don’t moralise, don’t judge, don’t take pictures – it’s time for the riot to get some radical politics

9 08 2011

Daniel Harvey gives a short personal reflection on the riots.

There exists in England an underclass that does not exist anywhere else in Europe. White, little educated, without any means of social evolution, they are a perfect example of the results of Anglo-Saxon capitalism and its dehumanising program. The English perversion is to make this population proud of their misery and their ignorance. The situation is hopeless. I’ve more hope for the youth of our banlieues.

Jean-Baptiste Clamence; Albert Camus’s ‘The Fall’, 1956.

Someone turned to me this morning and said he thought there was something strange about this country, in the way there has always been this underclass that most other countries in Europe have avoided. I replied about the trouble a few years ago in the banlieues of Paris, but his point was still a true one.  These countries put out this sickly image of sophistication, haute cuisine, high culture, civilised values, tea, and intellectualism, yet in both places the obscene underside erupts to reveal itself to everyone.

It is something that might be called a Fritzl culture, after the Austrian man who managed to maintain a pleasant façade in his suburban home, chatted with his neighbours, went to work, raised children, whilst all along keeping this horrifying secret in his basement, the hidden incestuous family he was raising.  That is what our neo-liberal society is like, and it is mirrored by the BBC reporters pointing at the trendy cafés with their windows smashed in Enfield, droning on in their bland, uncomprehending chatter.

What has been revealed in the last few days? Well we can see that this is quite obviously not the same as the riots of the 80s in Brixton or Broadwater Farm, or even Notting Hill back in 58. It seems that the opening events in Tottenham may have been sparked by the fatal shooting of Mark Duggan by police, but this has clearly lit a touch paper to something far greater than issues surrounding the police and race. Within hours, rioters, mainly youths, and many black, but with all races well represented, set light to parts of the High Street, and smashed and looted the shops along the road.  The “community leaders” were predictably wheeled out on the television; David Lammy offering his patronising condemnation over the chants of hecklers in the background, and the Reverend Nims Obunge, offering his similarly patronising concern over inequality with added muted talk about how unnecessary the violence was.

But in reality, the situation was clearly out of their control by this stage. This was not a race riot, or even that political. What is new about these riots is they look perversely un-political, and almost purely economic.  This has so far not been a riot against the police as such, but against shiny glass shop windows.  The destruction has mostly been against businesses, raiding phone stores, invading McDonalds and making burgers, taking over shops and handing out drinks. The image on the television has been the looters of Debenhams, who for one and half hours had the free run of the place, carrying anything and everything they could. There is a transgressive and carnivalesque feel too – why target a shop full of fancy dress costumes? The huge fires that lit up the city skyline seem to add rather than detract from this as well.

So what we have is indeed as Theresa May says “mindless thuggery”, but, of course, that phrase is already devalued because its use against UK Uncut and the student demonstrators.  But this time the left is already wavering in that direction too. Now it is not unqualified support – the IWW has come out and said on Facebook that they do not support the attacks against ‘working class homes’ in poor areas – not I should say a wrong assessment at all, this is politically right, but it must also be considered how this fits with the media and government presentation of the riot as terroristic destruction for destructions sake. The Commune’s commentary on Twitter illustrates this tension better, asking how we ‘balance the right and legitimacy of the riot’ against the legitimacy of the people who are scared by the ‘mindless’ stuff’.

That is a largely irrelevant question, as if it even matters how “we”, the small milieu on the radical left, choose to balance it, or what we think about it – we are irrelevant, our judgement is irrelevant, and any attempt to pass moral judgement between different kinds of violence is a betrayal of the revolutionary principle. It is not a revolutionary way of thinking because it fails to look at society and the violence within it as a totality. What is happening is happening, it is the result of forces that it is our task to try and comprehend.  And here I think the Fritzl analogy is the right one, because what we have is a new dialectic between the neo-liberal consumerist regime, and the looter, what someone has called the ‘failed consumers’ who no longer see the need to put their demands in political terms, but simply to take what they want.

