In the pre-Information age, we actually had smarter riots than we've had for the last 100 years. In France of the 1790s, for instance, what were the targets of the mob? The Bastille. The estates and chateaus of the wealthy. Monasteries and other parts of the Church that had colluded with the aristocracy for centuries to grind the poor.
Riots-- classic street mobs, not labor conflict or bonus marchers or other purposeful, directed civil disobedience that flared into violence-- have apparently gotten, and stayed-- dumber.
After a long post-war period of civil order, the riot re-awoke in America during the 1960s. The striking aspect of the riots was their focus: The mobs destroyed not the symbols or properties of the plutocratic authoritarians who tirelessly work to suppress the "underclasses" (our beloved Oligarchs,) but their own homes, businesses, and neighborhoods. In some cases, so thoroughly that there was no recovery at all. (Cambridge, Maryland had a functional civic center before the summer of 1967. It has made periodic attempts to reconstitute itself, but with little success.)
It has always been a successful tactic of the Oligarchs to wage class war by setting various factions among their victims against one another: Poor blacks against poor whites. Youthful radicals against their "reactionary" parents. Proletarian-minded against "bourgeoisie." Working class against the unemployed poor. The success of this tactic was facilitated by the simple reality that it was easier for factions among the lower classes to see and reach one another than to access their exploiters.
The costs of dumb riots were exceeded by their benefits to the Oligarchs. The violence scared the middle classes into complicity with Oligarchic control, provided excuses to build more police and law enforcement strength, apply authoritarian anti-privacy measures, and initiate "urban renewal" programs to co-opt, gentrify, and escalate the value of conveniently-placed urban real estate. And the actual costs-- clean up, law enforcement, courts, etc.-- could be offloaded onto the middle class taxpayers. The only risk, and that a minor one, was that an occasional Oligarchic property might be slightly vulnerable or damaged by being on the fringe of the riot zone. But those were few and far between, after all.
We are seeing this play out again in England, in spite of the fact that we have both example (in the Middle East) and the tools (technology and social media) to undertake smart riots, rather than dumb ones.
What's a smart riot?
Well, to start with, it doesn't focus on working class and middle class neighborhoods. It doesn't rely on undisciplined destruction for its impact.
Smart riots use people power. They focus in ways that demonstrate people power in the face of the property and institutions that are solely and directly related to Oligarchic power-- and no, I'm not talking about the institutions of day-to-day government operations. While government may at any given time be a tool of the Oligarchy, it need not be: It is there for the taking, and it is our only hope to sufficiently counterweight power to keep the Oligarchy in check. If we destroy its physical institutions we render them unavailable to enable our own, counter-Oligarch government. Having capacity available for a quick turnaround is essential to two objectives of the counter-Oligarchy: Prying the middle classes loose from their self-destructive enabling of the Oligarchy, and building an effective counter-Oligarchic government fast.
Where are the physical centers of Oligarchic power and privilege? Here's a hint: Your neighborhood branch bank isn't one. The central office tower of a multinational finance conglomerate IS one. The corner store that sells cigarettes and overpriced milk and lotto tickets isn't one. The exclusive gated shopping arcade that sells $5,000 shower curtains and $2,000 shoes IS one. The crumbling apartment building that shelters a lot of people who can't afford anything better isn't one. The building with $7 million dollar annual leases for a penthouse flat IS one.
Are we getting this yet? It's not even necessary (in fact, it's less effective in the long run) if these places are not totally destroyed. It's enough to demonstrate that WE KNOW WHERE THEY ARE. We can get there in large numbers. We will not be discouraged by the deployment of force. We are not there for violence, although all large groups of human beings are capable of becoming violent if circumstances play out that way. We are there for ECONOMIC JUSTICE. We are there to contest control of the economy and the government that should benefit ALL OF US, proportionately to our numbers, not proportionately to the money and power we can deploy to distort the system. We are in their faces. And we aren't going away. We want our government back, we want our economy back. We want our lives and dignity back.
THAT'S a smart riot.
With social media and technology, such riots are possible. We've seen them.
Why bother with dumb riots anymore? They only allow the Oligarchs to keep running their playbook.
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