1980s >> 1988 >> no-1008-august-1988

Herewego — Where next?

 Today the ones who are looking for trouble do not wear scarves. They wear expensive clothes and a nice watch. People think they are all mods and rockers — they are not. The London boys might be wearing about £200 of clothes. Chelsea “fan”, Guardian 20 May

As certain types of social violence escalate, the media, politicians and “experts” of all sorts are clamouring to tackle the problem. It is necessary, however, to look at incidents of violence in their wider social setting to discover what causes them and therefore what needs to be changed in order to eradicate destructive behaviour. The conventional social attitude to organised violence is confused. Consider the following announcement:

  Last night two hundred young men engaged in an organised assault. They violently attacked another group of men whom they had never met before.

If, for instance, three young men were singled out as most responsible for causing mayhem and destruction, what would society do to them? It depends. A government spokesperson asked that question would need to know whether the thuggery was committed by “our boys” in the Falklands or “our boys” in Frankfurt. For distinctive violence ordered against an official “enemy” the soldiers receive pious praise, possibly a medal and commiserations for any maiming they may have suffered to body or mind or both. For distinctive violence which the government has not ordered, the louts in the Union Jack boxer shorts who marauded through German cities in June’s European football championship received nothing from the authorities back home but grave censure and contempt. Some of these latter thugs, suffering from a surplus of patriotism and a shortage of brain cells, went on the rampage in Germany wearing “ENGLAND ON TOUR 1914, 1939, 1988” T-shirts. The folly of propertyless workers being patriotic is one thing, but even the capitalists who own Britain (the top seven per cent own about 80 per cent of the wealth) were upset by this piece of gratuitous jingoism.

From an aerial view, British society is fraught with violence as part of its ordinary processes. Apart from the development of organised running battles associated with “football hooligans”, there is clear evidence to suggest a proliferation of clashes between rival gangs, and between gangs and police, in rural and costal towns. Every year hundreds of children are treated in hospital for serious injuries inflicted on them by adults, often their parents or guardians. Each year thousands of women leave home to seek refuge in hostels from the brutality of a cohabitant. Then there is the Sadism Industry. which operates on two levels: the illegal and the legal. Below the line of legality lurks the trade in “video nasties”, where depth of depravity is the gauge of a film’s attractiveness. Pathological disturbance is presented as an art form. Above the line there is a prominent genre of films which portray killings, massacres and annihilation as nothing much more than exciting, glamourised drama They are aimed at a wide market for box office or video success.

Overshadowing all this, though, is the gigantic scale of institutional violence and force. The role of the Police Force is, as its name implies, to use force to keep people in line. Were society civilised we would not need to threaten people to make them conform. Over 50,000 men and women are currently caged up in British prisons and the majority are there for offending against property laws. The military are the Youth Training Scheme in Destruction and Delinquency. The services, especially the Army, present themselves as agencies for travel and tourism, an apprenticeship and the opportunity to develop such things as “life skills”; in reality, recruits are swiftly knocked into a routine of hardship, indignity and idiocy. They have to be trained to obey any order without question or thought. Each soldier is to the Army what a bullet is to a gun — ammunition in a murder machine. And since the business of the Army is orchestrated violence, it is scarcely surprising that the outfit produces barbaric perverts of the kind recently prosecuted for over-zealous disciplinary techniques.

Many factors have been cited as the “main cause” of recent outbreaks of thuggery. What is the socialist analysis of these arguments?

Slack schooling and permissive parents?

  Our current education system equips the bottom 80% of the population for nothing better than sitting in betting shops or being soccer hooligans.

Sir Rhodes Boyson (The Barnet Advertiser, 23 June)

With all the compassion and understanding of a nineteenth-century workhouse Governor. Rhodes is prone to encourage acceptance of his views using physical force. As Headmaster of a north London school he was a firm believer in the educational value of “correcting recalcitrance” by beating young people with a wooden stick. His regret about the current operation of the education system is ironic. If he was entirely candid, he might have gone on to say: ” . . . the ruling class needs the rising generation of workers to be moulded into regimented, industrious, compliant wage-slaves who won’t play up and disrupt the process by which social wealth is appropriated by capitalists. Such disruption requires a larger slice of profits to be spent on paying for a larger, more powerful police force. It is simply more efficient to educate workers into docility.” Indoctrinating young members of the working class to assume the role of poverty-trapped wealth producers is a big problem. It becomes much worse when advertising and media imagery everywhere offer lifestyles which are tantalising. unobtainable and, in reality, largely synthetic pleasures of a cash-culture society. The problem becomes aggravated even further by the reduced chance of even becoming a wage-slave in the present economic environment. This is annoying Rhodes Boyson. He continued his remarks with the words.

