It was one of last summer highlights: "London's burning" (and not only London) echoed from the mainstream media to the blogs. Now everything seems quiet, but what about the underlying problems that sparked the riots?
PeaceReporter asked the British philosopher and columnist Nina Power for a comprehensive analysis.
One month and a half after the riots, what are the authorities doing to face
the social problems apart from militarizing the streets?
The authorities are doing very little if not nothing to address the underlying social problems that were the cause of the riots: if anything, they are stepping up the very things that need to stop – racially targeted police stop and search, economic inequality, excessively harsh punishment of those involved in the riots and so on. Much of this is a kneejerk populist attempt to assure the property-owning classes that ‘something is being done’. But it can only lead to more civil unrest as larger and larger groups are criminalised. The complicity of the courts in bowing down to this populism is important too – I think people can increasingly see that the police/court/government nexus is basically set-up to punish and collect information on anyone deemed to be socially undesirable (student protesters, ‘rioters’, squatters etc.)
What was the leftist groups reaction to the riots?
Multiple: some anarchists and other leftist groups organised a ‘No to Riot Evictions’ campaign after some London councils sent out letters telling anyone who might get sentenced for involvement in the riots that they would be kicked out of their council house, effectively making them and their families (including minors) homeless. Others are trying to set up defendants campaigns to give solidarity to those charged. I think, though, more needs to be done in thinking about how we can explain and defend the rioters’ actions and to rethink the notion of property and how it is the bedrock of all mainstream political concerns.
Is there any attempt to organize the protest and give political goals?
Perhaps more at the level of analysis than action: the backlash, imprisoning and sentencing of those involved in the riots was carried through at such high speed (with courts running through the nights and people kept in custody at much higher rates than normal) that organisation has a hard time keeping up with the crackdown. I think the political nature of the riots was identifiable by the fact that so much mainstream response kept insisting it had none.
In your opinion, are this kind of riots a sort of contemporary class > struggle or not?
Yes, in the sense that those rioting are the most excluded and harassed people: unemployed, already criminalised, hassled by police constantly. All these things in a context in which millionaire hypocrite politicians tell people constantly to get jobs – where there are none to get. I think we’ll see more riots: the coalition government is very weak and knows it won’t get re-elected. I think they’re trying to push as many cuts through as possible as fast as possible and are relying on the courts and the police to handle any resistance in the most brutal way possible.
Do you think there is any connection between the riots and the so called "gentrification" of working class boroughs and districts?
Undoubtedly, but this is a difficult thing to quantify. It is definitely true that the poor and the unemployed are being pushed further and further out of London and that the cost of living is becoming incredibly expensive for increasing numbers of people.
What do you think, in theoretical and political terms, about the rioters' attitude to looting?
I think it’s perfectly understandable, and there is enjoyment in ‘proletarian shopping’. We have greedy ‘elected’ representatives who constantly steal from the poor, claim illegal expenses and so on. I don’t think looting is a bad thing, but anyone who believes that property is sacrosanct will obviously think it’s appalling, up there with violence against people, which it blatantly isn’t. We had this whole narrative about how the rioters were attacking independent shops, but in truth it was mainly chain stores and financial entities that got targeted, especially pawn shops and loan sharks that prey on the poor and unemployed.
Translated by Gary Cestaro