the london riots, 1640-42

1 10 2011

Ian Brooke writes that London’s riots were nothing new: a popular uprising was a key part of the early stages of the English revolution

In the aftermath of the London riots many people quite rightly remind us that riots and the mob is not a new phenomena but is almost as old as the city itself. The poll tax and the Gordon riots are often named as examples of this but part of the forgotten history of the working class is the English Revolution and the mob riots of 1641-42. England at the time was rife with riot and disorder in the countryside against the enclosing of common land for the profit of the few and for years areas such as the forest of Dean and the Fens were in a state of open and perpetual rebellion.

'a world turned upside down'

London too was a seething mass of economic and religious discontent with a large puritan following favouring a more democratic religion against the wealthy hierarchies of both Catholicism and the state Anglican Church. Indeed the country was been bled dry by Charles I wars to establish his version of Anglicanism on Scotland an Anglicanism that worried many about Charles possible intention to reintroduce Catholicism and the dictatorship of The Pope. Read the rest of this entry »





ruling-class justice system shows true face

13 09 2011

Taimour Lay explains the meaning of the post-riot ‘show trials’

The criminal courts’ reaction to the riots was to instinctively follow the hysteria of a panicking government and a shocked police. Of 3000 people arrested, 1000 were charged in August alone. Magistrates have been sending hundreds to jail (an average of five months for theft or handling stolen goods), with the majority remanded in custody until a Crown Court can hand down an even longer term.

- 3000 arrested nationwide

- London’s Met police set ‘target’ of 3000 convictions

- six months jail for stealing a £3.50 bottle of water

- five-month sentence given to mother-of-two who ‘handled’ stolen pair of shorts

- burglary charge and jail threat for stealing two scoops of ice-cream

- rioters’ families face being turfed out of council houses, benefit cuts

It is hard to overstate quite how extraordinary this spasm of rushed ‘justice’ has been. Sentencing principles have been thrown out the window: it hasn’t helped defendants to plead guilty, be young, have a clean record, turn themselves in, express remorse, come from an abusive home or take a bottle of water as opposed to a plasma TV. Bail rights have been systematically disregarded. These are show-trials if the only aim is deterrence. Read the rest of this entry »





punching a wall in frustration

8 09 2011

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.

a rare moment of power for those who cannot get what capitalism promises: but what about the effect on other working-class people?

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. Read the rest of this entry »





liverpool: police on the offensive

5 09 2011

In the aftermath of August’s riots, James Roberts writes on attacks on young people in Merseyside and the community response

It was only once I sat down and started trying to write about events in Liverpool over 8th-9th August that I thought about how much there was to write, and the complexity of issues that needed covering. From on-going police brutality and repression, to the effect of cuts in youth services in Toxteth, to grievances that continue to exist in the area thirty years after the 1981 uprisings.

Unlike in many areas, here there was very little looting. The main destructive element of disturbances could be seen in smashed windows and burnt-out cars – with much of the collective anger directed at the police. Most people involved were teenagers or in their early 20s, and a good number of people came from other areas of Liverpool to join in. Despite the mass media focus on ‘black youth’, the crowd was multiracial. Some young white men did come along to stoke racial conflict but most of the crowd seemed to be there to confront the police. Read the rest of this entry »





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) Read the rest of this entry »





no justice no peace: the riot is the rhyme of the unheard, let us begin to listen.

18 08 2011

Javaad Alipoor continues our debate on the meaning of the UK’s riots

Five people are dead, more than one thousand in jail and Reuters report that Gaddafi has recognized the Tottenham rioters as the legitimate government of Britain. What the hell is going on?

At the eye of this storm lies the body of Mark Duggan, murdered by the metropolitan police. In the past the cops have been careful to leave what they presumably fell is a “respectful” length of time between political and racial murders, at least so the last can drop out of memory, but the point blank shooting of this young man has come up straight between the beating to death of Ian Tomlinson, so that nicety even seems of another time.

Read the rest of this entry »





…or does it explode?

13 08 2011

Joe Thorne looks for the meaning of the recent wave of inner city riots

Eventually, it always explodes.  But what dream has been deferred, how, and by whom?  Who are the rioters, what motivated them – and does it matter?  Was there a radical kernel to the riots which would speak to us, if only we would listen? Or were they the mute reflex of a nihilist or egoistic sub-generation of looter-consumers – pitiable, and understandable, but nothing more?

Clarence Road, Hackney, Monday night.

To the former idea corresponds a romanticised account of the figure of the rioter as a new vanguard-subject in the class struggle, flawed, but in essence communistic.  To the later idea corresponds the view that the rioters need to be rescued by the political programme or organisation of some other segment of the working class: the primary significance of their disorder is as a moral rebuke to the movement which has forgotten them.  Both are attempts to constrain a complex reality under too-easy an analysis.  There is no ‘essence’ to the riots; beyond their expression of a particular phase in the recomposition of the class-relation in Britain’s inner cities.  As we shall see, the riots were partly products of a real, positive and intentional class consciousness, albeit the consciousness of a very particular sub-section of the class.  There were also elements in it that were not only nihilistic and selfish, but vicious and cruel.  Read the rest of this entry »





monday night in hackney

12 08 2011

GP Jonathan Tomlinson reflects on the riots in Hackney, and their social context.  Please note that this is a different version of the article originally published in this post.  The original article is published below.

On Monday night one of my patients was attacked by a gang of youths barely a hundred yards from my surgery. He was held up against a wall by two of them while another cut his neck with a knife, not deep enough to do any serious physical damage, but more than enough to add another psychological scar to the multitude he already has.

A light-hearted moment during the riots on Mare St: but there was also a darker side

The attack had nothing to do with the riots which were going on a couple of miles away right outside my front door on Mare Street. His attack was part of a sustained campaign of intimidation by bored, sadistic kids on young gay men in Hoxton. Violence is endemic around here. The receptionists explained that they cannot get pizza deliveries because the kids on their estates keep nicking the mopeds. In the winter months our elderly patients will not book appointments after dark for fear of being mugged. There is a memorial on Hoxton Street to 16 year old Agnes Sina-Okoju who was shot dead outside a takeaway last year. Last month a patient found a gun hidden in his garage and put it back where he found it in case the owner returned. Read the rest of this entry »





nothing to lose, nothing to win

10 08 2011

David Broder argues that the left has to be honest about the counter-productive nature of Britain’s riots

“It’s not just this country, there’s uprisings everywhere. It’s the whole world. Everyone’s fed up, no one has anything” – Hackney pensioners quoted in Socialist Worker, 9th August 2011

Watching the BBC’s rather tabloid coverage of the current riots, one would imagine it was simply a wave of criminality. As if coming from nowhere, young people suddenly have no respect for authority: they can only be kept down by bolder use of state force. Reporting their own coverage as ‘mounting calls for police action’, the BBC implicitly admit that the only way to appease the rioters is the muzzle, that there is no carrot but only stick.

The main leftist response to this has been to stress the context behind the disturbances: poverty, racism, police brutality. The idea is to downplay the significance of the rioters’ actions as compared to violence and oppression in society as a whole. But this is only half the picture: if this ‘context’ explains reasons why young people feel angry and alienated, why should they choose this particular means of response? Read the rest of this entry »





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. Read the rest of this entry »








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