Gang violence has always been a feature of class society, but with onset of decomposition, the final phase of the decadence of capitalism, it has reached new heights of irrational barbarity. The recent epidemic of violence amongst young people in Britain is just another depressing example of this phenomenon. Over a period of eight days in June this year eight young people, all under the age of 25, were murdered in London. All victims of London’s ‘gang culture’. This trend, which is already a part of life in the US and many countries on the periphery of capitalism, is being repeated in cities across the country.
These teenagers were not stabbed and shot in botched robberies. This outbreak of violence cannot be explained in the same way as the violence that occurred, say in the Eighteenth Century, when London was arguably more dangerous than it is today. Today’s gangs, teenagers themselves, often kill to defend their neighborhoods and their honour. ‘Respect’ is everything. Just looking at someone in the wrong way can result in a beating. This is the ‘rationale’ behind many of these crimes – or rather, the irrationale.
Whether from the left or the right, the bourgeoisie, especially in the guise of self-appointed ‘community leaders’, has used these events to promote their own solutions to the problem. Given the state of the prison system they can’t just ‘lock em up’, so the advertised solutions usually involve increased funding for specific ‘communities’ or pet ‘community projects’ or ‘police initiatives’. But teaching teenagers about citizenship, providing more youth clubs and pretending that every teenager can make it big in the music industry will not stop, or help us understand, this violence.
Teenagers may be brutalised by the gang mentality, and its negative impulses can be reinforced by the influence of cultural expressions like grime and gangsta rap, but none of this exists in a vacuum. Behind all this brutalisation there lies a greater social force. Whether in Brixton or Buenos Aires, from birth we are forced to deal with the logic imposed by capitalism: competition and the pursuit of profit at any cost. In the period of decomposition, with the bourgeoisie unable to provide any sort of perspective for the future, this logic is taken to its natural conclusion: ‘every man for himself’, ‘every nation for itself’. Young people today grow up in a world where this ideology infects their every move. Faced with a grim present and an uncertain future, defending your family, your street and your estate appear to some teenagers to be the only action worth taking. The ideology of ‘reppin your end’ ultimately obeys the same logic as that of imperialist powers defending their spheres of influence, and the insane violence of gun and knife ‘culture’ is only the reflection of a world system permanently at war.
Of course, there is a solution to this problem that the bourgeoisie won’t mention. This solution was offered by young people in France last year in their struggle against the CPE. Through their use of general assemblies and collective action they were able to win a partial victory against the French bourgeoisie. Rather than being dragged into pointless violent confrontations, these young people brought disaffected youth across France together to fight the bosses’ attacks. Young people in Britain and across the world need to do the same. Stop fighting each other and unite to fight the system that turns you into atomised individuals.