Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Riots: The left must respond

Let’s get on the streets and demand an end to cuts and police brutality, says James O’Nions

August 10, 2011
5 min read


James O'NionsJames O'Nions is a former Red Pepper editor. He is the head of activism for Global Justice Now.


  share     tweet  

‘If you’re not careful the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.’ – Malcolm X

A depressing YouGov poll today (pdf) shows that 90 per cent of Britons believe police should be able to use water cannons to quell rioting, while a third believe they should have the use of live ammunition – in other words that they should be able to shoot indiscriminately at people with little accountability, as that’s what such a power would amount to. While we should be wary of polls of this kind as a real arbiter of public opinion, it is nevertheless clear that demands for a virtual police state in response to the riots are reaching fever pitch.

There is lots to be said from the left about the reasons the riots are happening, and commentators from Nina Power to Zoe Williams are starting to do so. We can talk about the impact of spending cuts to youth services, EMAs and the rest on cities where unemployment is high and inequality continues to grow. In London in particular, poor inner city neighbourhoods where young people can (very reasonably) see no decent future for themselves, nestle up against much wealthier areas which seem unaffected by the recession and are still living the high life of iPads, regular weekend breaks in Europe and fine dining.

We can also talk about the psychological impact of 30 years of neoliberalism and the rampant consumerism that goes with it. Hence the phenomenon of ‘consumer rioting’, with high street chains targeted not just for destruction, but for the latest accessories. This could be described as a kind of confused redistribution of wealth – unfair, based on individual smash and grab, and not really redistributing wealth much at all – but nevertheless motivated by keenly felt social injustice. Of course, some of the looting was for what could reasonably be described as necessities too, but any basic collective sentiment, beyond a shared sense of being a generation without hope, was lacking. This was not Athens.

We can and should also talk about the regular, humiliating stop and searches which many of those who have been rioting (and many of their peers who haven’t) undergo. Its no wonder that that the shooting of Mark Duggan set some of this off – these kids know just what brutal thugs the police often are. They know this wasn’t a one-off, but part of a continuum of police repression and impunity that will probably see them getting away with it again. And yes, many of them know exactly how useless and toothless the IPCC is. Of 333 deaths in police custody since 1998, none have resulted in a conviction.

But important though all this is, we need to do more than talk. The right is making the running, and the facts on the ground need changing. While some left commentators (and no, I don’t include Sunny Hundall in that category) have been saying the right things, left-leaning politicians rarely have. Diane Abbott was among the first to talk up the idea of a curfew. Ken Livingstone bashed the government for their cuts, but was most concerned to talk about cuts to the police in London leading to an inadequate response to the riots. He certainly won’t be talking about police violence, given the robust support he’s given to the Met in cases ranging from Jean Charles de Menezes to Ian Tomlinson.

What we need right now are channels for giving voice to the issues which lie behind the riots. This is starting to happen. Last night in Tottenham, 60-70 activists from Hackney and Haringey, called together by the Day Mer Kurdish association and Hackney Alliance to Defend Public Services, met to come up with a response. As a result there will be a demonstration on Saturday from Dalston to Tottenham under the slogan Give Our Kids a Future. Whatever your exact attitude to the rioting itself, its vital to build this demo, and others like it around the country, if we’re to turn the tide of reaction and have a hope of making demands for real social justice. (There is also a similar demo from Deptford High Street at 6.30pm to Lewisham Town Hall today, 10 August.)

All over the world, the rise of neoliberalism has been accompanied by the rise of the security state. This is no accident. The victory for the capitalist class that neoliberalism represents produces howls of protest from the oppressed. Sometimes they have political direction, and sometimes they don’t. The response of the Conservatives, and of elites the world over, is to deny any real grievances and unleash further state-led violence. If we want to build an alternative based on economic justice and freedom, our first job is to ensure that ordinary people aren’t cheering them on.

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

James O'NionsJames O'Nions is a former Red Pepper editor. He is the head of activism for Global Justice Now.


Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism

Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte argue that Catalonia's independence movement is driven by solidarity – and resistance to far-right Spanish nationalists

Tabloids do not represent the working class
The tabloid press claims to be an authentic voice of the working class - but it's run by and for the elites, writes Matt Thompson

As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it
London City Airport has faced resistance for its entire lifetime, writes Ali Tamlit – and some day soon we will win

The first world war sowed the seeds of the Russian revolution
An excerpt from 'October', China Mieville's book revisiting the story of the Russian Revolution

Academies run ‘on the basis of fear’
Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was described in a damning report as an organisation run 'on the basis of fear'. Jon Trickett MP examines an education system in crisis.

‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition

#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny

Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke

The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana

Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth

Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company

You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild

Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University

This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback

Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein

Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up

Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement

‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic

Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden

There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright