At the moment I’m in the USA for the summer, undertaking research, and I welcomed the chance to escape a quiet summer in a university town that goes to sleep when the students are away. But, last week I wished I was back in Britain. When I heard the news that the riots were spreading, I was so excited I couldn’t sit down, I couldn’t work, I couldn’t read or write anything except the unfolding news and the various responses.
As yet, I’ve written nothing at length on the riot for this blog. And it seems a little belated to enter the debate now. But, below are some links to good pieces, some quotes, some thoughts, and some copy and pasted discussions I had with various people.
The Guardian, Gary Younge:
“Despite historian David Starkey‘s best efforts, the epicentre of Britain’s moral panic moved from culture to class. The primary challenge of integration, it transpires, is convincing a sizeable section of British youth, of all races, that they can be integrated into a society that won’t educate or employ them.”
My response to The Guardian report that one young man had been sentenced to 6 months in jail for stealing £3.50 of water: “Well, the young British people who, having been shafted every day of their lives, enjoyed a brief revenge are now being treated despicably by the courts as the bourgeoisie’s political and judicial deputies crack down extra viciously to shore up their fraying, swaying, disintegrating hegemony.” When I checked back, this had caused a massive angry debate amongst my friends, involving over 40 posts and proving how divisive the issue is amongst (roughly) “middle-class” young people.
Similarly, this great piece posted by UFSO created a storm: http://wp.me/p1dbfG-9D . Being subscribed to UFSO I got in there nice an early and posted my response, which elicited a few responses of its own:
August 10, 2011 9:54 pm
This is really very good. Thanks for writing this. Everyone who reads it: disseminate by all means necessary!
The Left needs to defend the riots; not to valourise the burning of grannies’ cars, but to make clear that we reject the whole bourgeois construction of events, that we stand in solidarity with the oppressed and that, when it comes to it, we will, without hesitation, join the “rioters” to overthrow the legitimised exploitation, state-sanctioned violence and sham “democracy” that oppress us all.
August 14, 2011 6:45 am
Um, no, the vast majority of things that the vast majority of people has very little intentional thought behind it. This applies across all times and all spaces.
August 11, 2011 9:00 am
Whilst I agree that this is not the solution to any of the issues at hand; poverty, exclusion, disenfranchisement, gentrification etc etc – the idea that this is just a predominately white middle class thing is wrong. I was in Hackney and there was all sorts of people there. Working class, black, asian, women, men, young, old etc. Perhaps this reflects the greater degree of diversity in the borough (as opposed to Clapham, which is where your photo is from).
The riot clean up, as far as I experienced it, wasn’t expressly political or naive. It was just about getting the streets back to normal so we can all start addressing the reasons why this riot started. The fact that Hackney council had already done most of it made left the act itself fairly defunct, but to see lots of people out in one place, gathered through social networks, and discussing what just happened in our borough was a heartening thing.
Also – @Wit. These rioters were looting for high end capitalist products. That’s not something I want to stand in solidarity with. Fighting the state and the inequalities of the system is fine, but looting for the goods that oppress you is not.
I only saw the last comments today, but I think my argument before got to the heart of it. The middle-class left, which has something to lose – which is invested in the system, e.g. through education – cannot stomach the actions of the most exploited and disenfranchised members of society, i.e. those who really do have nothing to lose but their chains. And certainly awful things happened, e.g. the killing of those three men guarding their businesses, etc. But, here’s the important thing: what has been obvious to all those leftists with a brain is that the social groups that chiefly composed the rioters have not developed a sufficient strata of “intellectuals” (in the Gramscian sense) capable of giving political coherence and direction. The uprising (not movement, but uprising) was not able to police itself, because it lacked this sense of coherence.
By contrast, when a student threw a fire exinguisher off the Millbank roof, people started shouting as one: “Don’t throw shit, stop throwing shit”, &c. And it stopped. Students have indeed developed a strata of “organic” intellectuals – from the conservative SU warders to the most radical organisers; from the people with megaphones in the marches, to those like Aaron Porter who, admittedly occupy/occupied a liminal zone (and yet retain an organic link, moving and being moved by students).
Therefore the necessity, as I said in my first post, of “joining with the rioters” – i.e. of joining with these disenfranchised social groups, helping them to develop their own organisations, institutions, political agency and leadership.
Therefore, for example, the response from Kit, that “These rioters were looting for high end capitalist products. That’s not something I want to stand in solidarity with” is not only unhelpful but is expressive of a middle-class romantic sentimentalism, which in the end only wishes to stand alone looking at itself in the mirror.
More later, this post is getting long, and I’m tired.