And that is serious, that is not to denigrate them, that is perhaps the only way in which this could happen, how all those young people left on the margins of our society can engage with it and resist it. This is their expression, the state will do its best to suppress it, but we know for a fact that it will not go away, all the while this society intensifies its austerity.  The state is being hollowed out by the demands of finance capitalism and all talk of returning to social democracy is a fallacy and a dream.

We have to remain loyal to this crisis. We have to support the eruption of the unheard and the unspoken in our obscene society.  It is pretty fitting that the stock-markets are crashing all around the world, and at the same time, this story is being eclipsed by the violence from below.  These are the best conditions we could ever hope for, but now we have to realise that the problem is not the excesses of this or that action, it is that the rioters are simply not radical enough.  We have to radicalise them further, we have to politicise them and turn them against the real targets of our alienation and poverty – not working class homes, but the faltering capitalist regime. We have to support the anger, but make the anger political, and thereby turn it into something genuinely powerful and dangerous – a revolutionary moment rather than a riot.

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26 responses

9 08 2011
c0mmunard

That is a totally irrelevant question of course, as if it even matters how we choose to balance it, or what we think about it – we are irrelevant, our judgement is irrelevant, and any attempt to pass moral judgement between different kinds of violence is a betrayal of the revolutionary principle.

That is complete nonsense. The ‘revolutionary principle’ – whatever that singular principle is supposed to be – has nothing to do with an undifferentiated endorsement of violence. How stupid. You would say that to someone who’d lost their home to fire? Get real – get on the ground, and go and speak to some actual people in these areas, participants and otherwise.

Yes, back the anti-police actions, back the people who did over the local bookies. But equally, be clear that burning working class people out of their homes is not in the slightest bit radical.

Furthermore, it’s ridiculous to say ‘don’t judge’ when your entire article is a very specific judgement of the content and significance of the riots and those involved in them.

9 08 2011
Hodge

Do you really think you can turn this mindless violence into a political agenda? The rioters only motivation comes from years of being told that the world is their oyster, they can have what ever they want, but not being told they have to work for it. They assumed it would come for free, like the welfare state they enjoy. When no-one would give them anything, they get frustrated, and it only too an opportunity, for there undisciplined, selfish, unrespectful, greedy, narrow minded, though process took advantage of a ham strung police force. Compromised by political correctness, and under resourced. The rioters have no point, they don’t contribute to community. They and their parents should be severely punished for their lives.

9 08 2011
Daniel Harvey

I didn’t say these things are not terrible, they are really bad things, and I certainly don’t wish any of it on anyone. But I recognise that what I say is not going to affect the situation. It is not an endoresement of violence, it is saying it is something which has erupted out the specific conditions we live in, and whether I endorse it or not is not an important question for anyone.

We have to understand the causes, and understand that it is rooted in the structure of our society. That is the only way the violence will end. We cannot “balance” these things, they are not amenable to balancing because they are rooted in that structure which is far bigger than we are, and you are. What I am doing is not judging the individual actors, I am not making pointless moral gestures that won’t have any effect – I am trying to look at it as it is, not how we would like it to be.

I am also saying that violence has to be politicised, it has to be directed to the right targets, not the homes of working class people, because as you rightly say that is not radical, and I say it is not radical. But directing the anger at the right targets is radical.

I would ask you to read what I say properly before makeing knee-jerk denunciations.

9 08 2011
c0mmunard

If we’re talking about opinions that will make no difference merely because they are held by people external to events, then that applies equally to your entire article, and its conclusions.

The reason it is necessary, and not ‘irrelevant’ to have a sharp position on things like burning random people’s cars and looting some little convenience store for packs of shreddies is because such a position is a necessary precondition of engaging effectively with normal people in the areas concerned. Something which was very clear on the Pembury Estate this morning. The local residents are judging, and correctly, that such things are wrong.

