August 15th 2011


The Null Device has some interesting thoughts on last week’s London ‘riots’. I think Andrew’s analysis nails it: the wave of stealing and violence may have started as a legitimate protest against a killing by the police, but very soon became an excuse for random looting and violence, and in a way the endgame of ‘Third Way’ neoliberalism — consumers who wouldn’t afford it otherwise stealing the bling (plasma TVs, iPhones, Timberlands) they were taught to want, excercising their ‘freedom’ to “claim back their taxes”, as a looter said in an interview (and as the post is right to point out just reeks of Tea Party rhetoric). All in all, an appaling sequence of events in which people excused themselves with far-right populist utterances, and I’m glad to see that, believing in the news, no exceptions are being made and looters are being tried as the ordinary criminals they acted like.

What I find painful is how yet again a vast number of so-called Leftists seem completely unable to tell their friends from their enemies, and seem to endorse actions motivated by ideas in the opposite ideological end. This “enemy of our enemy” cannot be our friend!, and I find it disgusting when people post dismissive slogans like “bankers are the real looters” as if two wrongs made things right. One can almost imagine certain kinds of leftist cheerleaders being sympathetic for thugs in brown shirts and combat boots smashing the windows of McDonalds restaurants: if we are for anyone or anything against globalization, high finance, etc., where does one draw the line after all? The Left should understand once and for all that there are bad things (such as banks) and there are worse things (like fascism gaining mainstream currency); and self-described leftists should stop feeling so damn pleased about themselves: advertising a sense of moral superiority plugs right into the neoliberal way of thinking.

Looters were no indignados fed up with the corruption and the inherent self-destructivity of capitalism in a globalized world where full employment is no longer possible. The protesters were not like those camped out in southern Europe or Israel. These crave for a Future in which they are able to live as they please, free from the bondage of insecurity — a Future in which they even can even choose to lead ‘boring’ lives like raising a family. The ‘freedom of choice’ offered by neoliberals (i.e. the “competitiveness” between products, say Android or iOS, or Pepsi or Coca-Cola) are completely irrelevant in comparison, even ridiculous. And yet in London there were no misérables stealing bread. Instead they stole bling, and took the opportunity to act on their prejudices, burning down GLBT bookstores, a warehouse full of indie music, and another of antique furniture. Looters were stormtroopers, destroying what they didn’t like: A Clockwork Orange rather than V for Vendetta. And thanks to them, we now have mainsteam talk of Chinese-style Internet censorship in Europe while governments from Lybia to Iran run away with the West’s hypocrisy and stage mock demonstrations in support of those ‘freedom fighters’ with brand-new Nikes. Are these the friends we Socialists* want?

Just to reiterate: the enemy of my enemy is quite often not my friend. Let’s be clear.

* The correct word for American readers is ‘Liberals’. Of course, ‘liberal’ completely changes meaning across the Atlantic, so my own use of ‘neoliberal’ or ‘liberal’ in the post should be interpreted as ‘conservative’ by those in North America. The mind boggles.