July Days in Britain Redux

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S. Artesian
Joined: 5-02-09
Aug 10 2011 13:50
July Days in Britain Redux

A Golden Oldie

The Wolf Report

Number 5
October 1981

All hail, then, to the mob, the incarnation of progress!
—James Connolly, 1910

Lights out!
—Sex Pistols, 1976
July Days in Britain:
Johnny Strikes Up the Band

I. Dry your eyes my little friend
Let me take you by the hand
Freddy get ready
Rock steady
When Johnny strikes up the band*

After the Brixton revolts in April 1981, the Thatcher government introduced its anti-immigration legislation into parliament. The bill denied the rights of residency and citizenship in Britain to immigrants from the former Asian, West Indian, and African colonies-- to immigrants of color. In July the House of Commons approved the bill. Also in July, Charles Windsor sought the counsel of his vicar on the matter of sex in marriage. Windsor is a mere 33 years old. Reported the vicar, "I told him that sex is good." And with that Windsor established himself as the legitimate heir to the British throne. His sexual poverty gives the flacidness of British capitalism its most ludicrous and accurate expression.

But if the vicar was telling Windsor that sex is good, the working class youths of Britain, sparked by the youths of the former Asian, African, and West Indian colonies, sparked by the youth of color, were telling Windsor that sex by firelight is even better.

II. God save the queen
She ain't no human being
There is no future
In England's dreaming**

The sun never sets on the poverty of British capitalism. In its wretchedness Britain represents the pinnacle of bourgeois society. In its decline Britain is a monument to the market, to private property, to progress.

Unemployment is officially reported at 12 percent, but just as more and more of capitalism's exchanges become unofficial, "go underground," to avoid the taxman, the auditor, the lawyer, so too the real level of unemployment is unofficial. In Toxteth, unemployment is estimated at 50 percent. Meanwhile inflation reached a 21 percent rate in 1980 and industrial production declined 12.1 percent.

The severity of Britain's recession has even worried Milton Friedman. Long fond of describing depression as the "self-cleansing" of capitalism, Friedman has been busy trying to wash his hands of Britain. Said he:

"The recession is much more severe than I anticipated and I believe it is more severe than would have been necessary had you been able to get government spending down and to stay on a steady monetary course."

Now reduced spending and a steady monetary course are possible only when the economy is expanding or when the economy has completely collapsed and the working class has been shattered. So in the world according to Friedman, Britain's recession is more severe than anticipated just because it isn't severe enough. No wonder he won a Nobel Prize.

Friedman's mentor, Friedrich von Hayek, has argued that British capital's recovery depends on breaking the resistance of the working class to poverty— to total economic collapse.
The Labor government of 1974-1979 depended on breaking the working class through the cooperation of the unions in a "social contract." During this escapade in recovery, unemployment increased to 6 percent and inflation averaged 12 percent a year. The Conservative government depends on breaking the working class with or without the cooperation of the unions. According to the Confederation of British Industry, wage increases in Britain have fallen to an 8 percent rate. Wildcat strikes have declined from 2,703 in 1977 to 1,262 in 1980. British Steel has won union approval to sever one-third of its work force. British Ford settled the Halewood strike with an "historic agreement" that entails the disemployment of 40 percent of its workers by 1985. Despite all this recovering, the CBI believes that the recession has not yet touched bottom. No wonder von Hayek won a Nobel Prize.

The West Indian, African, and Asian workers drawn into the British proletariat since World War II settled into the the manufacturing centers of Britain. They stayed but the jobs haven't. Between 1969 and 1981 manufacturing employment in Manchester dropped 58 percent, from 160,000 to 68,000. With access to large—scale production blocked by the long—term decline of British capital, workers entering the market, young workers, immigrants, workers of color, entered light industry, service enterprises, small—scale manufacturing. It is just these small companies that have been folding in record numbers. The British bourgeoisie's anti-immigration bill stands as just one more facet of the attack on the living standards, and the living composition, of the British proletariat.

III. They'll be rocking in the projects
Walking down along the strand
Freddy get ready
Rock steady
When Johnny strikes up the band

The predicament of British capitalism is so acute not because it is the product of the short-term policies of Thatcher, Friedman, or finance capital, but because the short-term policies are the long-term product of British capitalism itself. The predicament of British capitalism is so acute not because it is in decline, but because the decline represents its fullest flowering. The predicament of British capitalism is so acute not simply because it has no future, but because the predicament itself is its future. The predicament is the compression of history into the here and now. The predicament is the transformation of time into the living substance of society, the class struggle. The predicament of British capitalism makes the access to time possible through the attack on private property. It makes the mastery of time the mastery of society through the overthrow of the market.

