A Joint Report of the Khalid Qureshi Foundation and Chelsea Ives Youth Centre
In the post-riot, post festum maelstrom of witless reportage, bourgeois savagery and intellectual ineptitude, comrades have often felt it necessary to step into the public arena to reiterate some basic banalities. In the last few days, as the BBC has continued to broadcast to every looted plasma in the country its pleas for condemnation, the protests of the left have risen in a modest counterpoint. The terms are shop-worn. Proletarian looting in Tottenham is just the mirror-image of the looting conducted by capital; the affective vicissitudes of our ‘feral’ youths are indexed in the fluctuations of the ‘feral banking system’; Nick Clegg MP was a convicted arsonist twenty-five years before trainee locksmith Joseph Spearing; and what in any case did the state expect, after it closed down the youth clubs and took away Educational Maintenance Allowance; and what did the cops expect, after years of harassing every black and Asian teenager they encountered on every street corner they happened to walk down; and how can we go on like this?1
But while much of the above might be true, or is in any case not quite exactly false, it is risibly inadaquate to the events of a week where a thousand social conflagrations rose into the most emphatic demonstration – even to those of us who were most complacently convinced that we already knew it – of the profound intellectual disarray of what continues to call itself ‘the left’, including all its soothing chapter and verse, its ‘ideas’, its disciplinarian organisational schemes and the last flutterings of its intractably masochistic libido. And now the banquet resumes, with proletarian victims as the bonne bouches of choice. What follows here is not a ‘comprehensive study’; it is not the consummated answer to all the refractory social details which each of us has faced each time we’ve stepped out into the street. It does not nail its colours to the burnt out and cinerous remains of Carpetright. It tries to identify problems, and while we know that those problems might be rendered last week’s news before there’s time to develop any truly compelling account of the London riots, better surely to be last week than to be dead, which, intellectually at least, seems right now to be the only alternative. Any other recourse as good as signs up to the fascist petitions wailing like sirens for martial law, as it does also to the moral econometrics of the liberals who accept that rioting is ‘justified’ only where its motivation is ‘absolute’ deprivation. For us, absolute deprivation is in any case a fictitious police category, meaningful only to those who in consequence of the continued suffocation of those whose deprivation they purport to measurehave to suffer no deprivation at all. Although our account restricts itself to a specification of a certain gap between reality and the miasma of the public sphere – and finds a little clean air in that gap which might sustain critique – it’s under no illusions as to the severity of the demand the events of August have placed on all of us for whom this world is something to be overcome. In specifying the clunky failure of the old Marxist clichés we want to provide an impetus towards new thinking about a reality which continues autonomously to criticize dogma with its proper weapons, whether those are bond markets or inner-city BBM. But let’s note here that we’re in a much better position to criticize the markets and the left than we are the roving bands of looters. The riots opened up the panorama of a London which conceals its strangeness just off the main roads. The distress of the small business owners and terrified new homeowners in Upper Clapton (scared not least about the impact on house prices) isn’t ours; but faced with a force capable of mounting a sustained and intelligent outflanking of the police – when it wants too – we’ve got to think twice, too. But our second thought – the reflective one, which considers how thought roots itself in life and realizes itself as a negative force – is best passed over in silence. Likewise the girls and boys who went rioting won’t now snitch, and nor will anyone else if they know what’s good for them.
Much analysis from the left so far has derided the misanthropy or even the ‘anomie’ of the riots; but it has also permitted itself much recourse to the self-satisfied assumption that its ‘ideas’ might provide in the future some basis for class solidarity. On this fatuous merry-go-round of optimism and pessimism, reality gets short shrift. It’s possible to descant on the terminal ‘alienation’ of young people whose unalterable unemployment dissevers them from traditional forms of identitarian working class solidarity, but without some account of the social facts of solidarity evinced in the course of the rioting (however ‘problematic’ these may be) the left does nothing but affirm the incorrigible impoverishment of alternatives under cover of retailing its solutions. What do people expect to provide the basis for working class solidarity in the future? Where can it come from? What restructuring at the economic base is apt to produce anything besides new potentiations of human isolation and misery? Is it because the answer to these questions seems so definitely and emphatically opaque that when a fraction of the commentariat presses its face against them it makes out only Twitter Inc. and related forms of miniaturised cretinism?
