Hatred of the Poor is the True Cause of the UK Riots

I arrived back in the US just one week ago and so have not witnessed the riots that have spread to Nottingham and touch on the neighborhoods I used to live. Still, as it seems everyone I follow on twitter is doing, I’ve been following the events as closely as I can. Glued to my phone reading updates as I was looking at apartments in Chicago (surely due for a riot or two) and meeting up with old friends. A few things have struck me about the riots, first I think people have missed their true cause and character and secondly the reaction by liberals to the riots belies a common mistake of following a media logic of  the importance of “having an opinion”.

Some liberals on twitter and their blogs have shown their true colors as they talk about the “oiks” and “chavs” “destroying their own neighbourhoods”. The truth is that these riots are an expression of rage by the British underclass against a system that has instilled desires in them that they can’t materially gain. The liberals join with the conservatives here saying that these are not the “true poor” and denigrating them for their culture with its garish track suits and varied attempts to look hard by adapting, to ill effect, American hip hop culture. All of this piles on to the true cause of these riots, hatred of the poor in the UK. People, especially young people, have been angry for a long time. With the non-election of the Tory government just over a year ago you saw people begin to express that anger in a number of protests. Those protests, which weren’t violent in any real sense, achieved nothing. The government went forward with plans to essentially privatize higher education, cut welfare programs for the worst off in society, rage class war by cutting working class city councils more than the more affluent southern councils, and so on. And who has been helping that government the whole time? The police. So, of course when that same police executed an unarmed man a community already distrustful and angry with the police turned violent.

The middle class of the UK wants the police there to protect them from the poor. Even the liberals who may read Zizek on the weekends and make pithy remarks about the revolution of Bartlby have come out on twitter and their blogs to essentially call for the police to start breaking some poor bodies. And why are they coming out to make these demands? To join in the demonization of the poor and young people in the UK? I can only guess that their undying desire to have an opinion that others can read and disagree or agree with pushes them towards simplistic responses to actual political acts. But why do you need to have an opinion about looters? Why do you need to either condemn or support them? I thought you wanted a third pill…

This is not a revolution (though it may be part of a revolutionary sequence) and I’m fairly certain no one has suggested it is. It is a heterogeneous expression of rage. At the police, at the cuts, at the lack of being able to be heard, at a culture that instils a consumer desire they can’t match, and yes that rage spills over into self-destructive acts. But it is always the poor who liberals berate for being self-destructive even as they too drink suicidally. It’s always the poor who have to be the angels, who in their political act have to be pure, while liberals can have their political consciousness and ironic guilt about shopping from Tesco or spending too much of their money on Fairtrade shoes. (That’s been a particularly disgusting element of comments made by liberals during these events. The disgust at the “consumerism” of the rioters.) Of course firebombing a local pub is an idiotic thing to do, but so is maintaining the status quo.

If you want to not hate the poor refuse to have a single opinion about what is happening. These riots, which the UK deserves, are not one thing. There are many different forms of politics taking place and I refuse to condemn the rioters and looters (as if you don’t care about what you wear, you just have money) just as I refuse to condemn the Sikhs and Muslims for defending their communities. The space of the excluded is infinite and requires an infinite affirmation of multiple acts. So you either stand with people crying out violence against their situation, which would require actual engagement and argument with those people however idiotic some may get at times, or you stand with the white rich girls calling them scum.

53 thoughts on “Hatred of the Poor is the True Cause of the UK Riots

  1. My sentiment exactly! thank you for your blog I agree with all that you have written here and was beginning to wonder what the hell is wrong with people around me, everyday people condemning these people and calling them scum, chavs all sorts I mean why would people just start to behave in this sort of way for no aparent cause or reason at all? If people were comfortable in their daily lives in first place then there would be no reason for all of this. Yes the rich are getting richer while the rest of us are getting poorer and losing our service that have been thought for and this can’t be good for the joe average. The figures don’t match up at all for example 40% of the net income in the USA is going to 1% of the population while the rest of the people struggle to make ends meat and this isn’t right.

