Riots in Britain - The Fruit of Forty Years of Capitalist Crisis

The immediate spark for the riot was the shooting by the Metropolitan police of 29 year old Mark Duggan who was dragged from a minicab and during the struggle with the police was killed, apparently by two shots fired at close range to his head. The police in a statement said that their officers were defending themselves from being shot at by Mark Duggan. This doesn’t tally with reports that the bullet which Duggan was supposed to have fired was a standard police issue. In other words, the usual long, drawn-out obfuscations to protect the police are already under way.

Following Mark Duggan’s death his family organised a protest outside the local police station where they asked to speak to a senior officer regarding the investigation into the shooting. It is reported that their intention was to hold an hour’s silent vigil after which they would then disperse. Far from explaining what had happened, senior officers refused to see them and instead chose to ‘disperse the crowd’, including truncheoning a 16 year old young woman. Protest turned to anger and when two empty police cars were stoned the police launched an outright attack on the gathering.

For now the details of what triggered the riots are not the main issue. The truth is they are an indication of the incipient social collapse that typifies capitalism in its supposedly advanced democratic metropoles today.

Big Society or Little Chance of a Civilised Life?

While it is easy for Labour politicians and their left-wing hangers-on to blame the current round of austerity cuts for the situation everyone (apart from maybe millionaires like Cameron and his crew) knows that anger and frustration have been running high for years as more and more youngsters are excluded from the world of wages and work. Undoubtedly the Con-Dem austerity cuts have only served to intensify and deepen the social chasm which divides the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’. But that chasm cannot be bridged by a few new pool tables in government funded youth clubs. Nor would Labour offer any more serious solution. Labour’s role in propagating the low-pay, flexible economy which has no place for traditional skill training shouldn’t be forgotten, much less the cuts to services which were also carried out under the 1997-2010 Labour government and accepted by the trade unions. Even so, the situation goes back much further than the last Labour government.

Inevitably the present upheaval is being seen as a re-run of the riots of the 1980’s which focused around issues of race discrimination and associated unemployment, social deprivation and police harassment. All these factors remain (e.g. the metropolitan police, under the cover of tackling gun crime, still systematically harass black youths) but the present turmoil is happening after a period of forty years of capitalist crisis in a social environment which is crumbling. Whole generations of the working class have known nothing outside of low wage and precarious employment. A growing part of the permanently unemployed (the so-called under class) are surviving in an increasingly harsh and violent world however they can. Gun crime and knife crime are only one part of this. Life at the bottom of capitalist society is a mirror image of life at the top: everyone out for himself in a ruthless competition to survive and get their hands on money and material wealth, the only symbols of success in this capitalist world.

After the upheavals on the streets in the 1980s the state promoted ‘multi-culturalism’. State money was diverted to Black and Asian areas to finance sticking plaster solutions such as youth centres, language classes and even (in the case of muslim areas) waving visa restrictions for religious teachers to come from the home country to ‘educate’ young people in mosques here. The idea was to keep the ghettoes separate but quiet. Iraq, Afghanistan and the deepening crisis have put paid to all that. As the capitalist crisis deepens the only response it has left to the growing level of social exclusion is to increase the level of repression by the capitalist state.

Meanwhile anyone who protests — be it against a wrongful arrest, against increases in university fees, against austerity measures and pension cuts or simply against the existence of a parasitic monarchy — are liable to be arrested, beaten up or find themselves the subject of a police raid in the small hours. (Recently the Metropolitan police announced that anyone suspected of being an anarchist should be reported to the police, while on the run up to the royal wedding anti-royals were hunted out and arrested.) Increasingly this is the only response that the bourgeoisie can make, even within their nominal form of democracy.

A Communist Perspective

While the right wing press have been busy condemning the riots as simply ‘yobbery’ Labour and the left of capital are more careful about pinning the blame on the youth. Labour MP David Lammy was one of the first to comment. He condemned the violence as being an act that only targeted their own community, followed with the usual appeal for calm. The response of the British SWP has as usual revealed its role on the coat tails of Labour. For instance, while recognising the social and economic causes of the riots their solution is to call for some form of police accountability. As if reforming the police was a matter for a revolutionary organisation supposedly working for the overthrow of capitalism. The police are an integral part of the capitalist state machine whose core purpose is to defend capitalist legality, which in turn exists to defend the right of capitalists to make profits by extorting surplus value from workers.

