A piece written shortly before the London riots, made far more relevant by them, and now with a small post-riot introduction.
2011 London Riots Introduction
London's recent spell of rioting was a spontaneous and of incoherent outburst of rage, disaffection, alienation, boredom and frustrated desire. It was a badly-articulated manifestation of generalised discontent. A rebellion without a cause, a protest without a demand, a symptom of a society characterised by structural violence and an institutionalised, legalised looting' that hides behind a PR-managed mask of respectability and 'good business practice'.
Britain's feral youth, some have said, have taken the ethic of neo-liberal consumer-capitalism to its logical conclusion. You are defined by what you own, greed is good, we're all very relaxed about getting filthy rich and success is measured in Pound Sterling. Maybe this was less an insurrectionary moment than it was a gross exhibition of selfish individualism and nihilistic retail therapy gone wrong. Maybe it's because of bankers bonuses. Maybe it's because of the Conservative's austerity budget. Maybe it's because of cuts to the Metropolitan Police. The predictable New Statesman/Guardian/left-liberal-blogger routine.
Let the looters have what is usually denied them. Even if it's a well-marketed gadget that never really soothes an insatiable false need. Let them take their pick of all the goods in all the shops that pay them poverty wages to sell over-priced, sweatshop sportswear to people who are deluded enough to pay for it. Let them take advertising for its word. Advertising promises everything in abstraction and now the looters will take it in reality; shitting on the commodity-form, subverting it, refusing its exchange value, destroying its status as a commodity and devalorising the whole hierarchy of commodity production.
They're right when they say we have a complete disregard for authority. We hate the police and our teachers and they hate us. We'd rather live a life of crime than stack shelves or work behind a till for a mini-Hitler manager. We certainly don't have any respect or any role models either. This is what scares them. A protest with a purpose can be contained with a small capitulation. A strike can be ended with an above-inflation pay increase. The trade union movement is happy enough to plod around decrying 'the cuts' but they're pretty much happy with paternalistic welfarist capitalism as it is. The socialists can be contained as they mainly just sell papers and argue with each other. But the youth on the streets of London, Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham were expressing a rejection of everything in its totality. A whole superstructure that separates them, alienates them, stop-searches them, denies them a future, a stake and a hope as they watch suited gobshites talk about hugging hoodies and big societies in the same breath as closing job-centres and scrapping EMA. They have no leaders, no platform, no program and this is what makes them dangerous. It is a phenomenon that cannot be controlled or contained and that will continue to grow.
Burning cars and looting a JD sports wont bring down capitalism. But this wave of violence proves once again the radical revolutionary potential of the feared 'delinquents'.
Teds, Mods & Rockers: Rebels Without a Cause
Things they do look awful c-c-cold,
I hope I die before I get old!
-The Who, My Generation
What is it that constitutes a 'revolutionary' group? For Marx, it was the urban-industrial proletariat who represented the most revolutionary sector in society, who would, owing to the inevitable crises of overproduction and under-consumption that plague capitalism, rise up against the bourgeoisie, instigating a workers' revolt that would establish a classless society based on common ownership of the means of production – the dictatorship of the proletariat. Is it possible to conceive of young people's rebellions against their families and schools, or juvenile delinquency and antisocial behaviour in the same terms? Whilst they do represent an unwillingness of young people to conform, to kowtow to authority and accept the social norms imposed on them by the older generation, can we think of these manifestations of teenage angst as a real threat to the status quo? Young people are keen to assert their own identities and express themselves collectively, and their entry into the adult world is often a turbulent process, but is this consistent reluctance to obey, accept authority and 'mature' a truly radical tendency, and do these aspects of juvenile delinquency correspond to a genuine – conscious or unconscious - desire for revolutionary transformation and change.
Juvenile delinquency is not a recent phenomenon. Since the so-called 'birth of democracy' and 'Western civilisation' in Ancient Greece, where Socrates was executed by drinking poison hemlock for corrupting the Athenian youth - challenging them to question the legitimacy of the 'gods of state' - the authorities have seen youthful rebellion and nonconformity as a direct threat to their rule. In 5th century Athens, Alcibiades and a gang of drunken youths mutilated and vandalised the statues of the Hermai in protest against the conquest of Sicily. Each successive generation seems to acquire its own brand of, 'feral youth' that exemplifies the supposed, 'moral decline' of their particular era, refusing to comply with the wishes of their parents, teachers or lawmakers, and often reacting violently against the social mores and expectations of society. The decades after World War Two saw the, 'birth of the teenager' as a distinct social category, as we witnessed major social changes and new cultural (and countercultural) movements that confronted the repressive conventions and conservative orthodoxies of mainstream society. Invariably it was the young who were at the vanguards of these movements that not only had a radical impact on trends in music, art, fashion and popular culture, but also on the political climate and prevailing political attitudes, as they embarked on personal rebellions against the Establishment and the conventions and traditions of the older generations. Whether consciously or not, juvenile delinquency is a political tendency, the delinquents themselves are products of a socio-economic system – their actions are manifestations of intense disenchantment, apathy, angst, alienation, rage and the desire for freedom, individuality and a sense of belonging. We will argue that the phenomenon of juvenile delinquency cannot be fully explained with recourse to the study of biological and hormonal changes in adolescents. For it to be interpreted properly, we need to place the various tendencies in youth movements and delinquent behaviour in their social contexts, understanding adolescence as that specific period in which humans are expected adjust and adapt to the adult world, we are expected to 'mature' and make our peace with authority; enter the jobs market, behave in school, or pursue some career or academic discipline – in effect, to yield to the prevailing political, economic and social arrangement and assume a position as a productive member of society. The latter half of the twentieth century and the early years of the new millennium are littered with examples of insurgent youth, hounded by a hysterical tabloid press and derided by politicians and the older generations, from the teddy boys, mods, rockers, ravers and punks to hippies, 'chavs' and rude boys, each instil a lasting image of a dangerous mob in a conflict with the mainstream, spurning its values and existing outside the boundaries of respectability.
The 'Teddy Boys' of the 1950s and the 'Mods' of the sixties were drawn predominantly from working class backgrounds, but subverted their predetermined class status with an extroverted fashion sense that mimicked the upper-middle-class Edwardian style and the image of the finely-dressed Italian hipster, respectively. Both groups transformed personal style into a sort of performance art, demonstrating both a desire to 'buy' status and a conspicuous display of wealth that contradicted their actual social position, but also a celebration of difference and the excluded working-class youth, symbolising, 'a subculture which was in some way against the current mode of embourgeoisement and achievement', that subverted traditional notions of class and rejected all the preordained models which they were meant to respect and adhere to. 'Their emergence coincided with post-war 'reconstruction' and also with the consumer invention of 'teenage',' the growth of advertising, mass-marketing and a burgeoning popular music scene which specifically targeted adolescents and popularised the image of the teenage rebel. 'The 'Teddy Boy' expropriation of an upper class style of dress 'covers' the gap between largely manual, unskilled, near-lumpen, real careers and life-chances, and the 'all-dressed-up-and-nowhere-to-go' experience of Saturday evening' - what Ted fashion expressed, was a desire to break free from the suffocating and deeply-entrenched class system of post-war austerity Britain – it was in effect, a way of compensating for their real economic status and subverting the idea of social mobility and class with an appropriation of upper class, 'chic' fashion. The Teds and the Mods were the products of a new consumer-capitalism, the symptoms of a class society which offered few prospects and opportunities for the working-classes, still less for unskilled workers who had little or no chance of climbing the social ladder, all whilst politicians engaged in self-congratulatory praise about how Britons had, 'never had it so good.' These youth were disenchanted with a society that was not of their making, characterised by lack of opportunity, thwarted aspiration and broken promises. Subcultures provided an anger outlet, a sense of belonging and a break from the mundane to youths who were unimpressed with the guarantees of teachers, politicians, Keynesian social democracy, false meritocracy and a paternalistic welfare state that only ensured everyone had the right to sell themselves on the labour market, ingratiate themselves into the world of work, embracing a boss for life as quickly as you find a job for life, and refusing to be contented with a right to basic survival in a society which obstructs the desire to live.
When Blackboard Jungle - the story of an American inner-city school in which anti-social pupils terrorise their teachers – was shown in an Elephant and Castle cinema, the teenage Teddy Boy audience rioted, tearing up seats and dancing in the cinema aisles. Subsequently, riots broke out wherever the film was shown. The young audiences found in the film an affirmation of their discontent, they identified with the confused anger of the film's protagonists and saw, in the character's shared indignation with society, a vindication for their own disobedience: 'The fights and the cinema riots, the gang-bangs an haphazard vandalism were produced by a claustrophobic situation. They were the result of a society which still held that the middle classes were entitled not only to impose moral standards on a class whose way of life was totally outside its experience; of an older generation who used the accident of war as their excuse to lay down the law on every front; of a system of education which denied any creative potential and led to dead-end jobs and obligatory conscription; of a grey colourless shabby world where good boys played ping pong.' These incoherent outbursts of violence against property, police and rival gangs encapsulated the exasperation of a generation that lacked a solid analysis of their own condition. The Mods and Rockers that caused havoc with pitched street battles in seaside resorts across England were in a generalised sense, apolitical, but their provocations, the explosions of 'mindless' violence that they initiated, their petty crimes, shoplifting and vandalism were matched by an awareness of the skewed structures of capitalism and a vitriolic hatred of bourgeois society and middle class suburban values. Shoplifting and stealing from employers was commonplace, justified by the attitude that, to quote one East London teenager in 1966, 'No matter what you do, if you're making something on the side, the governor's making more.' Not possessing a coherent strategy for change, and not knowing particularly what change they wanted, they defined themselves by what they were against, rather than what they were for. Shunning the authority of the family, school, policeman and employer, juvenile delinquents exist outside the democratic process, they are rejected and disenfranchised, existing on the margins of society, avoiding permanent employment and, certainly in the case of the Teddy Boys, revelling in the image of, 'the outlaw, living on his wits with no real visible means of support.' It is here that the revolutionary potential of wayward youth and juvenile delinquents in most evident. They make up a social group that chooses a life of petty crime over paid labour, that refuses to be pacified, that is not content to live the life of their parents, to take the up the role of obedient worker, passive consumer or docile body. Despite their lack of analysis, organisation or political awareness, the basis for their anger is irrefutable, their nonconformity a reaction against the status quo: 'All these movements can be seen as the groping of youth towards explosive self-expression and show that young people are not content simply to become the well ground sand in the joints of a crumbling, oppressive, adult-delinquent society. They are expressive both of consumption-crazed society and of rebellion against corrupted mores; both a visible and audible symbol of a society whose effusions, institutions and attitudes are hopelessly disoriented and no longer completely intelligible to anyone.'
Youth Movements of the 1960s: Rebellious Youth and Delinquents Get Political
The old get old and the young get stronger,
May take a week and it may take longer,
They got the guns... But we got the numbers!
