riots

It’s only class war if you fight back

Finally someone has come out and said it. It’s taken all week, but Gary Younge in the Guardian says: it’s a class thing. Fuck Starkey. Racism is the last refuge of the historian who won’t embrace historical materialism. Eventually, in a desperate hunt for a reason, and in the absence of a charismatic figure they can build a narrative around, they seize on race as the motivating force. On this occasion the race card is such an absurd one to play that Starkey has to resort to the claim that so many white people were involved because they are culturally black. There can’t be a single person in Britain (bar Nick Griffin, who is offering to make Starkey a Gold Member of the BNP) that buys this bollocks. No. Younge has got it right. You look to the economy for your analysis. That’s how history works.

Now the right are terrified of doing this. They know they’ll hate the answers. So their analysis stops at ‘mindless criminality’ ((c) every Tory Cabinet member), as if that is an answer in itself. Why would one investigate any further? Once you’ve got as far as ‘mindless criminality’ there can be no deeper one can dig.

Which means they are genuinely comfortable in the belief that all of the innately mindless criminals in London emerged, at the same time, on the same night, like some kind of zombie movie, to perform their criminal acts in one, single, uncoordinated spontaneous act. Or, failing that, they believe some kind of Fagan figure was coordinating it, via these magic, criminal Blackberry devices. The point is, it was simple criminality. Nothing more.

We’re not allowed to ask what made them ‘mindless criminals’. Were they born that way? To even ask the question is, apparently, to excuse their behaviour. We are not allowed to ask what might have caused it all to happen in one rush of adrenalin. That would be to excuse their behaviour. We can’t ask how a swathe of Londoners, so bereft of hope, should resort to this rather than focus their anger on a specific underlying problem. That would be to excuse their behaviour. We can’t ask why they attacked businesses rather than public buildings (on Newsnight Starkey used this as evidence that it was not political – that, right there, is a perfect example of how narrow the right’s definition of politics is). That would be to suggest there was method in their madness. We can’t even ask why, when given a free run in the city’s shops, these kids wanted branded clothing and goods that the advertising industry has thrust in their faces all their lives, and which offer the very definition of those who have ‘made it’ (and, in their absence, those who haven’t). To ask that question would be to excuse their behaviour. We also can’t ask why it has happened in England, but not in Scotland or Wales, under their left of centre governments. To ask that question would be to excuse their behaviour.

So the orthodoxy has been established. This is ‘mindless criminality’. To suggest otherwise is to be an apologist for thugs.

Well, excuse us, but we don’t think that stretching an analysis beyond the convenient is to apologise for thuggery. The riots fucked up the lives of working class Londoners more than they fucked up the lives of the enemy. For this reason, more than any other, we condemn them*. But it is stone cold stupid to dismiss it as mindless criminality. Well, it’s tactically astute if you’re the Tory Cabinet, or the Telegraph leader writer, or the Met Police. If you’re anyone else, you need to harvest the crust from your eyes.

You know how the world works. It’s the way the economic base is organised that offers the foundations upon which we build the superstructural arrangements. We’ve had a long period of Labour government, where people ostensibly on our side were running the politics. As always, capitalism carried on doing its thing, while Labour made some worthwhile tweaks to stop capitalism’s worst excesses (the minimum wage, trade union recognition and so on). Eventually the establishment tired of Labour, and we were all directed to vote Tory. Which lots of people did.

The thing you get with a Tory government is class war. Or, rather, an onslaught of class politics. Witness Osborne’s insistence that the most vital tweak to the economy we all need is to ditch the 50% top income tax rate, which affects less than 1% of the population. Witness the immediate rise in VAT – a regressive tax – rather than higher rates of income tax – a progressive tax. Witness the attack on the public sector – people who have, in Tory eyes inexplicably,  chosen to devote their careers to public service rather than to chasing profits in some horrible enterprise. We almost called it class war. It isn’t. It’s only class war if you fight back.

There’s been some fighting back. From organised labour, for example. The PCS, the RMT and the NUJ are absolutely at the forefront of this. Comrades have stood up to be counted, and have refused to take what the government is throwing at them. There’s been some fighting back from the likes of UK Uncut or the SWP. But the level of organisation is specific, rather than general, and it represents groups who find it easy to articulate their concerns. Unionised workers, political activists and so on all have analytical tools and a clear understanding of the rights and wrongs. They know what they’re fighting against, and they know who is their friend and who is their enemy.