9 08 2011
nothingiseverlost

I think this is a good piece overall, but a few points:
“What has been revealed in the last few days? Well we can see that this is quite obviously not the same as the riots of the 80s in Brixton and Notting Hill. It seems that the opening events in Tottenham may have been sparked by the fatal shooting of Mark Duggan by police, but this has clearly lit a touch paper to something far greater than issues surrounding the police and race. Within hours, rioters, mainly youths, and many black, but with all races well represented, set light to parts of the High Street, and smashed and looted the shops along the road.” I think this overstates the difference between these riots and those of the 80s, which also weren’t just reducible to “issues surrounding the police and race”. I think it’s very interesting how both these riots and those of July 81 spread very quickly from a single local incident to cover the whole country. North London SolFed’s statement claims that there was much less of the anti-social behaviour in the ’81 riots, I dunno enough about them to be able to comment on that myself.

“That is a totally irrelevant question of course, as if it even matters how we choose to balance it, or what we think about it – we are irrelevant, our judgement is irrelevant, and any attempt to pass moral judgement between different kinds of violence is a betrayal of the revolutionary principle. What is happening is happening, it is the result of forces that it is our task to try and comprehend.” Almost all of this is excellent, among the most to-the-point commentary I’ve read, but I’m a bit confused by what “revolutionary principle” people are meant to be betraying – is it that all violence is always good all of the time? To me, the central point about the anti-social/anti-working-class behaviour of the last few days is that it’s just an accelerated version of the brutality that happens every day, and we don’t feel the need to condemn every single incident of shitty behaviour normally, so why should we start now?

9 08 2011
Daniel Harvey

At Communard:

And I agree with you and them for christ’s sake. If you had read what I said, I said these are the wrong targets, the wrong targets, the wrong targets! I will say it again and again. It is wrong to target your own working class community, but it is a political failure, an inability to express ourselves, and think about violence politically, and this is what we have to do. We have to provide a proper analysis of the structure of this society to these people and direct their anger at the right targets, the radical targets. Please stop inferring I am for robbing old ladies and burning down working class homes, that is total crap, and a total misreading of what I am saying.

At nothingiseverlost

“I’m a bit confused by what “revolutionary principle” people are meant to be betraying – is it that all violence is always good all of the time?”

This is a really good question. No, the revolutionary principle, ok yes, one which I have come up with for myself, is the one I stated in my first comment. The revolutionary perspective, I think, is always to look at your own society as a totality, and to assess it politically as a totality. You disagree with actions not because they are morally bad, that is a liberal response, you look at specifically why something has happened, and you decide what is right politically to resolve the problem in the structure of society which is causing the violence and crisis to emerge.

9 08 2011
nothingiseverlost

Fair enough, you should probably have spelled it out explicitly rather than just assuming people’d know what you were talking about though. I am still a bit suspicious of dismissing people’s immediate emotional, and even moral, reactions as being “liberal moralising” – on one hand, when people are tutting about how awful certain crimes are, it’s totally legitimate to point out that such condemnation does nothing to get rid of the conditions to create those crimes, but on the other hand I can’t help feeling that seems to risk pointing in the direction of that terrible pseudo-scientific attitude common among Marxists who feel that they are in possession of The Correct Historical Analysis, and any subjective expression of feelings that conflicts with this is a weakness that should be suppressed, which in turn leads us back to that idea of “being for others” you went into in that paper-selling article. Maybe I’m just reading too much into it, though.

9 08 2011
Daniel Harvey

At nothingiseverlost:

It is not going into it too deeply. You’re right to point out the contradiction in what I’ve said. I’ve adjusted that sentence in the article to hopefully reflect what I’m saying a bit more clearly. But on the contradiction, I would say it is not that I’m saying two different things exactly, but that there is a genuine contradiction in the world. It is possible for instance that moralistic arguments in the left about the wrong targets are a way of creating a political realignment.

But the interesting point is how you reconcile the perspective of pure subjectivity with pseudo-scientific objectivity. Well on this I’m saying, like in the article, it is irrelevant precisely because it is not reconcilable. You can not find a way through, except by going beyond both. By that I mean this. At the moment, most of media and government establishment is pushing the subjective line, these are thugs, and they are behaving immorally and criminally. So the focus is all brought down on the individuals and away from the structure. People in the left, I felt, are now starting to take up that conservative ideological line by differentiating between different kinds of violence and then saying some are bad and some are good. That does not mean I support all violence though.

