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#riotcleanup or #riotwhitewash?

August 10, 2011

Some thoughts from Dr. Sofia Himmelblau:

It’s going to take more than posturing, ‘blitz-spirit’, keep-calm-and-carry-on clap-trap and colonial Kipling-esque “keeping your head” to fix this mess. The strikingly middle-class, broadly white efforts to sweep issues of inequality under the carpet of a simulated big-society photo-op has been a telling, if little discussed, aspect of the recent rioting, making little headway in the scramble of blogposts and tweets attempting hasty analyses of the unfolding turmoil. This doughty bunch of volunteer cleaners, the substitution for a non-existent community, appeared right on cue to fill the media narrative all day following a night of London’s most extensive social unrest in decades. Even Mayor Boris had leisurely returned from holiday to be snapped with the broom-wielding bourgeoisie of Clapham as they amassed for a bit of symbolic social cleansing.

For all the passive-aggressive conscience salving however, the outraged ensemble with their newly purchased brooms still need to face up to the rampant inequalities and social exclusion that a gentrification of urban neighbourhoods (usually by them) exacerbates. This is particularly true of the apparent organiser of the original twitter campaign that lay behind ‘the great clean-up’, who in his day job runs the overly-simplistic, tirelessly self-promotional Art in Empty Shops gentrification consultancy. This individual, the ‘artistic director’ of Revolutionary Arts (haha) and originator of the Empty Shops network has spent the last few years renting out the simulacrum of social cohesion with a jauntily angled hat. Advising councils and artists on how to use art to keep vacant properties warm whilst the market is depressed and make sure that the capital locked up in them doesn’t depreciate, he has given rise to all manner of ‘pop-up’ events organised to paper over the cracks in the broken big-society fantasy of a jolly ‘local community’ which appears stuck in the 1940s. These decorative efforts have largely only succeeded in covering over the disintegration of localised economies with twee décor, whilst huge-scale retail barns appear on the outskirts of said communities, sucking up the life from within them, causing more and more neighbourhood shops to be abandoned. It is no coincidence that the primary target of rioters, despite a media-narrative keen to play up the social impact of these events on small retailers, was large retail warehouse stores that cling parasitically to neighbourhoods at the periphery of inner cities. These are stores that far from being the ‘heart of the community’, largely suck wealth out of it into overseas tax havens. This time the chap behind the empty shops network applied his big-society sticking plaster to the social destruction (which his gentrification agenda directly feeds into) and the devastation wrought by widespread internecine urban conflict.

Art and brooms isn’t going to fix this particular problem however, only the radical redistribution of wealth and a society not defined around the individual accumulation of property is going to do that. It’s not 1940, the destruction of the urban fabric is not wrought by foreign bombs, but by kids from the broom-brigade’s own neighbourhoods. They can pretend to pick up a few bits of litter for the cameras, but that is a fact that can not be wiped away so easily.

Behind the thinly veiled symbolism of social cleansing/cleaning up the area – for which read gentrification and further exclusion/segregation – emerged the rhetorical division between ‘real’ Londoners and therefore their opposite, ‘inauthentic’ Londoners. Effectively, the idea that ‘these people’, the rioters, were somehow non-citizens was therefore entrenched. All of the twitter commentary that supposedly organised the clean-up events (or was it the Young Conservatives Clapham branch?) parroted the same ideological soundbites – this is the ‘real London’, this is the ‘true London’ blah, blah, yawn, blah. In doing so it established a discourse that serves primarily to divide those, who in the words of Henri Lefebvre (and later David Harvey), have ‘the right to the city’ from those who do not, but also from those who can expect to be treated as citizens under the rule of law, and those who are excluded by virtue of their status as non-citizens.

When the rioting spread so far and so wide that the narrative claiming that it was all caused by ‘outsiders’ and ‘trouble-makers’ from elsewhere coming into the area became untenable, another, still more sinister discourse unfolded. The destruction was instead the work of ‘feral rats’, ‘apes’ and ‘animals’, sub-humans who were therefore strategically positioned by the language of carefully edited media loops, depicting the same self-righteous soundbites, to take the place of rhetorically excluded non-citizens. As non-citizens, these were people who could expect no protection therefore, from the coming ‘all necessary measures’ that the media agenda was simultaneously lining-up to be unleashed – in other words they would be subjected to a renewed and increased state violence. Like the taxonomies of colonialism and the language that surrounded Haussmann’s attacks on the Parisian working class in the 19th century, this language exists to determine not only who has the right to the city, but whose life counts for something, is valuable, and to mark out those whose life is not.

Either the ‘community’ presented in the continually replayed displays of good-citizenship genuinely exists, in which case the rioters are as much a part of it as the sweepers, or alternatively it doesn’t actually exist and its appearance serves merely as a convenient ideological fiction (the tv spectacles of people in Clapham with brushes who more than likely never had a conversation with each other before tend to point more towards the latter…).

In areas such as Clapham which, beneath the surface, are so strongly divided and segregated along class lines by years of gentrification, perhaps it is wishful thinking to even claim there exists such a thing as community in any meaningful sense. If it does exist, as this episode illustrates, this community certainly appears to be one that cannot operate other than by the exclusion of certain individuals, by the rhetorical and indeed physical expulsion of non-citizens and ‘feral rats’, from within its midst. Such a community, predicated upon exclusion, was how Carl Schmitt defined society (and he was a Nazi). This community therefore, that comes together over their dustpan and brushes only does so in the specific exclusion of their Other. This Other, the poor, often BME youths that have felt compelled to acts of nihilistic aggression against a society that marginalises them and offers no future, but amongst which and as part of which they live, are rhetorically excluded rather than be considered as equals. They are to be cast out rather than be kept within society. Surely for a community to exist in any desirable sense however, all of it’s constituents need to be treated as part of that community rather than expelled and excluded, even if this means they exist in antagonistic relation, as internal, acknowledged and equally valid members of that community, and not cast outside as excluded Others, as non-citizens.

By the symbolic cleaning, cleansing and casting out of the rioters from the community, the sweepers appear to enact the closest thing to popular fascism that we have seen on the streets of certain ‘leafy’ bits of London for years. I do not wish to denigrate people who want to help each other out as best they can or to express their social solidarity in some way, but this cannot be at the expense of further exclusion and segregation. Similarly I do not wish to applaud those causing suffering to people with whom they share their neighbourhoods, indeed their communities, often hurting those in an equally disadvantaged state as themselves. However, the rhetoric of ‘real’ citizen and non-citizen can not be allowed to stand unchallenged, opening as it does a certain state of exception – much like the discourse around the war on terror that has been so convenient for, and so enthusiastically embraced by, governments across the world – a discourse that legitimises a level of oppression against excluded groups. In the case of the war on terror, in Western countries at least, this was Muslims, although in Syria the state likewise seeks to label those that wish to overthrow it, or to question its authority, as terrorists, and hence legitimate targets for its violence.

In the case of London today it is a certain underclass that the state seeks to rhetorically denigrate and cast out, the very people who are already under attack from all sides in terms of a hostile media, benefit cuts, unemployment, lack of jobs, lack of housing, lack of educational opportunities and police racism and aggression. In a scaling up of the afore mentioned community politics evidenced in Clapham, the British state attempts to cast a whole class of people as enemies within, responsible for all manner of society’s ills through their ‘feckless’, ‘immoral’ and ‘animalistic’ behaviour. In doing so they seek to create a group that all of those who are ‘all in it together’ can hate equally, and around which the illusion of the big society can coalesce. This reveals the big society as the bourgeois project that it always was all along – defined in opposition to an excluded underclass for whom the public services and welfare that it seeks to dismantle were essential. The underclass now serves little purpose for the ruling elite or the bourgeoisie other than as a conveniently excluded Other, usefully legitimising the Right’s authoritarian entrenchment of state power whilst ex-progressives look on cheering and waving brooms in the air.

What we need instead of this exclusionary illusion of community is rather a social solidarity that is non-exclusionary, that never panders to fascist rhetoric and that works together in striving for a truly democratic and egalitarian society. What unites us should not be a common hated or fear but a common humanity. When we acknowledge this we can surely then unite in common struggle against forces that would seek to divide us against ourselves, attempting as they do to divert our anger, even whilst they partition our access to the vital means by which to live full and fulfilling lives, simply according to our perceived usefulness to capital.

Postscript – A Response to Comments

This post has appears to have sparked a huge amount of controversy compared to anything else previously published on this blog. The average amount of views for a piece posted on this blog is usually somewhere around the low hundreds, so far this post has had around 13,000 views and counting- as well as many passionately argued comments both in favour and against. Due to this response I therefore felt that I should briefly respond to some of the issues raised.

This post appears to have sparked a huge amount of controversy compared to anything else previously published on this blog. The average amount of views for a piece posted on this blog is usually somewhere around the low hundreds, so far this post has had around 13,000 views and counting- as well as many passionately argued comments both in favour and against. Due to this response I therefore felt that I should briefly respond to some of the issues raised.

  • The post does not make the accusation that those cleaning up their streets are in some way all fascists, the point that it does make, and that I stand by, is that significant sections of the public discourse surrounding both the clean-up, and the response to the riots more broadly, has come from an implicitly, and occasionally explicitly, far right direction. As stated in the post, the language of ‘rats’, ‘scum’ and various other dehumanising rhetoric, applied only not to rioters but often implicitly, and occasionally explicitly, to whole sections of society bears this out. The Left is often accused of crying ‘fascist’ too lightly (often particularly by those who feel stung by the accusation), and whilst I agree that this may on occasions be true, in this case however I feel that the strength of terminology is borne out by much of the political response that has sought to solely blame the moral, cultural and physiological (ie.’sickness’) deviancy of sections of society rather than examine any structural socio-economic issues within society as a whole that may lay behind the unrest. To paraphrase a somewhat over-quoted line – with their photo-op response to the unrest, the media are seeking to aestheticise politics; in my blog post on the other hand, I was seeking to politicise their aesthetics, to draw out what it is within it that has clearly political overtones. Contrary to what the Right claim, to examine socio-economic issues such as inequality and gentrification is not a moral deviancy either, it is also patently not somehow an excusing of the genuine human misery or suffering caused by rioting, in fact I would argue conversely that to take the very position which the politicians and media are falling over each other to adopt, dismissing debate about economic and social exclusion, is in fact an incredibly immoral- if you want to follow a consistent logic of morality -excusing of the genuine human misery and suffering wrought through their economic policies over the past 30 years. The far right nature of their discourse, the state of exception which I have argued they seek to create (and which via the media has been widely adopted by the public at large) is evidenced in the fact that their response to the unrest is to call for militarised policing, politicised sentencing, and further social exclusion. The far right dimension is likewise more superficially evident in the fact that just such a rhetoric has already brought gangs of far right EDL supporters onto the streets of SE London, who have clashed with police whilst looking to hunt down and attack those they deem responsible for the unrest (and we can guess, and as is evidenced by several accounts of the disturbances, the specific demographic they will be seeking to target). It is likewise indicative that the individual who Cameron was so keen to trumpet for starting a facebook Met police fan club has been proven to be an out and out racist. That is not to say that everyone that joined the group was a racist, that is clearly untrue, but it is simply to point out what motivates much of the public discourse is often very far from being ideologically neutral.
  • We now hear that many people are clamouring for those convicted for their part in the unrest to be stripped of their entitlement to claim state support in terms of benefits and access to housing, several councils have stated that they intend to take this position (although I am not sure of the legal ramifications). This is a further extension of the state of exception that I mentioned, a further exclusion from citizenship such as I have described, and it represents the thin end of the wedge. In calling for such a policy not only is the implication made that those who rioted can be directly correlated in the public perception with benefits claimants (and in terms of housing this also clearly feeds into a certain far right discourse that has been bubbling under the surface in recent years regarding access to housing and immigration), but it also represents the further dismantling of the principle of universalism in the welfare state. What next? all those with a criminal conviction stripped of benefits? Further down the line perhaps access to healthcare on the NHS? What are the implications of this when you consider that the government’s social policies have often resulted in the criminalisation en masse of a large section of certain socio-economic or racial groups? It potentially implies the declaration of whole swathes of people as non-citizens, even further excluded from society. Whilst this might be popular on the Right, I fail to see how this can not lead to further poverty, resentment and logically further crime and social unrest.
  • Contrary to most of the commentary on my post, some perhaps from people that didn’t read further than the title, this post was not primarily about race but class. To whitewash something, although it connotes a certain racial dimension in this case, more broadly, as we all know, means to cover over, to conceal or to mask. This is what I argue the mainstream discourse, in this instance through its co-option of the clean-up activities, has been keen to do in the wake of the riots. And whilst that mainstream discourse has been so keen to close down any discussion on the events through anything other than a moral framework, it fails by its own logic. I would wager that the average haul of a looter caught up in the recent unrest would weigh in significantly below the average fraudulent expenses claim made by MPs in the recent controversy. Let’s take Michael Gove, clearly appearing outraged in various media appearances at all of the theft that has gone on. This is the man who got his houses mixed up in order to steal £7000 (or £13000 depending on which house was the real one) from the taxpayer. Perhaps he should be stripped of his entitlement to housing? – but then it might not bother him too much, he’s a millionaire. Or there is Hazel Blears, also moralising in the extreme, who also couldn’t remember where she lived and managed to loot £18,000 from the public purse. All those flatscreen TVs looted must look familiar to Gerald Kaufman, who fiddled the rules to the tune of an £8,000 flatscreen TV himself. Or Jeremy Hunt, who having obtained £22,000 by dubious means generously agreed to pay back half the money before going on to negotiate a fatally flawed stitch-up with Murdoch over BskyB which to many looked somewhat corrupt. Perhaps the looters should also be allowed to pay back half of what they took? Hmmm, clearly I am being facetious but you get the idea, perhaps the politicians should leave the moralising to the moral and concentrate on what after all is their (well remunerated) job, ie. social and economic policy – an area that unlike morality, they can directly influence, and that ultimately is a significant factor in the recent unrest. Cameron claims that this was ‘pure criminality’ but even if we take him at his word we must therefore assume that he has never read any criminology, the overwhelming majority of which would point to a significant and proven link between poverty, inequality and crime. The main difference it seems to me between theft of pair of trainers or Ed Vaizey’s £2,000 in antique furniture mistakenly ‘delivered to the wrong address’ appears to be a matter of class. You might state that these riots were not an act of class warfare, and I would be inclined to agree with you, but the response to them from the media and mainstream public discourse most definitely has been. Just because the rioters themselves may not have had a conscious or unconscious class motivation, although that is debatable, does not mean that the response to them has not. We have seen an uncompromising and ‘robust’ reassertion of control and order in a physical sense but also of social order in an ideological sense, by a bourgeoisie that felt threatened. If you cannot see the class dynamic at play here you either are not looking hard enough, you don’t want to see it, or you buy into the glib Blairite assertion that Britain is somehow now a classless society. You might believe that to be the case, but I would have to disagree.
  • As for the Empty Shops Network, perhaps it was unfair to single that guy out alone, I have been aware of the ESN for about two years and have taken some interest in their activities, of which I have been somewhat critical for the reasons stated in the post. I do not claim to be an expert on their activities however, and if anyone behind the group would care to explain more fully what their activities entail I would be happy to enter a discussion with them and to put their side of the story across on the blog as well as simply my critique.
  • In terms of the vitriol expressed below by those who don’t like their world view questioned, perhaps they would care to tune in instead to the overwhelming majority of media and public discourse presented on this issue which will no doubt reassuringly confirm their ideological positions. With Labour and the (il)Liberal Democrats seeking to outflank the Tories on the right, somebody has to make the argument for seeing these traumatic events as a catalyst for more and not less equality, social justice, and indeed just plain justice (note this is not the same thing as shooting looters on sight or locking them up and throwing away the key), an argument that mainstream politics is so demonstratively unwilling to make. Like I say, if you don’t like it, there is plenty of other commentary out there you can read that will confirm your existing opinions.

Sofia. x

230 Comments leave one →
  1. Lara P permalink
    August 10, 2011 6:12 pm

    Excellent. Total agreement. Bravo.

  2. Alex permalink
    August 10, 2011 9:27 pm

    If they want to be citizens, maybe they should act like citizens of the country, and not like a bunch of Huns coming to pillage and burn. They lose my consideration about the time that they start smashing windows and carting off big-screen TVs – even if it’s a true social protest, and not just the flagrant burglary it looks like, the rest of society is perfectly entitled to ignore their grievances when they do stuff like this. Live within civilization, don’t piss on it.

    • steve permalink
      August 11, 2011 6:17 pm

      Stop being so sanctamonious you sound like a Daily Mail editorial

      • pinz permalink
        August 11, 2011 8:00 pm

        And you sound ‘reactionary’, at best.

      • Iris permalink
        August 11, 2011 8:16 pm

        Alex is right, dear, I’m sorry to say.

      • Samuel permalink
        August 14, 2011 1:51 pm

        Alex isn’t right at all! Citizenship, ‘Civilization’ [sic] an Hunnery (ho ho ho) are not mutually exclusive! Look at the Empire!

    • LaurenBee permalink
      August 11, 2011 9:32 pm

      They did. Two weeks before the riots, a large group of peaceful protestors gathered – and were ignored. And that certainly wasn’t the only gathering. This didn’t just come out of nowhere. It had been building up.

    • Louise permalink
      August 13, 2011 11:20 am

      Thank god you’re lucky enough to feel part of civilization.

    • August 15, 2011 8:52 am

      has alex even read this blog? your comment reads like you haven’t. ignorance is bliss, no?

  3. Wit permalink
    August 10, 2011 9:54 pm

    This is really very good. Thanks for writing this. Everyone who reads it: disseminate by all means necessary!

    The Left needs to defend the riots; not to valourise the burning of grannies’ cars, but to make clear that we reject the whole bourgeois construction of events, that we stand in solidarity with the oppressed and that, when it comes to it, we will, without hesitation, join the “rioters” to overthrow the legitimised exploitation, state-sanctioned violence and sham “democracy” that oppress us all.

    • polly permalink
      August 10, 2011 11:59 pm

      Agreed. I’m concerned how cowed the Left is currently by the backlash which is patently more frightening than the actual events. The easy shift to people openly talking about state sanctioned killing and persecution of these ‘rats’ ‘scum’ and ‘animals’ is truly frightening. We must battle it forcefull and immediately.

    • Chris permalink
      August 11, 2011 8:17 am

      Good luck with that. Really, good luck. Good luck. The best of British to you.

    • August 11, 2011 10:52 am

      Wit, “join the rioters” by this do you mean attempt to control and manipulate them, I don’t think joining something that does not understand itself is as simple as you put it. If you join them then in a sense you become them, and with that goes any aimed political angle. Coilition of the disgruntled. I think for the established “Left” – Why a capital letter? To oust this pseudo-democracy, sustained and legitimate argument is required in ever more inventive ways, or more short-term do what Iceland is doing .Old fashioned pull your finger out.

      I agree with alot of points in this piece and like the ending and is quite a relate-able utopian image, I don’t know how relevant that is in terms of change and progress and as a full on utopia doesn’t hit the heights for me. Would be lovely though

      • Smithereens permalink
        August 11, 2011 12:07 pm

        I am a socialist. Not a member of any party, but an ideological socialist. I come from a working class background that most would describe as poor.

        And Mr. Wit, you have not a clue what you are on about.

        These riots are not the howl of the oppressed – they are the zenith of consumerism. They are the psychopathic crowd-think of late capitalism. These people were not rioting for food or injustice. They were rioting for Adidas, Sony and Kappa.

        There’s is a nihilistic mission, with only two goals: destruction and acquisition.

        The Left cannot join with these rioters, any more than we can join with the EDL.

      • August 11, 2011 2:10 pm

        I just want to say Smithereens – that was beautifully put. Absolutely beautiful.

      • pinz permalink
        August 11, 2011 8:04 pm

        @Smithreens – correct!

      • concerned citizen permalink
        August 12, 2011 9:55 pm

        Smithereens, it is at best foolish to equate “the rioters” with the EDL, and at worst idiotic. The EDL consist of grown, organised men hell bent on realising the political goal of race war in the UK. Need I tell you they have many thousands of devoted followers; proven links with terrorist organisations; a sympathetic ally in the mass media; and perhaps most importantly, FUNDING from similar groups across the world, and a membership of consisting of organised NF and BNP members with a history of hatred and violence.

        The diverse group who rioted across England consisted of thieves, thugs, arsonists, murderers and PROTESTERS, so to compare “them” with a highly organised and ideologically driven racist group is folly. Apart from EDL members who took part in the rioting, how many looters share a material ideological link with Anders Breivik? I dont stand shoulder to shoulder with looters, but I do recognise the need for their political education. Criminals though they may be, the majority are the exploited class after all. I’d expect any so called working class socialist to understand that basic reality in 2011.

    • Phil permalink
      August 12, 2011 12:27 am

      You have got to be joking! These rioters have no political stance, nor do they have any reason for their rioting apart from their own amusement and greed. They want a new pair of trainers or a plasma TV, so they’ll go and take it. This has nothing to do with the a political standing. Grow up, Wit!

      • August 12, 2011 11:27 pm

        Wow, I was reading the newst UFSO article and suddenly saw 170+ comments on this story! Amazing!

        Well, now, my comment was quite elliptical and maybe those who replied didn’t quite understand it. And, moreover, maybe they just didn’t quite understand the riots themselves.

        “The riots aren’t political; they’re mindless nihilism; they’re the ‘the zenith of consumerism’. There were not even any demands!”

        How can anything that happens in a specific social, political and economic conjuncture not be political? There is a contradiction here, and it is in the “apolitical” construction of events by the centre and right; i.e. the refusal by some commentators to understand their own reactions in political terms.

        How can any activity be mindless, unthinking, when all living people think? Can you stop a person from thinking? Perhaps if you shoot them in the face, as the Police shot Mark Duggan. But, excepting that, there is another contradiction here. The fact is not that these rioters were unthinking, but that their thoughts and opinions are subaltern. That they are not heard, that they are not articulated, that for many they do not count, can only be understood in political terms.

        As for demands, looting equals immediate demands: “I want that and that and that.” But, it is also a tactic that expresses a symbolic demand: the demand for political recognition and agency; the demand to express a collective anger that cannot find any other means of articulation. From where these demands spring, and whether or not they can be channelled in more productive and long-term ways is, again, an historical and political question.

        Another point of perplexity: “What do you mean, join the rioters??”

        This is, as midiadventuremachine points out, not simple. The first step is to begin to identify and engage with the social groups who chiefly composed the riots – i.e. the dispossessed of the inner-cities: black, asian and minority communities; the unemployed; the socially and economically alienated youth. The next step is to attempt to organise these social groups, to support the building leadership in these communities, to help them to articulate their demands, and to incorporate them into the wider movement against destructive and exploitative capitalism.

        That is to say, to try to aid the development of the political agency of these social groups so that they may begin to gain political direction and articulate their demands, so that they may begin to become self-determining and equal allies of other exploited social groups, e.g. the lower and middle-class public sector workers and students who have so far dominated leftist protest in 2009-2011.

        What I am not suggesting is that we run out to join in the burning and looting of the local corner shop (still in our slippers, as usual); too late, anyway, if you weren’t there then you missed your chance this time.

        I hope that makes more sense. And don’t tell me to grow up, you paternalistic shit.

      • Sam permalink
        August 14, 2011 8:55 pm

        ….and how exactly would you know?

  4. August 10, 2011 11:24 pm

    Fiery, frenetic, and breathless prose that could use some parsing. However, I have space for a protégée.

    In seriousness though, I agree with this and have scanned a couple of other articles written by Dr. Himmelblau and find myself nodding along and smiling with those. HOWEVER: I do wonder whether this obsession with what the middle-classes do as a response is part of some cycle of navel-gazing that utilises energy that could be directed at more justified targets.

  5. polly permalink
    August 10, 2011 11:55 pm

    Brilliant. Read this here for another similarly excellent and considered analysis amongst this madness –

  6. Yeal permalink
    August 11, 2011 12:30 am

    so what?

    I can’t tell whih is worse, some twitterites with brooms cleaning the streets or some random academic writing a blog about twitterites with brooms cleaning the streets

  7. emilymuna permalink
    August 11, 2011 12:37 am

    Really brilliant article! All relevant points, very well written. Agreed with the comments above as well.

  8. The Gray Hand permalink
    August 11, 2011 12:43 am

    Fantastically composed. A beautiful piece.

  9. skttttyyy permalink
    August 11, 2011 1:28 am

    what the fuck is wrong with you. i cant work out whos side youre on. do you just hate everyone? fucking hell. cheer the fuck up and be a bit more optimistic about peoples intentions.

  10. Bronagh Kennedy permalink
    August 11, 2011 1:28 am

    Dear Dr. Sofia Himmelblau

    Over intellectualised commentary from a ‘University’ that claims to be “based on the principle of free and open education, a return of politics to the public, and the politicisation of public space” but somehow negates the efforts of people to make sense of these riots and do something to help as not being ‘real Londoners’ or being a ‘real community’. Do you really think that the behaviour of a small percentage of misguided opportunistic youths are a more ‘real’ reflection of the what 21st century London is about.

    Obviously your time spent in your rarefied PhD doctoral world view of things has made you so disconnected from what life in cities is actually about it makes your analysis seem crass and ill informed, Cities have always been a hot bed of; rich and poor, advantaged and disadvantaged, hard working and lazy, equality and inequality, varied religions and belief systems, dereliction and gentrification and that’s what makes them fascinating places to live with all the good and bad bits.Thankfully we still live in a county where ALL sectors of society are free to react to events as they deem appropriate and it is not up to you or anyone else to tell people who are trying to help and make sense of things that their reactions or opinions are invalid. These people who you so glibly slander are attempting to return “politics to the public and politicise the use of public space” that you supposedly advocate. Your aspiration that people should “unite in common struggle against forces that would seek to divide us against ourselves” is so completely naive, Who’s “common struggle” and what “forces” do you assume that everyone will collectively agree on, or is that something you yourself intend to enforce on society through your “University”.

    I think you need to reconsider your analysis and acknowledge that everyone’s opinion or reaction is valid and without you personally knowing every individuals reasons for their actions then you are in no place to judge.

    • John Lilburne permalink
      August 12, 2011 9:39 am

      Dear Bronagh Kennedy.

      Brilliantly put. How the intellectuals love to perpetuate the ‘class struggle’. The riotcleanup was a human reaction to an incredible situation. ‘Dr’ Sofia needs to remove the broom handle from her proverbial.

    • Jack permalink
      August 12, 2011 4:40 pm

      “…and without you personally knowing every individuals reasons for their actions then you are in no place to judge.” – Please!

      Apparently it is impossible to speculate or theorize on complex social phenomena without possessing a godlike omniscience. In any case, given that so many people have internalized the ideological doctrine of neoliberalism – and taking into account the complex interrelationality of action, intention and the subconscious (outlined by Freud, Lacan, and psychoanalytic theory more widely) – I wonder exactly what such mind reading/Gallup Polling would reveal?

  11. August 11, 2011 1:52 am

    Very eloquant but confused post. Thanks for taking the time to write your thoughts.
    People cleaning up possibly felt powerless against the wild destructions, fearful of the mayhem and sirens. Friends spoke of locking themselves in their homes. Cleaning was just one possible and simple way to do something, anything to contribute to normalising to being the sort of human who really really doesn’t want that kind of shit happening on their doorstep.
    The empty shop dude may have a simple idea to contribute to society. Often simple ideas are the best. An easy model to copy. Not too academic, just put activity where there is a hole. Or are empty high streets okay with you?
    Anyway, those with brooms are humans. Still affected by unemployment, benefit cuts etc. This meltdown is affecting a lot of people. Trying to help clean is never going to be considered a long term solution. I don’t know anyone who isn’t thinking “my society is messed up for this to happen”. The broom pushers know even more that this is their problem, on their doorstep, involving their local young people.
    The UK is still working this out. The riots have been a harsh alarm bell highlighting issues that we all sort of knew about. How to fix such a massive and complex problem is definitely worth taking time over.
    This blog is just as rash and reactionary as those you critisise.
    People cleaning up are not ‘social cleansers’ intending to further exclude. If your argument scans then the claim would true of the looters.

    I’d like to debate most of your article. (its late, i’m on a phone etc) – so i won’t. Other than to say – i don’t want a single life wasted; trapped in misery. I have previously been glad that in todays world i am free in ways in which 100 years, 50 years even 30 years ago in the Uk, or even today in other countries was not possible.
    These riots have shocked me into taking fresh account of our problems, shocked me into being more responsible for my society. How will i effect change? Ideally it will be something simple that can be copied by anyone. Definitly it will start from my home, my kids, my street, my community.

  12. August 11, 2011 1:53 am

    Absolutely. Although the chap in question with the jaunty hat had the best of all possible intentions. That they were kidnapped by those in power is not his fault. Shower another human with leftist vitriol and you risk being ignored. He might be wrong but he’s just a guy, trying to contribute something. Your tone sounds as if you want to march the menshevik to the nearest Gulag for re-education. It is the errant destruction of society by the powerful should be discussed. Its a question of hermeneutics.

    Interestingly, the Hackney clean-up brigade didn’t have much to do, as the council had deployed street sweepers in real time to clear up immediately. Unsurprising that Tory run Wandsworth left its citizenry to clean up their own mess and gave Boris Johnson the a marvellous PR opportunity. Even more interesting is the difference between the BBC coverage of his circus

    compared to the CNN coverage:

  13. August 11, 2011 2:24 am

    Care to explain the handy cropped removal of several Afro-Carribean contributors to the clean up in your photo that you chose to use?

  14. August 11, 2011 2:41 am

    This post makes lots of interesting points that I could partially subscribe to but it’s rather let down by the photo. I’ve noticed this because I’m in it. I’m the guy in the middle at the bottom of the frame with red hair.

    It’s become a bit of a famous photo but there’s something missing: two black guys who were standing directly behind me.

    The photo on your site has been cropped to the pixel pretty much not to include these guys. This is pretty damn odd in post talking about race with a hash tag #riotwhitewash making the accusation that this was a mostly white affair sticking two fingers at the BMEs.

    All I can say really is my intention at turning up wasn’t consciously racist and I don’t believe subconsciously, but there’s something actually sort of I don’t know what, not racist exactly, but certainly propagandist about cropping the black guys out of the photo and then writing a post saying it was all too white.

    Now I’m sure there’s a defence here. Maybe you were sent the image already cropped, and I’m besmirching your good name without knowing the facts. Maybe you thought it was aesthetically better without these narratively inconvenient people dominating the lower frame, but really what I’ve found fascinating about this whole thing is how this photo gets twisted to fit the political agenda of the writer. (The Daily Mail does the same thing and I’ve been appalled how they’ve used these pictures to fit their tory supporting pro cuts horror show.)

    And if you’re interested in the actual moment rather than how the photo has been used for random bits of propaganda – people were doing a broom mexican wave out of bordom because no one was allowed to do any cleaning because the cops still had the street blocked.

    Anyway too many words. I’ve made a pic to make it clear of the bit that’s missing from the photo. Sorry if I appear stroppy but this has irked me.

    • flashbank permalink*
      August 11, 2011 2:50 pm

      With regards the selection of image see my response below (but you can ignore the more irritable remarks which are directed at some of the other comments rather than yourself in that you appear to express a reasonable concern reasonably). I think that you have misread the piece if you think that I said this event was ‘too white’ – whatever that means, what I said was broadly white, which tells us something, perhaps not much, about the discourse that surrounds it. That is what it is, but perhaps the title suggested to you the false impression that there is an accusation that everyone who sweeps up is a racist- certainly not what I say. I said that much of the exclusionary and vitriolic rhetoric that has been chucked around has racist/classist undertones, this sweep up thing has been patently manipulated by the media and certain agendas – I thought that needed pointing out, also there is a complacency in anyone, and there are some, perhaps not you, who thinks that acts of apparent community such as this are in anyway adequate to the mess that we are in.

  15. Jay permalink
    August 11, 2011 3:02 am


  16. Bob permalink
    August 11, 2011 5:30 am

    Whilst striving for idealistic social solidarity you seem to be condoning the acts of the broom wielding masses. Tarring them with your hate, and creating further barriers between riot sympathisers and the rest of our country – good job.

  17. Bob permalink
    August 11, 2011 5:31 am

    I meant to say condemning, not condoning. Silly me.

  18. Serenus Zeitblom permalink
    August 11, 2011 6:04 am

    Thank you for this. It’s superb and necessary.

  19. Izzy permalink
    August 11, 2011 6:16 am

    A reasonable argument undermined by lazy reference to fascism.

    Godwin’s law anyone?

  20. Outraged permalink
    August 11, 2011 6:44 am

    I am appalled at the vitriol in this post. I agree the events of this week have been both precipitated and fuelled by the dissatisfaction of the underclasses. I find the suggestion that the clean up operation was veiled fascism beyond abhorrent! People do still have a sense of community, no matter how fractured and many people, of all classes, took heart at that community action.

  21. Pete permalink
    August 11, 2011 6:45 am


  22. Darren Spraggs permalink
    August 11, 2011 6:54 am

    What a load of rubbish. Nothing justifies the killing of 5 people (including last Thursday’s killing) and the fact some poor kid has to have an operation after getting his jaw smashed in, also the people whO have lost their livelihoods and have nothing left. Or the people who’s homes were burnt to the ground and are now homeless. The people doing this were not just the sxhoolchildren but teahing assistants and postmen to name a few. It’s thuggery and glorified shoplifting!

    If you do not agree with the current govenmwnt, then there are legitimate protests and elections. The last 4 days was nothing of the sort.

  23. Donna Beprovoked permalink
    August 11, 2011 7:18 am

    B for use of sexy theory. I bet you feel potent and righteous right now because I know you’d crumble without that. F for misrepresenting human kindness as nazism to fit your psychopathology. Or is this a parody, designed to provoke people against power trying to do what they can? YOU FAIL LOVE.

  24. David permalink
    August 11, 2011 7:31 am

    Seems a bit bizarre to me – how can you be upset with people wanting to go out and clean up the mess? Who cares if they are black, white, green or blue? What matters is the values that they stand for.

    Hopefully those that have been cast out (I would prefer “told to stand in the corner with a Dunce’s hat on”) will feel shamed enough to learn from.

    • Jack permalink
      August 12, 2011 5:08 pm

      Obviously, you missed that the thrust of the article was concerning the appropriation-through-representation of the act, although the motivations for these acts themselves are rarely as straightforward as you seem to suggest; which is also an aspect brilliantly captured by this post.

  25. Donna Beprovoked permalink
    August 11, 2011 7:37 am

    B* for use of sexy theory. I bet you feel potent and righteous right now because you know you’d crumble without that. F for misconstruing human kindness as nazism to fit your psychopathlogy. Scratch your ‘anti-gentrification’ and you’ll find an apocalyptic evangelist protected from reality. Or is this a parody, designed to provoke ordinary people against power, including the ones you whitewashed from the picture, trying to do what they can? YOU FAIL LOVE. FAIL FAIL FAIL.

    You make many excellent and necessary points but figure out who your friends are before you alienate them. Or do you not need to?

  26. August 11, 2011 7:48 am

    Thanks for this. Some welcome sobriety in the current sea of bullshit. Glad to see I’m not alone in seeing the fascistic overtones of the ‘big clean up’:

  27. August 11, 2011 7:50 am

    Firstly I just want to say, I agree with most of what you’re saying. Please don’t take this post as aggressive, it’s so hard to get the right tone when writing. However, I think you’ve taken the media line/coverage on the riot clean ups and most likely didn’t attend – particularly as you seem to focus on Clapham (the only one the media covered). Why not talk about the clean-ups that happened in Salford or Bow or Hackney?

    There were people from all backgrounds at the clean up… which is not the point anyway – the genuine call for help was sent out on Twitter, to everyone. People, who were scared and upset by the violence of the night before, wanted to rally around an action that would show solidarity and defiance in the face of that violence. This, as I’ve experienced firsthand in the Egyptian Revolution, is a common human expression of collective trauma. Hence groups of protesters cleaning up Cairo and even directing traffic after regime-led police-violence on Jan25. (NOT that I am comparing the looters to autocratic regimes btw).

    It is possible to condemn the violence, be terrified when your neighbourhood is on fire, want to come together to help put it right AND recognise that there are key social issues in this country that need to be addressed. This is not mutually exclusive.

    At the clean up there were long discussions about the social problems that were behind the looting. Just because people are upset and outraged by the violence of the looters and express a wish to come together to help the communities affected, does not mean the same people believe there is no underlying and deeply problematic social cause behind the actions of those on the streets. Guaranteed there were some people who believed we should just ‘shoot the f*ckers’, but you get these idiots everywhere in any background-diverse gathering and I’ve learnt it’s important to talk them round.

    When Boris arrived he got heckled, as the clean up crews were pissed off that they couldn’t get on with the cleaning because of his ridiculous photo call (which included wielding a broom he didn’t use). No one asked for media publicity. If the news crews couldn’t be bothered to find out who the looters were and to interview them, that’s their fault. I agree with you, I would rather the papers were dominated with some proper investigative journalism, but happy fuzziness sells papers… hence Broom Army pics everywhere and ridiculous ‘londoners coming together after the blitz’ rhetoric.

    As for the guy who organised it, I met him and he had been working his arse off all day cleaning. So what if he has an arty background and has organised pop-up events before. How is he responsible for solving every social issue in this country, how is he responsible for stopping, for example, ‘the huge-scale retail barns’ that as you say ‘suck’ the life from the neighbourhood? Cut him some slack!

    The mess left by the looters was horrific. Help was needed and those whose livelihoods and homes had been destroyed appreciated the show of solidarity, however the media decided to package it.

    People were there to clean. Khalas. This was not their only and definitive response to the events that took place over the weekend. We need to recognise that.

    Let’s open discussions with people about the riots, not close them by condemning people’s first reaction to it.

  28. Steph permalink
    August 11, 2011 8:14 am

    Wowza. You expressed so well the nebulous ideas that have been floating through my brain for the past few days, ever since that incident at the restaurant in Notting Hill. Sure, that incident would have been really scary to the people sitting down to dinner. The news here (australia) was alll over it with all kinds of hysterical reporting on what those awful awful scumbags did to those honest, decent people enjoying meals which probably cost more a plate than the “thugs” could earn in a week, if they could find a job.

    I remember being poor (a student) in London. I remember my parents visiting and taking me to a restaurant like that. I remember wishing they would just give me the money and let me spend two pounds on a pasty and the rest on things I badly needed.

    Did I destroy the restaurant? Did I go out thieving? No. I also don’t condone violence, but you’re spot on. Spot on.

  29. bonzhe permalink
    August 11, 2011 8:20 am

    is there nothing in the cleanup impulse worth praising? is it so black and white?

    people reading this who really believe that cleaning up the streets after a riot is at all an expression of fascist oppression need to have their heads checked. Hyperbolic doesnt cover it.

  30. August 11, 2011 8:26 am

    “the sweepers appear to enact the closest thing to popular fascism that we have seen on the streets of certain ‘leafy’ bits of London for years”

  31. Reggie permalink
    August 11, 2011 8:28 am

  32. bonzhe permalink
    August 11, 2011 8:30 am

    This piece of art/media in Peckham, which has grown extremely rapidly, gives the lie to your claimed objectivity and moral high-ground:

    people build communities in real ways all the time. people are making links and friends and overcoming common challenges and barriers. in the face of this adversity as-yet unseen bonds are making themselves known. your fictional enlightenment has no appeal because it wants to nullify and accuse the real encounters we already have. Show some respect.

  33. Miranda Waugh permalink
    August 11, 2011 8:59 am

    God, how depressing. Isn’t the world complicated enough without looking for conspiracies everywhere? Please just read this:

  34. Kit permalink
    August 11, 2011 9:00 am

    Whilst I agree that this is not the solution to any of the issues at hand; poverty, exclusion, disenfranchisement, gentrification etc etc – the idea that this is just a predominately white middle class thing is wrong. I was in Hackney and there was all sorts of people there. Working class, black, asian, women, men, young, old etc. Perhaps this reflects the greater degree of diversity in the borough (as opposed to Clapham, which is where your photo is from).
    The riot clean up, as far as I experienced it, wasn’t expressly political or naive. It was just about getting the streets back to normal so we can all start addressing the reasons why this riot started. The fact that Hackney council had already done most of it made left the act itself fairly defunct, but to see lots of people out in one place, gathered through social networks, and discussing what just happened in our borough was a heartening thing.

    Also – @Wit. These rioters were looting for high end capitalist products. That’s not something I want to stand in solidarity with. Fighting the state and the inequalities of the system is fine, but looting for the goods that oppress you is not.

  35. August 11, 2011 9:03 am

    Total shite. if your point is so good and obvious, why crop out any BME from the photo?

  36. s tom permalink
    August 11, 2011 9:06 am

    Eloquently written piece of garbage. Guy thinks of way to help and uses twitter to organise volunteer cleanup.

    And pics in Clapham only because that’s where the journalists happened to be and was one of the last cleanups of the day and hence more people. People trying to help, nothing to do with photo ops.

    Same goes for the painting of abandonned shops to make his ungentrified seaside town look less shit. It’s not his fault they are closing down.

    Trashing people for trying to help. Shocking.

    It’s no less self promotional than this piece.


  37. August 11, 2011 9:08 am

    There are some very good points here. But much about it worries me.

    Communities have been coming together to clean up some of the damage done by rioters. If you can compare this to fascism then nothing whatsoever can ever be done again. By your argument, anything that can be construed as maintaining the status quo is off limits. If I see a fire threatening people’s homes, putting it out would be tantamount to silencing the voices of those most marginalised by society.

    Despite your stated wishes, you do denigrate people who want to help each other out. The social exclusion here is not caused by them, at least not in this instance. If the rioters had turned up with a broom, I’m sure their efforts would have been welcome.

    I dislike the system too. But running roughshod over the rights of others, even if some of them may be more fortunate than yourself, is neither acceptable nor productive. Stay tuned for more oppression, greater surveillance and fewer rights. The violence of the few will be used as a stick to beat us all.

  38. August 11, 2011 9:16 am

    Would you like to publish the uncropped photo?

    • Mary permalink
      August 14, 2011 6:03 am

      Are you all blind? The ‘black guys’ are visible in the pic at the top of this post. Certainly in the minority as far as one can tell; but definitely there. And the point of this article is not who was in the broom crowd, but how the media interpreted their action.

  39. friendsound permalink
    August 11, 2011 9:21 am

    Erm, why have you cropped the photo to remove the black guys in the foreground? I do hope that was a cock-up, not deliberate.

  40. cleaner permalink
    August 11, 2011 9:32 am

    Whilst you are fixated on an image you fail to see the ‘bigger picture’ (with respect to the clean ups.) This was a gathering of many races, from many communities, and from many social-demographics. I was at this clean up and think that you are wrong. Myself and my friends are working class leftist citizens. And as for the ‘big society’ people were making signs along these lines “We are not Cameron’s big society we are just here to clean”. Speeches were made begging politicians NOT to turn the clean ups in to spin. Some of us are not tucked up in cozy apartments watching this unfold then reflecting on it with words (or should I say rhetoric) which are inescapably bound to the ‘bullshit’ of acedemia.
    Some of us live very much in the now of it; on top of it. Yes I agree with many of your points. But should citizens of the UK watch their neighborhoods burn? Sit in the house and terrified for their own safety? Sit in their houses and write ‘yet another critical reflection of the riots’? Let the council do the cleaning and watch our taxes go up – the poor suffer even more, further segregate the uk? (lets face it it IS the poor areas that need to be cleaned) Or maybe we should all just all join in with the riots so the little uns don’t feel so left out…. How do you propose we form a unity in a culture united in it’s difference? How do you propose that we all start fighting for the same cause? How do you suppose that we all come to agree on a cause in the first place???
    These riots can not be ignored and not be cloaked over with ‘big society’ or ‘pure criminality’ buzz words – I’m sure you’ll agree. But when it comes to attacking 1000s of people across the country who just want to clean up their towns and cities… Come on!!!! You attack the middle classes/bourgeois but your vocabulary wreaks of it – This post is alienating beyond the world of academia for so many reasons. This post does exactly what you are describing; it does not speak to the working classes, as with much leftist discourse, it alienates them, it speaks to the demographic you hate so much.

    And here is the bigger picture:

  41. Elise permalink
    August 11, 2011 9:35 am

    The beginning of this article made me so angry I was ready for a full on ranting reply, but by the end I realised that you’ve literally just heard a lot of words and done a mikey mouse course in sociology, really the worst thing I’ve read in a long time but no doubt you’ll get an A when you submit it to the examination board

  42. Blab permalink
    August 11, 2011 9:53 am

    @Wit: Please don’t talk of the Left as if we were one a big block of people who have to agree on everything. I’m a leftist, and I don’t want to defend “the riots” (as if it were that simple), thank you very much. I’m not comfortable with condoning violence, especially when (occasionally) directed at people or family-owned businesses.

    The beauty of the Left is that we are able to debate and nuance our arguments, rather than blindly following short statements. Let’s keep it like that, eh?

    However, I agree with this article, and I agree that the solution is more inclusion and social justice, rather than a discourse of fear and further repression. Thanks a lot for posting!

  43. Donna Beprovoked permalink
    August 11, 2011 10:09 am

    Post provocatively then withhold ‘moderated’ responses because that’s free and open and it returns the politics to the public. UNIVERSITY OF TITILATING FAIL.

  44. Donna Beprovoked permalink
    August 11, 2011 10:17 am

    I find your methods sickening. You may name a chair after me if you really must.


  45. August 11, 2011 10:27 am

    smoke that you losers…

  46. Kate Harris permalink
    August 11, 2011 10:28 am

    You make some very valid points. Re-post ahoy!

  47. Raskolnikov permalink
    August 11, 2011 10:33 am

    “By the symbolic cleaning, cleansing and casting out of the rioters from the community, the sweepers appear to enact the closest thing to popular fascism that we have seen on the streets of certain ‘leafy’ bits of London for years”

    Love it.

    Pure Dave Spart.

  48. Broom Handle permalink
    August 11, 2011 10:36 am

    I am white and I am middle class and like a number of people I met that day I don’t live in Clapham but I went because I am unemployed and I wasn’t doing anything and I wasn’t sure that many people would turn up and I wanted to do something, rather than sit on my arse and voyeuristically watch 24 hour news in my rented victorian conversion, despairing of society.

    Maybe people were upset by what happened, maybe that is why they went and maybe they wanted to make a stand because smashing windows and stealing and burning things down isn’t what they wanted on their doorstep or on anyone else’s doorstep for that matter (whether that’s the doorstep of a shop, a council estate or a 140 year old furniture shop in Croydon) and maybe people turned up because they were scared and they didn’t know what else to do. Maybe some were white and middle class, maybe they can’t help being white and middle class, maybe they don’t get involved in their community as much as they should but maybe by turning up they were trying to.

    I didn’t know what the ethnic demographic of the broom holders was going to be when I left my house, I would have gone regardless, I don’t think anyone else there turned up thinking “Oh lots of white middle class people, I must flock to them”.

    There were a lot of people there who took the ‘there is no justification, this is criminality’ route I was not one of them. Some of the kids who did this have been told form day one they are ‘other’ in this society, that there are no jobs, that they are defined by their surroundings, by their lack of opportunity, by peer pressure. If you are told often enough you are not worth anything than I guess society seems worthless too, so why not bash it up.

    I am not really sure what my point is, but turning on white middle class people for responding peacefully is kind of pointless. We certainly need more integration, people certainly need to be kinder and more aware of their neighbours, people should get involved in community projects and yes, perhaps turning up with a broom was naive and not a helpful avenue to change but then neither is smashing the window of charity shops in Clapham Junction.

    • Listening permalink
      August 11, 2011 5:35 pm

      It’s fair enough that you went down to help. Most of us want to live in communities that do not look like war zones. Trashing a charity shop will of course provoke the “mindless” narrative. And, yes, there is much more to be done for social cohesion and inclusion.
      If this article sounds like an attack on you, i suspect it isn’t. Instead it sounds (in my opinion) to be more directed towards those who call for tougher laws, more policing and generally greater State authority. We probably both agree this will not be enough, or at least doesn’t solve the heart of the problem.
      Also, the cleaning teams have been used by media and government to support a certain agenda. If they have their way the social issues that surround this looting will go unchecked. This is the real tradgedy.

      Respect and solidarity to you for cleaning up and also for your considered response.
      It is all confusing isn’t it?

      • Broom Handle permalink
        August 11, 2011 10:55 pm

        Thank you and yes it is very confusing. But I don’t really care if this article was attacking me- to be honest life is too short- and there are far bigger things to worry about than my personal offense-but having said that the more I think about it the more I am affronted.

        Nobody I met went to Clapham to provide a photo opportunity for the tories- personally I went to Clapham because at the time it felt like the right thing to do. To over-analyse the motivations of the people that turned up that day is anodyne at best and small minded and misanthropic at worst. I don’t really care if it was a photo opportunity for the government- no one takes them seriously anyway and anyone with any sense can spot spin at twenty paces (I worked in PR I should know). And anyway yes the media have highlighted the cleaning teams- if they were just highlighting the rioters people would be pissed off that the media was only focussing on the bad stuff- it’s Swings and roundabouts!

        There’s various things I do that the tories could claim as a victory in support of their agenda of Conservatism with a smile on it’s face; recycling, volunteering, riding a bike- but I did these things before they came in to power and will continue to do so regardless of my background and who governs. I make choices because I think they are right. Charities constantly use well known faces to raise their profile but I am discerning enough to support Oxfam regardless of what Bono or any other famous face might say. Like I say most people can see through PR.

        But as we are talking of PR representation the fact that the black people were cropped out of the bottom of the original photo on this blog post- speaks volumes.

  49. Bialik permalink
    August 11, 2011 10:41 am

    1. Clapham Junction is in Battersea, not Clapham, a different place altogether.
    2. They vote differently too suggesting a different socio-economic make-up.
    3. The clean up was organised by, amongst others, the Battersea (sic) Labour (sic) Party.
    Apart from that, this is a great opinion piece and sums up my discomfort with the clean-up campaign: it’s all about the property, not the people.

  50. James permalink
    August 11, 2011 10:57 am

    absolute bollocks. this is complete and absolute horse-shite.
    Where do you live out of interest? Were you affected?

    You are inferring that because the media reports the issues as one way, then there is a over-arching social defect where middle class folk see inner city youth as sub citizens.

    Your writing sounds like someone who isn’t really involved or affected, please let me know where you live, what you do, what your experience of inner city life is, and what your social class is.

    Stop spreading shit. This is completely inaccurate. These riots were started by gangs using technology to spread the message to hundres of youths, these acts were opportunistic – and probably usher a new era of gang organisation and inner city crime.

  51. seaoflists permalink
    August 11, 2011 10:59 am

    Cleaning a street that has been ransacked should not be interpreted as a form of neo-liberal fascism, but rather the urban middle classes struggling to understand why all this happened, and trying to feel that they have control and ownership over their own neighbourhood. True, this demonstrates a level of cross-community ignorance and naivety, but so too did the looting itself. It’s not a photo opportunity for those whose doors have been kicked in.

    Not all targets of the riots were ‘large retail warehouse stores’; in my local neighborhood in Hackney Central, corner shops and family owned businesses were destroyed as well. This isn’t as simple as a class divide, us-and-them situation where white liberals in jaunty hats hate and fear the black minority. Asian businesses in Hackney were specifically targeted by the rioters; let’s not forget that London has a complex social, cultural and racial dynamic that is no longer a simple matter of black vs white. Because, as you say, this isn’t the 1940s.

    Thanks for the article, I’ll be passing it along.

  52. August 11, 2011 11:03 am

    Thanks. Well worth saying. (tho also needs saying in more tabloid language! The similarly demonised supposed “Millwall fans” inEltham are unlikely to use words like “valorise” in everyday political discourse)

  53. Nikerz57 permalink
    August 11, 2011 11:13 am

    Sure, the rhetoric separating the supposed ‘real londoners’ (probably not born in the communities they now inhabit) from the ‘apes’ and ‘feral animals’, simply serves to deepen the sense of alienation and segregation that provided the conditions necessary for the riots. And, certainly this sense of disengagement and lack of connection with the local community needs to be addressed or we will almost certainly see scenes like those of the past week again.
    However, it is patently obvious that the ‘rioters’ had no political goal, no attempt was made to distinguish local retailers and employers from large supermarket chains, indeed no attempt was made to disguise the fact that the vast majority were going after things they wanted, and had no qualms about who they took it from, which to my mind makes them no better than . The simple fact that a large police presence and heavy rainfall deterred them suggests they were opportunistic and lacked any conviction whatsoever.
    A lot of assumptions about ‘false community’ are made in this article and in many places that is simply not the case. Many people who live in Hackney, make a point of shopping in the local shops rather than the supermarkets and many of them know and respect their local shopkeepers, their neighbours and their local area.
    Perhaps what is needed is for those people who went out on to the streets to help clean up the streets to put that energy and genuine affection for the areas in which they live in to helping to open and run desperately needed youth and community centres now that the state has abandoned them, and the people who destroyed those already struggling communities should be set to work rebuilding them, perhaps then they might feel they have a stake in the result.

  54. August 11, 2011 11:17 am

    This is an odd argument. You appear to be highlighting the unintentionally exclusionary activity of ‘sweeping’, while simultaneously endorsing those institutions designed to contain and exclude the underclass: youth clubs, the welfare system and so on. The bourgeoisie who took part in #riotcleanup do not access these institutions, and are not contained by them. In themselves, they are exclusionary; a clear sign of a social divide. You cannot share a common humanity when one half of that humanity has been purposely institutionalised by the State.

  55. Ian Thirkill permalink
    August 11, 2011 11:19 am

    Complete cunt, verbose and unreadable. The Empty Shops network is a lot more helpful than a million hours of arm chair politicking.

  56. Liam permalink
    August 11, 2011 11:19 am

    Why did you crop out the black people at the bottom of the photo?

  57. Louise permalink
    August 11, 2011 11:51 am

    I think that a clearer distinction should be made here between the arbitrary exclusion of a certain group on the basis of race, religion etc, and the justified exclusion of a certain group based on their attack on innocent people . You’re right, we should be cautious with our ideology, but let’s not turn on those with good intentions and accuse them of Nazism. To be honest I’d take their naivety over your cynicism any day.

  58. August 11, 2011 11:55 am

    This piece gave me a lot of food for thought, but (like a lot of commenters) I am uncomfortable with the over-simplification of the demographic involved in the clean-ups. I live in Manchester, and perhaps the picture was different here than it was in London though I’m not so sure about this. Plenty of other commenters have pointed out the strategic cropping of the picture from Clapham, for instance. The clean-up teams (like the rioters) in Manchester were multi-cultural – this was not a case of white cleaners vs. black rioters. Moreover, the clean-up teams were not ‘broom-wielding bourgeoisie’, as the majority of them were proudly working class – and will be joining in our city’s remembrance of the 1819 Peterloo Massacre this weekend.

    Perhaps the problem, with this article and with much of the ‘academic’ commentary on recent events is out-dated class rhetoric. We can no longer fall back on Marx-inspired divides between the ‘working class’ and the ‘bourgeoisie’. This was not a working class rebellion with middle class targets. This was widespread criminal damage of personal and public property, with vague political motivation and capitalist objectives. We need to revise our terms of discourse if we have any hope of comprehending the recent events in our cities. Terms such as ‘fascism’ and ‘bourgeoisie’ lazily obscure the underlying problems that we all need to address.

  59. fantic permalink
    August 11, 2011 11:58 am

    Some of the Empty Shops Network, such as Dougald Hine would probably agree with much of that piece..

    Whike i agree with the danger of co-option and the class composition of the Broom Army, as people have posted elsewhere, at least it meant that the areas weren’t being written off and some thing could be salvaged from the disaster, it helped the shopkeepers morale as well.

  60. August 11, 2011 12:04 pm

    As foreign is this country, I was really surprise by the kind of people who attended the “washing-up” brigades in Brixton, most of them (or at least, judging from the newspapers’ pictures) was what looked like middle-class white people, in a borough like Lambeth where, according to the 2001 census, just the 50% of the population is white British. To my astonishment, just some hours later, we could see a call in Facebook to answer back the riots with an “Operation cup of Tea”. I think this example illustrates what you so wisely said in your article, it’s a cultural biased answer where there is the existance of the “other” as a wild and a without sense of citizenship and “we”, the civilized tea-drinker people. Funnily enough, this last event is just to be made in your own home.

    Brilliant article!

    Sorry if I’ve made grammar mistakes.

    • Jerkstore Cowboy permalink
      August 14, 2011 2:46 pm

      “As foreign is this country, I was really surprise by the kind of people who attended the “washing-up” brigades in Brixton, most of them (or at least, judging from the newspapers’ pictures) was what looked like middle-class white people”

      Yeah, weird that. Wonder why the non white people and immigrants didn’t show up. They usually keep really nice and clean places as seen in East LA, Birmingham, Detroit, Western Sydney, Paris Suburbs etc etc.

      Must be fascism that stopped the non whites and immigrants from attending.

  61. Terry permalink
    August 11, 2011 12:04 pm

    Excellent article, totally agree. I found it interesting that Clapham not only got major media coverage when it was attacked but also such an overwhelming response to clean it up (not to mention a visit from Boris) whereas the less prosperous and desirable area of Walworth Road, SE London, was badly damaged and looted yet hardly reported on and for some reason didn’t seem to qualify for one of the highly publicised twitter/Facebook clean ups…

    • August 11, 2011 12:46 pm

      maybe you could have organised a clean up yourself Terry, if you thought it needed cleaning up. That’s all that happened in Clapham, ordinary people organised it over social media. Or would that have been a facist thing to do.

      • Pivo permalink
        August 11, 2011 2:20 pm

        This reminds me of all the people who come on the UK Uncut Facebook page and complain that nobody is organising events in their town.

        It’s seems more fascist to me to sit and wait for an authoritarian government to provide the solution than to get together and display that you give a shit about your neighbourhood that the authorities sat and watched burn.

  62. Daichi permalink
    August 11, 2011 12:05 pm

    I agree entirely with the sentiments of this article. I’d also like to offer not a criticism, but a plea – that these same ideas be more widely disseminated, in a more concise and accessible tone. Much of the public discourse on this issue has adopted a simple, confrontational rhetoric of moral binaries, which has been abusive and reationary… but powerful. Without resorting to the same tactics, I’m sure there are ways of expressing these ideas in a more direct way, so as not to remain a case of preaching to the converted (i.e. left-wing intellectuals).

  63. John Brewin permalink
    August 11, 2011 12:13 pm

    Well-written, Student Grant. I hope you will not object if I also offer you my most enthusiastic contrafribularities. I’m anispeptic, frasmotic, even compunctuous to have caused you such pericombobulation.

  64. Obvious pseudonym permalink
    August 11, 2011 12:28 pm

    Mmm, yes, what we need is more Lefebvre, and fewer people clearing up, because that’s the way to repoliticise public space. Yes, flawless logic.

  65. August 11, 2011 12:30 pm

    What a crock of shit. At least the people cleaning up their streets are doing something practical and positive about sorting out the damage caused to their communities, rather than writing long winded, apologistic, psuedo-situationist blog… posts with lots of clever big words.

    So its wrong to refer to those who are smashing up and burning other people’s lives, homes, businesses and streets, or stealing from the back packs of the injured, or shooting people in the head, or running down and killing Asians in their car as ‘feral rats’ ‘immoral’or ‘feckless’, yet to actually engage in clearing up the mess afterwards is ‘fascist’ and ‘excludes the other’. I’m getting a bit tired of reading this kind of so called ‘anarchist/anti-capitalist​’ ‘analysis’ from armchair revolutionaries who are clearly safe and sound and well away from any of the violence and mayhem. Last time I looked Anarchism was about values that are deeper than consumerism, such as mutual aid and BUILDING and DEFENDING community, not smashing it up and burning it down, stealing stuff or preying on the weak and vulnerable or anybody else that happens to get in the way, then justifying it with a self pitying abnegation of personal responsibility (‘it’s not my fault, guv, its the system/the cuts/social exclusion/society that’s to blame’).

    ‘Dr. Sofia Himmelblau’ criticises those who would dehumanise the rioters and looters that are fucking over their own communities by labelling them as ‘other’, yet is happy to employ the same dehumanising, stereotyping rhetorical tropes against the ‘broom-wielding bourgeoisie of Clapham’ by labelling them ‘middle class’, ‘passive-aggressive’, ‘conscience salving’, ‘kids from the broom-brigade’, ‘Young Conservatives of Clapham’ and every other cliche from the Beginners style guide to writing revolutionary ‘communiques’.

    Maybe I’m sounding like some unfashionably jingoistic Daily Mail reader here, but actually yes, the ‘blitz spirit’/’keep calm and carry on’ ‘clap trap’ (ie, people actually getting together to share and help each other out in times of extreme adversity) has more in common with my understanding of anarchism than romanticising and patronising the rioters and looters as dispossessed victims of the class war who, by implication, are not responsible for their own actions.

    • Pivo permalink
      August 11, 2011 1:27 pm

      It sounds to me that the author’s brand of anarchism is dismissing everything that anyone else does whilst congratulating herself for her stinging critique of their supposed hypocrisy.

      We must analyse the shit out of everything and wait for complete solidarity and consensus before we do anything! i.e. do nothing of real value.

      I’ve met plenty of other people like her in activist circles who are also mostly white, middle class and over educated.

  66. Matt Jones permalink
    August 11, 2011 12:31 pm

    “Art and brooms isn’t going to fix this particular problem however, only the radical redistribution of wealth and a society not defined around the individual accumulation of property is going to do that.”

    Entirely incorrect. Only a society not defined around the sense of entitlement of other people’s property (others must work so that I am able not to) can remove these tensions.

  67. Pivo permalink
    August 11, 2011 12:38 pm

    I’ll admit it, I’m a white, degree holding, middle class Hackney resident who took part in the riot clean up on Tuesday. I’ve also worked directly with young people for the past 10 years, been a volunteer welfare rights adviser, taken part in anti-cuts demonstrations and helped start a food coop at a local estate’s community centre (amongst other community activism.) I was able to do all of this precisely because I chose not to waste my time and my parent’s money becoming an academic.

    So tell me, what have you done lately to fight inequality and the other underlying causes of this crisis? Hint: posting internet polemics that quote other academics from your ivory tower doesn’t count.

    • Community activist permalink
      August 11, 2011 2:18 pm

      I’ll admit it i’m a white, degree holding, middle class, Lewisham resident who is trying to understand what is happening and actually find lucid articles like this more interesting and valuable than the crap that is widely distributed by mainstream media who all trumpet the same “we need more authority” rhetoric.

      Building an informed movement of solidarity against the conditions that force the righteous to ‘volunteer’ in other people’s communities is what we need. Not a bloody i’m-a-better-activist-than-you-because-i-left-university-to-clean-the-streets back and forth!

      Plus, it is a tragic assumption that someone cannot involve themseves in academic study while being an activist in the community.

      • Pivo permalink
        August 11, 2011 4:50 pm

        The tone of this whole article is basically a lecture from an academic saying something along the lines of: all of these people are the same…privileged and disconnected from the city they live in.

        At the same time it cries out for everyone to treat those who have participated in the riots as individuals with individual backgrounds and individual motivations for their involvement.

        I used the example of myself to show that it’s lazy and misguided.

        Perhaps I am being unfair on academics. It’s only the vast majority of those I’ve met who have been completely up their own asses and devoid of any grounded, real life understanding of the world always ready to pontificate about other people’s privilege but never willing to examine their own.

  68. August 11, 2011 12:38 pm

    Bbrave underclass warriors fighting back against capitalism​uk/video/2011/aug/09/riote​rs-steal-injured-boy-s-bac​kpack-video

  69. August 11, 2011 12:49 pm

    Yes Graham and don’t forget to mention the anti-capitalist heroes who burned down the Oxfam shop in Ealing.

    • Berty permalink
      August 14, 2011 2:01 pm

      Yes Oxfam, the bastion of global class struggle….

  70. Liam permalink
    August 11, 2011 12:50 pm

    Bbrave underclass warriors fighting back against capitalism​uk/video/2011/aug/09/riote​rs-steal-injured-boy-s-bac​kpack-video

    Maybe they thought he was keeping the means of production in there.

  71. Jo Halden permalink
    August 11, 2011 12:53 pm

    Exactly right

  72. August 11, 2011 12:56 pm

    DOH that photo blunder has kinda undermined this

  73. August 11, 2011 1:09 pm

    That’s a bit of a reach surely? your totally bang on about the twee shop stuff covering up urban decay(no I don’t want your artisan brownies), but those clean up operations were open to all with few monetary barriers (bar a twitter feed and a broom). This itself warrants further investigation and should not default to suggestions of Nazi imagery which is simply lazy, all too common and is something else that should be examined(i.e. why are groupings of white people all too easily compared to nazis, regardless of context?)

  74. Andy Wilbur permalink
    August 11, 2011 1:25 pm

    Total, total nonsense. ‘Dr. Sofia Himmelblau’ confuses Battersea with Clapham yet still feels qualified to pronounce on the area’s demographics and class composition, the first indicator that she has no idea what she’s talking about. She glorifies these noble insurrectionists and their pinching of mobiles phones and TV sets, ignoring the fact that – as emerging information continues to show – the demographics of the looters actually cover a pretty broad spectrum. Cropping the photo to, ahem, exclude black people not only shows blatant intellectual dishonesty but also a total disregard for the efforts of people who don’t fit the convenient and trite narrative of this being an exclusively white middle-class operation, particularly in the other boroughs where clean-up gatherings took place. The most cursory bit of research (e.g. a Google search) would indicate that this isn’t the case. But hey, why waste a good opportunity to quote Lefebvre and berate some people who are actually doing something practially useful? In these troubled times, it’s a huge relief to know that we have such distinguished thinkers on hand to come up with snidey attempts to discredit the hard work of others. Great stuff, Doc. Heaven knows why you’d need a pseudonymn when you could attach work of this calibre to your real name.

  75. ased permalink
    August 11, 2011 1:27 pm

    What a racist and offensive article. So everybody who rioted was black/non-white ethnic origin and poor and oppressed? And everyone who decided to clean up was middle/ upper class, white, snobbish and politically misled?
    The clear up was not about ‘real Londoners and the Others’. It was about uniting against something people oppose: violence. It was about proving that social media can be used for good as well as bad. The devision here is not in the class and ethnicity but in the willingness to use violence. I’m glad neighbourhoods finally got together to clear up rubbish someone else made and didnt wait for the government to ‘finally do something’. I grew up in a country where there was at times no food on the shop shelves and no water or petrol to heat your oven during the harsh winters. I remember baking bread with my mum, eating left overs with my neighbours and collecting snow for water. I dont remember us trying to burn our neighbours flat or the local shop…

    If the riots were political they could have targeted political buildings. Not local off licenses. Or hearing aid shops. Or debenhams and curries for goods to make personal profit on ebay. Or homes where families live in. I had to leave my flat because I was scared for the life of my 20 month year old boy.

    Over-intellectualizing the riots from afar does not help anyone. It only brings more division into our society. Lets applaud people to have finally left their seats in front of the TV’s and taking matters in their own hands (literally) in a non-violent way.

  76. August 11, 2011 2:02 pm

    Class traitor spouting bourgeois rhetoric that excludes ‘the other’…

  77. Liam permalink
    August 11, 2011 2:08 pm

    I wonder why “Dr” Sofia Himmelblau hasn’t responded to her critics. But then I suppose she’s a busy person, undergraduates to lecture, PhD students to supervise, conferences to attend…

  78. flashbank permalink*
    August 11, 2011 2:28 pm

    Regards the picture, no conspiracy here I’m afraid, grabbed a pic of the web and just preferred one a bit squarer and that was visually more about the brooms than the people, to be fair it wasn’t really much of a conscious decision, that cropping just looked better at a glance… and didn’t want any people to be close up/recognisable that might accuse us of defamation or something… if you actually look at that picture you will see that there are still black people in the shot that was used so the argument that somehow this was a sinister effort to remove them is patently false. Yes, in light of the article’s content (or more accurately its title) this was maybe an oversight and it appears obvious now that it is pointed out, but to cry conspiracy rather than address the substance of what is written seems a little facetious. Also the article clearly states from the start ‘broadly’, not ‘exclusively’, if it had done so that might have been a little different – also you will note that the main argument is about class and not race in any event, so again it doesn’t make too much sense in that context…or perhaps the non-bourgeoisie have been cropped out too…? Anyway, now that it has been pointed out, I think that the fuss made by those with an axe to grind potentially does undermine some of the substance of the article so yeah, have taken down and put up an image that I found with what I guess must be the original cropping. Might I suggest that if you want to take on some genuine cases of image manipulation perhaps you could better direct you enquiries towards every appearance made by a political leader in the past few days that has basically followed the script of ‘stern-faced moral outrage standing in front of a black person’. Now run along and play with your water cannon.

    • Pivo permalink
      August 11, 2011 2:41 pm

      Yeah, because anyone who takes issue with this article is part of the chorus crying out for water cannon and bringing back the death penalty. Way to emphasize nuanced debate over knee-jerk simplicity.

      • flashbank permalink*
        August 11, 2011 2:58 pm

        the comment is directed to the sneering image conspiracy-theorists, not those that take issue with the article – take as much issue as you like, it’s the Right that is desperate to close down all debate about these events not me.

