[Marxism] Carl Finamore on the riots

Louis Proyect 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?


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 
black community.

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 
the oppressed.

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 
political force.

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 
for themselves.

*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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