­si­tions with­out the peri­ods between which they medi­ate are not tran­si­tions but are them­selves per­sis­tent peri­ods. Absent this under­stand­ing — absent the under­stand­ing that “tran­si­tion” as a con­cept is always already a peri­odiz­ing tool — the cat­e­gory of tran­si­tion is emp­tied of its ana­lytic force. To put it as sim­ply as I can: tran­si­tions are tran­si­tions because there are peri­ods. Iron­i­cally, Toscano’s insis­tence on tran­si­tion turns to become an affir­ma­tion of Jameson’s insis­tence on period. Per­haps when Jameson wrote that “We can­not not peri­odize” he was onto some­thing.5

Given that there is no escap­ing peri­odiza­tion, we should prob­a­bly ask the ques­tions of whether the book’s con­crete claims about the peri­ods have enough valid­ity to provide a use­ful frame­work. Can we say that there was a period of nascent cap­i­tal­ism in which the wage form was less gen­er­al­ized than mar­ket depen­dency, a period led by mer­chant cap­i­tal, a period in which riots and other mar­ket con­flicts pre­dom­i­nated among forms of nascent class strug­gle? Can we say there was a rise of indus­trial cap­i­tal, first within a given group of economies; that there was a shift toward greater par­tic­i­pa­tion in the for­mal wage; that the strike appeared and ascended, dis­plac­ing riot and sim­i­lar strug­gles as a lead­ing form? Can we say that we have entered a period in these nations with noth­ing like the indus­trial dynamism of the pre­vi­ous period, where we have seen not just a con­trac­tion of industrial/manufacturing employ­ment but a global pro­duc­tion of sur­plus pop­u­la­tions both rel­a­tively and absolutely; that this period has fea­tured a dra­matic decline and trans­for­ma­tion of orga­nized labor strug­gles into dimin­ish­ing and defen­sive oper­a­tions; that this has hap­pened alongside a both rel­a­tive and absolute increase in riots and sim­i­lar sorts of strug­gles, now changed and par­tic­u­larly racial­ized accord­ing to the logic of sur­plus-ifi­ca­tion? Despite occa­sional and imper­fect ref­er­ences to the his­tor­i­cal record, Toscano largely leaves these actu­al­i­ties unad­dressed — and nec­es­sar­ily so, to bol­ster his abstract brief for polit­i­cal con­tin­gency against real tra­jec­tory, and pros­e­cute his case against a phi­los­o­phy of his­tory. This does not seem overly respon­sive to the book’s argu­ments but rather a kind of philosopher’s street-fight­ing, where the street is always Rue d’Ulm. Read­ers of the book will deci­pher for them­selves whether this is where the action is. 

Toscano’s essay is not, how­ever, with­out rel­e­vant insights. In par­tic­u­lar, his recov­ery of Man­del on “desyn­chro­niza­tion” is impor­tant and well-taken. It is indeed an issue for peri­odiza­tion that it often incli­nes toward propos­ing overly tidy and prompt relays from tec­tonic shifts in social orga­ni­za­tion to expres­sions of said changes in var­i­ous are­nas. I know this all too well from lit­er­ary stud­ies, where we are often drawn into sug­gest­ing that texts some­how reg­is­ter social meta­mor­phoses almost instantly. Per­haps this is pos­si­ble; it may even be that texts can be quite del­i­cate anten­nae and cap­ture great trans­for­ma­tions as they are just begin­ning, not yet vis­i­ble to the naked eye. This is less likely regard­ing phe­nom­ena con­sid­ered in the book: riots, strikes, and the like. Mandel’s sense that such expres­sions do not nec­es­sar­ily arrive on sched­ule but see an uneven onset, often with untimely delays, strikes me as largely accu­rate both his­tor­i­cally and the­o­ret­i­cally. The book, and here I agree with Toscano, sim­pli­fies this unfold­ing. For exam­ple, while it does say that “In the United States, the strike would expe­ri­ence an autum­nal flare-up begin­ning around 1964 and last­ing into the seventies—it could not be known that this would be the last golden gleam before win­ter came for the labor move­ment at the heart of the cap­i­tal­ist world sys­tem,” in gen­eral it speeds too quickly past moments of notable and sug­ges­tive asyn­chrony and deferred response.