  2. Welcome to Illinois, It appears we are the better for it…

    Curious what the ingredient is here in the states that has kept this from happening thus far? The evidence of police brutality is easy to find, except when the police are illegally confiscating the video, yet the level of hopelessness never quite gets desperate enough. It’s been quite a while since i was in the UK, and i just don’t have a good feel for where the important difference(s) are. Not hoping it happens here, but bewildered that it hasn’t seemed close. Thanks.

  3. Anthony, let me first say that I’m quite sympathetic to what you’re saying. I may even agree 100% (still not sure). Rage, in its multiple forms of expression, is certainly a valid response. However, I’m not sure it carries any level of success on a systemic level. I don’t have this figured out but I wonder how we might conceptualize a move from rage to revolution, which can also have multiple forms of expression. In other words, I want to be convinced that the rioting is productive.

  4. That’s too easy of an answer. 2011 and the end of the 18th c. are very different situations and the ways in which wealth and material goods are (not) distributed are far from comparable.

  5. @ Mark You asked if riots were productive, I said they are because there are many examples (give me an example of a revolution that started with a clearing of a throw and a polite ‘Pardon me, Sire’?). What do you mean by “productive”? Do you mean “do they bring people together to have a nice talk about the issues”? Fuck no, they are riots! Whenever the French come together (in their French way) and “celebrate” Bastille Day, they are celebrating riots, yet we pretend that riots are “non-productive”… Have you ever rioted? Is it really all about whether it is productive or not? It’s a fucking riot!

  6. I’m talking about 2011, not historical examples. I’m also not offering a critique of riots. I’m sympathetic to the riots going on. Nevertheless, I want actual revolution; so, I’m curious how we might think of riots being productive in terms of actually making revolution.

  7. Let me try this again.

    (1) I agree with Anthony’s post. I’m not disagreeing or combating anything in the original post. Now, (2) I want to think about how we can use riots to bring about systemic change in today’s world.

  8. “I want to think about how we can use riots to bring about systemic change in today’s world.”

    How about this: more rioting! What’s wrong with historical example? I see, it’s 2011, not 1789. Excellent point – fuck you, history with your dates that are not the same as the dates we are talking about!

  9. Ok, I’m bored with the current discussion.

    Anthony, you wrote: “This is not a revolution (though it may be part of a revolutionary sequence) and I’m fairly certain no one has suggested it is.” Could you say more on how the riots might be part of a revolutionary sequence?

  10. Mark (who clearly isn’t an idiot),

    It’s a fair question in terms of the lack of a connection between the various groups and anything in the political “mainstream”. I’ll say more when I am at an actual keyboard.

  11. I very much agree w/ your post, Anthony, so I’m not entirely sure to what effect I’m asking the following question (but will anyway): are you intending your title and titular idea re: “the hatred of the poor as cause for riots” to be taken ironically, considering you’ve thrown down the gauntlet on the having but one opinion on the matter of rioting, etc.? Or is it the one fundamental allowed once it is established that hatred of the poor is a kind of raison d’etre of liberalism?

  12. Not having an opinion, refusing to judge, or affirming multiple actions may still end up exhibiting a form of class solidarity outside of the poor. Unless one also takes action, one still risks being closer to the side of the “white rich girls” than the side of poor people. Inaction tends to be easier for the privileged.

    That said, I very much enjoyed this post. I’ve been in riots on more than one occasion and feel a lot of ambiguity about them. For myself, the conclusion has been to explore other ways of employing “violence” or “less-legal tactics” in order to better achieve one’s goals.

  13. Anthony, I have to say – as I’ve said already elsewhere – that I disagree. Just look at the people who are going through the courts. These are not ‘the poor’ – these are middle class and upper class, well educated people who got caught up in something and went out for a laugh. Sure, there is a core that begins these things, but I just cannot agree that “the truth is that these riots are an expression of rage by the British underclass against a system that has instilled desires in them that they can’t materially gain.” Why? Because the vast vast majority of these people can afford these things.
    I just think your analysis is wrong here. I know you’d probably like it to be what you’ve written, because it fits more neatly into a historical picture and a political analysis, but in this case it doesn’t add up.

