This article represents the views of its author, G.B., not necessarily those of the C.C.S.

Who's afraid of the people?

1. The scum of Britain has been out in force on the streets in recent days, and nobody seems to have the slightest interest in restraining them. The police have been cheered on by all the elements of respectable opinion. The local MP in Tottenham, David Lammy, went as far as appearing on TV to communicate his outrage that some police officers had been injured in the disturbances. Not a peep out of him when Mark Duggan was gunned down near his home by CO19 officers. Lammy presumably felt this was his Bernie Grant moment, when he could seize the limelight with a well-scripted 'emotional outburst'. His miserable failure is reproduced across the spectrum of the Labour Party. Its supposed leftists have either muttered incoherently about government spending cuts while, in the same breath, denouncing 'rioters' for having 'no excuse'; or they've cast aside their inhibitions, like Diane Abbott (chair of the so-called Socialist Campaign Group, no less), and demanded such measures as London-wide curfews. The only red flag they want to fly is that of martial law.

2. The most obviously fascistic responses have been to demand the enforcement of law & order without restraint: the police shouldn't have to worry about facing prosecution or opprobrium for cracking a few heads, if only it will save us from the wrath of the poor. (The italicised clause is always either unspoken or disavowed). An equally obvious point is that the police already operate under almost total impunity. Even in those cases where inquests have returned verdicts of unlawful killing by the police, prosecution hasn't always followed, and successful prosecution has never followed. In the 2004 case of Harry Stanley—shot dead for carrying a table leg in a plastic bag and being in possession of what was supposed to be an Irish accent—the inquest verdict of unlawful killing was overturned by a judicial review. From 1990 to date, in England & Wales there have been 1409 "deaths in police custody or otherwise following contact with the police." In the same time, only 13 unlawful killing verdicts at inquest. Of these, not one successful prosecution.

3. The most dangerous fascistic response, however, has surely been the widespread denunciation of 'rampant consumerism', the 'emptiness of modern life', the 'dislocating/alienating effects of urbanism'; coupled with the supposed need for 'genuine community life', for people to 'live within their means'; all of it conducted firmly from within the horizon of capitalism itself. All the disparate ideological elements that have been disseminated variously by the environmentalist movement, by food programmes, by numerous fly-on-the-wall and/or reality TV shows (Traffic Cops, Police Interceptors, Undercover Boss, The Only Way is Essex, etc.), and most grotesquely by comedy programmes (League of Gentlemen, Little Britain, Lee Nelson's Well Wicked Show, etc.); all the most vicious petit-bourgeois resentment propagated by the Daily Mail, Sky News, local newspapers and regional TV news; all of these have surely enough crystallized into a ready made ideological system to give support to actually fascist tendencies (whose real content might ultimately only be a defence of the status quo at all costs).

4. At least we now have a clearer idea of what is supposed to be meant when the term 'community' is used. Basically, it seems to mean local shopkeepers. On a slightly broader plane, it clearly means those social groups that are willing and eager to be tied into public order enforcement (though this will admittedly generally take the form of 'soft enforcement') via official liaison with the police at very local level. Alongside the usual litany of judiciary, police, legislative and executive, "community" has therefore to be seen as one of the prime forms of appearance taken by the British state—it is certainly the most 'popular'. (This is also, incidentally, why 'community policing' has, in the event, proven to be such an abject failure in suppressing the urban revolts of the early- to mid-1980s. What is happening now is no different from Brixton, Handsworth, Toxteth, Tottenham the last time round, except that the people involved are, if anything, poorer by magnitudes). To claim that the respective communities don't support the 'rioters' is, thus, a tautology. Of course the police don't support the 'rioters'. Of course the state doesn't support the 'rioters'.

5. The BBC has been and is a much more accurate representative of the British state than are any of the main political parties, all of whom represent a limited, distinct bloc within the state. BBC presenters have bristled at the suggestion that there is anything other than 'sheer criminality' at work; in the case of Darcus Howe, the moment he suggested that killing Mark Duggan and generally brutalising the population in areas like Tottenham was at the root of the explosion, the news anchor tried to discredit his character by suggesting he was "no stranger to rioting". Three decades on, the BBC still sheds tears for PC Blakelock, while it has long forgotten Cynthia Jarrett. It will soon forget Mark Duggan. As a broader group, TV and newspaper journalists were nowhere to be seen in Tottenham when Mark Duggan was gunned down. When it became clear that the people of these areas were no longer going to lie down for the police, they flooded into the area en masse, as 'embedded' with police units as they have been with army units in Iraq or Afghanistan, or with NATO 'revolutionaries' in Libya.

6. One of the major early staging points of British sociology is Charles Booth's Life and Labour of the People in London (1889), whose 'poverty maps' indicated social status according to seven classes of inhabitant. These classes ranged from "Upper-middle and Upper classes. Wealthy" to, at the very bottom, "Lowest class. Vicious, semi-criminal." The final edition of that work provided a more elaborate description of the lowest classification in the system: "The lowest class which consists of some occasional labourers, street sellers, loafers, criminals and semi-criminals. Their life is the life of savages, with vicissitudes of extreme hardship and their only luxury is drink." That is from 1902. We have regressed to precisely the same level of social perception today: there have been innumerable denunciations of feral youths, 'well-known to their local police forces', attacks on the poor for their alleged failings in parenting, and hysterical fulminations about social groups characterised by idleness and a lack of moral fibre. To live in proletarian districts of Britain is to be an immediate suspect in the eyes of the law; to be young and black in proletarian districts of Britain is to be immediately guilty in the eyes of the law. Operation Trident and Operation Razorback are permanent features of the policing regime; other operations, more limited in timescale, crop up all the time, all over the country: what they all amount to is continuous, heavy police pressure on proletarian districts and populations. Such a state of affairs is underpinned by and reinforces the kind of 'knowledge' peddled by Booth. Booth was writing in the peak years of historical British imperialism; we are now in another high period of British imperialism, i.e. of British state monopoly capitalism.

7. If the pseudo-scandal surrounding News International has indicated anything of more than passing interest, it is the incestuousness of the British Establishment. Royals, politicians, police commissioners, judges, celebrities, PR men (and women), journalists— they're all cut from the same cloth, they all share the same social circles, the same dinner parties, they all went to the same schools and universities. One friend of Mark Duggan remarked to a journalist that the police can put out whatever story they want in regard to his killing, and their friends and associates in the press will happily print it as the truth. We can add: they'll keep doing so, and they'll keep backing the police, however many times the story might change; they've already started doing so. We can also add: not a single journalist saw fit to speak to anybody in Tottenham, let alone to anybody from the Broadwater Farm estate, until there had been two nights of running street-battles with the police across London. Instead, they spoke to police representatives, went to police press-conferences, spoke to officers of 'community organisations', or officially sanctioned youth groups; they are still overwhelmingly talking to police and 'respectable' politicians. In short, the establishment has been talking to itself, asking itself why it hasn't been harder on young proletarians, asking itself if policing methods shouldn't be more robust, asking itself if it wouldn't like to use water cannon and plastic bullets, and why it hasn't done so from the off. But it is the 'rioters', and not any liberal journalistic crusade, nor the stool pigeons of the IPCC, nor the jaded members of the Socialist Campaign group, who have thrust these issues to the centre of political attention. But the Establishment will resolve the matter on its terms; and the next time this happens it will feign as much surprise as it has mustered this time around.


G.B.

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