Working class uprising or rampant consumerism?

August 8, 2011 at 1:05 pm (cops, James Bloodworth, left, youth)

Above: It is claimed that this police attack on a 16 year-old girl sparked the riot (h/t: Tami P)

Guest post by James Bloodworth of ‘Obliged to Offend’:

Some on the Left are interpreting the riots in Tottenham and Enfield as a sort
of awakening. After the student protests and anti-cuts marches, the underclass
has entered the arena, bringing to the television screens of Middle England the
realities of life in Britain’s inner cities they had up to now forgotten or

Indeed, until a few days ago, the only time those rioting would
have made it onto television was as comedy material for the sketch writers of
Little Britain or as fodder for patronising reality shows.

It is true of
course that if governments refuse to distribute wealth it will be done using
force. After all, the rich have been “looting” the country for years in the
guise of clever accounting, only to be given knighthoods and lionised
by the media in the process. When disenfranchised youth do the same, the
mainstream predictably sound-off like a Telegraph editorial about “violent
thugs” and “feral youth,” ignoring the underlying deprivation at the heart of
the matter.

What seems to have passed some by, however, is that
disenfranchised youth burning and looting sports gear has far more in common
with the “greed is good” mantra than it does with the cooperative control of the
means of production; and when the cameras are switched off, it is the lives of
the poor which will be blighted by these riots, not the gated communities of
Kensington and Chelsea.

What large-scale looting demonstrates is that it
is the battle of ideas where the Left is playing catch-up in Britain’s poorest
areas. While middle class universities are hotbeds of youth radicalism, for the
poor it is often the language of neo-liberalism that motivates. Aspirational
rhetoric sounds different on the council estates of Woolwich or Peckham; but it
is widespread and accepted all the same. Popular hip-hop music promotes not
solidarity, but a desire to escape “the ghetto” – often by any means necessary.
“Get rich or die tryin” was how American rapper 50 cent put it; and while
“Fiddy” is very much out of fashion these days, the narrative of getting rich at
all costs is still conspicuous to say the least.

If you live in one of
the above mentioned areas, the only realistic way to achieve celebrity or get
rich – what actually matters if you
watch television or turn on the radio – is to “loot” in one way or another. If
that means breaking into shops, burning houses or selling drugs then so be it.
The difference between this and those who deny funds to services through tax
evasion is that when young black men “loot” the BBC will call it “totally
unacceptable”; in the case of the former it will be put down to an individual
becoming “tax efficient”.

What someone does in a business suit however
does not become ok simply because it is repeated by a person wearing a
tracksuit. Neither is to be celebrated; and unthinkingly doing so does little to
help those living in Enfield and Tottenham and who aren’t rioting, such as the
elderly, terrified and barricaded inside their homes. Forgetting such people is
one of the luxuries of the academic left, who can at times cling on to trendy
terms such as “uprising” and “revolt” in a desire to attach themselves to youth
and their attractive and dangerous anger.

In this vein, what the riots
appear to demonstrate is not simply the consequence of the rampant free market,
but the retreat of the Left from the council estate to the ivory tower.


  1. Jim Denham said,

    A comrade writes:

    There’s a riot still ongoing in Hackney, I had to leave to prepare for work tomorrow, but here’s what I managed to peice together. Quite a few people were willing to talk to me and there seemed to be a strong sense of community solidarity, the crowd was mostly young black men and boys, but there were quite a few white students and working class kids out and quite a few middle aged people as well. The more serious looking young men, with scarfs over their faces, weren’t willing to talk and would shout at me or push me away (not violent, just very hostile and distrustful).

    5.00 – I meet some young men who say that a text went out and people assembled to start looting.

    5.20 – On the meeting of Mare Street and Morning Lane there is a standoff between the police and a large crowd (maybe 1000 people). Missiles are being thrown. I speak to two young men and a young woman who say they have heard that someone was shot in Brixton by the police. One of them shows me a video from earlier on in the day of a policeman being knocked out by a missile near primark on the narrow way at the top of Mare Street. Apparently this is where the rioting started.

    5.28 – The Police start charging at the crowd on Mare Street slowly pushing them back, they charge and stop, the crowd is pushed down eventually (by about 6.00) to Well Street, at which point I had to leave. The police have brought out dogs by this point. I speak to a few people, most of whom say in some way that the riot is about what happened in Tottenham. Several people tell me variations on the story that three men were stopped and searched on Mare Street by officers in riot uniforms (big gloves on, but without shields and helmets). A crowd gathered, people threw things. The crowd was pushed back towards Hackney Central station, where empty and unprotected police cars had been left, these were attacked. One man told me he was in Sainsbury’s in Dalston earlier, it closed early with the police telling people that there might be trouble tonight. Another man told me that one of those stopped and searched (who was about 15-16) had a sister with him (about 14) who became distressed. She was attacked by them when she tried to get to her brother, but to what extent I couldn’t ascertain as everyone began running because of another police charge and I lost the man I was talking to. The man’s bike was taken and people thought the police were stealing it. The crowd then attacked. JD Sports and an Opticians were looted.

    5.45 – A car is set on fire on Ellington Road and a clothes shop was looted. Some people were saying that a Vietnemese Community centre was looted, but I think they were mistaken, there doesn’t seem to be a Vietnemese community centre on Ellington Road. One man told me the car was a small convertible, a boy told me it was a porsche.

    6.05 – The police are pushing the crowd back and it is moving peacefully, a few misslies are being thrown.

