Summer of Hate
It has been said that you can always spot a Marxist writer by the presence of sentences which, while containing two or more apparently unrelated facts, begin with the words, ‘it is no coincidence that’.
At the risk of confirming this observation, I hope I am not alone in noting the strong links between the various forms of chaos which have broken out in different parts of the world since the beginning of the year.
Uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa.
Civil war in Libya, a war which the imperialist powers then use as a pretext for aerial bombardment and the illegal seizure of Libyan government funds.
Just to the south of the troubled MENA region, in the Horn of Africa, poverty and violence turn to widespread starvation and the rumblings of all-out war.
Just to the north, on the other side of the Mediterranean, people take to the streets to oppose an ‘austerity’ imposed wholly from without, and by powers answerable to no electorate.
Resistance provides the pretext for the hammering of several more nails into the coffin of European democracy, the latest being a proposal from Germany’s economics minister for a European Union Stability Council empowered to impose sanctions on countries that do not adhere to inflexible neoliberal budget discipline and labour market ‘flexibilisation’.
Not only would this council, which would be answerable to no elected bodies or individuals, be empowered to set deficit limits, it would also monitor national legislation, in particular as it affects the labour market, to ensure that it encourages ‘competitivity’ and ‘innovation’.
Democracy, in other words, has at last become history.
While all of this is going on, young men in London, Birmingham and other English cities riot, loot and burn.
In the United States, polls show that Congress has lost the confidence of the vast majority of the population, tired of its antics, its meaningless point-scoring debates which appear to be conducted between people who have as much understanding of economics as the average cockroach, and just about as much compassion.
How are these disparate phenomena connected?
By the virtually globalised feeling amongst working people, the poor, and even many who are neither, that there is nothing they can do to bring about positive change.
Structures which enable people to express their desires and satisfy their needs via democratically elected institutions have all but disappeared from the world.
Now, the only remaining difference between a dictatorship and a nominal democracy is that the latter tends to allow a far higher degree of free speech, freedom of assembly, and individual freedom in general. Yet if none of these things is able to bring about fundamental change, the end product is the same: frustration.
In Britain, for example, peaceful demonstrations against police violence and racism, about the effects of spending cuts on communities, or in pursuit of any aspect of social justice, are routinely ignored by the media. The riots, on the other hand, have produced a reaction, just as they did in the 1980s.
It may kick off with even more heavy-handed policing, and ludicrous platitudes from governments and self-appointed ‘experts’, but once the media have shifted their butterfly attention elsewhere, money begins to be found to address problems. At least, this is what happened after the last major round of riots, in the early 1980s.
The frustration expressed in the rage of the riots is not confined to the young and the poor. Advertising is designed to make young people feel inadequate if they do not possess the means to acquire a particular item of clothing or electronic gewgaw. Looting is, in part, a discovery that they do, in fact, possess these means, although not of the conventional variety.
Advertising is also aimed at other groups in society, but you are not going to see riots of middle aged men looting cardigans, Gardeners’ World videos and Viagra. The residents of my mother’s sheltered accommodation are unlikely to burn the place to the ground, or attack their care assistants with machetes.
As the social state is consigned to history in a wave of destruction that makes Tottenham look like a bout of youthful high spirits, most will simply sigh in frustration. Even those moved to take part in peaceful demonstrations, to write to their MPs or contact their councillors, will simply give up and go home when they discover that they may as well write to Father Christmas for all the notice that will be taken of their concerns.
This does not mean, however, that they do not share the feeling of powerlessness when they turn on their televisions and see that their country is run by crooks and chancers who have no notion of, or feeling for, the lives of those who lack their privileges.
Far from all of our elected representatives answer to this description, of course. Many, though it is certainly a minority, are honestly trying to do their best to improve the lot of those to whom they are, in theory at least, answerable. This no longer makes much difference, however. Our elected representatives have, in most policy areas, no more power than we do to bring about positive change.
Britain may, happily, retain its own currency, but that does not make it immune from the economic dictatorship which has been imposed on virtually the entire world. Those responsible have sown the wind and are now reaping the whirlwind. Unfortunately, so are the rest of us.
And I am afraid – and I mean afraid – that the riots, the uprisings, the repression, the war and starvation of this Summer of Hate are only the beginning of something whose end cannot be foreseen.
Steve McGiffen is Spectrezine’s editor, and writes a monthly column for the Morning Star, where this article first appeared.
The photo, By Adam Tonge, shows the aftermath of a riot in central Manchester.