California dreaming

Subversion on the class elements of the LA riots of 1992.

When Capitalism is confronted by events which rupture the smooth facade of its peaceful order (the peace of slavery) and challenge the grip of its talons on our bodies and on our minds, it responds in a practised manner.

Just as an act of Class rebellion has two parts - both the physical fight itself and the salutary effect which that has on the consciousness of other proletarians - so is the retaliatory strike of our rulers also twofold.

Firstly, it uses physical force against acts of insurrection, whether they be strikes, riots or anything else. And secondly, the class nature of these struggles these appeals in physical form for solidarity from the rest of the working class - are countered by lies, lies and more lies from the ruling class.

The recent riot in Los Angeles, with its echo in many other U.S. cities, illustrates this well.


First we are told that it was a race riot, blacks attacking whites etc. Then we are shown the acts of "criminals" racial assaults and looting of stores blending together in the image. And finally we are told it was the revolt of an "underclass" which has been left out of the prosperity enjoyed by "most Americans". Lies, lies and more lies.

What started on the night of Wednesday 29 April was an explosion of class anger such as happens all too rarely. The acquittal of a bunch of racist pigs of a crime which had been recorded for all the world to see was merely spark for a generalised class action by working class people of all colours. Starting with the attack on the police station and proceeding to the looting of everything food and other basic necessities to things such as televisions, our class fought back against the system which oppresses it. Workers everywhere should applaud this resistance.

However, this "carnival of the oppressed" had a goodly share of gatecrashers.


Riots, whatever their cause, often attract anti-social elements who swarm in like flies to a plate of uncovered food. The two major drug gangs, the Bloods and the Crips, have always been just as much an enemy of working class interests as the Police - their endless bloody conflict has taken vast number of lives, both their own members and innocent bystanders.

In the L.A. riot, these murderous gangs declared a truce, so they could devote their energies to participating in the riot. Not, of course, from a working class standpoint, but from an ethnic (anti-white and anti-Korean) and from a business standpoint - they have put forward a joint programme of reconstruction of their neighbourhood involving a partnership between themselves, the state and business interests. If you didn't already know it, this must convince you that the gangs are just another part of Capitalism - if anything came of these plans, the drug gangs would simply be an extra tier of the state machine. The participation of these gangs in the riot was the participation of a faction of capitalism fighting for its own sectional interests.

What the presence of the gangs shows, together with that of other anti-social elements including a definite racist element (which overlaps with the gang element), both against whites and against Koreans, is this: rather than ONE riot there were really TWO riots which took place simultaneously - the class riot and the "anti-social riot/pro-capitalist riot" which was parasitical on it.


A similar confusion, a similar distinction between positive and negative elements exists in many social movements - a typical strike, for instance, will be imbued with Trade Union ideas which merely aim to reform Capitalism. An example is the 1984-85 Miners' Strike. Central to the NUM's strategy was the "Plan for Coal" which was an alternative way of running Capitalism "in the Miners' interest". This reactionary nonsense existed alongside a genuine class-struggle element.


For revolutionaries it is CRUCIAL to differentiate between the class element and the reactionary element in all such cases. despite the capitalist media, both left and right, which will always try to merge the two parts into a single "phenomenon". The presence of counterrevolutionary, pro- capitalist organisations (whether the Bloods, the Crips or the NUM) alongside workers engaged in class struggle. And indeed the presence of confused ideas in the minds of many of the workers involved, must not be allowed to muddy the issue. Revolutionaries take a clear, uncompromising stance - we support ONLY the class element and oppose the reactionary element.

Aside from the attempts of the media to clothe the L.A. class rebellion in the anti-social garb of its "parasite- riot", they also tried the other tack of using the "underclass" theory.


According to this, the bulk of working class people are not, in fact, working class at all but middle class. Below the middle class is a small, impoverished, chronically unemployed class called the underclass. They it was who were responsible for the riot, so even if it was a class rebellion, the story goes, it has nothing to do with most workers, who are middle class in any case.

This theory is of course reactionary garbage. The working class is a single class united by its position in society of possessing nothing but its ability to work. Some workers may earn more than others but they are still powerless in any real sense power is exclusively in the hands of the owners of society's wealth, the controllers of the state machine, namely, the capitalist class.

This divisive nonsense about an underclass is peddled not only by the capitalist mainstream but by the Left - this is but one example of the way the Left acts in practise as just another part of capitalism.


We said a couple of sentences ago that the working class is powerless. This is true in everyday life, but there is one situation in which workers DO have power - when they engage in class struggle.

A riot is not a revolution. Nor, for that matter, is a strike. We have a long way to go, but the Future develops out of the Present, and great struggles develop out of small ones. The L.A. riot is one of a number of signs of increasing class struggle from around the world in recent months. Let us take heart from it.

I'd be safe and warm if I was in LA.
California dreaming on such a winter's day.