Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Political Function of the Uprising

Apart from being an outburst of violence and anger, what political function does an uprising serve?

Many important changes take place in liberal democracies through massive protest and through the use of the riot. I studied in Germany over the summer and then I traveled around to dozens of cities. All across the nation, documented actions and uprisings were cited as causes of political change during the reign of the closed society. In Leipzig, for example, weekly violent protests convinced the DDR that they needed to become the kind of open society demonstrators envisioned. Same thing all across Eastern Europe.

Even in our own country, race riots led to the civil rights movement; uprisings have prevented massive evictions of poor communities; draft riots sprouted anti-war movements and anti-war movements ended the occupations; the Rodney King uprising brought racial profiling and police brutality to the fore of political debate for a decade. If you are only embarrassed by changes that are taking place in the present, but you revere changes that took place in the past through the same means, then you have to ask yourself whether you are embarrassed by those means or something else.


Daniel said...

Nice post. As much as we can speak of an uprising having a "function" -- that is, looking for a possible "intent" or at least rationale or internal logic of an uprising -- I would suggest that it is an assertion of subjectivity. Looking back upon recent events like the squadcar-flip of the Dead Prez show, I'm reminded of the concept of the "Temporary Autonomous Zone". This links to Hakim Bey's short chapter on uprisings:
Briefly, uprisings can be positive in nature; They are the "forbidden moment", writing graffiti onto the pages of history. Conversely (or additionally), as a negate-ive phenomenon, the uprising to me represents what John Zerzan pointed out as "Elements of Refusal". In this formulation, the function of an uprising is to destroy/cast-aside social detritus. The positive and negative functions are not necessarily antithetical. As Bakunin's motto went, "Destruction is also a creative act."
Have you read the Situationist writings on the Watts Riots of the late 60s?

Anonymous said...

Perhaps we could say that the political function of the uprising is to question the preclusion of democratic process -- albeit in a violent (thus dubiously democratic) way. In a time where laws are not passed democratically and a national or corporate ideology holds sway, an uprising is a chance to balk at the hypocrisy of it all. Even if there is no official statement associated with a particular uprising, the message is that the rioting constituents can and do recognize that there is something wrong. As such, it should be welcomed with open arms; It is a fine alternative to the political complaisance that we saw so often.
On the other hand, it is only a temporary victory.