Ken Clarke and his Marxist theory of the rioting underclass

Has Ken Clarke been re-reading his Marx (that’s Karl, rather than the jazz-loving Groucho, of course)?

Karl Marx: not Ken Clarke

Interesting in today’s Guardian article by the Justice Secretary that he blames the penal system for causing the riots, claiming that 75 per cent of the rioters and looters last month were unreformed ex-cons.

That’ll be the very same penal system where local MP Gavin Barwell, in his simplistic “hang ’em and flog ’em” personal publicity drive last month,  wants to send anyone for the most minor of offences. Who needs judges with years of experience of the law, or sentencing tariffs laid down by a democratically elected parliament, when you have Gav?

To underline the point, Clarke also said the “hardcore” of those involved in rioting were known criminals whose behaviour had not been changed by previous punishments.

Clarke – surely the best party leader the Tories never had in the past 20 years – reckons that the present system’s record in preventing re-offending was “straightforwardly dreadful”.

Clarke has argued that fewer criminals should be sent to prison, suggesting that tough community punishments would be more effective at reducing re-offending.

Clarke’s call was backed up by a very measured approach on the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 from the Tories’ “Quiet Man”, Iain Duncan Smith.

Not even Barwell would seek to describe IDS as a leftie pinko, yet the Work and Pensions Secretary was talking about England becoming “the nation of the second chance”, of rehabilitation of people who have been forced by fear into embracing gang culture.

Lawbreakers must be punished but also offered a way out of their present situation, IDS said (you taking notes, our Gav?) .

Ken Clarke: not Karl Marx... but both have identified the "lumpen proletariat"

Separately, Clarke blamed the outbreak of disorder on a “feral underclass”, “cut off” from mainstream society.

It is a point of view that verges on the Marxist.

A Marxist/syndicalist group, the Independent Working Class Association, has posted a couple of riot-related articles online. Cautious about going all “Daily Mail” by denigrating the “underclass”, they refer to Das Kapital to draw a distinction between the “underclass” and the “working class”, stating that it was the latter who suffered most in England’s August riots.

“Not only is the ‘underclass’ not synonymous with or representative of the working class, its instincts and actions are often opposed to the working class (who tend to constitute its primary prey),” the IWCA article states. As we have observed before, you don’t win the class war by burning a working class family out of their home.

“The term ‘lumpen proletariat’ is not a right-wing canard, but was coined by Karl Marx, who described this grouping as ‘the “dangerous class”‘ whose ‘members felt the need of benefiting themselves at the expense of the labouring nation’.”

So, what Ken Clarke calls the “feral underclass”, IWCA describes as “a renegade section of the working class that has learned to embrace the ‘no-work ethic’.”

The IWCA article points to something which – were there to be a proper Croydon enquiry – could inform and direct local police and council policies for a decade or more. Because if we are so arrogant as to suggest that we have nothing to learn from 8/8, then we might just face a repeat of that infamous night, and sooner than we might care for.

The IWCA article suggests that the riots, which began on August 6 in Tottenham, were more than just a community response to the death of Mark Duggan.

They write: “The background is in fact more complicated, and the initial rioting was much less impulsive and more organised than has generally been presented. Understanding this is key to understanding the riots, and the motives, reasoning and disposition of those involved.”

The IWCA relates that a few days prior to the Duggan incident, police had raided 25 to 30 homes on the Pembury estate in Hackney.

They write: “A whole layer of drug-dealing middle-management were lifted and remanded in custody. This was the result of an 18-month Wire-style operation, so inevitably the remands were all custodial. One of the critical details largely missed by the media is that many of the gangs, who generally spend their leisure time gouging, stabbing and shooting each other, came under one flag for the jaunt.”

They quote a youth worker from Brixton who claims that rival gangs from Brixton, Peckham, Clapham and Tulse Hill for the first time “came together and forgot their rivalries”.

Gangs in north London, similarly formed a united front in Hackney. There, IWCA reports, the riots were “old school”, with the gangs defending their territory from further police encroachment. It was rioting first, looting second.

But in Croydon and other areas which have been seen as “copycat” disturbances, the IWCA says that the gangs came together with looting being their explicit aim.

“Large gangs 200-plus strong were moving – or were being directed – from Croydon to Lewisham to Camden and wherever else took their fancy. The police were not the target, but were instead a force to be circumvented,” IWCA writes.

That very much reflects what was observed in South Croydon on 8/8, when looters drove up to shops like Richer Sounds and filled their (car) boots with TVs and electrical equipment, knowing what police were on the streets were fully occupied north of West Croydon station.

There is one simple way of changing the course of the “non-working class”, and that is ensure that there is proper employment for everyone. Today, US President Barack Obama was announcing his very own version of the Keynesian New Deal, to regenerate the American economy with public-funded works projects.

August’s riots in London came at a cost estimated at £133 million. The human cost cannot be measured. How long will it take for gormless Gideon Osborne to realise that stifling the economic recovery ain’t going to help pay back the national debt any time soon. But it could very well turn out to be much more expensive for the ordinary working people of Britain?

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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1 Response to Ken Clarke and his Marxist theory of the rioting underclass

  1. From what I remember of the Ken Clarke Question Time they did in a jail ( Wormwood Scrubs ) Prison Rehabilitation Services are being cut. Even though the Prison Guards ( experts, obviously ) were calling for more investment to help them do their job.

    So even if you approve of the higher sentences the looters got don’t expect much rehabilitation to happen…

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