    • Artymum permalink
      August 11, 2011 3:00 pm

      I think this article got a little too personal with the wrong people. If you wanted to sag someone off, then slag off the murderer who drove at three innocent men or the yobs who mugged a defenceless student not some bloke in a ‘jaunty hat’ who is trying to help rebuild morale rather than leave it in the gutter where the ‘immoral’ rioters had left it.

      Perhaps if you removed the broom that has obviously been stuck up your backside and got down to the street to really meet these communities and help out you could have left your academically worded drivel where the sun don’t shine.

    • Andy Wilbur permalink
      August 11, 2011 3:09 pm

      ‘also you will note that the main argument is about class and not race in any event’

      Right, and the response of many of us who have criticised the article is that the author doesn’t seem to be in a position of any great knowledge to comment on the class make-up of the volunteers. Sorry, ‘volunteers’ is probably the wrong word… I mean ‘substitution for a non-existent community’ or ‘exclusionary illusion of community’. Instead it reads like a bunch of half-digested theory with a few references to local events, dispatched from a position of complacent comfort where doing anything positive can be derided as inauthentic. Come the revolution, I’m sure Dr. Sofia Himmelblau will be right at the front lines to bravely lead us into battle. Until then, people may feel an understandable need to sweep broken glass from their streets.

    • August 11, 2011 5:09 pm

      “Now run along and play with your water cannon.”

      Grow up.

  79. Cueball permalink
    August 11, 2011 2:34 pm

    You idiot. The last major project the Empty Shops Network was involved in was on a council estate in Kilburn. Not exactly a “gentrification agency”. At least do your research before pontificating.

  80. Sol permalink
    August 11, 2011 2:50 pm

    Speaking as somebody who would define themselves as somewhere between a socialist and a social democrat in this day and age, your description of community and its stratification within Clapham speaks the most volume to me.

    There are endless remarks of ‘community’ and ‘communities’ across the media in response to the rioting and yet what do they actually mean by them?

    The reality of what is meant by community in our late modern times is ‘localities’ or local groups of common identity, i.e. neighbourboods of cities, villages and ‘demographics’ or demographic groups of common identity, i.e. the youth, the disabled, or pretty much whatever groups of belonging you’ve got, ‘people who listen to grime’, ‘people who have blue eyes’, ‘people who watch the news’.

    Splitting up the atom is essentially what we are doing in the pretense that these groups are independent of each other and dependent on what they share in common. It’s madness, for the truth is what we are all inter-dependent. We’re all reliant and inter-dependent on each other, whatever our locality, nationality or demographic make-up.

    What this does is favours the local ‘community’ over the social ‘community’, i.e. it favours local justice over social justice localism over socialism.

    What we need are strong communities but not communities that are forged by ‘crime’ and ‘social disorder’ and not strong communities at the expense of a strong society, made up of strong institutions. We need gesellschaft ie. civil society more than we need gemeinschaft, i.e. traditional community.

    My PhD is studying communities, I thought what we needed was a return to gemeinschaft but I’m realising that (especially after a trip to the US) is that the idea of gemeinschaft is used only as a stick to beat public institutions and any idea of a social means. The Big Society = cover for little communities to preserve the status quo, making their locality nice, another locality not so nice; their demographic group high up, another demographic group low down.

    DIVIDE AND RULE = communities.
    Society = what we need to be talking about and the stupid divisions within it.

  81. Pivo permalink
    August 11, 2011 3:05 pm

    Part of the reason people are taking issue with image is because they were there and take issue with the entire premise of this article, which seems to be based entirely and uncritically on the mainstream media’s representation of the clean up rather than any direct experience.

    • flashbank permalink*
      August 11, 2011 3:21 pm

      That’ll be a bit like most people’s direct experience of the lives and everyday realities of those they are so quick to condemn then? Leave aside the rioters themselves, plenty of people seem ready to condemn whole swathes of society as criminal, or better yet ‘sick’. Yeah, the media discourse around the clean-up and the way that it was co-opted by politicians is where the majority of the problem with the clean-up per se arises. But there is an ideology at work there which I feel critical towards, you may disagree, fine.

      • Pivo permalink
        August 11, 2011 3:38 pm

        You really don’t get it and every one of your comments digs a deeper hole for you to find your way out of. You cry unfair about ‘plenty of people’ condemning whole swathes of society yet promote an article that brands those involved in the clean up effort as nazis, fascists and social cleansers.

        You admit that the clean up effort was co-opted but still decide to believe that the underlying ideology of something you weren’t involved in was exactly how it was represented in Boris’ press release.

        I prefer a little more of the grey area in my interpretation of the world.

      • Andy Wilbur permalink
        August 11, 2011 3:38 pm

        I get the conceit of the article – the symbolic sweeping away of the riot detrius, returning to blissfully ignorant middle-class lives and ignoring the underlying problems, etc. And I get how using that unintentional symbolism might appeal to someone looking for a way to frame this in terms of class tensions. In fact it’s bluntly obvious.

        The problem is in making uninformed and insulting remarks about people because in (some) pictures they look (mostly) white and (probably) middle-class. You’re condemning stereotypes of ‘whole swathes of society’ in the comment above but this whole article is based on a lazy stereotype, one which implies that (mostly) white and (probably) middle-class people aren’t really entitled to a stake in whatever authentic and superior vision of community the author thinks existed before all these gentrifiers stepped in. The article isn’t about media discourse around the clean-up; it takes on faith that this was a white, middle-class effort and run wild with it, stopping in at the social theory section of the library along the way.

      • Annoyed non-white person permalink
        August 11, 2011 11:04 pm

        A person who commits criminal acts is commonly defined as a criminal regardless of their respective demographic. Also ‘sick’ is an apt name for those who lack basic human decency as shown here;​uk/video/2011/aug/09/riote​rs-steal-injured-boy-s-bac​kpack-video
        What qualifies a person to join the clean up effort? A hammer and sickle? As a non-white person I resent your assertion that I or any other member of my race have so little substance as to be unable put forward dissent beyond unadulterated violence. Can’t you see how patronising this rationalising and interpretation of blatantly criminal behaviour is to those of us that believe in civilised debate? Black people can seek education for themselves you know (and I’m not traitor to my race for doing so.) Not everything we do is in reaction to perceived imbalances in society. Your point of view is far more oppressive and fascist than the actions of the poor people trying to clean up the aftermath. At a time like this when so many people’s lives lie in flaming ruins agendas like yours need to be put away. So what if the crowd was mostly white? At least they are doing something positive, I for one have no problem with it. Like someone said here earlier, if any of the rioters had turned up with brooms no one would have argued.The rioters segregated themselves by their completely antisocial behaviour. Their payoff was forty iphones not social justice.

    • Community activist permalink
      August 11, 2011 3:36 pm

      PIVO and other trolls… clearly feel personally insulted by what has been said. It hurts to be told there is something potentially sinister about the representation of those folks in the street clean-up teams. Folks such as yourselves perhaps.
      The government line is: “We need more authority against criminals”. Images in papers with t-shirts that read “Looters are Scum” reinforce this stance.

      Sofia Himmelblau is clear when she says “I do not wish to denigrate people who want to help each other out as best they can or to express their social solidarity in some way, but this cannot be at the expense of further exclusion and segregation. Similarly I do not wish to applaud those causing suffering to people with whom they share their neighbourhoods, indeed their communities, often hurting those in an equally disadvantaged state as themselves.”

      Developing cohesive communities will take more than dishing out harsh sentences and glorifying (and politicising) those who make sweeping statements about mindless thuggery. That’s the point.

      • Pivo permalink
        August 11, 2011 4:18 pm

        The last time I checked, trolls are people who make absurd sweeping generalisations and demand less nuance, not more. But then again, it’s also a really easy way to dismiss anyone who disagrees with you.

      • Community activist permalink
        August 11, 2011 4:22 pm

        PIVO and clearly feel personally insulted by what has been said. It hurts to be told there is something potentially sinister about the representation of those folks in the street clean-up teams. Folks such as yourselves perhaps.
        The government line is: “We need more authority against criminals”. Images in papers with t-shirts that read “Looters are Scum” reinforce this stance.

        Sofia Himmelblau is clear when she says “I do not wish to denigrate people who want to help each other out as best they can or to express their social solidarity in some way, but this cannot be at the expense of further exclusion and segregation. Similarly I do not wish to applaud those causing suffering to people with whom they share their neighbourhoods, indeed their communities, often hurting those in an equally disadvantaged state as themselves.”

        Developing cohesive communities will take more than dishing out harsh sentences and glorifying (and politicising) those who make sweeping statements about mindless thuggery. That’s the point.

      • August 11, 2011 7:59 pm

        I think you’re the one who’s been ‘trolled’ mate – for one thing, it’s fairly clear that “Sofia Himmelblau’ doesn’t actually exist.

      • August 11, 2011 9:51 pm

        ‘Community Activist’?? Do me a favour and keep well away from my community please mate!

  82. August 11, 2011 3:16 pm

    good lord… nobody has been listening…race is not the exact same thing as skin color. The presence of a few black guys at the cleanup does not change the character of the effort as “broadly white” in her terms, because of the intentions behind it, the effect of it which is intended to be that WHITE PEOPLE HELP, and BLACK PEOPLE DESTROY FOR NO REASON. The rioters were not all black, but they have been portrayed as “broadly black” just like the cleanup efforts have been displayed as “broadly white.” the riots are portrayed as unexpected, nearly unprecedented (even though there have been riots here since there have been poor people here), unclear in form or motivation, dark of intention. The cleanup, on the other hand, is displayed as proud evidence of an “anti-riot,” a kind of antidote or corrective, with people posing proudly for photos, displaying their brooms just like white Americans display their guns as signs of an innocent yet brutal vigilance which ultimately leads to the destruction of black bodies by a supposedly natural virtue.

    Obsessing over the picture is completely missing the point, which is both metaphorical and real, about the real effects of metaphorical ideas, such as the falsehood of opposed whiteness and blackness. She doesn’t need any firsthand experience of the cleanup to write about the way it’s being used as propaganda, just like the conditions from which the rioting youth emerged have been obscured as the media tries to do the job of the police and Tory politicians.


    • Liam permalink
      August 11, 2011 4:11 pm

      race is not the exact same thing as skin color.

      Wow. So I suppose you consider the black people at the cleanup to be “honourary whites”. You couldn’t be more racist if you wore a white sheet over your head.

    • Gar5 permalink
      August 11, 2011 4:44 pm

      In Asia, race isn’t a problem, in Africa, race isn’t a problem. It’s EVERY and ONLY White countries that are told have a “race problem”.

      People say this race problem will be solved when the third world pours into EVERY and ONLY into white countries.

      People say the only solution to the RACE problem is if EVERY and ONLY white countries “assimilate,” i.e., intermarry, with all those non-whites.

      In a nutshell: Africa for the Africans, Asia for the Asians, white countries for EVERYBODY!

      But if I tell that obvious truth about the ongoing program of genocide against White people, Anti-Whites agree that I am a naziwhowantstokillsixmillionjews. Or they label me as a “racistwho’sgonnalynchalltheblacks”. They are more interested in calling anyone who stands up to them names, than debating race – obviously race needs to be debated or else people wouldn’t talk about it.

      It’s a well known fact that all these “Anti-racist” organisations ONLY target White people in White countries. You’ll never hear of them protesting at Japan’s very strict immigration, and you’ll never hear them complaining that Mexico is 99% Latino. Heck, you don’t ever hear them complaining that Detroit is Majority Black, and then go on to demand that Detroit brings in more non-Black people.

      That’s why: Anti-racist is a code word for anti-white.

      If ALL and ONLY Black countries in 1965 opened their borders and let hundreds of millions of non-Blacks into their countries, and then 90 years later, Blacks are expected to be minorities in the countries that let non-Blacks in; that’s not done by accident. It’s obviously a plan to wipe out the Black race. AKA genocide.

      This is what’s been done to my people, White people. It’s geNOcide.

      “Genocide involves the attempt to achieve the disappearance of a group by whatever means. It does not have to be violent, it could be a combination of policies that would lead to a certain group dying out.”

      Malcolm Fraser (Prime Minister of Australia 1975-1983)

      • shone permalink
        August 11, 2011 10:37 pm

        “Anti-racist is a code word for anti-white.”

        Because there are no white people. There are English people, Irish people (the first coloured people), Swedes, Dutch, etc. and all kinds of admixtures but no white people.

      • August 13, 2011 1:39 pm


        “Because there are no white people. There are English people, Irish people (the first coloured people), Swedes, Dutch, etc. and all kinds of admixtures but no white people.”

        ‘All people are coloured. Otherwise you wouldn’t be able to see them’ – Captain Beefheart

      • Jerkstore Cowboy permalink
        August 14, 2011 2:56 pm


        You kinda missed the point. You could replace ‘white’ with ‘irish’,
        ‘english’, ‘swedes’, dutch’ etc and the logic would still carry.

        Anti-racism is code for anti-Dutch in the Netherlands, anti-Irish in Ireland etc. It is applied to whichever European majority ethnicity resides in a European country.

        As for your dismissal of ‘whiteness’, it is very much used as a term to describe/deride a broad ethnic group in new world countries like the USA, Canada, Aus, NZ etc. It meets all the definitions for an ‘ethnic group’.

    • August 11, 2011 8:07 pm

      “The presence of a few black guys at the cleanup does not change the character of the effort as “broadly white” in her terms, because of the intentions behind it, the effect of it which is intended to be that WHITE PEOPLE HELP, and BLACK PEOPLE DESTROY FOR NO REASON.”

      No, I think ‘the intentions behind it’ were to clean up the street. You know, so people could get on with their normal lives, go to work, maybe buy something, and the other normal things that working people do every day of their lives.

  83. Andy Wilbur permalink
    August 11, 2011 3:44 pm

    Obviously my reply is directed to flashbank, not Pivo. Could be confusing as we both open with talk about ‘getting’ stuff.