  14. Kester,

    Hmm… seems that just a bit ago you put a poem up on your website complaining about the rioters with all the cultural stereotypes of Chavs. As someone else said to you recently, I think you need to have a talk with yourself. I also notice that you seem to have some bizarre understanding of class. But I did find your rhetorical choice of painting me as the one trying to smash this into a pre-existing historical and political analysis enjoyable, if a bit passive aggressive. You’ve been writing about pirates for some time now and suddenly some actual political violence happens with the result you then start talking about “true” and “false” pirates with yet another bizarre understanding of the commons. It’s cool though.


    I think your question is still good, but I don’t really have an answer. My hunch is that some kind of political organization that can absorb and express a very mixed constitution would be required, but there doesn’t appear to be one in the UK. I think it’s part of a sequence of events that could lead to a radical change in society. There is a very real possibility of a general strike in a few months and combined with the riots of the underclass, UKuncut activities and the legacy of the students protests (which politicized a lot of people) you could see the emergence of something. Or not. That’s the scary thing as both parties seem bent on making sure not much changes if they can help it.


    I haven’t really gotten over the trauma of writing my dissertation yet, so just gave the post a kind of journalistic headline title. The thing about having not one opinion is regarding the rioters and the various clashes between the different marginalized and excluded communities.

  15. Kester,

    A quick lesson in sociology. Of those arrested (1,300), about six or seven people are zeroed in by the Daily Mail (a paper not known, of course, for its right wing agenda) for being from relatively well off backgrounds. So something like ~ 0.46% of those rioting were from your middle class background – your contention proves nothing. Here is a map showing where the main disturbances are, overlaid with poverty data – the correlation is absolutely crystal clear. Or of course, we could listen to the poverty campaigners and youth workers who warned that their might be social unrest months ago, and continue, en masse to think it is casual now. These people work with these kids every day. Or, you know, we could honestly listen to them and the complex reasons they are giving. As if even if it were “basic crime” this still has a clear sociological cause, more often than not related to poverty.

  16. I think the key problem is that we disagree on whether ‘actual political violence’ happened. Understand, I’m not arguing here from whatever I might write about pirates or whatever. My primary source here is coming from 15 years teaching in London. It comes from knowing this city through its teenagers, and I just don’t see that this is the sort of ‘actual political violence’ that you’re looking for. When you write that “there is a very real possibility of a general strike in a few months and combined with the riots of the underclass, UKuncut activities and the legacy of the students protests (which politicized a lot of people) you could see the emergence of something” I really don’t see it happening. These were not those sorts of protests. They really weren’t. As much as people might want to portray them that way, they just weren’t.

  17. The political violence that I’m looking for? Jesus, man!

    You do realize you’re moving the goalposts now, right? So first, these aren’t the real poor. Now that Alex has definitively shown that doesn’t make sense, you’re now trying to say something… well what you’re trying to say isn’t exactly clear other than that you really, really want me to agree. You are asserting that they “really weren’t” political? Either way, you really aren’t right. You just aren’t. Anyway, maybe the cops will deputize some people like they did in the miners’ strike and you can shoot some of the scum with plastic bullets yourself!

  18. Alex, your Statistical analysis is embarrassing. Sure, the Daily Mail may have ‘zeroed in’ on 6 or 7 people from those backgrounds, but it’s ridiculous to then take that as the overall percentage. And as for the map – I’d be interested to know how well you know London? May be you do know it very well, but it’s absurd to say that ‘the correlation is crystal clear.’ Have you been to Clapham Junction? To Ealing? To Croydon? How well do you know Peckham? The voices on the ground are not talking about cuts to youth services being causal. In Hackney, for example, there have been no youth services cut.