It is not for communists to condemn the riots. They are a sign of capitalism’s crisis and decay. Neither do we romanticise the riotous act as an effective form of struggle against capitalist exploitation. In the present case the target of the crowd’s anger often appears to be in the main branches of national chain stores where the participants simply break into the stores and take what they can carry. Far from being a liberating form of activity this sort of ‘expropriation’ is simply a reflection of capitalist ideology which sees the strongest taking and keeping whatever possession it has acquired. So long as capitalism continues on its downward spiral of crisis with the rich getting richer and the poorest more and more excluded there will be more and more explosions like these. The race is on for the revival of a really liberating movement of the working class to present an alternative to capitalist barbarism. That movement will be a collective one where workers understand why they are battling against the forces of repression: for no less than the overthrow of the old world order and a completely new world where distribution is based, not on profits for the few, but on direct production to fulfil the needs of everyone. Instead of capitalist parliaments acting as a smokescreen for the real power of money and profit a revolutionary workers’ movement will form councils of recallable delegates who are accountable to those who elect them and whose sole purpose is to introduce a communist mode of production to ensure that all workers’ interests are addressed. In short, unless and until the working class begins to see there is an alternative to capitalism and begins to struggle politically there will be more outbursts from those who have no stake in this society, who have no serious job prospects, who are not enthralled by East Enders and who have no religion to chain them to this world.


This excellent article provides not only a far-seeing analysis of the problem, but also of the solution. What example do unemployed, badly educated, impoverished youth have to follow but that of the bourgeoisie, who have been plundering and looting the whole planet for over two centuries? How dare our rulers be outraged that those who's lives have been ruined in youth, by the capitalist system, and who have no future under it, should take a leaf out of their book, and go in for a bit of looting! When the working class starts fighting back, as a class, having been continually looted by the bourgeoisie for it's entire existence, then "yobbery" will find the right example to follow, and the real fight against capital will begin.


Thanks for your comment which is appreciated. I have deleted the spam which followed (and that also deleted your rightly sarcastic reply to it) as I have done on other threads. As some comrades have already said to us it was interesting to see the panic on the face of the ruling class here in the face of stock market falls and thenthese kids (and many were children especailly in Manchester which along with Liverpool was hit last night) rising from the gutter to seize the commodities capitalism offered but then denied them. The ruling class called on "communities" to rein in the looters but what they forgot was that they destroyed those communities over the last 40 years and have now begun dismantling the social state which has largely filled the gap. The looting offers nothing positive (in fact there would be more positive things to be done in organising local militia against both the state [police] and the looters if and when we had the strength. But that is a discussion...

One of the aspects of this episode is the homogenity of the response. In fact the outpouring of denial that this action has any cause in the political economy pursued by capital is so overstated it is almost like saying nod nod wink wink, the riots were directly caused by austerity/unemployment/lack of educational opportunity/housing costs (the list is long).

Perhaps being over subjective here, but I can't help thinking about my experience of teaching in secondary schools. What a mess. Disorder all day, maybe I saw a bad pole of the spectrum but when I see the youth in the street I can imagine how they passed their time at school.

Not that I want to get reactionary and call for discipline etc, its a lost cause. Capitalism can only produce this lunacy, no point in trying to hold it under a beefed up security apparatus, in school or on the street.

The reality is that the riots and any other social problem that you may mention today is not a mystery, not an inexplicable "pure criminality" corresponding to original sin or human nature or starsigns...but manifestations of capitalist decay, demanding a solution so profound as to overwhelm even those calling for it. We as communists are convinced that the problem of capitalist decay can only escalate, however it manifests itself, but the solution is not one we can present in a document, all we can say is that this frozen moment, this capitalist system has only worse to offer, the future is in the hands of the working class and we will only be able to progress by a practical attempt to transform the world.

I also think it's interesting to note that these series of riots appear to be different from previous riots in the UK which were more focused in their attacks upon the capitalist state. In these riots the emphasis seems to have been on the looting of shops and dispersing before the riot police arrived. There is also the use of blackberries in organising the looting which again shows the usefullness in organising struggle.

While the reasons for the looting is to be found in the exclusion of millions of young urban working class youth we should not see looting as a step towards building a communist movement. The reality is that the capitalist state will be able to contain such actions and will allow them to burn themselves out. Whether any of those involved in the actions will draw the necessary lessons is doubtful.

one final point crossed my mind which is during the 1980 riots the governments of the day put new investment into areas such as Toxteth, Brixton etc however today the abilty of the capitalists to do such a thing is highly unlikely due to the severity of the economic crisis. This means that if no extra funds are available then repression is the only way forward for the bourgeoise especially as the youth are totally disenfranchised from capitalist politics.

