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Shoplifters of the World Unite

On an individual basis, when you are staring one dumb kid in the face who can’t articulate why he wanted to burn a local shop to the ground, well then, yes, you can say it’s criminal behavior, someone who wasn’t raised properly or a matter of law and order. However, when mass-rioting is seen on a scale the likes of which occurred in England recently, it seems quite obvious that what we’re observing is a widespread social pathology resulting from end-stage capitalism.  From the tepid (and often counter-productive) response of the British government to the riots, one can only conclude that they have completely run out of ideas—or lack the will—to do anything about the root causes of the unrest.

Radical Marxist philosopher Slavoj Žižek writes on on the deeper meaning of England’s riots in the London Review of Books:

Repetition, according to Hegel, plays a crucial role in history: when something happens just once, it may be dismissed as an accident, something that might have been avoided if the situation had been handled differently; but when the same event repeats itself, it is a sign that a deeper historical process is unfolding. When Napoleon lost at Leipzig in 1813, it looked like bad luck; when he lost again at Waterloo, it was clear that his time was over. The same holds for the continuing financial crisis. In September 2008, it was presented by some as an anomaly that could be corrected through better regulations etc; now that signs of a repeated financial meltdown are gathering it is clear that we are dealing with a structural phenomenon.

We are told again and again that we are living through a debt crisis, and that we all have to share the burden and tighten our belts. All, that is, except the (very) rich. The idea of taxing them more is taboo: if we did, the argument runs, the rich would have no incentive to invest, fewer jobs would be created and we would all suffer. The only way to save ourselves from hard times is for the poor to get poorer and the rich to get richer. What should the poor do? What can they do?

Although the riots in the UK were triggered by the suspicious shooting of Mark Duggan, everyone agrees that they express a deeper unease – but of what kind? As with the car burnings in the Paris banlieues in 2005, the UK rioters had no message to deliver. (There is a clear contrast with the massive student demonstrations in November 2010, which also turned to violence. The students were making clear that they rejected the proposed reforms to higher education.) This is why it is difficult to conceive of the UK rioters in Marxist terms, as an instance of the emergence of the revolutionary subject; they fit much better the Hegelian notion of the ‘rabble’, those outside organised social space, who can express their discontent only through ‘irrational’ outbursts of destructive violence – what Hegel called ‘abstract negativity’.

There is an old story about a worker suspected of stealing: every evening, as he leaves the factory, the wheelbarrow he pushes in front of him is carefully inspected. The guards find nothing; it is always empty. Finally, the penny drops: what the worker is stealing are the wheelbarrows themselves. The guards were missing the obvious truth, just as the commentators on the riots have done. We are told that the disintegration of the Communist regimes in the early 1990s signalled the end of ideology: the time of large-scale ideological projects culminating in totalitarian catastrophe was over; we had entered a new era of rational, pragmatic politics. If the commonplace that we live in a post-ideological era is true in any sense, it can be seen in this recent outburst of violence. This was zero-degree protest, a violent action demanding nothing. In their desperate attempt to find meaning in the riots, the sociologists and editorial-writers obfuscated the enigma the riots presented.

The protesters, though underprivileged and de facto socially excluded, weren’t living on the edge of starvation. People in much worse material straits, let alone conditions of physical and ideological oppression, have been able to organise themselves into political forces with clear agendas. The fact that the rioters have no programme is therefore itself a fact to be interpreted: it tells us a great deal about our ideological-political predicament and about the kind of society we inhabit, a society which celebrates choice but in which the only available alternative to enforced democratic consensus is a blind acting out. Opposition to the system can no longer articulate itself in the form of a realistic alternative, or even as a utopian project, but can only take the shape of a meaningless outburst. What is the point of our celebrated freedom of choice when the only choice is between playing by the rules and (self-)destructive violence?

The outright dismissal by many conservative commentators in England that there was ANY political content to the actions of the (supposedly pampered) rioters seemed idiotic to me. AS IF the observation of the mass behavior of thousands upon thousands of underclass young men deciding to burn their neighborhoods to the ground provided not a scrap of data to be interpreted by social scientists? Nonsense!

The liberals in the UK don’t seem to have that much better a grasp of the situation, as Žižek goes on to point out…

Watch for the repetitions. They’re going to be hammering us harder and faster until we start to wise up…

Read the rest of “Shoplifters of the World Unite” by Slavoj Žižek (London Review of Books)

Below, Slavoj Žižek: “What does it mean to be a revolutionary today?” speech from the Marxism 2009 conference.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
DeLoot London: The opposite of a boycott

Rioters may have helped themselves to the inventory of local shops, but DeLoot London wants to help insure that none of them shuts by pointing out to concerned people how they can support these damaged businesses with their purchases. DeLoot London aims to help these small business owners to get back on their feet with the opposite of a boycott:

DeLoot London’s mission is to make sure that not a single shop that was looted during the riots is forced to close. While a small number of people did the damage, we can all help our local, independent businesses recover by spending our money with them.

