UK Riots: Hopelessly Violent?
This has certainly proven to be a year of unrelenting, if deeply contrasting uprisings, and it shows no sign of abating, with India the latest to enter the fray with anti-corruption protests that saw more arrests than our riots did. If its possible to make objective comparisons between the #ukriots and all the other uprisings of recent months, then I intend to do it.
Let us start by being completely clear: these were our riots. They were our collective responsibility, and they involved us. Any attempt to categorise the rioters as some how not part of the collective “we” or “us” of the British Community is an abdication of responsibility I’m not prepared to make. Solidarity with the lower classes doesn’t end when they do something we’re not proud of – and I’m certainly not proud of Britain’s riots, either strategically or politically.
Its been interesting seeing how the present reality, or perhaps the perceptions surrounding it, has shaped the way we have uprisings. The Egyptians, Syrians and so forth have been under no illusions that they in a democracy, but have been hopeful of what a democracy might bring, where the Indians are identifying their problem as growing corruption within an established system.
Amongst the more interesting, the Israelis are very much tied to the view that they have a democracy that isn’t working. Perhaps because they are told so often that they live under the “only democracy in the middle east”, despite curbs on free speech and political debate, and the fact a huge number of residents, let alone people in the occupied territories over whom Israeli policy has such a awful impact.
Whether its a call for new policies, a fight against corruption or a revolution in search of a new government, each of these uprisings has pursued very similar eventual outcomes: access to food, housing, healthcare, a chance to thrive as human beings. No one is seeking an end to corruption to become poorer, homeless or unemployed. Those who are motivated to create change tend to have some kind of physical outcome in mind rather than democracy for the sake of democracy.
Maybe we can try and fit what has happened in Britain into this scheme of things. A century of democracy has not created a just distribution of wealth, nor has it stopped privilege from determining life experience. The youth of Britain, being considerably less thick or politically unaware than commonly believed, are only too aware of this situation. And as the ruling class have shown time and time again, if you can’t get what you want through democratic means, its apparently acceptable to try something more direct.
The riots were not, from this perspective, actions devoid of any connection to the present resurgence in Class Conflict. They were merely the version of uprising you get when voting has utterly failed to bring about any changes. These were exactly the kinds of people who abandoned Labour, not for the Tories, but for want of some actual change in their lives. For those who believe in effective democracy, this shows just how bad things have gotten. For those who believe that democracy should enable the ruling class to get what they want with the consent of the population, this is a sign of how forgetful they are of the limits of people’s acquiescence. If the arc of history is towards justice, the Tories clearly haven’t figured what will happen when they try to straighten it out, namely a rather sharp spring-back that serves no-one’s interests.
People who criticise the looting in London because they failed to live up to the standards set by the Egyptians forget very easily that we supposedly already have the means to elect a government that will ensure a fair distribution of resources through a functional economy, and yet no such government has been formed in decades, if ever. Indeed, in Spain, the young people in the squares have the expectation that a Labour government will rule in favour of labour, not of big business. If there is a sense that only going and getting what you want yourself has come about, and that political avenues to get there are a distraction, it probably shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Its not that these riots were a good thing: I’d rather get change through a deepening of democracy, moving legitimacy to the streets and an end to privilege. But when you’ve already got everything the people of Egypt think will help them improve their lot, what other kind of mass action is open to people? The question, however, remains: what do you give people who believe they have everything except the practical realisation of the democracy and equality being sought? Its a question for Social Democrats, Revolutionaries and Anarchists alike.