When Normal Behaviour is Meaningless

21 08 2011

Looking back at the Commune coverage of the riots.

First  view, Barry Biddulph suggests that we need to find a way to engage with the contradictory and elemental nature of class conflict in events like the recent riots.

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Riots. We should have seen them coming. After all, combustible material has been stacking up for some time. The majority of rioters who appeared in court were under 24, and from poor neighbourhoods. Strikingly: 41/% of suspects live in one of the top 10% of the most deprived places. (1) We already knew that in Hackney there are 22 claimants for every job. In Haringey, where Tottenham is located, there are 29 benefit claimants for every vacancy. (2)  In the last three months there has been a huge rise in youth (16 to 24) unemployment. Youth unemployment  currently stands  at 949,000. (3) Add to these grim figures, the volatile mix of police harassment, affordable housing shortage, cuts in benefits,  and a decline in educational opportunities. Stir in resentment at bankers and parliamentary politicians, robbing the tax payers, and what do we have? Alienation, disaffection, and  no hope. As Naomi Klein put it in the Guardian” When you rob people of what little they have, in order to protect the interests of those who have more than anyone deserves, you should expect resistance”(4)

But many on the radical left did not expect this resistance. Furthermore, they did not  like the look of it. The Socialist Party was particularly disgusted. In their opinion it was a tragedy for small shop keepers, and devastating for working class communities. As if capitalism in crisis wasn’t. The SP leadership was worried about lack of police numbers. The view of Peter Manson of the CPGB was that the riot targeted working-class people. In a moment of self-doubt, he mused that at one level it was a collective rebellion, but on balance it was without political content with anti social gangs having a moment of power. (5) But the rioters’ most comprehensive critic was  the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty. The riot would have no positive effect. Indeed, it would have reactionary consequences. It would strengthen law and order, stimulate racism as well as alienate organised labour. (6)

Yet, any kind of militant fight back will alienate the leaders of the trade unions and the Labour party. One of the  reasons  the bitterness against the government and police exploded in a riot was the failure of the labour movement to oppose capitalism, beyond token protest, or prevent cuts or seek a socialist solution to the economic crisis. On an ideological level the legal system has been weakened. The justification of the legal system as independent and based on individual cases has been publicly revealed as false. The courts were seen to follow government directives.  As in the aftermath of other riots, investment will be pumped into the riot areas to quell the spirit of rebellion. Even royalty has been compelled to put on a show that they care, by visiting the deprived areas where riots took place. And as one rioter told the media, ‘you would not be talking to me now if the riot had not taken place’.

Even The Commune’s David Broder was dismissive of the riots. There was  “Not even the embryo of the kind of movement we want.” (7) David was concerned about the violent damage to Britain’s communities.  Although the riots have demonstrated how working class communities had been hollowed out. Nevertheless, David argued that a negative reaction to being downtrodden had  produced individual looting. But again, once the flames died down it became clear there was collective looting on a mass scale : Food and other basic necessities, not just electrical goods. (8) In general, even with exceptions, it seemed to be a matter of working class survival in hard times or redistributing wealth. David thought that burning workers cars’ and homes were simply counter productive. But was burning police cars and chain stores to be condemned?

Daniel Harvey of the Commune asked a question : “is  a moral judgement between different kinds of violence a betrayal of revolutionary principle? Alistair McIntyre gives an answer: “in matters of conflict between social classes the appeal to moral judgments against some existing state of affairs is always an appeal within the limits of that form of society” (9) There is no moral, class shared norm, for workers’ struggles. In Lenin’s words, “our morality is entirely subordinated to the interests of the proletarian class struggle” (10) sometimes violence is justified. But the means condition the end, so not all violence is acceptable. Sometimes violence against scabs has been seen to be legitimate in certain circumstances. The mugging of a worker is not. The abstract yardstick is the question how does it promote human liberation. But elemental class struggle is messy and full of short-term goals.

Violent riots have been an aspect of capitalism and class struggle against it throughout  history. Eric Hobsbawn described the Luddites or machine breakers’ actions  as collective bargaining by riot. (11) In contemporary history there are many examples. In Los Angeles’ Watts district in 1965 and in Detroit in 1967 there was mass looting on an industrial scale : Buildings were burnt to the ground. In the student riots in Paris in 1968, which sparked one of the greatest general strikes in history, many cars were torched for barricades.  In Bristol in 1980 and Toxteth and Brixton in 1981, bricks and bottles were thrown at police, sometimes inadvertently injuring bystanders. There was also the famous Poll Tax riot which helped to bring down Thatcher and her tax. Now that was a positive result.

Militant trade unionism has seen violence on the picket line and rioting during strikes. In the great unrest in Britain 1910-14 there was violence, looting and burning. (12) In Llanelli in 1911, rank and file miners trying to make their strike effective, in the face of scabbing organised by the pit owners, police and government, stoned scabs from railway embankments and placed obstacles on the railway line to stop the transport of black legs. Troops were dispatched to Llanelli,and two young men were shot dead. In the riot that followed, 96 Railway wagons were torched, and three tons of bacon and other things disappeared, as goods wagons were looted. A building was blown up, and four people were left dead. (13) In Tonypandy in 1910, striking miners driven away from a pit by the police and army,  attacked shops in the village. One man Samuel Rays was shot dead by troops. Trade union officials and government ministers denounced the strikers as mindless hooligans. (14)

The circumstances of the hardship during a strike might be seen as a direct link to the actions of the miners during the great unrest. But the Commune’s David Broder is sceptical that there is a direct link with material deprivation  and the subjectivity of the rioters. (15) It is difficult to know what evidence would convince him. He should stop and think about David Cameron‘s claim that the riots were not related to poverty. All the evidence points to an elementary class consciousness among many rioters. Rioters made comments such as this  from Manchester: they take money from us, Were taking it back. Or this comment from London: the government only look after the rich.  Darcus Howe described the riots as an insurrection of the poor.