  84. trisbj permalink
    August 11, 2011 3:47 pm

    Heh heh heh – too true. While the working-class of Toxteth were standing in front of the Mosque on Grove St in Liverpool to defend it against the depredations of the post-capitalist uber-consumers (little kids in NorthFace with hard shining eyes) I could feel the heavy hand of old-socialism struggling to square the circle. Some good debating points tho. I agree with the absurdity of the young wealthy (well, relatively…) moving in to an area, gentrifying it and excluding – tacitly or otherwise – the existing population whilst opening ‘ethnic’ shops of their own. We have them in Liverpool too.

  85. trisbj permalink
    August 11, 2011 3:50 pm

    That comment was meant for Smithereens

    These riots are not the howl of the oppressed – they are the zenith of consumerism. They are the psychopathic crowd-think of late capitalism. These people were not rioting for food or injustice. They were rioting for Adidas, Sony and Kappa.

    Heh heh heh – too true. While the working-class of Toxteth were standing in front of the Mosque on Grove St in Liverpool to defend it against the depredations of the post-capitalist uber-consumers (little kids in NorthFace with hard shining eyes) I could feel the heavy hand of old-socialism struggling to square the circle. Some good debating points tho. I agree with the absurdity of the young wealthy (well, relatively…) moving in to an area, gentrifying it and excluding – tacitly or otherwise – the existing population whilst opening ‘ethnic’ shops of their own. We have them in Liverpool too.

  86. Liam permalink
    August 11, 2011 4:05 pm

    it’s the Right that is desperate to close down all debate about these events not me.

    Given that several, perfectly reasonable, non-abusive, comments of mine haven’t appeared, even when direct responses to your comments, which must have been posted later than mine, have, if it’s the purely the right who’s trying to close down debate then you must be Thatcher herself.

  87. Usagi Yojimbo permalink
    August 11, 2011 4:18 pm

    Everybody says there is this RACE problem. Everybody says this RACE problem will be solved when the third world pours into EVERY white country and ONLY into white countries.

    The Netherlands and Belgium are just as crowded as Japan or Taiwan, but nobody says Japan or Taiwan will solve this RACE problem by bringing in millions of third worlders and quote assimilating unquote with them.

    Everybody says the final solution to this RACE problem is for EVERY white country and ONLY white countries to “assimilate,” i.e., intermarry, with all those non-whites.

    What if I said there was this RACE problem and this RACE problem would be solved only if hundreds of millions of non-blacks were brought into EVERY black country and ONLY into black countries?

    How long would it take anyone to realize I’m not talking about a RACE problem. I am talking about the final solution to the BLACK problem?

    And how long would it take any sane black man to notice this and what kind of psycho black man wouldn’t object to this?

    But if I tell that obvious truth about the ongoing program of genocide against my race, the white race, Liberals and respectable conservatives agree that I am a naziwhowantstokillsixmillionjews.

    They say they are anti-racist. What they are is anti-white.

    Anti-racist is a code word for anti-white.

    • Jerry permalink
      August 19, 2011 5:03 pm

      Wow, this doesn’t make sense at all does it = Random rambling about RACE!…..

  88. Fiona Williams permalink
    August 11, 2011 4:22 pm

    Why does helping clean up preclude you from understanding the complexities of London society? Presumably If there had been a riot on your street, leaving burn out cars and broken glass, you would turn away people who come to help clean up? Would rather they all go home and submit 2,000 words on the class divide? How dare you call them Fascists. Frankly you are using this as an opportunity to ramp up your media profile, get a few more hits and land a few more spots on NPR. Good job.

    • Jaz permalink
      May 29, 2012 12:36 pm

      I’ve grown up in Hackney and went to help clean up in the aftermath of the riots. I was met by a group of very trendily-dressed white-middle class people with brooms, all still with price tags on, at which point I realised; I can’t afford a £7.99 broom and I don’t know how comfortable I feel joining-in cleaning up my neighbourhood with the very same people helping to ensure I will never be able to afford a house there…I felt sadness and carried on walking…I didn’t hate them, I just knew this was not for people like me, it was just another arty, trendy event, this wasn’t their homes, not their neighbourhood, not in a million years. They may have been well intentioned, but I just wanted to point out that many people like me, who wanted to join, may have felt excluded – it seemed like a kind of “yuppie taskforce” had been called in and we weren’t needed.

  89. Pindo permalink
    August 11, 2011 4:47 pm

    I enjoyed your article much more than many of the comments below it. Thanks for taking the time to write it.
    Perhaps when they, the frustrated commenatators, write something rather than just criticizing others than we can all read it. I think we may be waiting some time.
    Horse anyone?

    • Lindsay permalink
      August 12, 2011 11:13 am

      An academic writes a blog post insulting people who decided to get up off their arses and do something but the people who actually did something can’t criticize the writer’s willful misrepresentation of their intentions in order to tidy up the edges of her awfully sketchy theory?

      Yes, the world needs more Dr. Sofia Himmelblaus sitting behind a computer and fewer people going outside and talking to their neighbours after a riot. After all, writing > doing.

  90. August 11, 2011 5:07 pm

    Awesome post. So full of Win. I’m glad I found this website (hat tip to “Lenin”)

  91. fantic permalink
    August 11, 2011 5:15 pm

    I just wish the Broom Army who in the main had very good intentions hadn’t allowed themselves to be used by politicians, they should have seen that coming, now it will be wheeled out everytime they want to make a point about the possibilities of The Big Society

    in fact I predict it will soon be up on TBS website..

  92. August 11, 2011 5:58 pm

    I don’t know why my previous comment about this got modded out, but I’ll repeat it just in case. You clearly haven’t actually researched the background of the Empty Shops Network and Mr Thompson. Far from being an agent of gentrification, the Network receives little to no funding, has done some sterling work recently with young kids on a council estate in Kilburn – encouraging them not to see their streets as failed – and receives far too little in the way of media coverage for Dan to be called ‘tirelessly self promotional’.

    It’d be nice to think the ESN has been successful enough to paper over the cracks in failed high streets, but it’s really not big enough to do that.

  93. Paul Doherty permalink
    August 11, 2011 6:04 pm

    Very well-constructed, academically-argued piece of writing.
    Not very useful though – beyond perhaps betraying many of the writer’s prejudices (evident in broad generalisations, handy stereotypes and other presumptions about some pictures of people he has seen helping local business-owners get back on their feet) as an armchair socialist.
    What’s the betting he is white, middle-class (perhaps feeling a bit of white guilt), doesn’t live in an area affected by the violenceand has never actually done anything that physically helps this ‘opressed’ group? Apart from write these articles that other middle class armchair theoretical socialist/leftists/rightists etc. agree/argue with (again to no real effect).

    I agree that the media and political people act (and rhetoricise) – by nature – in a manner which is as self-serving as the actions of the (evidently capitalist, acquisitive) looters. But at least the media/political writers do not mug kids, punch innocent citizens to death or set fire to independent working-class-built businesses that provide jobs, resources and a sense of civilisation/community in poor areas.

  94. Andy permalink
    August 11, 2011 7:09 pm

    Thanks for standing up to the bigots, Sofia, keep up the good work! The sickening fascist outpouring we are now seeing only convinces me that the insurgents’ grievances were even more justified than I realised.

    To the naysayers: why the hell do you think these kids owe YOU anything, or should conform to YOUR twisted moralities? You’ve stood back or joined in while the bigots defecated on them, now you’re butthurt that they acted without your say-so and did things you don’t like. Guess what? You’re always doing things they don’t like. Stop imagining you’re the centre of the universe.

    As to “consumerism”: an expensive item will sell for enough to pay rent, food and bills for a long time. Stop judgin people whose lives you know nothing about

    • August 11, 2011 8:02 pm

      “As to “consumerism”: an expensive item will sell for enough to pay rent, food and bills for a long time. Stop judgin people whose lives you know nothing about”

      Good point, and that’s why I’ll be around your gaffe later tonight with a few of my mates to liberate the computer on which you typed that and some of your other possessions, all in the name of the insurgency of course. We’ll probably burn your house down after too. I’m sure you won’t object – after all, why should we conform to your twisted morality?

    • Liam permalink
      August 11, 2011 8:57 pm

      Bigots? There’s been one outright racist post so far (Usagi Yojimbo), but apart from that who are the bigots? Unless bigot has been redefined to mean “people I disagree with”. Why am I even bothering? I hope someone’s reading this and has the ingegrity to let it through. If you’re blocking my innocuous posts i wonder what else you’re not letting through. Oh well, one more post down the memory hole, whooshhhh.

    • August 11, 2011 9:50 pm

      Just for you, ‘Andy’ and ‘Sophia’;

  95. blackwatertown permalink
    August 11, 2011 7:55 pm

    What about the Southalls Sikhs on the streets?
    What about the Muslim guys guarding shops in Birmingham? Three dead.
    What about the Kurdish guys chasing off looters and burners?
    What about Pauline Pearce – the walking stick granny shaming Hackney rioters?
    White? Don’t think so.
    More power to them all.

  96. Liam permalink
    August 11, 2011 9:05 pm

    Actually, how truly bizarre that you’re blocking my posts while Usagi Yojimbo’s neo-nazi rant is allowed through. One would almost think you were only publishing your most extreme critics to make yourself look more reasonable by comparison. Since you’re styling yourself as a university perhaps you should show some integrity and let through all posts (apart from ones which are actually abusive or threatening of course.

  97. August 11, 2011 9:33 pm

    Thank you for this thoughtful piece.

  98. MaqueofAnarchy permalink
    August 12, 2011 12:22 am

    Good analysis of the riots. I live in Vancouver, and we have just experienced a riot after losing a hockey game. There was really no reason to riot, but if you look at Vancouver, like other cities with suburbs, you start to notice the gentrification of the inner city as opposed to the suburb districts. The suburbs are turning into ghettos while the inner city region is full of luxury condos and McMansions.

    We had the same fascist rhetoric that is being experienced in London. The politicians and the media were calling the rioters not real Vancouverites, not real fans, etc. But the truth as this article says, is that they are real and they are apart of the community. So call them what you will, they are just the reactionary force of a collapsing civilization. How much longer do people honestly believe capitalism will last? Expect more of this world wide.

  99. Davenotaslave permalink
    August 12, 2011 4:34 am

    Ha,more anti-white apologism for (mostly)non-white criminals.

    “a jolly ‘local community’ which appears stuck in the 1940s.”

    And what is the difference between then and now we ask ourselves..hmmm….could it be decades of black immigration,decades of anti-white propaganda,decades of anti-white apologism for non-white crime?

    You anti-white cultists are all washed up.

    Anti-racist is a code word for anti-white.

  100. Winston permalink
    August 12, 2011 4:59 am

    Just a couple of quick thoughts. If the people cleaning up their neighborhoods have been co-opted by the politicians, is it not fair to suggest that the rioters have been similarly co-opted by the author and others to promote their views?

    The big stores on the outskirts aren’t sucking the life out of the neighborhoods. People make the decision of where to spend their money. Whether you like big retailers or not, I don’t see how you can hold them responsible for people giving them money.

    Class divisions are a reality and will continue to be until everyone decides to put everyone else first. As this is unlikely to happen any time soon, it is up to the people to make the changes that are needed. Cleaning up society will require exactly the same thing as cleaning up the streets. People will need to accept personal responsblilty for the problem and organize to find and implement solutions. Yes, it seems likely that politicians will show up now and then, but if you set up a fake news crew down the street it should keep them out of your way.

    Try to keep the convenient social and political labeling to a minimum. Leave that to the media. It’s what they’re good at. I doubt any of the people with brooms are actually facists. Likewise, advocats for social justice are rarely actual communists. It’s easier to give something a pre-existing label instead of trying to understand it. All you achieve by falling back on the old labels, is the continuation of the old system and the creation of another group of others to blame.

  101. August 12, 2011 6:15 am

    I am a freelance photographer and I have been looking at the recent shots taken of the riots. Many of which are of police arresting rioters and looters.

    Why has nobody mentioned that the same policemen arresting kids looting a pair of overpriced trainers made by a man in China that earns 2p, are the probably the same corrupt policeman that have substituted their wages from bungs by the papers for years.

    The naming and shaming photographs kindly brought to us by paper’s fails to show the mug shots of all the corrupt officers too? In fact none of the papers or TV are showing any shots of the police behaving anything but righteous.

    ‘ The full force of the law will come down on you ‘ quoted Cameron, but only applies to people that disturb his holiday? I did mention this to Sky News and BBC in their comment blog a few days ago, still waiting for it to be published.

    But lets not forget, that if you loot from JD Sports or Car Phone Warehouse you will be whipped through the courts and in prison, But if you blow a man’s head off and you’re in uniform then you’re on gardening leave?

  102. August 12, 2011 7:44 am

    A reasoned argument amongst the sound and fury.

  103. Andy Wilbur permalink
    August 12, 2011 8:07 am

    David Harvey on the London riots. Shockingly, he has nothing to say on the fascism of the street sweepers.

  104. August 12, 2011 12:59 pm

    Amazing article, I’ve been finding it hard to get through the storm of aestheticised politics (to use your term) and spectacle to get to some proper discourse around these riots, thank you for writing this and well done for responding to your critics. It’s easy to get distracted by the glow of the fires and the sparkle of the broken glass and pretend it’s as simple as condemning or condoning. Now is the time to address the issues at hand; classism and racism and the socio-economic circumstances propagating both.

    Thank you.

  105. Josh permalink
    August 12, 2011 1:39 pm

    Actually a well written article. Although there are some deep underlying causes of these riots, I cannot help but think that the majority of it was nothing but opportunistic looting for the sake of it. If there were any true causes, they wouldn’t have attacked the shops that they themselves frequent. If it were a true protest against the police and the government, wouldn’t more government buildings have been attacked? I’m well aware of racial profiling being a young black working class male, but even I’m finding it very difficult to find a real reason behind it. And, to be perfectly honest, I’m sick of people trying to find reasons for it – you are doing nothing but making excuses for these thugs which in turn is leading them to believe that they have legitimate reasons to act like sub-par humans. Stop making excuses – they are nothing but despicable creatures. Oh, and by the way, not a single part of Clapham was attacked – Clapham Junction is a very small section (well, a train station actually) in Battersea.

