1990s >> 1990 >> no-1033-september-1990

Rioting for reforms

The Socialist Party has long been aware that there are organisations. both in Britain and other parts of the world, that share our view that capitalism is the cause of the major social problems confronting the working class and needs to be replaced by a world-wide socialist system based on common ownership, production for use and free access to wealth. However, organisations which hold this perspective with us are, unfortunately, often found to be deficient when it comes to having a credible strategy for the revolutionary transformation of capitalism into socialism. One group, Wildcat have tried to argue that rioting helps raise class consciousness In their coverage of the Poll Tax riots earlier this year, Wildcat and a similar group of “council communists” in Manchester going under the name of Subversion have displayed a contempt for sections of the working class quite inconsistent with their professed aim of a harmonious society based on co-operation and mutual solidarity

Wildcat No.15. subtitled “Long Hot Summer 1990”. stated:

    Trafalgar Square will go down in history It was the most politically conscious and effective riot of modern times . . .  the rioters were not mindless hooligans They were mainly very clear about why and who they were fighting. They were disciplined. responsible and class conscious (Our emphasis)


The police were the main target. They were attacked with impressive courage and brutality . . .  the impunity with which most of the rioters were able to loot, burn, smash and occasion actual bodily harm has given a great boost of confidence to the undemocratic hooligan minority.

This is rubbish. An “undemocratic hooligan minority” beating up the other members of the working class which police are has nothing whatsoever to do with class consciousness—just the reverse.

Wildcat also proudly reproduced from a. newspaper:

   A poll tax assistant hanged himself rather than face one more day of abuse from an irate public. He had only one more day of house calls to go. But instead he went home and hanged himself from a beam.

But Wildcat’s wrath is not reserved merely for policemen, shopworkers or local government employees. Menacingly, they warn that:

  The willing assistance of the media in providing the police with films and photos (of the riot) means that cameramen will always be among the first targets of future violent protests.

Very class conscious! But who will be the next victims of this peculiar “class justice”? Ambulance crews who go to help the injured?

Judging by some of the leaflets it has issued recently. Subversion is little better. Although one of their leaflets carries the interesting headline “Down With Poll Tax— Down With All Taxes”, they seem just as obsessed with rioting and other violent behaviour as do their friends from Wildcat. In their issue dealing with the 31 March Trafalgar Square riot, they declared we support the riot 100 percent”

Their view of how riots and anti-Poll Tax demonstrations can bring about socialist consciousness is confused in the extreme. One of their leaflets reproduces two articles side by side. In talking of the Trafalgar Square riot the first one states “we regard such rioting as a positive sign” but is flatly contradicted by the second article which tells us that their group opposes all movements which are based on the acceptance of capitalism and which just want to ‘modify’ it in some way”. The only way to resolve this contradiction would be to argue that the rioters were not interested in the Poll Tax but were rioting against the existence of the wages system, commodity production and other features of capitalism However, we doubt whether even Subversion could seriously argue that this was the case (and even if it was it would still be futile).

What is most striking about both Subversion and Wildcat is that they seem to be looking for “short cuts” to socialism by tagging on to the most extreme examples of working class discontent with particular products of the system. Although they seem reluctant to get involved in such campaigns run by trade unions or left-wing organisations, they are nonetheless in danger of treading the well-worn path towards reformism and single-issue campaigning that the Left have been involved in for decades.

Strategies based on riot and insurrection can play no constructive part in the development of a strong socialist movement. There can be no place for such romanticising of violence when the reality is that the coercive apparatus of the state machine is used to protect the interests of the ruling class. The first act of a socialist majority must be to take this apparatus so that the capitalist class can be dispossessed as peacefully as possible—and the socialist majority will include all sections of the working class—including the police, tax collectors, cameramen, ambulance crews and anybody else who might get in the way of the immature utopian fantasies of groups like Wildcat and Subversion.

Dave Perrin