-The Doors, Five To One
What the Teddy Boys, Mods, Ton-up Kids and Rockers exemplified was a search for identity. Their lifestyle and actions were disparate clutches for something different, temporary displays of individuality and assertions of power; their anger wasn't properly channelled, their violence was misdirected, seemingly random and they lacked a real agenda for permanent social change or effective action against a system which stifled their creativity, desires and potential. It wasn't until the late nineteen sixties, with the emergence of a new youth subculture, the 'hippies', that wayward youth expressed itself politically, directly confronting the structures of late capitalist society and positioning themselves against political and economic elites. The baby-boomers were the first example of a post-war generation whose youthful revolts and counterculture found inspiration in radical revolutionary theory. Their adoption of a political strategy and libertarian, utopian values separated their rebellion from the chaotic, incoherent revolts of the Teds, Mods, and Rockers. The nineteen-sixties was a decade of huge significance in terms of cultural and social change. In the US, in the climate of the Vietnam War, the hippies – like their precursor's, 'the beatniks' - embarked upon rebellious voyages of self-discovery, rejecting the views and the moral order of mainstream society, dodging the draft and organising communes, rock festivals, love-ins, be-ins and sit-ins. To fully realise its radical potential, 'Dissident youth must achieve the coherence of a critical theory, and the practical organization of that coherence.' The 'dissident youth' of the sixties had been politicised and had found an aim – the revolutionary overthrow of bourgeois society.
In the Netherlands, an anarchist youth movement emerged in the mid nineteen-sixties that was heavily influenced by the ideas of Herbert Marcuse, the Frankfurt School and its neo-Marxist or New Left philosophy. It was compromised of young people who had voluntarily made themselves outsiders, who relished any opportunity to defy the state authorities, and celebrated an alternative, and often criminal, lifestyle. The 'Provo' movement was made up of young, utopian and creative people, united in their desire to provoke the established order, and especially the police - the most obvious and vivid symbols of authority, coercion and the state - into direct conflict with their provocative direct actions. Like Marcuse, these young agitators wanted to extinguish any old notions that the 'proletariat' were the only vehicles for radical social change, instead proposing that a new 'provotariat' would take the baton of revolution away from the now-assimilated and relatively conservative 'working-classes'. '“The people”, previously the ferment of social change have “moved up” to become the ferment of social cohesion... However, underneath the conservative popular base is the substratum of the outcasts and outsiders... the unemployed and the unemployable. They exist outside the democratic process...thus their opposition is revolutionary even if their consciousness is not.' Marcuse was part of the Frankfurt School, an essentially Marxist grouping of philosophers and theoreticians that revised Marx's philosophy and made an attempt to separate the ideas of Marx from their degenerate manifestations of Stalinism and authoritarian state-socialism in the Eastern Bloc and elsewhere. Marcuse and his counterparts, espoused a libertarian, individualistic and humanistic critique of Marx, bringing his ideas up to date with the present day, the status quo of advanced industrial and even post-industrial capitalism. The works of Marcuse guided the philosophy and practice of many of the youth movements of the sixties, not least the Provos, who were enthralled by his radical views on representative democracy and consumerism; 'Free election of masters does not abolish the masters or the slaves. Free choice among a wide variety of goods and services does not signify freedom if these goods and services sustain social controls over a life of toil and fear – that is, if they sustain alienation.' Marcuse's damning indictment of the limits of capitalist representative democracy predictably struck a chord with disenfranchised youth who felt that the material improvements of the post-war decades did not correspond to increases happiness or freedom. The Provo movement of 'hippies, drop-out students and disaffected young' were undoubtedly enthused by Marcuse's contention with the 'old left', with whom they found it difficult to identify; their semi-religious faith in a coming cataclysmic crisis to spur 'the masses' into revolution; their irrepressible belief in bureaucratic institutions and organisations making reformist demands for quantitative rather than qualitative change; their tendency to dismiss those seeking individual freedom and autonomy as petit-bourgeois or even counter-revolutionary. These young people were self-consciously anarchist in their outlook, and Marcuse's texts provided them with a philosophical and theoretical framework for understanding the current situation and their own potential and the means for transforming these theories into collective action. They took direct action against the Dutch state, attempting to build a 'new society in the shell of the old.' With a focus on environmental issues, they tried to counteract the effect of the private automobile by leaving free communal white bicycles all over Amsterdam, which were promptly confiscated by the Dutch police. On the occasion of an unpopular Royal wedding of a former Hitler Youth member and Princess Beatrix of the Netherlands, the Provos released smoke grenades and threw anti-monarchist leaflets into the Royal boat from a bridge, after which a riot broke out. They encouraged and promoted the establishment of communes and squats, setting up their own micro-society which they named the 'Orange Free State', running it along anarchist lines and principles of self-management. They did not expect anything of the state or its agents and made no demands of central government, instead believing it was more effective and far more empowering to take matters into their own hands, instigating mini-revolutions and creating micro-utopias that would inspire and provoke the actions of others. They were not waiting for the new society to fall into their laps, but willing to build it for themselves, they were, 'the first supersession of delinquency – the organisation of its first political form. They are an alliance of two distinct elements: a handful of careerists from the degenerate world of "art," and a mass of young rebels in search of self-expression...The delinquents had nothing to offer but the violence of their rebellion.'
The upheavals of the nineteen sixties, the American civil rights movement, the peace movement, and the clambering of rebellious youth for an alternative society, reached its climax in the events of May 1968, when the students and youth of Paris, accompanied by working class gangs of blousons noirs from the suburban banlieues, and supported by large sections of the French proletariat, launched waves of occupations and strikes against the government, rioting and setting up barricades and workers' councils all over the country and bringing France to a standstill with a ten million strong wildcat general strike. The political establishment immediately condemned their actions, with the French Communist Party labelling the hordes of mutinous youth as 'petty-bourgeois individualists' and 'counter-revolutionaries', whilst trying to calm this popular outburst of discontent, displays of liberation and riotous self-expression by compromising with the state and employers for higher wages, better pensions and reformist concessions.
