The return of the English riot

By Richard Pithouse


The riot has been a feature of English life for a lot longer than William Shakespeare, village cricket matches or, for that matter, The Clash. The English have rioted against the enclosure of common land, fences, press gangs, factories, prisons, bread prices, tolls and banks. Arson, tearing down fences, smashing machines, setting prices from below, looting and throwing prisons open are all time honoured tactics.

The historians of the English riot stress that elites have, usually in hysterical panic, portrayed rioters as the rabble, a swinish multitude, and the riot as consequent to external conspiracy, irredeemable criminality, collective madness and inexplicable evil. But riots have their own organisation, discipline and purpose and this needs to be recognised.

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