riot in the city

This month’s Commune editorial:  capitalism and our communities are both in crisis

In August 2011 Britain was rocked by almost unprecedented rioting. Of course, violence and social breakdown have always existed, but only now that it hit the high streets did media and government start to notice.

It gave a voice to those who are never listened to. How many of these young people were also at the Millbank protests last year to defend  EMA, but saw their cries fall on deaf ears? An NBC reporter asked a young man in Tottenham if rioting worked: his reply, “Yes, or you wouldn’t be talking to me now!”

The riots were the result of years of social decay, leaving millions without anything to hope for. In Tottenham, where the riots first broke out, there are 29 benefit claimants per (boring, low-paid) job vacancy. The result of this hopelessness was to spark a desperate revolt. It was often chaotic. The targets were not just police or the state, but also parts of our own communities.

But the ‘apolitical’ character of the riots has very ‘political’ causes, in the social relations under which we live. The riots expressed the lack of real ‘community’ in capitalism, with millions cut off from any stake in society. After all, capitalism does not just experience occasional crises, but rather is a system of crisis. It is constantly shaking up and reshaping people’s lives. Its crises are not just for the capitalist class: they tear apart the very fabric of society. With the smashing of working-class organisation by Thatcher and the New Labour years, it is no surprise that resistance would take this elemental form.

It was no coincidence that, as with the riots of 1981, the 2011 riots should take place amidst a recession. This summer’s crises in the Eurozone and over the US debt cap showed that the ruling class is on the rocks: they have a crisis but no solutions. As with post-riot Britain, their only answer to their crisis is to tighten the reins on the working-class. More discipline, more austerity. Rioters face jail terms, benefit cuts, even homelessness: other workers can expect more cuts, more work, less pay and less public services.

The old welfare state consensus has been shattered, the ruling class feeling able to smash our living standards with impunity. But neoliberalism is no alternative, and a double-dip recession looms. This will mean further deprivation, further social crisis, maybe even more riots.

In the face of the ruling-class onslaught we cannot just defend the status quo, the current system of crisis against a worse one. We need our own alternative: communism, a society not prone to crisis or social meltdown, but premised on equality and real control of our own lives.

The riots lit up people’s attention. But we don’t just want to be noticed. We need to organise our resistance to austerity, not just to give it purpose, but also to build for the only real hope for working-class people: uprooting capitalism entirely.

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