Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

Some Socialist Thoughts on the George Floyd Protests.

with 15 comments



Beyond this – largely – excellent statement how should the left react to the US protests?

The populist Jacobin carries this article.

We live in an Orwellian era, in which working-class people pilfering convenience store goods is called “looting.” Rich people stealing hundreds of billions of dollars, on the other hand, is just well-functioning “public policy.”


Headlines this morning are all about looting — specifically, looting in Minneapolis, after the police killing of an unarmed African-American man was caught on video. In the modern vernacular, that word “looting” is loaded — it comes with all sorts of race and class connotations. And we have to understand that terms like “looting” are an example of the way our media often imperceptibly trains us to think about economics, crime, and punishment in specific and skewed ways.

Working-class people pilfering convenience-store goods is deemed “looting.” By contrast, rich folk and corporations stealing billions of dollars during their class war is considered good and necessary “public policy” — aided and abetted by arsonist politicians in Washington lighting the crime scene on fire to try to cover everything up.

To really understand the deep programming at work here, consider how the word “looting” is almost never used to describe the plundering that has become the routine policy of our government at a grand scale that is far larger than a vandalized Target store.

It is far from clear that this offers much of a way forward.

What exactly is gained by saying, well they loot a lot more than the poor?

I doubt if those running, or using, the corner shops round here like the idea of people pillaging their shops.

Nobody, however, can doubt the depth of the crisis in the US which this piece in Jacobin trivialises.

These are just some thoughts on what is happening.


From the US Louis Proyect offers a wider perspective on the protests – to trying to locate them as agents of social change –  and the potential direction of the unrest across the country.

Are riots revolutionary?

“…..the left has to grapple with the problem of riots from now on since the capitalist class and its cops are now calculating that its goals can be met by sacrificing a few buildings. A Target store can always be reconstructed but once socialist ideas are implanted in person’s mind and he or she begins acting on them, there’s no turning back.”

The shape of the double riot is clear enough. One riot arises from youth discovering that the routes that once promised a minimally secure formal integration into the economy are now foreclosed. The other arises from racialized surplus populations and the violent state management thereof. The holders of empty promissory notes, and the holders of nothing at all.

While Clover acknowledges the difficulties of bringing these two elements together, that isn’t the major problem. The major problem is that while both participants in the “double riot” may disrupt society for a time in one or more places and play a role in broader movements for social change, neither group has much social power, or indeed staying power, over the long haul. Their very separation from production underlines their relative social weakness.

Furthermore, youth are divided by class with different aspirations and possibilities even today. Are frustrated graduate students with diminishing prospects for university tenure, or those seeking their MBA, in the same position as the less-educated youths trapped at McDonald’s or worse?

More importantly, even together youths and those in the active reserve army are a minority of the broader proletariat, even of the racialized proletariat, and even insofar as young people as a generalization are part of the proletariat at all or share its experience.

Is Clover looking at revolution won or a commune realized by and for a minority? Is this a First World urban version of Regis Debray’s 1960s guerrilla “foco,” albeit writ large and minus the central discipline? What about the democratic majoritarian political vision of socialism from below, the political form of which was suggested to Marx by the place-specific Paris Commune?

These are considerations relevant to the protests in the US. though the idea that class struggle now takes place in the street, against the forces of law and order, and can take direct action beyond – outside – work (that is, avoiding trade unions), was one of the strands of thought  in Britain’s 1980s Class War Federation.

Nobody, except a gibbering Trump and his friends can see any active intervention on the left in promoting the violence around these protests.

Or can detect this,

Attorney General William Barr said that peaceful protests over the killing of George Floyd are being “hijacked” by “anarchic and left extremist groups” that are using antifa-like tactics to promote violence.

This is just one example of a hallucinatory picture of the protests:

But as Proyect notes, some on the left, in the US and elsewhere,  do have a strategy that of the Black Blocs and ‘autonomists’- small and marginalised that they may be.

Cheerleaders rather than actors who are they?

The terms cover a big range of groups and splinters of groups. One has come to some prominence in recent years. Disruption of capitalism through riots and sabotage as a political strategy has a lot in common with the ideas set out by  the French comité invisible (Invisible Committee).

Information and energy circulate via wire networks, fibres and channels, and these can be attacked. Nowadays sabotaging the social machine with any real effect involves reappropriating and reinventing the ways of interrupting its networks. How can a TGV line or an electrical network be rendered useless? How does one find the weak points in computer networks, or scramble radio waves and fill screens with white noise?

— The Invisible Committee, The Coming Insurrection,

The French site Lundi Matin is the present vehicle of this tendency (which has undergone considerable intellectual development since the above was published, some harking back to situationism, some to Italian 1970s autonomism, and many ‘post situationist’ ideas, about ecology and aesthetics. The journal has attracted writing from Jean-Luc NancyFrédéric LordonGiorgio Agamben, and Agustín García Calvo as well as the ‘controversial'(for his past support for the right to question the Holocaust) Serge Quadruppani.