  I’m sure that about one third of those unemployed are quite happy watching TV, doing the garden, sleeping — and getting paid for it by the tax payer. I envy them.

Surely Mrs Thatcher will rebuke her knight for referring to members of the House of Lords in such terms.

The problem of quelling disorder in the profit system is growing. A survey on “Indiscipline and Violence in Schools” was recently conducted by the National Association of Head Teachers. Its findings are based on returns from 1.630 schools and suggest that,

  Violence and other forms of disruptive behaviour are steadily increasing in all types of schools throughout the country.

and in the Primary sector,

  Nursery-aged children are starting school already imbued with anti-authoritarian habits because of poor parental control.

(Times Educational Supplement, 17 June)

Modern capitalism requires governments to rely, ultimately, on police forces and armies to make it work. Schools, similarly, are authoritarian organisations and frustrated and resentful young people can easily, though misguidedly, respond to coercion with violence. If more children are becoming consciously anti-authoritarian then that is a healthy development. Babies and toddlers need to be guided from the dangers of traffic and electricity sockets but the use of authority to control attitudes is the hallmark of uncivilised society.

Booze and belligerence

 It is clear from the evidence that a mob of hooligans of which you were a part had spent much of the day swilling beer. This kind of conduct must be stopped. It is all too prevalent.

Judge Gerald Butler QC to Millwall “soccer fans”, Southwark Crown Court, 27 June

The men addressed by the judge were part of a gang who stampeded through New Cross Gate station to ambush another group of “supporters”. They were convicted of affray after many terrified train passengers had fled across live electric railway lines to escape a mob armed with lumps of concrete, planks, knives and bottles. It is popular to regard alcohol as the cause of violence in society. Used in certain circumstances and in certain quantities it will aggravate aggression, give “Dutch courage” and impair the drinker’s social conscience. It is pent up tension and frustration which is usually being released, so it is important to ask why society produces these routine stresses and then promotes alcohol as a palliative.

The promotion of alcohol as an anaesthetic to most peoples problem-ridden routines is booming business in the profit-system. Over £120,000,000 was spent on drink adverts on TV alone last year. Most were aimed at young people and although some were banned (like the one for Bulmer’s cider which showed cartoon woodpeckers swigging from a bottle with the slogan: “Spend some time out of your tree”) shareholders in drinks companies must have been generally quite pleased with the results of the campaigns. The “George the Bear” films for Hofmeister lager were recently voted the most popular commercials among 13-year-olds.

Governments have, from time to time, sought to control the consumption of alcohol by workers. During World War I, the American Congress stopped the manufacture of alcoholic drink to conserve grain. The prohibition lobby grew in strength and the National Prohibition Act (1920) and a constitutional amendment were later passed to forbid completely the manufacture and consumption of any intoxicating drink. The law proved impossible to enforce, fuelling widespread corruption and increasing the power of gangsters and racketeers. It was repealed in 1933. The Licensing Laws in force in Britain until last month were introduced during World War I because it was feared that munitions workers were spending too much time in the pub.

The organisation, Action on Alcohol Abuse claims that drink kills ten times as many people as do drugs and is a far greater cause of illness and social disturbance. There are always plenty of schemes being devised to reduce alcohol abuse — only recently the Home Office Working Group on Young People. Alcohol and Violence produced a list of 50 recommendations — but such exercises are about as useful as asking the Archbishop of Canterbury to pray that things get better. The only way to solve the problem of alcohol-related violence is to remove the cause of it — the grind, strain and unfulfilling nature of people’s lives.

Network nightmare

  Children are likely to be particularly disturbed by violence in a setting which closely resembles their own. Thus an accident in which someone who looks like a child’s father strikes someone who looks like his mother is probably very disturbing, threatening as it does the child’s sense of security in the home.

(Guidelines on TV Violence, BBC 1979. Omitted from current guidelines)

The extent of wife-battering is unknown, largely because the pressures on women to remain in the home and the shame and stigma associated with this type of violence means that reported cases are merely the tip of an iceberg. Television does not cause the problem — it is usually committed by men who have been humiliated and victimised in some way in their passage through the rat race. Embittered by their circumstances and usually in a state of drunken rage, they embark on the one conflict they can “win”. This is not the crazed conduct of a few men with congenital brain disorders but a widespread social problem. Children watching it on TV will undeniably be disturbed but trying to keep it secret from them will hardly help to solve the problem