The events of May 1968 in Paris were a culmination of a period of major social upheaval and near-total insurrection that couldn't be contained by the structures of authority on either the left or right. The ruling government of de Gaulle was presiding over a period of relative economic stability and high levels of consumer spending; post-war France was, in material terms, in the middle of an economic 'boom'. And yet, the young 'baby-boomer' generation, despite their supposed affluence, were particularly attracted to the radical and revolutionary ideas of Maoism, anarchism and the Situationist International, turning their backs on the perceived backwardness and conservatism of the bureaucratic institutions of the Established, pseudo-revolutionary 'left'; General Confederation of Labour (CGT) and it's close affiliate, the Stalinist French Communist Party (PCF). The uprising of nineteen sixty-eight was a new social movement of young people, 'delinquents' (the blousons noirs were teenaged motor-cycle gangs from the suburbs), school-students from the lycée and young workers united against the system as a whole, not for or against any single issue or conciliatory, placating reform, but in favour of a total break with the past – a radical and complete overhaul that obliterated the status quo in its totality. Many of the Parisian youth were influenced by the ideas of the Situationist International. The situationists, fronted by the eccentric iconoclast, Guy Debord, offered a radical new vision of society and the individual that drew massive inspiration from the libertarian ethic of anarchism, the self-fulfilling and empowering philosophy of Nietzsche and the early works of Marx that focused attention on theories of alienation, reification and commodity fetishism. Situationist pamphlets such as On the Poverty of Student Life, their emphasis on play and the creation of new situations (as opposed to the passive consumption of other people's) attracted a generation of young people who were alienated, angry and incredulous towards political authority and the outdated education system of France. Debord and his intellectual associates were critical of the prevailing ultra-materialistic 'mass culture' of capitalism and it's consumerist logic. A situationist cartoon once described culture as, 'the ideal commodity – the one which helps sell all the others!' Situationist texts were scathing towards all ideologies and their obedient adherents, and believed in no authority other than that of the individual over himself, instead envisioning a society of 'masters without slaves.' Advanced industrial capitalist society was dominated by what the situationists called 'the Spectacle'; 'the ruling order's non-stop discourse about itself, it's never-ending monologue of self-praise,' which, 'leaves no room for reply.' The Spectacle had replaced actually-lived experience with spectacular appearances and imitation; 'Everything that was directly lived has receded into representation.' Consumption masquerades as participation and alienation, separation and generalised boredom have become the hallmarks of a society in which relations between people are, 'mediated by images.' The security guaranteed by welfare-statist social-democratic capitalism was - according to the SI collective of avant-garde artists, film-makers, architects and intellectuals - a conciliatory measure to ameliorate the symptoms of exploitation in, 'a world in which the guarantee that we will not die of starvation entails the risk of dying of boredom.'The start of the first wildcat general strike in history, inspired by the youth revolt, reflected a mood of total indignation towards both industry and government bosses and the trade union and party old guard, who tried to contain this spontaneous outbreak of militancy by trying to transform it into a pacifying demand for higher wages and better conditions. The PCF, perhaps quite rightly, regarded the young rebels as anarchists and adventurers. The one-day strike called by the CGT did little to quash the surge in wildcat action, occupations, acts of sabotage and establishment of workers' councils and 'popular action committees' all over France, as the mood of the Parisian youth was expressed in graffiti daubing Parisian walls; 'We will ask nothing. We will demand nothing. We will take, occupy... Travailleur : tu as 18 ans mais ton syndicat est de l'autre siècle. (Worker: You are 18, but your union is from another century)... Commute, work, commute, sleep... Run Comrade! The old world is behind you!'
In the United States, in the political climate of the Vietnam War and black Civil Rights movement, a new youth movement and subculture, the 'hippies' – like their precursor's, the intellectual 'beatniks' - launched on rebellious voyages of self-discovery, rejecting the conventions and orthodoxies of mainstream society, dodging the draft, avoiding conscription and organising communes, rock-festivals love-ins, be-ins and sit-ins. The youth movements of the sixties strove to replace the morally conservative and often religious values of their parents with a new, mystical 'spirituality' and individualism that emphasised the importance of play, creativity, and love; 'Creativity, love and play are to life what the needs for nourishment and shelter are for survival.' Embracing androgyny and preaching sexual liberation, growing their hair, taking drugs and wearing embracing a unique extroverted dress sense, the youth of the counter-culture embarked on a sort of experiment in individualist 'lifestyle anarchism' that worried the establishment. In his essay 'Listen, Marxist!', the anarcho-communist, Murray Bookchin commented that, 'The most promising development in the factories today is the emergence of young workers who smoke pot, fuck off on their jobs, drift into and out of factories, grow long or longish hair, demand more leisure time rather than pay, steal, harass all authority figures, go on wildcats, and turn on their fellow workers.' Bookchin saw the emergence of this youth movement as an exciting and potentially revolutionary development. In the swathes of young people that filled the fields of Woodstock he saw a vast multitude of prospective rebels, a newly emerging 'class' that would become revolutionary only, 'to the degree that (they) shed (their) class status and achieve an un-class consciousness.' Murray's brand of 'post-scarcity anarchism' sought to expel the 'myth of the proletariat' that held onto the old notions of the 'vanguard party' and the proletariat as the only revolutionary class, instead asserting that it was precisely this outdated notion of 'the proletariat', the romanticisation of labour and the quasi-mythologised image of 'the worker' that bound the working-classes to their status as a workers, and thus bound them to their place in society. It would be those who renounced these old ideas and preconceptions, 'consumerism, suburbia and a bookkeeping conception of life', that would assert themselves as true revolutionaries, and to this end he invested his hope in the new unkempt, delinquent, feral youth of the 1960s; those existing outside of the system, transcending notions of class and visibly rejecting domination in all its forms.
