One of the features of British social life in the post-war years has been the ascendancy of the adolescent age groups. The spread of juvenile crime and hooliganism has alarmed the police and a good many other people. What has happened to the younger generation? In earlier times, and even for the working people within the last sixty years or so, one generation's experience was closely like that of another, a son's life was unlikely to differ much from that of his father; the traditions and ideals of the older generation were guides for the young one. What has happened in more recent times is has led to the breakdown of these patterns. The adolescent of today does not have to learn his way of life from previous generations. He is emancipated from tradition, too.
Has youth really gained in freedom? The modern teen has, for a probably maximum of five years, some financial independence, and he is no longer bound by former conventions. On the other hand, he is delivered whole to the greedy commercial class to dress up in, swallow, read and recreate himself with their gaudy mass-produced designer-label rubbish. For all the attention demanded and given to him, the adolescent has not gained much. Youth, as everyone else, are affected by the society they live in - the ruling ideas, the competitiveness, the bending to the profit motive as the ultimate shrine which judges what is good and bad. It has resulted in a culture of death. One can see it in the gang warfare, "youth culture" and music which speak of ultimate hopelessness in an increasingly irrational, anti-human world. The youth on the streets of major cities with impoverished ghettoes own and use guns trying to find some economic fortune in drug dealing as a way of life. (The " luckier" students are made to look forward to the "future" - to become wage slaves in a system that makes work a drudgery - where life is dog eat dog and the devil take the hindmost.)
What is the attraction for young people in gangs? It has emerged that the gang offers safety, a sense of belonging, of rank and of inviolability – which are obviously missing in the lives of many who are facing the prospect of growing up in a class society where they must reconcile their own denial with the privileges of the other class. Within London, for example, the boroughs with the highest levels of gun and knife crime include Hackney, Lambeth and Newham and those with the lowest include Bromley, Sutton and Richmond on Thames. A 2005 report from Hackney council , which is about the poorest borough in the United Kingdom, described high rates of infant mortality, cancer, heart disease and mental illness. A Public Health Report from Newham Council for 2006 said the borough has the lowest male life expectancy in England, that 64 per cent of the children there were officially in poverty and 41 per cent of the population were “economically inactive”. Lambeth’s Economic Development Strategy for 2006/10 described it as “among the most socially and economically deprived local authority districts in the country” and set out the link between such conditions and youth crime: “The social and economic pressures faced by young people in a world city can create tensions in some local communities where high levels of crime exist alongside a growing informal economy”.
Cameron’s ranting about moral decline and a broken society is stale and impotent. The assumption that tougher laws must reduce crime is based on confusion between punishment and an orderly, controlled society, as if putting a new law on the statute book will discourage some types of behaviour and stimulate others – which is not supported by what has been happening over gun and knife crime.
Can’t people simply drag themselves up from the deeper levels of poverty, go to evening classes, get a degree, end up as Chairman of one of the Big Five banks? Take the case of Learco Chindamo, the 15-year-old gang leader who killed teacher Philip Lawrence outside his school in Maida Vale defending William Njoh from attack by Chindamo’s gang. Chindamo was unable to read or write and all that was known about his absent father, a hardened and ruthless criminal, was that he was either in prison or on the run from Interpol. The intended victim of the attack, Njoh, subsequently dropped out of school and committed crimes such as robbery and possession of a pistol and ammunition, which brought him long custodial sentences. It is evident that the background to Chindamo’s offence was one of widespread poverty, hopelessness and alienation – and that Philip Lawrence paid for it with his life.
The murder of 10 year old Damilola Taylor on a south London housing estate shocked and outraged the public, the politicians and the press alike. The manner of his death–slashed with knives and bottles and then left to bleed to death in the stinking stairwell of a condemned council housing scheme – serves as a metaphor for the current state of modern capitalism. Not that the press and politicians realise this of course, but it is worth us pointing it out all the same.
The reality is that children and young people are the human product of the society they are born into; when so many of them behave so destructively there must be questions about the nature of that society, why it works as it does and the effect on its people. Can one think that the alienation, the endless competitive grasping for money or some form of security, the mindless advertising that promotes a lifestyle unattainable to most, does not affect youth and how they think and act? Is it impossible to consider that this then reveals itself in violence? It is not the youth, but the world that is fucked-up and crazy. Under capitalism, everything is commodified, given a price. All attempts at being human must bend to it. Violence is produced by a system based on violence. That system is capitalism. More than ever that system needs to be replaced by one which recognises our humanness - which allows for creativity, co-operation, the meeting of our needs as human beings. Capitalism is a sick society and we do not hesitate to say so. The “every-man-for-himself” culture has undermined the basis of the social stability that capitalism has previous been able to claim for itself. Nowhere is this expressed more obviously than in the nihilism and lack of respect for "authority" and "convention" in all its forms that has been a developing feature of youth culture. When community relationships break down, when individuals treat one another as stepping stones to social advancement rather than as equals, and when drugs to numb the pain of the daily rat race become the norm, then society is in serious trouble. Indeed, as it eats away at the fabric of its own existence, capitalism is in especially deep trouble because it knows no other way out of this problem other than more of the same. This means more competition, more rampant individualism, more big sticks and gang warfare (of both the legal and illegal varieties) and more social dislocation as a result.
The dispossessed youth of the inner cities and sink council housing estates are right to think there is no hope within the present system, but wrong to sit back and wallow in its excesses and equally wrong that they can seek redress from rampaging rioting and looting. To change things people have got to organise and organise with a purpose–to overturn the relationships and values that capitalism so ruthlessly and cynically promotes. In other words we need to create a society where a real community exists once again that is truly fit for humans to live in. That can only mean a society of equality, built upon participation and mutual respect. And we contend that in turn that can only mean socialism, where a real community of interests based upon common ownership and democratic control can be established to eradicate most crime and anti-social activity at root.