To slightly misquote Lenin, anyone expecting a pure working class riot will never live to see one. A spontaneous outburst of unrest will be unfocused, given the lack of  mass social roots of the trade union left or the tiny communist left. But there was some focus. Attempts were made to put out fires in shops where there were flats above. Some muggings were prevented. In any revolt or unrest dubious elements looking for  opportunities will always be present. This does not mean the riots can be described in tabloid terms as simply an outburst of criminality. The answer is not to call for more police, but workers’ defence committees. The Turkish and Kurdish community in London organised themselves into defence squads against some rioters and the police.  The challenge for communists is to try to tap into the anger and bitterness in working class communities, and help give any future protests or revolt a communist character

Endnote’s

1  The True Face of the Riot, The Guardian , August 19th

2 TUC Research paper.

3 Guardian, August 19th

4 Guardian, August 18th

5 Weekly Worker August 11th

6 Alliance for Workers’ Liberty August 9th

7 The Commune : Nothing to lose nothing to gain.

8 Workers Power, August 17th.

9 McIntyre, Alistair, 1971 A Short History of Ethics, Rutledge Kegan Paul

10 Collier Andrew, Milton Fisk, Marxism and Ethics, Radical Philosophy number 36 1984.

11 Dangerfield, George, 2008, The Strange Death Of Liberal England, serif, London

12 Holden, Bob, 1976, British Syndicalism 1900/1914 Pluto Press

13 Davies , John , 2007 A history of Wales, Penguin Books.

14 Holden Bob,1976 British Syndicalism 1900/14

15 David Broder, The Commune, Nothing to lose Nothing to gain.

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20 responses

22 08 2011
Boffy

Just because class struggle in the past has involved violence does not mean that all violence is an expression of class struggle. That is an all cats are animals, but not all animals are cats piece of basic logic. And even if the riots WERE an expression of some elemental response to poverty alienation and so on, that would not be a reason for Marxists to necessarily support them.

The Nazis were able to rally much of their support from the lumpen proletariat, and indeed from other sections of the working-class, and middle class precisely on that kind of basis. As Trotsky pointed out, the economic conditions forced on Germany by the Imperialists at Versailles were the best recruiting tool for Hitler there could be. The BNP gets much of its support, as does the FN and other reactionary parties across Europe, on the basis of providing a focus for the same kinds of elemental anger against economic and social deprivation. And frequently, that kind of support is manifest in violent attacks. That is no reason for Marxists to support such attacks, or to see in them anything that is in any way progressive.

22 08 2011
james Parker

Its not a question of supporting or condemning the rioters concentrate on the hypocrisy of the establishment. All of the major parties (in particular New Labour), the Financial institutions, the media and their professional commentators who said nothing about the status and condition of the working class. Don’t waste time pointing at “comrades” the enemy are those trying to shift the blame onto desperate alienated kids ignorant of the causes of their miserable conditions.

22 08 2011
Barry

Boffy

Why don’t you leave aside the very general and pedantic points about violence and offer a view of the meaning of the riots to engage in debate and allow some empirical facts to creep into your opinion. All we have is the phrase lumpen proletariat and dogmatic assumptions associated with that. Are you saying the rioters were unconscious fascists or fated to be fodder or tools for facism. At an empirical level the EDL were acting in the riots not as the spearhead of violence resulting from alienation and deprevation, but as the extreme party of order. Their vigilantes were directed at all rioters, including white rioters.But obviously their main target was non white rioters. What other fascist involvement or extreme right wing groups were involved in the rioting to your knowledge? Any or none? I am asking you what went on in the riots ,not for some comment based on a phrase from a book.

Did Trotsky use the words the economic condition forced on Germany at versailles were the best recruiting tool for Hitler there could be? Give the reference please. The versailles treaty and reperations certainly helped create or intensify the interwar economic crisis which created the conditions for revolution or counter revolution.certainly the fascists did whip up nationalism in response to the treaty,but then again so did the stalinists. Well the communist international policy predated stalinism with Radaks national Bolshevism. The idea that an alliance with the nationalist anti treaty forces would protect the soviet union was hopelesly wrong. As far as I remember the majority of the working class remained loyal to the Stalinists and the social democrats in the major cities. nationalism mostly won over the rural areas and the middle class. But obviously if the Stalinists treated the social democrats as fascists, social fascists and regarded them as the main enemy and subordinated the interests of the german proletariat to the foreign policy of the soviet union then this would result in many working class people going over to fascism given the lack of a communist solution. Their interests were not represented which brings us back to the riots and the failure of the leadership of the trade unions and leaders of the labour party to defend poor working class people. Many young unemployed workers were members of the stalinists , but were misled. Poverty and deprevation do not have necessarily reactionary consequences. So why do you imply the riots were reactionary? Because you have a phrase lumpenproletariat? Or is there something beyond dogma?

22 08 2011
Barry

Hi James in other posts in response to other commune views of the riots I do stress the hypocricy of the ruling class. So I did not want to repeat myself. see the discussion of Toms and Davids posts. There is a debate within the commune and on the wider left about the meaning of the riots. Its a question of interpretation and discussion. I disagree with the negative view of the riots put forward by the radical left and some commune or one commune member on the site. The truth comes out in the clash of opinion and so on.

24 08 2011
Boffy

Barry,

It was you that raised the general point about violence in the past, and tried to make the argument that the use of violence then could in some way be read off to mean that it must be positive now. My comment was to point to the lack of logic in this argument. I wasn’t saying that the rioters were fascists. I was saying that in the past, violence used by people, who said they were opposing economic deprivation was far from progressive, and has frequently been used by fascists.

Trotsky’s quote:

“The democracies of the Versailles Entente helped the victory of Hitler by their vile oppression of defeated Germany.”

In “Phrases And reality” p21.

You say that the EDL acted as the vigilantes. All the evidence is that is not true. The defence Squads that workers developed spontaneously across the country had nothing to do with the EDL, and where the EDL tried to involve themselves – usually from the outside – they were shunned! Certainly, the Defence Squads set up by the Turks and Kurds in London, and by Asians in Birmingham and elsewhere had nothing to do with the EDL.

