The Obligatory Riots Post

There are currently two narratives doing the rounds that I think are actually both incorrect.

The first is the right wing narrative that the riots are pure criminality and any attempt to analyse them contextually is beyond the pale. Reasonably obviously, this is motivated in large part by self-interest. Any attempt to look at the riots as part of a wider societal picture is going to implicate the right and their policies. And it’s very notable how few of the right wing blogs are so much as able to find a word of sympathy for what is now looking pretty conclusively like the shooting of an unarmed man by the old bill. Let alone actually condemning it. I think that tells us everything we need to know about their ‘morality’. I’m not going to spend much more time on that narrative. I’m pretty sure it’s not going to be a common one among readers of this blog. And I suspect most people don’t need convincing that the Tories et al are the class enemy.

The other narrative we’re seeing, from some on the left, is that the riots are basically a good thing. And that they are to be seen as people fighting back against the state, or even as insurrectionary riots. That seems pretty common as an argument.  Despite their very different political traditions, we’re seeing it from both Lenin’s Tomb and Ian Bone.

The problem with that analysis is that its not borne out by events.  It has a lot more merit for the first night of riots in Tottenham.  At that point, I think the rioting was a raw throated shriek of rage against oppression.  However, since then it’s developed well away from that starting point.  We’ve seen the burning out of homes among flats, the looting of small businesses (often ones that are actually pretty crucial for the working class communities they reside in).  We haven’t, much as it might be politically easier if that was the case, seen it just, or even primarily, focused on big corporations and representatives of the state.


While riots are always chaotic and unfocused affairs, this series seems qualitatively different than some of the others we’ve seen before.  Compared to the riots of the 80’s, this is a lot more nihilistic and purposeless.  I’d go as far to say this is a new kind of rioting.


We’re seeing an extremely materialistic approach in many places; rioting to loot as first motive.  And burning stuff down indiscriminately.


This is a riot that reflects wider capitalist society, not one that goes transgresses against it, despite claims from the right to the contrary.   Which is no surprise.  When we all live in the neoliberal dystopia, it would be more surprising if these kind of incidents didn’t reflect that, rather than the fact they do.


And, at the end, it’s linked to the fact that the working class are demoralised, disenfranchised, defeated.  That have consistently lost the vast majority of fights in the class war over the last century.  Part of the effect of that is that there are a lot less credible community organisations.  And a lot less awareness of working class interests, which goes a lot of way to explaining the lack of class consciousness in the rioter’s actions.


And there are no easy answers or quick solutions.  Unless the crisis of working class representation is resolved (which will take a hell of a lot of work on the ground), we will see more of this kind of thing, with no more direction and no less antisocial actions.


The choice of “socialism or barbarism” have never been more stark.

    • Jenny
    • August 10th, 2011

    I agree, I read one blog that approved of local shops getting wrecked for some reason. The violence seems to have made people kind of crazy.

    • modernityblog
    • August 10th, 2011


  1. Hi Waterloo, I was reminded of this post because it’s the only place where I read that the recent riots were sparked off by “what is now looking pretty conclusively like the shooting of an unarmed man by the old bill”. Here’s today’s Guardian:

    The investigation into the death of Mark Duggan has found no forensic evidence that he was carrying a gun when he was shot dead by police on 4 August, the Guardian has learned.

    A gun collected by Duggan earlier in the day was recovered 10 to 14 feet away, on the other side of a low fence from his body. He was killed outside the vehicle he was travelling in, after a police marksman fired twice.

    The new details raise questions about the official version of events

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