An article analysing the revolt against a police killing in Akron, Ohio, during summer 2022. This article was first published on the Spirit of May 28 website.
The small city of Akron, Ohio has become the latest front in the ongoing struggle against the police, after twenty-five-year-old Jayland Walker's life ended in a hail of bullets on the morning of June 27th. On July 3rd the police finally released the body cam footage showing the brutal murder. That night a small riot took place in downtown Akron in connection with protests that day. The police responded with swift and overwhelming force, arresting 50. The next day a curfew was declared, and police swarmed the now thoroughly boarded-up downtown Akron. While there were some isolated instances of property destruction and arson on the second night, these were not actions in the midst of a crowd, as happened on the first night. Protests stayed relatively calm after that, and the curfew was lifted on July 6th, but that night the police brutally attacked Jacob Blake’s father and arrested the aunt of Breonna Taylor, heightening tensions in the city 1 . On July 8th, the mayor of Akron once again declared a curfew for downtown, which has been in effect since 2 .
A comprehensive summary of events can be found on It’s Going Down. This is not a report back. Rather, it is an analysis of what has taken place and what it means for the immediate future.
The State, the Left, and the Counterinsurgency
The remnants of the Party of George Floyd shouldn’t keep going into these situations thinking that the state will be caught off-guard and unprepared like it was in 2020. Instead, this is the pattern we see:
I. A very small opening in which a riot takes place.
II. A minority of the Black proletariat fights alone.
III. Rapid and overwhelming police repression of the crowd.
IV. State of emergency is declared.
V. The political counterinsurgency subsumes the initial riot 3 .
VI. The Party of George Floyd remains isolated 4 .
We’ve seen a similar but less pronounced pattern in other cities since the fall of 2020. One response to state preparedness has been that some people switch from rioting on their feet, to rioting with their cars. We saw this in Louisville and Philadelphia. The looting caravan was a brilliant development, but it did not happen in Akron. While a few dozen militants showed great courage on July 3rd, this was not a mass offensive.
Why did the riot in Akron not escalate into an uprising?
That an uprising did not occur in Akron can only be partially explained by external state repression. In many ways, an uprising failed to materialize because too many people chose not to fight. The question is why?
The overall impression we got from the people we talked to in Akron is one of uncertainty. This probably reflects the uncertainty of much of the country right now. Everyone is on the edge of a cliff, unsure of whether to take the leap into the unknown. Few people want to do anything that will push us over the edge, because that means jumping into a chaotic future with little to no clarity as to what the results will be. This uncertainty stems from the fact that the 2020 uprisings did not win, and there is no viable model of struggle for people to rally around and fight for. The horizon seems trapped between two dying factions of the bourgeoisie: the return of a Trump Presidency, or the continuation of Biden.
The uncertainty is also rooted in the magnitude of the current crisis, including inflation and the defeat of Roe V Wade – which raises the question of exactly what must be done. To risk larger confrontations with the state means possible annihilation. Unlike activist protests where little is at stake, the class war involves the risk of injury, incarceration, and death. Battles have to be chosen carefully, not on the basis of middle-class guilt, but on the basis of hit and run tactics, appearing and disappearing. This rhythm is determined by a very different calculus than activist protests.
Beyond these tactical considerations, we could also consider the fact that local activists – including members of the Walker family – repeatedly called for peace throughout the day. Strangely enough, this de-escalation was enforced by armed protesters calling themselves Black Panthers, who donned black berets and black uniforms, in the style of the New Black Panther Party, essentially acting as armed counterinsurgents.
Much of the white left also continues to be an obstacle. While much emphasis has been placed on the rise of the Black counterinsurgency, white activists have also played a prominent role in this department, including in Akron. These white peace police actively discouraged more confrontational tactics – telling people to go home before the 9pm curfew, all under the guise of “following Black leadership.”
While whiteness is usually associated with the right-wing and conservatism, we’re noticing that a left-wing version is also being reconfigured in the aftermath of the 2020 uprisings. Whiteness is a kind of counterinsurgent hegemony within the class struggle itself, which expresses itself as policing of the crowd from within. This kind of whiteness is anchored around the Democratic Party, but also groups like the Democratic Socialist of America, and to a lesser extent, the Party for Socialism and Liberation, as well as other "socialist" formations 5 .