Out of the youth movements of the sixties sprung many organisations that took their message of absolute liberation to the streets with a mature political philosophy. Anti-war and civil rights demonstrations were attended by thousands of young people, and the counter-cultures' message of free love and equality gave rise to 'second-wave feminism' which addressed the de facto inequalities and position of women in liberal-democratic capitalist society. These drop-outs, refuse-niks and work-shy young delinquents, employed radical and anarchic rhetoric to great effect. The 'Yippies' used political pranks and 'symbolic politics' to spread their anarchist message. They had no formal membership, hierarchy or organisational structure, but several of them gained celebrity status when they were charged with conspiracy, planning to make incendiary devices and incitement to riot outside the 1968 Democratic Party National Convention in Chicago. They hoped to co-ordinate a 'Festival of Life' to counter the Democratic Party's so-called, 'Convention of Death', a temporary commune (or Temporary Autonomous Zone) that would host music, theatrics and political stunts that were designed to highlight the absurdity of the convention and mock the status-quo whilst the Party meeting went on just down the road. The ensuing riot shut down the short-lived festival and eclipsed the nomination of the Democratic national candidate in the media. For the Yippies this was a major propaganda coup, giving airtime to their ideas and turning public opinion against a police force that was all too happy to use tear gas and baton charges against young, peaceful protesters. Amongst them was the middle-class tearaway, Jerry Rubin, who had declared that, 'After the revolution there will be no more jails, no courts, or police. The White House will become a crash pad for anybody without a place to stay in Washington. The world will be one big commune with free food and housing, everything shared... There will be no more schools or churches because the entire world will become one church and school.' Their philosophy was a cross-fertilisation of the hippy movement, anarchism and the ideas of the New Left – with more than a playful nod to Bakunin's 'propaganda of the deed'. Abbie Hoffman published 'Steal this Book', an instruction manual for radical social change which gave advice to shoplifters, rioters, bomb-makers and drug-takers such as, 'Avoid all needle drugs – the only dope worth shooting is Richard Nixon.' But the radicalism of the yippies was not matched throughout the wider counter-culture movement. The movement dwindled once it was absorbed into the mainstream, integrated into the 'Spectacle', and became more of a fashion statement and 'chic' lifestyle than an act of youthful revolt – even Jerry Rubin went on to regret his wild days as a young activist and became a successful entrepreneur in the Apple Corporation. The transformation of rebellious sub-cultures and counter-cultures into everyday trends and consumer choices demonstrates capitalism's ability to adapt, evolve and to degrade even the most radical and well-meaning movements and ideas by integrating them into its market. However, the youth and counter-culture movements of the 1960s brought attention to alternative ways of living, thinking and to systems of domination and social control, and created what David Harvey might call, 'spaces of hope' or what Hakim Bey might call, 'Temporary Autonomous Zones', which did challenge the political establishment and provided actually living examples of revolutionary alternatives to commodity-capitalism. These movements were the work of outcasts, 'freaks' and young delinquents who preferred to, 'go without, borrow, improvise or steal rather than work, and refused to uphold the morals and standards of the bourgeois society in which they lived.
Don't Know What I Want But I Know How To Get It!
'Noooo Future... No Future... No Future... For You!'
-Sex Pistols, Anarchy in the U.K.
The nineteen-seventies saw the arrival of the skinhead and punk scenes, two proudly nihilistic and antagonistic youth subcultures, the former celebrating an extremely warped interpretation of traditional, conservative working-class values, openly declaring war, 'against pollution, the filth of hippies (unwashed and lazy), immigrants (dirty and lowering the respectability of the district) and homosexuals (corrupt and vicious),' and engaging in violence on football terraces and in the streets, protecting their territories from, 'anyone who screws (looks at) us, Pakis, students and queers,' as well as rival skinhead gangs from the wrong postcodes. The skinheads were made up of working-class teenagers, many of whom, according to an empirical study, 'had been rejected from school, and... in unguarded moments revealed damaged self-esteem.' Skinhead gangs provided these young people, whom the education system had failed, with an exceptional feeling of power, place and belonging in close-knit groups with intense internal loyalty, an outlet for their anger and aggression which was taken out against the perceived, 'morally bankrupt' (essentially the visibly different) elements in society. The skinheads represented a clear set of values and structures that were a backlash against aspiration, change and upward social mobility, celebrating an 'idealised' image of the working-class male, staunchly masculine and violently aggressive, the upholders of traditional values and moral standards – giving young working-class males a compensatory role for their failures in school – a vilification of their 'failed' status (academic achievement is for 'the students' and 'the queers'); skinhead culture is an extreme reaction against an education system that failed many working class kids and against the prevailing middle-class-liberal attitudes that alienated the disaffected, ignored sections of society, the new 'lumpen' and the so-called 'underclass'. Membership of a skinhead gang afforded many disenfranchised and powerless young people - who had been cast aside to the underbelly of society - a sense of power, importance and authority, albeit the crude and primitive power that comes with violence and attacks against 'outsiders'. What the skinheads exemplified was the extent to which many working class youth had been alienated and excluded by the capitalist system. The process of de-industrialisation that followed the introduction of Friedmanite monetarist economic policies into Britain by Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government, saw a rapid decline in manufacturing jobs, the closure of primary industries and factories and the disintegration of the traditional blue-collar working classes. After a steady period of de-regulation and privatisation, economic growth was now based in the white-collar finance, service and retail sectors, leaving millions of skilled and unskilled manual labourers unemployed, and due to a lack of qualifications and experience, unemployable in the new centres of post-Fordist industry. The skinhead movement attracted many young people who bore the brunt of these changes - those who had no place in the new economic order. They represented an affirmation of the 'old values' of the working class, and a new sense of working-class camaraderie and collectivity, an 'us and them' attitude that was appealing to the swathes of angry youth who felt it was 'them against the world'. Their opposition to and reaction against the status quo was obvious, they were the unwelcome symptoms of capitalism, but their anger wasn't channelled against the system, but rather against easy and visible scapegoats; immigrants, 'lazy students' and gay people. Their violence was mindless and incoherent, the product of alienation, boredom and exclusion, and they lacked an analysis and the political consciousness to understand their own situation and predicament: 'At the most primitive level, the "delinquents" of the world use violence to express their rejection of society and its sterile options, But their refusal is an abstract one: it gives them no chance of actually escaping the contradictions of the system. They are its products -- negative, spontaneous, but none the less exploitable, All the experiments of the new social order produce them: they are the first side-effects of the new urbanism; of the disintegration of all values; of the extension of an increasingly boring consumer leisure.' However, it is this most obvious violence, in this extreme expression of a rejection of society, that the revolutionary potential of juvenile delinquents lies. Their willingness to directly confront whatever they perceive as the enemy, their total refusal of bourgeois values and impotent authority figures, their (albeit muddled) expressions of anger and rage, and their realisation that something needs to be radically changed, truly are potentially revolutionary characteristics.