    6.10 – Fireworks are thrown, a bottle bank is tipped over and bottles are thrown. The police quickly move up to push people away from the bottle bank. A Jewellers near Well street is looted. I have to go home to work.

    6.28 – A lot of roads are blocked off by the police, Mare Street by Hackney Central station is closed, Morning Lane is closed by Tesco, Graham Road is closed. I see Police horses by Tesco on Morning Lane.

    • skidmarx said,

      Ellington Road may be Ellingfort Road, in which there is a Vietnamese Community Centre at the Mentmore Terrace end of the street, with a Carharrt outlet store next door.

  2. Jim Denham said,

    From the Birmingham Press:

    (Birmingham) City Centre Update

    8 August, 2011

    Rioting has broken out this evening in Birmingham city centre, but police are playing down reports of major incidents.

    The problems have been centred around the Colmore Row/St Phillip’s Cathedral area, with several shops including exclusive fashion chain Louis Vuitton damaged by gangs of youths. There were also reports of vandalism near the Bullring centre and on High Street. However, police have stated that the disorder is “nowhere near” the scale of similar disturbances in London.

    So far nine arrests have been made, six of them juveniles, for public order offices, but this figure is expected to rise during the night.

    A police spokesman said that disturbances have been confined to the city centre and denied rumours spread on social networking sites that the city’s Childrens Hospital had come under attack


    this was prearranged to start a 6pm

    messages all over twitter wm police even confirm theyve heard them but didnt have any sightings of anything:!/wmpolice
    West Mids Police are aware of unsubstantiated messages on Twitter, Facebook and BBM about disorder at 6pm in Birmingham this evening……
    We have not seen any incidents, but we will have extra officers on patrol in the centre and suburbs this evening
    5 hours ago

  3. Roger said,

    Rampant consumerism.

    And I rather suspect that this will be a vekhi moment for some of our left-wing middle class intelligentsia

    Vekhi (Landmarks) was a collection of essays by liberals and former revolutionaries published after the 1905 Revolution best known for the line:

    “so far from dreaming of union with the people we ought to fear the people and bless this government which, with its prisons and bayonets, still protects us from the people’s fury.”

    This weekend it suddenly occurred to our lumpenproletariat that they have a new weapon – once it was the police who ruled the streets because they had the magic three Cs – command, control and communications – and its enemies had none.

    But now we have mobs which can move faster and hit harder across a whole metropolis while the police stumble impotently behind them simply unable to be everywhere at once.

    And even if everyone goes back home to watch their stolen TVs after all the obvious targets have been looted, this is a lesson that the criminal underclass (which however much we sociologise it away still exists) won’t forget,

    And when the state’s monopoly of violence effectively disappears across large sections of its capital city, those who have most to lose will start considering any option to protect their lives and property – and those of us who has less to lose but for whom what little we do have is all the more precious will be much more open to talk of repression.

    Thus we already have talk of bringing in the army (does anyone remember that this early on from 1980?) which will all too quickly run up against the fact that we no longer have an army capable of repressing anything.

    If this carries on you can expect:

    a) restoration of police and prison service cuts

    b) new public order and incitement/conspiracy offences

    c) further expansions of the territorial army and special constabulary not as a cost saving measure but to provide a reliable bourgeois militia.

    d) further centralisation of the police and creation of an effective national force dedicated entirely to riot control.

    e) a radical shift in the media narrative away from the corruption in high places and the economic crisis which even they have been unable to no longer completely ignore and towards a crime and public order crisis which for a time will actually be real.

    None of which is anything other than bad for the left.

  4. Jim Denham said,

  5. Monsieur Jelly est formidable said,

  6. Monsieur Jelly est formidable said,

    commodity society

  7. Laban said,

    The car outside Carrhart’s was a rather nice old red convertible – a Mazda I think, early model. Someone’s pride and joy no doubt. It had its roof jumped on before being torched.

    I guess I’ve just stayed up later, but if Gadget’s commenters are correct apparently Wolverhampton, Toxteth, Handsworth police station burned, residential homes looted in Ealing, Chapeltown, Croydon, Bromley and even reports of an attack on a Sony distribution centre at Waltham Abbey.

  8. Jim Denham said,

    Not sure how representative this elderly black lady is, but she’s obviously angry and deserves to be listened to:

  9. SteveH said,

    Bankers and casino gamblers destroy economy. Rich pay less tax year on year. The welfare state is eroded year on year. The poorest pay for the bankers and speculators crisis by cuts in vital services and benefits.

    Society is torn apart, the reserve army go mental. People call for the army. The government bring in tough legislation to deal with the outcomes of their very own policies. Some on the left pander to the right wing reaction and play the divide and rule game.

    Meanwhile Tory boys say job done.

  10. skimarx said,

    Jim you zionist sell-out, I can’t believe you’ve managed to ignore the big story in all this. It’s no surprise that once again you rush to defend the interests of the Israeli imperialists while pretending to be a socialist; you must really hate palestinians to have ignored their suffering in this

  11. Roger said,

    Not sure the Hackney Lady would appreciate the ‘elderly’ but she a makes lot more more sense than the AWL statement which could have appeared (and probably did appear) in any 1980s edition of Socialist Worker.

    I mean ‘disarm the police’ – what planet are they living on?.

    What we actually need are workers defence squads like the Kurds in Dalston Kingsland who didn’t want their shops burnt and jobs destroyed by the local lumpenproletariat and knew the police would do nothing them to protect them.

    Arm the workers and let them dispense summary revolutionary justice – you know it makes sense.

  12. Monsieur Jelly est formidable said,

    roger enters utopian planetary system. a pity.

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