Using killing, torture and destruction as key ingredients of exciting television for young people is bound to produce some unsavoury results. A recent documentary suggested that a young American who watched an average of three hours of TV a day would have seen about 10,000 killings before reaching the age of sixteen. This cannot but desensitise the mind to real trauma and misery left in the wake of a violent death. Every so often violent incidents appear to imitative: a spate of crossbow attacks occurred, for instance, after one was used by Sylvester Stallone in Rambo. Overall, however, television is not the cause of social violence. At the start of this century, hundreds of people were murdered every year in Britain. Violent disorder on the streets was rife — in fact the word “hooligan” was coined in Edwardian times. Hundreds of thousands of workers were slaughtered every year in the First World War and the final death toll ran into millions. This was all before television. The earliest broadcasts were not until 1936 and they were quickly suspended on the outbreak of another world war, this time one which was to wreak destruction on an unprecedented scale.

Madame Medusa

 The crimewave, which has now assumed typhoon proportions, is the direct result of Tory policies and Tory philosophy. The thug with too much money and too little conscience is the monster which has mutated from Margaret Thatcher’s open advocacy of selfishness and greed. Crime is contagious and the disease is being spread by Downing Street.

Roy Hattersley, Deputy Leader of Labour Party (Daily Telegraph, 23 June)

It is facile and misleading to attribute violent crime to particular personalities or political parties. Whether the profit system is run by parties like the Conservatives, which is avowedly capitalist, or the Labour Party which is allegedly “for the workers” makes little difference. It will operate the only way it can — by producing wealth for sale and profit and not for human need. It will be a society in which the wealth producers live in relative poverty while the socially parasitic wealth owners live in luxury. It will be a society of wage-slavery for the majority. It will be a society ridden with competitive anxiety and beset with the insecurities of employment and the persistent threat of war. These are symptoms of a social system. They are as irremovable from the profit system as are death and injury from warfare.

If Roy Hattersley really believes that street violence in its current forms is largely the consequence of Thatcher’s Tory policies, how does he explain the eruption of exactly the same type of problem in many other countries? Margaret is not Madame Medusa. She espouses a particularly callous doctrine to defend class-divided society but poverty, evictions, strikes, homelessness and militarism have been presided over by every Labour government. If Hattersley travels thirty miles across the water to France, he will see that the wretchedness of capitalism is not something which appeared in a blue hat in May 1979 to plague Britain alone. Hattersley, in fact, knows better than this. He is a careerist politician who, if he ever became Home Secretary, would be the man in charge of the police and prisons.

 

Capitalists get rich by employing workers. Sir John Sainsbury, for example, owns £1,000,000,000. Garry Weston boasts £1,500,000,000. The person who creates their bank statements must have an extra-durable “O” fitted to their printer. In any event, you do not acquire wealth like that by putting in a lot of overtime. You get it by exploiting a large number of workers — that is, by paying them less than the value of what they produce. You call it Employment and tell members of the wealth producing class that they’re lucky if they can get it. Roy Hattersley, therefore, is in favour of a society where he would put the robbed in gaol and use the police to protect the bounty of the robbers. When speaking of “the crimewave which has now assumed typhoon proportions ”, he may have misread his notes. It is in fact of “tycoon proportions”.

 

Why?

Why do babies starve
When there’s enough food to feed the world?
Why when there’s so many of us
Are there people still alone?

 

Why are the missiles called peace keepers
When they’re aimed to kill?
Why is a woman still not safe
When she’s in her home?

Tracey Chapman, from her namesake album, 1988.

 

Capitalism is based on the ownership and control of the earth’s resources by a minority class. The owners permit the production of wealth only so far as it can be sold in the market for a profit. At the British Army Equipment Exhibition earlier this year, 386 companies specialising in the production of high tech hooliganism on a Hiroshima scale displayed their wares to visitors from all around the world. True to the “democracy” that the Army will tell you it exists to defend, the public were not admitted. You can imagine the cost of the weapons and the social effort required to produce them from the fact that one company spent £450,000 on the exhibition, including £100,000 on the stand alone. In exhibition week, thousands of people died of malnutrition and hundreds of children went blind through vitamin A deficiency.

 

Young people are conscripted to fight in wars begun by governments in furtherance of the bosses’ interests. Trade routes, strategic regions on the map, areas for market expansion and those rich in mineral deposits are the reasons behind war. No workers’ interests are ever at stake in their masters’ struggles.

 

A society of money, banks and property deeds is a society of handcuffs, prison cells and homeless people. A society of Army exhibitions and young men trained to kill like machines is a society of mindless gang fights and street violence. When a majority decide democratically to put an end to class rule we can consign law and disorder to the history books. As soon as we bring the commercial system to a close, its endemic violence will cease. Only then can we establish real civilisation.

 

Gary Jay