Wednesday, 10 August 2011


When there is social unrest in Syria or other Muslim countries, many in the West argue that it is to be expected because one-party dictatorships breed socio-political opposition. Western leaders rush to impose sanctions and condemn the anti-democratic regimes. When there is social unrest in the UK, sporadic and intermittent in  the past twelve months or so, many in the West dismiss such events as the doings of foreigners, criminals, non-Christians, and the lumpen-proletariat of an otherwise 'civilized nation'. British Prime Minister David Cameron stated that he would not tolerate the 'culture of violence'. The world does not fail to notice the blatant hypocrisy on the part of the West that holds itself to a different standard than t does the Muslim countries undergoing social unrest. 

For the past year, I have been posting essays dealing with social unrest in Europe and in Muslim countries, arguing that the unrest is a manifestation of a deeper crisis in the political economy of capitalism as practiced in different countries. The causes for the unrest in Egypt were very different than those in Spain or Greece, and the causes of unrest in Syria are very different than those of London in July 2011. Yet, all countries are part of one global economy that is experiencing a dual crisis, one of public debt and one of sluggish economic growth, both linked to the crisis of confidence in the credit economy.

In each country the history, institutions and unique circumstances that drive a segment of the disgruntled population to engage in social unrest represent uniqueness and it is important to understand each situation by itself, but also to view it against the background of the rest of the deeply integrated world. The response in each case, including that currently unfolding in London and spreading to Birmingham, Wolverhampton, West Bromwich, Greater Manchester, Salford, Liverpool, Bristol and Gloucester. Prime Minister David Cameron called 16,000 police  officers just to protect the rioted areas in London, and there is talk of the military becoming involved, though officials have ruled it out.

Why is the UK in such social turmoil? The causes are the deepening divide between rich who are predominantly white 'middle-aged' Anglo-Saxon and poor who are predominantly non-white and young without hope for the future. The riots are an expression of deep-seated anger against a system that caters to the privileged parasitic elements, as far as the rioters are concerned, while winking at the racist and xenophobic English Defense League (EDL). It is easy to dismiss mass riots on a handful of criminals, and I have no doubt that such elements are present in all uprisings. 

But do masses of people throughout many cities riot because all of them are criminals, or are the riots representative of something larger taking place in England, something that will potentially spread to the continent, to the US, and beyond? The world system of capitalism that has shaped a social order in which the vast majority of the population is experiencing downward social mobility is showing strains, just as the Communist bloc did two decades ago. This does not mean that the political economy will collapse, but it will be under immense pressures for the decade.

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