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 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, quoting Luxemburg, “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 than 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 rather 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).