Tuesday, 9 August 2011


Man Shot; Riots Ensue; Parliament Recalled!

IN some ways what people believe is more important than what actually happened: this morning on BBC News, the Afro-Caribbean writer, Darcus Howe, claimed that last week the police in Tottenham 'Blew Mark Duggan's head off'. This was later refuted by someone from Scotland Yard on Sky News, who said that Mr. Duggan was killed by 'a single shot to the chest'. Mr Howe also insisted that what we are witnessing in London is not 'riots' but 'insurrection'. Meanwhile, the British political class went into a chorus of condemnation, piling painful platitudes onto the long suffering British public. Little attempt has yet been made to seriously analyse these events which are now spreading across the country. I hope that my local MP, Jim Dobbin, will not add to this mountain of half-baked muck when Parliament reconvenes this Thursday.

The nearest comparison to the London events, to my mind, was the Semana Tràgica that took place in Barcelona in 1909, after the Spanish War Office in Madrid, in a provocative move, called up the army reserves from Catalonia to fight in North Africa - then after tearful scenes at the railway station as the troops left - Gerald Brenan wrote in his book 'The Spanish Labyrith' that '... the next day the whole city rose'. Mr Brenan described the Semana Tràgica thus: '... the Jovenes Barabaros or "Young Barbarians" as they called themselves, let themselves go ... the result was five days of mob rule, in which the union leaders lost control of their men and twenty-two churches and thirty-four convents were burned. Monks were killed, tombs were desecrated and strange macabre scenes took place, as workmen danced in the street with the disinterred mummies of nuns.'

With the Semana Tràgica in Barcelona of 1909, as with the London Riots of today, it was difficult for the authorities to understand why it happened when it did. Of course, the people in Barcelona were reacting against the war in North Africa that was being promoted by the Government in Madrid and Gerald Brenan writes: 'Since the disastrous war in Cuba and the return of thousands of starving and malaria-ridden troops, the whole country had been strongly pacifist.' But there was something else; Brenan describes an important class distinction: 'The reserves consisted of married men of the working classes, for in Spain no one who could afford the small sum required to buy himself out was ever conscripted.' At the same time, because many poor Spaniards and Catalans saw the Catholic Church as part of the boss class, in times of disquiet people would attack the clergy.

The situation in London is different, in so far as while Barcelona in 1909 was a relatively modern developing industrial city that was reacting against the traditional authorities in the Government in Madrid as well as the Church hierarchy, the youth in London are like everyone else - hooked on consumerism and shopping. And yet, they are both similar in so far as just as in Barcelona 'the unions lost control of their men', in London, none of the political parties or Social Workers seem to have any influence over the people in the streets today. In 1909, the veteran anarchist Anselmo Lorenzo commenting on what he described as 'A social revolution ... in Barcelona' in a letter to a friend, confirms that it was the same: 'No one has instigated it. No one has led it. Neither Liberals, nor Catalan Nationalists, nor Republicans, nor Socialists, nor Anarchists.' In London today the Home Secretary, Theresa May, dark roots showing beneath her bleach blond locks, lipstick and make-up applied in abundance yet insufficient to hid the bags hanging beneath her hawk-like eyes and crimson beak, denounced what she called 'sheer criminality'.

In the end what is happening in London is a perverse embrace by young people of our modern places of worship as our youth prostrate themselves before today's new secular cathedrals: the shops; the Malls; the Department Stores etc. No one on the streets of London is doing what the Catalan workers did in 1909 - dancing with the 'mummies of nuns' - instead they are prancing with the electric gear of what passes for our new religion: consumerism.

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