    I think you need to be much more careful. I’m not saying poverty is not a factor. But it is way more complex than that, because the vast majority of people were drawn into this because of the spectacle, not from any element of protest that they wanted to express.

  19. Hilariously, I grew up in Yorkshire through the miners’ strikes. And this ain’t them. I do think you want it to be. But it isn’t. And… well, I just posted about Alex’s definitives ;-)

  20. Kester, your response to Alex doesn’t make sense. You’re trying to argue against poverty statistics with “I know these places, they ain’t poor”. Sadly nothing you’re saying makes much sense though. Which is a shame.

  21. @Alex–thank for that map.
    @Kester–why does one have to walk the streets of those cities to say that, assuming their measures of poverty/deprivation are accurate, the riots are more heavily concentrated in areas from moderate to high deprivation? I don’t think we need to crunch numbers or have lived experience in the cities to gauge the data. And, even if there were large portions of middle class youth involved, it doesn’t follow that it is just rich people breaking things for shits and giggles. And, even if that were the case, it doesn’t follow that this trite motivation renders the action itself or the effects apolitical. On the contrary, breaking shit in public out of boredom from living the affluent dream is, I would think, political and potentially an important political moment.

  22. Anthony doesn’t quote any poverty statistics. He references a map that doesn’t have the resolution to make a valid point. So does ‘nothing’ I’m saying makes much sense? Or do you just not want your riot-porn spoiled? Croydon, Ealing, Clapham, Enfield… that’s around half of the main centres of disturbance places which are not deprived areas. Make some sense for me Anthony! You’re projecting a thesis onto something you’ve witnessed from afar, which is a shame. I’m sure there is, and may well be, a riot in the future like the one you’re after (Gulags now!) but this isn’t it.
    As far as changing the goalposts – Tim can say, ‘even if there were large portions of middle class youth involved…’ Your point is that this is about the poor rising up. And it just isn’t.
    ‘Breaking shit in public out of boredom from living the affluent dream is, I would think, political and potentially an important political moment.’ Well, this I’d agree with more than what you’ve written, as I’ve pointed out in my post on the riots:

  23. I completely agree with you- young people who have inherited wars and a failing economy, the highest unemployment in decades to no fault of their own, and for the FIRST TIME IN HISTORY the young generations have never been left a world in such a terrible state in comparing previous generations, there is such a divide between those born into wealth and privilege and what they have left us with in their greed. Unemployed, uneducated, yet living in a society where people attend boarding school and drive around in Lamorghinis just a few miles away- it is NOT a shock that these rioters have nothing else to resort to, every cause has an effect, and the riots are not a single random act, the wealthy privileged people who claim “innocence” are just as much to blame as the people who are going around smashing windows in and looting. Look at where society has failed these young people and the true answers will be discovered.

  24. Kester,

    I actually do know a few of those areas tolerably well and used to work in the third sector with their charities, what I do understand is the awesome difference between poverty and affluence within many of them – I am thinking particularly of Peckham. In the case of Nottingham, was I still living there, I would have awoken to see burning cars in my street. But this is sort of irrelevant.

    Now, I really wish I had your ability to walk the streets and work out the poverty levels, but I’d rather trust people who have carefully done work in it or worked in youth services to tell me what is going on – people like Camila Batmanghelidjh and the people behind London’s Poverty Profile. You argument is really odd, first you sort of agree with me that the most reliable source isn’t the tabloid press, saying that I can’t take this as an overall percentage – which is something you precisely did earlier! I am confident that I will be proved correct on this. Then you begin to attack poverty data. Do you have any specific reason to doubt this poverty data? If so, please say so. I actually think you agree with me more than you say, because you have shifted from a position of writing angry poetry about it, to one where you admit that poverty might have something to do with it. I don’t know what you mean by “really poor”. To just take a couple of example you talk about, Croydon – here are the stats – percentage of children in low income families is 45%. Enfield – 51%, 13 wards amongst the most deprived in London.

    As for Hackney not having cuts to their youth services, I don’t know what planet you are on – before even this, Connexions is closing nationwide and you have the end of the EMA.

