So, even if politicians are in denial, the rich aren’t. You may well say, “bollocks, they’re not taking on the ruling class, they’re just destroying their own nest, hurting working class people and small businesses”. I can hear this, just as I can hear the sanctimony in its enunciation. The truth is that riots almost always hurt poor, working class people. There’s no riot that embodies a pure struggle for justice, that is not also partly a self-inflicted wound. There is no riot without looting, without anti-social behaviour, without a mixture of bad motives and bad politics. That still doesn’t mean that the riot doesn’t have a certain political focus; that it doesn’t have consequences for the ability of the ruling class to keep control; that the contest with the police is somehow taking place outside of its usual context of suspicion borne of institutional racism and brutality. The rioters here, whenever they’ve been asked, have made it more than abundantly clear what their motives are - most basically, repaying years of police mistreatment.
Somewhat less on your high horse, you may go on: “but even if there is some sort of mediated logic of political class struggle unfolding here, the rich have nothing to fear as this sort of destruction is at best counterproductive”. That may be correct, though it’s the sort of thing people tend to assume rather than argue for. Major riots in the twentieth century included Soweto, in South Africa, and in US inner cities in the 1960s up to and including the Watts rebellion. Major riots in recent British history have included those in Brixton in 1981, and Broadwater Farm in 1986, as well as the poll tax riots in 1990. It would be foolish to claim that these made no contribution to achieving the objectives of their participants. The fact is that whatever problems riots bring to the communities affected by them - and they’re real, no question - it can’t just be assumed that they’re stupid. The participants may not be glibly articulate, and some of them may be engaging in indefensible behaviour, but they shouldn’t just be written off as mindless, apolitical thugs.
A more sensible assumption, perhaps, is that you have a lot of young people with complex motives - avarice and adventure, sure, but also anger and defiance - some of whom are educated in certain traditions of resistance. For example, The Guardian reporter Paul Lewis (who is worth following on Twitter, by the way) was surprised that Tottenham residents all knew of the IPCC and were very critical of it. This surprise was misplaced. Those who are most likely to suffer police repression, and thus have to make use of complaints procedures, are of course going to be in possession of certain repertoires of knowledge concerning policing and the criminal justice system. They would make it their business to be informed, out of self-defence. I don’t buy the idea that these kids are just clueless about the political background of their oppression. And I think they’re most likely on a learning curve now, as yet undecided as to what wider political conclusions they will draw from all of this. Like it or not, they are now part of the wider ideological crisis, now a key ingredient in the slow-motion collapse of the political leadership. How they see their involvement here, and how their perception changes, long after the smoke has cleared and the empty rhetoric has stopped, should be of some interest.”