Class, the London riots, and Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower

I’ve been wanting to write a blog post on Octavia Butler’s two part series, The Parable of the Sower and the Parable of the Talents. I read it for the second time recently, and I noticed so many more politically relevant and potent aspects of the novels this time around. Of course, I was reading it in the bathtub and not taking notes, so I dont remember most of the things I wanted to write about, but something came up today.

Towards the beginning of the first book, we are introduced to a sort of post-apocalyptic America. The US government is still there, but barely hanging on. Life is extremely dangerous and insecure. The main character, Lauren, is a 15 year old woman, “lucky” to be living in a lower middle class neighborhood with a giant wall built around it. Few people who live within have jobs on the outside. They grow their own food, raise chickens to sell, and the young people never go outside except to ride their bikes with adults into the hills so that they can target practice.

Unfortunately, as Lauren suspects will happen, this situation wont last forever. Although the mega-rich are still out there, the lumpen cant reach them inside their gated communities protected by security contractors. And so they go after Lauren’s neighborhood. In her eyes, they aren’t rich and dont warrant such an attack. In the eyes of the street people and drug addicts who carry out the attack, though, they have privilege, wealth and everything that comes with it and, hence, are deserving of attack.

This story makes me think about the reports of working class neighborhoods being looted and lit on fire by the rioters in London and surrounding areas. If you grow up in the projects or estates, cant get a job, cant go to college, then people who have jobs, and cars, and their own homes and even small businesses could look like pretty tempting bait. They could look like the rich who are deserving of attack, even if they are exploited on the job by managers and capitalists and have no control over their lives and only a little more paper to show for it than you do. And the super rich are in their gated communities, protected by the police, and video surveillance… much too challenging for an unorganized riot to take on. But not an insurrection.

I’ve been thinking for some time that I need to understand more clearly class composition in the United States. My reflections on my family and class are a piece of this, but its related to the bigger picture. Its not clear who is on what side of the class war, or where they will fall when the time comes. If we had this political clarity, then we could argue against violence on the working class, without just condemning the riots. We could push for a reorientation to the capitalists, the ruling class, the mega rich. We could fight for class solidarity with the rest of the working class… and even argue that the lower middle classes interests lie with ours. But I think first we need this political clarity: What is class? Who is working class? Why does that mean we shouldnt attack each other and we have the same interests? (Unless youre a fascist or something.)

What is actually happening in England?

This article by al-jazeera combats some of the propaganda of the bourgeois press about the London riots: these mindless youths, they’re violent and out of control, all we need are 30,000 cops to deal with them, but its a routine thing, no big deal.

Here’s an excerpt:

More broadly, any breakdown of civil order is inescapably political. Quite large numbers of mostly young people have decided that, on balance, they want to take to the streets and attack the forces of law and order, damage property or steal goods. Their motives may differ – they are bound to differ. But their actions can only be understood adequately in political terms. While the recklessness of adrenaline has something to do with what is happening, the willingness to act is something to be explained. We should perhaps ask them what they were thinking before reaching for phrases like “mindless violence”. We might actually learn something.

I have a lot of questions about whats happening right now. Everyone I know who lives in the UK and is commenting on it are on the side of the petty bourgeoisie, calling the rioters “idiots”, and so on. But what is the racial composition, what are the various political forces involved on the ground? Is the left agitating and organizing? Is anyone else? I hear armed Nazi gangs are roaming the streets, too, but this ISO newspaper article makes it seem like its just the state against the people, without mentioning the Nazis. They call it a “rebellion against racism” but they dont mention that many South Asians, for example, are setting up community defense and hence defending what they perceive as their own class interests.

They also emphasize that Mark Duggan was “a father of four” while elsewhere people talks about how he is a well-known crack dealer. He may have been both of these things, and if he was, his life needs to be looked at in its totality. He is no less a reason for people to protest police brutality if he sold drugs. Emphasizing that he was a father in this society where the question of Black men and family is so heated, seems like a cheap ploy to appeal to those who still hold onto “traditional family values” ie patriarchal values.

Its hard to know how to analyze it when you’re not there, and dont really understand the social forces and class tensions. This article by the Commune talks about from the perspective of some libertarian left revolutionaries. Their main point is pretty much that people need to get serious and politicize the riots, when right now they are almost purely economic. I agree with that, but I dont like how they talk about them needing to organize the rioters. I think the al-jazeera quote above gets at what needs to be done first: ask people what they are thinking. Most of them are likely highly aware of what is happening in their country in terms of race  and class. Maybe that is part of the Commune’s organizing method; I guess it is hard to tell since they urge people to organize but they dont talk about their own organizing. That doesnt mean that they are not organizing their asses off; maybe for security reasons they are not blasting their shit all over the internet. But I still dont really know whats going on.

2 Good Articles on the Egyptian Uprising

Jubayr pointed out these two articles as good reference for the Egyptian uprising.

This article does a great break down of the complex social and political forces underneath the fall of Mubarak and the uprising. It rightly points out that official society commentators want to reduce the uprising to a series of binaries, underneath which is the tome of “good guys versus bad guys.” It goes through the various governmental and military sectors and their (usually antagonistic) relationships with each other, capital, the working class movement, an emerging Left, and so on. It also dispels the myth that somehow Twitter and Facebook alone are responsible for the mass movement, and instead goes through the history of the last ten of so years with different political and labor movements.

This article is a wonderful exposition of “from below” politics. It stresses that the most important thing about the uprising is the experiences and transformation of millions of regular, everyday people- their increased confidence and sense of power, their increased capacity to govern themselves given their experience of setting up popular militias, garbage services, and so on. It really re-energized me and gave me some more hope for the long haul.

I’m going to look for some good stuff on gender and Egyptian politics…