In 2018 and 2019 popular uprisings burst out around the planet in Paris, Hong Kong, Santiago, Quito, Beirut, Barcelona, Tehran, Baghdad and many other locations.
Here, we consider these riots in relation to logistics. Logistics and riots seem antithetical, at extremes of order and chaos, system and anarchy. The contrast is deceptive. As a burgeoning literature has established, logistics has a military origin, describing activities that bring forces, supplies and equipment to the field of battle. From this genesis the term passed into the lexicon of capitalism, and now designates the coordination of globe-spanning supply chains, marshalling and integrating widely varied operations to outdo commercial competitors in the struggle for profit. To prevail, logistic systems must circumvent all interruptions to the connection between the extraction of surplus value at point of production and the realization of that value in the moment of exchange. Such systems thus, as Deborah Cowen insists, operationalize the structural violence of global capitalism. Logistics is, in the words of Jasper Bernes, “capitalism’s art of war”—just as riots can be a countervailing class war waged by those dispossessed, exploited and insulted in the normal processes of marketization, a “counter-logistics.”
The 2018-19 protests have won victories. Taxes or price rises that ignited uprising were often swiftly rolled back; in Hong Kong, the inflammatory extradition bill was withdrawn. In Lebanon, a government fell; in France, there were increases to the minimum wage and further tax cancellations; in Chile, truce was struck on promise of a constitutional referendum—a deal supported by some protesters, though opposed by others. Nowhere, however, did concessions come close to meeting the aspirations for equality, security and justice that had exploded onto the streets, desires that could evidently only be met by deep transformations to states and economies. And by the end of 2019 some movements were already subsiding, stalled or suffering serious reverses, though others continued unabated. Then, in 2020, the Covid 19 pandemic imposed an abrupt moratorium on mass action. The duration of this pause, and the nature of the threshold it marks is, at the time of writing, uncertain. It is quite possible, however, that any “return to normal” will also be a return to the turbulence of the years of riots, with conflicts only exacerbated by disease and recession. In recent years, the left has in many places round the world taken an electoral turn, imagining a parliamentary path to post-capitalism. But we might also consider another route, in which a new mode of production, if there is to be one, appears only out of dire crisis and severe social tumult—in which case, any fresh system for the supplying of human need and ecological protections may well find it germinal moments in riot logistics.
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