Society Without Solidarity

Malik_riots_220x161 Kenan Malik in Eurozine:

In August 2011, smashing up stuff, and stealing it, was what defined the mayhem. In the 1980s, people living in Brixton, Tottenham, Handsworth and Toxteth, in the very places wrecked by the disorders, nevertheless supported the rioters. They recognized that the violence and the destruction were not ends in themselves but part of a necessary challenge to an oppressive system. Today, the fiercest opposition to the rioters comes from those who live in the areas they have trashed. There is real rage in these areas against the orgy of destruction.

Many on the Left, while condemning the riots, argue that they are nevertheless protests against poverty and social exclusion. “Many of the people involved,” the criminologist professor John Pitts suggested, “are likely to have been from low-income, high-unemployment estates, and many, if not most, do not have much of a legitimate future.” Many, such as former London mayor Ken Livingstone, have blamed the riots on the public expenditure cuts introduced by the current Coalition government.

There is little doubt that poverty and joblessness scar large areas of Britain and that the vicious public spending cuts will vastly exacerbate the problem. Tottenham, for instance, where the first riots broke out, is among London's poorest boroughs, with 54 applicants chasing every registered job vacancy. Britain is less equal, in wages, wealth and life chances, than at any time for a century. A map of the London riots matches almost exactly the map of the most deprived areas in London.

And yet, it is difficult to view the rioters simply as members of an “underclass”.