On London Riots

My Twitter feed has been inundating me with gushing comments as to the political promise implicit in oh so progressive London riots. (This tells you a lot about the quality of my Twitter feed, of course). For me, “progressive” and “riots” are not words that should appear in the same sentence. Most of us have heard stories of out-of-control British tourists and football fans*. Is there a chance the rioters are the same hoodlums who go crazy when their team loses and not people with a progressive political agenda? I asked myself.

So I spent the morning reading every account I could find about the riots online. My suspicions were confirmed: this has nothing to do with politics. Looting stores, burning cars, beating up passers-by, and assaulting diners at a restaurant are criminal acts that are not motivated by any interest in social change or political activism. I am shocked at the irresponsible bloggers and twitterers who enjoy glamorizing these acts of violence from their comfortable arm-chairs tucked safely away across the Atlantic. There is no doubt in my mind that every single one of them would be horribly outraged if somebody tried stealing their computer or burning their car.

If you ever feel the desire to see something redeeming in the actions of these rioters, imagine them chasing you down the street or breaking into your house. If you don’t think you’d like that a whole lot, then stop blabbering about the rising of the people and the dawn of a new, fairer society. Raging crowds have no interest in your political agenda. They just want to rob a store and have fun beating up people.

There is this trend among pseudo-Liberals that glamorizes poverty. A low-income person is seen by these affluent progressives as somebody who has a mysterious communion with higher truths and authentic values. As a result, the poor can do no evil in their eyes. Unfamiliar with the brutalizing, stupefying effects of poverty, they refuse to understand that their lofty ideals are simply absent among the rioters.

What has been happening in Great Britain has nothing to do with anybody’s political agenda. It is just an angry eruption of a mob that uses this opportunity to loot, steal, and assault people. You have to be a real jerk to see this as something positive.

* For me, that is football, everyody,and I am too old to learn otherwise.

50 thoughts on “On London Riots”

  1. I heard one interview on the BBC with a pair of rioters. To paraphrase their quotes (because my memory is spotty at best):

    “We got some good stuff. Yeah. We showed the police and the rich that we can do anything we want. and we got some good stuff”

    If I were PM in England, I would have had a very difficult time restraining myself from issuing an order to use lethal force to bring the lunatics under control. I admire the police and the gov’t for the restraint and patience they’ve shown.

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  2. My Twitter feed has been inundating me with gushing comments as to the political promise implicit in oh so progressive London riots.

    Really? wow.. can you give examples?
    My twitter feed is almost entirely made up of right-thinking lefty people, but apart from a few joking comments about revolution in the first hours this has been pretty much absent from my feed.

    As far as I can make out the riots have evolved in three steps…
    1. A peaceful protest over the controversial shooting by police of a black suspect in Tottenham in North London.
    2. A violent protest which followed this on the same night, which quickly lost coherence and whipped up by rumours spread via IM’s and social media turn to vandalism and theft in an attempt to “show them”
    3. The riots spread across England in the following days after it became clear to people who a)had a grudge against “the powers that be” b) enjoy the feeling of being part of a mob (and which of us doesn’t?) and c)were greedy for consumer goods (and who isn’t?) that the police couldn’t stop them forming crowds to riot and steal.
    In Britian there has been a lot of howling and hand-wringing from left and right about what this violent outburst by the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lumpenproletariat / feral youth has to say about our society – but it has overlooked the fact that not everyone involved is under 21, and not everyone is unemployed – graphic designers in their 30s have been arrested and charged, and this is an important point that shouldn’t be lost: there are people in every class for whom recreational violence and free stuff are appealing. The Prime Minister himself (if there is anyone left who doesn’t known this by now) used to be part of an infamous University drinking club which regarded trashing restaurants and bars as a sport http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bullingdon_club

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    1. *but it has overlooked the fact that not everyone involved is under 21, and not everyone is unemployed – graphic designers in their 30s have been arrested and charged*

      OK, but most participants are young and poor, isn’t it? Rioting didn’t start or continue in rich neighborhoods. People should search for causes of it. I wanted to leave another link to Clarissa’s post:
      http://pandagon.net/index.php/site/comments/looking_at_the_whys_is_not_optional

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    2. I might have a stupid Twitter feed but there is no need to generalize. 🙂 I don’t enjoy being part of a mob (or even of a group bigger than 3 people) and I’m not greedy for consumer goods I didn’t pay for. Most people who are really heavy into consumerism get their greatest kick out of the moment when they pay for the stuff they get, actually.