I am not sure that this would lead me to the same con­clu­sion as Toscano — asyn­chrony is not miasma wherein his­tor­i­cal ten­dency is evac­u­ated, leav­ing the fog of uneven­ness to a com­bat of polit­i­cal will. That seems more a smug­gled vol­un­tarism. In this case the avail­able evi­dence argues that there is a his­tor­i­cal ten­dency, one that cor­re­sponds non-triv­ially to the the­o­ret­i­cal course of ten­den­tial decline in value pro­duc­tion atten­dant to dein­dus­tri­al­iza­tion (and this is the basis, as opposed to the goal, of bring­ing together world-sys­tem analy­sis with Marx’s the­ory of value). Nonethe­less, the fact that there is a medi­a­tion between trans­for­ma­tion and its expres­sion, and that this medi­a­tion is often mys­te­ri­ous and unpre­dictable in its forms and its sched­ules, should not be ignored; it invites fur­ther research. The var­ie­ga­tions and the sur­prises of these asyn­chronies deserve our atten­tion and our the­o­riza­tion. The book has lit­tle of that.

Inter­lude on the Model

It is here that we might arrive at what I believe to be the most sig­nif­i­cant generic dis­tinc­tion regard­ing what kind of book it is. It is a book that makes mod­els. A model always involves rad­i­cal exclu­sions, always involves the economist’s most vex­ing incan­ta­tion: ceteris paribus, “all other things being equal.” All other things are not equal. The things that are excluded from the model mat­ter greatly. Mod­els schema­tize; they reduce. The model is always exposed to the crit­i­cism that begins, “but isn’t it a bit more com­pli­cated than that?”

There is, nat­u­rally enough, a com­ple­men­tary genre of social thought, which eschews the clar­ity of mod­els for a more thor­ough­go­ing mimetic rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the mul­ti­plic­ity, het­ero­gene­ity, the dif­fer­ence of the world in full, the world which pro­vides our def­i­n­i­tion and limit of com­plex­ity. This may explain the con­fused sum­mon­ing of “pure strike” and “pure riot.” If one believed the book were meant to be one of pro­tracted elab­o­ra­tions of com­plex­ity, one might indeed be con­founded by the clear iden­ti­fi­ca­tions: peri­ods of cir­cu­la­tion and riot, peri­ods of pro­duc­tion and strike. But the ques­tion is not whether there are excep­tions — there are. Argu­ing from excep­tions (which occu­pies a sur­pris­ing swatch of real estate in Toscano) is not ter­ri­bly per­sua­sive. That’s not how mod­els work. They abstract from the par­tic­u­lars of his­tory to ren­der ten­den­cies and bal­ances of force exactly because there are excep­tions, and these excep­tions exist as a con­sti­tu­tive part of ten­den­cies and bal­ances, not exter­nal coun­terev­i­dence.

Nei­ther is the ques­tion that of whether mod­els efface the world’s com­plex­ity — they do. Again, one may prefer oth­er­wise, but such exclu­sions are what mod­els are for. I would sug­gest that the vital ques­tion is: given what mod­els sac­ri­fice, do they offer us ana­lyt­i­cal gains in return? These ana­lyt­i­cal gains are not sim­ply the educ­ing of pat­terns within the seem­ing dis­or­der of his­tory. Via this clar­i­fy­ing process, mod­els pro­pose causal rela­tions; they abstract enough to dis­tin­guish causes from effects, even within the entan­gle­ments of the his­tor­i­cal dialec­tic. The great apo­ria of Fou­cault lies in the absence from his his­tory of how soci­ety tra­verses one regime of power and arrives at another. And this under­scores the dif­fer­en­tia speci­fica of cap­i­tal as not sim­ply another regime or rela­tion: It must move. It must be self-mov­ing, must via imper­sonal dom­i­na­tion not merely repro­duce itself but expand, and thus must fea­ture the capac­ity to do so. The ques­tion of causal­ity in capital’s move­ment can­not be elided. One may of course retreat into ideas of overde­ter­mi­na­tion; it is an under­stand­able solu­tion to the prob­lem of sim­pli­fy­ing mod­els vs. com­plex­i­fy­ing arrays. Marx him­self was an adher­ent of ceteris paribus, pre­cisely so he could inquire into capitalism’s laws of motion — inquiries which, in detect­ing not just a direc­tion but a cause for that direc­tion, can in turn sug­gest tra­jec­to­ries than hurl them­selves into a mys­te­ri­ous world of even­tal sur­prises. Such inquiries are not “proph­esy “or “por­tent” or any of the other por­ten­tous lan­guage Toscano deploys. They are expres­sions of the sine qua non of his­tor­i­cal mate­ri­al­ism: that the move­ment of his­tory includes an objec­tive char­ac­ter.