On the other hand, the liberals, like the reverend I mentioned, are taking more of a line towards the objective position – these are all powerless victims of the system acting out in the only way they can. In this case he unwittingly supports the idea of mindlessness which is coming in from the establishment. But we have to go beyond both positions, these are people making decisions, but also acting through the consequences of the structure of our society. The only reconciliation is politics, it is to make the violence political, a matter of choice within a struggle which we all recognise.

If you want to use the analogy from the paper article I wrote, this means that in order for the rioters to move beyond ‘mindlessness’ they have to recognise the gap in their lives which is their alienation from this society, and be “pulled through” the acts of rebellion by the gravity of that idea. In that, there is a new synthesis.

9 08 2011
davidbroder

These young people’s disenfranchisement may be the background to the riots, but also one of the reasons that they are behaving in such a callously counter-productive manner. I doubt they give a fuck if other people support them or not. Some people write that the ‘real’ looters are in the City and the media are hypocritical – true, but then are we not also hypocrites if we say one is terrible and blandly whitewash the other. People have all sorts of reactions to being ignored, marginalised, shat upon – including such things as joining the EDL – but while explaining the reasons for their grievances, and not advocating their silencing by repression, we also say why what they are doing is a mistake.

Sure, there is no point in ‘moral condemnation’ because that merely further excludes the people involved in the rioting and forces them deeper into the position of disregard for others. This will entrench the problem. The calls for more water cannons/plastic bullets/curfews/troops just amount to the state admitting these young people have no interest in society and the only way to deal with them is repression. It is far better that ‘ordinary’ people in the areas affected go and talk to and stand up to the rioters, put out the fires etc – as we have seen – than the police charging in all guns blazing, just stoking up more resentment for the future.

But we should also recognise that there is nothing ‘revolutionary’ about the riots. My initial reaction was quite sympathetic, but the marginalisation of the message about police violence means the dynamic is now simply spiralling violence and attacks against ordinary people. ‘Fuck everything’ is not taking a total view of society, but a narrow and reactive one. This is far, far from the precursor of a better way of things. Violence is exclusive and alienating and most people want nothing to do with it. And do you really think David Cameron cares if Hackney is full of burnt out shops? He might as well just say ‘fuck you’ and leave it a heap of ashes. The whole purpose of his government and the ‘Big Society’ is to cut loose the poor and leave them to fend for themselves.

The riots seem to be a simple manifestation of boredom and hopelessness – nihilism. I do not mean to crudely say that the answer is getting the rioters involved in anti-cuts committees or whatever instead – this seems very far from their intentions and far from an immediate alternative. But rather that all this reflects a complete absence of hope and the complete absence of means of fighting back for something better. This is ultimately the answer – us creating a means to voice grievances in a collective, participatory way which aims to create something better. In the long run the rioters could be won over to such politics, given the multiple reasons they have to feel alienated. But their current actions are not a precursor or embryo of this struggle.

Instead the most likely outcome of these riots is simply to reinforce police powers, which is a total disaster.

9 08 2011
Daniel Harvey

Are you suggesting there, like Communard, that I am uncritically supporting the actions of the rioters here? I welcome all of your points David, including the ones about nihilism, and your understanding exactly conforms to my own in this article – even if you don’t get that impression. The question is how we help the riots and their aftermath develop in a constructive political direction – which is I think a subject for another article.

9 08 2011
c0mmunard

No, what you’re doing is supporting an abstract ‘eruption’, but no actual things which happen as part of it (apparently), whilst refusing to oppose people getting their homes burned down. Sure, you think it’s nasty, but not that it’s wrong – or if you do think that, somewhere deep down, you’ve decided it’s wrong to say it.

Your ‘revolutionary perspective’ apparently means “you decide what is right politically to resolve the problem in the structure of society which is causing the violence and crisis to emerge.”

What is right politically is not burning your working-class neighbour’s car for no discernible good reason. It is right politically not to do so (and wrong politically to do so) because it is antithetical to working class solidarity, which is the basis of what is necessary “to resolve the problem in the structure of society”. You can’t infer all your politics from the abstract general nature of communism and liberalism. You need a touch of class too. More than a touch, in fact.