The riots were reactionary not just because of the nature of the forces involved, but precisely because of what they represented ideologically, as Dave and others have set out. I am far more interested in analysing the postive aspects that came out of the riots in the form of the Workers defence Squads that were set up, and what this tells us about the ability to work towards democratic control of workers communties, and their self-government, which in the end, will also be the means by which the economic and social conditions that provided a spark for the riots, and created the social forces involved in them, can be tackled.

25 08 2011
Barry

Boffy

As you were saying in your opinion “in the past violence was used by some people,who said they were oppossing economic deprevation was far from progressive and has been frequently used by fascists”

But what kind of people are you referring to? And how do they relate to the rioters? You gave the example of fascism in Germany in the interwar years. But for Trotsky Fascism was defined as “a specific means of mobilising and organising the petty Bourgeoisie in the social interests of finance capital”( Bonapartism and Fascism July 15 1934″) He was talking about people like the small shop keepers in the recent riots. They were financially ruined by the capitalist economic crisis and reperations. They were driven into povery. This middle class layer was the social basis of fascism or the extreme party of order.

The petty bourgeois can look to the working class, but in the face of working class retreat/defeat or failure to strike out for power as in germany and Italy in the interwar period this class followed the fascists thinking it was a way out of crisis and disorder.

Trotsky is in no doubt about who opened the door to the fascists or created the opportunities for fascism : German and Italian social democracy. the events of 1918/20. In Germany the social democratic leaders used ex army officers and their followers who hated the working class,blaming its organisations for Germanys defeat and in Italy with the factories occupied the reformists backed down and in the void the fascists used the violence of the petty bourgeoie to crush the workers movement.

But how does all this help us understand the riots? fascists did not lead the rioters. Nor did the rioters target the trade unions ot the workers as a class. There was a lust for looting and fighting back against police violence , not for the blood of the workers as workers disrupting capitalism. A retired man was violently assaulted and died when he tried to put out a fire. This cannot be condoned,but it was not collective violence against the class, a hatred of workers in general. But there was collective action against large capitalist corporations and small shopkeepers,this would encourage them to look for a party of order. But this would be more likely in the absence of the workers organisations not leading a fight against the capitalist crisis and offering a socialist solution.

And this is the problem. In the midst of the greatest economic crisis since the 1920′s/30′s here has been no generalised fightback out side token and sectional action. This allows benefit cuts to go ahead,job and conditions to be cut with unemployment and homelessness rising. And waiting in the wings fascists with their racist scapegoating. But the riots were multi racial. But if you fail to identify fascism and reactionaries correctly then when fascism and reaction do arrive you will not recognise the party of counter revolutionary order.

To repeat my question in the hope of a dialogue. Why were the rioters reactionary and likely to be tools of fascism?

26 08 2011
Boffy

Barry,

Most of your comment above is in fact irrelevant in so far as it is a discussion about the nature of Fascism. I have repeated above that the only reason I mentioned Fascism in reply to what you had previously said was to show that violence used by people as an expression of hostility to economic deprivation does not, and frequently has not been progressive. It was a response to your argument that in the past workers have used violence in a progressive way to oppose deprivation or to further their interests.

I am quite happy to have a discussion about Fascism, and its nature, including the fact that it relied largely on the votes of those middle classes, but on the boots and fists of the lumpen proletariat, and not so lumpen in some cases. However, this is not the palce for such a discussion.

My argument in relation to the riots is that those that took part in them, certainly many of those that played a part in organising them, were people whose ideology is far from progressive. It is based upon the kind of extreme individualism that leads to phenomena such as criminal activity, terrorism and indeed fascism. Many of those involved are the same anti-social elements who terrorise local working-class communities, including the kinds of attacks on people such as Fiona Pilkington. They see themselves as outside society, and their actions are motivated by that, and shaped by it.

Theft and burglary as individual acts are not progressive, especially where they are undertaken against workers. They offer no way out for workers from the problems Capitalism imposes upon them. They are reactionary, and they do not become progressive simply because they are conducted on a larger scale! Indeed, the same is true of Terrorism.

You are wrong to say that the riots were not aimed at workers. They were. Most of those small shopkeepers in Birmingham, were essentially workers. Many of those who will lose their jobs, because their palce of work has been burned down are workers, firefighters as well as Police came under sustained attack. The young Malaysian man who was attacked and then robbed in broad daylight looked more like a worker than a Capitalist to me! The thousands of ordinary working-class people who felt terrorised by the rioters, the same people who they see frequently terrorising their neighbourhoods with anti-socail behaviour, and petty crime, or who carry knives and guns around working-class communties were also under attack. And, it will be workers who pay the price of restoring these communities, not just through their taxes, but also who will lose out from the loss of jobs, as Capital decides to locate elsewhere, especially ata time of economic downturn.

None of this offered any kind of progressive solution for workers, it offered the exact opposite. Trotsky didn’t just criticise the Social Democracy in Germany for its failings. He also criticised the Stalinists for their Third Period madness, in cutting themselves off from the mass of social-democratic workers. I’m afraid that by focussing your attention on the tiny number of rioters, who stand outside the working-class itself, and thereby against the mass of workers who see themselves as the ones suffering from such actions, you are doing the same thing. By siding with the rioters, you will push the workes who saw themselves as their victims precisely into the hands of the Far Right, and those seeking some form of Order.

