By Sean Matgamna
The rioting, looting and burning that is sweeping across London and outside of London - so far, in Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Nottingham and Liverpool – can have no directly positive effects on the lives of those who riot or on the lives of their families. The very opposite is true.
They are destroying some of the social facilities they rely upon, as for instance, firing a block of working class flats in Tottenham and buses in Peckham.
In politics the effect will be to strengthen the ‘law and order’ Right and push a lot of new people in their direction.
Many of those who have learned to loathe the swindlers who run our society will feel themselves pushed into supporting those who serve the rich, the looters at the top, in horror at the rioting, burning and looting at the bottom.
They will be further alienated from the young people in Lewisham, Peckham, Nottingham.
The rioting will alienate the organised labour movement, even those large sections of it which will instinctively sympathise with the plight of the people in the riot hit areas.
These outbreaks in areas with large black population, and involving young black people, cannot fail to stimulate and strengthen racism. They will help those such as the EDL in fomenting a ‘them and us’ view of British society. The fact that Asian and Muslim shops have been burned out and looted and that many of the rioters were white will not lessen or off-set that.
The current explosions demonstrate yet again that there is a large segment of the working class – almost an underclass – that feels itself to be outside society and radically at odds with it. The looting and burning can only deepen that sense of separateness on both sides.
But denouncing the riots as ‘pure criminality’ is simply stupid - the refuge of those who don’t want to understand. However many gangs exist in these areas and however much opportunist looting contributes to the outbreaks, it took more than criminal gangs to ignite these explosions.
Those who are loudest in condemning the rioters and looters – the media, the politicians, the police, the racist and ‘anti-foreigner’ agitators and, soon, the vengeful magistrates - bear much of the blame for these outbreak.
And they serve those who carry the main blame for the state of the British society in which this is happening – the bankers, the factory owners, the giant store owners and the stock exchange gamblers. They are responsible for creating the conditions and the mind-set that has led to the rioting and looting that is sweeping through Britain like an August grass fire.
The deprived young people who have come out on the streets to fight those they see as their enemy, the police, and to grab a little instant prosperity have good reason to feel that they are outsiders, that they have been excluded.
Many are either unemployed or working in dead end, unskilled, low paid jobs.
They have come through the education system maimed and semi-literate. They live in a society where great robbers and swindlers are admired whether they are legal, semi-legal or downright criminal. Where they enrich themselves without any regard for other people.
Why, many of them will think, shouldn’t we help ourselves by looting shops and great stores, in a world where bankers can loot and get away with it? Where the politicians who serve them have looted society to bail out the bankers.
No matter how inattentive to politics many of the young people may normally be, they will have gained a general impression about what has been going on at the top of society.
That the politicians, the press, the police and the courts that will soon send god knows how many to jail, serve those looters at the top of society - the young people know that too.
Many of the rioters in London live side by side with the very wealthy – the towers of Canary Warf are visible from half the London riot zones.
But there is nothing for the left to romanticise in these outbreaks, by giving them titles such as ‘insurrection’ and ‘rebellion’.
The irony in the situation is that if anything at all positive comes out of the riots for the people in the riot-stricken areas, it will be to scare the Government into increased investment in these areas. The outcome of the widespread rioting in 1981 was to stimulate Government attention. They bought-off local leaders, and put money into social facilities in the affected areas.
That did not change anything fundamental.
The labour movement must defend those young people who will now be hauled into the legal system. It must insist against the capitalist Establishment – the politicians, the press and the courts - that the responsibility for their blind raging anger lies squarely with those who run the Establishment that will now seek vengeance against them.
9 August 2011