9 08 2011
Daniel Harvey

Communard: I should give up trying to get through to you, because you are just determined not to listen, not to read what I say, and not to understand. There *is* an eruption, right? I don’t support an eruption, there is one, it has happened, it is a fact. Whether I support that eruption is what is irrelevant, it is a fact seperate from my beliefs about it.

I have said, and you know full well, that I think the rioters are acting nihilistically, they are a nihilistic response to a nihilistic consumerist society that they are locked out of. Their response is actually a perverse form of consumerism gone bad – looting. This is another *fact* that exists – this is how it actually is, not how I would like it to be, because again, that is irrelevant.

Your last paragraph is just a flat out misrepresentation of my position – you just agree with me and then present it as though I am saying something else. How can you tell me that I have not taken class into acount when I have said over and over again that the targeting is wrong because it flows out of the wrong political (i.e. lacking class consciousness) perspective? I can’t understand why you are trying to misrepresent what I’m saying so badly, but then having the nerve to tell me I need a touch of class politics on that basis too must be the most patronising thing I’ve ever read from you.

But on a deeper level, what is your position here really? “I support the legitimacy of your riot, so long as it has none of the unpleasant charachteristics of a riot (i.e. on the basis that it is not a riot), because as soon as anything gets set fire to, or anything gets dangerous, I will walk away and condemn you”. Rather like a lot of rights you support, you only support them until they are actually exercised. But that revolutionary perspective I talk about is that I actually do want a revolution with the charachteristics of a revolution. Or rather, I want to find a way to move through and above the mindless violence to the right political outcome – which is what I mean by staying loyal to the crisis.

9 08 2011
davidbroder

Hi Dan

I think the main way in which I disagree with your article is that you do seem to make something of an abstract defence of violence, whilst also writing that this is insufficient.

Perhaps it is not your intention, but for example where you write “There is a transgressive and carnivalesque feel too – why target a shop full of fancy dress costumes? The huge fires that lit up the city skyline seem to add rather than detract from this as well” you skim over the fact that the fires – random, uncontrolled – mark a degeneration from the initial battling with the police, which did at least relate to police violence. It just seems a bit aloof from the reality of what those fires must be like for local residents.

You are on firmer ground if you are arguing that the “real” violence is symbolic violence, the violence of capitalist society etc. Also in revolutionary struggles, violence and force have often played their role. But I disagree that “any attempt to pass moral judgement between different kinds of violence is a betrayal of the revolutionary principle”. Surely precisely the point here is that we can and must differentiate between various kinds of violence? Does it not matter who perpetrates it, against whom and with what intention? If not, what is the basis for a critique of police violence? I would not oppose kids standing up to the police, but I would oppose them setting fire to some random shop or bins on a housing estate.

I don’t at all accept that we are irrelevant or that critique is irrelevant – if you think that, all that is left is to support either the police or the riots. But moreover I don’t understand what you mean by this – what is the political intention? In fact we are basically limited to critique. Trying to ‘politicise’ the riots is far more utopian – the people involved could of course be drawn into a more positive way of expressing grievances, but I don’t see how you would make the existing forms of action political in character.

9 08 2011
Daniel Harvey

I respect your points David, and I think there is some reality in what you say, but again I think there is a bit of confusion about where I am coming from, which is my fault perhaps in that this note was rushed out a bit, and I’ve had to do a lot of clarification since.

I agree with you in your first point, the language is aloof, and it does perhaps reflect my own distance from it. I’m sure if my house was burnt down as Communard states, I would be less so. I think my defence on this score is two-fold. Firstly I think most people’s engagement with this incident is aloof, it is through a camera lense from a helicopter, or whatever, but, at the same time, I don’t actually think increased proximity to the events would make me more circumspect, rather it might actually intensify the sense of transgression and carnival. But secondly, for your average rioter, these feelings are genuinly what exist, it is a statement of reality, and a fact we have to accept. I say honestly, I looked at the images of fire and looting, and I did feel the adrenaline and excitement of that in a small way. And if we are honest I think most of us did – which is part, not all by any means, of our original support for the riots.