But in fact there are plenty of kinds of solidarity on offer. Whatever gang culture ‘is’, or however much it might vary, plainly it does provide a real and not merely a phantasmagorical form of social unity. This is true even when a gang is mugging a pensioner or kicking in the window of a grocer. On Peckham High Street on 8 August, as the riot moved up the road towards Camberwell, kids were pulling motorcyclists from their bikes. When one rider stood up and staggered in a daze back towards his vehicle, five or six men knocked him back over and kicked him in. As his ribs were broken, the street was festive. Anyone who didn’t object was in: solidarity was not limited to gang members but to anyone who would by virtue of their presence underwrite the necessity of the action. The burning of shops might be ‘nihilistic’ or it might be a way of destroying the CCTV footage which would incriminate friends. If this is sometimes ‘coercive’ solidarity, the flipside were the strained smiles on the faces of the #riotwombles, as they held aloft their disgusting sterilised dustpans for the massed photographers. The smiles were meant to signify that everyone was affably having a good time, like good citizens, there for the community, but in fact it didn’t require facial recognition software to notice that everyone looked humiliated, half-aware of the bourgeois frieze of the grotesques for which they were modeling; half-aware that the whole spectacle was about reiterating the sanctity of personal property rights against those permanently excluded from them.
But, still, last week did shower down its flares of light. And if ‘the left’ is determined to ignore them, rifling through its book of theoretical catchphrases like a tourist eviscerating his bum bag, then surely it deserves what it will get. It will of course get nothing. Meanwhile the chorus of reports on riot-induced slowdown will rise in the City like a foghorn; dutiful attempts to utter an impassioned cui bono will be drowned out in the din; and over the next few months, as the plasmas and the shoes get circulated back into the ‘black market’, the insurance sector will be jacking up its premiums in line with its prudential risk-management ‘responsibilities’. Outside of the Square Mile, in the republic of liability, life isn’t going to get any easier.
The entire rigmarole of corporate-sponsored moral revulsion is necessary. It serves the production of anti-analysis. To return to Wittgenstein, what makes the city worker cough up his bulgar wheat salad must be passed over in silence, or if not in silence then with enough outraged ululating to prevent any unpleasant facts from pausing on their journey in one ear and out the other. In the choirbook of infantile ultraleftism, a favourite hymn – a kind of Enemy of Apathy for leftists – tells us that bourgeois society can only condemn the violence of the exploited with the ferocity that it so unfailingly does because it refuses to countenance the structures of violence immanent in the wage system it imposes on everyone who has the misfortune not to be bourgeois. In the bourgeois-showbusiness-media-complex, there’s no consciousness like false consciousness; and make sure you see Silvio Berlusconi doing his ‘erotic’ Fred Astaire impression as you let yourself out. Naturally this is all well and good, but it doesn’t go nearly far enough. The bourgeois false-consciousness despised in these terms is despised for the tendentious denial of the validity of a comparison; but bourgeois anti-analysis of the kind which runs in blood down the columns of the Guardian as well as the Daily Express and which springs in fully formed sentences from the mouths of the jaundiced valetudinarians who stock our judiciary is no longer like this. It does not rest on the hysterical rebuttal of a comparison: it grounds itself in a still more complete denial of reality. What we mean by this is that just as the real facts of social solidarity between ‘youths’ and ‘gang members’ are obliterated in the heat of execrable diatribes against ‘senselessness’, ‘meaninglessness’, and other words of aversion masquerading as response, the legitimate explanatory vocabulary of ‘deprivation’ presumptively implies that nothing is responsible for the insufferability of social life. The solution to the nothing which causes deprivation is the fantasised plenitude of capital investment. This is social analysis as myth; the suffix ‘-less’ is its disgusted undergirding.
The following sections set themselves against bourgeois anti-analysis. Together they constitute a preliminary investigation not into deprivation or senselessness, nor yet into ‘austerity’, but into the new profitable industries in immiseration that have for the last few years flourished in what establishment discourse insists is a void. The breadth of the void that yawns like a reader of the Metro on his way home from the office is the coefficient of these industries’ profitability. Vis-à-vis deprivation, here is our action point: under capital, there is no new thinning – no new ‘deprivation’ – without new obesity elsewhere.