This atmosphere of subservience certainly had an effect on the outcome of events following the riot on July 3rd. At the same time, the political counterinsurgency might not have been so effective if most people weren’t so open to it. While some people rioted on the first night, in the absence of a larger offensive against the police, most willingly de-escalated.
In the end, there is no single reason why the riot did not develop into an uprising. Was Akron too small? This probably didn’t help. However, it's worth considering that Kenosha was half the size.
Are there other political issues confronting the proletariat right now, such as Roe v. Wade? Yes, but this doesn’t explain much. After all, the Walter Wallace Jr. Uprising in Philadelphia happened right before the 2020 presidential elections.
Were people hesitant to fight because there is no longer a national wave of rebellions taking place? This might be the most important factor. Two summers ago, the proletariat had the initiative, and rebellions were happening every other week. In contrast, the Akron riot broke out at a time of mass de-escalation, which, with few exceptions, has steadily taken hold since Biden's election.
Theses on the Party of George Floyd
I. The party of George Floyd is made up of all those who participated in the 2020 uprisings. It is not a formal designation but a broad ecology of people who took part in the revolt. This historical party is composed of many different factions of a proto-revolutionary movement in the United States.
II. The remnants of the party of George Floyd still exist, but are confused, isolated, and fragile. The party is confused because the experience of 2020 remains a potent memory, yet this memory is uncertain of itself, uncertain of whether it took the right course of action. The party is isolated because the proletariat is not coming out to fight in the same way anymore. Finally, the party remains fragile, struggling to hang on as a form, because it is unable or unwilling to cohere itself into an organization.
III. The Party of George Floyd will enter the next round of struggle with this reality of confusion, isolation, and fragility. It is obviously one of the worst positions to be in, but that is our reality. None of the fundamental problems unleashed by the 2007/2008 crisis have been resolved. The fundamental task remains: to cohere the most advanced elements, with the new elements, in the next uprising.
Preparing for What's to Come
We still think that something bigger and more violent than the George Floyd uprising is coming. This means that we need to get prepared organizationally, strategically, and politically. We see that many people are demoralized. This makes sense. But the proletarian monster will continue to rear its head from its burrow.
If there is not another mass proletarian offensive in the coming years, we may enter another period similar to the neoliberal era, where capital reigned supreme, and rebellions were few. If that is the case, the task of revolutionaries will be different from what we are considering here. But for now, it's too soon to tell.
We would like to think that these small rebellions are preparatory moves to set up more decisive moves in the future, but it's hard to make such a claim at this moment, when there is no organization through which to communize this process. Instead, what proletarians are doing might amount to little more than “random” acts of courage, with little to no political or strategic impact.
All the objective reasons for revolution are there – inflation, poverty, state repression, racist violence, the ineptitude of the political system – but the subjective factor is missing. On the night of July 3rd, there was a small layer of young (mostly Black) proletarians trying to escalate the situation by throwing things at police, smashing windows, starting fires, and building small barricades. These insurgents could have been the main force of an uprising, despite the cowardice of the political counterinsurgency. But for that to happen, more insurgents would have had to enter the fray. Tragically, for all the reasons we’ve outlined, this did not happen.
As for what remains of the party of George Floyd, the course of events will sooner or later determine its fate.
- 1Blake’s father was hospitalized as a result of this assault and has since been released from the hospital. He has been charged with riot, resisting arrest, failure to disperse, and disorderly conduct.
- 2This text was published on July 16th, 2022.
- 3If workers struggles have been trapped in the reformism of the labor unions, today it is NGO’s which manage struggles outside of the workplace. Both unions and NGOs are ready to do capital’s bidding. The former addresses the workplace rebellions and the latter the urban rebellions. Their political functions are basically the same.
- 4The Party of George Floyd being everyone who fought in the riots, supported bail funds, fed people, healed people, etc.
- 5Leftwing whiteness is a concept still being developed, but the main idea is that it is a specific kind of whiteness which appears radical and is currently led by Black social democrats.