September 2, 2020

An anarchist's response to Louis Proyect's anti-riot Marxism

A look into anti-riot, anti-looting, and worse, anti-Black narrative by Marxist Louis Proyect.

An anarchist's response to Louis Proyect's anti-riot Marxism

For Marxist Louis Proyect, the history of rioting and looting are not worth researching before the 1960s, and moreover, it's not worth reading a book, which discusses the very history of looting, In Defense of Looting, before commenting on and condemning the author and contents of said book.

Proyect begins his amateur attack on looting by citing the Marxist Internet Archive, claiming none are favorable towards rioting or looting before the 1960s, and the few post, were "hardly celebratory." I am not sure if he's ever heard of confirmation bias, but he took his readers through a masterclass in understanding how it works.

However, Proyect's first relies on a single article by Chris Harman titled “The Summer of 1981: a post-riot analysis” in which Harman argues that riots are merely temporary flare ups and that:

"Once the police have retaken control of the locality, the crowds that provided people with a feeling of collective power are dispersed. People are driven back into the isolated homes, the segmented experiences, from which the riot drew them. Within days collective exhilaration, the festival of the oppressed, has been replaced by the old atomisation, powerlessness, apathy. The riot always rises like a rocket – and drops like a stick."

Had Proyect bothered to read Vicky Osterweil's book, he'd have been met with more serious writers who actually covered such riots and the fact that the "collective exhilaration" often lasted months, and carried with it continued actions around the country.

Prior to what Osterweil cites as the end of the revolutionary period in 1974, thousands of riots had taken place around the country and driven massive amounts of social change. From forcing cities and states to enact segregation policies, to forcing change in the form of financial help in struggling communities. Riots also played a part then, as they do now, in combating police brutality and the murder of black lives.

Proyect could have spared himself the ignorance of trying to mansplain rioting and looting to someone who clearly has more knowledge on the subject, rathan than spending five minutes on the Marxist Internet Archive, and simply read Osterweil's book.

In her NPR interview, Osterweil stated that, "looters and rioters don’t attack private homes. They don’t attack community centers. In Minneapolis, there was a small independent bookstore that was untouched. All the blocks around it were basically looted or even leveled, burned down. And that store just remained untouched through weeks of rioting."

To this, Proyect "didn't know if Osterweil was aware, but that in Minneapolis, rioters burned down a post office. Weird, how the above quote doesn't mention government buildings, but instead homes, and community centers. In fact, if he had bothered to read her book, a point that can't be driven home enough, Osterweil demonstrates how the riots of the Civil Rights era took great pains to protect black owned and local businesses.

"Weren’t they aware that they were in a united front with Donald Trump when they threw their Molotov cocktails?" wrote Proyect. "Just last week, there were fifty people protesting Trump’s attack in front of the post office just beneath my high-rise."

Maybe someone needs to purchase Proyect a calendar, but the Minneapolis uprising took place well before the Post Office scandal with Trump. A simple fact that doesn't fit his anti-Black narrative.

What Proyect displays is Marxist dogmatism of the worst kind. A revisionist history in which even he claims it was through "mass strike" that overthrew the Russian Czar and ushered in the Cuban revolution. He makes no mention of the years of gorilla warfare in Cuba, or the violence in Russia. This doesn't fit into his fairy tale narrative of peaceful revolution.

Instead, we are left with a tone-deaf, historically whitewashed revision of US history, missing any mention of slaves burning their captures crops, and giving us the textbook non-violence, anti-Black version of the Civil Rights Movement, a topic that is somehow almost completely missing from his rejection of Osterweil's thesis.

In the pages of In Defense of Looting, Osterweil does touch on riots and looting that did lack political motivation, and could be seemingly opportunistic, but unlike Proyect, didn't throw the baby out with the bathwater and did her research, understanding the structural racism, and class antagonism for such riots. She also focused on the thousands of other uprisings and riots that were aimed at creating social change, redistributing wealth, and were calculated attacks on the state.

All topics he either doesn't understand, of was unable to find someone to quote that told him he was right.

In fact, it seems his entire argument is missing any thoughts of his own and relies solely on what other Marxists, who all happen to be white men, have told him to think. Yet he has no issues ignoring prominent Black Marxists such as those in the Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM), a group that inspired the formation of another revolutionary Marxist group he ignores, the Black Panther Party. He pulls no quotes from Black revolutionaries and their feelings on riots and looting. Weird how that works.

In the end, Proyect's post tells us nothing about why rioting and looting doesn't work, and only tell us what he's read by a few white authors. The most glaring holes in his arguments are the ones addressed clearly in Osterweil's book, which for the 100th time, must be stressed, he couldn't be bothered to read before commenting on.

Photo Credit: Daniel Arauz, Creative Commons 2.0