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Violence in Britain

17 August 2011

Recently, the world was shocked as a wave of riots, burning, and looting swept throughout Britain. Beginning in Tottenham where a policeman shot a black man, it soon spread to Manchester, Nottingham, Leicester, Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Gloucester, and other parts of London. These cannot be considered as race riots because participants were of all races. All that united them was resentment of the government and a desire to loot.

One outstanding aspect of the looters was their absence of fear. They smiled for TV cameras and in Birmingham even posed for photos in front of a car they had set alight. Their lives appear to be so bleak that they have nothing to lose. In some instances there was not even a desire to loot, such as the burning in Tottenham and the fire at Reeves Furniture in Croydon, London. This store has been a landmark and a family business for one hundred and forty years, but is now a smouldering ruin. "No one has stolen anything. They just burnt it down," said owner Graham Reeves, "It's pointless."

Prime Minister David Cameron's immediate response was, "This is criminality, pure and simple, and has to be confronted and defeated." It is tremendously comforting to know that the 'brain of Britain' knows exactly how to deal with the problem. It wouldn't occur to Cameron that his austerity measures have had anything to do with it.

Another immediate reaction was the increase in sales of baseball bats and police batons that shot up more than 5,000 per cent within twenty- four hours on Amazon web UK site!

"This is not Britain's Tahir Square", said Dan Leighton of the London Political think tank, 'Demos'," but its very lack of political motivation makes it even more worrying and more political. You have the top one per cent that continues to earn unimaginable money in the midst of austerity, then the squeezed middle-class, and then the stakelessness of young people who are excluded and have no respect for the norms of society. It's a situation that has been brewing for twenty years." Leighton also works for Compass, a new group that has started an online petition to create public interest in what is "unraveling before our eyes. From bankers to media barons, private interests have bankrupted and corrupted the public realm."

While we may agree with the general arguments and points of Leighton, we do not use the term 'middle class'. We hear in the media the notions 'working class', 'middle class', and even 'upper middle class' as well as 'blue collar' and 'white collar' depending on income and type of work although the dividing lines are never very clear. It is just one way of dividing the working class and deflecting real analysis of our economic system. To the scientific socialists of The World Socialist Movement, it doesn't matter whether you earn $120 000 or $20 000, your relations to the production and distribution of wealth are the same. You are forced to sell your physical and mental powers to a capitalist to use, in the process creating surplus-value, that amount that derives from the difference between what you get paid and the and the value you create, which is appropriated by the employer and forms the sole source of rent, interest, and profit. You are told what to do, when to do it, and how to do it, by your employer, and you can be fired, no matter how much you earn, at the whim of that person. You do not own your product or the means of production. You are part of the working class. Thus there are but two classes, the capitalist class that owns but does not produce, and the working class that produces but does not own.

Someone a little closer in his analysis is Neville Williams who gathered a crowd around him in Clapham after fire swept through buildings and dozens of stores were ransacked. "The solution is to close the gap between the rich and the poor", shouted Williams, "I see bankers taking our money and doing exactly what they want with it and when they get into trouble, we have to bail them out…I'm fed up with this." Close, but no cigar! It would be far better if rich and poor did not exist.

Leighton and Williams are on the right track by asking how did this situation come about even if their conclusions are off the mark. What we see now is the culmination of the attempts of British governments, Conservatives, Labour, and Coalition, to run capitalism and pretend it can be done in the interests of all. It can't. The Tories, under Margaret Thatcher, sold off public housing regardless of the consequences for any but the rich who rented them out causing rents to soar. Labour tried to keep the economy going by pushing personal debt, credit cards, and student loans, but the world-wide financial meltdown of 2008 brought it crashing down like a pack of cards.

Prime Minister Cameron and his coalition isn't promising a wonderful future for everyone with the austerity measures that will cut $130 billion in spending over the next four years, including tripling university tuition fees. Add to the mix a struggling economy, an unemployment rate of 7.7% (20% for those under 25) and you have a recipe for disaster. Many young people face a hopeless future, living in densely populated slum areas with run-down public housing, no jobs, poor educational opportunities, and cutbacks in social programs.

According to reporter Nick Davies in his recent book, Dark Heart: The Shocking Truth About Hidden Britain, "This hidden country is a sprawling collection of battered old housing estates, of red light areas and inner city ghettos, of crack houses and all the other refuges of our social exiles. To put it more broadly, it is the place where the poor gather."

And gather they have, though they have done more than that. Whereas other riots were focused on racial tension, police brutality, tax protests, or high tuition fees, these riots were an outlet of frustration and resentment at being condemned to a life of poverty, while they observe the rich with their high-priced real estate and luxury goods - a life they can never enjoy. The closest they can come is by smashing windows and stealing some of these luxury goods. Or whatever is available for some improvement, albeit temporary, in their lives.

It has been clearly demonstrated that governments cannot deal with the cause of this behaviour. By attempting to administer to both short and long term effects of capitalism, they make matters worse, particularly when the economy is in a slump and the money isn't there to spend on social programs.

We do not condone the actions of the rioters as their actions mostly hurt those of their own working class, but we can understand their frustration at the situation. In addition, the government has at its disposal the might of the armed forces that it will use to crush the rioters should they continue on their present course. Although Cameron continues, at every opportunity, to blame parenting especially single parent families and 'losing our moral compass', the rioters seized the opportunity to strike out in anger, frustration, and hopelessness, believing there was nothing else they could do.

However, there is something they can do and it can be a very quick solution to their problems if enough people want it. The fact that so many are unemployed means they have time to study our case, and they have shown plenty of energy. So to those young people, and thinking people everywhere, we, of the Companion Parties of Socialism, say that socialism, common ownership of the means of producing and distributing wealth, production for use not profit, free access to all humanity to the goods our society produces, will solve our major problems. Take a look at our case and act.

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