The moralistic backlash from the Con-Dems and the media has begun in earnest. Jonathon Shafi takes on the reactionary critics, with reference to a challenging BBC interview with influential commentator Darcus Howe.
The sight of Theresa May calling for order and the use of the ‘full force of the law’ will have turned many stomachs. Anyone who despises the Tories and all they stand for, who has been on a demonstration kettled by police, or has been on a picket line smashed under state instruction knows that at the heart of the matter is class.
The young rioters could not care less about what May, or anyone else in the Tory cabinet, has to say about their behaviour. These people are aliens – they represent not one iota of the anger and frustrations felt by young people in this country – they enrage it further. Listen to the two young rioters on a recent BBC interview who say, ‘This is about the Conservatives and the rich – we are showing them we will do what we want’.
Amongst so much media moralism, it was refreshing to see Darcus Howe – who said he was ‘not at all’ shocked by the riots – stun a BBC news presenter with common sense. As Howe says, anyone with a ‘discerning eye and a careful hearing’ could see this brewing because ‘young blacks and young whites’ are at the brunt of life in austerity Britain.
‘They have been stopping and searching young blacks for no reason at all,’ Howe tells the BBC. After years of harassment from a corrupt police force, a lost generation has reached breaking point. Since 1990, 1000 people have died in police custody, without one police officer being convicted – this should be a wake up to the brutality of the police. Understanding the motivations of the rioters is not difficult. ‘This is not rioting – it is an insurrection of the people,’ Howe says. ‘It is happening in Syria, it is happening in Clapham …That is the nature of the historical moment.’ His words will resonate with the people on the streets, but the government has a much bigger, more profound problem.
Simply put, there is a crisis of leadership and authority. The Tories look like relics, they are detached from the real lives of ordinary people. They can have only one response – more police, more laws, more austerity, maybe the army, rubber bullets and water cannons. In other words they can provide only ammunition to the voiceless of our society. The reactionary backlash which will follow may well be harsh – for them it will need to be, and it will require a strong Left voice of opposition.
Today, Boris Johnson is walking around London with a broom and calling on people to stop talking about ‘sociological explanations’ for the riot. Far better, then, to assume that in unison and in different cities some strange and criminal madness took hold without reason or rhyme: time now to sweep up the sewer rat dregs of our society.
Whatever the backlash though, the truth is they face a deep crisis. But one can’t define this crisis by simply pointing out the scale of the economic crisis, the quagmire in Afghanistan or breakdown in social cohesion. In each one of these examples there is a gaping wound which our ruling class limps with: they have no solutions and no moral authority to lead their economies or populations. The ‘solutions’ they have are completely at odds with the majority of people.
That is why COBRA will know there is a tipping point. As the crisis intensifies one can imagine scenarios which even 2 years ago seemed outrageous. Imagine if last night a group of London bus workers decided to walk out, or indeed, if the FBU had been on strike at the time. Millbank and March 26th will not be forgotten. In Britain right now there is a movement capable of breaking the government. It moves in different ways – sometimes there will be mistakes – but with coordination and with the millions involved it can deliver a hammer blow to the austerity agenda.
The Tories are a relic – contrary to media claims, it is they who represent the worst aspects of our society, the same one they are bent on destroying. That they are in government with Nick Clegg, who predicted riots in a Tory led Britain, only serves to highlight the deep and unrelenting crisis they are experiencing. Our task must be to organise anger and a mass movement made up of everyone who has a stake in the welfare state and channel it to the seats of power. In a situation like this many will reach revolutionary conclusions demanding wholesale system change: the more the merrier. Frankly, anyone who wants to ‘conserve’ this appalling, aged system deserves to be nothing more than a relic.
Originally posted on International Socialist Group website
Jonathon Shafi is organiser of the International Socialist Group (ISG) Scotland. He has played a long-standing role in anti-cuts and anti-war in Glasgow and a founder member of the Radical Independence Campaign.