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’

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Comprador Intellectuals in the Education Crisis

It certainly feels as if things are moving quickly in the fight over the thorough-going recomposition of UK higher education. The scale of occupation and student-led resistance has caught many by surprise. The interpretive battle over ‘violence’ may have performed familiar rituals, but the frequency and militancy of what is going on is new and invigorating. The number of occupations is now considerable, and the leadership of the NUS has been forced into support for tactics and strategy they had previously treated as marginalia. How different it looked in the immediate aftermath of the 10 November actions. The early denunciations of militant protest then seemed to foreshadow the enactment of a reformist middle ground. Aaron Porter gave at least one speech in which he appeared to accept that fees were going to be introduced as planned, and sought to move his energies into getting as much included in the £9,000 fee as possible. He mooted such bold objectives as an end to printing costs and a new universities watchdog to ensure value for money. As if to say, ‘we’ve made our point, now let’s go home’.

Last week’s much smaller protest, and its predictable, petty, kettle, seems to have made all the difference. More walk-outs are planned for today, and doubtless more occupations will follow. This has spooked Clegg to new levels of hysteria, warning that opposition to the cuts will themselves scare off the young, and the poor, and those without sufficient sense to make some back-of-the-envelope calculations as to their eventual debt burden. Obviously, this is true in a rather degraded sense of the word, since without sustained action directed at the proposals, many would not realise the scale of changes until they had already been passed. Verily, ignorance is bliss. Meanwhile, ermine-cloaked colleagues in the blue corner are reduced to crying traitor while the imperatives of civic order require ever more draconian shows of strength.

But where are the academics? Continue reading