Ian Brooke responds to our ongoing debate on the riots, one month on from the explosion
Now the dust has settled and the ashes swept away, and whilst the lynch mob of the national press bay for blood rather than justice the true lessons of the riot must be learnt. Far from being simple criminality as the press suggests these riots were complex phenomena.
The destruction of personal property and homes in the London riots is inexcusable, but is unfortunately a sign of the times and an indication of the collapse of society. What was a justifiable demonstration against the police shooting of Mark Duggan rapidly became an explosion of nihilistic anger when the police beat up a 16 year old girl, this is fact. The police created a whirlwind of anger aimed not just at the police but property in general, for many an uncontrollable nihilistic rage that represents broken and frustrated lives an aggression that is rampant at all levels of a society which has lost its moral compass from top to bottom.
A genuine rage against the government was intermingled with the adrenaline of bored kids with meaningless lives been caught up in a meaningful and exciting event in which they suddenly felt empowered as they took over the streets and exercised their power in the way society has taught them by acquiring goods, some through necessity some through greed or a desire to be seen to have such things some for personnel gain.
The riots of the 1980s where uprisings against the government with an element of looting; now we have seen looting which has taken on the character of an uprising, the first consumer riots of the century. Added into this was a nihilistic element that came out not to defend their community against the police but to attack anything, any target, anybody that got in their way, under the cover of chaos they acted not unlike bankers and politicians by perusing personal wealth through smash and grab on a large scale, without thought to others or long term consequences of their actions. Unlike the bankers they have had not a privileged existence but some of them will have experienced childhood devoid of love, riddled with insecurity, violence and angst that they take out on the rest of society. I do not excuse but simply explain in order to seek a cure.
To many of us these riots have come as no surprise as Britain has become a tinder box of unemployment poverty and dashed expectations. With 15 people chasing each vacancy, cuts in welfare and housing benefits a collapse of morals from the top to the bottom of society this violence is hardly surprising. The youth of austerity Britain have nothing to lose; it is the idea of punching a wall in frustration on a mass scale.
Some young people have been brainwashed by MTV, and adverts into believing that they can attain a material lifestyle which they can in reality never hope to achieve as job prospects have plummeted and bankers and politicians loot the jobs, services and hopes of millions of working class people. Exposed to the glorification of violence through Hollywood and computer games they have been sold such commodities by a system that makes money without a thought to the moral decay it is engendering.
The government are hypocrites; fearful of the mob they are imposing harsh penalties. Jail sentences for receiving stolen good when the bakers have got away with legal theft. Yet it is the government and the police who have let the problems of anti- social behaviour and gang culture flourish, oblivious to the decay of working class communities till such symptoms threaten the wider society. When young people need jobs they are destroying jobs, when young people need hope they are pauperising the people through wage restrained and benefit cuts, they refuse to tackle the issue of legalisation and licensing of drugs and thus allow the gangs to have a monopoly on the trade in oblivion, the anaesthetic that many people need to blot out the pain and hopelessness of their daily lives.
Many of us in the socialist movement have warned against this, the worship of the commodity, the emphasis on people living their lives through the latest labels, gadgets and fashions at the expense of the spiritual or creative dimension of the individual or care for the collective. Indeed we have seen through consumerism the fragmented and selfish ethos of capitalism internalised and eating away at the fabric of communities and individuals at a terrible cost.
The riots are an unfortunate and ugly but an inevitable consequence of the anger and resentment that has been building up in austerity Britain by a government that has sowed the seeds and have reaped the whirlwind: a whirlwind of resentment that must be channelled not down the blind ally of riots but in a positive political direction to get rid of the parliament of thieves, corrupt politicians and the whole corporate dictatorship that rules us.