These are youngsters who are uniquely alienated from the communities in which they grew up. Nurtured in large part by the welfare state, financially, physically and educationally, socialised more by the agents of welfarism than by their own neighbours or local representatives, these youth have little moral or emotional attachment to their communities. Their rioting reveals not that Britain is in a time warp in 1981 or 1985 with politically motivated riots against the police, but that the tentacle-like spread of the welfare state into every area of people’s lives has utterly zapped old social bonds, the relationship of sharing and solidarity that once existed in working-class communities. These riots suggest that the welfare state is giving rise to a generation happy to shit on its own doorstep.
This is not a political rebellion; it is a mollycoddled mob, a riotous expression of carelessness for one’s own community. And as a left-winger I refuse to celebrate nihilistic behaviour that has a profoundly adverse affect on working people’s lives. Far from being an instance of working-class action, this welfare-state mob has more in common with what Marx described as the lumpenproletariat. Indeed, it is worth remembering Marx’s colourful description in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon of how that French ruler cynically built his power base among parts of the bourgeoisie and sections of the lumpenproletariat, so that “ruined and adventurous offshoots of the bourgeoisie rubbed shoulders with vagabonds, discharged soldiers, discharged jailbirds, escaped galley slaves, swindlers, pickpockets, tricksters, gamblers, brothel-keepers, organ-grinders, ragpickers, knife-grinders, tinkers, beggars and from this kindred element Boneparte formed the core of his [constituency], where all its members felt the need to benefit themselves at the expense of the labouring nation”. In very different circumstances, we have something similar today where the decadent commentariat’s siding with lumpen rioters represents a weird coming together of sections of the bourgeoisie with sections of the underworked and the over-flattered, as the rest of us, “the labouring nation”, look on with disdain.