London’s Burning: The English Riots and the shape of future things to come

We are re-publishing the recent article by members of the Irish anarchist organization, Workers Solidarity Movement. It is the most comprehensive analysis of the dramatic events that swept over England during the early weeks of August – events that still are very much in motion and look to shape the future of English social politics.

We find the riots – their cause, their expression, and the State response – of specific interest to us over here on the other side of the Atlantic. In today’s globalized world, capitalist relations, communication, culture, immigration are all creating commonalities between our localities that formerly seemed so far a part.

Core capitalist zones are undergoing a process of hollowing out where once there was concentrated industry, shipping, and commerce,  we are now faced with a social reality defined by  mass and multi-generational unemployment, cuts in state social assistance programs, structural racism and class inequalities, and the fraying of any working class social, family and community codes and structures. All this has given rise to new classes of the working class and poor whose cohesion is based on social abandonment and permanent exclusion.

The riots of England may be a further defining of the emerging terrain of our social reality – both the restructuring of, and the varied character of the forms of resistance to, class society. Fragmented and often contradictory this popular resistance simultaneously contains collective and potentially liberatory elements as well as elements that reflect irrational and reactionary capitalist consciousness:  egoism, selfishness, and anti-social criminality. Even while attacking the System we see a dual character of the popular unrest playing out in an intra class struggle, the positive currents attempting to define a course against the destructive and dystopian ones.

But if capitalism is creating generalized outcomes there must be revolutionary alternatives themselves generalized that link together the varied forces into a viable challenge to the System itself. If the English riots further demonstrate in a short, sharp, shock the secular faults within the authoritarian and capitalist society, then identifying both the activity and the openings in consciousness that allow for a radical re-questioning of what works, what doesn’t, and what has to change is an essential task.

The riots themselves and the spontaneous forms of resistance and organization all represent facets of organization; from coordinated attacks on cops, to mass shoplifting, the emergence of community self-defense associations, multiracial anti-racist and anti-fascist street mobilizations to counter attacks by far-Right groups like the BNP and EDL that themselves were semi-spontaneous developments. Whether we agree with it all or not, these all represent levels of self-activity and organization as a direct response to a temporary breakdown in the Systems control.

This is why the riots across England relate and resonate with us here in the United States. We feel that there does exist shared commonalities and in the cities we live and organize in, the upsurges that lit up in over a dozen cities across the country in less than 48 hours, could and will happen here. North London is Oakland, California. Manchester, Liverpool, and Birmingham are Chicago, New Orleans, and Detroit.

The riots started with the police murder of an afro-Caribbean man, Mark Duggan. Duggan’s death lead to protest, which after police reportedly attacked a woman in the justice march, sparked off the unrest. Even this police murder seems like the likely situation to spark of unrest here.

If we have one criticism of the WSM article it is that it spends to little time on what anarchist and revolutionary activity and intervention looked like and or could be and what perhaps a revolutionary working-class program with demands to win via struggle might look like. During the later period of the riots and since, there have been reports of organized community assemblies aimed at creating an open, directly democratic forum for discussion within those communities that saw intense conflict. These small attempts are worth looking at and possibly identifying as forms to emulate.

We thank the WSM for their work at drafting this analysis and hope that it contributes to a deepening of our collective understanding of our common future. We also encourage readers to comment here at our site or at the WSM initiated international Anarkismo site.

Excerpt from article, London burns – causes & consequences of the riots – an anarchist perspective

“The police killing of Mark Duggan resulted in four nights of rioting across England. The immediate trigger was the killing itself, and the disrespect shown by the police to Mark’s family and friends. But the riots rapidly broadened to expressions of a more general anger and alienation; an anger that was all too often unfocused and striking out at the nearest target of opportunity. This resulted in widespread destruction of resources in already deprived neighborhoods and some anti-social attacks on bystanders. Despite this, the roots of the riots lie in the economic and political conditions of these districts, and not in ‘poor parenting’ or ‘mindless criminality’. These conditions were created by the very politicians and business elite who now call for a return to normality and repression.

The riots happened at a particular moment, a moment when capitalism is in deep crisis. Indeed the riots occurred at the same time as yet another crash in global markets. The two competed with each other to be the lead story on the news. This is not a coincidence; the crash, and the cuts unleashed to impose it’s costs on ordinary people, mean not only rocketing unemployment but also the slashing of public services. And while the focus is on the estimated £200 million of destruction caused by the rioting, this pales into insignificance in comparison with the huge destruction of wealth taking place on the stock exchanges.”