  106. Morgan permalink
    August 12, 2011 2:16 pm

    Hi Sofia,

    You make so many good points in the article, and come at the issue from a starting point that is almost completely missing from this debate (that of exclusion and the artificial battle of ownership) but you take away from this with some lazy/clumsy/attention seeking statements and confusions.

    You confuse those whose movement leads to gentrification with the root cause of that process, in fact with the existence of the process itself. Is a home buyer wrong to purchase the nicest house they can? A young family wrong to move into a different area because they can afford a larger house there? I’ll assume that you’re not in fact suggesting that people should remain in “their” areas, but are rather attacking gentrification as social cleansing. I’d agree. If only you’d focused on those who allow the process to exist. Years of appalling town planning and class favouritism have created this issue. Not those simply looking to move.

    You confuse those who are attempting to improve the city in a way within their means and imagination with those responsible for allowing the situation to fester and grow until we witnessed this explosion.

    And you confuse the media’s reporting, and political classes use, of these efforts with the motives behind the efforts themselves. It’s telling that you can only talk about the brooms of Clapham. They were out in Haringey, Tower Hamlets and Hackney too. But Boris Johnson wasn’t there and so neither were the cameras. This doesn’t take away from the motives and intentions of the people sweeping. It does, as you point out, demonstrate how the political class and media have consumed and presented this. There are a host of positive stories that could be reported; from the young poets and musicians in Hackney publicly and artistically rejecting the rioters right to represent them, and calling for calm and unity to those more directly resulting from the mixture of classes within these areas, such as Jamie Cowan’s efforts to heal the hurt suffered by Ashraf Haziq. That the press has chosen to focus on the largely white, often middle class members of the city repairing/healing their city doesn’t mean they are part of the underlying problems you describe. And they certainly deserve better than to have their chose of attire childishly mocked.

    The level of deprivation in this city is disgusting. The right-wing attack on those who rioted and attempts to remove their status as members of society is disgusting. The complete failure of many to recognise the poverty and anger on their doorsteps is reprehensible. But attacking those who are attempting to put things right, in whatever small way, will only add to the divisions in this city. You’re article is strongest when attacking those who have created and continued this sorry state of affairs, and when attacking the myths they are seeking to perpetuate to avoid responsibility. More of that please.

  107. elspeth johnson permalink
    August 12, 2011 3:34 pm

    are you not also tarring MP’s with the same brush? In the case of MP’s their expenses had to be sanctioned by someone – unlike the rioters (who incidentally are from many diffeent classes of society – for example the 2nd year law student seen on the news recently) who put peoples lives in danger just for the fun of it. Let’s get real, yes the riots were sparked by criminal treatment of a black man, but after that people from outside the area organised groups of people in order to have fun and steal from shopkeepers, or lighting fires in a restaurant where people were still inside, mowing over three innocent people or murdering a 68 year old man just because he was protecting his property. People nowadays are, regrettably, judged by the stuff that they own, needing to have the latest IPod or XBox or mobile, or blackberry, or widescreen television. If you believe that most people on housing benefit don’t have any of these possessions then you haven’t lived amongst them, like I do. (sorry6, cut short by my baby crying). Thanks, Elspeth

  108. August 12, 2011 3:56 pm

    “The Left is often accused of crying ‘fascist’ too lightly ”

    So it should be reserved for really special occasions, like when people band together to clean up after criminals ransack their neighborhoods?

    This post will be spread far and wide as an example of the lunatic extremes of left wing ‘discourse’.

    • flashbank permalink*
      August 12, 2011 5:13 pm

      Nope, just when police murder and get away with it, racist mobs stalk the streets and vitriolic politicians dehumanise, exclude and assault sections of society with vicious rhetoric, kangaroo courts, politicised sentences and militarised policing.

      • oh hello permalink
        August 12, 2011 5:24 pm

        I notice that the original quote about fascism has been removed from the article. Nevertheless, here it is:

        ‘By the symbolic cleaning, cleansing and casting out of the rioters from the community, the sweepers appear to enact the closest thing to popular fascism that we have seen on the streets of certain ‘leafy’ bits of London for years.’

        The article, unless I am mistaken and my grasp of English is worse than I thought it was, makes the claim that the sweepers are the fascists, not the police, not the racist mobs, not the vitrolic politicians and not the kangaroo courts.

      • flashbank permalink*
        August 12, 2011 5:48 pm

        Yes, your grasp of English is worse than you thought. If it wasn’t you’d see that the line in question hasn’t been removed from the article. Also, “enact’: transitive verb, to make (a bill, etc.) into a law; pass (a law); decree; ordain; to represent or perform in or as in a play; act out.” As in they act out a discourse, bring into being a ‘decree’ – the ‘decree’ being a discursive framing of events. Hope that clears it up.

      • August 12, 2011 5:39 pm

        I’m sorry if the people who murdered a sixty year old man have been assaulted with vicious rhetoric. I hope the poor dears recover.

  109. WhoTheHellAreYou permalink
    August 12, 2011 9:52 pm

    Nice to see you’ve put the “Full” image up 😉

    My, what a nast,y middle-class, quasi-fascist that Rastafarian chap in the image must be!

    Seriously though, why try and peddle some deluded idea that normal people, trying to help has overtones of fascism?

    Just what exactly is your problem with people wanting to help clean up the mess made by a bunch of thugs?

    And make no mistake about it, they are thugs, scum if you like. Scum with a variety of different backgrounds it would seem. This was no political protest. It was a large scale exercise in looting, theft and disorder, there was no political agenda to it.

    People’s homes got destroyed, businesses both large and small suffered. You what to know why retail warehouses got targeted? A larger supply of goods to loot, a bigger fire to light, pure and simple. To imply that their was some noble cause or subconscious desire by the mob to exact a kind of revenge on the retail parks for taking the soul out of their community is not even funny, it’s pathetic. It’s just you desperately trying to impose your own world image on events, you trying to make sense of the senseless.

    I love your espousing of “the radical redistribution of wealth” as the “solution” to this. Oh wake up FFS. Looting seems like a pretty radical redistribution of wealth does it not? How exactly has that helped society? Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a bad case of cranial-rectal inversion “Doctor” Himmelblau.

    You lament that the media and politicians are jumping all over this, using it as a vehicle to further their own viewpoints, yet that’s exactly what you are doing. Bit hypocritical I think.

    One last thing, you seem to be bit of a non-person Dr. Sofia Himmelblau, I can’t seem to find any reinvent information on you at all on the interwebs, that’s quite an achievement in this day and age. May I ask what you are a doctor of? Colour me sceptical, but I would not even be surprised if this post were a prank.

    • August 13, 2011 1:09 pm

      I’ve just had a look at the 2 ‘lecture’ videos above, and viewing these has dispelled any lingering doubts that I may have had that the ‘University of Strategic Optimism’ consists of anything other than a bunch of mostly white, middle class, well educated, privileged youngsters having a jolly jape being playschool revolutionaries. For sure, going in Tescos and spouting a bunch of self-congratulatory, incomprehensible, psuedo-situationist ‘manifestos’ whilst annoying ordinary people who are trying to go about their business is really ‘socking it to the man’… I can just feel the walls start to come tumbling down and the Society of the Spectacle crumbling around me…

      I wonder what all these folks will be doing in 15 years time? Hopefully at least some of them will have matured and genuinely be in it for the long haul of REAL community activism, which is more about hard work and persistance, and being deeply inbedded into and caring about our localities and the people we share space with, than glorifying a bunch of nihilistic idiots who think its OK to shit on their own doorstep.

      Still, if I don’t like it, there is plenty of other commentary out there I can read that will confirm my existing opinions. Or I could just run along and play with my water cannon.

      • Samuel permalink
        August 14, 2011 2:08 pm

        Yes the privileged middle class should not criticize other sections of the privileged middle class. Heaven forbid they engage in some sort of reflexive critique of their ‘class mates’ (see what I did there?). You are right though, community activism is quite different to this, but I don’t think these guys intend to be community activists (unless they themselves, have constituted some sort of community).

        As for playing with your watercannon, thats just gross mate….

  110. August 12, 2011 9:55 pm

    Dear Ms Himmelbrau,

    You are too left-wing. You have got to stop being so left-wing. If you think that tidying up after your local high street has been looted makes someone a fascist then you are TOO LEFT-WING.

    You’ve GOT to stop being so left-wing. You must rethink your political beliefs, re-examine your life, and try harder in future to behave like a civilised human being.

  111. Mr Middleton permalink
    August 13, 2011 10:14 am

    I applaud any action that affects peoples lives in a positive way – this often means I have to quieten my cynical side and just see things for what they are. To a person in need of charity, £5 is the same coming from bleeding heart liberal, or a right wing crypto-facist. This ‘your charity is not as pure as mine’ attitude often originates from armchair pundits who intend to do nothing other than pour scorn on others from their computers, not what I’d consider ‘proactive’ really…. People are so obsessed with ‘left’ and ‘right’ – that’s why we’re never moving forwards…

  112. August 13, 2011 1:03 pm

    This article raises some very important issues ,however it is too dense. The points you make about social inequality ,exclusion and PM’s embezzling money are all correct , however using terms like whitewash and fascist will only antagonize the situation. People in the clean up were genuinely trying to help, call them what you will .

    In relation to art in empty shops if you take your position of course its covering up as you would say….

    ”These decorative efforts have largely only succeeded in covering over the disintegration of localised economies with twee décor,”

    But rather than patronize the artist and the white middle class your argument would have been far more powerful if you had focused on the real socio – economic issues ….

    We all know big business and the greedy banking sector are more concerned with their share profits rather than social responsibility to offer secure jobs and decent wages so people can feed and support their families . If you think economic cuts and lack of employment do not effect the middle classes (white, black ,Asian or Other ) then smell the coffee ! I work in education and personally know at least 20 people who have lost their jobs recently due to Government cut backs . The elite and the supper rich are still rich while the rest of us are suffering including the working class , middle class and the so called underclass .

    This young man tells boris how it is !

    CNN on UK riots + young man tells Boris Johnson how it is

  113. geistbites permalink
    August 13, 2011 1:35 pm


    Funny story: we both came up with pretty much the same points and posted them on the same day!

    Have a look:


    Geist Bites

  114. Kirillov permalink
    August 13, 2011 3:58 pm

    I find that people like the writer of this post are ultimately quite confused. Whilst calling for ‘autonomous’ action to ‘smash the state’ they also seem to be calling for the state to grow by providing welfare programmes for disadvantaged people. Well, which is it? Anarchy or the NHS? If you prefer people coming together for destruction rather than coming together for reconciliation, we have a word for that: fascism. Naivety is the wrong description; I would say immaturity is a better description.

  115. Asher permalink
    August 14, 2011 6:45 am


    Um, no, the vast majority of things that the vast majority of people has very little intentional thought behind it. This applies across all times and all spaces.

  116. Samuel permalink
    August 14, 2011 2:05 pm

    The article is interesting, however the tirade of abuse it got was absolutely thrilling!

  117. Kiwiguy permalink
    August 15, 2011 1:53 am

    Haha, funny to read there are still some nutter communists thrashing around!

  118. GeoffM permalink
    August 15, 2011 11:24 am

    Having read this I suggest the blogger “gets a life”.

    I wonder if she keeps cats ?

    Bunny boiling is not a good occupation love.

  119. Jack Latham permalink
    August 16, 2011 11:01 am

    Brilliant article and comment-response Sofia, easily the best thing I’ve read on the riots so far.

  120. sideline permalink
    August 16, 2011 3:49 pm

    Regarding your postscipt “perhaps they would care to tune in instead to the overwhelming majority of media and public discourse presented on this issue which will no doubt reassuringly confirm their ideological positions”

    What utter rubbish. Trying to get a balanced view of the news by wading through all the rubbish out there is something quite a lot of people do. If they read your version/view of events and happen not to agree with it then that is something you need to deal with- and not spout holier-than-thou rhetoric.

    As for going on about the lack of ideological neutrality in public discourse, you are hardly innocent of that charge yourself. Believe it or not, blogs form part of public discourse.

    I admire logical and reasonable people who have the courage to say what no one else will- but you are not one of those people. I only need to go to google to find plenty of similar themed, inflammatory, nonsensical and badly written articles just like yours- from both sides of the ideological divide.

  121. Brian permalink
    August 17, 2011 4:23 pm

    Total bollocks, Dr. Sofia Himmelblau.

    Wake up and smell the coffee. Would you still feel the same way if someone came and burn’t your house/flat/squat/student accommodation down. Statement not question.

  122. Richard Massey permalink
    August 17, 2011 6:19 pm

    Some people are never happy.

  123. Alan Thomas permalink
    August 17, 2011 11:19 pm

    Leftwing intellectuals never stop searching for a more muscular group to the do heavy lifting of the revolution for them.

    Doesn’t matter much who they are provided they can be signed up as cannon fodder in the fight against capitalism. The working class use to the left’s foot soldiers, more recently its been fundamentalist Muslims – and now some fresh blood from the ghettos of our big cities are being eyed up as possible talent.

    Its wishful thinking of course. These young inner city blacks couldn’t care less about politics – they just live for the moment and what they can get out of it.

    If the author of this article was to turn-up in Tottenham and start spouting his dated socialist dogma he would be mugged and have his mobile phone and laptop stolen before he could say “redistribution of wealth”.

  124. adam permalink
    August 18, 2011 3:27 pm

    well done, racist

    sorry I meant rat cyst.

  125. Mylo permalink
    August 26, 2011 9:46 am

    self-impressed and badly written — the worst combo. conclusion offers no real solution either. yawn…

  126. Andy Desmond permalink
    March 13, 2012 8:02 pm

    could you whine some more. what the fuck are you doing about anything? so social cohesion is a dive for the bottom. You hate people who listened at school, educated themselves and make a life for themselves. People who succeed in wealth creation are just scumbags because they don’t give it away to the poor? Yes life ain’t fair. And rioting because your poor and you see shinny tings you think you deserve is a solution. Bollocks. Its all so easy, rich people are scum and the poor are socially excluded. Fuck that shite.


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