But the kids we saw torching London this week don’t know any of that. They’re being offered no leadership. The Labour Party is seemingly saying nothing at the moment that might give them a sense of hope. No one will employ them, or educate them, so the NUS and the trades’ unions can’t offer them leadership or guidance. The community leaders who would hand out CLR James pamphlets, or lead discussion of whether Malcolm or Dr King offer the best route out, are 20 years older than they were in the last round of metropolitan riots. UK Uncut, and the other ‘down with this sort of thing’ are too busy with press-friendly spectaculars than recruiting the genuinely lost and disaffected. These kids have nothing to join, no one speaking on their behalf, and no one holding up a flag and saying ‘come on comrades, let’s use this energy and build a better tomorrow’.

In fact, they are completely sold on capitalism and its trappings. The Man has worked his magic on these kids. Thee Faction  and other bang on about fighting a war of position, and establishing a counter-hegemonic culture. Well these kids know nothing about it. They genuinely believe that salvation is to be found in wearing the right daps and the right labels. These are the foot soldiers the consumerist phase of capitalism desperately wanted and needed.But they’re not quite playing by the rules. Either we recruit them, or capital finds a way of adjusting their trajectory back in line with the system’s strategic aims. They think they love the system. They just can’t access its rewards as easily as Cameron and Osborne’s old schoolmates can.

So this was their fightback. They didn’t necessarily say so. None of them articulated it clearly. None of them defined the enemy. But why would they? Who is helping them shape an analysis? No one. They’re marginalised, disaffected, and very  very very angry. But this was a week that was waiting to happen. Things were at boiling point. They boiled over. They boiled over for a whole bunch of very angry, confused, leaderless, rudderless, helpless, hopeless kids. They did the wrong thing. They did a whole heap of very very wrong things, and fucked everything up for a lot of working people whose lives are tough enough already. But why did they do it? Cos they have no hope, no help and no direction.

The answer isn’t to lock them up. The answer is to recruit them to something useful. Use that energy to build a better tomorrow. Kassandra Krossing, in these pages earlier in the week, set about those who call these kids ‘chavs’ or ‘scum’. These are labels which allow the smug to de-humanize the rioters and prescribe Mikado-esque pair-of-eyes-for-an-eye retribution. She was right. She also pointed out that, until the riots, these rioters were the people next to us on the bus. They were the same as us.

Yes they were. But there was one crucial difference. They were one step closer to not taking it any more than the rest of us, and one step further away from caring about the consequences of making a big big noise. But that feeling is simmering in all of us. We’re not going to take it. It’s a class-based onslaught that the Tories and the ruling class are sending our way. It’s only class war if you fight back. And there’s going to come a moment when organised labour, organised politics and organised civil society activity all start to move in exactly the same direction, at the same time, at a serious pace. At that moment we must offer leadership to those helpless, hopeless, misguided kids, and show them that there is no need to shit in our own dog bowl. Solidarity and unity amongst all of us. That’s what makes us strong.

Harness that, and we’ll be fucking invincible, comrade. Let’s make it happen. Thee Faction will be doing their bit. Will you do yours?

 

*we have no doubt that this sentence will be forgotten by most readers and that this piece will be read as some kind of tribute to the rioters. If that’s how you’ve read it, we apologise for our poor writing. That was never the point.

Advertisements

Protect us from the hooded youth

Youth

The destruction across my home of London town over the past few days has broken my heart. The streets I grew up around, and where I’ve always felt so safe, were turned into scenes from a bad zombie film. The department store where I first met Father Christmas was smashed, burned and plundered for the sheer hell of it. My home suddenly seemed insufficiently secure to protect my baby. I am angry as hell at these rioters for making me feel like this about the place I love so much. They’ve shown the very worst extreme of individualist greed, engendered by capitalism, that Babyface discussed far more eloquently yesterday.

They’ve broken our trust in our homes and our neighbours. And, in doing so, they’ve taken the public eye off the issue of what really happened to Mark Duggan, and created a swell of public sympathy for the Met.

But angry as I am with the rioters, my new mother anger hormones are getting worked up even more by the reaction of the average unthinking, knee-jerking, Facebook-ranting punter: calling for the army; calling for a locking-up-and-throwing-away-the-key; calling for more police; calling for ‘tougher measures’; or calling for any other vague and un-thought-through plan to solve a problem they don’t understand.