Riot. Strike. Riot pro­poses a model with a causal mech­a­nism, with a cer­tain objec­tiv­ity: in the last instance that of the law of value expressed at a sys­temic level. Clearly the entire argu­ment can­not be repeated here. The pur­suit of accu­mu­la­tion moves cap­i­tal first toward a peak of pro­duc­tion cen­tered by indus­trial cap­i­tal, and then away from this peak with accu­mu­la­tion wan­ing; this rise and fall (“the arc of accu­mu­la­tion” as I call it) exists both for given inter­nal cycles and, as cap­i­tal exhausts its capac­ity to dis­place its con­tra­dic­tions spa­tially and tem­po­rally, exists at a macro level for cap­i­tal as a whole — the level of analy­sis which Marx enjoins us to hold in mind. This arc of accu­mu­la­tion entails con­comi­tant restruc­tur­ings of profit sources and class com­po­si­tion, and these restruc­tur­ings will act as affor­dances that help shape modes of strug­gle and repro­duc­tion for both cap­i­tal and pro­le­tariat. While class con­flict has always been imma­nent to capital’s social rela­tion, it has not always been cen­tered in pro­duc­tion (and here we note that the model I pro­pose tries to com­pli­cate the stan­dard model pro­vided by tra­di­tional Marxism’s iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of the pro­le­tariat with the work­ing class, which seems to me the reduc­tion more worth our inves­ti­ga­tion). In accor­dance with this arc, cap­i­tal first inter­nal­izes its antag­o­nists from cir­cu­la­tion as pro­duc­tion expands; after crest­ing the peak of accu­mu­la­tion in the same dialec­ti­cal course, capital’s antag­o­nists are increas­ingly exter­nal­ized from pro­duc­tion — notably in the form of sur­plus pop­u­la­tion. The argu­ment that chal­lenges this model would have to demon­strate con­vinc­ingly that this has not hap­pened, is not hap­pen­ing. It can­not rely on, “but isn’t it a bit more com­pli­cated than that?”

Mass Picket and Hybrid Forms

What such an approach can do is add dimen­sions that are nec­es­sar­ily omit­ted from the model, or that the model is at risk of obscur­ing. Both the Vasquez and Toscano responses gen­er­ously offer such con­tri­bu­tions, some of which I have tried to note, and for which I am grate­ful. It is here that I would turn finally toward the lucid and salient addi­tion offered by Amanda Arm­strong, to my mind the response which takes up the book’s argu­ments most directly while offer­ing some force­ful and insight­ful amend­ments and emen­da­tions both.

It will even­tu­ally set­tle on a form of strug­gle occluded from the book’s model. In so doing, it takes up the ten­den­tial valid­ity of the model only in part. To the extent that it does, it relies on Geoff Eley’s work to argue that the book exces­sively indexes labor strug­gles to indus­trial and man­u­fac­tur­ing labor, and in train effaces other sorts of labor and accom­pa­ny­ing strug­gles which, if rec­og­nized, might tes­tify against the cir­cu­la­tion struggle—production struggle—circulation strug­gle his­tory, par­tic­u­larly in the pre-indus­trial era: “While dis­plac­ing rel­a­tively secure indus­trial work­ers, Eley nev­er­the­less main­tains a focus on labor as such, par­tic­u­larly on forms of unfree labor through which race and/or gen­der sub­or­di­na­tions were repro­duced.” This is then tied via C.L.R. James more specif­i­cally to the labor of slaves: in James’ words, “closer to a mod­ern pro­le­tariat than any group of work­ers in exis­tence at the time.”

