The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Riots in Britain:
Poverty Sows Anger

Aug 22, 2011

The following article is a report printed in the August 12th issue of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), the paper of the revolutionary workers group of that name active in France.

The riots in Great Britain began in Tottenham, north London, on August 6th. In three days, the riots spread to a dozen areas in London and other cities in the country, including three big metro areas: Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool.

The current explosion was set off by the murder of a young African-Caribbean man, Mark Duggan, shot while he was pinned to the ground by a Special Forces commando. The rioters came from the same poor neighborhoods where the rate of unemployment is among the highest in the country.

Social inequality blossomed in the pretended “boom,” housing prices shot up with real estate speculation and the poorest neighborhoods were more and more ghettoes, while well-off neighborhoods flaunted the wealth of their commerce and restaurants.

In most cases, rioters took on the most ostentatious symbols of wealth in the well-off neighborhoods, breaking windows, particularly bank windows, and burning commercial buildings. In Manchester and Birmingham, they even went so far as to attack the rich commercial centers of the central cities.

Once windows were broken, looting followed, coming from a portion of the rioters, most of whom were very young. In a totally predictable fashion, behind the rioters came gangs who were more interested in the available opportunities than in symbols.

A massive police deployment on August 9th, including dogs and horses, didn’t have any effect in London. But by mid-afternoon, shops in most neighborhoods at the edge of the city were closed, which basically put an end to rioting in the capital. But the movement grew for a few more days in cities outside London.

David Cameron, the Prime Minister, hurriedly returned from his vacation. He promised that the “criminals” would get the punishment they deserved. Using the pretext of this promise, extreme right wingers and religious fundamentalists set up vigilante groups to protect stores.

The young rioters, who thought they could express their rejection of their social conditions by attacking only symbols, may have deceived themselves. But the fact that these riots occurred is nonetheless a symptom of the sickness of a system, which, sowing poverty, reaps resentment and anger.