The review’s revolutionary rhetorical style evokes Guy Debord, and, the virulence of French essayists like the 19th century polemicist  Léon Bloy

Those associated with Lundi Matin are said to have accompanied the Gilets Jaunes demonstrations, and, ignoring the often right-wing character, not to say conspirationalist even anti-Semitic, of a minority (often loud) of marchers, have tried to promote “insurrectionist” acts during them. The name ‘black bloc’, in this way, has become associated in the French media with some fairly serious acts of violent vandalism and attacks on shops by ‘casseurs’ (Literally, smashers).

As the leftist magazine Les Inkoruptibles indicated in 2016

Nous sommes les passants des rues, les mal-allants. Nous faisons pression en cortège, incontrôlés, déterminés. Nous sommes la Marge de la manifestation.

Lundi matin, le foyer insurrectionnel du web

This year they published (January):  LES GILETS JAUNES ET LA CRISE DE LÉGITIMITÉ DE L’ÉTAT.

The article notably celebrated the “refusal of forms of legal protest”, “systematic confrontation with the police.”a ” surge of insubordination”. The piece states, “The Gilets Jaunes” have courageously and determinedly carried out their acts of insubordination, including those considered to be the most violent by the authorities  

There is a lot more in the same vein: gilets jaunes.

In France there have been at most a few hundred, maybe a thousand or so on occasion, inspired by these ideas out on the streets. They may be visible but they are not able to do more than smash windows and fight a bit with the police.


It is more than doubtful that even these numbers exist in the US.

Just as important is to demolish the ideological claims of this current.

Looking at the way the second round of France’s local elections is going ahead this month, and the various quarrels and re-alignments taking place in French politics, it is hard to find any undermining of the state’s legitimacy at all.  Te only political beneficiaries of the Gilets Jaunes are right-wing forces, like Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National, who manage simultaneously to deplore acts of violence, and to voice demands for lower taxation and looking after “our people”, the Gilets Jaunes.

It is predictable that Lundi Matin will have none of Proyect’s considerations and reservations about the effectiveness and future political impact of  those protesting against police repression.

They will celebrate, as will others in other marginal sections of the left, confrontation for confrontation’s sake.

But there are no longer any “primitive rebels” as described by Eric Hobsbawm. You have to have a lot of imagination to see fighting riot police, and the over-spill into ransacking shops as “social banditry” as a precursor of a serious revolutionary uprising (Bandits. E.J. Hobsbawm. 1971.)

What is the sense of saluting looting or violence – violence against violence?

You feel the anger, but what else can be brought to this by the kind of Lundi Matin approach, or Jacobin whataboutery ? Does it prefigure a Paris Commune?

We can cheer-on as much as we like. Protests against police brutality and racism, against the US social system, are clearly heartfelt. But there is very little ‘socialist’ in clearing out shops and burning out buildings. They do not prefigure  a self-organised society. These acts, carried out by the young and fit do nothing that can draw in those unable, or unwilling to get the adrenaline buzz they create, or to gather  into a common endeavour for a better future won by a majority.

From this distance we should support progressive Americans and those fighting for African American rights – who no doubt also do not need lessons (as the Campaign group gratuitously  offers) in “anti-imperialism”. It is noteworthy that the same anti-imperialists who state that black lives matter, seem to think that (to give an obvious example) Syrian lives do not matter.

It is unlikely that the wider public, and popular masses, welcome smashing up local stores or breaking social distancing rules in potentially lethal close gatherings. Fighting the police is not the same as protesting against police actions.

Some may suggest that US national populism will whip up a wave of fear to bolster their own support.



Written by Andrew Coates

May 30, 2020 at 9:36 pm

15 Responses

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    • V points out how the right can also celebrate looting:

      Simon Hannah’s take:

      The rioting in Minneapolis is a community fighting back, enraged by another death at the hands of a racist, violent police force that is out of control.


      “With scenes of rioting it is inevitable that some people start to criticise, claiming it is just mindless violence and looting. But every serious inner-city disturbance is like this.

      When people fight back, it creates a space for poor people to ransack stores, taking what they can. If you live in a society where you are treated like dirt, where you could be killed by the cops at any moment, then why not smash windows and grab what consumer society dangles in front of you but your low wages prevent you from buying when you get the chance?”


      Andrew Coates

      May 31, 2020 at 9:30 am

  1. Must say, I don’t like Proyect’s delegitimisation of the working-classness of the young. Sounds almost like something Neil Clark, Ken Bell or Steve Hall would say.


    May 31, 2020 at 12:15 am

  2. I think looting is a classic example of something the American Right support only among people abroad and not those they oppress at home. Just like the elusive abstract concepts of freedom & democracy themselves.

