10 August 2011
It’s fashionable to call them the ‘underclass’ that the state has buried away, out of sight–out of mind on ‘sink estates’ or trapped and invisible in the poorest neighborhoods of our cities. Demonized and/or sentimentalized by the state/corporate media (‘Shameless’ and ‘East Enders’ come to mind), exactly as in Victorian times, an entire section of the working class have been reduced to some inferior, sub-human species by the political class and its media partners-in-crime.
“Were there a serious political opposition party in this country it would be arguing for dismantling the shaky scaffolding of the neoliberal system before it crumbles and hurts even more people.” — Tariq Ali
I suspect the figure is probably as high as 30%, that is to say, nearly a third of the population and a great many of them under the age of twenty-five. To put it another way, the youngsters we are seeing out on the street are for the most part, the children of this 30% of the population ‘surplus to capitalist requirement’. Unemployment is especially high amongst the young and (deliberately) under-educated, especially at a time when big chunks of the ‘middle class’ are being forced back whence they came from, the working class, just like most of us.
Just as the attack on race in the anti-immigration bill was the vehicle for the attack on the British working class, the response of the Asian, West Indian, and African population to the skinhead invasion of Southall became the vehicle for the response of the working class. Despite police protection the skinheads barely managed to escape alive. But the shortest distance between any two points is television, and the upsurge was transmitted to Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham and city after city. From an attack on the skinheads the upsurge became a battle with police. On July 5 the police in Toxteth were driven back by integrated groups of youths. Not just driven back, the police were routed. Not just routed, the Liverpool police were outmaneuvered, outflanked, outmanned, and outfought. In desperation the police used CS gas, marking its first use in Britain outside of Northern Ireland. The Liverpool police thus proved that the real basis for the union of Northern Ireland and England exists in the subjugation of the working class of each. — ‘The Wolf Report Number 5 October 1981′ By S. Artesian
‘Hoodies’, gangs, ‘gun culture’ and drugs. This is how we know them, thanks to a corporate/state media that has demonized the dispossessed and unwanted. The Met police even has a special unit called Operation Trident formed specifically to deal with ‘black-on-black’ crime and gangs (Trident were also involved in the operation that led to the death of Mark Duggan who, it transpired never fired a gun and the policeman was hit by a ricocheting police bullet).
And for thirty years they’ve kept the lid on the discontent. Dispossessed and alienated, the ‘underclass’ live in what is effectively occupied territory, occupied by a state that sees them as the enemy of all that is ‘decent’. Thus the common experience of poor, working class kids be they black or white is of the police as an occupying force and the state as indifferent, even hostile to their condition (eg, ‘welfare cheats’, ‘welfare scroungers’, ‘work shy’ et al).
It’s interesting to note that the one, big difference between today’s uprisings and those of the 1980s is that this time, it’s no longer specifically a ‘race’ thing though race may have been the initial catalyst with the shooting death of Mark Duggan. This is fundamentally a working class uprising, albeit only its youth wing.
There are also questions to be asked about the way the state have handled the uprisings. From the very first night it looked to me as if the police allowed buildings to burn and shops to be looted. Is it just me who got this impression? The media noticed it too but put it down to the police being caught off guard by the scale of it all.
But I’m not convinced. I think that once the state got wind of the scale of the uprising they deliberately allowed things to get out-of-hand before launching a major occupation of those areas of our cities deemed the source of the troubles. A ‘dry run’ if you like for even greater social upheavals to come? After all, the system needs to be tested.
It is inconceivable that local police could not have dealt with roving groups of youth, who never appear to have exceeded more than one hundred in size. An eyewitness reported from Clapham Junction (in South London) as a department store was being looted that a group of police just stood by and watched.
And, under the guise of ‘the war on terror’, all the necessary legislation is in place to ‘lock down’ entire communities, even entire towns should it be deemed necessary to ‘protect the state’:
‘[B]y 9:30 pm that day the ‘whole of Enfield’—just a short distance from Tottenham—had been turned into a ‘sterile area’ by the Metropolitan Police and back-up forces from Kent.'
The DoD’s report, that I am so fond of quoting from, so I might as well do it again, reasoned that rebellion would come from a newly invigorated middle class, replacing Marx’s industrial proletariat (that no longer exists in any appreciable numbers):
“The Middle Class Proletariat — The middle classes could become a revolutionary class, taking the role envisaged for the proletariat by Marx. The globalization of labour markets and reducing levels of national welfare provision and employment could reduce peoples’ attachment to particular states. The growing gap between themselves and a small number of highly visible super-rich individuals might fuel disillusion with meritocracy, while the growing urban under-classes are likely to pose an increasing threat to social order and stability, as the burden of acquired debt and the failure of pension provision begins to bite. Faced by these twin challenges, the world’s middle-classes might unite, using access to knowledge, resources and skills to shape transnational processes in their own class interest.” — ‘UK Ministry of Defence report, The DCDC Global Strategic Trends Programme 2007-2036’ (Third Edition) p.96, March 2007 (my emph. WB)
I am not saying that the MoD got it wrong, far from it, if anything it reinforces my belief that the state was well prepared for events. But burning down buildings and making working people homeless will not win the youngsters any friends, let alone start a revolution, adding a further rationale to my assertion that allowing the looting and burning to continue relatively unchallenged in the beginning served the interests of the political class. Hence the media’s mantras of ‘lawlessness’, ‘copycat crime’ and ‘Twitter coordinated riots’, designed to mask the desperate conditions of millions of young people who languish, ignored and forgotten in impoverished communities across the UK.
At the root of it all is a massive number of people, I reckon at least five million, maybe more, mostly under 25 whose lives have been decimated by Capital’s latest onslaught on jobs, education, health and social welfare. An onslaught that has not been effectively challenged by what’s left of the organized working class, to their everlasting shame. Left to their own devices, and no doubt influenced by events in the Middle East and North Africa never mind Twitter, those with nothing to lose finally rose up in the only way they could, more out of a fatalistic desperation than anything else.
Events remind me of ‘The Iron Heel’, Jack London’s prophetic masterpiece, written in 1908. It’s a future/past history of our world after a century of the Iron Heel that looks remarkably like the world of today (grab the entire novel here for free from the Gutenberg Library Project).
Outcast, demonized and their real condition airbrushed out of BBC-land, what else could they do when nobody was listening? As one participant said, “But they’re listening now”. But are they?
1. “The scale of the police response belies claims that they were ‘taken by surprise’ by events. Not only were the notorious Territorial Support Group (TSG)—the capital’s specialist public order police unit—on standby as ‘contingency’ during peaceful protests against Duggan’s killing immediately prior to Saturday’s riots. By Sunday afternoon, thousands of police reinforcements had been drafted into Tottenham and other parts of north London from Thames Valley, Kent, Surrey, Essex and the City of London.” ‘Major police clampdown as riots spread across London and other UK cities‘ By Julie Hyland
2. The Iron Heel describes the fall of the USA to a fascist dictatorship called the Iron Heel, a group of monopoly capitalists. Fearing the popularity of socialism (Islam?), the plutocrats of the Iron Heel conspire to eliminate democracy using their secret police and military to terrorize the citizenry.