      I agree completely that this is not a class thing. And this is why it is a mistake to refer to it in terms of class struggle.

      Maybe I will start quoting weird tweets again when I get home.

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  3. We showed the police and the rich that we can do anything we want.
    So, those people don’t have hope for American Dream, to ever become rich themselves, and don’t feel like they belong to society.

    I haven’t read claims that those rioters express “a progressive political agenda”, but rather that some other people did & do, and rioters jumped at the opportunity to loot. I’ve read claims that when people don’t have hope for better future (very hard to leave poverty, get a stable job and government doesn’t help but slashes more & more), when they don’t trust authorities (since 1998, 333 died in police custody and nobody was punished), then one loses many young men to destructive culture. One doesn’t see rioting in rich neighborhoods.

    I loved penguin’s post on the topic:
    http://snarkypenguin.blogspot.com/2011/08/looters.html

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    1. I’m very uncomfortable with the idea that there are some objective circumstances that make people burn and loot. There are many unemployed who would never touch what isn’t theirs, let alone set shops on fire. I can’t follow the link you give at the moment, but for now, I believe that football hooligans and the rioters are the same crowd.

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      1. I wish I could recall the source, but I have read that the IQ of a mob can be determined by the average IQ of the participants divided by the number of people in the mob. Therefore, mobs of 1000’s of people have no intelligence whatsoever. That’s the only objective circumstance – that the crowd just doesn’t have the capacity to act rationally and civilly.

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        1. Crowd psychology is a fascinating branch of knowledge. Divesting oneself of the burden of personal responsibility and thus of the greatest characteristic of humanity must be very liberating. It’s no excuse, however. At some point you do decide to join the crowd and nobody is responsible for that decision aside from you.

          There is a higher sort of freedom, I believe. The one that allows a person to disagree with the crowd. I never faced an angry mob, of course, but I know what it’s like to stand in front of 80 people and say “I disagree.” It’s very scary but once you do it, you feel stronger.

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  4. It’s not about glamorizing poverty at all, nor see in the riots an articulated political movement that strives for social change, but to ask why do they happen. I just don’t buy the civilized vs. barbarian dichotomy. I’m thinking about race riots in the United States (and not just the 60s, but in the past 20 years). Most of them were triggered by the shooting of an unarmed black man by the police. That the reaction was riots and looting doesn’t say that those people are barbarians, but that there is a sector of the population that feels absolutely excluded from society in any way, and that is subject to different forms of violence pretty often (racial profiling is a good example).

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    1. Quite right – Darcus Howe is a not a liberal; he’s a socialist, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he has a completely clear eyed view of the situation (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Workerism) He focuses on the “stop and search” harassment of young black men/boys, which IS a real problem, and no doubt was a grievance when the rioting began in Tottenham after a protest against the police. However the rioting has moved on since then; it is not confined to black British men, and it has not been directed against the police or any state institutions. There may be some people who take part in the riots with the intention of political protest, but they must be 1)fools and 2)a minority.

      Darcus Howe is probably confusing the current riots with http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1981_Brixton_riot in the same way that in the early days of the Arab Spring many Westerners compared it with 1989 – they are not at all the same thing.

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      1. You seem not to realize what touched off the riots. And it’s funny how some commenters on this video say “he is confused” and “he is old” and so on when the person conducting the interview is the one throwing out all the indirect insults and trying to twist her interlocutor’s words. He is talking about NOW, not the past.

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    2. That guy seems to be pretty much spot on with what is going on.

      The interviewer was cutting him all the time because mass medias don’t want you to know the causes behind the riots.

      They want you to think like Clarissa on that matter.