The Punk movement of the late seventies and eighties predictably captured the attention of the press. Newspapers derided the punks' open lack of respect, poured scorn upon the scene's music and bands and denounced their fashion sense, which often re-appropriated Nazi swastikas as a provocative statement meant to taunt the older generations. Bands such as the Sex Pistols waged a cultural war against the musical mainstream, declaring themselves anarchists as their lyrics epitomised the attitudes of delinquent youth, proclaiming, 'No Future!' and 'Don't know what I want, but I know how to get it!' to audiences of rowdy, undisciplined youth dressed in brilliantly provocative apparel. 'State, work and sex, home and family – all the lynchpins of bourgeois living they demolished, one by one; all condemned as bad jokes in the still better joke of the music.' Punk encapsulated the wholesale rejection of middle-class suburbia, oppressive convention, the nine-to-five cycle and consumerist folly in its totality. It was a magnet for rebellious teenagers, keen to express themselves outside the boundaries set by their parents, schools and teachers, who they could never identify with anyway. Somewhat contradicting their hedonistic, anti-materialistic, insurrectionary ethos, the Sex Pistols were the manufactured brainchild of Situationist artists, Jamie Reid and Malcom McLaren, whose stated aim it was to instigate a new youth movement, 'create a new situation', end the dreary dominance of pop and rock music over grey, shabby Thatcherite Britain and create a 'truly awful pop group' as a means of détournement - the Situationist term for the subversion of existing commodities or images of 'the Spectacle' for revolutionary ends. For McLaren, Punk was a sort of Dada experiment, a means of cultural renewal that was meant to schock, but never truly threaten, the Establishment. He found an army of young people willing to launch this pseudo-rebellion against mainstream society and that drew inspiration from the battle-cries of anti-capitalist and anti-authoritarian bands such as The Clash, The Slits, Crass and the Pistols. Punk was a definite artistic and cultural statement, a marked separation and celebration of individuality, creativity and play. It did not seriously threaten capital, but its liberatory message carried out by the young, attested to the SI's pronouncment that, 'The juvenile delinquents – not the pop artists – are the true inheritors of Dada. Instinctively grasping their exclusion from the whole of social life, they have denounced its products, ridiculed, degraded and destroyed... (they are) the living denial of the “values” in the name of which life is eliminated.'
The New Generation
Back in the days, our parents used to take care of us,
Look at 'em now; they even fuckin' scared of us
-The Notorious B.I.G, Things Done Changed
The youth movements of the twentieth century succeeded in galvanising generations of young people into new forms of self-expression and political action, having untold influence on music, fashion, art, film and culture, and sometimes challenging the dominant political and socio-economic structures directly when like-minded groups of wayward youth, looking for a means to radically alter the world around them, were politicised. Often, pangs of anger and disillusionment with society were expressed through youth subcultures that attempted to break with the conventions of the past and create new and alternative lifestyles. They were manifestations of discontent revealing itself in juvenile revolt and rebellion, demonstrating the widespread desire for change from young people who were alienated, ignored and unimpressed with the positions they were allotted in post-war, liberal-democratic, welfarist capitalist society - a society which they were more than reluctant to acquiesce to, and over which they had no control. Youth subcultures provided a collective escape and outlet for an angst, anger and anxiety that was created and sustained by bourgeois society and consumer-capitalism. Frequently engaging in nihilistic, hedonistic and sometimes violent behaviour, the young people of the last six decades have been at the forefront of sudden and largely unexpected outbursts of protest, rebellion and insurrection, and despite the widespread derision and contempt that modern teenagers suffer in the media, this tradition has continued to this day. 'Delinquent violence is a spontaneous overthrow of the abstract and contemplative role imposed on everyone, but the delinquents' inability to grasp any possibility of really changing things once and for all forces them... to remain purely nihilistic... The Stockholm riots, the Hell's Angels, the riots of Mods and Rockers -- all are the assertion of the desire to play in a situation where it is totally impossible.' Juvenile delinquents have the potential to be the ferment of revolutionary social change, but they lack the consciousness, organisation and awareness to initiate the change and instigate a total revolt. Yet their anger, their instinctual hatred of authority, their discontent with established order, and their willingness to resist and counter-attack against this order is plain for all to see, and this phenomenon reveals itself in the movements and subcultures discussed above.