The tra­di­tion of “maintain[ing] a focus on labor as such” lies heav­ily on the library of mod­ern antag­o­nism. There is no short­age of books that pre­sume and nat­u­ral­ize labor as the con­text for strug­gle, even in its absence. In some regard the book is writ­ten against this ten­dency and for good rea­son.6 The extent to which one under­stands upris­ings by unfree labor­ers against racial­ized dom­i­na­tion as being pro­duc­tion strug­gles depends in part on under­stand­ings of the role of the wage and of pro­duc­tion in gen­eral. Cer­tainly they were rebel­lions against work, against its unfree­dom and its mis­ery. Cer­tainly they directed them­selves against oppres­sors who were bosses, and against the mate­ri­als of work. At the same time they did not demand bet­ter wages or work­ing con­di­tions, did not demand con­trol over pro­duc­tion or its prof­its or the labor process, and in this are quite dis­tinct from the pro­duc­tion strug­gles that define class con­flict from 1830-1975 and that con­tinue to bewitch the minds of pro­gram­ma­tist ortho­dox­ies. The events she recounts are breaks with pro­duc­tion as much as they are pro­duc­tion strug­gles. This is a dif­fer­ence that makes a dif­fer­ence; much would be lost in sub­sum­ing these to the same cat­e­gory as the strike or for that mat­ter sab­o­tage, slow­down, and so on.

That said, I can find only agree­ment with Arm­strong here on what I take to be the press­ing strate­gic ques­tion. What strikes me about the strug­gles she limns is their hybrid char­ac­ter, rather than their proof of early pro­duc­tion strug­gles. Here the essay’s insights are salu­tary, even bril­liant. To get to the mat­ter of hybrid­ity, she repeats the ges­ture of point­ing out that the peri­ods set forth in the book were more het­ero­ge­neous than the book’s model sug­gests, that there were also cir­cu­la­tion strug­gles dur­ing the era dom­i­nated by pro­duc­tion strug­gles — point­ing par­tic­u­larly to parts of the globe for which the book does not haz­ard claims. Yes: see above. But the essay is on its way to some­thing more tren­chant: the hybrid­ity of the mass picket. The sum­mary pas­sage is worth revis­it­ing in full:

The mass picket would seem to con­found nearly all of the con­cep­tual oppo­si­tions Clover yokes together in dis­tin­guish­ing the riot from the strike. Mass pick­ets took shape in both the spheres of cir­cu­la­tion and pro­duc­tion (and were most effec­tive in shut­ting down tran­sit indus­tries, which them­selves trou­ble the dis­tinc­tion between these two spheres); the pick­ets not infre­quently passed into prop­erty destruc­tion and loot­ing, while also forc­ing a stop to processes of pro­duc­tion; and they were car­ried out by strik­ing work­ers tak­ing action as work­ers but also by unsi­t­u­ated pro­le­tar­i­ans – a com­bi­na­tion that at once gave force to often iso­lated groups of work­ers while also giv­ing an ini­tial con­text of inter­ven­tion for wage­less pop­u­la­tions and/or less strate­gi­cally sit­u­ated work­ers.

I am less cer­tain that this con­founds the coor­di­nates of riot and strike (which, as the book argues repeat­edly, are best not thought as an oppo­si­tion).7 We would have to be more atten­tive to its pur­poses in rela­tion to its activ­i­ties; if the goal of the mass picket is bet­ter wages or work­ing con­di­tions, greater worker con­trol over the labor process or out­put, it veers toward strike. In both the UK and US this seems to be the case to a con­sid­er­able degree, and it is more­over reg­u­lated by labor law.

I men­tion these ambi­gu­i­ties in Armstrong’s account largely to clar­ify the cat­e­gories the book puts on offer and how it under­stands them, which is a core func­tion of mod­el­ing. How­ever, this scarcely unmakes the cru­cial insight that I think Arm­strong pro­vides. The mass picket’s con­tri­bu­tion is to provide a form in which wage labor­ers can con­join in direct strug­gle alongside oth­ers. It is not the only form to do this, but it is a thrilling exam­ple. As Arm­strong has it, a given set of strik­ers, basi­cally, would be joined by what she calls “unsi­t­u­ated pro­le­tar­i­ans,” which she defines judi­ciously as “those not employed in given indus­tries, whether they be unem­ployed or employed in other indus­tries. This term helps keep in view a key dis­tinc­tion rel­e­vant to dis­cus­sions of block­ades of eco­nomic nodes (namely, the dis­tinc­tion between those employed directly at such nodes, and those not employed at such nodes), while not mak­ing claims about such unsi­t­u­ated pro­le­tar­i­ans’ rel­a­tive dis­pos­ses­sion.”

