Since the beginning of the year, 55 people have been stabbed or shot dead on the streets of London. London has now overtaken New York in terms of the murder rate.
Political commentator Andrew Marr reassured his readers in the Evening Standard: “If your skin is the right colour and you’ve got a decent income…you’ll probably be fine.” But this is not particularly reassuring to all those who don’t fit into this category.
Amber Rudd, the Tory home secretary, has tried to blame this crime wave on social media, suggesting that online posts glamorise gang life and stoke up rivalries.
But this superficial explanation conveniently avoids the blame that lies at the feet of her government and the system they defend. The underlying cause of crime is the unemployment, poverty, poor wages, and alienation bred by capitalism.
Charity workers and community activists have pointed out that cut backs, austerity and a lack of funding in prevention have exacerbated the problem.
Labelling this epidemic a gang violence problem misses the point and fails to understand the real causes at play. Violent crime is a plague on working class communities.
In the London Borough of Haringey, the victims, largely black working-class teenagers, were young people with dreams and aspirations. They were not part of ‘criminal gangs’, but were targeted, tit for tat, just for living in a certain area.
I recently spoke with a teacher in a local school. They spoke to parents about safeguarding their children. The parents would protest: “My children are not part of a gang.” The teacher would explain that being working class, black and living in a certain area is enough to put a target on your back.
There is no initiation into gangs. You must stay cool with those who live near you as a matter of self-preservation. You forever fear the day that you are asked to participate in some retaliation. If you say, “I’m not about that”, the response is, “Well, then, what are you about?”, or “Your cousin lives in Tottenham/Wood Green; you’re with them then, are you?”
There is a criminal element that manipulates and prays on poverty. This lumpen element begins grooming vulnerable young black kids early on. It can start simply as people being given money to buy something from the local shop and told to keep the change. Instead of the prospect of school, poor wages, and exploitation, the criminal groomer claims to offer you a life of easy money and status.
Perpetuated by capitalism
How can we combat this? How should the left respond to an increase in murders and an increase in knife and gun crime?
We must not forget history. The United States in the late 1980s saw an explosion of violence in the black ghettos. This happened after leaders of the Black Panthers - who were advocating working class solidarity and socialist revolution - were assassinated.
It also happened after the CIA facilitated the smuggling of crack cocaine into these ghettos. In one fell swoop, the American state cut across black militancy and funded the counterrevolutionary Contras against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua.
The explosion of violence in black and Latino communities was a direct result of the crushing of a revolutionary movement.
Likewise, the ruling class today doesn’t care about violent crime when it only affects oppressed and working-class layers. In fact, this kind of crime is useful for the ruling class, as it promotes the ideology of capitalism by encouraging an individual solution to poverty through ruthlessness. It acts as a fetter on revolutionary consciousness.
Furthermore, establishment politicians are happy to let knife crime exist, as it provides a useful justification for ratcheting up the state’s repressive apparatus. Don’t be surprised, for example, if the recent spate of murders leads to calls to reintroduce racist stop-and-search policies.
For collective struggle and solidarity
Labour have unfortunately fallen into this trap, primarily blaming the recent murders on Tory cuts to police numbers. Jeremy Corbyn and London Mayor Sadiq Khan have promised to fight violent crime by strengthening the police and putting 10,000 extra officers on the streets.
Instead of focussing on police cuts, Corbyn’s Labour should be attacking the Tories for their cuts across the board, which have slashed services and funding for education and housing. Rather than pledges on police numbers, Labour should be pledging to carry out socialist policies, to guarantee jobs, homes, and a future for all.
The sharp increase in knife crime and murders has led to a grassroots response from those communities affected. Impromptu militant protests have been organised. As one protester pointed out: “If there is a start to a solution, this is it.”
As revolutionary Marxists, we are fighting to rescue what is truly human from the contrasting misery and decadence of capitalism.
We must offer a socialist alternative to the allure of violence and crime. In place of the cash and status that crime promises to the individual, we offer collective struggle and class solidarity for the betterment of all. Instead of capitalism’s poor wages, oppression, exploitation, and violence, we offer socialist revolution and the possibility of creating a new world.