In 2005, Parisian suburbs were set ablaze by frustrated French youth, many of North African and Arabic descent, when two teenagers died whilst evading arrest in an electrical substation. The riots were the culmination of steadily mounting tension between the juvenile population and the police. Civil unrest spread across the banlieues of Paris and later around the country, leading to the declaration of a State of Emergency by President Jacques Chirac. The rioters were proletarian and lumpen-proletarian youths, some of Muslim heritage, who were marginalised, ignored and downtrodden by the French state, confirming to the world that for all the self-aggrandising Gallic spectacle of 'liberty, equality and fraternity', French society remains as inequitable, repressive and alienating as any other industrialised European democracy. The riots in France echoed Martin Luther King's words that, 'a riot is the language of the unheard.' La Haine, a French film that explores the issues surrounding the suburban riots, depicts the lives of three teenagers over the course of one day in Clichy-sous-Bois, emphasising the ennui, boredom, alienation and lack of opportunity experienced by the working-class youth of outer-urban areas. The architecture and planning of housing estates - the functional-modernist architect, Le Corbusier's 'cités du modernisme' - are presented as a stronghold of discontent, monotony and dissatisfaction, a hotbed of anger waiting to flare up into all-out insurrection. The psychogeographer, Gilles Avain, commenting on the functional architecture of the French banlieues, declared that, 'A model by Corbusier is the only image that brings to my mind the idea of immediate suicide,' they are a models for the diffusion of misery, alienating their inhabitants, particularly the youth, with their style reminiscent of the prison, 'the “barracks” style... the house is a box... a “machine for living in.”' The rioting youth of 2005 were rebelling not only against the authority of the police service, but against their very surroundings, against the slum housing they had been allotted by an detached government, and against the indifference of the French state towards the poor and disenfranchised. It was not an organised rebellion, but a sudden eruption of emotion from a young population that had been ostracised by an entire socio-economic system. An incendiary call to arms, written anonymously by, The Invisible Committee, in the wake of the riots claimed that, 'it's in the most profound deprivation of existence, perpetually stifled, perpetually conjured away, that the possibility of communism resides,' proclaiming the vast revolutionary potential in juvenile revolt and total rejection the status quo by the youth, exonerating the violence of the uprising by stating that the riots, 'trashed the prized trinkets of a society that deserves no more respect than the monuments of Paris at the end of the Bloody Week.' Youth had become insurgent in a wave of comprehensive mutinies against the present situation in its totality, refusing to compromise and bargain with the forces of order, and realising the complete moral decrepitude of post-Fordist capitalism. The outlook of these young rebels was summarised by, The Invisible committee in their prediction for the future; 'Nothing can make it an attractive prospect to wipe the asses of pensioners for minimum wage. Those who have found less humiliation and more advantage in a life of crime than in sweeping floors will not turn in their weapons, and prison won't teach them to love society.'
France's banlieue uprisings were not consciously political in character, and they did not demand the adoption of any programme or the institution of some reform, lacking organisation and clear objectives, they were disorderly expressions of opposition to spectacular capital and a society dominated by bourgeois interests. However, we have seen in recent months explicitly political and radical revolts with youth at the vanguard, against governments all over the world, from North Africa and the Middle East to the streets of Britain, where young people have demanded that their voices be heard. Since the election of a Conservative-led coalition in Britain, practical opposition to their draconian austerity measures has been spearheaded by groups of allegedly, 'mindless thugs' and 'feral youth'. When the windows smashed at Millbank tower at the start of last November, so too did the illusion of the docility and apathy of Britain's youth. Scenes of anger and destruction on Whitehall, Parliament square and Trafalgar testify to the fact that the coalition government's assault on education and encroachment on the future of young people has most certainly hit a nerve. For the weeks leading up to the MP's vote on raising tuition fees and cancelling education maintenance allowance, thousands of protesters brought central London to a standstill, creating spontaneous, empowering and carnivalesque eruptions of rage and exhilaration on streets and squares usually reserved for tourists and the political classes. The movement became the most exciting and promising expression of radicalism and dissent in decades and the madding crowds were largely made up of previously 'apolitical' students and working-class youth, protesting for the first time. While the immediate aims of the demonstrations may have seemed somewhat narrow, the protests had the effect of broadening many people's political consciousness, to the extent where the property destruction and 'violence' of the day expressed not just a moderate and conciliatory demand for cheaper and better-subsidised state education, but rather a far more general disillusionment and dissatisfaction with the system as a whole – a disillusionment that was been loudly manifested during the student protests. Paul Mason, a BBC economics correspondent, called the demonstrations, 'the Dubstep Rebellion', in reference to the electronic urban music that became the unofficial soundtrack to the protests, owing to the presence, 'of youth: bainlieue-style youth from Croydon, Peckam, the council estates of Islington.' It was the working-class teenagers from the suburbs who became the most militant sections of the crowd, taking the most effective action against containment and refusing to be quashed by lines of police on horseback: 'the main offensive actions taken to break through police lines were done by small groups of young men who dressed a lot more like the older brothers of the Dubsteppers,' rather than the usual suspects and familiar faces of the organised old guard left. Young people have set a clear example for the wider movement to follow, showing clearly their potential as revolutionary agents with open revolt against government and unrestrained, physical, radical proclamations of anger.