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      1. That guy seems to be pretty much spot on with what is going on.
        and which of the English riot spots are you in, that you have the knowledge to make such an evaluation?

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        1. Just because you are there does not make you an autorithy on the matter. The guy who was speaking is there and he did not share your opinion.

          http://www.zcommunications.org/panic-on-the-streets-of-london-by-laurie-penny

          http://www.zcommunications.org/tottenham-this-is-what-you-get-fire-by-clarence-williams

          http://www.zcommunications.org/will-the-revolution-begin-in-london-j30-general-strike-by-laurie-penny#comment_container_180426

          Those people are there and they seems to know full well what is going on.

          It happened in France, it happened in Greece and happened in England before.Police brutality towards young, poor and angry people with not much of a future = riots.

          Throw the race issue in and here come the fireworks. It happened in Montreal as well not long ago, just not on that scale.

          This is what global capitalism looks like : a giant mess.

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          1. Ah Laurie Penny…
            you know a good friend of mine who squats in London met Laurie Penny at a demo a few weeks ago – his opinion after having met her and seen her at work – she’s a class-tourist who gets off on seeing the disorder of poor people’s lives and is a sucker for any fairy story you want to tell her that plays into her “radical” sensibilities…. which is pretty much what anyone might guess from reading her work.

            Are you one of these doctrinaire revolutionaries who is incapable of absorbing the fact that not everything in the news is a justification for your model of society?
            It’s an established fact that the riots in Tottenham started with a protest against police shooting a suspect – something which the apparatus of the bourgeois state is now investigating itself over http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-14459516 – but the continuing rioting that spread over the rest of London and England has no political content. No interviews with rioters have been produced which show them communicating political messages, they do not carry banners or placards, they don’t leave political graffiti, they don’t attack political targets – they attack shops and steal things. These people don’t reject consumerism, they just want a fast-track to their new trainers and new plasma TV’s.

            and there is no race issue here: the mobs are mixed race, and the loudest voices raised against them have been black and Asian people who live in the communities torn up by the violence.

            I probably share some of your critique of capitalism – but these riots are not a revolutionary act.

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            1. The revolution is not about to happen. There is a difference between a revolt and a revolution. This is (was?) a revolt.

              You will probably keep your position and I will keep mine. I don’t see the point debating.

              But I do know this. The worse the economy gets, the worse it will be around the world. If people are jobless or are hungry, they will act. Maybe not in the way you wish they would, but they will.

              If the left has no answers people will turn towards riots, fascism or nihilism. We might see old school communism coming back (even if I think the others options named are more likely). History often repeats itself.

              If the left do not take care of some problems, others will. And it could get ugly. What we have seen so far was nothing.

              Desperate people will do desperate things. The gap between the have and have not is too big. Add more cuts and it will get worse.

              Politicians probably know this and you will see a rise in spending in police «services» along with social cuts. They expect people to rise up, as they should.

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              1. Oh yes. It is absolutely true that people are likely to turn to fascism and racism in such situations. The religious right in the US is surely very happy to see the rising poverty because it knows that the situation will push people right into their fanatical arms. So here I agree with you.

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            2. Thank you, David K. That’s exactly how I thought things were and it’s good to see somebody who is familiar with the issue confirm it. I understand the desire to see potential for social change here but it isn’t helpful to invent one when it is obviously not present. I think it might actually be detrimental.

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        1. I don’t have money to buy a house or much. I don’t support people getting beat up. Those I heard who were beaten up were the protesters/rioters. There is a difference between burning a car, breaking a window, burning a bulding and beating up humans. I know the media and a part of the public want the rioters deads. Now, that is violence.

          I would rather see the people organize themselves, but the left is a joke and does not bring a solution. So we get riots. And they won’t be the last.

          We have to find something else than capitalism and the mess that was the USSR.

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    1. Mate, I live here – I have seen that clip before, we in the UK have been all over that clip and how wrong the interviewer was days ago.

      watch this: this is the voice of someone who lives with the reality of these riots…

      This IS NOT The Great Insurrection….

