'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Monday, August 08, 2011

London: Dubstep Rebellion (Part 2) 

UPDATE 4: Masked youths confronted the police in east London during the afternoon:

For three hours mayhem ruled in Hackney's Pembury Estate, the centre of the violence in east London. The police were there, but there was no doubt who set the law in the estate, comprised of local authority mansion-blocks of flats.

Masked youths – both men and women – helped carry debris, bins, sticks and motorbikes, laying them across the roads to form a flaming boundary to the estate.

The crowd in Hackney – numbering at least 300 – appeared larger than any from previous nights of rioting.

In one of the most shocking incidents, a police officer in a solitary parked vehicle was attacked shortly before 9pm.

His windscreen was entirely smashed as a young man scaled the roof and pounded down with a brick. Others attacked from the sides with sticks and bottles.

Trapped, and unable to see out, the officer accelerated through the crowd, and a hail of missiles.

UPDATE 3: The young take their revenge of the corporations that have so brazenly marketed to them?

On much of the footage of the widespread theft after the riots, looters can be seen brazenly taking the goods they want, some without taking the precaution of covering their face. In one video shot early on Sunday morning in Wood Green, people can be seen leaving H&M with a haul of goods, with others standing around JD Sports apparently waiting for their turn to take goods.

One north London resident, who wanted to be identified only as Tiel, described a conversation: I heard two girls arguing about which store to steal from next. 'Let's go Boots?' 'No, Body Shop.' 'Hit Body Shop after it's dead [meaning empty].' The girl came out of Boots nonchalantly, as if she'd done her weekly shop at 4:30am, he added. He described others, holding up clothes to themselves in the broken windows of H&M. They were just so blasé about what they were doing.

In Wood Green about 100 youths targeted shops, including electrical stores and clothes chains such as H&M. I've got loads of G-Star, said one teenager, emerging from a clothes shop. Other teenagers were seen with suitcases filled with stolen goods, and in the early hours of Sunday residential front gardens were used to sort and swap them.

If the elites can loot, why can't they? Is this what happens after the neoliberal expediency of transnational capital is exposed in the public square for all to see? There are accounts of kids as young as twelve years old involved in the looting of these stores.

UPDATE 2: Locations of confirmed riots in the United Kingdom.

UPDATE 1: lenin engages the ongoing riots and their social implications:

So, even if politicians are in denial, the rich aren't. You may well say, bollocks, they're not taking on the ruling class, they're just destroying their own nest, hurting working class people and small businesses. I can hear this, just as I can hear the sanctimony in its enunciation. The truth is that riots almost always hurt poor, working class people. There's no riot that embodies a pure struggle for justice, that is not also partly a self-inflicted wound. There is no riot without looting, without anti-social behaviour, without a mixture of bad motives and bad politics. That still doesn't mean that the riot doesn't have a certain political focus; that it doesn't have consequences for the ability of the ruling class to keep control; that the contest with the police is somehow taking place outside of its usual context of suspicion borne of institutional racism and brutality. The rioters here, whenever they've been asked, have made it more than abundantly clear what their motives are - most basically, repaying years of police mistreatment.

INITIAL POST: For the third day, there is widespread rioting in London, and reports that it has spread to the city of Birmingham. British youth, many of color, are no longer limiting themselves to non-violent protest and direct action, as they did in December 2010. Initially erupting in Tottenham, after the shooting death of Mark Duggan on Thursday, August 4th, the riots have spread throughout north London and Brixton. The police prevented Duggan's family from seeing his body for 36 hours, and forensics evidence has contradicted the initial police account that Duggan fired at them from a minicab.

As with the Los Angeles riots in 1992, the London ones have expanded into an all out assault upon the symbols of affluence and police power. Officers have been shocked at the level of violence directed against them, and cannot keep up with the mobility of the rioters. Meanwhile, looting is organized and widespread, reminiscent of a 1992 account about how people went into a leather goods store on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley after the Rodney King verdict and marked the items that they came back and seized a few hours later. It is tempting to address the rioting in sociological terms, as Alexandra Topping did in this eerily anticipatory article published on July 29th, but there is probably more to it than the social work calculus of austerity equals crime. Austerity is the issue, but in broader terms than examined by Topping.

In Europe, especially, France, the United Kingdom and Greece, as well as the United States, young people live, in most instances, in conditions of poverty, with less and less opportunity to escape it. Racial divisions become acute during times of austerity, with, for example, unemployment in the US markedly worse among young African Americans and Latinos. To be poor is bad enough, to be poor and black, poor and Latino or poor and African American and Latino is even worse. Austerity, and the accompanying concentration of wealth within elites, disproportionately concentrates poverty among people of color, whether in the banlieues of Paris or the northern estate towns of London. In Paris in 2005, the electrocution deaths of two teenagers of color chased by the police ignited the riots, while the shooting death of Duggan has done so in London.

Not surprisingly, people respond by ransacking local businesses that sell goods that they would otherwise struggle to purchase. Unable to find a place within the classless society promoted by figures as disperate as Blair, Cameron, Bush, Sarkozy and Obama, they seize what they can only purchase with great difficulty, if at all. Others, acting upon the neoliberal entrepreneurial ethos, loot stores and fence the goods, turning a nice profit on transactions with a zero investment cost. Lost in the condemnation of gangs, animals and thugs by the middle and upper class media is the fact that many rioters have actually internalized capitalist values. Like the great oligarchs, they don't hesitate to use violence to achieve their ends, and, also like the oligarchs, they expropriate the property of others.

In other words, the social nihilism of the elites has been embraced by some of their victims, to strikingly impressive effect. Furthermore, just as these elites have exploited new communications technologies to manipulate markets and financial transactions, the rioters have relied upon encrypted Twitter and Blackberry messages to organize themselves, select targets and evade the police, resulting in pathetic condemnations of these social networking platforms by the police. Possible ideological differences aside, anarchists no doubt appreciate the success of the decentralized communications methods of the rioters against the centralized CCTV network monitored by the police. Like those in the media, Scotland Yard public relations officers persist in claiming that gangs and thugs are responsible for the riots, but such perjorative terms have little meaning in a world where hundreds of people, many of whom do not know each other, can be organized for an attack upon a commercial district within a few hours. If it were merely a gang problem, the police could contain it, but it is the willingness of hundreds, and, probably, thousands of people, throughout London and Birmingham, to respond to such calls that makes the riots impossible to contain at this time.

For the left, the riots present a quandary. On the one hand, the rioters are from communities where many are victimized by police brutality and the austerity of neoliberal capitalism. There is a refreshing spontaneity to their actions, and they have shown a remarkable capacity for social organization on the fly. But, on the other hand, in the absence of additional information, it appears they have chosen their targets rather indiscriminately, with the result that many merchants of their own communities have been attacked, which stands in marked contrast to the calculated actions of people like the Greek anarchists, and possibly the youth of Lyon last fall, who have targeted transnational banks, luxury goods stores and surveillance firms. Accordingly, while many in their communities understand their sense of grievance, many are dismayed at the property destruction carried out by the rioters. Of course, there are personal and generational reasons for this, but it does point towards the urgency of developing a more coherent ideological motivation for the riots, beyond the mimicry of the powerful by the powerless (a subject masterfully examined by Fassbinder in many of his films), if they are to serve as the inception of an ongoing challenge to the neoliberal order.

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