Governments and ruling elites ignore youth at their peril. There is nothing more dangerous than a lost generation, an enraged horde loaded with burgeoning anger against a system that has failed them. The lesson of the twentieth and early twenty-first century is that young people are often the most promising catalysts for social revolution in a time when much of the traditional 'proletariat' has been bourgeoisified, integrated and assimilated into the capitalist system. Juvenile delinquency, even in its most politically immature and unsophisticated forms, is an apt expression of opposition and rebellion against capitalist society as a whole, shunning its laws, conventions and creating and affirming new ways of thinking, acting and resisting against an entire socio-economic superstructure. The youth, it can be said, are the new lumpen; the outsiders existing outside of respectable boundaries and challenging the Established order. In the climate of the 'Arab Spring', when young protesters in Tahrir square use new social media to 'tweet', 'Fuck liberal democracy where u vote rich bastards into the parliament every 5 years. WE WANT DIRECT DEMOCRACY!', it is high time to say that, 'After years of slumber and permanent counterrevolution, there are signs of a new period of struggle, with youth as the new carriers of revolutionary infection. The revolt of youth against an imposed and "given" way of life is the first sign of a total subversion. It is the prelude to a period of revolt - the revolt of those who can no longer live in our society.'
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The Sociology of Youth Culture and Youth Subcultures, Mike Brake, p73, Routledhe & Kegan Paul.
The Seeds of Social Destruction, Heatwave Magazine No. 1, Charles Radcliffe, 1966, http://libcom.org/library/heatwave-radcliffe-uk-1960s-situationists-rosemont-iww-surrealiism
Resistance Through Rituals: Youth Subcultures in Post-war Britain, Stuart Hall and Tony Jefferson, p48, Hutchinson University Library.
Harold Macmillan quoted in the BBC: On This Day archive, 20/07/1957, Britons 'have never had it so good', http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/july/20/newsid_3728000/3728225.stm
Revolt into Style, George Melly, p38, Penguin, Harmodsworth.
Adolescent Boys of East London, Peter Wilmott, p143, Routledge & Kegan Paul.
The Sociology of Youth Culture and Youth Subcultures, Mike Brake, p73, Routledge & Kegan Paul.
The Seeds of Social Destruction, Heatwave Magazine No. 1, Charles Radcliffe, 1966, http://libcom.org/library/heatwave-radcliffe-uk-1960s-situationists-rosemont-iww-surrealiism
On the Poverty of Student Life by Mustapha Khayati, printed in Situationist International Anthology, Ed. Ken Knabb, p418, Bureau of Public Secrets.
One-Dimensional Man, Herbert Marcuse, p199-200, Abacus.
One-Dimensional Man, Herbert Marcuse, p21, Abacus.
On the Poverty of Student Life by Mustapha Khayati, printed in Situationist International Anthology, Ed. Ken Knabb, p418, Bureau of Public Secrets.
Leaving the 20th Century: The Incomplete Work of the Situationist International, Christopher Gray, p16, Free Fall.
The Revolution of Everyday Life, Raoul Vaneigem, p204, Left Bank Books and Rebel Press.
The Society of the Spectacle, Guy Debord, p13, Rebel Press .
Comments On the Society of The Spectacle, Guy Debord, p29, Verso.
The Society of the Spectacle, Guy Debord, p7, Rebel Press.
The Revolution of Everyday Life, Raoul Vaneigem, p18, Left Bank Books and Rebel Press.
Bureau of Public Secrets: May 1968 Graffiti, http://www.bopsecrets.org/CF/graffiti.htm
The Revolution of Everyday Life, Raoul Vaneigem, p 236, Left Bank Books and Rebel Press.
Post-Scarcity Anarchism, Murray Bookchin, p 211-12, Black Rose Books.
Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism, Peter Marshall, p 543, Harper Collins Publishers.
Steal this Book, Abbie Hoffman, p 99, Four Walls Eight Windows.
Spaces of Hope, David Harvey, Edinburgh University Press.
T.A.Z: The Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism, Hakim Bey, p97, Autonomedia.
Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism, Peter Marshall, p 544, Harper Collins Publishers.
The Sociology of Youth Culture and Youth Subcultures, Mike Brake, p78, Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Daily Express, Interview With A Skinhead Leader, quoted in The Sociology of Youth Culture and Youth Subcultures, Mike Brake, p79, Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Hippies and Skinheads – Sociological Aspects of Subcultures, Mike Brake, Ph.D Thesis, London School of Economics.
On the Poverty of Student Life by Mustapha Khayati, printed in Situationist International Anthology, Ed. Ken Knabb, p417, Bureau of Public Secrets.
Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism, Peter Marshall, p 549, Harper Collins Publishers.
The Revolution of Modern Art and the Modern Art of Revolution, The English Section of the S.I: Tim Clarke, Christopher Gray, Charles Radcliffe, Donald Nicholson-Smith, p22, The Boomerang Series no. 3, Chronos Publications.
Chile Earthquake: Why Do People Loot? BBC News Online, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/8546411.stm
The Situationists and the City, Gilles Avain, Ed. Tom McDonough, p35, Verso.
Ibid. Andre-Franck Conord, p42.
The Coming Insurrection, The Invisible Committee, p16, Semiotext(e).
Dubstep rebellion - the British banlieue comes to Millbank, 09/12/2010, Paul Mason, http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/newsnight/paulmason/2010/12/9122010_dubstep_rebellion_-_br.html
Hossam 3arabawy, #3arabawy, HYPERLINK "http://twitter.com/" \l "/3arabawy"http://twitter.com/#!/3arabawy, January 2011.
On the Poverty of Student Life, Mustapha Khayati, http://library.nothingness.org/articles/SI/en/display/4