Reflections on the 1981 Moss Side 'Riots' : Gus John

Further to our linking to Gus John’s recent Open Letter to Cameron, the independent newspaper, Manchester Mule, has published in two parts a revealing interview with Gus, within which he reflects on the significance of the Moss Side uprising of 1981,  a violent eruption of protest.

Violent eruption of protest : part one

Violent eruption of protest : part two

Drawing on his direct involvement in the Moss Side Defence Committee of the time it is a sweeping and powerful analysis.  In a remarkable moment of prescience the interview by Andy Bowman was undertaken just a week before the recent riots in England.

In his concluding thoughts he is scathing about the educational system as a whole and the illusory notion of a shared concensus about the society, within which we live.

What can reflections on the disturbances tell us in the present? For people who are looking at problems of racism and police violence

Let me preface my answer by saying, I believe the greatest disservice the state does to its population is through the crappy schooling system we have. When you consider that there is such an emphasis on high level exam results, as if that’s the only mark of schools’ effectiveness, the debate about schooling is always about providing labour for the market, Britain’s economic competitiveness, and the extent to which schools and universities are churning people out.

It has nothing to do with giving people the tools to take control of their own lives, equipping people to act collectively to bring about change, and it is certainly nothing to do with understanding the evolution of British social history, such that we can as a society learn from our advances and defeats. That kind of discourse is seen as a throwback to the days of ‘red-led’ protests of the past for lefties. The assumption is that it is not necessary to think in terms of class or the individual up against the state, and that we should be counting our blessings. Meanwhile, stratification within society becomes more entrenched. Those who are poor are not just disenfranchised by lacking wages through which they can live dignified lives; they are also denied the tools by which they can organise in defence of their lives.

People fall prey to an opaque sameness, an assumed consensus in terms of the values we commonly share. Which allows clowns like Cameron to talk about the ‘Big Society’.

It is very important that we understand what led to 1981, and what gives rise to the peaks and troughs as far as the emergence of neo-fascist organisations are concerned. I would not be surprised if in the coming period as European economies begin falling in on themselves you have another upsurge of pan-European fascism.

2 comments on “Reflections on the 1981 Moss Side 'Riots' : Gus John

  1. […] as Gus John observes in reflecting on the 1981 Moss Side disturbances and the significance of poverty, to what extent is education and that includes youth work,  […]

  2. […] The latest Youth & Policy article sees Gus John composing ‘a searing critique of policy in relation to youth violence – Youth Work and Apprehending Youth Violence. Gus focuses in particular on black young people and calls for a renewed role for youth work and education’. As he notes in the piece Gus trained as a youth worker in the late 1960s and was a practitioner and youth service manager for twenty years before becoming a director of education and leisure services. Significantly, he was one of only two directors of education / chief education officers who had attained that position through a youth work / social education route. See also Fifty Years of Struggle: Gus John at 70 and Reflections on the 1981 Moss Side ‘Riots’ : Gus John. […]

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