The oper­a­tion is deft. I would worry a bit that this par­tic­u­lar def­i­n­i­tion priv­i­leges the indi­vid­ual enter­prise as the locus of strug­gle. The nor­ma­tive antag­o­nist is an employee of that enter­prise, with oth­ers join­ing in — in many cases, it would seem, to help them win demands. In this, the mass picket remains on the side of the strike. The mass picket’s weak­ness as an ori­ent­ing form in the present lies in the extent to which it has tra­di­tion­ally been a labor-cen­tered strug­gle, most often join­ing work­ers with other work­ers. Its his­tor­i­cal exis­tence scarcely gain­says the book’s argu­ments that labor-cen­tered strug­gles have weak­ened and that this trend is likely to con­tinue; its own decline would seem in truth to affirm this argu­ment and peri­odiza­tion.

Nonethe­less, “unsi­t­u­ated pro­le­tar­ian” holds open space for one of the book’s most press­ing sug­ges­tions — that the cat­e­gory of pro­le­tariat needs to recover its sense of those with­out reserves, includ­ing those beyond the for­mal wage. The ques­tion of how this pro­le­tariat, his­tor­i­cally divided by the scis­sion of the wage, can pro­ceed together against their dis­pos­ses­sions is clar­ion. In this regard we should note the greater labil­ity of the riot, among our ini­tial cat­e­gories: it is far bet­ter at includ­ing work­ers in a shared strug­gle than the strike is at includ­ing those out­side work. Any­one can riot. But as the book sug­gests in its final pages, the future of polit­i­cal con­test is not the riot. It rests in those forms, toward which the mass picket ges­tures, which have the poten­tial to mass together pro­le­tar­i­ans of all sorts — those within and with­out the for­mal wage, antag­o­nists appear­ing as work­ers and antag­o­nists who are sur­plus pop­u­la­tion, those who will affirm nei­ther wage nor mar­ket, nei­ther cap­i­tal nor state. If there is an eman­ci­pa­tory con­tent to the future, it passes through such forms. I am dou­bly grate­ful thus to be reminded we have some exam­ples on offer.

This arti­cle is part of a dossier enti­tled The Cri­sis and the Rift: A Sym­po­sium on Joshua Clover’s Riot.Strike.Riot

  1. In one of the few moments of over­lap with Vasquez’s response, Toscano also strug­gles with this dimen­sion, indi­cat­ing that only “coun­ter-intu­itively” could we “accept cir­cu­la­tion as the name for a regime of social orga­ni­za­tion.” Per­haps so. I would sug­gest Toscano’s intu­ition — never any­thing but a name for com­mon sense — is not coun­ter mine but Marx’s. Here is a sim­ple test. Could we say that pro­duc­tion is a regime of social orga­ni­za­tion? Indeed, we could say noth­ing else. That the social is orga­nized toward pro­duc­tiv­ity, and not sim­ply in the fac­tory itself (so that we have, say, both the tech­ni­cal and the social divi­sion of labor) has become self-evi­dent. So it would be curi­ous if we could not also say that cir­cu­la­tion is a regime of social orga­ni­za­tion, given that pro­duc­tion and cir­cu­la­tion form a dialec­ti­cal whole. Marx him­self, in one of his bet­ter known pas­sages, first clearly dis­tin­guishes the mar­ket itself from the larger sphere of cir­cu­la­tion, and then defines that sphere pre­cisely by its social char­ac­ter: “The con­sump­tion of labour-power is com­pleted, as in the case of every other com­mod­ity, out­side the lim­its of the mar­ket or of the sphere of cir­cu­la­tion. Accom­pa­nied by Mr. Mon­ey­bags and by the pos­ses­sor of labour-power, we there­fore take leave for a time of this noisy sphere, where every­thing takes place on the sur­face and in view of all men, and fol­low them both into the hid­den abode of pro­duc­tion.” I would sug­gest that the inabil­ity to rec­og­nize the social char­ac­ter of these spheres, and to reduce them instead to con­crete eco­nomic func­tions, under­scores the chal­lenge of pre­serv­ing the unity of the polit­i­cal and eco­nomic — a unity which defines the cap­i­tal­ist mode. They are sep­a­rated only in bour­geois thought. 