26 08 2011
Barry

You sound like a man who is a member or could be a member of a party of order. The Riots brought out all your hysterical fears about the threat to society. You could see extreme individualism,terrorism and fascism in the disoder. Not a class divided society with explotation, oppression police violence poverty and inequalty and a reaction to it. You do not only misunderstand the nature of capitalism you also misunderstand the nature of fascism. You see fascism as a movement impoverished working class . All those on benefits and unemployed on the council estates.
But Fascism was a movement of the impoverished petty bourgeoisie. For instance 20% of the membership of nazi party between 1930/34 was artisans ans small traders. The ideology was petty bourgeois as well. Against the big chain stores and big capital. Small shop keepers white and asian during the riots complained about the police giving priority to the big stores in shoping centres. The voting base of fascism was petty bourgeoie-the small farmer higher salried official of one kind or another. your view of the class position of the small trader is odd as his your view of techology and trade unionism but i will leave it there except to say i support the demand of workers defence committees, but with your views you would certainly be a lumpen element on such a committeee

27 08 2011
Boffy

Barry,

I thought you wanted a discussion about the nature of the riots! So I am very puzzled as to why in all of your responses you have focussed instead on a discussion about fascism, particularly fascism in germany in the 1930′s. I am particularly suprprised that you do so given that I have repeatedly stated that the only reason I made ANY mention of fascism in this regard was to challenge your false logic that because violence had been used in the past for progressive ends, by the oppressed, any violence used by the oppressed to day must, therefore also be progressive. As I said that is a non sequitur of the “all cats are animals, therefore, all animals are cats variety.” The only reason for mentioning fascist violence was to illustrate that not animals are cats, not all violence by the oppressed is progressive.

You then go on to talk about my “hysterical fears”, and accuse me of being a member of a Party of Order!!! So, why then in my blogs on this issue, and on many more prior to the riots have I made clear demands for the Police to be off the streets, in fact, for them to be disbanded, and to be replaced by democratic self-management by workers of their communities?

As for only seeing extreme individualism and so on, and not a divided society, that is rather odd given that in my blog Set Up Workers Defence Squads, I wrote,

“That these kids have resorted to this action, is, however, understandable. They have grown up in a society where advertising, and other media force down people’s throats all of the images of a consumerist society, and the lifestyles that go with it.

They see, even some of their friends who get picked up by football clubs, who overnight get paid up to £5,000 a week as a 16 year old. They see, people appearing on TV shows like Big Brother, who as a result of bad behaviour, and the kinds of anti-social attitudes that are normally condemned, become celebrities, again with huge incomes. And, of course, they see the bankers and top bosses, who having ruined the economy, walk away with millions of pounds in bonuses, and incomes.

Meanwhile, the Liberal-Tory Government, just as the Thatcher Govenment did in the 1980′s when similar riots erupted, cuts basic services within communities, whilst talking about tax cuts for those on higher wages.

In London, we have billions being spent on the Olympics. We are told that it will help regenerate communities, but everything we have seen before tells us it won’t.

What we have is expensive faciltiies being created for elite athletes, meanwhile sporting facilities for ordinary workers, such as swimming pools, playing fields, sports centres etc. and other recreational facilities such as Libraries are being closed down.”

But, it has never been a part of Marxism to go from the understanding of what causes such actions to simply condone or support them, just as our understanding of Terrorism does not cause us to condone that either. Indeed, as materialists we understand that all social phenomena, and what makes each individual what they are is ultimately determined by society, and our experiences of it. That includes what makes a Hitler. But, the fact we understand what makes a Hitler does not change our attitude to him, or how to deal with him!

I do not see what is lumpen in encouraging workers to establish Defence Squads to protect themselves, and to not rely on, indeed to oppose as a class enemy, the forces of the Capitalist State. I do not see what is lumpen about using such methods, as workers self management of their estates, and what aspects of their economic existence they can to begin to deal with those problems that lead to the creation of the actual lumpen elements in society.

If you do not recognise the problems it is impossible for you to provide the solutions. Any one who has lived on estates, as I have where these kinds of problems exist, and I have had wider experience of such problems as a Councillor, approached by ordinary working-class people on such estates, realises that there is a very real problem for ordinary workers with anti-social behaviour, and petty (sometimes not so petty) crime by a section of society that sees itself as not part of society. Recognising the causes of that, and trying to put forward solutions to it, cannot be an alternative to addressing the very real fears, concerns and experience of that problem, by the much larger number of workers who are affected.

To be honest your approach sounds like that of some middle class, liberal social worker, living in a leafy suburb, who has the luxury of not having to deal with these problems faced by large numbers of ordianry workers on a day to basis. Such an approach can only result in even larger number of ordinary workers believing that socialists like that have nothing to offer them, and who will then be driven towards the fascists. As I said a form of ultra-left, Third periodism, and sectarianism towards the real working class.

27 08 2011
Henry

Fascism is never far from the surface walking around my working class neighbourhood. I think fascism can be linked to the working class, as can socialism. Racist, nationalist ideas are still thriving in working class communities despite years of political correctness. Put away your rose tinted views of the working class and get real. Unlike Boffy, however, this makes me more symapthetic to the looters, as what other choice do they have when the workers are fast asleep?

28 08 2011
Barry

Boffy

My article does not argue that all violence is progressive. So your simply logical points, which you have repeated a number of times are misplaced. I cearly state that mugging a worker or setting fire to a workers home is not to be condoned. I also aknowledge dubious or hardened professional criminal elements present in the riots. Hence my support for workers defence committee’s rather than support the SP ‘s implicit call for more police. But my overall approach is to say that we should not equate the violence of the oppressed with the oppressor. To impose the same moral standard to the rich and poor is rather like regarding the pole tax as fair and the riot that followed as morally unacceptable.

Henry says that Fascism is never far from the surface walking around his working class neighbourhood. This kind of view is implicit in your own account where you explicitly raised the possibilty that the rioters could become tools of fascists. This is a complete misunderstanding of the specific nature of fascism. Historically fascism is a petty bourgeois movement in ideology and membership brought into the workers movement and urban neighbourhoods from the outside to crush the workers ability to organise. To utilise your simple logical example. some dictators are fascists, but that does not mean all dictators are fascist. Some violent aggressive people are fascists, but not all local gansters are fascists.