This map will show you where your money will do the most good. If you know a looted shop that’s not on the map, send details to and we’ll add it. Let’s go shopping, and DeLoot London!

I’m normally not one to try to encourage consumerism, but DeLoot London’s heart is in the right place. Find out more at De-Loot London’s efforts to mitigate the damage of the England riots at their official website.

Thanks, Gabriella Wingådh!

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‘These thugs should be rounded up and thrown in jail’

No one is “pro-rioter” here, but steal a pair of trainers and you’ll get six months jail time.

Destroy the wealth of a nation and you get a Bentley with a driver and a year-end bonus?

The Daily Telegraph’s chief political commentator. Peter Oborne, I thought nailed it, completely fucking nailed it, in his powerful and SANE essay, “The moral decay of our society is as bad at the top as the bottom”:

Yesterday, the veteran Labour MP Gerald Kaufman asked the Prime Minister to consider how these rioters can be “reclaimed” by society. Yes, this is indeed the same Gerald Kaufman who submitted a claim for three months’ expenses totalling £14,301.60, which included £8,865 for a Bang & Olufsen television.

Or take the Salford MP Hazel Blears, who has been loudly calling for draconian action against the looters. I find it very hard to make any kind of ethical distinction between Blears’s expense cheating and tax avoidance, and the straight robbery carried out by the looters.

The Prime Minister showed no sign that he understood that something stank about yesterday’s Commons debate. He spoke of morality, but only as something which applies to the very poor: “We will restore a stronger sense of morality and responsibility – in every town, in every street and in every estate.” He appeared not to grasp that this should apply to the rich and powerful as well.

How’s that for a THWAP to the side of the head of Britain’s ruling elite, eh? It’s hard to believe it’s appearing in an establishment newspaper and not The Daily Worker!

It gets better:

It is not just the feral youth of Tottenham who have forgotten they have duties as well as rights. So have the feral rich of Chelsea and Kensington. A few years ago, my wife and I went to a dinner party in a large house in west London. A security guard prowled along the street outside, and there was much talk of the “north-south divide”, which I took literally for a while until I realised that my hosts were facetiously referring to the difference between those who lived north and south of Kensington High Street.

Most of the people in this very expensive street were every bit as deracinated and cut off from the rest of Britain as the young, unemployed men and women who have caused such terrible damage over the last few days. For them, the repellent Financial Times magazine How to Spend It is a bible. I’d guess that few of them bother to pay British tax if they can avoid it, and that fewer still feel the sense of obligation to society that only a few decades ago came naturally to the wealthy and better off.

Yet we celebrate people who live empty lives like this. A few weeks ago, I noticed an item in a newspaper saying that the business tycoon Sir Richard Branson was thinking of moving his headquarters to Switzerland. This move was represented as a potential blow to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, because it meant less tax revenue.

I couldn’t help thinking that in a sane and decent world such a move would be a blow to Sir Richard, not the Chancellor. People would note that a prominent and wealthy businessman was avoiding British tax and think less of him. Instead, he has a knighthood and is widely feted. The same is true of the brilliant retailer Sir Philip Green. Sir Philip’s businesses could never survive but for Britain’s famous social and political stability, our transport system to shift his goods and our schools to educate his workers.

Yet Sir Philip, who a few years ago sent an extraordinary £1 billion dividend offshore, seems to have little intention of paying for much of this. Why does nobody get angry or hold him culpable? I know that he employs expensive tax lawyers and that everything he does is legal, but he surely faces ethical and moral questions just as much as does a young thug who breaks into one of Sir Philip’s shops and steals from it?

Read more of Peter Oborne’s brilliant editorial “The moral decay of our society is as bad at the top as the bottom” (Telegraph)

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Police breaking down doors for trainers a dumbass photo-op right about now
04:36 pm

Class War

England riots

No matter what your views are on the cause of the riots, the rioters, or even law and order itself, doesn’t sending the police into council estates like vengeful Daleks to do reverse “smash-n-grab” jobs seem like a misguided attempt to restore normalcy to English life?

What do they expect to retrieve a belt, some shirts and few pairs of trainers?

Go back to what you were doing. Everything is under control!

Photo via The Guardian.

Thank you Chris Campion!


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They warned you: ‘There’ll be riots’
11:11 pm

Class War

England riots

This was posted 11 days ago.

Via The Guardian.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment