Violence in suits

An analytically lazy juxtaposition of government attitudes towards rioters and arms dealers -CB


This morning, at a time of the day when by rights I should have had another 4 hours of dozing -minimum- to enjoy, I left the flat for Newham, in order to help distribute 2,000 copies of The Newham Adversary. The Adversary is a one-off community sheet produced by the Stop the Arms Fair Coalition, a group of attractive and brilliant people united around the goal of ending the East London arms fair: Defence and Security Equipment international (DSEi). The paper was designed and edited somewhat haphazardly by me.

The arms fair is next week, and the Adversary came off the press on Monday, so turnaround time has been pretty tight. Thankfully our team of distributors this morning was much less outwardly fazed by the early start than me. I am something of a grumpy bear in the morning. I tend to remonstrate with the unwelcome start to the day by refusing all food and conversation. In fact, I doubt any commuters would be inclined to take anything I may have to offer them if it wasn’t for their rush-hour autopilot mode, lest they catch whatever lingering disease is presumed responsible for the zombie look on my face…

The lovely people at the Garden Café down near Custom House station revived us with a fried egg sandwich (two eggs(!) between a couple of slabs of thick, crusty white bread…nom nom) which they were kind enough not to charge for -when you take a look at all the posters on their walls you see that you’re clearly in the company of allies. Brilliant, tasty solidarity nonetheless.

Hopefully some of the people who took a copy from us as they boarded the DLR or who’ll come home from work today to find one on their doormat will read it and help keep up the pressure to kick DSEi out of their borough. At the very least I hope they enjoy the sudoku I put on the Adversary‘s back cover.

I’ll try and put the PDF online for people to read, but in the meantime here’s my article about class, the riots and the arms trade…


– – – – –

Class has long since been an unfashionable concept. The idea of class-based privilege, struggle and unity was snatched away, insidiously and incrementally, by three successive Thatcher governments. It has proven a much more brazen act of theft than of all the embezzled milk of her namesake. The perverse result of privatisation and the nurturing of a culture of economic precariousness, is that the very people most punished by the state’s neoliberal fanaticism no longer seem to self-identify in the vocabulary of class.

This is a huge problem. The August riots in cities around the UK sparked the usual swill-trough of ‘analysis’ from the privileged white men who make up the lion’s share of our elected representatives and media hacks. But there were, mixed in with the vitriol, some valuable critiques. The North London Solidarity Federation, a branch of the UK wide SolFed anarchist network, had this to say:

“Much has been made of the fact that the rioters were attacking “their own communities.” But riots don’t occur within a social vacuum. Riots in the eighties tended to be directed in a more targeted way…What’s happened since [then]? Consecutive governments have gone to great lengths to destroy any sort of notion of working class solidarity and identity. Is it any surprise, then, that these rioters turn on other members of our class?”

In short then, the eradication of a class vocabulary –and, consequently, a widespread class identity- has played a significant part in the makeup of the riots being what it was: a largely insular display of vandalism, opportunism and destruction.

Though it is more likely to speak of ‘feral youth’ than use the ‘C word’, the government’s rabid barks for curfews, tighter laws and harsher sentencing loudly declares its class hostility.

One young man has been jailed for four years for a Facebook status encouraging people to riot –though he didn’t participate himself. Thousands unforgiving custodial sentences have been served in an effort to put the boot to the throat of what David Cameron called “criminality, pure and simple”, in “pockets of our society that are not just broken but frankly sick.”

The government’s reaction to the riots has been internally consistent: its authoritarian rhetoric has been seconded by a veritable frog march of not-so-baby steps towards a police state. The police, now armed with rubber bullets and water cannon to enforce law and order (if this signifies a lawful and orderly society then bring on the anarchist revolution…), have been told that “whatever resources [they] need they will get, whatever tactics [they] feel they need to employ, they will have legal backing to do so.”

Of course this internal consistency brings little comfort, other perhaps than the hope that people may now be alert to the fact that this Conservative government has wiped off the last of its smeared ‘compassionate’ façade, revealing the substantively unchanged tendencies of its Thatcherite antecedents.

Indeed, in the light of the riots’ aftermath we are able to fully appreciate the hypocrisy of government.

It is unimaginable that Cameron, or for that matter the Labour governments of recent years, might declaim against arms dealers in the same way, that their “continued violence is simply not acceptable and it will be stopped.” And yet the arms trade is an industry of violent opportunism, and an industry of unimaginable destruction. Still, our government courts its perpetrators as though they are royalty. It spends more money buying arms from BAE Systems alone than it does on climate change.

The moral is simple: violence borne from poverty is criminal; the white-collar violence of the arms trade is to be lauded, subsidised and legally protected.

DSEi, (Defence Security and Equipment International), the world’s largest arms bazaar, is returning to London’s Docklands this September. Over 1,000 arms companies will be peddling their weapons systems to buyers from around the world -including military delegations from some of the most repressive, human rights abusing regimes.

And so we return to class once again. DSEi is held in Newham, one of London’s most impoverished boroughs. Our government subsidises the arms industry by up to £700 million per year, with DSEi alone enjoying £320,000 of subsidies and up to £4 million for policing. Meanwhile, Newham council is being forced to cut £116 million from its budget over the next four years -a model of inequity that is being replicated all round the country.

Class must be un-retired, and thrust back into our vocabulary of resistance. As anti-cuts activism continues into the Autumn, so too must we inject an analysis of violence which incorporates an acknowledgement of class, and of the destructive nature of capitalism. We are most certainly not “all in this together”, that has been self-evident for some time. DSEi must only serve as another potent reminder of why this is.

One Response to “Violence in suits”
  1. Beth says:


    Wonderful post! I like this info.

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