Five days that shook Britain but didn’t wake up the left

The bankruptcy of the left during the August uprising of the oppressed in Britain: Its features, its roots and the way forward


By Michael Pröbsting, 1.9.2011


The uprising in Britain in August 2011 was a historic event. It marked the entering of the class struggle by the lower strata of the working class and the nationally and racially oppressed. As we – the Revolutionary Communist Organisation for Liberation (RKOB) – already stated in our publications these so called riots were in reality an explosive uprising. (1) Despite all its limitations and weaknesses it was definitely one of the most important class struggles in Britain since the miner strike 1984/85. It brought thousands and thousands of working class youth, black and migrants on the streets fighting against the police and expressing their anger. It forced the Tory/Liberal-Democrat government to mobilise 16.000 police men and women on the street to put down the uprising and even to consider the use of the army against its own population.


This uprising was a sign of the things to come. A correct assessment of this event, drawing the right conclusion and employing the necessary revolutionary tactics are of decisive importance because in the coming years we will see a number of similar spontaneous uprisings of the lower or middle strata of the proletariat. And we will see such events not only in Britain again but also in a number of other imperialist countries.


Why is this case? Because world capitalism has entered a new historic period of its decline in which its inner contradictions are increasing enormously. Mankind is faced with the alternative “socialism or barbarism”. As a result of the qualitative increase of the class contradictions the class struggle is sharpening rapidly compared to the years before the revolutionary period begun. This is why we see in the last two years more and more (pre-)revolutionary (and counter-revolutionary) developments like the Arab revolution, the general strikes and mass occupation movements in Spain and Greece and now the August uprising in Britain. This is why the RKOB characterise the present historic period as a revolutionary one.


Only if one puts the August uprising in Britain in this context one can understand its importance and meaning. Only if one understands this context it is possible to prepare for future uprisings and to help overcome the crisis of leadership. Because only if a revolutionary party with roots in the working class and particularly its lower and oppressed strata, the most active and militant elements in class struggle, can be built in time, only then will it be possible to overcome the weaknesses of the August uprising – its lack of organisation, direction and its lack of connection with the other layers of the working class. And only then it will be possible to connect such uprisings with a general strike movement of the whole proletariat leading up to an armed insurrection to overthrow the ruling class.


The RKOB has already explained in two articles and our comrades from the delegation which we sent to London in these days argued on the streets that the central tasks for revolutionaries in the days of uprising were:


* to join the movement and therefore to participate actively in the uprisings


* to participate in the struggle to drive the police out of the areas


* to argue for steps to organise of self-defence units


* to agitate for mass assemblies and the formation of councils of actions


* to argue against looting and burning of property of common people and for actions by self-defence units from the activists to prevent this happening


* to agitate for the spreading of the uprising


* to call the workers movement (the trade unions, the left-wing parties etc.) to join the uprising and to mobilise now against the cuts (instead of waiting for Autumn) and to connect the uprising with a general strike movement



(1)           Nina Gunić and Michael Pröbsting: These are not "riots" – this is an uprising of the poor in the cities of Britain! The strategic task: From the uprising to the revolution!, 10.8.2011,; Michael Pröbsting: The August uprising of the poor and nationally and racially oppressed in Britain: What would a revolutionary organisation have done?, 18.8.2011,; Bericht der RKOB-Delegation über ihren Aufenthalt in London 2011,, An English translation of this report on the visit of the RKOB delegation in London will be published soon on our website



Chapter 1: An Uprising which the left missed