Primitive Accumulation; Or, A Virtual Read-In on the London Riots

The blogosphere has a million corners, countless nooks and several large echo-chambers, complete with their own centres of self-congratulatory gravity. All have been aflame over the last week, saturating events, riots and insurgencies with the weight of historical expectation, the political memory of past iteration and the awesome condescension of easy interpretation. Gaps persist: gender and the dynamics of formally opposed masculinities have escaped all but the most cursory attention. It is one paradox of all this profuse commentary that decrying the statements and manifestos of others is the most satisfying and patronising manifesto of all. At its worst, it engages in the fullest of narcissisms (let’s make this about us and the quality of our analysis) whilst proudly displaying its contempt for thought (now is not the time for theory!). And of course, the problems and challenges are real. Much more real than we can face, too real for the sordid postures of moralising (I denounce Satan and all his works!) and liable to stay as real once we paper over them and return to our default settings.

Oh, and I find myself in unsurprising agreement with Joe and Meera (although I think Ken Livingstone’s attempts to make the link to cuts and social marginalisation is more ham-fisted than shameful). Which is all by way of introduction. There are reams to be written on the way the punditocracy and assorted commentariat are deploying (and misapplying) categories of cause, the unstable and multiple uses made of ‘politics’, the questions of historical precedent and historical return, and on and on. Exhaustion at the war of position prevents any such post. Instead, a mix-tape of diagnosis and critique, with both the smooth joins and the subtle dissonances that implies. More useful than a 1,000 faux-fresh words.

—————–

These looters are doing what they’re supposed to; grabbing the goods they see in the shops and can’t buy in a recession. They loot the bling – the sports shoes, gold watches, mobile phones and plasma TVs; and you can recognize the very poor when you see a woman looting potatoes from a corner shop. These acquisitive looters are certainly copying the gold standard of a social contract eroded by and evaporating with the money. These are riots in the cause of consumer goods. Burning and robbing other people’s things is one thing, but soon enough, and with no social cause or justice worth the name, people too become indistinguishable from things: witness the widely-circulated photo of the woman leaping for her life from a burning building; such potential deaths still threaten to bring the house down on top of us. This whole distressing episode began with the police shooting dead a black man in north London they said was a gunman; no evidence he fired a shot, we’re told, but the man was already indistinguishable from his gun.

Gabriel Gbadamosi, ‘The Blazing Light In August’

Continue reading

Reading violence: what’s political about the London riots(?)

To reiterate somewhat, there is a politics to these riots. Panicking, political leaders and many others, have queued up to deny this, labelling it “pure violence,” “criminality, pure and simple“, or “mindless violence“. Over and over again, the distance between the rioters and the ‘community’ or ‘Londoners’ has been set up and reinforced. This is not without some public backing. After all, many Londoners are, rightly, angry, frightened, upset, frustrated, shocked and saddened by the sight of homes and businesses not just smashed but burning voraciously into the night whilst looters showed off their new gear. We were a world away, it seemed, from the specific, dignified, coherent demands for justice being made by Mark Duggan’s family and their supporters. Many asked themselves: what do they want? The answer seemed to be: trainers. What could be political about stealing from Foot Locker?

First things first. This post is not about constructing a narrative of social apologia via moral determinism – i.e. the idea that people couldn’t help themselves, or were bound to do it by their economic status etc. Between this and the ‘mindless violence’ line of argument, there are plenty of fools (sadly many, powerful, wealthy, and in charge of your country) trading in pretty stupid accounts of human behaviour and social causation. Continue reading