Riot. Strike. Riot: The New Era of Uprisings

Joshua Clover

Non fiction
Joshua Clover


Rioting was the central form of protest in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and was supplanted by the strike in the early nineteenth century. It returned to prominence in the 1970s, profoundly changed along with the coordinates of race and class. From early wage demands to recent social justice campaigns pursued through occupations and blockades, Clover connects these protests to the upheavals of a sclerotic economy in a state of moral collapse. Historical events such as the global economic crisis of 1973 and the decline of organized labour, viewed from the perspective of vast social transformations, are the proper context for understanding these eruptions of discontent. Clover also recounts the details of the red and black flag originating as a blackened loaf of bread fixed onto a pole and raised above the crowd to herald the beginning of a new uprising - i.e when the price of bread reaches a certain percentage difference to the average wage income, riots begin – as they also often do when the temperature rises to a certain level, apparently. As quoted in the publication: ‘A Nottingham action in September 1812 commenced with several women, sticking a half penny loaf on the top of a fishing rod, after having streaked it with red ochre, and tied around it a shred of black crape, emblematic of ‘bleeding famine decked in Sackecloth.’

The distinctions between both forms of protest and revolt form a useful framework through which to chart their histories here, and understanding their mutual development is particularly interesting when read in the context of certain historical landmarks. Note also that you can listen to Clover in conversation with writer and philosopher Nina Power here: at the London Review Bookshop, in which they discuss the nature of both in the context of contemporary uprisings, and our collective reactions to them.