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      1. Great clips!!! I’m from Los Angeles, CA and I’ve seen riots and I know. I’ve lived in other countries with wars and terrorist attacks and also police repression and I know. I am not advocating mindless violence. I also get the point made above about the overlap between hoodlum style activity and the boorish behavior of British tourists when they go down to Spain (or, for that matter, British professionals who take up residence in the US where they imagine decent manners do not pertain – another phenomenon I have observed in my time). My points are (a) that people go off for a reason and (b.i) it is so unfortunate that it sometimes takes this kind of hue and cry to get anything noticed at all (if indeed it is after 1-2 days of quiet). And I do still say that the behavior of that Fiona Anderson is indicative of a general cultural attitude which is hardly laudable or “civilized.”

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  5. Yes, this is truly the fault of global capitalism. In the USSR, these rioters would have been crushed with tanks in all of 2 minutes. It isn’t like anybody has seen any real alternatives to global capitalism to be able to say that another system would be much better.

    I’m just so annoyed by these “oh bad capitalism is to blame” diagnoses from people who know absolutely nothing else than capitalism.

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    1. It’s not like they gave me the choice between capitalism and something else. Anarchists tried to build something else, Spain being the best example (1936), and all the elites of the world were against them. They got killed, murdered. Same thing happened with the Commune de Paris. It was a massacre, because wealthy people did not want to see an alternative to live.

      Even if you don’t like it, I will keep on critizizing capitalism.

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    2. You need a subtler analysis. The Scandinavian countries you admire suffer from some racist myopia but have not made the kind of budget cuts / severe degree of deepening of traditional inequalities we have seen over the last 30+ years in England.

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      1. Then may be the answer is to fight this racist myopia (you mean, racism, right?) and inequalities? May be it’s because historically changes take time, until (several?) generation(s) change.

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    3. “Yes, this is truly the fault of global capitalism. In the USSR, these rioters would have been crushed with tanks in all of 2 minutes.”

      I don’t think I follow your logic here, Clarissa. In some places, global capitalism crushed protesters: not with tanks, but with clandestine kidnaps and executions. What do you think Chile in 1973 and Argentina in 1976 were about? Not just about getting rid of of “subversive communist”, but about crushing a society and whatever solidarity movements and possibility of protests they had, in order to impose with blood neoliberal economic policies that responded to the imperatives of global capitalism. And this is not conspiracy theory, it’s in any history book. Global capitalism doesn’t need democracy to exist and thrive.

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      1. Since the Soviet Union is the only alternative to capitalism that we have actually seen in existence, I always see the “oh horrible capitalism” statements as praise for the USSR. If there is a third alternative anbody has observed, I’d like to hear about it. I feel like people dismiss the entire experience that we had in the Soviet Union because it mars their capitalism-bashing pleasure.

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        1. One thing doesn’t exclude the other. Far from me from praising the URSS, but you can’t dismiss critiques of global capitalism saying there is nothing better. In that case, why bother even movilizing? I have lived under an atrocious dictatorship brought to Argentina courtesy of global capitalism. And enough people disappeared in my family to prove me how atrocious it can get.

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          1. Oh, I’m all for insightful critiques of global capitalism. I just didnt see any insights here. Any situation can be dismissed by oh well, this is just capitalism. In my opinion, the only thing the London riots have to do with capitalism is that in communism they would be crushed much faster, that’s all.

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        2. I see it more like FOR social policies in democracy and AGAINST the myth of unlimited capitalism in USA. F.e. for health coverage for all like we have in Israel and for more taxes on the rich.

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          1. I might be mistaken but I thik I heard that the NHS system of healthcare in the UK is really good and free for people. I dont think these riots were about the health coverage. I also dont think the rioters were protesting the US kind of capitalism.

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  6. And: here’s something from another friend, pertinent:

    A woman preached in the middle of the nocturnal shopping in London…“This is about a…man who got shot in Tottenham. This isn’t about busting up the place. If we’re fighting for a cause let’s fight for a…cause.” (Then the reporter added:) But in the UK’s crumbling cities, consumerism is a more accessible dream than commitment or community.

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