Analysing last week's riots is going to take a long time. There are such big issues at stake that trying sum up the root causes simply cannot be done in a news report or newspaper article. As a Marxist, when someone asks me my opinion, all I can do is sit down and sigh. It is simply too big for me to do.
And let me take a line from all of the politicians – I'm not making excuses. But when someone says that the riots are “criminal”, a whole series of questions goes through my head, as well as the Daily Mail type answers.
“Why are they acting as criminals?” - “Because of a lack of 'morals'”
“Why do they have no morals?” - “Because they are 'benefit dependants'”
“Why are they benefit dependants?” - “Because they are lazy”
“Why are they lazy” - “Because benefits are too high and they have no work ethic”
“Why has that happened?”
“Why are there so few jobs and so many unemployed?”
“Why has a class of people been created with no stake in society?”
“Why did they steal high end items?”
“Why is there a 'lack of respect'?”
“Ever heard of Marx's theory of the reserve army of the unemployed?”
The riots cannot simply be blamed on poverty, none of the people were starving, but the riots did take place in the most deprived areas of the country. The word alienation has not been used.
But rather than go on about that, it is more interesting to look at the supposed solutions. The Tories are all coming out of the woodwork calling for national service, shutting down parts of the internet during disturbances, closer monitoring of personal communications, increased police powers, water cannon, rubber bullets, using the army, throwing people out of council housing, stopping welfare payments, increased prison sentences, capital punishment, corporal punishment in schools – the list goes on. And these points are made by members of the Labour Party too.
So what we now have is the “middle class”, and especially the “aspiring middle classes”, calling not for far reaching reforms to improve society, but for draconian measures to punish “them” and keep “us” safe. The rioters are either meant to be scared into being good, or locked up if they don't behave.
People are falling into the trap of giving up civil liberties in order to feel safe. Sections of society who usually want to reduce the size of the state, want the law and order end of the state to get much bigger (God knows how we're going to pay for that!). People are blaming others, and won't realise what they are calling for until it personally affects them. These people are playing up to all of the divisions we have in society. And is that not what Marx warned us of? The working class (in the true Marxist sense of the word) is fighting itself. By identifying themselves as “responsible citizens”, as stakeholders within capitalism, people defend the injustices that alienate the lowest sections of society.
Personally I can't think of any better definition of reactionary.