After the riots comes the repression with the nastyness that only the bourgeoise is capable of. Not only are those convicted of rioting receiving harsh sentences but also they look as if they will loose their homes and benefits.

All of this is being encouraged by the media to whip up a reactionary climate which will make it easier to justify police repression of Marxist organisations as well as of anarchist based organisations. Of course repression will do nothing to address the causes of the riots but when did the bourgeoise have any interest in doing this but what it will try to do is to create a right wing climate based on reports of communities coming together to clean up after the riots. It's this manic attempt to create this ideological form of community that the bourgeise will try to extend their ideological rule.

I think the banning of the revolutionary left is very possible. Whether that would mark a definitive passage into fascism I do not know, I am not convinced that such a cleas contrast exists between capitalist democracy and fascism.

Spot on article. My mom got work in the 1950s but then employers were more involved in local schools, she had two jobs lined up at 15, without a c.v or recruit consultant in site who today expect perfect people. They say youth cannot read or write and no qualications so they cannot employ them, my mom and dad had qualications and worked full time. Capitalism creates inequality as employers can get more profit from perfect people than the disabled. Why employ a disabled person who can only do certain things rather than a perfect person who can do the job of 4-5 people and save money? Cheers

My parents had no qualications and worked full time. They were not go getters but worked hard when they had to. But money was not everything and family always mattered more. Education is important but kids have been educated with a career focus and everything geared to the capitalist model.

When governments close down this or that website, or control the use of various social media, like Facebook or Twitter, who gets to do the actual technical closedown? It must be workers, mustn't it? We need to reach a point in the development of the class struggle, when workers will be able to refuse orders to close things down, and take control of all this stuff themselves, and for the benefit of the class! When will this be? Is it idealism, wishful thinking, to hope it's soon? And can the revolutionary left actually be banned? This would only focus attention on it. What's more likely is it's ability to communicate will be sabotaged. I think we've more or less got fascism already.

Anonymous is right about how education is geared to capitalism's requirements. But today, even working hard isn't going to solve the system's problems. It's collapsing everywhere. We need to wake up and realize that we the workers can build a new and vastly better society. Even the contribution of disabled folk will be appreciated then. The fact that we're all unequal - that we all have different skills and talents - but we can all contribute to society's improvement, will replace capitalism's need for the "perfect" profit-producing person who can " save money". Save money for who? The capitalist? We won't have money, and we won't be "saving" when we have communism. We'll be working to satisfy human needs.

The capitalist world of today is in a deep systemic crisis where there is no longer an easy road out of. The dreams sold to workers in the post war world of a caring sharing capitalism will be seen to have been an exception to the rule. That whole period 1945-1972 was predicated on reconstruction following the second imperialist world war. What the period was unable to do was to cancel the internal dynamics of a capitalist system which we are seeing re emerge in this current period.

As the crisis of profitability deepens then more repression is needed and this repression needs to be legitimised through a fear of the outsider which is being manafactured today by the idea of feral youths. By creating a great fear tthe bourgeoise hopes to disrupt the forming or a reappearence of a working class identity and a sense of working class solidarity. As Kinglear says the alternative is a communist world where the productive forces is used to repair the damage of a capitalist world and in the process create a world where we all our abilities are given free rein. Where for the first time in human history we will truly be human.

Tomorrow we make a solidarity-action for the British youth in Berlin:

The discussion is in German an English language.

See also:*

and some more on

Just to proof (if there is any need) the silliness of the Bordigists... Just take a look at the critique they have published against our document.

awaiting for an english translation.

Simply stupid and irresponsible.


Thanks for that. Il Programma Comunista could have posted their critiques here. They could have done us the honour of sending them directly to us. I went to post a reply on their site to ther article "False Consciousness" but ... you cannot comment on their articles. This speaks volumes about their internal Stalinist practices and sectarianism.

From a quick read the substance of their so-called critique is that we did not stress that only the formation of the class party can express the true revolutionary consciousness of the working class. What a tremendous insight! We never thought of it! The big question is how to forge that party in the real world. These Bordigist cretins haven't a clue or a practice to be able to do it.

However don't think that they paid any attention to us for the first time ever for anything written in that article. The poor sods must have been combing our articles for weeks for something to attack. It is only because we are now at last translating the works of Damen criticising Bordiga into English that they now seek to discredit us. Sad but true.