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Topic Title: neoliberal riots and the possibility of politics
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Created On: 08/13/2011 01:46 PM
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 08/13/2011 01:46 PM
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Underwood

Posts: 3214
Joined Forum: 02/04/2004

Tottenham and Beyond: neoliberal riots and the possibility of politics
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One of the many things that we hear repeated ad nauseam in the context of the present rioting in London is that the rioters are 'feral', 'yobs', 'thugs' or more generously 'disaffected youth'. All the talk from Cameron and his cohorts is of crime and punishment and 'the full force of the law' - as if these young people did not encounter the full force of the law on a daily basis. We are told variously that there is no political context, no political motive, no political enemy - it is 'criminality pure and simple'. This is because violence against the police (and therefore the state) is not considered in itself to be political. It is because the envy of, the desire for and the acquisition of luxury goods such as plasma TVs and jewellery is not considered political. The political class and the commentariat cannot conceive of themselves as enemies of the people who live in areas like Tottenham where Tory cuts are closing youth centres, which suffer massive unemployment even while the City is booming, and which are the objects of legislation designed to disadvantage them even further.

On the other hand, the neoliberal state functions primarily as a way of facilitating the accumulation of wealth and hence luxury goods. The purpose of the state, neoliberal theory tells us, is to enable business and industry to function profitably and to this end it must undertake certain activities that business and industry cannot reasonably be expected to make a profit from - road building, for example, or providing a police force - although, as profit margins shrink and markets are flooded by competitors, even these sacred state functions are being 'de-regulated' or privatised to allow for profit-making companies to take them over. The proposed privatisation of the prison-service is an example, as is the continuous drive to open education up to exploitation by computer companies. It's hardly worth mentioning the crazy argument that the NHS in the UK is 'broken' and the Tory programme of opening it up to supposedly cheaper and more efficient profit-making companies - despite the fact that all the studies show that the NHS is the most efficient and cost-effective way of delivering health care.

So capitalism is looting the public sphere. Services that citizens have for a hundred or more years considered to be public goods and not to be exploited for the profit of a few - health care, care of the elderly, education, unemployment benefit, old-age pensions, fresh water, sewers, waste disposal, roads and footpaths, urban and rural planning, the postal service, the telephone service, the police, and so on - are subject to systematic and sustained pressure aimed at breaking the link between the citizen and the service. No longer should we think of these things as 'ours', except in the sense that we can say a bank is ours. These things are provided to us as goods and services by companies which exercise their right to make a profit out of them - out of us really, out of our pain, our parent's old age, our children's childhood, our money troubles, our environment. Citizens are to be redefined as consumers of services. The sole function of the state is to regulate the activities of companies so that monopolies do not develop.

The police function as the guarantor of profit. The police are 'ours' only in the way the taxman is ours. The police thus find themselves increasingly (for it was ever thus) with their backs to the corporate wall facing a disinherited citizenry for whom the state is a hostile force. This makes the police political for it is a mistake to think that the looting of the public sphere by corporations and individuals is not political. Of course, nobody on the corporation side wants to call it that. They want it to be understood as common sense. The state is 'broken', they say, or it has 'failed'. Only profit-making companies can do the job efficiently and give good value for money to the consumer. What they really mean is 'We're going to take the money and run'. When you're down and out, feeling low, check your credit rating.
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