  2. The spin­ning mule and the assem­bly line may indeed be euro­cen­tric. 

  3. As a larger ques­tion, “tele­ol­ogy” per­haps deserves its own treat­ment. It is a philo­soph­i­cal cat­e­gory later bor­rowed by post­struc­tural­ists and left lib­er­als alike in their pro­scrip­tion of “grand nar­ra­tives” and so forth. Depart­ing dra­mat­i­cally from its orig­i­nal mean­ing, it came to des­ig­nate a stag­ist or evo­lu­tion­ary model of his­tory in which iron deter­mi­na­tions drive us nec­es­sar­ily from one social form to the next with a given out­come more or less assured. Even­tu­ally, in the most dete­ri­o­rated sense, it became a sort of atmos­pheric, meant to cling to any sug­ges­tion of causal mech­a­nisms within his­tor­i­cal tra­jec­to­ries. It is here per­haps I can make sense of Vasquez’s deploy­ment. It is cer­tainly true that Riot. Strike. Riot is inter­ested in causal­ity, par­tic­u­lar­ity in the causal mech­a­nisms that might move us from one social dis­pen­sa­tion to another. Cer­tainly the book pro­poses that the early indus­tri­al­iz­ing nations as a loose aggre­gate have moved from period to period in the last instance because cap­i­tal­ism is not and can­not be sta­tic but is com­pelled to trans­form itself cease­lessly; that these peri­ods have dis­tinct char­ac­ter­is­tics shared unevenly across space; that the forms which class strug­gles take in these places and times are indica­tive of both their given social cir­cum­stances, and of how these have emerged from pre­vi­ous cir­cum­stances. One would have to do vio­lence to mean­ing itself to have this be the mean­ing of “tele­ol­ogy.” It’s his­tory, Jake. 

  4. We shall have to bracket this extrac­tion of the polit­i­cal from polit­i­cal econ­omy, con­fer­ring on it a phan­tom auton­omy. The forma men­tis is clear enough: as Rob Lucas sum­ma­rizes in the present issue of the New Left Review, “Trot­sky argued that con­junc­tural, polit­i­cal fac­tors were more impor­tant than eco­nomic ones in deter­min­ing capitalism’s rhythms.” This may be a use­ful route toward find­ing a coher­ence among Toscano’s gen­er­ous responses to what we might loosely call left or anti­s­tate com­mu­nist the­ory: after some gen­eral allowance that there may have been var­i­ous his­tor­i­cal changes, it always proves to be the case that in the event of it, we will require cen­tral coor­di­na­tion and polit­i­cal will, the party in all but name. 

  5. Fred­eric Jameson, A Sin­gu­lar Moder­nity (Lon­don: Verso 2002), 29. 

  6. A use­ful exam­ple is the work of Bev­erly Sil­ver. She is an ines­timable his­to­rian, a role model as a researcher and thinker, and no approach to global cap­i­tal­ism is com­plete absent seri­ous engage­ment with, e.g., Forces of Labor. Here, how­ever, title is des­tiny. Every encoun­ter with social con­test, includ­ing those her research cohort names “Protest of the Stag­nant Rel­a­tive Sur­plus Pop­u­la­tion” (see RSR 157), is under­stood to be in some man­ner a labor strug­gle. Hence the neces­sity of dis­ar­tic­u­lat­ing strug­gle from this pre­sump­tion. 

  7. As the book notes, “Tran­si­tion from riot to strike takes hold unevenly….It will be use­ful to rec­og­nize the con­ti­nu­ity as well as the oppo­si­tion, the way that new con­tent for strug­gle emerges from older forms of action and thus goes through peri­ods of ambi­gu­ity. The same might be said of the later return to riot; it is early yet” (9). The book also warns against this inscrip­tion of strong oppo­si­tion as an expres­sion of other ide­o­log­i­cal antag­o­nisms: “The oppo­si­tion of riot and strike is an avowed project of the nine­teenth cen­tury per­sist­ing in var­i­ous quar­ters there­after” (81). These are two of many like pas­sages, Despite the pre­sen­ta­tions in these responses, the book argues against rigid oppo­si­tion of strike and riot through­out. 

Author of the article

is a communist. He is also a professor of literature and critical theory at the University of California Davis, currently visiting professor at University of Paris. A widely published essayist, poet, and cultural theorist, his most recent book along with Riot. Strike. Riot is Red Epic (Commune Editions, 2015).

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