We warned them what this system based on greed, the economic laws of the jungle and grotesque inequalities of wealth and power could produce – and tragically it has.
Nothing expunges the responsibilities that individuals have to one another. As socialists, we base our ideas and practices on social solidarity and share a morality based on a deep-seated care for our fellow human beings. However, blaming the violence of the riots solely on the actions of individuals misses the main question. It is a useful technique to avoid anyone asking the real question: what sort of system is it that generates such naked violence and disorder? The answer is: one that is corrupt to the core.
Over the last four years, we have seen every pillar of the ruling establishment exposed for its corruption. The MPs’ expenses scandal demonstrated the driving motivation of many in our ruling political elite to grab as much as they can from the public till. Linked to this is the disgusting sight of ex-ministers becoming directors or consultants to companies that they awarded contracts to when they were in office, and ex-prime ministers making multi-millionaire fortunes as they exploit the contacts they made in office.
The banking crisis exposed the City’s greed-driven reckless speculation with the wealth of countries on a scale not witnessed since the 1920s. It wasn’t just the obscene bonuses and irresponsible risk taking with our economies that provoked disgust. It was the way the bankers and their associates in government felt no guilt and were soon reconstructing the casino economy, with their snouts back in the bonus trough.
The economic crisis allowed some limited light to be thrown on the practices of the rich and large corporations, aided and abetted by successive governments of all parties, in avoiding and evading their taxes to the extent of £150 billion a year.
How far our supposedly independent media has been degraded by the Murdoch empire was exposed in the hacking and blagging scandals. Bribe-taking police officers showed that parts of our justice system could simply be bought and sold.
People’s fears and natural revulsion at the violence of the riots have inevitably led to demands for punitive action against the rioters and the strengthening of the state’s powers. The Government is seizing on this for a programme of reactionary measures – but increasingly questions are being asked about the system that allowed this to happen.
People are beginning to see the links between the immorality of the looters in the City and Parliament and the looters on the streets. Just because some wear suits and others hoodies, some press computer keys to rob while others smash windows, doesn’t mean that they are not motivated by the same greed and the same lack of care for the consequences of their actions for the rest of society.
This is an opportunity to explain not just how this society operates but also that there is a viable alternative, and how to go about achieving it. Put simply, that alternative is based upon fundamentally redistributing wealth and power to create a more equal society. It means challenging the corporate power that has created this consumerist society where people are indoctrinated from the moment of birth with a drive to acquisitiveness and where status is linked to the consumer goods you possess.
Confronting the powerful that control this society cannot be successfully done through riot, anarchy and violence but only through political mobilisation and organisation. We are all outsiders in this system. We all share the anger at the grotesque inequality, unfairness, poverty and deprivation produced by this system. More and more now realise that change has to come.
If we are to become effective advocates and agents for real change, we need to examine how we mobilise in our communities and how we link individual struggles and demands into a challenge to the system itself. Some of this activity will be through re-engaging our traditional Labour and trade union organisations more effectively with community and wider social campaigns. Mobilising for the industrial action that will inevitably take place in the coming months gives us that opportunity, as we explain the impact of the Coalition’s cuts on people’s jobs , wages and pensions.
Fighting to protect individual services as cuts continue to be implemented will help highlight the impact of cuts on our local communities. Other forms of activity may be single-issue campaigns that use more edgy direct action techniques, especially to confront any new repressive measures the Coalition seeks to introduce.
Whatever the organisation and whatever form the action takes, now is certainly the time not to be cowed by any backlash against the riots. It is a time for action.
John McDonnell is MP for Hayes & Harlington and Chair of the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs and the Labour Representation Committee.