[Marxism] Carl Finamore on the riots
lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Aug 10 09:19:54 MDT 2011
Counterpunch August 10, 2011
Is London a Harbinger for America?
When is a Riot a Revolt?
By CARL FINAMORE
Several days of unprecedented revolt by the most impoverished
minority-populated neighborhoods of London has shaken the normally
staid and reserved British Estblishment. Prime Minister David
Cameron cut short his Italian vacation in Tuscany to return to the
red-orange glare of a burning city. The prime minister was not the
only one inconvenienced.
In an effort to mobilize16,000 police officers concentrated in
London alone, England's soccer-addicted fans saw their August 10
match against the Netherlands in Wembley stadium canceled.
So, this week at least, after years of ignoring glaring inequality
and injustice, it is safe to say that all of England took notice
of the crowded north London neighborhood of Tottenham and to
similar minority communities in Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool
and Bristol where an explosive, fiery social consciousness has
been rekindled .
Tottenham itself, where events first ignited over the police
killing of an unarmed black youth, is a genuinely multi-cultural
mix of mostly British-born African-Caribbean along with Turkish,
Portuguese, Albanian, Kurdish and Somali peoples reportedly
speaking 300 different languages.
It claims to be the most diverse community in all of Europe but
there is no doubt that most share in common the intense poverty
and the abuse and neglect by the rich and powerful that is all too
London’s current revolt is quite different than the massive
protests in other European capitals and even distinguished from
those in the Middle East.
The poor of Tottenham, however, do share much with their brethren
in the Black and minority communities of North America. Neither
have powerful advocates that are independent of the political
London’s Revolt Forecasts America’s Future?
Traditional community and labor organizations in both Britain and
the United States purporting to represent the working class have
utterly failed these communities and allowed both Downing Street
and Wall St. to impose their most austere policies on these
least-represented amongst us.
“Most of all, it once again exposes the trickery and deceit of
those who aspire to be our leaders. Not a single black 'leader'
has spoken out in defence of the youths. Not one.” Hal Austin
writes in the August 9 CounterPunch. Austin is a Barbadian, living
in London and a leading journalist and social commentator from the
Cannot the same be said in America where, for example, prominent
mational voices mobilizing the oppressed communities to demand
jobs are noticeably absent?
Of course, the British government peddles a different story about
events in Tottenham. Most are echoed by the establishment press.
A typical response came from GlobalPost's London correspondent,
Michael Goldfarb, who was quoted on the PBS NEWSHOUR website as
derisively dismissing the social problems of Tottenham by
commenting that "the tension around [the police killing of the
black youth] got out of hand very quickly, but it was clear almost
from the beginning that this was plain old looting" by mainly
unemployed youth with nothing to do on hot summer nights, he said.
To the extent that this crude opinion is shared by many in
Britain, it only serves to confirm the truth: Tottenham residents
are isolated politically and socially from the rest of British
society, and particularly from the rest of the working class.
Fundamentally, their isolated existence explains the different
form the rebellion took; more akin to a chaotic riot in many
people’s eyes as opposed to the far-better organized massive
upheavals in Madrid, Athens and Cairo that united majority
sections of their population and that, thereby, more easily won
sympathy and admiration throughout the world.
It is important to recall that these same actions ultimately
achieved major support from significant and massive social
organizations that helped define the powerful and effective
character of their protests.
Culpability for the desperate acts in Tottenham is shared by
organizations of the working class that have so profoundly failed
to embrace these communities and offer them the same shared
benefits of organization and same shared status as brothers and
Their organizational and political inclusion early on, I believe,
would have significantly altered, and strengthened, how Tottenham
residents reacted these last few days.
Divided & Disorganized
Attempts during the era of the triumphant civil-rights movement to
politically and socially unite the black community in the United
States were met with government-inspired assassinations and police
terrorism, as documented by revelations contained in the U.S.
government’s COINTELPRO papers.
As a result, beginning in the 1970s, criminal gangs began
replacing FBI-targeted militant organizations like SNCC, CORE,
SCLC, Black Panthers, Young Lords, Brown Berets and numerous other
effective social and political organizations in the communities of
This had a debilitating effect after several decades and results
today in reactions to police brutality and poverty being often
marked by scattered individual acts of frustration and anger.
Protests are sometimes laced with anti-social behavior previously
adopted as survival techniques.
For example, while ostensible political targets such as police
cars and offices were burned in both Tottenham and Cairo, there
was also in the former case, the indiscriminate burning of
buildings and some personal accounts of victimizations that comes
from pent-up rage.
There were other examples of criminal activity and even conflicts
between gangs in the oppressed community of Tottenham that were
also reported. Again, these are a result of decades of
disorganization in the oppressed communities.
These are not excuses, neither are they defenses. It is an
explanation that contains the answer for its resolution: new
organizations must be forged that unite the community around
common social goals and aspirations.
The proliferation of criminal gangs and the utter lack of a
coherent, credible and socially class-conscious leadership is but
another reflection of political and social separation from the
majority of working people.
But this reality and the impact it has on distorting the
communities’ response should not in any way diminish the powerful
and profound social nature of the Tottenham revolt, one deserving
of our full support.
The 1965 Watt’s rebellion in Los Angeles was similarly attacked in
its day as a criminal enterprise but history has now properly
recorded it as a true revolt against poverty and discrimination.
History will also record Tottenham on this honor roll.
The rich and powerful benefit from divisions and rivalries in the
oppressed communities, both in Britain and in the United States.
Arguably, these same forces promote criminalization as a way of
preventing the kind of social unity that could become a powerful
A politically cohesive and united Tottenham is the frightening
specter that certainly haunts the wealthy elite in Britain, even
more than the current very dramatic random acts of outrage.
As for their richer cousins in the United States, the wealthy
elite here are only too well aware of the smoldering embers of
discontent that have been stoked by the same draconian reductions
in jobs and social services that have been adopted in Britain.
These issues affect the majority of Americans and, hopefully, we
learn from Tottenham that a united response is the best response
with no community or section of working people left alone to fend
*Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC); Congress of
Racial Equality (CORE); Southern Leadership Leadership Conference
Carl Finamore is a labor activist living in the BayView Hunters
Point neighborhood of San Francisco where 60% of Black youth are
unemployed. He can be reached at local1781 at yahoo.com
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