Right, London’s burning. I’m not there, I don’t know what’s going on. I don’t know the ins and outs of the class dynamics. I do know that the media is bending over backwards to accommodate the interests of property by de-valuing the riots, so shortly after lauding uprisings in other countries. I do know that people all over the world are inspired by this, and legitimately, and the media is showing its hand as it rushes to bring us news of people who are making tea for the police.
Over at anarchist news, someone reposted an article and some comments from London Indymedia that I think explain the legitimacy of these riots well:
Many commentators decried the lack of a clear political motive in the riots, and seemed worried about how unrespectable the looting makes it all seem. According to this line of thought, poverty is not political.
On the radio, on the web, and in the papers, there’s a lot of talk right now about the ‘stupidity’ of the rioters, burning down their own neighbourhoods. All of the commentators who follow this line of argument haven’t considered some pretty basic facts.
Outraged Guardian readers, I say to you: you’re only partially correct. It’s true that the guy carrying that cash register past Brixton Academy last night probably didn’t conceptualize his actions according to rational choice economic theories. However, when compared with four years of failed state capitalist attempts to catapult us out of the economic crisis, his maneuvers were in fact the height of rationality. Destroying evidence by turning on the gas cooker full-blast and burning down the Stockwell Road Nandos is pretty crazy. But it makes a lot more economic sense, for Brixton, than anything so far attempted by Labour, the Conservatives, or the wizard brains of the City of London.
Smashing windows in Brixton is probably a surer road to prosperity for most people than any of the more respectable paths already explored.
[R]etail profit is a kind of theft. It’s economic value which is hoovered out of a local community via corporate cash registers. The decisions about where to re-invest the profits are the preserve of corporate managers and shareholders, not the decision of the people from whom the value was extracted. The whole process is fundamentally anti-democratic.
This daily denial of basic democratic political rights is “normal”, and may last for years, decades or centuries. Corporations may steal from poor people – but any attempt on the part of poor people to steal back must be condemned in the strongest possible terms.
But of course, the same commenter points out that:
[T]he fact that people are running around burning things down isn’t a positive thing. I’m much rather live in a society where this sort of thing doesn’t happen. There *should* be better ways for this kind of frustration to be expressed. Right now, though, it’s unclear to me what the formal political options are for people who live on housing estates in places like Brixton.
Vote Labour? Vote Tory? Get really wild and go with the Lib Dems? This has all been tried, and it’s not really working out.
What we’re seeing all over the UK are massive spontaneous outbursts of frustration on the part of the poorest people in British society. I would think that this should be obvious to anybody.
But the point I was trying to make, is that it’s not *only* hatred and desperation, at least not with the crowd I was with in Brixton on Sunday night. People were thrilled that the cops were helpless. They were happy at the prospect of getting free stuff – there are reports that one of the people arrested in Currys worked there.
With only one exception, a Portugese cafe, every target in Brixton was a major corporate chain store. It may of course be different in other neighbourhoods. It could also easily change, if people go back out tonight, or if the conflict escalates into major streetfights with police.
Lastly, as someone who lives at the intersection of about 4 different housing estates, I’m only too keenly aware of the potential for my house to be burned down tonight, so don’t tell me about that guy in Croydon. It’s awful what’s happening. The first step towards really solving this whole set of problems is in understanding why the riots and looting are happening.
The best analysis I’ve found thus far of the whole global uprising that seems afoot is this BBC commenter, from back in February when it was safely someone else’s problem:
1. At the heart if it all is a new sociological type: the graduate with no future.
And finally, social snitching. londonrioters.co.uk is a website you can go to to help identify rioters. It seems like some people have started trolling the good fight, though, which makes me glad.