    Anthony started off by saying the situation is complex and so are the causes. I totally agree – in fact, I really wish there was a lot more careful reflection. I also think he definitively said this wasn’t an emphatically and obviously political event – though even though I think this it is surprising to me that every instance one of the rioters were talked to – among other things like they were out to steal – they said things which are political, that they had grievances with the police or the government, or were trying to cause chaos to show their power and the fact they were in control and so on. It is surprising to have to add this with an obviously intellectual conversant – but this doesn’t mean I condone torching people’s houses or killing pensioners in the street. What I don’t see is why you can’t see these too as having sociological causes that go beyond “its dark consumerism” (consumerism is a notoriously flabby category). Even looting for ‘the spectacle’ has a sociological cause behind it. Even nihilistic violence. On your blog you write that you can understand the Somalian pirates, despite their brutality. Why can’t you begin to understand this? Didn’t you write a book about The Other?

    I do think this may well turn out to be one of the most significant political events of my lifetime. You can go in two directions from it and this is what I take APS to be saying. You can either go the likely way, which sort of seems to be the way it is going, which is clamping down, aggressive policing, shutting down social networks, water canon and rubber bullets on notice and so on, further exacerbating some of the causes, while bringing young people into court at 3 am to allow ‘justice to be done’ or handing out six month sentences for stealing water. Or it can go the other way, that after considerable soul searching, we decide that perhaps stripping away the final elements of the welfare state isn’t a great idea, and that maybe the opposite is the case, as argued by bastions of left wing concern like the pages of the Daily Telegraph.

    One of the most fascinating things for me has been observing the right stating that the riots in the 1980s now had clear sociological causes. This is remarkable because at the time the Conservative party was saying they didn’t and people should just get on their bikes.

  25. Alex, I do agree with your position far more than we might have considered! What I’m trying to take Anthony to task with here is his assertion that ‘the truth is that these riots are an expression of rage by the British underclass against a system that has instilled desires in them that they can’t materially gain.’ and ‘It is a heterogeneous expression of rage. At the police, at the cuts, at the lack of being able to be heard, at a culture that instils a consumer desire they can’t match, and yes that rage spills over into self-destructive acts.’ I simply cannot agree with that and do not believe that the evidence stacks up to support it – though I do believe Anthony wants it to.

    I completely agree with you that ‘looting for ‘the spectacle’ has a sociological cause behind it’ – and don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that these disturbances don’t have sociological causes – but that does not mean that this is a simple case (and I can’t find anywhere Anthony saying that this is complex) of poor people rioting in rage – which is what I think you were trying to back up originally in the stats you used.

    Yes, parts of this are about poverty and alienation, but if we hold this up as the sole cause that will be a tragedy because it won’t get to the real depths of what this is about – and yes, that does mean greater empathy for ‘the other’ but that means not being simplistic and fawning over the poor.

    I totally agree that the way this is panning out is horrific, with the way the courts are working and the way Cameron is posturing, and I read and referenced that Telegraph article a few days ago and couldn’t quite believe what I was reading either!

    If we want this to be significant, we need to allow its full complexity to come forward. And I honestly don’t believe that Anthony’s piece here helps in that direction because it fails to get to grips with the people who were there.

    PS – the info on Hackney was from an interview on the BBC with people on Hackney council, and I’m happy to withdraw that point if services have been cut, though what is plain fact is that educational standards in that borough have improved dramatically, and this is not now the ‘failing’ borough it was 10 years ago.

  26. Kester,

    If you think I don’t agree with Anthony’s main contention, then I have failed! I think you don’t understand him either, didn’t he very clearly said “This is not a revolution”, but an expresion of rage? Indeed doesn’t some of your own analysis of ‘dark consumerism’ rather spill into what he is saying about the desires of the people involved and their impossibility, but without the moralising tone? Didn’t he say we need to refuse to have one opinion, which means that we must be complex?

    You say in your post that these aren’t deprived areas – can you please read the links on Croydon and Enfield and tell me that they are false and then tell me why a child poverty charity is lying about them?

