Saturday, August 13, 2011


Last week London was hit by mindless violence, so mindless it spread to Liverpool, Leeds and Birmingham. Amazingly, the social safety net led to this by both existing and being torn apart. Daily Mail readers (US translation: Faux News watchers) have and will continue to read stories increasing their fear of the feral youths, part of an evil socialist experiment breeding a violent underclass with government handouts. Meanwhile, liberal hearted Guardian readers (MSNBC in the USA I guess?), those who are worried about the impact of fiscal austerity on vulnerable communities, will find material online that confirms their world-view. Most importantly though, thanks to mother media (sure is great to be back from vacation and in her loving arms - not!), we'll all know for certain that the riots were completely unpredictable and the only way to deal with them is to further increase the police state and take away more personal liberties. Outlawing masks? Lucky there's no Halloween I guess.

Before we forget, the spark that set off the riots was the police shooting of Mark Duggan. Of course police brutality couldn't ever lead to trouble in a civilized society.

Rodney King anyone? Can't we all just get along? Innocent bystanders are never victims either like good old Reginald Denny. Nothing but a random blast from the past.

In a city like London - where at least 333 people have died in police custody since 1998 and not a single officer has been convicted - we're not even allowed to bring up how racial profiling could have been a factor in the undercurrent of rage. It's unimaginable that in the most unequal city in the developed world, where fleets of Rolls Royces ferry oligarchs, tycoons and oil sheiks by them everyday, a mob of youths could flaunt the law in a bid for a piece of faux-luxury, from plasma TVs to fast fashion. A rioter wouldn't say "Why are you going to miss the opportunity to get free stuff that's worth loads of money?" as he knows that the looting of a store isn't tolerated but the looting of the entire economy is rewarded with bailouts, golden parachutes and sky-high financial-sector salaries? It's not like one thing we know about riots is that they are underpinned by perceptions of illegitimacy of authority. Being from a place where upward mobility depends not just on having gone to a handful of top schools (Oxford, Cambridge, LSE), but on having the right accent, postcode, and background they should know to just stand by while the super rich get super richer and the rest hope to tread water. If we questioned any of this we wouldn't be trying to look for solutions, we'd be condoning the violence. Almost makes you wonder why this clip was only aired once on the BBC?

Back to Mark Duggan for a moment. He's been variously described as a hardened gangster and drug dealer or a loving family man, again depending on where you choose to get your propaganda. The media would never use this to distract us from what's important as we know neither love nor drug policies ever lead to violence. I wonder if many of the areas involved in the riots contain strong gang elements which are the product of silly drug laws in the UK which enrich criminal gangs.

No, probably not, after all, thanks to the media we're always well informed and therefore made all the safer. Live conversation between an ITV reporter and a young London rioter:
ITV Reporter: Is rioting the correct way to express your discontent?
Young Londoner: You wouldn't be talking to me now if we didn't riot, would you?
ITV Reporter: ...
Young Londoner: Two months ago we marched to Scotland Yard, more than 2,000 of us, all blacks, and it was peaceful and calm and you know what? Not a word in the press. Last night a bit of rioting and looting and look around you.

It would be blasphemous to suggest there are better ways to spend millions of pounds than on a royal wedding in the middle of an economic downturn that has brought about austerity measures. Sounds a bit like 1981, but no, there aren't any other parallels. The Conservative, cost-cutting government of that time was led by a monster named Thatcher while this Conservative led ConDem, cost-cutting government is led by a two-headed monster called CamClegg. That wedding was between a prince named Charles and a commoner named Diana; this one paired their kid Willie and girl named Kate, a, well, commoner with a hotter sister. The UK riots that took place in that summer of 1981 centered in Brixton and race played a major part. Thirty years later, the riots didn't happen until well into the summer and only some of the problems were in Brixton, and we've already established that race had nothing to do with it, right? Patterns, smatterns, this stuff is unpredictable and needs a heavy hand; after all people can even see patterns in the burning of toast or Wal-Mart receipts that prove their belief in 2000 year old fairy tales.

What about that whole austerity thing? Spending cuts couldn't have been a factor causing riot-like problems, could they? If only there was some proof that they do. If cuts caused the problems they do, the government would avoid them by not throwing billions away in faraway lands such as Iraq and Afghanistan. Hundreds of millions to bomb Libya for not honoring oil deals signed with BP on the heals of releasing a convicted terrorist who may have had something to do with the Lockerbie bombing. No, it would be Marxist propaganda to say that economic reality could be a driver of social upheaval. To say that the problems of youth unemployment, cuts in services for young people, the shockingly bad state education in poor areas, the shortage of council-built or affordable housing along with the startling growth in inequality as social mobility has fallen off the cliff over the past thirty years had anything to do with the UK riots would be saying that the rioters had a preconceived political agenda for their actions.