Middle class social worker? looking at the workers with rose tinted glasses? These accusations are well wide of the mark. i was brought up as a child and teenager on a large council estate in greater manchester in the late fifties and most of the 1960′s. In the last two decades I have worked in local authority Housing including in a number of homeless services and also providing a Housing service in areas such as Moss Side and Ardwick manchester,salford and southwark which are areas of deprevation poverty poor housing and
violence.

i used to be a print worker on national newspapers and a Member of the NGA Thats is why I knew,contrary to your view that the Anti union laws were used to stop effective NGA Action against Eddie shah one of Thatchers favourite capitalists. The Union was fined £250,000 for breach of the 1980 legislation. The Tuc Refused to support the call for a national strike,the union leaders hauled up the white flag and the road to wapping was cleared.

28 08 2011
Boffy

Its certainly true that many of those rioters who have been interviewed by the TV in Salford, have talked about there being no jobs, because they are all being taken by foreigners, particularly in that area Poles. The question is whether this type of activity is progressive or not, that is whether it offers any kind of positive way forward. It doesn’t.

The reason Marx and other Marxists see Capitalism fulfilling a progressive revolutionary function is precisely because it creates the necessary conditions for raising the level of humanity, and creating the condiitons for Socialism – a development of the productive forces to a high level, and the creation of a working-class that works co-operatively rather than individually. A progressive development must be one that puts workers in a more powerful position, and facilitates that transition. The riots and looting do not, they have the opposite effect.

How could the riots and looting provide any kind of generalisable solution for workers that would put them in a better position? They could not. If all workers had decided just to go out looting how would that have offered any way forward? It wouldn’t. There have been previous societies based on looting and pillaging – The Vikings, for instance. But besides being inherently reactionary, they were a dead end even in theri own terms. To be able to loot, it is necessary for someone else to have worked, and provided the things to be looted. As for simply destroying things that only mad the job of producing, of workers being able to work more difficult.

Moreover, we saw firefighters come udner attack, we have seen ordianry working-class people mugged and robbed on the street, such as the malaysian lad, and the bloke who was knocked off his scooter, which was then stolen, we have seen a significant number of working-class families made homeless, and who were lucky to get out of their flats alive when they were set ablaze, we have seen three working-class lads in Birmingham murdered by having a car driven directly into them, and so on – how is that likely to make ordinary working-class people more sympathetic to those carrying out such actions? How much more likely is it to drive them into the hands of the fascists, or at least into supporting strong state measures?

Your attitude henry reminds me of those who justified ordianry workers being murdered by Irish terrorists on the basis that if they didn’t prevent the British State from its actions in Ireland, they too were guilty. A thoroughly stupid argument, the equivalent of the kind of Third period madness that led to disaster in the 1930′s.

28 08 2011
Boffy

Barry,

But, there was nothing in your article that answered your own question about whether the burning of shops etc. contributed to human liberation, so with everything else we have in your article that make the point that violence in the past has been progressive, we are left with the clear impression that you beleive it this was too, but without you giving us any reason as to why it was, or how it contributed to human liberation. Moreover, as David and others have pointed out, it is simply dishonest to try to separate out the actions of attacking police cars and large shops, with the other actions of atatcking ordinary workers and small shops. The only place that seems to have been true was in Nottingham. Your argument is like saying during a strike that someone sets light to an entire estate where some scabs live, and then after the event you coming along and saying well the people who were not scabs who died have to be viewed as collateral damage, we don’t condone that, but we do not condemn that action overall because it was aimed at scabs!!!

No one is suggesting that we SHOULD equate the violence of the oppressed with that of the opprsessor. What does that have to do with anything here? As I have said, it is quite possible for us to understand the causes of such events, and to contrast them with the actions of the Bosses and their State, but that does not in any way commit us to supporting, or even failing to condemn actions, which are themselves also reactionary, or to criticise those which offer the working-class no way forward. We can understand the actions of terrorists, as Lenin did for instance, and we can contrast their violence as against that of the State, but it does not mean we have to support the actions of the terrorist, or that we should refrain from criticising terrorist acts.

I didn’t actually say that the rioters could become tools of fascists. That would be too general a sweeping statement. What I have said is that the milieu from which the rioters come, that lumpen element of society, often imbued with extreme individualist views created by its condiiton, seeing itself separated from the rest of society, and therefore alienated from any kind of collective working-class solutions to its problems, is precisely the section of society that has traditionally provided the shock troops of fascism. Look at the kinds of people that the EDL mobilises, and you will see they are these kinds of elements, not your petit-bourgeois. If you have worked in housing in some of these areas you should know that. In Stoke which was the BNP’s econd strongest base until recently, it was precisely on the large Council estates, with large numbers of such people that they won their seats. And, as I said above, in Salford many of thsoe inteviewed spoke explicitly about Poles taking their jobs.

I am happy to have a discussion about Fascism, but this is not the place, as that was not the purpose of the thread. I will just say that your own facts above, where you state,

“For instance 20% of the membership of nazi party between 1930/34 was artisans ans small traders”,

rather disproves your argument, because, that means that 80% of its membership were not! You seem to ignore the nature of Strasserism etc. I would be happy to write a blog post on the nature of Fascism for such a discussion, but somehow I doubt you would respond.

I did not say that the anti-union laws were not used against the print unions. I said that the introduction of new technology was the basis of undermining the power of the print unions. Eddie Shah was able to recruit non-union labour, because he was able to set up his operation in a greenfield site using largely unskilled workers rather than skilled print workers. He was just one of many bosses, who were able to set up print workshops, such as the “Instant print” workshops, which were again small, using unskilled, frequently even just kids on YOP or YTS schemes, which were non-unionised, and would have been non-union with or without the anti-union laws. But again, this has nothing to do with the riots.

28 08 2011
Daniel Harvey

I don’t understand why I’m having to moderate and approve all these comments. It’s driving me mad. I don’t want to inhibit your conversation by being slow, and I can’t find how to make it just become automatic.

28 08 2011
Henry

According to you Boffy these riots led to worker defence squads, so isn’t that a progressive outcome of events?

