Staring Into the Abyss

A Blog on Theory, Anarchy, Nihilism and Whatever Else I Post Here

In Defense of Looting: Select Quotes

I am going to be shifting this series to this new blog platform, as a way to help keep things organized and to cut down on the need to scroll back a month or so to follow where this all began.

I will be listing the chapters I am reading below, along with select quotes, and will be posting updated links on Kolektiva, for those that are on Mastadon (which everyone should be).

Chapter 7

Speaking of the 1964 riots which started in Harlem and spread into Rochester, Jersey City, Patterson, Elizabeth (NJ) and Philadelphia.

“Though these riots were sparked by instances of police brutality, rioting isn't simply a mechanical reaction to police violence: it's not a knee unbending beneath a doctor's hammer. If it were, riots would occur every day in every city in the United States. Riots, instead, emerge out of movement.

Sometimes they come out of that subterranean, invisible but ongoing movement for freedom, justice and Jubilee that Karl Marx called the “historical party” that runs through the entire history of capitalism, reappearing seemingly suddenly and spontaneously (though specific histories of uprisings always tell a more complicated story of rising local tensions and grievances). But uprisings occur more frequently when social movement is highly visible, agitating and powerful. Riots transform the consciousness of their participants, widen the group of people taking part in political action and usually produce a new generation of revolutionaries, opening up new directions for further action.”

“Reducing looting and rioting to a question of crime, calling the looter “just a thief”, as Fuller ironically suggests, serves to mask the liberatory content of the action taking place. In the midst of the uprising, onlookers and participants alike begin to question the ideology supporting property and commodity, order and law. As such, looting represents a fundamental threat to a society ordered by white supremacy, a threat that often goes beyond the boundaries that activists and even self-proclaimed revolutionaries feel comfortable with...

But the riots did more than express a voice. Riots are more than just the “language of the unheard”, as MLK called them. Riots give birth to revolutionary transformation...”

On tactics during the Watts Rebellion in 1965

“The tactics were simple but effective, as Gerald Horne records in his important history of the Watts Uprising, Fire This Time. One common tactic saw a group of rioters, usually young men, drive up to a business, hop out, break out the windows, then drive away. Then cars of looters, a much more mixed group, split between men and women, young and old, would arrive and work to empty the store. The store would only be set alight once credit records had been destroyed and goods had been fully looted. Rioters usually remained nearby to make sure the building burned, attacking firemen with bricks and bottles if they tried to put out the flames before the fire had fully consumed the hated business.

Tactics reflected effective communication and mobility among the rebels. Rioters transmitted information over the radio waves, used payphones to spread intel, and listened in to police broadcasts to see where cops would be deployed. False reports were called in to send police scrambling, at which point areas they'd just “pacified” could be retaken. In areas they didn't entirely control, rioters focused on hit-and-run strikes, then dispersing quickly to reappear elsewhere. All of these tactics would be adopted and practiced, with local modifications, in other riots throughout the period.”

“Many radicals fetishize military-style conflict as the sign of true revolutionary potential. This was especially true of the movements of the late sixties and early seventies, that all proclaimed armed struggle and saw the “guerrilla” as something of a revolutionary saint. But the revolutionary context of the riots does not lie mainly in these military aspects. The shooting is a small piece, not the main component of the attack on white supremacy, the state, property, and the commodity. Whereas armed self-defense will always be an important parts of struggles for liberation, the arms themselves have no magical property to make our movements more serious, more revolutionary, more powerful. The power of the attack on white settler society is seen instead in the broad lawlessness, property destruction, looting and cop-free zones produced by the riot and is reflected in the attendant sense of freedom, unity, and radical safety felt by the rioters.”


As a lot of you, who may be reading this, are aware a large number of us joined Mastadon following the purge of antifascist accounts from Facebook and the building of a new Mastadon service by the people at Kolektiva.

Overall Mastadon has been refreshing; good people, good discussions, few, if any, know, all the things social media is not. But, the one issue I keep running into is related to post length.

Often I am writing posts that extend across various individual messages, and these can tend to get lost in the flurry of posts and replies necessary to express anything with depth.

That is why this blog exists. It will be a place where I will be posting reflections, reading notes, random musings, etc, and a site from which this content can be shared.

Thanks Bugs and anyone else who is running and maintaining and this wonderful, growing, ecosystem of radical alternate infrastructure!