On the second point, I admit that my handling of the issue was clumsy, but I am also let down by the language itself in some ways. It is wrong to state as a matter of fact that different forms of violence cannot be judged politically, and I was never making the claim that intentions and the source of the violence was not something, all infact, of what we should consider. This is how we judge police violence against the violence of rioters, its purpose and place within the structure of our society. Political judgement is what we need, and I was differentiating this from the conservative establishment moral condemnation of all rioting and all violence, without any reference to its source or place in that structure. But furthermore, as we in the revolutionary milieu are drawn into this game, we stop looking at the totality, the structure, and join in the moral discourse which, without us considering it, actually condemns all violent resistance, because in the real world, no revolutionary situation is ever going to avoid those excesses. We have to stay loyal to the crisis itself, the rioting in this case, but also, as you say, push for its politcisation and radicalisation.

The mistake in your criticisms expresses itself firmly in the last point, because it in fact flatly contradicts my own intentions – the whole point of writing this article is avoid exactly that polarisation and elimination of the radical synthesis between the two forms of nihilism. What I mean to say following on from before, and perhaps correct myself, is to say our moral condemnation of particular parts of the violence we find distateful is irrelevant, if it is not based within loyalty to the generalised act itself – in exactly the same way as the establishment condemnation is irrelevant for the same reason. And if we stuck to this, standing on the sidelines and seperating the good violence from the bad violence, the good rioters from the bad ones, in a way which made the whole event look futile and ridiculous, then we would make ourselves irrelevant too. But what we can do, is situate these events within the structure, we can infact, through our political encouragement try and give the riots real political purchase and basis in class consciousness – and incidently help to direct the violence at the proper targets. I don’t think this is utopian, we just have to continue to do what we always should – present our ideas through our existing means, and try not to abandon the people involved by falling into the establishment view.

P.S. Looking at the stats page, is this now the busiest day ever in terms of the volume of traffic for this website? I think so, excellent.

10 08 2011
We the Communists

To be frank, what happened / currently happening in UK is deplorable. While I agree and understand the anger, frustration and outright helplessness faced by these rioters in their earlier days/weeks/months/years prior to riots, death of Mark Duggan just gave a vent for all these suppressed emotions to fume out. What started as a genuine protest was quickly high jacked into anarchy and outright hooliganism, as a ‘subconscious’ denial against ……. http://wp.me/p1FXBz-2N

10 08 2011
c0mmunard

Dan, it’s not that I’m not listening, it’s that your position isn’t coherent. In fact, it’s flatly contradictory at times. e.g.

Original article: We have to support the eruption of the unheard and the unspoken in our obscene society.

Later comment: I don’t support an eruption, there is one, it has happened, it is a fact. Whether I support that eruption is what is irrelevant, it is a fact seperate from my beliefs about it.

In your latest reply to me, you write:

If you had read what I said, I said these are the wrong targets, the wrong targets, the wrong targets! I will say it again and again. It is wrong to target your own working class community, but it is a political failure, an inability to express ourselves, and think about violence politically, and this is what we have to do.

Again, this just shows that you’re not aware of what you’ve actually been saying: that what you say about your own position doesn’t match your position when you actually express it. Because in your article you said “any attempt to pass moral judgement between different kinds of violence is a betrayal of the revolutionary principle” [i.e. you are against doing so]. Now, whether you like it or not, to say of something that it is ‘wrong’ is a moral, value judgement.

Furthermore, in your original article there is absolutely nothing which says that “it is wrong to target your own working class community”. It simply wasn’t there, and you have not said it again and again. And saying that you’ve said it again and again doesn’t mean that you have.

What you did say is that it is right to “not support the attacks against ‘working class homes’ in poor areas”. But given that your original article (though not your later comments) specifically repudiates saying such attacks are wrong, it simply suggested that your attitude to the attacks was somewhere in between supporting and opposing. i.e. that you’re neutral. That was the implication of your article. And if, later, you want to say that they are wrong, then in itself that’s good, but it is flatly incompatible with other bits of the article.

