The Copenhagen youth riots – the blind alley of capitalism exposed

Copenhagen erupted over the weekend as a series of demonstrations against the tearing down of the Youth House turned violent. Similar to events in France in 2005, however, what the riots reflect is the accumulated anger of thousands of people, caused by a capitalist system completely incapable of providing a future for workers and youth.

The capital of Denmark was turned into a battle zone for four days when hundreds and even thousands of young people took to the streets and violent clashes with the police took place. The neighbourhood of Nørrebro saw burning barricades and stones used as weapons against the police.

The immediate cause was the eviction of the squatters in the Youth House on March 1, a house that has been occupied since 1982 by a youth movement. This is a house that for many years was used as a place for music concerts and other cultural events. In the beginning the Municipality of Copenhagen promised that the youth could use this house, but since then reversed the decision and sold it to a Christian sect in 2000. Since then this sect has fought to get the young people out of the house.


Violent clashes with the police
Violent clashes with the police

More than 620 people have been arrested by the police. Danish police called all forces at their disposal to Copenhagen. It even called students at the police academy to help out and had to borrow extra police vehicles from Sweden and Holland.

As riots and demonstrations continued both on Friday and Saturday, the police took began to use sharper methods against the youth. On Saturday, they went to the headquarters of several legal Socialist organizations, such as the Socialistisk UngdomsFront (SUF), where they arrested 10 activists and Rød Ungdom, Internationalt Forum and Folkets Hus. At all these places they searched the premises without any warrants.

Incredibly, the police have even arrested Esben Olsen, the leader of the peaceful movement "Borgergruppen for Ungdomshuset" (Citizens Group for the Youth House). This is a broad movement that organizes hundreds of citizens in defence of The Youth House. On Saturday it held a peaceful demonstration of more than 3,000 people.

These raids and completely unjustified arrests should be condemned by all forces in the labour movement both nationally and internationally. It shows how democracy is always relative under capitalism. If the labour movement does not fight back such repression can become more widespread and used on other occasions such as strikes, etc.

The real meaning of this conflict

Thousands took to the streets against the eviction
Thousands took to the streets against the eviction

All of this has taken place in a small country of only 5 million inhabitants. It was generally recognized that the eviction would provoke some kind of response, but few imagined such an outburst of violence and rioting. What has surprised many is the scope of these riots.

Even police director Flemming Steen Munch said to the Danish daily Politiken that they "were surprised that there were that many protestors". The bourgeois media has been asking "who is behind this?" and wonders how things "could get this far".

What they do not understand is the character of these riots. This is not a small group of violent thugs. It is in fact quite an important part of the Copenhagen youth who have participated in one way or another. Many of them have never been to the Youth House. But they feel that this is simply the last straw. There can be no doubt that the Youth House represented something important in the eyes of many young people, but this does not explain such an explosion.

As Marxists we understand that sometimes questions that seem secondary can achieve a primary importance. When the Youth House was taken away it had a paralyzing effect in the consciousness of thousands of young people. "They won't even give us this small house, they can't even allow the youth to have one place, they only think of their own greedy interests". These were the feelings that provoked not only scenes of hundreds of youth crying at the sight of the house being torn down, but also the violent scenes of fighting with the police, burning cars and so on.

Some young immigrants had also joined the rioting. This sector, which is definitely the most exploited sector of the youth, saw its chance to get in on the fighting. Most of them have nothing whatsoever to do with the Youth House. But they live in Nørrebro and felt that this was the time to give the government and all the other politicians a lesson.

In fact, these riots have many similarities with the Revolt of the Estates in the Paris suburbs in October 2005. At that time it was also a "secondary" issue (the tragic death of two young immigrants escaping from the police) that provoked the explosion. The point is that the riots reflect the accumulated frustrations and anger of thousands, caused by a capitalist system completely incapable of providing a future and hope for workers and youth.

The house is being destroyed

The youth house is being destroyed under massive police protection
The youth house is being destroyed
under massive police protection

To some people it came as a surprise that the Christian sect - obviously backed by the bourgeois politicians and unfortunately also by the Social Democratic leadership - began to destroy the house on Monday, just three days after the eviction.

However, it is clear that the police feared that the movement would try to retake the house. But there is more to it. The bourgeoisie wanted to teach the youth a lesson. This is what they want to say to them: "Look we can destroy your house, struggle doesn't pay off, give up the fight, go home and accept our line". This explains why they were so stubborn and uncompromising in this conflict. They know that if they give concessions in this case it will give the youth confidence in its own strength and make them demand other things in different struggles.

The building workers that are being hired to destroy the house are working with masks covering their faces and under police protection. The largest trade union federation in Denmark, 3F (Fælles Fagligt Forbund), has tried to intervene and stop the destruction of the house. One of their representatives in Copenhagen, Henrik Lippert, has called this job "unworthy" for workers and recommended that the workers take strike action. One of the transport companies used to transport the different machines for the destruction of the house has now stopped deliveries and they have had to find other deliverers.

Nothing will be like as it was before

The trade union federation 3F protests against the destroying of the house
The trade union federation 3F protests against
the destroying of the house

The riots calmed down a bit on Monday, but demonstrations and protest have continued all day long. On Thursday the March 8 there will be demonstrations to coincide with International Women's Day. This is a tradition, which by the way was voted and agreed upon in the very building at Jagtvej 69 that is now being destroyed. It is likely that this day will see big demonstrations combining the cause for liberation of working women and the cause for the right to a youth house for the Copenhagen youth.

The riots will more than likely calm down for now. But the indignation and hatred towards the political elite will remain in the consciousness of thousands. Marxists do not agree with all the methods used in these riots. We think that individual fighting with the police, burning of cars and random shops in the streets are completely counter-productive. In other articles we have explained this.

But the main thing is to understand that this is a product of the blind alley of capitalism. Sooner or later, in one way or another this anger had to be expressed. That this happened in such a way can only be explained by the fact that the leaders of the traditional labour movement and student organizations have not made a militant plan of action to defend the youth and the welfare state in general.

These riots have shown clearly that behind Denmark's prosperity there is a seething anger and discontent and the youth are not satisfied. After years of attacks, wage cuts, cut backs etc., people have had enough. Thousands have experienced the brutality of the state and the police as institution. In the future these thousands will slowly begin to draw conclusions. Socialist ideas will again be placed at the top of the agenda.

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