    Can’t get over that Proyect quote. In terms of the nutters that blog comments attract (though I wondered at the time whether whoever it was really believed what he/she was posting), it also reminds me of the racist/anti-Semitic/Stalinist troll we used to get, who when I posted a Lady Leshurr video said that a homophobic white punk song was “proper working-class music”, the inference clearly being that anything made today by black artists isn’t. It also has a strong whiff of the “BFI Left” of the 1960s, and while I know that the “Marxists for Hollywood” who opposed it have been discredited by their alumni first leading Blairism and then a different wing (and we thought that was bad) becoming the Johnson administration, that doesn’t make what they opposed good, any more than establishment racists today liking Mick Jagger & Robert Plant makes the harrumphing old colonels of half a century ago good.


    May 31, 2020 at 2:53 pm

    • I know your a Marxist but what are you on about?

      Dave Roberts

      June 1, 2020 at 8:41 pm

  3. It certainly is bad when the only time the Middle East – the scene of a recent genocide by Daesh, and mass slaughter by the Syrian regime – gets mentioned is this:

    Andrew Coates

    May 31, 2020 at 5:10 pm

  4. What happened was of course indefensible even though it’s largely white police officers who are killed by black criminals and most black deaths are in fact black on black, as is the case in this country. In the 2011 riots in the UK what happened was that a load of criminals robbed high end fashion shops and supermarkets for expensive goods to sell. It was started by the quite legitimate shooting by the police in Tottenham of a career drug dealer and criminal which could have been stopped by the shooting of the first rioters and criminals outside Tottenham police station.

    When the criminals tried it in ethnic areas where there were Turks and Asians they were run off with guns and violence because those people were protecting their homes and businesses. In particular, in Green Lanes north London I know that the Turkish community armed itself and opened fire when rioters tried to move north from Harringay overground station. Good.

    Dave Roberts

    May 31, 2020 at 8:25 pm

    • I would not have your confidence in asserting that, and from the evidence of the influence of the US alt-right on Trump it looks as if racialist views are strong in the US and no doubt within the Police force. I know little of the country, but one thing strikes me,surely there are many more different groups on the US, such those they all Hispanics (Spanish speakers except for those from Spain), and multiple other communities.

      I imagine incidentally that the Green Lanes shopkeepers included Kurds: when was the last time you went there?

      Andrew Coates

      May 31, 2020 at 8:55 pm

      • Andrew Coates

        June 1, 2020 at 6:16 am

      • Last week. I know some of them are Kurds and there are differences between the communities but in face of the overwhelmingly black rioters they were united. When was the last time that you were there?

        Dave Roberts

        June 1, 2020 at 8:39 pm

        • A year ago – I grew up in Haringey (my street is the border with New Southgate) and can remember when many of the shops and cafes were Greek Cypriot.

          People tell me, incidentally, that Finsbury Park has moved up-market. I could not see much sign of that further down towards Turnpike Lane.

          My point is that you are repeating what you have heard, not seen directly.

          I would be wary of reports on those riots, as I would be about those from the US.

          Andrew Coates

          June 1, 2020 at 8:51 pm

          • I am repeating what I was told my people who were involved and had the weapons. The front line was Haringay overground station and groups occupied restaurants and jewellery shops, which there are many of and an obvious target. Finsbury Park is a large area and you clearly haven’t been there for years. There is increasing gentrification and the area known as the ladder is witnessing rising prices.

            Dave Roberts

            June 2, 2020 at 7:34 am

  5. The media focus on this one incident out of (I’m guessing) tens of thousands of other as newsworthy events across America, made all this outrage. This blog is the last place I would have expected the media’s role in turning an everyday incident into something more than just routine seediness, to get a free pass, as if they’ve all of a sudden turned truth-tellers, and that this is a black and white matter with no shades of grey. Why the disproportionate attention given, it’s as if they’ve been waiting for something like this, that there’s a team, primed and ready to let rip, boilerplate articles and editorials, hands pre-wrung just waiting for the details before a torrent of good-thinking angst is poured out. I’m talking of course about selection, of what is news and what isn’t, what is a big-deal and what is memory-holed and never sees the light of day. The police in America (and in other places, including far closer to home) degrade, injure and kill whites too, even non-criminal (usually poor) ones, they’re equal opportunities oppressors, tools of the ruling oligarchy, colour-blind, but tuned to class and income stratification amongst their prey, and those who’re at or near the bottom of the social heap are far more likely to find themselves both physically abused and have something contrived to charge them with than their betters in that one metric, wealth. There is much about this case which is disturbing and does not ring true, such as the cop involved having a 17-year long second-job as a nightclub bouncer where the 6’7 tall 191lb dead man Floyd had also recently taken on at the same place in the same capacity. Horrific and prevalent black on white crime too is too often under or never at all reported, or whites would riot regularly, though plenty of them, primarily female have piled in on this incident and joined the lawlessness.


    June 1, 2020 at 4:32 pm

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