  27. Also Goodhart is a racist cheerleader for Blue Labour who thinks we need to clamp down on those horrible immigrants. You really need to sift your sources a bit better!

  28. I don’t know any of those neighborhoods but I do know nobody should feel compelled to state the obvious (that violence is a bad thing) when trying to discover the non-obvious. All of those bastards that have been complaining about politically correct are now actively trying to stop any discussion by first asking everybody to state and restate the obvious. That’s annoying, to say the least. Violence on this scale is always political. If it weren’t exceptional we wouldn’t be discussing it. Those who are stuck in the use of words like thugs and so on also clearly make it political (talking about phony human rights, more police, cracking down on minors, … what Alex said).

    Personally I think the ‘hatred of the poor’ is very à propos to the extent that the media have convinced even the poor that they need to hate the poor.

  29. I did state clearly that Goodhart’s piece was flawed!

    Of course there are pockets of depravation in these areas – but there are pockets of affluence too. That is what London is like, and that’s why one needs to have a higher resolution on the map and to be far more careful, as so many people (70% of those currently processed by the courts) travelled to a different postcode to loot. To identify only the poor as the ones who are involved is to miss the key point that this is a wider issue. I just don’t think Anthony – and you if you’re supporting him – are taking this widely enough. Yes, it’s about rage, but it’s not just about the poor!

  30. There’s only one thing I’m not sure about in this fantastic post. It’s something that I’m also in no position to negotiate. It’s whether or not the post-grime road rap stuff and style a lot of these kids are listening to is a version of ‘adapting, to ill effect, American hip hop culture’. S’all.

  31. Kester,

    I’m intrigued by your suggestion that “If this were a riot with the poor rising up against a system that was blocking their access to the economic freedoms that others enjoy, I’d stand up and say that this could be interpreted as an act of orthodox piracy and understood in that context”. Now, I’m wondering how you would be able to tell. During the student protests last year, we had the same amped up rhetoric of “thugs” when the intent and the actions were much more obviously to particular ends within a particular framework of goals (there was rage, but it had a very clear subject), though there was a diversity of means and a number of controversial tactics – including breaking police lines with shields and smashing windows. So lets imagine a hypothetical version of the poor did do what you say is “orthodox piracy” in 2012. I am fairly sure the reaction of the media, the attempting to defeat the possibility of reasonable action and so on would be precisely the same. And I fairly sure you would be able to do vox pop interviews with weeping rich people whose lands had been reclaimed. And I am fairly sure lots of the public would have little sympathy and call for their heads. I am sure some property would be burnt to the ground. This has been the case in every historical instance of something even approaching your concept. So, what I am really asking is: would you really support it? I doubt you would having seen your reaction here. And on these grounds, maybe you should rethink.

  32. The poor in Britain are the easiest target for tory mindset but the little people have had enough and a change is on the way. If the society does not change then I see much horror and armed conflict ahead. It must change from a society fashioned to feed a few elitist fat pigs to one which is less morally and socially corrupt.

  33. I would, but this was not that riot. Not this time. I know you want it to be, but I honestly believe it wasn’t, and perhaps we’ll have to disagree on that.

  34. Kester,

    Just as a note, I find your tone a little paternalistic and patronising “I know you want it to be”. This may not be the intent, but I resent being spoken down to about this. It seems a little like you are telling me my opinions have no depth to them.

    I almost put into what I said “I am not saying this is the situation here” (as I’ve said before, I broadly agree with what APS is saying). But I assumed this would be taken as read given the preceding.

    But you’ve really dodged my question though, which is not engaging with the problems of the stance you want to stake out – what would the riot you are after look like? Seriously? All historical instances of the dispossessed reclaiming their lives have featured quite a lot of violence, interpreted as unacceptable by many.

    We can draw on your own favoured example – http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/7650415.stmhttp://www.economist.com/node/18070160http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/feb/22/somali-pirates-hijacked-yacht-us

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