Novara: ‘The Riots’, one year on.

I joined Aaron Peters and Nina Power yesterday on Novara on Resonance FM to discuss the anniversary of last year’s riots. You can listen to it below – I think it’s also worth listening to the show we did with Dan Hancox during the events of last August (here), which has stood up quite well, especially given the patchiness of the sources and rumours that were flying around at the time.

I promised I’d put up the section of Badiou I was quoting, which was one of the essays in the recent ‘The Rebirth of History‘:

In these processes, where the state puts on its most hideous expression, a no less detestable consensus is forged over a particularly reactive conception that can be summarized thus: the destruction or theft of a few goods in the frenzy of a riot is infinitely more culpable than the police assassination of a young man – the assassination that caused the riot. The government and press hastily assess the damage. And here is the vicious idea spread by all this: the death of the young man – a ‘black hooligan’ no doubt, or an Arab ‘known to the police’ – is nothing compared with all these additional costs. Let us grieve not for the death but the insurance companies. (…)

Here, by contrast, it will be asserted that the life of a young man is priceless – all the more so in that he is one of the countless people abandoned by our society. To believe that the intolerable crime is to burn a few cars and rob some shops, whereas to kill a young man is trivial, is typically in keeping with what Marx regarded as the principal alienation of capitalism: the primacy of things over existence, of commodities over life and machines over workers, which he encapsulated in the formula: ‘Le mort saisit le vif’. Of this lethal dimension of capitalism the Camerons and Sarkozys are the zealous cops.

– The Rebirth of History: Times of Riots and Uprisings (London: Verso, 2012) p.20

Reasserting the primary importance of that police assassination, and the political (rather than apolitical or ‘consumerist’) content of last year’s riots is absolutely necessary when there is a concerted effort on the part of the police and the right-wing media to occlude the murder that sparked them off. Yesterday’s show is hopefully a small contribution to that effort.

I’d like to also point out that the medium of radio is perfect for allowing these kinds of discussions, at least when it’s removed from the contentless, soundbite-ridden ‘adversarial’ model of BBC factual or news programmes. Thank fuck for Resonance FM, really. Novara is one of the few media spaces that allows serious, thoughtful and critical discussion of current political issues, and I hope the discussions yet to come in this series will help broaden a political conversation currently dominated by Guardian cliché, vacuous opinion-mongering and a political spectrum so narrow as to be practically suffocating.

Novara goes out live on Resonance every Tuesday at 2pm, and is repeated on Sunday at 10pm. You can tune in on 104.4 FM, or stream from the website:

Novara archive on soundcloud:

Twitter: (Hashtag: #Novara)


1 thought on “Novara: ‘The Riots’, one year on.

  1. James, thanks for this–both for the recording and for the Badiou quote.

    Occlusion is the favoured tactic of the state when it’s caught with its pants down. In England, the media today largely ignore that the riots were specifically a response not just to Mark Duggan’s death at the hands of the police, but also to the supression of a demonstration against that murder. In France, the interior ministry’s considerable efforts were expended covering the tails of the police at the expense of investigating the deaths of 3 boys. How unlike even the official story of the 1992 LA riots–as an 8-year old Los Angelino at the time, I remember them very well. Even then most people recognised the immediate trigger and the context: the injustices against Rodney King for the former, urban deprivation and racism for the latter.

    The right-wing media’s post-riot emphasis on race as an explanatory vector should give us pause. It’s ostensibly true that riots in France and England both involved disproportionate numbers of ‘brown’ youths–but of course, the original victims themselves were ‘brown’, and the crimes perpetrated against them occured in the communities where the disturbances began. The cummulative, historical sense of grievance, alienation, harassment and hopelessness was the fuel for the fire, but the match was the simple self-identification with the first victims and their circumstances. Everything else is obfuscation, by the police and its media rear guard.

    On your final point on the media–I think this is one of the most serious drawbacks to the Anglo-American style of intellectual engagement. The adversarial model is at the heart of the legal, political and media systems in the Anglophone world, and like you I find it conducive to nothing but context-less bloviating. We need more of this sort of programme–but not just on the radio!

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