You have fundamentally misunderstood my point in relation to having sympathy with the looters. The reason I have sympathy isn’t because they are attacking property in their local area,or getting involved in robbery of defenceless students, it is because the underclass have nowhere else to go. There is no working class action that even begins to challenge the status quo, on the contrary, the working class have been nothing but the lap dogs of the ruling class. They look up to their masters, do tricks when thrown food and turn on their masters enemies when let off the leash. The underclass need to get on in life, mugging and looting and other criminal behaviour seems like a perfectly rational response to me. If workers have a problem with crime they should start to do something about fundamentally changing the society we live in, they should think beyond punitive superficial reaction. If they can’t lift their minds above the simpleton then crime will continue to blight their lives, no matter how outraged they get by it.

It is this that feeds fascism.

29 08 2011
Boffy

There is an excellent point made by Bill Jeffries over at Permanent Revolution covering the arguments here. He says, in one comment replying to the kind of argument that Barry has put forward,

“”Yes the savage violence of the previous days was wrong, but only in a political sense, because they chose the wrong targets.”

Huh?

If you abstract violence in general from the actual violence, or in other words defend the violence that didn’t happen against the violence that did, then of course its possible to discuss how people should have reacted to a situation that didn’t exist and to criticise them for their non-existent reactions to a non-existent situation.

I was talking to a mate yesterday about the Mcr riots. He lives on Lever Street bang in the middle of the town and saw much of what happened. Part of the violence that actually happened was a load of racist youth, under the influence of local gangsters, raiding his Pakistani owned corner shop. They smashed it up proper, before moving onto the Oxfam charity shop.

Maybe their violence was only wrong in the political sense because they chose the wrong targets? Or maybe its just wrong for a load of racist youth to smash up a Pakistani owned shop? That of course wasn’t the case with all the rioters and all the riots, but it was the case with part of it.”

Henry you comments become ever more ridiculous. I have already said that the establishment of Defence Squads are progressive. That does not mean that the riots were also progressive because they led to their establishment as a response to them! On that basis do you think that the BNP are also progrtessive because they cause workers to set up anti-fascist organisations.

Secondly, it is interesting that you sympathise for the rioters, and argue they have nowhere else to go, and yet you seem to show no sympathy for workers in general, who on the basis of your argument also have nowhere else to go, other than the kinds of responses they have developed. Of course, in theory workers could rise up in revolution against the bosses, and establish Socialism.

Cerhaps you should remove the mote from your own eye, and ask yourslef why you and others who think like you have not been able to convince them to do that!!! Could it be that the real failing lies not with the workers or the rioters, but with people like you that have failed to relate to either group in a way that provides either with a way out of their situation that they can beleive in, and sign up to. Or are you now trying to argue that workers are iun some way congenitally passive, or conservative? In fact, as I’ve said before we’ve seen your argument many times before, Lenin descibed it as “left-wing communism, an infantile disorder.”

Why if you conclude that workers should get on with changing society, and do not seem to understand basic Marxist concepts about the role of ideology, the self-reproduction of classes and class relations, as the very powerful reasons as to why they simply cannot just do that, and why you and others have failed to convince them with your lecturing, and now threats to them, do you not draw the same conclusions for the underclass. Why do you not argue that the underclass should get on with changing society? Looting and rioting are not means of changing society, they are in fact wholly compatible with the current ideology of Capitalism, and in many ways reinforce it.

In the past, the unemployed organised collectively to oppose their conditions and deprivation. In the 1980′s I was involved in the setting up of an Unemployed Workers centre, and with producing a weekly Unemployed Workers Bulletin, for instance. On the estates, where many of the udnerclass live there have been set up TRA’s, Credit Unions and so on, why do you not argue for the udnerclass to use some of their time to get involved with these kinds of real collective, democratic solutions to their problems that would connect them to other workers in a postive way. Indeed, as I’ve argued in my blog, Stand Up say It Loud, I’m Working Class & I’m proud, why do you not argue for other forms of Co-operative, and self-help solutions on these estates, that would involve organising the unemployed etc. in setting up, and becoming involved in grass roots activities that could both provide them with work and income, and at the same time begin to resolve some of the other problems they suffer from. That after all was the method of Marx, and it is the approach that the Commune itself prescribes in its banner above – “for workers’ self-management and communism from below”.

Instead, your approach seems to be a complete negativism and defeatism, combined with simply cheering on from the sidelines. Unfortunately, you are cheering on the wrong side.

29 08 2011
Barry

Boffy

The Riots and the violence of the rioters was contradictory. To compare the violence to the vikings is unhistorical and absurd. To condemn the riots and the rioters in a blanket fashion as reactionary is to equate the violence of the oppressed with the violence of the oppressors.

To compare my attitude to the rioters as third period madness is off the wall. The third period was a policy of the communist international from 1924 but was firmly established at the sixth congress. According to this policy, the majority of the working class who were members of the german social democratic party were social fascists. Social democracy and Fascism were twins,different sides of the same coin. This is a misunderstanding of fascism. But so is your view that unemployed youth are lumpen proletarians and possible tools of fascism. In germany in the interwar years the unemployed were mainly in the german Communist party. This did not make them lumpen proletarians. Trotsky depicted the fascists as petty bourgeois in composition and ideology. This includes your small shopkeepers who make a profit from commodities controlled by big capital. This stratum of capitalism is described by you, contrary to marx and Lenin as essentialy working class. You view of small businesses has more in common with Gregor Strasser than marx. You view of encouraging young entrepenurs as a way out of poverty is also petty bourgoise.

It is true that during the high tide of fascism in Germany, many workers unemployed and employed went over to fascism. The workers parties with their policies of fascism as the lesser evil and social fascism as the main enemy left the workers without a solution or way forward. But the shock troops of fascism were predominantly ex army officers,upper class students higher civil servants shop keepers and criminal elements who are used by all forms of reaction. But the workers made unemployed by the capitalist crisis like more and more workers today are not lumpen proletarians or simply fascist fodder.

As for your productive forces determinism or technological detarminism. technolgy or productive forces do not come first. they are not separate from social relations of production. workers co operation in the productive process is simultaneously a productive force and a social relation. Capital is a social relation. your view is very much Kautsky and plekhanov. naturalisation of the productive forces. In the context of the Russian revolution your view that there was not enough capitalism is wrong. This kind of productive forces maxism led to state capitalism. Modern capitalist technology as the mainspring of progress. See marx’s letter to engels jan 28 1863 the degree of the development of the productive forces does not determine the mode of production.