It would be idiotic to notice that the youth of the world seem to be organizing around the idea that they are the ones who will pay the price for the failures of crony capitalism. No, it's just an isolated cloudburst over Camden Lock not a superstorm spreading from Tahrir Square to Syntagma Square to Puerta del Sol (lucky I got outta Spain before pope B-16 got there, too bad the people have to pay for it). Since each example is very different from the others we can ignore the similarities, the lost generation of youths, close our eyes and not make connections with what is happening in Chile, Spain, Greece and even across the north Africa and the Middle East from Tunisia to Israel.

Of course it's silly to try to link events happening half a world away. Fortunately there hadn't been any disturbances in the UK itself that could have given some clue to the underlying tension. It would be even easier to make a connection if they had anything to do with making it harder for the youths to improve their future. No, the student protests that followed the tripling of tuition fees just last November were merely disturbances in which opportunistic vandals splashed some paint on Prince Charles' Rolls-Royce. It wasn't a reminder how governments can afford to bail out banks but the cost of education is somehow beyond their reach creating a system that will see student's loan burdens double between this year and next. Somehow, everywhere you look in this system, the general premise is to keep you indebted and under constant financial pressure just to have a marginally comfortable life. If only nearly a half million people had marched this March to demonstrate their displeasure with funding cuts that finance the tax breaks of some of the very corporations who saw their stores smashed last week, maybe we could have known something was up and done something about it. Funny we haven't heard about Nick Clegg's Nostradamus-like prediction way back even before the election. He's probably just hoping no one brings up his youthful dalliance with arson. Oops, too late.

Instead, we'll let the media paint a picture the plutocrats want us to see, a blurry canvas of racism with stacatto streaks of mindlessness and capricious dabs of unpredictability. As in the aftermath of the 2005 Banlieue uprising in France, this will facilitate the continued drift toward authoritarianism. In somewhat similar circumstances the political right was the major beneficiary as Super Sarkozy's rise from interior minister to president owed a great deal to his role in expressing the anxious aggression of a mass constituency that lived far away from the burning cars and public buildings. In the UK it may help the BNP or even Cameron's Conservative coalition if he can just get tough enough, further entrenching the police state. New powers will be bestowed on our benevolent protectors and personal freedoms will be further eroded.

This seems to be the pattern of problem solving in the 21st century, the implementation of policies that further exacerbate the completely unexpected problem. No one could have foreseen an event like 9/11 coming, not with the continued occupation of Palestine, the bombing of the same ill-fated towers in 1993, the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, the USS Cole bombing in 2000 and the CIA being ordered not to kill bin Laden ten times before the Twin Towers were taken out. Instead of examining the lead up and looking for cures, the remedy was to make the problem worse by bombing Afghan villagers and imposing a democratic government on Iraq by killing a million people. Presto, more hatred and terrorism.

The financial crisis of 2008? Completely blindsided almost every economist as the explosion in soon-to-be-toxic triple-A securities created to feed the furnace of the perpetual growth fantasy was hard to notice. Unless you looked. The solution? You guessed it. The debts of banks that were too-big-to-fail were passed onto states that are too-big-to-bail facilitating further consolidation of the financial monoliths. The credit rating agencies such as S&P who gave the triple-A ratings to the sliced and diced derivatives for a fee have gone from mere service providers to policy dictators(and not just for PIIGS anymore, America too! Debt has been piled onto debt in order to solve a debt crisis. Executive pay tied to short term results has returned and even surpassed insane pre-crisis levels. Corporations and the rich who were the beneficiaries of deregulation and tax cuts have been donned as our job creators and saviours while hoarding trillions in cash from record profits thanks to being granted interest free loans, extensions on tax cuts and the magic of quantitative easing. Oh, and there's promises for more.

So there is no single meaning in what happened last week in London and elsewhere. Sure, it was more Harrod's Boxing Day than Paris '68 but there are connections that we can make, that we should make, that we need to make. Much is the consequence of decisions made by governments and there is little hope of rapid improvement. The same politicians now denouncing the mindless violence of the mob all supported a system of political economy that was as unstable as it was pernicious. They should have known that their policies would lead to disaster. They didn't know. Who then is more mindless?

Let's assume that the Ruling Class was taken by surprise by these events. This presupposes ignorance of the fact that austerity regimes and slave wage capitalism ultimately lead to demonstrations, strikes, riots and revolutions. I would argue that they know perfectly well what they are doing. Rebellions like this one are not simply a cost of doing business as usual they are, in fact, opportunities to further impose their will on the populace as the media minions stoke calls for more draconian measures and police powers. There will be finger pointing and hand wringing by the so-called left but the program will move forward. We are trapped by the late-stage decadence Marx predicted as we have finally created a crisis that seems to have no solution. A succession of treatments have caused side-effects we would know to avoid by opening our eyes and reading the label. The symptoms will get worse if we don't scream the solution in unison - yes, revolution. More likely though, we'll all go back to being happy again with plenty of nothing.