Just as the attack on race in the anti-immigration bill was the vehicle for the attack on the British working class, the response of the Asian, West Indian, and African population to the skinhead invasion of Southall became the vehicle for the response of the working class. Despite police protection the skinheads barely managed to escape alive. But the shortest distance between any two points is television, and the upsurge was transmitted to Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham and city after city. From an attack on the skinheads the upsurge became a battle with police. On July 5 the police in Toxteth were driven back by integrated groups of youths. Not just driven back, the police were routed. Not just routed, the Liverpool police were outmaneuvered, outflanked, outmanned, and outfought. In desperation the police used CS gas, marking its first use in Britain outside of Northern Ireland. The Liverpool police thus proved that the real basis for the union of Northern Ireland and England exists in the subjugation of the working class of each.

From a battle with the police, the upsurge became an assault on property. The Racquet Club was burned. On July 8 Thatcher appeared on television to plead for calm. "Violence will destroy everything we value," said she. Right. Spoken like a real shopkeeper. That night, youths in Manchester stormed a police station. Said the Chief Constable:

"We believe a kind of military strategy was used with lookouts and the use of citizen band radios to pass messages. In the height of the troubles vehicles were being used, including vans, to carry petrol bombs and to manufacture them as they travelled the streets."

The British bourgeoisie in particular, like the bourgeoisie in general, comforts itself in good and bad times with the notion that the workers in general, and workers of color in particular, are incapable of the organization, discipline, alertness, intelligence,and flexibility essential to power. Poverty is supposed to exist as an index to the proletariat's stupidity. Just these comforts the British working class youths put to the torch in July. Just these comforts went up in smoke over Toxteth, Moss Side, Southall. Through the use of radios, lookouts, vans, the British working class youths proved their capacity for organization, discipline, alertness. By outflanking the police, they proved their intelligence and flexibility. In their July days, the British working class youths proved their capacity for power. The British bourgeoisie had its feet held to the fire in July. It didn't like the smell.

Margaret Thatcher declared that the youths were motivated by simple,naked greed. Right. Spoken like a real Tory. Who would know more about greed, simple and complex, naked and well dressed, than the representative of the British bourgeoisie? Thatcher stated, "Most of us did not think that these things could happen in our country." Right. Spoken like a real bourgeois. Who would know less about real conditions in Britain than the representative of British capital? Thatcher asserted, "There are many poor societies which are scrupulously honorable in everything they do and would not sink to some of the things we have seen in Merseyside in recent days." Right. Spoken like a real imperialist. Here once and for all is the legacy of the British empire and the future of Britain— a scrupulously poor and scrupulously passive society. Thatcher claimed, "The veneer of civilization is very thin." Right. Spoken like a real Rhodesian. Who would know more about the veneer of civilization than the representative of a capitalism that has spent two centuries destroying those civilizations, poor and rich, honorable and not, encountered in the pursuit of sterling? That has papered over that destruction with the veneer of democracy, free markets, Christianity, parliament? All in all, Thatcher speaks like a real Romanoff.

IV. Look around my little friend
Jubilation in the land
Freddy get ready
Rock steady
When Johnny strikes up the band

The British bourgeoisie points with pride to its parliament. "It's our substitute for civil war" tourists are told. But sooner or later history accepts no substitutes. So while inside parliament a Labor member denounced Thatcher with"You stupid woman! You stupid woman!", outside a youth carrying a twelve-inch knife scaled the wall around Commons. Opportunity knocks on doors, but civil war climbs fences. The youth evaded one guard and seized another before being overpowered. As he was led away the youth shouted, "Let me at her. I want Maggie Thatcher!" The July days were just that type of intrusion of class revolt upon the spectacular paltriness of British capitalism. The transition from intrusion to revolution begins with a program that includes:

1. Full unrestricted immigration, residency, and citizenship in Britain.

2. Formation of committees of expropriation, to be known as "Hundred Percenters," to seize and administer any operation reducing employment, production, or services.

3. Creation of workers guards to repulse all official and unofficial attacks upon people of color.

4. Immediate dissolution of the House of Lords. Confiscation of all peer property for the amusement and welfare of the general population.

5. Abolition of the monarchy. Confiscation of its property. Arrest and trial of its members in accordance with the fundamental law of bourgeois justice: "First we give them a fair trial, then we hang them."

Statistics have described the miserableness of British capitalism but they only describe it. The task that confronts the working class youth is its overthrow.

S. Artesian
October 19,1981

*"Johnny Strikes Up the Band" by Warren Zevon, 19?8.
**"God Save the Queen" by Cook, Jones, Matlock and Rotten, 1977