The defeat of the print workers in the 1980′s was down to the neo liberal offensive,trade union legal shackels and trade union sell outs. Not technology. Class struggle.

30 08 2011
Boffy

Reply To Barry On The Riots

Barry,

Its difficult to know where to start in addressing all of the confusion and misrepresentation in your comment, so Ill start at the beginning.

Of course, the riots were contradictory. I’ve not suggested otherwise. But, taken as a whole they not only offered the working-class no way forward, but also in their manifestation and their targets they were frequently reactionary. That is why Marxists could analyse them in terms of recognising the essential causes, whilst giving no support to the methods, or objectives behind them. I did not compare the riots to the Vikings. I said that a condition for a particular course of action for workers to be progressive, it requires that it places workers in a stronger position than they were in previously, and that it offers a solution that is generalisable across the class. In the terms of the Communist Manifesto, it should not only deal with the problems of today, but do so by taking care of the Movement of tomorrow. Rioting and looting do not do that. They do not constitute an alternative method of production, of organising society to Capitalism that is sustainable.

Condemning the riots overall is not at all the same as equating the violence of the oppressed with that of the oppressor. An intelligent person can distinguish between the two whilst still condemning the actual violence of the former as being reactionary, and being the wrong tactics for workers to be pursuing. Indeed, a Marxist has a duty to do so, because part of our major task, if not the major task is precisely to help workers avoid wasting their time and resources on tactics and strategies that take them down dead-ends.

I was actually comparing Henry’s attitude to Third period sectarianism, because of his attitude to workers. So unless you are also writing as “Henry”, I’m a bit puzzled. The reason I was making the comparison was that this writing off of the workers because they were not fighting back, is like the Stalinists writing off all workers who did not support the CP. I did also compare your attitude to Third Periodism much earlier, however, and for similar reasons, which is that you seem to show sympathy for the anti-social elements, whose actions affect ordinary working-class people, but show little sympathy for the workers who are affected.

I didn’t say that unemployed youth were lumpen proletarians. Like Marx, like Trotsky, I talked about a section of society that is not just unemployed, but which effectively sees itself outside society that exists on the fingers of society, involved in petty crime, anti-social behaviour, gang culture etc. Again I have no intention of being distracted here on to a discussion to correct your statements about fascism. However, a look at Trotsky’s analysis of fascism, and of the role of these lumpen elements in providing the shock troops of fascism can be found at Trotsky – Fascism, What It Is And How To Fight It, particularly,

“It issued forth from the petty bourgeoisie, the slum proletariat, and even to a certain extent from the proletarian masses;”

In fact, what Trotsky demonstrates is the extent to which Fascism is indeed a movement of the petit-bourgeois, I.e it is its ideas that underpin it, but it is financed by Big Capital (when Big capital needs it to save the system), but its shock troops, the ones who provide the basis of the SA for instance, are drawn from that “dangerous class” or slum proletariat. Most of the SA were beer hall brawlers, like many of today’s EDL are football hooligans.

The small shopkeepers in the main, as I have argued above do not make a “profit”! In fact, most make a loss. It is only because they pay themselves, and the members of their families who assist, a wage lower than the market rate and so on that they exist. They gain their income from performance of their own labour, not from the ownership of Capital. In many cases they are essentially exploited by the Big Capitalists who supply them.

The definition of working-class is far more complicated than that you are using. As I’ve said, defined in terms of whether income is served from the performance of labour or ownership of Capital, most would be classes as workers. But, the Marxist definition is more complex than that, and when class outlook is taken into account, many might have a petit-bourgeois outlook. But, as Lenin said the truth is always concrete. The nature of many of these small shopkeepers is that a large part of family income is derived not from the shop, but from other members of the family who work elsewhere. That again changes class outlook.

Your accusation that I suggest that these youth become young entrepreneurs is a complete fabrication. I have never said any such thing. In fact, in my blog linked to above I said clearly that part of the problem with the idea of establishing Black businesses in the US, was precisely the fact that it only created a black bourgeoisie! What I argued for was democratic, collective organisation and responses from the working class within these communities to deal with their problems, including providing themselves with work. In other words what I argued for was “workers self-management and communism from below”, consistent with Marx.

As for the productive forces not coming first, as I’ve said before you can make this Idealist argument if you like, but it clearly has nothing to do with Marxism, because the foundation of Marxism says the exact opposite. As for Russia, why do you think Marx argued that Socialism would arise first in the most advanced industrialised societies, why do you think he argued that Socialism in Russia could only develop directly from the Village Communes if it was able to access western technology, why do you think that Socialism in One Country is impossible?

The letter from Marx to Engels is about the difference between tools and machines, and has nothing to do with your claim. In fact, in the only section of that letter that is at all relevant to this point Marx says the opposite of what you claim. He writes,

“The industrial revolution began as soon as mechanical means were employed in fields..”

The whole basis of Marxism of Historical Materialism is that it is these technological developments that go on behind men’s backs, which lead to transformations such as the Industrial revolution, which create new classes, and new social relations. That you reject this makes me wonder exactly what kind of Marxist you are.

Your argument in relation to the printworkers is equally Idealist. You do not question what the material conditions existing in society were that led to the actions you describe, and why they could be successful at that time, when they had not been successful previously. I’d suggest that you read Marx’s criticism of that kind of approach by Proudhon, as set out in The Poverty Of Philosophy

”But the moment we cease to pursue the historical movement of production relations, of which the categories are but the theoretical expression, the moment we want to see in these categories no more than ideas, spontaneous thoughts, independent of real relations, we are forced to attribute the origin of these thoughts to the movement of pure reason. How does pure, eternal, impersonal reason give rise to these thoughts? How does it proceed in order to produce them?”