But on a deeper level, what is your position here really? “I support the legitimacy of your riot, so long as it has none of the unpleasant charachteristics of a riot (i.e. on the basis that it is not a riot), because as soon as anything gets set fire to, or anything gets dangerous, I will walk away and condemn you”

Not at all. In fact, as a matter of fact I stayed around when it was getting dangerous, and when things were being set on fire, and I have the pictures of burning vehicles to prove it. What about you? Were you there at all? Do you know whether you’d have walked away? Alot of people did.

And it is not true that all riots have those characteristics. Not all riots burn down people’s homes, or even cars in working class areas. And in any case, even if it were, it would still be perfectly possible to oppose that happening within a general context of support for the riot, and in particular its anti-police, class elements.

In fact, in your latest reply to David, you appear to concede some of these things. I’d suggest than an effective antidote for saying things which you later decide you don’t really mean would be to actually go and talk to people involved (those who riot, and those whose cars got burned), or *begin* your analysis from within a class perspective, thinking about what you would need to say to those people were you to meet them.

10 08 2011
c0mmunard

Btw, also, when you say “we can see that this is quite obviously not the same as the riots of the 80s in Brixton and Notting Hill.” What do you mean, why?

10 08 2011
Daniel Harvey

I agree that my expression has been clumsy, and I refer you back to my reply to David for clarification between moral condemnation of rioting of the kind you don’t approve of, which I said to you is basically a condemnation of all rioting, and a political critique which places the riot in its proper structural context and therefore creates a worthwhile assessment of why certain forms of targeting is useful or counterproductive. What you are doing it joining the establishment chorus, imbibing their view of the riot and “walking away” in spirit, leaving them to police suppression, even if you did stay around to take nice pictures of the carnage to show off with. But don’t worry, I think you have won, consumption will resume normally when the police have finished cracking heads and putting down the last pockets of resistance.

What I oppose is people saying I support an eruption in principle, so long as nothing bad ever happens. I oppose the political abandonment of the people involved by joining in the moral condemnation from the establishment. People who do that do not belong in a revolutionary movement. In the end, you can do as I have said, accept the eruption as a simple fact which has happened, or you can join in the moral condemnation which you know is a part of the effort to suppress it. I have been consistent when I have said that a critique of acts in the rioting is contingent upon a loyalty to the crisis itself, that is what political solidarity and encouragement is, but what you’re doing is not that at all, it is accusing the rioters of being rioters and then condemning them. It is as stupid as that. You do it again perfectly in your comment – you support rioters by staying and voyeuristically taking pictures, that is “solidarity,” but then make your support contingent on them following your instructions on a real-time basis.

It is true that you’ve ‘got me’ in the sense that yes I support an eruption against the consumerist regime and will defend it verbally against the attempts to suppress it. I will also defend them even when it is not convenient, because I am compelled to do that, whilst offering my own political encouragement in my small way. But I am not ‘in charge’ of this. I as an individual am irrelevant to them, and me rocking up to their actions and looking and tutting at them would not make me any more authentic in this respect. Loyalty, political solidarity and critique all go together, you can’t pick and choose, that is just self-important posturing.

On the last point I’d just ask you to read the article because I said exactly why I thought it was different, because the motivation seemed be a perverse form of consumerism based on looting rather than the specific cocktail of problems seen in the 80s – although generalised deprivation is still the important factor as I made plain in the article.

10 08 2011
RSussman

Re: the riots in London.

Harlem [Dream Deferred]

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

– Langston Hughes

10 08 2011
piotr

youn, lazy fuckers that are waiting to still your mobile phone, kick you on the bus and still your car just to burn it later for fun. Can’t symphatize.

10 08 2011
c0mmunard

Dan – that reply is just nonsense. I never said any of the things you’re accusing me of, or even things that could be reasonably understood in that way, which is probably why you don’t quote anything I say in support of your characterisation.

10 08 2011
Daniel Harvey

Ok fine, its all ridiculous.