For a while now we’ve been inundated with phenomenologies of the new regimes of workfare, developed by new graduates whose abandonment to the desiccated labour market at least affords the opportunity to put their Husserl to good use; but, some questions: what about the macroeconomics of unemployment in the UK? How rapidly are the state policing and benefits systems converging? What has reform been like over the last year? What has it been like over the last fifteen (i.e., since Income Support became Jobseekers’ Allowance in the official ideology of welfare ‘provision’)? And how can we understand the relationship of long-term macro-economic unemployment to the long-term degradation of service sector employment? For example, what proportion of the UK retail industry has a largely un- or precariously employed consumer demographic? How has this proportion changed over the last fifteen to twenty years? What has this meant for job creation at the bottom of the UK retail industry, i.e., in its ‘no frills’ subsector?
These are perhaps tiresome inquiries. We have an agenda. We ask not only about the degradation of conditions of employment down the supply chain, in the informal sectors of the international labour market – even fascistic fashion journalists allow their moral fibre to bristle at the thought of those kinds of globalised immiseration – but about the conditions of life for those who ‘succeed’ in climbing out of unemployment and into work.
Like all good communists, we repudiate without hesitation the reactionary separation of consumerism and production, the privileging of the former over the latter, and the attendant Sittlichkeit of consumer metaphysics, which tendentiously positions all humanity in an income continuum which denies all distinctions, including especially (and intentionally) the distinctions of class, whose truth outvies the corruptions of mere accountancy. But to be a good communist in the face of last week’s events is no less complacent (though it may be less dangerous) than to become a ‘good citizen’, bowing and scraping in an act of malicious obeisance to the directives issuing from the Metropolitan Police’s Twitter/Flickr panopticon. Now more than ever the interface of ‘work’ and ‘consumerism’ in our society is rotten: it is the loop by which long term structural unemployment recreates the market for low-end consumer commodities and by that means recreates also the jobs which the long term structurally unemployed are expected to aspire to.
In Peckham, the windows of Burger King are smashed in. In the cavernous Lidl next door to it, the five members of staff who at any one time provide are pulling down the shutters. The manager is probably grateful for the break, because now he can get the cashier to do some sweeping. In Lidl labour is many-sided: exhaustion and humiliation have a great number of facets. The worthlessness of the majority of the jobs available in an economy whose service sector has expanded is the qualitative critique of unemployment statistics.2 Companies like Lidl, Aldi, Primark and Fortune 21, celebrated in the Companies sections of the Quality Financial Press for their swift footwork in the face of market headwinds – i.e., for profiting from new poverty – have expanded rapidly over the last two years. Lidl and Aldi increased their market share by 10% in the three months to January 2011.3 Both of these companies have flourished by the esurience with which they strangle their workers. For example, Lidl’s wage policy has always been based on the imposition of impossible workloads which must be completed by workers during (unpaid) overtime, which is to say, on the unpoliced and unremunerated extortion of extra-contractual labour.
All this would be old (or Ursprünglich) news if only it didn’t dovetail so nicely with state employment policy. Capital management ideology states that because the administration of the unemployed requires the expenditure of taxation monies, long term structural unemployment is a decelerator on private sector dynamism and nothing else. Naturally this is just a straightforward lie. The ‘no-frills’ service industries are an important destination for the monies disbursed to benefit recipients. As the state continues to huff credit back into the financial sector, crossing its fingers and hoping that its preferred bubbles might reflate, it also endorses as never before long term structural unemployment; and it therefore ensures continued and growing demand for the cut-price commodities that the ‘no frills’ service sector provide and which the immiserated must consume. As anyone can see, this means a net transfer of jobs from the ‘frills’ service sector (i.e., old misery) into Lidl, Aldi, Fortune 21, Primark, and so on; and because the frills that these companies remove are in the first instance wages for their staff, the managed production of unemployment is equivalent to the managed degradation of the worst ‘legitimate’ forms of capitalist work. In this pirouette, bad work, which, as anyone who has ever replenished a shelf in a Tesco can attest, is hardly exactly pastoral (it is preternaturally shit), acquires a new nadir. Working class unemployment and working class work are remodeled together in a grisly bump’n’grind, and both are made ever more foreign to the forms of bourgeois work and bourgeois unemployment which the doctrinaire professors of bourgeoisdom – using their own class categories as a tautologous warrant – insist they must resemble.
While it is often pointed out that the sharp distinction between the public and private sector is specious – which is to say, an intellectual fabrication belonging to capitalists, whose next move is always to turn the distinction ninety degrees, so that it forms a hierarchy of value, i.e., private sector dynamism vs. public sector bureaucracy – the argument we make is slightly different. Because ‘long term structural unemployment’ alters the structure of demand for basic commodities, which then need to be sold at a profit, it creates new impetus for the carnival of wage reduction – the race to the bottom as spectacle in the epoch of Silvio Berlusconi, eBooks and famine. In other words, ‘long term structural unemployment’ is the etiolated hieroglyph of a new circuit of accumulation premised on the intensified exploitation of the employed, and this is true even before we start to monitor state efforts to push private sector wages below the legal minimum which it imposes, as its civil service functionaries scramble to put to work their hypertrophied flexible skill sets in the innovation of new forms of ‘workfare’ torture.3 As the civil servants might put it, the stagnation circuit is a ‘formal’ economy with all of the best features of the ‘informal’ economy (e.g., no guaranteed pay).
The state happily attaches to this profitable stagnation circuit a label marked ‘aspiration’, as if it were an expressionist ballet, which from the moderate heights of Downing Street it does perhaps resemble; and the press gesticulate at their demonstration-model abyss and moan about the ‘nihilism’ of the riots which shattered the facades of so many betting shops; and the sky does not fall in. But fulmination against the destructive ‘nihilism’ of the riots merely underwrites what it claims to protest against, because it refuses to acknowledge just how much of our social ‘fabric’ would have to be destroyed if any social life were to be more than accidentally livable. In the future, it must by now be obvious to anyone without a derivatives portfolio that effective social action will have to be more and not less destructive, because less and less of that fabric is capable of being redeemed merely by a modification in the terms of its ownership. However important concerns about the ‘proper’ targeting of destruction may be, when their social function is to serve as a gag – and it usually is – better not to let them be put in your mouth.4
Human Superiority to Wonga (a.k.a, Payday Loans)
In 2010, the online lender Wonga.com came eighth in the website Startups’ list of the top 100 new companies. Providing reasons for Wonga’s placement, the website states that CEO “Errol says [the company is] all about bringing a convenient and speedy solution to short-term cash needs, and lending as responsibly as possible. Wonga has already processed well over half a million loan applications and secured a $22m venture capital funding round in the summer of 2009.”
This already says quite a lot. According to the Bank of England, in the last twenty-five years secured debt quadrupled as proportion of earnings; by contrast, unsecured debt rose only slightly.5 This is all very useful for anyone who wants to reflect on property boosterism in the last round of British capitalist growth, but it also conceals some important facts. The data doesn’t begin to tell us under what terms that unsecured debt was loaned out; nor does it tell us by whom. Statistics once again are a mirage of stability: on closer inspection they become your own amputated limb. Between 2006-2011, as the retail arms of the banking sector put its orgies of ebriety behind it and got sensible, the ‘payday loan’ industry quadrupled. What this means is that a large proportion of debt advanced to the working classes has been lent on increasingly severe terms. Enter handsome South African jogger and CEO Errol, with his convenient and speedy solution.
Exit Errol. As debt support organisations wish so passionately to inform us, the growth in the payday loans industry means cycles of debt misery for the expanding industry’s ‘repeat customers’. Concerned parliamentarians have of course gladly seized the opportunity to emote some vote-winning concern. In 2010, a noble band of 31 MPs clubbed together to sign a motion against Payday Loans lending. In the acrid mixture of intolerable circumlocutory jargon and decorous moralism so typical of parliamentary rhetoric, the motion stated that
the House… believes that lending of this kind can prove both socially and financially irresponsible and that the Government and appropriate regulatory authorities should insist on the application of the regulatory principle of fair treatment of consumers which currently applies to savings and investments in the UK to sub-prime lending products to protect vulnerable consumers. 6
Shuffling aside the fact that the House in fact did not believe this, that lending of any kind must surely in principle be capable of being ‘irresponsible’, and that it is otiose to assert, as if this were a social achievement rather than an analytic certitude, that ‘the principle of fair treatment of consumers’ serves to protect ‘vulnerable consumers’, the motion was essentially a call for transparency.
Extortion is bad when it ‘irresponsibly’ uses ‘television advertising’ to delude oafish consumers – some of whom are ‘vulnerable’ (it would no doubt be impudent to specify in what sense) – into acquiring debt which they won’t be able to amortise. The focus on deception makes real social tendencies an irrelevance, since, according to the debauched enlightenment thinking of provincial MPs, social suffering is fine so long as it isn’t advanced by mis-selling. ‘Social causation’ – that catch word of liberal determinism – is therefore transferred away from material reality and into the phantasmagoric graphic design hothouses of the maleficent advertising sector; and the nauseating vocab of consumer taxonomy (the vulnerable consumer, the satisfied consumer, the consumer in need, the thrifty consumer, the irresponsible consumer, etc.) falsifies the two most significant consequences of the transfer of unsecured debt from the retail banking sector to the Payday Loans Industry. Firstly it ignores the fact that more and more proletarian value is canalised into debt servicing, the nearest equivalent to coal shoveling that the field of consumption has to offer; and, secondly, it occludes the involvement of conventional banking capital in the growth of the loanshark sector.
Who is protected in this conversion of ‘irresponsible’ lending into a moral problem? When politicians and liberal ‘campaigners’ pump their little fists and ‘insist’ on ‘responsibility’, what they do, whether they know it or not, is draw acordon sanitaire around bad capital in the interests of good.
As Startups’ lyric poem to Wonga suggest, in this sense squarely in the anti-physiocratic tradition of political economy, capital doesn’t just grow out of the ground. Marxists should be more than interested in the taking the pulse of this growth industry: they should be climbing directly into its ventricles. The Chief Executive of Dollar Financial, Jeffrey Weiss, whose company (serving ‘unbanked’ and ‘under-banked’ consumers) is currently expanding into the UK, estimates that “we’re maybe 25% of the way towards a full country build-out… you extrapolate from our current 350 stores I think there is a potential universe for us of 1,200 locations.” And corporate tumescence on a scale this cosmic requires large sums of venture capital, at least some of which originates with banks, the newly discovered responsibility of whose retail divisions is what allowed the payday loans industry to jack up its growth forecast in the first place.7 For example, Dollar Financial in 2009 emitted US$600 million in unsecured notes (i.e., interest bearing debt) due for repayment by December 2016. Much of this debt is required to finance its aggressive expansion strategy (a.k.a. Jeffrey Weiss’s macho ‘build-out’ on his 100% proletarian treadmill), but the extortion industries it is accumulating worldwide, including the Swedish exploiters Sefina and Folkia AS and the British pawn broking business Sutten & Robertson, themselves rely for their lines of capital credit on the official banking sector. Dollar Financial’s ‘lines of capital credit’ are the tentacles of ‘legitimate’ capital investment, seeking new returns.8 Capital in the ‘irresponsible’ payday loans industry is bank capital or indeed is just capital as such, doing what it does best in a period when extortion replaces asset inflation as the menacing guarantor of net valorization.9
After smashing their way into the local money lending store, rioters on Peckham High Street had a shot at opening the safe. Since they weren’t professional safebreakers, they finally contented themselves with smashing the counter and looting the chairs. When the police vans arrived, the chairs were hurled through their windscreens. Were only Liberal Democrat politicians less artificially horrified by the display of pure criminality – or whatever else is today’s anti-analytic collocation of choice – they might commend its innovative lateral thinking and present the participants with Young Enterprise Awards, small cash prizes, and an opportunity to visit the town hall to receive a framed A4 certificate from the mayor.
Destruction of petit bourgeois property is contemptible for both the proto-fascist right and the social democratic left because a) it and not the destruction of national treasures like our famed and historical Tesco branches is destructive of the ‘community’; and b) because – a related but not identical point – attacks on small shopkeepers are more likely to aggravate ethnic tensions. Consensus on this is being retailed by state politicians and the capitalist media, both of which have gone tactically silent on the looting of high street chain stores.
But what is the relationship then between structural long term unemployment and co-incident class and ethnic divisions within ‘communities’? How do ethnically defined petit bourgeois groups constitute themselves? If they do so in certain material settings through crime, why is this? This is to suggest that the subsistence-level underclasses of the UK,including ethnically specifiable petit bourgeois elements, may have relied for whatever material security they do possess on recourse to extra-legal economies. Useful Marxist analysis of the formation of ethnically defined class stratifications within these communities (and of forms of racism which vitiate communist class-formation) would then do well to know – at least at the level of case-studies – the process by which an ethnically unified inner city bourgeoisie is formed. If a petit bourgeois ‘community’ has constituted itself through ‘organised crime’ or through some process of petty primordial accumulation, then this speaks both to the intolerability of the situation of those who smashed through the windows of their shops and also to the untenability of the system in which they precariously sustain themselves, working 100 hour weeks to meet their overheads and remit some value to extended families.
In short: How can we discover the material contradictions which necessitate ‘crime’, by which we mean not only the crime targeted against petit bourgeois social elements but also the crime which has been necessary to establish them? And what long term social causation begins to explain the emergence of ‘ethnic tensions’ which match and exacerbate class tensions within specific districts?
These questions have of course been perfectly atomised in recent weeks, because they strike discord in the rhapsodies to the obedient oppressed. Marx, with his tongue in his cheek, once spoke of ‘the moral strength of the shopkeepers’. Upper middle class ‘creatives’ plunge their tongues into their vitreous humour and repeat. As the white movers and shakers of Dalston fall in love with the baseball bats which (they convince themselves) were wielded by Kurdish shop owners not surely on their own behalf but disinterestedly, or (the delusion is just as grandly disingenuous and really amounts to the same thing) on the behalf of the community, it isn’t hard to point to contravening evidence. The website ‘Gangs in London’ claims that
[t]he families that make up the Turkish and Kurdish criminal organisations of London have imported 1,000’s of kilo’s of heroin into the United Kingdom during the last three decades. During which time they have made links with British criminals, including the so-called ‘Liverpool Mafia’, the ‘Irish Godfather’, Christy Kinahan, Albanian people trafficking networks, east London Asian crime families, Chinese Snakehead gangs and the predominantly black street gangs within the boroughs of Hackney and Haringey.10
To which list we could speculatively append Santander, Wachovia, and a lustrous host of other cartels (see below).The bourgeois analysis is not objectionable because it attributes pure motives to Turkish or Kurdish shopkeepers, but because of what it does under the guise of this attribution. Hyper-exploited small proprietors are touted as legislating members in the universal kingdom of ends so that the rioters who attacked their shops can be all the more aggressively dehumanised. All the bourgeois weasel words of moral purity are at bottom a play for class hegemony, dangerous both because they lend themselves to racism and because they can be put to work in stymieing any discussion which doesn’t restrict itself to juggling a few moral platitudes siphoned from a discarded copy of the Evening Standard.
The quotation above therefore (and others like it) is useful as a preliminary inoculation against the worst stupidities of bourgeois response; but it evidently doesn’t tell us much about the recycling of ‘illegitimate’ profits into ‘legitimate’ petit bourgeois enterprises – of the kind which splay along the high streets at the city’s fringes, and which are now (or even now perhaps already werethe toast of those who would usually prefer to shop in outlets owned and managed by people of their own class and ethnicity; nor does it tell us about the role of gang profits in accentuating ethnically profiled class differences within geographically defined ‘communities’.
From our current outpost on the cloud of unknowing, it would be irresponsible to speculate about different gang-forms; and in consequence it’s difficult to speculate on the variant means by which gangs are plugged into different circuits of legitimate (low-level) accumulation.11 One valuable line of inquiry might treat of the historical relationship of gangs – and therefore of criminal profits – to the citizens’ credit union, whose tightening of the sweet bonds of the community is extolled so lovingly by politicians eager to ensure that citizen-promoted debt servitude can replace traditional (redistributive) forms of state provision.12 Red Tories, Blue Labour, and the attendant gaggle of Christian citizen groups become together the communitarian cheerleaders for forms of extortion and immiseration newly moralised because conducted on a ‘horizontal’ and not a ‘vertical’ axis.
Conclusion on a High
And when discussion comes to the issue of drugs – as discussion inevitably does, whenever it isn’t on pause while the discussants feign to weep about absentee fathers or rap music – the ‘legitimacy’ Hydra raises once again its terrible network of heads, parliamentary select committees and QUANGOS. Amid all the talk about the lamentable involvement of ‘our youth’ in the drug trade, with its descants on ‘slow motion moral collapse’ and its shrill undertone of bourgeois asepsis (i.e., just don’t let them infect us), not much has been said about the involvement of the banking sector in ‘handling’ (i.e., laundering) the ‘proceeds’ of that trade.13 It might just be conceivable that one or two of the people who last week lobbed bricks through the windows of their local Santander have in the past made some cash from street dealing, but it can be guaranteed that they didn’t make as much as Santander itself, squarely implicated along with Bank of America, HSBC and others in large scale laundering.14
If laundered drugs money is a literally indispensable source of liquidity for a banking system gone costive on its own toxic debts and wallowing in ‘public’ opprobrium, it is obvious why these unacknowledged legislators of the world haveno interest in even the managed decriminalisation of drugs. The task for us then is not to accuse the state of ‘hypocrisy’ – hypocrisy is a term of art belonging to bourgeois ideologues who, because they are removed from positions of political power, have no interest in disguising their prejudices – but to identify the contours of the complicity of state capital in the nurturing of organised crime; and to specify the dependency of legitimate (i.e., legally recognised) capitalist institutions on the profits generated in a purportedly ‘extra-legal’ economy.
In the last fortnight no one could have failed to be subjected to riot analysis, unless they’ve had their head buried in the little pile of sand they keep specially prepared in their panic room. Such analysis is worked out usually by means of tidy acts of discrimination, accomplished at various degrees of sophistication or crudity, by salaried entities more or less human. By now we know the cast of the drama they construct: looters and till workers, citizens and politicians, organized gangs and anomic school kids, shopkeepers and crime lords, the deprived and the comfortable, those whose acts can be understood if not condoned and those whose privilege earns them only contempt. The distinctions have this character, that they eventually subordinate themselves to a more abstract distinction between victims and perpetrators. With the astigmatism of class hatred now so well implanted and the judicial system running on auto-pilot, Justitia has no need to put her blindfold back on.
But it is necessary for capitalist discourse to avail itself of all of its resources of discrimination. The resources are a desperate bulwark against the apperception of what binds us together, which is the social necessity for capital to accumulate under conditions of straitened reproduction.
Time will continue to go by, most likely: and most likely it will continue to be said that gangs are the consequence of inner-city deprivation. That statement has an implicit tendency. If only more capital would flow into the estates in which their members live, gangs would melt into air, just as in Tottenham the looters seemed according to the standard colonialist clichés to ‘melt’ into the side streets. One again we can feel safe in ‘our’ cities. This is the official, rubber-stamped mythos of capital accumulation. The gangs exist because their members are separate from capital. Where there is no capital, there is deprivation. This is deprivation’s definition. The mythos serves two functions. First, by premising deprivation and its dark bedfellow ‘crime’ on separation from capital, it apes the angel of history and announces capital’s absolution, because capital cannot be responsible for that from which it is separated and which it no doubt yearns in its heart to reach. Like Jesus, capital loves all human resources. At most (according this argument) the fault lies with doltish town-planners and callous politicians, and other marionettes in the shop-window of social obfuscation. Second, the mythos provides an abstract and tendentious ‘vision’ of what at any given point accumulation is, in the sense that it suggests that capital investment can be expanded at will to eradicate the stain that e.g., the Pembury Estate has left on our community, but also, by parity of reasoning, in the sense that it implies the real circuits of accumulation do not currently depend for their completion on exactly the forms of human torture brought about by reified ‘underinvestment’, but instead just happen to operate elsewhere, in other places, far away from the sad and frightening little people who spoliate their local Betfred. This report has attempted urgently to specify the contours of a few of the new and profitable immiseration industries. It has done so not just because they exist to be pointed out, but because we hate the fatuous moral philosophies which take a professional interest in ignoring them. As the commentators continue to waddle onto the tattered red carpet under the ‘public eye’ to play with their Fisher Price scale of good and evil, performing narcissistically their games in moral philosophy, and refining their breviary of ‘sociological’ distinctions, who can say how many extra burnt out cars and shops and flats it will take, and how much more concentrated misery and desperation and venom, to demonstrate in spite of all this that in at least one respect we truly and undeniably are all in this together: under capital right up to our necks.
1 For ‘feral banking system, see the phraseology of establishment Keynesian Richard Murphy,http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2011/aug/17/european-markets-hit-robin-hood-tax
2 For a very useful worker’s inquiry conducted by an employee of Lidl, cf. http://franklludwig.com/lidl.html See alsohttp://www.spiegel.de/wirtschaft/0,1518,332171,00.html
3 Corporatewatch recently posted an interview with a 24 year old Bangladeshi woman made to work three days a week in Primary as a condition for the receipt of her JSA. Assuming a work week of 21 hours and a subsistence ‘benefit’ of £50.95, this woman was paid an hourly wage of £2.43. [http://www.corporatewatch.org/?lid=4030] This is obviously a rather venerable means of manipulating the market rate for ‘unskilled’ labour, but as state politicians natter on about ‘skill creation’ through workfare, which is to say, as they continue to promote virtualised accumulation for the exploited, the real exigency for wage regulation reveals itself: competition is hotting up in the no-frills sector. Last month US Primark clone Forever 21 opened its first retail branch on Oxford Street, http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/a72a0814-b863-11e0-b62b-00144feabdc0.html#axzz1VChqrtoy This might, as the FT boorishly reports, be good news for ‘teen consumers’, but price competition in low-margin retail industries requires the licensing of new peaks in worker exploitation. Otherwise the margins go sour.
4 As an appendix to all this we might ask, what would be the results of a critical account of unemployment statistics across London? What percentage of young working class people are unemployed or effectively unemployed in those areas most fluorescently ‘deprived’? In Tower Hamlets young adult unemployment in March 2011 was at 27.7%. But what does this mean? Which parts of the Tower Hamlets ‘community’ make up the largest proportions of this 27.7% of the wageless? Is it possible that for some sections of ‘the community’ unemployment has become universal just at the moment when unemployment and criminality become synonymous under a new regime of privatised and pulverising ‘welfare’ incarceration?
7 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/banksandfinance/5476027/Loans-start-up-Wonga-gets-22m-boost-from-Facebook-backer.html Balderton Capital, the main supporter of Wonga, claims, neatly enough, that most of its US$1.9bn capital comes from University endowments. Academics at Harvard would do well to reflect on this as they release themselves upon the tiny cucumber sandwiches served at the latest social justice colloquium.
9 For some (now somewhat outdated) information on the debt-collection growth-sector, seehttp://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/07/27/AR2005072702473.html The best survey on recent private sector dynamism in the UK incarceration industries ishttp://www.metamute.org/en/articles/unlimited_liability_or_nothing_to_lose
11 Even the bourgeois social-justice-police-surveillance enterprise The Centre for Social Justice acknowledges that little has been done in the way of usable (i.e., repression facilitating) history from above. Thus the report hilariously frets that ‘[t]he MPS found 171 gangs operating in London and the Home Office estimate that there are 356 gang members in the Capital. This would mean around two people per gang, which would not, by the Home Office’s own definition, constitute a gang.’ (p.20) And since there are presumably at least some gangs with three members or upwards, it would seem to follow that according to the Home Office’s own estimates there exist many gangs with one member or fewer. (http://www.centreforsocialjustice.org.uk/client/downloads/DyingtoBelongFullReport.pdf) As the notorious gang Walt Whitman once put it: I contain multitudes.
12 An extreme instance of the kind of informal credit network operated via gang-formations is reported athttp://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/article-23770522-heroin-wars-loan-sharks-and-executions-the-turkish-gangs-terrorising-north-london.do. Naturally any instance less extreme would bear less interest for journalists writing for the Evening Standard. An (historical) anatomy of the everyday operation of gang-financed credit networks would necessitate some account of what drives small owners to seek this form of credit in the first place; it would also provide an account of cases where gang-credit has enabled a petit bourgeoisie to establish itself, if only under conditions of inhuman exploitation.
14 In an excellent recent essay in black-market/legit-market partnership, John Barker notes that ‘[f]igures extrapolated by [Tom] Feiling suggest that just one percent of the retail price of cocaine in the USA goes to the Colombian coca farmer; four percent to its processors and 20 percent to its smugglers. Seventy-five percent therefore is realised in the rich world.’ How much of that is realised as profits by the rich world’s banks remains to be assessed.http://www.metamute.org/en/articles/from_coca_to_capital_free_trade_cocaine_0