“Social relations are closely bound up with productive forces. In acquiring new productive forces men change their mode of production; and in changing their mode of production, in changing the way of earning their living, they change all their social relations. The hand-mill gives you society with the feudal lord; the steam-mill, society with the industrial capitalist.”

The idea that class struggle is something that exists simply out there separated from the economic conditions, in which Man reproduces is totally alien to Marxism. If you want to understand Marx’s position look no further than his response to Weston in Value, Price and Profit

“But let us now come to old civilized countries, in which capital domineers over the whole process of production. Take, for example, the rise in England of agricultural wages from 1849 to 1859. What was its consequence? The farmers could not, as our friend Weston would have advised them, raise the value of wheat, nor even its market prices. They had, on the contrary, to submit to their fall. But during these eleven years they introduced machinery of all sorts, adopted more scientific methods, converted part of arable land into pasture, increased the size of farms, and with this the scale of production, and by these and other processes diminishing the demand for labour by increasing its productive power, made the agricultural population again relatively redundant. This is the general method in which a reaction, quicker or slower, of capital against a rise of wages takes place in old, settled countries. Ricardo has justly remarked that machinery is in constant competition with labour, and can often be only introduced when the price of labour has reached a certain height, but the appliance of machinery is but one of the many methods for increasing the productive powers of labour. The very same development which makes common labour relatively redundant simplifies, on the other hand, skilled labour, and thus depreciates it.”

Marx could easily have been referring here to what happened in the print industry in the 1980′s. Marx understood the role that technology plays in changing the productive forces and the social relations that spring from them. That is why in contrast to your Idealism and Trades Unionism, Marx says,
“They ought, therefore, not to be exclusively absorbed in these unavoidable guerilla fights incessantly springing up from the never ceasing encroachments of capital or changes of the market. They ought to understand that, with all the miseries it imposes upon them, the present system simultaneously engenders the material conditions and the social forms necessary for an economical reconstruction of society.”
The material conditions are the technological developments that Capitalism brings forth, the social forms are the co-operative nature of Labour under Capitalism, its bringing together in various collective forms including the development of Co-ops.
All of which has very little to do with the riots, in relation to which you are still to provide us with any arguments to demonstrate that they were progressive, or that they enhanced human liberation. But, given the fact that someone who claims to be a Marxist should put forward such ideas that are so totally 180 degrees in opposition to Marxism, nevertheless worth exposing for what they are.

4 09 2011
Henry

If workers are expected to liberate themselves then Marxists have to answer why they have yet to do that. Now tell me why they have not showed the slightest inclination to do that. I can give you copious amounts of evidence to show that workers, instead of attacking their oppressors, attack those who are even more oppressed. The unemployed, minority groups, foreigners. Advanced capitalism has not civilised people in the slightest. And when a system inherently throws people to the margins how else can those people get by without ducking and diving? They have no choice, they can join no group to advance their pitiful state. And this layer of society gets reenforced as the children of these people are brought up in an environment where they are almost doomed to lumpen living. As an aside the Nazi’s tended to view these groups as degnerates and often did experiments on them! They were deemed to be a lower form of humanity corrupting pure blood.

My advice to the lumpen elemnts would be to join together and form a power base. then start issuing demands and making a nusiance. The problem with this is that the nature of the lump is a transitory population, a population frequently on the move. I remember the Ipswich prostitue muders and how the police found it difficult because the girls had such a flighty existence. These people, more than any other group, have to live by the seat of their pants.

They have my total sympathy.

7 09 2011
Barry

Boffy

You say that the riots are contradictory and you have never suggested otherwise. But you stated clearly that “the riots were reactionary” you described the Rioters as lumpenproletariat and anti social -echoing bourgeois respectable opinion. in 1967 the Detroit rioters were described by the media as devients and riff raff and lumpenproletariat. But a university of california study into the causes of the riots found that the main causes of the riots were lack of jobs, police brutality,and poor housing. This sounds familiar.

But you use the modern term for deviency -anti social -uncritically. the definition of anti social is elastic and defined by the national and local state,the police and the legal system. Anti social behaviour can be leaving litter,untidy gardens,kids playing football,anti capitalist views,and alienated attitude,opposition to capitalisms norms. State control over working class youth or the undeserving poor. Curfews and dispersal orders. usually the framework for ASBO’S is a moral panic. Like your moral attitude when you write about the looting of what others have worked to produce. The youth who rioted did not exploit the workers who produced the commodities. The shop keeper would normally make a profit from the youth if they had the money to buy..

there is a debate about the boundaries of class in the Marxist tradition,But small shop keepers are obviously petty bourgeois. But in your non Marxist view they are essentially workers who obtain their income from thier own Labour! Not profit or ownership of a business.

You write that”even if the riots were an expression of some elemental response to poverty and alienation and so on that would not be a reason for marxists to support them”. Well it would hardly be a reason to dismiss them. Alienation and poverty are spontaneously generated by capitalism,and those are two reason we reject capitalism.

Your bottom line for considering the rioters reactionary is that they “do not constitute an alternative mode of production”. They are not a trotskyist party with a programme! This criteria would condemn
many a person who derserve better. ken coates and Richard silburn explained even at the height of the post war boom that Poverty boiled down to lack of power. It was the reflection of the concentration of
wealth and power at the top of the capitalist class structure.

There is no room for rioters in your technological determinism. the hand mill does not give you feudal society. The hand mill predates feudalism. There is not a pre social/historical technological space. when MARX wrote wage labour and capital he had not worked out his theory of labour power/surplus value. You have to turn to capital for
understanding capital as a social relation. So Capital vol 1 “what distinguishes the differnt economic formations of society–is the form in which the surplus labour is in each case extracted from the immediate producer,the worker” page 325. And again the hidden basis of the class structure is “the specific form in which unpaid Labour is pumped out of the direct producers” p 927 See also the famous statement about what distinguishes the worst of architects from the best of bees. Production of things is also the production of ideas. technology does not stand alone.

The rioters might not have the technology or a blueprint for a technological alternative to capitalism, but unless we fight to overcome alienation and poverty, there can be no alternative to capitalism.




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