11 08 2011
Thomas Soderqvist

@ Communard: David Harvey actually writes: “We have to radicalise them further, we have to politicise them and turn them against the real targets of our alienation and poverty – *not working class homes*, but the faltering capitalist regime” (my emphasis). Why do you continue insisting on that he isn’t saying it?

11 08 2011
Daniel Harvey

I should say Thomas that that statement in emphasis (“not working class homes”) there was added a couple of hours after I first published the article, just to make the point in that sentence even more explicit than it already was. Despite this I still find it a little odd that my intentions were misconstrued so much. I think his real problem is with the irrelevancy point, i.e. that moral condemnations of the excesses and attacks on the wrong targets, which were constantly played out on the television, were something which served to support the dominant view about the riots – “mindless thugs” wth no political cause, who deserve their poverty and abandonment, or not worthy of solidairty on our part. I think it was that which he thought was reckless and might amount uncritical ambivalence about violence towards people we need support from. I don’t agree with this obviously, as has played out in the argument, but I understand the source of the tension.

11 08 2011
Anarchist!

These are the ways I’ve been able to think in which we can both support the looters and turn the eruption in a revolutionary direction:

In terms of Organizing:
I would say as soon as possible start having daily evening popular assemblies in riotous areas on a main street corner. Everyone is out, checking things out, feeling the break with daily life, talking with people about it anyway. Bring them together to discuss as a larger group.

Often the discussions can be really productive and perhaps be a way to steer the situation into more of a popularly supported insurrection rather than just rioting/looting.

Especially if radicals help make sure the assembly gets going, we’ll be able to intervene in any cases where some folks are making reactionary or anti-rioter statements and steer the direction back to WHY it’s happening and what could be different about life in our society…

I think this is a tactic all anarchists could agree on, even, from SolFed/IWW people who sold out rioters with their statements, to the most pro-rioter people like myself.

In terms of On-the-ground revolutionary action (I know, I know, you’re writing a master’s thesis and don’t have any time…):
-use the disorder as a chance to occupy buildings, say, your schools, or your workplace, etc… and ignite actions that could provide a more politicized struggle for people to engage in that **compliments** the rioting and turns the larger situation into something that seems to come from more discontent with this system, which it would look like if there were simultaneous occupations of stuff going on. go occupy a fucking banking building! don’t sit at home criticizing poor kids like fucking cops!

More immediate and unequivocal support would look like:
-Start fires. expecially in chain stores.
-try to burn down police communication infrastructure: any towers on top of police stations, etc…
-hacking groups like anonymous can be really helpful if they can take down websites, communications channels, new arrest databases so they can’t convict any arrestees, etc… of the police (they already hacked Blackberry and told them not to hand over text msgs about where riots are breaking out to the police or else Anons will steal and dump employee data)
-make tons of fliers and throw them off rooftops near rioting
-taking over media stations. the media has been horrendous, vilifying propaganda for days. sickening. any media, from the local college radio station to a TV news desk. it can be really powerful. (see: oaxaca, greece in dec. 2008, etc…)
-setting up blockades and barricades everywhere as much as possible. everyone is into the looting and maybe fighting the cops, but the barricades help block off the shopping streets so people can loot without the police being able to zoom in in their vans.More immediate and e

21 08 2011
davidbroder

@ “Marx”. Get out in the streets and read ‘Tiqqun’?

What is ‘Tiqqun’? A journal of abstract philosophy.

If analysis is so unimportant then why bother even go on the internet? Why do we need ‘Tiqqun’? Ah, I see, the proles can’t help behave like this, but you can sit in an academic ivory tower and pontificate about the meaning of the stars and the skies.

Abstractly condemning organisation seems like a pretty good way to guarantee defeat. What, are you in general/on principle opposed to planning ahead? That said the tone of your words implies a fairly brief pause between impulse and action.

If left parties did indeed mislead anti-capitalist struggles, this only poses the question of why masses of people didn’t organise to overcome them, to not be sold-out but make history by and for themselves. And therefore the need for open discussion and debate about what we are collectively doing.

To do so we have to cooperate, as we would in a future communist society. Hence the need for ideas, perspective we can stick to, and means of organisation.




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