the london riots, 1640-42

Ian Brooke writes that London’s riots were nothing new: a popular uprising was a key part of the early stages of the English revolution

In the aftermath of the London riots many people quite rightly remind us that riots and the mob is not a new phenomena but is almost as old as the city itself. The poll tax and the Gordon riots are often named as examples of this but part of the forgotten history of the working class is the English Revolution and the mob riots of 1641-42. England at the time was rife with riot and disorder in the countryside against the enclosing of common land for the profit of the few and for years areas such as the forest of Dean and the Fens were in a state of open and perpetual rebellion.

'a world turned upside down'

London too was a seething mass of economic and religious discontent with a large puritan following favouring a more democratic religion against the wealthy hierarchies of both Catholicism and the state Anglican Church. Indeed the country was been bled dry by Charles I wars to establish his version of Anglicanism on Scotland an Anglicanism that worried many about Charles possible intention to reintroduce Catholicism and the dictatorship of The Pope. Continue reading “the london riots, 1640-42”

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ruling-class justice system shows true face

Taimour Lay explains the meaning of the post-riot ‘show trials’

The criminal courts’ reaction to the riots was to instinctively follow the hysteria of a panicking government and a shocked police. Of 3000 people arrested, 1000 were charged in August alone. Magistrates have been sending hundreds to jail (an average of five months for theft or handling stolen goods), with the majority remanded in custody until a Crown Court can hand down an even longer term.

– 3000 arrested nationwide

– London’s Met police set ‘target’ of 3000 convictions

– six months jail for stealing a £3.50 bottle of water

– five-month sentence given to mother-of-two who ‘handled’ stolen pair of shorts

– burglary charge and jail threat for stealing two scoops of ice-cream

– rioters’ families face being turfed out of council houses, benefit cuts

It is hard to overstate quite how extraordinary this spasm of rushed ‘justice’ has been. Sentencing principles have been thrown out the window: it hasn’t helped defendants to plead guilty, be young, have a clean record, turn themselves in, express remorse, come from an abusive home or take a bottle of water as opposed to a plasma TV. Bail rights have been systematically disregarded. These are show-trials if the only aim is deterrence. Continue reading “ruling-class justice system shows true face”

punching a wall in frustration

Ian Brooke responds to our ongoing debate on the riots, one month on from the explosion

Now the dust has settled and the ashes swept away, and whilst the lynch mob of the national press bay for blood rather than justice the true lessons of the riot must be learnt. Far from being simple criminality as the press suggests these riots were complex phenomena.

a rare moment of power for those who cannot get what capitalism promises: but what about the effect on other working-class people?

The destruction of personal property and homes in the London riots is inexcusable, but is unfortunately a sign of the times and an indication of the collapse of society. What was a justifiable demonstration against the police shooting of Mark Duggan rapidly became an explosion of nihilistic anger when the police beat up a 16 year old girl, this is fact. The police created a whirlwind of anger aimed not just at the police but property in general, for many an uncontrollable nihilistic rage that represents broken and frustrated lives an aggression that is rampant at all levels of a society which has lost its moral compass from top to bottom. Continue reading “punching a wall in frustration”

liverpool: police on the offensive

In the aftermath of August’s riots, James Roberts writes on attacks on young people in Merseyside and the community response

It was only once I sat down and started trying to write about events in Liverpool over 8th-9th August that I thought about how much there was to write, and the complexity of issues that needed covering. From on-going police brutality and repression, to the effect of cuts in youth services in Toxteth, to grievances that continue to exist in the area thirty years after the 1981 uprisings.

Unlike in many areas, here there was very little looting. The main destructive element of disturbances could be seen in smashed windows and burnt-out cars – with much of the collective anger directed at the police. Most people involved were teenagers or in their early 20s, and a good number of people came from other areas of Liverpool to join in. Despite the mass media focus on ‘black youth’, the crowd was multiracial. Some young white men did come along to stoke racial conflict but most of the crowd seemed to be there to confront the police. Continue reading “liverpool: police on the offensive”

Riots : when normal behaviour is meaningless.

Looking back at the Commune coverage of the riots.

Barry Biddulph suggests that we need to find a way to engage with the contradictory and elemental nature of  the recent riots.

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Riots. We should have seen them coming. After all, the combustible material has been stacking up for some time. The majority of rioters who appeared in court were under 24, and from poor neighbourhoods. Strikingly: 41/% of suspects live in one of the top 10% of the most deprived places. [1] We already knew that in Hackney there are 22 claimants for every job. In Haringey, where Tottenham is located, there are 29  claimants for every vacancy. [2]  Youth unemployment  currently stands  at 949,000. [3] Add to these grim figures, the volatile mix of police harassment, affordable housing shortage, cuts in benefits,  resentment at bankers and parliamentary politicians robbing the tax payers, and what do we have? Alienation, and disaffection. As Naomi Klein put it in the Guardian,” When you rob people of what little they have, in order to protect the interests of those who have more than anyone deserves, you should expect resistance.”[4]

Even so, many on the left did not expect this resistance. Furthermore, they did not  like the look of it. The Socialist Party was particularly disgusted. In their opinion, it was a tragedy for small shop keepers, and devastating for working class communities. As if capitalism in crisis wasn’t. The SP leadership was worried about the lack of police numbers. The view of Peter Manson of the CPGB was that the riot targeted working-class people. In a moment of self-doubt, he mused that at one level, it was a collective rebellion but on balance it was without political content with anti social gangs having a moment of power. [5] But the rioters’ most comprehensive critic was  the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty. The riot would have no positive effect. Indeed, it would have reactionary consequences. It would strengthen law and order, stimulate racism as well as alienate organised labour. [6] Continue reading “Riots : when normal behaviour is meaningless.”

no justice no peace: the riot is the rhyme of the unheard, let us begin to listen.

Javaad Alipoor continues our debate on the meaning of the UK’s riots

Five people are dead, more than one thousand in jail and Reuters report that Gaddafi has recognized the Tottenham rioters as the legitimate government of Britain. What the hell is going on?

At the eye of this storm lies the body of Mark Duggan, murdered by the metropolitan police. In the past the cops have been careful to leave what they presumably fell is a “respectful” length of time between political and racial murders, at least so the last can drop out of memory, but the point blank shooting of this young man has come up straight between the beating to death of Ian Tomlinson, so that nicety even seems of another time.

Continue reading “no justice no peace: the riot is the rhyme of the unheard, let us begin to listen.”

…or does it explode?

Joe Thorne looks for the meaning of the recent wave of inner city riots

Eventually, it always explodes.  But what dream has been deferred, how, and by whom?  Who are the rioters, what motivated them – and does it matter?  Was there a radical kernel to the riots which would speak to us, if only we would listen? Or were they the mute reflex of a nihilist or egoistic sub-generation of looter-consumers – pitiable, and understandable, but nothing more?

Clarence Road, Hackney, Monday night.

To the former idea corresponds a romanticised account of the figure of the rioter as a new vanguard-subject in the class struggle, flawed, but in essence communistic.  To the later idea corresponds the view that the rioters need to be rescued by the political programme or organisation of some other segment of the working class: the primary significance of their disorder is as a moral rebuke to the movement which has forgotten them.  Both are attempts to constrain a complex reality under too-easy an analysis.  There is no ‘essence’ to the riots; beyond their expression of a particular phase in the recomposition of the class-relation in Britain’s inner cities.  As we shall see, the riots were partly products of a real, positive and intentional class consciousness, albeit the consciousness of a very particular sub-section of the class.  There were also elements in it that were not only nihilistic and selfish, but vicious and cruel.  Continue reading “…or does it explode?”