In the 80s at St Paul's in Bristol, in Brixton, Toxteth, Moss Side and Handsworth, dispossessed and frustrated black and white youths looted shops, attacked the police and burnt down buildings. Some years ago, we saw "race riots" in the North at Oldham, Burnley and Bradford. SOYMB has now witnessed similar disturbances again over the last few days in parts of London, and within ear-shot of the Socialist Party's Head Office in Clapham
As businesses go up in flames and mindless mayhem explodes on the streets, there is a stampede on to the political stage from both wings by politicians and their assorted spokespersons. They hold forth loudly to the audience—the “general public”—about what must be done. They shake their fists and point angrily at each other. They make ominous warnings and each tries to win the support of the audience and out-do one another with promises to carry out the right policy. The government declares that “the law must be upheld, people must be protected”. While supporters of the left-wing become greatly enthused by brick-throwing at the police, which they somehow regard as the kind of anti-establishment action of which revolutions are made, or at least from which they can be begun.
Tony Benn has said that rioting is the oldest form of social protest and in that he may well be right. In a time of economic crisis when there is no hope on the horizon, pent up frustration will be likely to burst into violence among those who have not considered the cause of their problems and sought to remove it. The dashed hopes and bitterness of most of those in the recent upsurges were not so much to do with the conditions of employment as the condition of unemployment. Hundreds of thousands of young members of the wealth producing class have left school to go directly on to the ever more miserly dole. The feeling of rejection and uselessness which this creates contributes to their resentment of their environment. The fact that the bursting frustration and desperation expresses itself in the ferocity of the riot is understandable. Capitalism is a social system which is shot through with everyday forms of “respectable” and institutionalised violence from the policemen with guns killing Mark Duggan to the government’s tanks and bombs sent to Iraq. From news headlines and documentaries on the brutalities of Afghanistan or Libya, we are confronted with images of violence as a chosen method of trying to cause social change.
The deeds of those participating in the riots proves to be thoughtlessly destructive. Cars, shops and homes of fellow members of the working class were irrationally ruined. It was a foolish misdirection of anger. The profit-system will not be burnt away, neither will it be dislodged or smashed with bricks. A few riots, even large scale rebellions, can easily enough be quashed by the authorities, and usually the rioters will be the worse for it.
There is no point in youths protesting and conducting running battles in front of the TV crews each evening. Any meaningful action has to be democratic and organised. They would do well to recognise that they are kept poor because the rich are rich. For it is only then that they can formulate actions based on where there interests truthfully lie.