And I’m hearing a lot of names for these rioters: ‘scum’, ‘chavs’, ‘yobs’, ‘thugs’ etc. All terms which mark these people out as being a different breed to us. Perhaps they’ve always been there, lurking in caves between underground stations, feeding on rats, and biding their time before emerging into the streets to quench their thirst for ‘criminality’. Put like this, it becomes easier to fire a water cannon at them, shoot them with a rubber bullet, or carry any of the more barbaric actions suggested by contributors to the Daily Mail’s website comments section.

Because they’re not like us. They look remarkably like the people who, last week, sat next to us on the bus, queued with us in the supermarket, or worked alongside us in the office. But they’re now different. Throw the book/truncheon/bullet at ‘em. Far easier to do so than to engage with these people, and try and work out why they did this. And it’s certainly a lot easier to do so than to consider whether we might have anything to do with these people feeling like a sub-species.

The rioters who betray their neighbours with violence are, of course, spewed from the same flawed machine that produces the armchair critics who betray their neighbours with dehumanisation.

I certainly don’t have the answers (beyond knowing that only Marxism-Leninism can set you free) and, like everyone else, I’m just praying that it’s over now and we can sweep up, move on, and learn some lessons. What I am taking from this is the crucial importance that I raise my child to feel included in society. To respect and love his neighbours. To know that we are all in this together. And not to call people names.

DEG GDH Fox - the hooded youth

DEG GDH Fox - the hooded youth

London’s Burning – the answer lies in the people

London’s burning. If socialism is about anything beyond economics, it’s about solidarity and community. If you’re a Londoner, get down to your clean-up (see list below). Agitate for something better to come out of this. Meet your neighbours. Forge links strong enough to resist the hopeless kids, and give them hope. Leadership and direction will emerge from this. The answer doesn’t lie in the army or the water canon. It lies in the people.

There’s been a programme designed to atomise us for decades now. It’s working. Last night we all stayed in our houses, as frightened individuals and nuclear families, just as Thatcher told us we were. There is such a thing as society. It is the foundation of socialism. Let’s go outside our front doors, bump fists with our neighbours, and set to work building a society that we want. We’re living in the society the ruling class wants. The consumer fetishism that makes the latest daps so attractive that you’ll smash in a storefront to get them; the atomised bellum omnium inter omnes of late-capitalism with the institutions of working class life almost comprehensively destroyed and replaced with the institutions of consumerist life; the attraction of competing with gangs in other postcodes to see who can torch the most buildings, rob the most stuff and get the most media coverage because our conception of status is so fucked up that celebrity is the only way of measuring it; all of this is the cultural logic of what’s been going on in the economy for decades. It doesn’t excuse it – far from it. But it explains how we got here. Cos we didn’t get here by chance. We got here by design, and this is the excess, spilling over the top.

Time to press ‘reset’, comrades. Enough is enough. Rebuild the bonds of solidarity and community. Reject inequality and fivolous consumerist bullshit designed to atomise us. None of us wants to live like this. None of us. So let’s build something better. Out of joy and hope, solidarity and community, freedom and equality. Start now, at the clean-up. Meet your neighbours. Plan a better world. Don’t wait for politicians and leaders of the police force to do it. They won’t. You need to do it. We need to do it. Let’s start now.

 Details of the clean-up (9/8/11). Some offer hashtags. Check twitter for news.

Bethnal Green road in front of the money store at 10am. We should be well underway on roman road by then and hopefully catch you up

Bow #riotcleanup Roman Road, Tackle Shop. 9am

Croydon #riotcleanup – meet East Croydon Station, 10am – thanks @lucyorlulu for this one, follow her (via @artistsmakers)

Chalk Farm tube, 10am Tuesday morning. Bring brooms, bin-bags, and wear decent gloves and shoes if you can.

CAMBERWELL: St Giles Church 10am #riotcleanup

CAMDEN: 11am, Chalk farm 10am, Roman Rd Hackney 9am, Clapham 9am, Peckham 10am, Westbourne Grove

CLAPHAM JUNCTION: Either The Falcon Pub or Nando’s on Northcote at 9am

Ealing meet up is at the Horse at 10am

CROYDON: East Croydon Station, 10am

HACKNEY: Town hall at 10am #riotcleanup

LEWISHAM: Lewisham shopping centre 9am

LIVERPOOL: 9am at SMITHDOWN ASDA or 12 at BOMBED OUT CHURCH #riotcleanup

PECKHAM: Library from 8am

WESTBOURNE GROVE: Ledbury 9am

– Check out http://twitter.com/#!/Riotcleanup for the very latest updates

 

Let’s salvage something from all this, and build something of joy and hope. We need to show we have limitless wells of both. As the song below tells us: smashing a Starbucks window won’t set you free.